The latest Player of the Year straw poll is out, and not surprisingly, it’s topped by the three players that most believe are competing for the award: Doug McDermott (who shall henceforth be referred to only as Dougie McBuckets), Trey Burke and Mason Plumlee.
McDermott had 26 of the 54 first place votes while Burke managed to grab 17 of them and Plumlee notched 10. The remaining first-place vote went to Zeller, an issue I’m going to get to in a minute.
First, the Plumlee discussion. Everyone saw Duke get pulverized by Miami last night, which came after a less-than-inspiring win over Georgia Tech and a loss to NC State prior to that. Plumlee has been a different player in those last three games than he was over the course of the first 15, but that stretch has happened to coincide with the injury to Ryan Kelly. Without Kelly on the floor to draw opposing bigs out of the paint — he shoots over 52% from three — there is less room for Plumlee to operate on the block and less space for Quinn Cook to penetrate, which helps create layups and offensive rebounding lanes for Plumlee.
In short, Plumlee’s not as effective without his front court mate on the floor. We knew this prior to Kelly’s injury, and we’ve had that reinforced since he’s been out. So why should we punish Plumlee, who was absolutely dominant during Duke’s early-season success, because his teammate has a bad foot? If Kelly continues to miss time and Plumlee continues to struggle, than by all means he will drop in these rankings.
But as of right now, none of the other players on this list — including Cody Zeller — deserve to be ranked over him.
Which brings me back to the Indiana center.
Somehow, he managed to finish fourth in the straw poll and earn a first-place, which is ironic since he’s not even the most deserving player on his team. That would be Victor Oladipo. In addition to being the best perimeter defender in the Big Ten this side of Aaron Craft, Oladipo has become one of the most efficient scorers in the country. He’s shooting 55.2% from three — up from 20.8% last year — and while that’s been on limited attempts (16-29), the improvement can be seen in his shooting from inside the arc, where the junior two-guard is shooting 68.7%. Oladipo is also just as good of an offensive rebounder as Zeller.
Zeller’s been very good this year, and perhaps the biggest reason that he’s been seen as a bit of a disappointment this season is that a) he had such high expectations coming into the season and b) the supporting cast he has on this Indiana roster means that he doesn’t need to be the only piece offensively.
But the biggest reason that the Hoosiers a national title favorite this season is the improvement in their defense, and that starts with Oladipo. Throw in his immense development on the offensive end of the floor — Oladipo was a liability last year — and there you have it.
Simply put, there is a reason that Oladipo was a starter on the Dream Team that we put together last week and that Zeller didn’t make the team.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.