Experts make case for Harding, Parker as POY

ESPN.com asked its experts to fill out a ballot for several postseason awards. But when it came to penciling in the national player of the year, a fill-in-the-blank answer just wouldn't do. So here are some experts' takes on why they selected the player they did.

At this point, it seems like an argument for anyone other than Candace Parker as the 2006-07 national player of the year must be framed as an argument against the Tennessee star. That's unfortunate, and it's also essentially impossible. Parker is a deserving candidate, and there should be little reason for dissension if she walks away with a sweep of the player-of-the-year hardware.

My only problem with the Parker lobby is the extent to which some people lean on the crutch of CP revolutionizing women's basketball. Putting the veracity of that claim aside for the moment, since when did player-of-the-year voting come with marks for artistic impression?

The award shouldn't be about innovation or long-term impact on the sport; it should be about a player's impact on women's college basketball this season. And while Parker still has a very strong case based solely on that premise, Duke's Lindsey Harding has a slightly better case.

Flash back to early fall and while Duke was hardly suffering for respect, it was perceived as a decided third wheel behind Maryland and North Carolina in the ACC race. The Blue Devils lost three key seniors in Monique Currie, Mistie Williams and Jessica Foley, leaving Harding and Alison Bales as the only seniors on a team loaded with freshmen and sophomores. That meant an entirely new role on and off the court for Harding, one that even her coach admitted made her something of an unproven commodity.

"Lindsey's always been one to pass first, shoot second," Goestenkors said way back in November. "And that's the role for a lot of great point guards. However, for this team this year, we need her to shoot first and pass second. So that's a change in her mentality."

Harding not only adjusted to the new role, she excelled in it. She shares the scoring load with Bales and Abby Waner, but Harding is the cornerstone. Teams can take away Bales in the post and Waner can suffer through a bad shooting night, but nobody has figured out a way to stop Harding's inside-outside game. And when the opposition has been the toughest and points the hardest to come by, Harding has been at her best this season.

The best player on the best team shouldn't necessarily be the favorite for player of the year; it just so happens that no player has had a greater impact on how this college basketball season has unfolded than the leader of the nation's No. 1 team.

Parker is the future of women's basketball, but Harding deserves credit for what she's doing in the present. -- ESPN.com's Graham Hays

With all due respect to Stanford's Candice Wiggins, the field for national player of the year has narrowed to Duke's Lindsey Harding, Oklahoma's Courtney Paris and Tennessee's Candace Parker.

The three are very different types of players. Harding is the conductor, the distributor and the consummate defender who can also score in multiple ways at a very high level when needed.

For sheer production every single game, Paris is the best in Division I, an automatic double-double. It's ridiculous how consistent she is in the face of every possible attempt at defense.

Parker is a supremely gifted athlete with size, skills and versatility that make her a highlight reel every game.

All are very deserving of player-of-the-year honors. How do you pick? Do we really have to?

OK, if we must. At the moment, Duke is undefeated, No. 1 and Harding has been mesmerizing in every one of the Blue Devils' biggest matchups. And she is playing a position that much more often than not ends up being the decisive factor in highly competitive games. So the nod in a crazy-close race goes to the Blue Devils' senior point guard. -- ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel

Lindsey Harding has had career numbers across the board and played big in every game this season. Three months ago, nobody ever thought she was going to be a player of the year candidate, and yet, she has taken her game to another level. Harding has on three occasions increased her single-game scoring high (it was 19 when she entered the season and is now 29 after her phenomenal performance against Maryland this past weekend). She is just a fifth-year senior on a mission.

But sophomore Candace Parker has been absolutely spectacular, too, and the Tennessee star gets my vote because she has to play multiple positions for her team.

But really, this was a very difficult decision. We're talking about the best player on the No. 1 team against the best, most versatile player on the nation's No. 2 team. -- ESPN's Nancy Lieberman