The Big East made what everyone expected official on Wednesday afternoon: Marquette junior point guard Tyler Kolek is the 2023 Big East Player of the Year, and Marquette head coach Shaka Smart is the 2023 Big East Coach of the Year.
Player. Of. The Year.— BIG EAST MBB (@BIGEASTMBB) March 8, 2023
Tyler Kolek of @MarquetteMBB is HIM. pic.twitter.com/1SuVEyd0Is
He led @MarquetteMBB to its first outright regular season #BIGEASThoops title - @CoachShakaSmart is your BIG EAST Coach of the Year! pic.twitter.com/DkOnZQ1KUC— BIG EAST MBB (@BIGEASTMBB) March 8, 2023
It was something of a foregone conclusion that Kolek would be Player of the Year after the all-conference teams were announced on Sunday. The league always says that the POY will come from the All-BE First Team, and when Kolek and Providence’s Bryce Hopkins were the only unanimous choices on the First Team, you can see where the voting for Player of the Year went.
With that in mind, Kolek was not the unanimous pick as the best player in the league this year, but again: If every coach not named Ed Cooley voted for Hopkins on the First Team, this can’t be terribly surprising. We must note that Smart was the unanimous choice as Coach of the Year, which seems like it should be the case. I’m a big “picked to win, actually won = Coach of the Year” guy, but preseason favorite Creighton ended up falling short and the Golden Eagles won the league by multiple games over everyone else.
Here’s the league office’s write up on Kolek’s trophy:
Kolek is MU’s maestro point guard, averaging 12.7 points and a league-leading 7.9 assists, which ranks second nationally. The 6-3 junior from Cumberland, R.I., ranks first in assist/turnover ratio at 3.3., which places him sixth in the nation. He is fifth in the BIG EAST in steals at 1.8 and ninth in free throw shooting, making 81.4 percent. Kolek is one of five finalists for the Bob Cousy Award as the nation’s top point guard.
Kolek is the third Marquette player to ever earn Big East Player of the Year honors, joining Jae Crowder and Markus Howard. He also joins those two along with Jim McIlvaine and Dwyane Wade as the only MU players to receive a conference POY trophy, but that has more to do with Marquette only joining a conference in the late 1980s than anything else.
And here’s what the Big East said about Smart:
Smart’s squad made the biggest leap in league history, jumping from ninth in the preseason coaches’ poll to outright regular-season champion. The Golden Eagles are expected to receive a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. In his second season at Marquette, Smart has directed the Golden Eagles to a 44-19 overall record and a 28-11 BIG EAST mark. He owns a career record of 316-161 (.662) in 14 seasons as a head coach.
Smart is the first MU head coach to be acknowledged as the best steward in the league since Tom Crean was Conference USA Coach of the Year in 2002 and 2003. Kevin O’Neill (1993 & 1994) is the only other Marquette coach to get that recognition in program history, and again: No league membership until 1989.
In other Big East award news, Villanova’s Cam Whitmore was named Freshman of the Year and Xavier’s Jack Nunge was named Scholar-Athlete of the Year. It was going to either be Whitmore or UConn’s Alex Karaban to take home the trophy as best rookie in the league, as both men were unanimous picks for the league’s All-Freshman team on Sunday. I think I would have leaned towards Karaban given that the Huskies were a better team than the Wildcats this season and they needed Karaban to get them there, but Whitmore is a good choice, too.
Marquette returns to action in the Big East conference tournament quarterfinals on Thursday, and we know they will play at Madison Square Garden at 11am on FS1. We don’t know the opponent yet, as St. John’s and Butler have to play each other on Wednesday in the first round with the winner getting the top seeded Golden Eagles in the next round.