Should Sindarius Thornwell Have Been in the Naismith and Wooden Award Talks?

Photo Credit: The State (featured image), CBS Sports (team logos)

Frank Mason. Lonzo Ball. Josh Hart. Caleb Swanigan. All of those are players that have received loads of attention from the media and fans this season because of the tremendous seasons that they have put together. They are also the four finalists for this season’s Naismith Award.

That is not the case for South Carolina Gamecocks’ senior guard Sindarius Thornwell, at least attention-wise. Thornwell has not been mentioned at all on any player of the year candidate lists as a legitimate contender. He was on the late-season Naismith Award Top 30 list, but not the late-season Wooden Award Top 20 list.

That is some major disrespect right there.

While Thornwell has no chance to win either of those awards now that the finalists have been determined, that means nothing in terms of how well he has played. So why has he not been disrespected and not considered a contender for these awards despite his fantastic season?

Maybe Thornwell has not been considered a contender for these awards because he missed six games while injured this season. After all, the four players listed in the first paragraph have played in all of their games this season.

While that is possible, Washington Huskies’ guard Markelle Fultz, the likely #1 overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft, has been in the discussion for both the Naismith Award and Wooden Award all season long despite missing six games as well. While he is not a finalist, he has still drawn lots of buzz for his spectacular season.

Maybe Thornwell has not been considered a contender for these awards because his team has not been that great this season. After all, the four players listed in the first paragraph are all on really good teams that combined for just 15 losses prior to conference tournaments beginning.

While that, too, is possible, Fultz and the Huskies finished with a mere 9-22 record this season, yet he still got the attention he deserved for those awards. Thornwell and the Gamecocks were 22-10 when the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament started having lost six of their previous nine games and five of their previous seven. They were 19-7 with Thornwell in the lineup.

The Gamecocks were tied for just 41st in the RPI and were considered to have been over-seeded in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament by many people when they were given a 7-seed. While they were nowhere near as bad as Washington, there were by no means considered an elite team by anyone.

But now we know that the Gamecocks aren’t a bad team at all, not by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, they may very well be an elite team, perhaps even good enough to win the national championship.

After a come-from-behind 88-81 upset victory over the 2-seed Duke Blue Devils on Sunday night in the second round of this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, we know just how good Thornwell and the Gamecocks are. A 65-point second half cannot be performed by a team that is no good, especially against Duke of all teams; that is just common sense.

The Gamecocks pulled it off to complete their epic comeback, proving just how great they are. Thornwell himself put up great numbers in the thrilling win. He scored 24 points to go along with 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 1 steal.

Through two games in this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, Thornwell has averaged 35.5 minutes per game, 26.5 points per game, 8.5 rebounds per game, 3.5 assists per game, 1.0 block per game, and 2.0 steals per game while shooting 48.5% from the field, 50.0% from 3-point range, and 78.9% from the free throw line.

Through the win over Duke, Thornwell has played in 28 games in all this season and averaged 33.7 minutes per game, 21.4 points per game, 7.3 rebounds per game, 2.9 assists per game, 0.9 blocks per game, and 2.2 steals per game. He is shooting 44.4% from the field, 40.2% from 3-point range, and 82.8% from the free throw line.

These numbers are just as good as the numbers put up by the four players listed in the first paragraph. You can see their statistics compared to Thornwell’s below.

NOTE: Statistics and team records are updated through Tuesday, March 21st, 2017, at 2:00 AM EDT; this listed is sorted alphabetically.

ucla Lonzo Ball, Guard, California-Los Angeles Bruins (31-4)
  • Statistics: 35 games played, 35.0 minutes per game, 14.7 points per game, 6.1 rebounds per game, 7.6 assists per game, 0.7 blocks per game, 1.9 steals per game, 55.6% field goal percentage, 42.0% 3-point field goal percentage, 67.7% free throw percentage
nova Josh Hart, Guard, Villanova Wildcats (32-4)
  • Statistics: 36 games played, 33.1 minutes per game, 18.7 points per game, 6.4 rebounds per game, 2.9 assists per game, 0.3 blocks per game, 1.5 steals per game, 51.0% field goal percentage, 40.4% 3-point field goal percentage, 74.7% free throw percentage
kansas Frank Mason, Guard, Kansas Jayhawks (30-4)
  • Statistics: 34 games played, 36.1 minutes per game, 20.8 points per game, 4.1 rebounds per game, 5.2 assists per game, 0.1 blocks per game, 1.3 steals per game, 48.6% field goal percentage, 47.2% 3-point field goal percentage, 79.1% free throw percentage
pur Caleb Swanigan, Forward, Purdue Boilermakers (27-7)
  • Statistics: 34 games played, 32.5 minutes per game, 18.5 points per game, 12.6 rebounds per game, 3.0 assists per game, 0.8 blocks per game, 0.4 steals per game, 52.7% field goal percentage, 43.2% 3-point field goal percentage, 78.5% free throw percentage
sc Sindarius Thornwell, Guard, South Carolina Gamecocks (24-10)
  • Statistics: 28 games played, 33.7 minutes per game, 21.4 points per game, 7.3 rebounds per game, 2.9 assists per game, 0.9 blocks per game, 2.2 steals per game, 44.4% field goal percentage, 40.2% 3-point field goal percentage, 82.8% free throw percentage

It is time to stop basing who is considered for these prestigious awards on the lack of short-term injuries or how good we think that a player’s team is. All of these players played in close to all if not all of their games this season, so there is no major discrepancy there. Four of these five players are playing for teams headed to this year’s Sweet Sixteen, and the other plays for the #1 overall seeded team. There is literally no major discrepancy there in terms of how good the teams are that these players play for either.

The deciding factor for the Naismith and Wooden awards, both single player awards, should be in terms of how well the players themselves play. Thornwell is right up there with the best players in the nation, and the statistics back it up. He has done it against solid opponents and in crucial games as well.

While he is a senior this season and will not be able to win the Naismith Award or Wooden Award in his college career, notice should be taken to just how good Thornwell is so a player like him in the future does not get snubbed from winning one or both of these prestigious awards just because of a short-term injury or how good his team is perceived to be.

-Asher Fair