NEW YORK - For the past few games of the regular season, West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins subtly campaigned that his team had the Big East Conference's best defensive player.
After that player, John Flowers, blocked six shots, took a charge and turned a steal into a four-point play in a 72-70 victory against Louisville on Saturday, Huggins was asked to update his theory.
"I don't think it's much of a theory," he said. "He's the best defender in the league. He's the most versatile defender in the league."
Some of his peers disagree, and Monday the Big East's coaches voted Syracuse forward Rick Jackson the conference's Defensive Player of the Year.
The No. 20 Mountaineers can only hope Flowers responds to that disappointment in this week's Big East Tournament as well as he did to a prior setback that came to define his career.
Back in 2008, WVU played and lost an NCAA Sweet Sixteen game against Xavier. Flowers was a freshman on that team and he sat on the bench and watched all 45 minutes of a game that went to overtime and went against the Mountaineers largely because they couldn't defend the Musketeers in the game's key moments.
"I don't think he really knew what it took to play defense for Huggs," said senior point guard Joe Mazzulla of Flowers.
"I think he learned when he didn't get in the Xavier game it was going to take something else.
"I think he's really matured and from that point on he started to take defense seriously and commit himself to the game."
Flowers defended across the floor as a senior this season. He was No. 2 in the Big East with 2.4 blocks per game, 12th in rebounding (6.6) and added 23 steals.
Defense is nothing new, though. He averaged 6.4 blocks per game as high school senior for St. Mary's Ryken, in Waldorf, Md., in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference that always produces Division I players.
"It's a different level here than in high school," he said. "I think I always had the potential to play defense, but I didn't have the opportunity to show it like I do now."
Flowers averaged 12.4, 16.9 and 14.4 minutes per game his first three seasons, but is at 30.8 this season. He's started all 30 games after starting 12 his first three WVU seasons combined. In those seasons, Flowers blocked 83 shots. He already has 73 this season.
"I realized I had to go out and make myself better," Flowers said. "Ever since then, I've done what Coach has asked me to do."
The 6-foot-7 Flowers would have been the second WVU player to win the defensive award since the school joined the Big East in the 1995-96 season. Damian Owens won in 1998 largely because of his skill as a perimeter defender and for setting the school record with 97 steals.
Jackson led the conference with 2.5 blocks per game and was No. 1 in rebounding (10.7 per game) and defensive rebounding (7.2). Yet Jackson played in the middle of the 2-3 zone and didn't do nearly as much man-to-man guarding against the assortment of players Flowers did.