Depending on who you ask, there is any number of players who deserve to be named American Athletic Conference Player of the Year. While there is still plenty of season left to go, the real contenders have made themselves known, and most of those have been in the running from the beginning. SMU has Shake Milton, Houston has Rob Gray. Wichita State has Landry Shamet and Cincinnati has both Gary Clark and Jacob Evans. Arguments can certainly be made for some others, but those five I just named are the front runners.
On Monday we got a brief glimpse of how the league may be leaning at this juncture, as Clark and Milton were named co-players of the week. For my money, those two are No. 1 and No. 2 in the trophy chase, and it appears that the league agrees. Sure, the weekly award is based solely on production over the previous week (duh), but both Clark and Milton have the resume to earn more than just a headline in January.
The case for Clark is pretty clear. Before we even dive into statistics, the senior forward is the best all-around player on the best team in the conference. That alone speaks volumes. But we’ll let some numbers do some talking as well. Averaging a career-high 12.8 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, Clark is at the peak of his powers, and only getting better as the season goes on. He is not just leading the Bearcacts either. He leads the entire conference in PER (30.6), defensive rating (78.0), defensive win shares (1.9), total rebound percentage (19.0) and win shares per 40 minutes (.322).
But Milton is having a fine season as well, and with the Mustangs suddenly in the hunt for the AAC crown, his efforts are not coming in vain. The AAC’s leader in points produced (358), offensive win shares (2.8) and win shares overall (4.2), Milton is averaging an incredible 18.4 points per game while hitting 2.6 threes per game and shooting 45.2 percent from the field overall. He is also matching his rebound output (4.6) with assists (4.6) and snagging 1.5 steals per game for good measure.
We’ll save the resumes of Shamet, Evans and Gray for another time, because there’s no doubt that all three will make inroads for the crown at some point, but there’s also no denying that Clark and Milton are in front currently. What we have to wonder is whether the league will have the fortitude to take a stand and pick just one of them (Clark if they want to be accurate), or take the easy way out and name co-players of the year like they did for this week’s awards.