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Fredette and Walker play like nation's best

As we reach the midseason point, it's the right time to judge the highs and lows of the 2010-11 season. Want two Player of the Year candidates? BYU's Jimmer Fredette and Connecticut's Kemba Walker. How about the surprise player in the nation? Look no further than Syracuse's Rick Jackson.

Those are just two of the mythical midseason awards. Some others:

Best team: It's astonishing how many people press the panic button after one loss. This isn't college football, and one loss during the regular season won't ruin a season. So even after falling at Florida State this week, Duke is still the team to beat. It would be a lot better, however, with point guard Kyrie Irving in the lineup.

Player of the year: Fredette, BYU. Have to give Connecticut's Walker and Ohio State's Jared Sullinger some love, but Fredette is playing out of his mind. How many players in the last decade have the ability to score 40 any time he wants like Fredette?

Freshman of the year: Sullinger, Ohio State. Without question the best big man in the country and he'll make a strong push for national player of the year honors.

Coach of the year: Steve Fisher, San Diego State. Already 18-0 and ranked in the Top 10, the Aztecs are a sleeper pick to make the Sweet 16.

Surprise player: Jackson, Syracuse. Jackson shed 25 pounds during the offseason and not only reshaped his body, but his game as well (13.1 ppg, 11.8 rpg).

Surprise team: Central Florida. UCF won a string of 14 in a row including knocking off Florida and Miami before falling to Houston. Leading scorer Marcus Jordan isn't quite like his father, Mike, but he's good.

Most disappointing: Florida. The Gators were labeled overrated quickly back in November when they were smacked around at home by Ohio State. But losses to UCF and Jacksonville -- especially Jacksonville -- were puzzling.

Top league: The Big East wins it hands down, even with Georgetown struggling. Any of six teams -- Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Villanova, Notre Dame, UConn and Louisville -- could make the Sweet 16.

Most improved conference: Conference USA. UCF and UTEP add punch while old standby Memphis has issues. UAB, Southern Miss and Marshall could be dangerous. But the NCAA Tournament will be the standard by which the league is judged.

Most disappointing conference: SEC. Alabama and LSU -- the co-leaders in the West Division -- may struggle to make the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky is talented, but there's no national title contender in the league.

Most unpredictable team: Kansas State. The Wildcats have beaten Virginia Tech and Gonzaga and lost to Oklahoma State on the road and Colorado at home.

Wildest league: The Pac-10. Everybody with the exception of the Oregon schools has a winning record. And any team could win the league's postseason tournament.

Most underrated league: Horizon. Butler, Detroit, Valparaiso and Wright State are all tied for first place. Cleveland State is 15-3 with two of its losses coming to West Virginia and Butler who were in last season's Final Four.

Best NCAA Tournament bet: Duke will be the No. 1 seed in the East and play in Charlotte for the first two games, then travel to Newark for the East Regional. Ohio State has to go two hours north to Cleveland for the first two rounds before its gets shipped to New Orleans in the Southeast Regional. Syracuse is headed West and Kansas Southwest. That said, Duke will have the easiest path to Houston.

Sleeper team: Illinois. The Illini's athletes are as good as anyone's. Illinois plays in a strong league. Take a chance with Bruce Weber's group in your office pool.

Team that might disappoint: Notre Dame. Nice first five, but depth isn't there. It's doubtful the Irish can survive the tournament grind.

Team with something to prove: North Carolina. Everyone remembers that the Heels played in the NIT a year ago and the early-season struggles of prized freshman Harrison Barnes didn't make anyone forget, either.

Biggest question mark going into March: Duke point guard Irving. He's out for the year. Right?

All-American team: F -- Kyle Singler, Duke -- A complete player who has improved each season; Sullinger, Ohio State -- Will start to see more double teams; G -- Fredette, BYU -- Literally a point-per-minute scorer; G -- Walker, UConn -- Will fight with Fredette to lead the nation in scoring; G -- Nolan Smith, Duke -- When Irving went down, Smith stepped up his game.

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UB is 0-2 out the gate in the Mid-American Conference and the source of its issues is in the backcourt of Byron Mulkey and Zach Filzen. Mulkey and Filzen are the team's leading scorers but in losses to Bowling Green and Miami (Ohio) have combined to shoot 10 of 44 for 34 points. They each only made one field goal against the RedHawks.

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There was expected to be a fall-off at Siena this season but the Saints have lost four of five heading into Friday night's game at Marist and stand 5-10. Siena has transformed from a strong transition team to one that runs more halfcourt sets with an emphasis on defense. That's fine if you win, but first-year coach Mitch Buonaguro will soon discover the Saints fan base doesn't have much patience when it comes to losing.

e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com

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