It’s funny the way that the Player of the Year race plays out.
Prior to the start of the season, Miles Bridges seemed like a lock to be the Preseason National Player of the Year. You combine how good he was last season with how good he could be this season and the fact that Michigan State was a preseason top three team in the country, and it was a relatively easy pick to make.
Fast forward, and a little more than three weeks into the season, Bridges isn’t even one of the names that I’m considering for National Player of the Year.
Now to be fair, much of that has to do with the fact that he dealt with an ankle injury that limited him some what, and the improvement of the likes of Josh Langford and Cassius Winston has made it easier for Bridges to play the background while he gets back to 100 percent.
But it’s still funny how that works.
In fact, four of our five Preseason First-Team All-Americans are out of the top ten of these Player of the Year Power Rankings. None of them are in the top five, which essentially means that we would have whiffed on the First-Team All-Americans should the season end to day. Now, in our defense, Michael Porter Jr. had surgery and Bridges got hurt while Allonzo Trier and Grayson Allen are still in the mix and Devonte’ Graham could arguably be ranked higher.
So it might all even out in the end.
But as of today, this list still has some names that may not necessarily seem like they’re in the right spot.
1. MARVIN BAGLEY III, Duke: Bagley’s place atop these Power Rankings likely isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so instead of once against talking about the numbers he’s putting up (22.0 points, 11.2 boards) or the performances that he’s had in big games, I want to note something interesting I found about Duke’s offense: Have they turned into one of those teams whose best offense is a missed shot or a bucket in transition?
Duke is in the 11th percentile nationally points-per-possession on spot-up jumpers. Despite having Bagley and Wendell Carter on the roster, they are only in the 41st percentile nationally in PPP on post-ups; Bagley scores a respectable 1.0 PPP on post-ups, while Carter, who has had more post touches, according to Synergy, than Bagley this season, is at 0.732 PPP.
Despite that, Duke is still in the 80th percentile in half court offense and, according to KenPom, a top five offense in raw efficiency. They also lead the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and are checking in at the 96th percentile in transition offense, which accounts for a full 20 percent of their possessions.
This is not a criticism. Duke is wearing down teams and winning games. It’s working.
But it’s also weird seeing Duke turn into North Carolina.
2. JORDAN MURPHY, Minnesota: We’re now nine games into the season and Jordan Murphy has nine double-doubles. Murphy is the anchor of the Golden Gophers, and the biggest reason that they look like they might end up being the second-best team in the Big Ten this season.
3. JALEN BRUNSON, Villanova: There are some people out there that will tell you that Villanova’s best player is Mikal Bridges, and honestly, the argument for him is pretty strong. Considering the efficiency that he is playing with offensively and the versatility and playmaking that he provides defensively, it’s a compelling case.
But Brunson is still the guy. Let’s forget the intangibles, the fact that he’s the best pure point guard and leader in college basketball this year and most years, for a second and instead just focus on what he’s actually doing on the floor. Brunson leads the nation in offensive rating for players that use more than 20 percent of their team’s possessions, and he’s posting those kind of efficiency numbers despite playing the position where he has the ball in his hands the most. He’s shooting 71.7 percent from two, 51.7 percent from three and 84.6 percent from the free throw line. Most people want those shooting splits to add up to 180; Brunson checks in at 208. He has nine turnovers in 238 minutes.
Should I mention he’s averaging 17.9 points and 4.5 assists?
We’ll get a real sense for just how good Brunson, Bridges and Villanova truly is on Tuesday night when they take on Gonzaga in the Jimmy V Classic.
4. DEVONTE’ GRAHAM, Kansas: After going for 35 points and five assists in back-to-back games, Graham is one of three players in college basketball this season to average at least 18 points and eight assists. Trae Young is one of them. Marshall’s Jon Elmore – who is putting up 24.9 points and 8.4 assists per game – is the other. The difference? Graham is doing it for the No. 2 team in the country who just so happens to have seven scholarship players and uses a 6-foot-4 walk-on as their third big man.
5. TRAE YOUNG, Oklahoma: Last week, we showed you just how much of an outlier season Trae Young is having. He’s doing things that have never been done, at least not in the 26 years on Basketball Reference’s database or the 14 years in KenPom’s database. To provide a quick update, Young’s usage rate is up to 37 percent, although his efficiency took a little bit of a dip, down to 125.9. Still: no one has ever come close to that. Ever.
6. TREVON BLUIETT, Xavier: Bluiett snapped out of a mini-slump by pumping in 28 points as the Musketeers beat archrival Cincinnati in the Crosstown Shootout. I’ll let Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News handle the explanation for this one.
7. TRA HOLDER, Arizona State: The Sun Devils have only played once since Holder’s 40-point outburst in the win over Xavier, but he’s still averaging better than 22 points, six boards and five assists, although his three-point shooting percentage dropped from 50 percent to 48.8 percent. Almost had to cut him from the rankings for that.
8. BONZIE COLSON, Notre Dame: Bonzie struggled offensively in the last two games – partly because he had to deal with Jaren Jackson, partly because he was ejected for swinging an elbow against St. Francis – but I do think it’s notable that he posted five steals and four blocks in that game. Colson has become much more of a playmaker on that end of the floor this season.
9. DESI RODRIGUEZ, Seton Hall: After averaging 26.5 points in wins over Texas Tech and at Louisville, the latter of which included a game-winning bucket, Rodriguez is now averaging an even 20 points for a top 20 team on which he wasn’t even supposed to be one of the two best players entering the season. His rise into matchup-nightmare and go-to scorer for the Pirates has kept them from a slow start to the season.
10. JEVON CARTER, West Virginia: We all kind of wrote off West Virginia after their awful start to the season, but maybe we should start paying attention to the Mountaineers again? They haven’t lost since that blowout loss to Texas A&M in Germany, and Carter has turned into a caricature of himself, averaging 19.0 points, 5.5 assists, 4.8 boards and an absurd 4.5 steals. Like Villanova, we’ll get a better sense of where WVU stands nationally as they take on Virginia Tuesday night.
ALSO CONSIDERED: GRAYSON ALLEN, Duke; DEANDRE AYTON, Arizona; MIKAL BRIDGES, Villanova; KEENAN EVANS, Texas Tech; D.J. HOGG, Texas A&M; DAKOTA MATHIAS, Purdue; YANTE MATEN, Georgia; LUKE MAYE, North Carolina; SHAKE MILTON, SMU; KHYRI THOMAS, Creighton; ALLONZO TRIER, Arizona