In a conference loaded with talent, St. John's guard Dwight Hardy and forward Justin Burrell won two of the four major individual awards announced Monday by the Big East Conference. Hardy was named the league's Most Improved Player, and Burrell was voted by the league's coaches as winner of the Sixth Man Award.
The coaches, who aren't allowed to vote for their own players, also named Syracuse forward Rick Jackson Defensive Player of the Year, and Pittsburgh guard Brad Wanamaker won the Sportsmanship Award. Jackson led the league in rebounding (10.7) and blocked shots (2.5). Wanamaker guided Pitt to the regular-season title with a 15-3 record while averaging 11.9 points, 5.2 assists.
The Associated Press writers' poll and ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll also were released Monday, and St. John's dropped slightly to 17th in AP and 18th in ESPN/USA Today. The top five were the same in both polls: Ohio State, Kansas, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Duke. In addition to Pitt, Notre Dame and St. John's, six other Big East teams made the rankings, including Syracuse (11/11), Louisville (14/14), West Virginia (20/NR), Connecticut (21/19), Georgetown (22/22) and Cincinnati (25/NR). Villanova dropped out of both polls but was rated 28/27 in vote totals.
Hardy's name was nowhere to be found on the list of preseason player projections, but he previously was named to the All-Big East first team as the league's fourth-leading scorer with a 17.9 average. Last season, Hardy came off the bench for all but two games, but this season, he turned into a sometimes-dominating scorer. In the process, he changed his game from focusing primarily on outside shooting to developing a mid-range game and driving to the rim.
Burrell (pictured) averaged 6.6 points and 5.0 rebounds while playing 21.1 minutes per game off the bench. He shot 51.1 percent from the field and led the Red Storm in rebounding eight times. He also is a tenacious defender and a smart passer.
The remaining regular-season awards -- Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year and Scholar-Athlete of the Year -- will be announced between the afternoon and evening sessions of the first round of the Big East Conference tournament on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.
HAVE SOME FUN: Pick the Big East tournament bracket here. No prizes, though, just bragging rights.