Could a darkhorse win the C Spire Howell Trophy in 2017?
The college basketball season is heading ever so rapidly toward March Madness, which in Mississippi means the presentation of the C Spire Howell and Gillom trophies for the state's most outstanding players.
One winner would appear much more clear than the other.
Mississippi State junior Victoria Vivians has won the Gillom Trophy, named for Ole Miss great Peggie Gillom, for two years running. Vivians once again leads the balanced and deep Lady Bulldogs in scoring with 16.8 points per game, and State, 27-1 and 13-1, leads the SEC and is No. 3 in the nation.
Vivians did not hurt her chances when she broke out of a late-season slump to score 20 of her 25 points in the second half of State's huge, 72-67 road victory over Texas A&M Sunday. Honestly, State has been so dominant, you could probably make the next best Gillom case for one of Vivians' teammates, although Southern Miss senior standout Brittany Dinkins has achieved a monster season, leading the 18-9 Eagles in scoring (18.4), assists and steals.
The Howell Trophy, won for the last two years by Ole Miss's Stefan Moody, is much more wide open with three candidates seemingly leading the way (in alphabetical order):
• Ole Miss senior Sebastian Saiz entered Tuesday night's game at Mississippi State averaging a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds per game. Saiz is the SEC's leader in rebounding by more than three per game.
• Delta State senior Devin Schmidt leads the 19-8 Statesmen with 22.8 points per game. Schmidt, a guard, also leads the Statesmen in rebounding, assists and steals. The Howell Trophy is a single-season award, but Schmidt has enjoyed a marvelous four-year career with 2,444 points, ranking him third in all-time Mississippi men's basketball scoring.
• Mississippi State sophomore Quinndary Weatherspoon leads the 14-12 Bulldogs in scoring with 16.7 points per game, despite being plagued by an injured wrist. He also leads State in steals.
So, how to choose from among those three?
Delta State fans would tell you it's easy. Just look at Schmidt's numbers, they say.
But voters (90 percent by a media panel, a weighted 10 percent by C Spire fan voting) obviously must judge for themselves the difference in the level of competition.
In other words: How would Schmidt fare at the SEC level? What would Weatherspoon, playing the same position as Schmidt, and Saiz do in Division II?
This is not unprecedented quandary in Howell Trophy voting. In 2006, Delta State's Jasper Johnson won the Howell, averaging 20.8 points and 8.2 rebounds for the Statesmen, who finished 30-2. Johnson has been the lone non-Division I winner of the Howell.
It certainly didn't hurt Johnson's chances that he had already shown he could play and play well at the D-I level before he enjoyed that senior season at Delta State. Johnson, from Hollandale, had been outstanding at Southern Miss before transferring to DSU for his senior season. In fact, Johnson, with 27 points and 12 rebounds, had led USM to a victory over an SEC Champion LSU team that included Glenn “Big Baby” Davis.
Schmidt hasn't had the same opportunity although he did score 17 points and pass out six assists (with seven turnovers) in an 78-63 exhibition loss to Mississippi State in Starkville back in November.
It's a question each voter must decide for himself. There is much basketball to be played (including Tuesday night's Ole Miss-Mississippi game) played after this column was written.) The C Spire Howell and Gillom trophies will be presented at a luncheon March 6 at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.
Rick Cleveland in a Jackson-based syndicated columnist. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.