Column: Sa’eed Nelson was robbed In Patriot League Rookie of the Year vote
The AU men’s basketball team has lost a lot this season, 21 times to be exact. That being said, its most disappointing and shocking loss may have come off the court.
On Monday, the Patriot League announced its regular season awards. Senior Charlie Jones landed on the all-defensive team while freshman Sa’eed Nelson and Mark Gasperini each made the all-rookie team.
Colgate freshman Will Rayman took home Patriot League Rookie of the Year, but with all due respect, that award belonged to Nelson.
First, this is no disrespect to Rayman. He had a nice season averaging 14.4 points and 4.5 rebounds, averaging just 30 minutes a game. It’s very impressive that the 6’10 forward scored 28 points earlier in the season at Penn State.
Rayman also scored 34 points at Lafayette, which is much higher than Nelson’s season high of 24 points, which he did twice in back-to-back games against Wagner and St. Francis in November. Putting that fact aside though, Nelson was a much more impactful player than Rayman was for their respective teams.
Let’s look at the hard stats first. Nelson averaged more points (15.1) than Rayman did. He also had a slightly higher field goal percentage (.448 to .443) than Rayman while taking 25 more shots. What’s even more impressive for Nelson is the fact that even though he’s almost a foot shorter than Rayman, they both averaged 4.5 rebounds per game.
There are two statistics however that should have separated Nelson from the pack. He is eighth in all of Division I college basketball for steals, with 2.45 a game. Second, he is third in the nation with 37.5 minutes per game.
Perhaps the argument is that because Nelson played more, he had a clear stat advantage over Rayman. That could be a fair argument. If Rayman had played more, he would have had better numbers.
However, a counterargument could be made as well. If Rayman had played more, there is a chance he would have been less effective. Especially for a freshman who is not used to playing at the collegiate level, Rayman could have tired out more as the season progressed which would result in a reduced quality of play.
The fact of the matter is that no Patriot League team relied on a freshman more than AU did with Nelson. Before conference play, Nelson got to the point where head coach Mike Brennan didn’t feel comfortable taking him off the court.
He was too valuable to the team and when he was on the bench, both the offense and defense struggled. Even as the season progressed and his heavy minutes continued to pile up, he showed no signs of slowing down.
Another argument that could be made against Nelson winning is the team’s record. Yes at (8-21 5-13 Pl) the Eagles have had a disappointing season. But for Rookie of the Year awards both at the professional and collegiate level, team record shouldn’t matter.
When Lehigh senior center Tim Kempton Jr. won the award his freshman season, the Mountain Hawks were just 7-11 in conference play. When AU’s own Delante Jones won last year, the Eagles were a mediocre 9-9. This year, Colgate finished 8-10, winding up as the 6th seed in the Patriot League tournament, the same seeding for Kempton and Jones’ teams their freshmen seasons.
The point is that Colgate’s three game advantage over AU shouldn’t have been the difference between Rayman and Nelson winning the award. This isn’t the Player of the Year, where the award should represent a player who clearly made his team better and put them in a position to compete for the league title.
The Rookie of the Year award should go to a player that performed at the highest individual level regardless of how the rest of his team performed. By more accounts, Nelson had a better individual season than Rayman. Plain and simple.
One last argument that could be made against Nelson is that he was competing with teammate Mark Gasperini for the award. Perhaps the head coaches, who vote, were split on who should have won between the two AU freshmen and ultimately went with Rayman.
Again, there isn’t much on that idea. Gasperini had a nice season, but Nelson outperformed him statistically in points, rebounds, assists and steals. Nelson wasn’t nearly the defensive liability Gasperini was, who committed 19 more fouls than Nelson in 308 fewer minutes.
I would be very interested to see the voting results. How many first-place votes did Nelson get? Did Gasperini get any? Regardless, Nelson should use this to fuel him for the Patriot League tournament, which kicks off Tuesday and throughout the rest of his Eagles career. Even without the award, the future of AU basketball is looking brighter every day.