Jae Crowder: Big East Defensive Player of the Year?

Marquette forward Jae Crowder is among the top candidates for Big East Player of the Year. The senior has helped carry an injury-riddled Marquette team to 13 conference wins and has it in position for the second seed in the Big East Championship tournament and a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

By all accounts, Crowder is having one of the best overall seasons in the Big East. His offensive numbers speak volumes, but Crowder has been just as good defensively, both statistically and qualitatively.

Has he been good enough to win the Big East Defensive Player of the Year?

Perhaps.

The 6-foot-6 forward’s foundation is his steal totals. His 2.8 steals per game are second in the Big East, behind Seton Hall’s Fuquan Edwin (3.0), and he is the only player in the top 10 of this category playing as a power forward or, in other words, not primarily on the perimeter. Most of Edwin’s time has come guarding outside, where there are more opportunities for swipes on players dribbling and cross-court passes.

Given his circumstances, Jae Crowder has had one of the best defensive seasons in the Big East. Has it been the best? (Marquette Tribune Photo)

He is also fourth in steal percentage (steals per opportunity), behind Edwin, Louisville’s Russ Smith and DePaul’s Worrel Clahar. Smith and Clahar average 22.5 and 19.5 minutes, respectively, meaning steals in less minutes would inflate those statistics.

Crowder’s numbers may be more impressive than Edwin’s, considering he spends most of his time in the paint. Crowder has taken advantage of this, using quick hands to poke balls free and fluster post players, but there are still less opportunities for him playing down low.

One area where Crowder has thrived is out of Marquette’s full court press. With Junior Cadougan guarding the ball, Jamil Wilson usually is the one to come over and double team. Crowder, playing the middle of the court, has excellent instincts and has intercepted his fair share of lazy passes and turned them into points, the staple of Marquette’s transition game.

It’s no secret Marquette has struggled on the glass since Chris Otule and Davante Gardner suffered injuries. In Big East play, Marquette has grabbed 22.7 defensive rebounds per game (eighth) but has allowed almost 13 offensive rebounds per game (10th). Opposing teams have an offensive rebounding rate of 33.6 against Marquette, sixth most in Big East play.

But Crowder has more than held his own on the glass. He ranks sixth in defensive rebounding percentage (defensive rebounds per opportunity). Other than Rutgers Dane Miller, the three players in front of him and eight of the next nine behind him stand 6-foot-8 or taller More impressive, Crowder averages 6.2 defensive rebounds per game, second best in the Big East. Only West Virginia’s Kevin Jones (6.8) averages more.

Crowder is not known as a dominant shot blocker, but he’s no slouch, either. His 1.2 blocks per game are 13th in the Big East, and the only two players above him shorter than 6-foot-8 are Miller and Crowder’s teammate, Jamil Wilson (1.4).

His 3.45 block percentage (blocks per opportunity) is 21st in the Big East but, again, the only players shorter than 6-foot-8 above him are Miller and Wilson.

His weak(er) block numbers are a perfect transition into the heart of the argument for Crowder as the Big East’s best defender.

Quantitative numbers are an essential factor in deciding a player’s worth, but it’s impossible to overlook the fact that Crowder has accomplished his numbers under difficult circumstances.

When Gardner sprained his knee on Jan. 28 in the closing minutes against Villanova, Marquette lost its only active player taller than 6-foot-7. Without him, the front court depth chart consisted of Crowder (6-foot-6), Wilson (6-foot-7), freshman Juan Anderson (6-foot-6) and Jamail Jones (6-foot-6).

Simply put, Jae Crowder has been phenomenal in 2011-'12. (Marquette Tribune Photo)

Wilson has played the “center” while Crowder shifted to “power forward.” Gardner’s loss did open up more opportunities for playing time and, thus, to pile up more stats, but overall it made Crowder’s job on the defensive end much more difficult.

In the eight games Gardner has missed, Crowder has averaged 7.5 rebounds per game, which easily would be tops in the Big East. He has also averaged 2.3 steals per game in that span, a decrease but still good enough for second in the Big East, where he stands now.

Syracuse’s Fab Melo, West Virginia’s Kevin Jones and Seton Hall’s Fuquan Edwin all have legitimate arguments to win this award.

Here are statistics on what each player has done against the four most efficient offenses in the conference (Syracuse, Marquette, West Virginia, Georgetown).

Crowder: 5.0 def. rebounds, 3.3 steals, 1.0 blocks (three games)
Jones:       6.6 def. rebounds, 0.3 steals, 0.6 blocks (three games)
Melo:        4.5 def. rebounds, 0.0 steals, 3.0 blocks (two games, DNP vs. WVU)
Edwin:      3.5 def. rebounds, 3.0 steals, 0.5 blocks (four games)

Taking into consideration Crowder’s impressive numbers combined with his situation, playing as one of two big men in the Marquette lineup, the Villa Rica, Ga. native’s argument may top anyone’s in the Big East.

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One Comment on “Jae Crowder: Big East Defensive Player of the Year?”

  1. Jerry Rose
    March 8, 2012 at 12:04 pm #

    What a burden has been placed on Crowder!!!!To know you have received accolades that were misplaced,undeserved and to be the instrument of retaliation !!! How sad , how insensitive , how unfair to this young man! Hopefully he can forgive those small minded coaches!!!!!!

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