With the season coming to an unfortunate end on Wednesday night that meant it was time for me to email all The Champaign Room contributors to get their opinions on which Illini should win the first annual Champaign Room Basketball Awards.
While we don't have actual trophies to give out, if we did they'd be the Illinois bottle of champagne you see in our logo. They'd be made of solid gold and would be a devastating weapon in any street fight, bar fight, midget fight, dog fight, bear fight or zombie apocalypse.
Here's how we decided the awards. I made up the categories and then I emailed them to Will Leitch, Mark Primiano and Jack Cassidy and told them to give me their top three in each category. First place was worth three points, second was worth two and third place was worth a point. I then added up all the points, added the points from my ballot, and hey, look at that, we have our awards.
So let's get to it.
BEST INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE IN A GAME
The award goes to.....Brandon Paul for his 35-point performance against Gonzaga. It was a game that put both the Illini and Brandon Paul on the map this season, as he was getting mentioned as a National Player of the Year Candidate afterward. I voted for this game as well, but it was not unanimous, as Primiano went with Tracy Abrams' game against Auburn just because he was there.
Cassidy was much smarter and had this to say on Brandon's game: "For my money, the best game Brandon Paul has ever played. Point to the 43-point performance against Ohio State if you want, but that game was just shots falling. It was getting lucky. The Gonzaga game, on the other hand, was not. BP was getting to the lane, driving to the hoop and taking what was given to him. It was damn beautiful."
It was Cassidy who gave a vote to Bertrand's game against Georgia Tech, and I think it's a solid vote and one I didn't even consider. But it's important to remember that the Illini were in serious danger of dropping that game until Joe just took it over and wiped his nuts on a Yellow Jacket's face.
BEST GAME AS A TEAM
The voting on this one was interesting as while our winner appeared on every ballot, there were multiple games that appeared first. In the end though it was the win against Gonzaga that received the most points and wins this award. I did not give Gonzaga a first place vote personally, but went with the win over Indiana. Not because it was the best game we played, but because it involved beating Indiana and bathing in Indiana Tears.
The other person not to vote for Gonzaga? Oh, you know who it was: Primiano. He's just a weird voter, but he'll explain his vote shortly.
Gonzaga win - 9 points
Indiana win - 7 points
Miami loss - 4 points
Butler win - 3 points
USC win - 1 point
Yep, Primiano put our season-ending loss against Miami at the top of his ballot: "It feels weird calling a loss the best game of the year, but I feel like it was the best game the team played. Other than DJ's off night, everything was just perfect other than the finish."
I was happy with the effort too, but nope. I also feel compelled to point out that Mark wasn't the only person to cast a vote for the Miami game, as Leitch gave it a third-place vote as well. Mark and Will are masochists.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
This vote was pretty much uniform across the board, as each of our four ballots had the same player in first and second place. The unanimous winner of our Most Improved Player Award is Nnanna Egwu. Nnanna saw a huge increase in minutes this season, and though he still has trouble with fouls, he went from 1.9 points, 1.5 rebounds and 0.6 blocks per game as a freshman to 6.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. For me the most promising aspect of the year was how Nnanna finished, as he has grown a lot more comfortable in his offensive game, and should continue to improve over the next two seasons.
From Cassidy: "Not even close. At the beginning of the season, I said, aloud, that Nnanna Egwu was the weakest part of the team by far and that he was my least favorite player. What do I know. By the end, Nnanna was fantastic inside and a critically important part of the team. His mid-range shot bailed out the offense on many occassions, and -- beginning of the season me wouldn't believe this -- but his rebounding down the stretch was awesome."
Nnanna Egwu - 12
Tracy Abrams - 8
Tyler Griffey - 2
Joseph Bertrand - 2
There's really not a whole lot to explain here, as it was pretty much a two-horse race. While Abrams probably would have been the runaway winner during the non-conference slate, Nnanna just finished a lot stronger. Though it's good news to know that two of our most important players in 2013-14 are two of our most improved in 2012-13. Let's hope the trend continues.
As for Griffey and Bertrand both received two third-place votes, with Leitch and I going for Tyler and Primiano and Cassidy going for Bertrand.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
The Best Picture of The Champaign Room Awards was unanimous, and this isn't exactly a shocker. Although he wasn't even our leading scorer during conference play, as Primiano put it, "right or wrong, it always felt like the offense would go as far as his mercurial talents would take them."
This year's MVP is none other than Brandon Paul.
He led the team in scoring and went out like a warrior against Miami, once again trying to put an entire team on his back and will it to victory. It's hard to know how we'll all reflect on Brandon Paul's Illinois career in the future when comparing him to other Illini, but it was always clear he was the best player on this team while here.
Brandon Paul - 12
D.J. Richardson - 8
Nnanna Egwu - 2
Tracy Abrams - 2
Nothing unexpected here, as D.J. got all the second-place votes and Nnanna and Tracy split the third place votes. It was Cassidy and I who voted for Abrams, and for pretty much the same reason. While he was inconsistent at the end of the year, the truth was the offense worked better when Tracy played well, and he was generally the only guy on the team who tried to get to the rim consistently.
And we'll finish the awards with some fun.
The winner of this one was never in doubt.
FIRST PLACE - 12 POINTS
SECOND PLACE - 5 POINTS
THIRD PLACE - 4 POINTS
FOURTH PLACE - 2 POINTS
FIFTH PLACE - 1 POINT
I only wish I had but more dunk gifs to give. Congratulations to all our winners and nominees.
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