The case for Sam Iorio as Freshman of the Year

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When awards are announced for the Patriot League, there's a good chance that Alex Petrie of Lafayette will win the rookie of the year — and he's deserving. He's had a great year. That result, however, would mean that for the second consecutive year, a standout American freshman is passed over for the award.

Last year, Sa'eed Nelson. This season, Sam Iorio.

On the one hand, I get it: players on last-place teams — especially last-place teams by a full three games — don't win such honors. Lafayette has exceeded all expectations and won seven league games, tying for sixth. Petrie played a big role in that. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine American even being competitive during this messy season without the freshman from Allentown, Pa. With Iorio, American was right there in almost every league game. It just couldn't finish.

Iorio not only put up big numbers, but also often played out of position at the five and continued to produce on what should've been tired legs. — only teammate Larry Motuzis played a larger percentage of available minutes (89.6 to 88.8%). 

Let's compare some numbers (these are PL-only):

Scoring
Iorio: 17.1ppg, 57.2 E-fg%
Petrie: 18.3ppg, 54.7 E-fg%
Of note: While Petrie used 29.8% of Lafayette's possessions (third in the PL), Iorio did his damage using just 21.5% of AU's possessions. Petrie had just two games where he didn't reach double figures while Iorio had five such games.
Advantage: Petrie

Rebounding
Iorio: 22% D-reb rate, 5.4 OR%
Petrie: 10.5%, 1.8% 
Of note: Iorio was often in better position to rebound than the 6-foot-3 Petrie. That said, he was still often undersized in the paint and secured rebounds vs. bigger opponents. Iorio had the fourth-best defensive rebounding rate in the league.
Advantage: Iorio

Passing
Iorio: 10.1% assist rate, 1.4apg
Petrie: 7.6%, 0.88apg
Of note: While Iorio was often on the receiving end of cuts to the basket, he made nice feeds to backdoor-ing teammates occasionally, too. He was also often asked to be the decision-making passer or shoot in the high post against 2-3 looks. His 13.1% turnover rate was among the 10 lowest in the league while Petrie had an 18.8% turnover rate.

Defense
Iorio: 3.1% block rate, 2.4% steal percentage
Petrie: 0 block rate, 1.4% steal percentage
Of note: Iorio had a knack for swatting away opponents' layups at the last instant and averaged a block a game in conference play (seventh-best). He also averaged 1.4spg (ninth) while Petrie didn't record a block on the season and was nowhere to be seen among steals leaders. 
Advantage: Iorio

Intangible
Maybe the best thing would be to give the award to whoever's team wins in the Patriot League tournament Tuesday night, but of course that won't be the case. Lafayette is deeper and more experienced and can throw the ball in to senior big man Matt Klinewski when other action isn't working. Both teams played with enough capable outside shooters to keep the floor relatively spread and neither guy had double teams thrown his way. However, Iorio was absolutely American's No. 2 option whenever he was on the floor with Sa'eed Nelson (and often times No. 1) while the Leopards would sometimes call freshmen Justin Jaworski and E.J. Stephens' numbers (not to mention Paulius Zalys). Bottom line: Defenses could focus more on Iorio and he still burned them. Of course, being a versatile five man who shot 44% from 3 helped that a lot, too. 

Iorio probably won't win freshman of the year, but we think he should — just like Nelson should've claimed the honor a year ago. If nothing else, last-place American can begin the offseason feeling good about having two tremendous building blocks going into a year where the Eagles absolutely need to show great improvement in the win column. 

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