“The winner of the Big East player of the year award is ….”
Had Doug McDermott left before his senior season at Creighton, it's highly probable that Providence guard Bryce Cotton's name would finish off the above sentence.
Cotton is having that kind of season. The senior from Tucson, Ariz., leads the league in assists (5.8 per game) and ranks second in scoring to McDermott with a 21.2 average. He ranks among the league leaders in four other statistical categories.
All that while hardly ever leaving the court. The 6-foot-1 Cotton leads the nation in minutes played, averaging a mind-boggling 39.5 per game.
Those accomplishments have earned Cotton plenty of respect around the league. Georgetown's John Thompson III and Xavier's Chris Mack needed but one word to describe what they like about Cotton's game.
St. John's coach Steve Lavin said Cotton reminds him of former Arizona State guard Eddie House, whom Lavin coached against while at UCLA.
“I think it's the ability to both play-make and shot-make,'' Lavin said. “Bryce wants the ball in crunch time, and while he puts up big numbers, there is still a selfless feel about his play.
“Sometimes you have great scorers, but they don't have the well-rounded makeup of distributing the ball to their teammates or who play without basketball savvy to help their team win. Bryce is not only a terrific scorer, but he plays with a purpose. He plays the game the right way.''
Cotton led the Big East in scoring last season, averaging 18.3 points while finishing second on the team in assists behind Big East leader Vincent Council. Sophomore Kris Dunn took over Council's spot at point guard, but the former McDonald's All-American injured his shoulder in an early-November exhibition game. He underwent season-ending surgery in mid-December.
That saddled Cotton with the double duty of being Providence's primary playmaker and shotmaker. Georgetown's Thompson said that while Cotton excels at both, it's things that don't always show up in the box score that define his value to the Friars.
“He does not make mistakes,'' Thompson said. “And for someone that scores as many points as he does, he still is a pass-first guard. He makes his teammates better. At the same time, he can score.''
The Hoyas found that out Monday when Cotton put up 31 points in a losing effort. What made Cotton's performance even more impressive to Thompson is that he did not score for the first 13 minutes and 18 seconds of the game.
“And then he had 19 at halftime,'' Thompson said. “It was just an unbelievable stretch, and he did it without being greedy and without being selfish.
“If it weren't for Doug — and he's truly special also — there would be more talk about Bryce.''
McDermott has emerged as the heavy favorite to win not only the Big East's player of the year award but also college basketball's three major honors — the Wooden Award, the Naismith Award and the Oscar Robertson Trophy.
Xavier's Mack says Cotton and McDermott bring similar value to their teams.
“Like McDermott, Bryce Cotton doesn't have just one way to affect a game,'' Mack said. “He can do it without the ball, he can do it with the ball, he's a good defender. The more versatility you have as a player, the more difficult it is to stop you.''
To his credit, Providence coach Ed Cooley doesn't try to diminish the brilliance of McDermott's game. It's not uncommon for some coaches to start lobbying this time of the year for their guy at the expense of others.
Cooley does call Cotton the “most underappreciated guard in college basketball.''
“When you look at what he's done and how he's done it, being the focal point every single night and knowing that he's not going to come out of the game — he's been a phenomenal young man to coach, and he has a bright future ahead of him,” Cooley said.
“I think we have the player of the year in college basketball in our conference in McDermott, and I think we have the most valuable player of the year on Providence College's team. When you look at the most valuable player on a team, I don't know how Bryce Cotton's name is not brought up every single day.''