Michigan point guard Trey Burke began the season on the fringe of the national player of the year conversation. He was expected to be the catalyst for the Wolverines, a preseason top-10 team, but this was not expected.
All season long, Burke has been the epitome of consistency on a top-10 team. He scored double figures in every game and 15 or more points in every Big Ten game. He scored less than 15 points in just two games.
He had five or more assists in 25 of 31 games and became the calm leader on a Michigan team littered with freshmen playing major minutes.
The performance made an impact, as Burke led the final college basketball player of the year straw poll of the season, a poll comprised of actual voters for the Robertson, Associated Press, Naismith and Wooden Awards. It was the fourth straight poll in which the sophomore finished first.
Burke was on 59 of the 67 ballots cast in the final poll.
“We lost six games in the most important part of our season,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “He and Tim Hardaway and a bunch of guys just learning on the run. For him to carry us -- the courage that he’s had and the will and the fight he’s had in games with such tremendous poise.
“You don’t see much emotion from him ever, because he’s focused. Someone that does that without a supporting cast of seniors and juniors, like some of the really great players have, and that’s how we want to be. But it is what it is, and he’s played like a senior, veteran point guard.”
Here is the potential snag for Burke. With the stagger of votes and the continued ascent of Indiana junior Victor Oladipo, there is a chance for a split of the four major awards depending on how things go in the postseason.
Why the split? Consider this: Multiple voters changed their votes again this week, some after all the regular-season games had ended. Others indicated they voted for Burke for the Robertson Award -- the ballots were due Sunday at 8 p.m. -- but would vote differently today.
This volatility -- and this has been the case most of the season with five strong candidates over the final month of the season -- could lead to an awards split. A split appeared possible last season, when Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Kansas’ Thomas Robinson were close in the voting.
But with six players still receiving at least one first-place vote, and three -- Burke, Oladipo and Georgetown’s Otto Porter -- receiving more than 10, there is still potential room for fluctuation depending on postseason play.
The poll has been correct the past four seasons, but there has never been a race quite like this one. In none of the other four years had more than two players received double-digit first-place votes in the final poll. Only once, last season, had two players received double-digit first-place votes in the final poll.
In no other year did more than four players receive first-place votes in the final poll.
It is possible Burke will sweep the awards, but as I said last year, there is enough room for fluctuation where a split could be possible.
That said, here’s a peek at the 67 ballots in the most wide-open POY race in a while.
Tracking the contenders
Burke: Preseason -- T-11th; first regular-season poll -- 2nd; second regular-season poll -- 2nd; third regular-season poll -- 1st; fourth regular-season poll -- 1st; fifth regular-season poll -- 1st; Final poll -- 1st.
Oladipo: Preseason -- NR; first regular-season poll -- NR; second regular-season poll -- NR; third regular-season poll -- 4th; fourth regular-season poll -- 2nd; fifth regular-season poll -- 3rd; Final poll -- 2nd.
Porter: Preseason -- NR; first regular-season poll -- NR; second regular-season poll -- NR; third regular-season poll -- NR; fourth regular-season poll -- T-10th; fifth regular-season poll -- 2nd; Final poll -- 3rd.
McDermott: Preseason -- 2nd, first regular-season poll -- 3rd, second regular-season poll -- 1st, third regular-season poll -- 2nd; fourth regular-season poll -- 3rd; fifth regular-season poll -- 4th; Final poll -- 4th.
Olynyk: Preseason -- NR; first regular-season poll -- NR; second regular-season poll -- NR; third regular-season poll -- T-10; fourth regular-season poll -- 5th; fifth regular-season poll -- 5th; Final poll -- 5th.
Poll ballots are starting to be due. The Robertson was due this past Sunday. The AP is due this Sunday. The Wooden is due March 25 and the Naismith is due the Saturday of Final Four weekend. So as mentioned above, there is time for Porter or Oladipo to make a charge on Burke.
Burke took four of six regions, including a close race over Oladipo in their home region -- the Midwest. Oladipo won the South and Porter took the Far West.
Reminder as always: The poll is at the mercy of the voters. I send out emails seeking input from multiple voters in every region. It is up to them, then, to respond. Also, ballots were due at 5 p.m. on Tuesday. Also, as a reminder, structure for the poll is three points for a first-place vote, two for a second-place vote and one for a third-place vote.
The 10 players in the final poll all appeared in at least one other poll this season. They represent the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Missouri Valley, Summit and West Coast leagues and conferences.
Of the final 10, only three players appeared in every poll this season including the preseason: Burke, Doug McDermott and Cody Zeller. Nate Wolters and Mason Plumlee appeared in every regular season poll. Including the preseason, a total of 36 players showed up in at least one poll this season.