1. TRAE YOUNG, Oklahoma
2. JALEN BRUNSON, Villanova
One of the assumptions that has been made in regards to the Player of the Year race is that there is no race.
Trae Young has had this thing done and dusted since he decided to start leading the nation in both scoring and assists.
And as of today, he is still in the lead. The absurd numbers that he is putting up combined with the incredible performances that he has produced in big games and big moments makes it hard to truly craft an argument that anyone is in the same realm as Young right now.
Which is why I’m going to dedicate today’s Power Rankings to a hypothetical: What does Jalen Brunson, who is my clear-cut No. 2 today, have to do in order to have a real chance at winning the National Player of the Year award.
The big thing that Brunson has to do is to hope that Young continues to come back to earth. The numbers that he has put up this season are absolutely mind-blowing, and if he continues to score and assist at this rate while Oklahoma continues to keep on winning games, it’s hard to imagine that anyone — Marvin Bagley III and Deandre Ayton included — would come close to being able to usurp him.
But there are signs that are pointing to Young slowing down as defenses begin to key entirely on him. Oklahoma has lost three of their last four games and four of their last seven — to be fair, each of those losses came on the road — while Young’s super-human levels of efficiency at his sky-high usage rate have started to look more in line with what we would expect to see. For example: His offensive rating, according to KenPom, is ten points lower in league play than it is over the entire season, and you don’t even need to see the advanced metrics to know that’s the case.
What he’s doing on the offensive end, the efficiency that he is playing with, is similarly inhuman. It’s literally never been done before, not even close:
I think there may be a more important point to make here as well: Villanova is much better than Oklahoma.
I’d make the argument that Villanova is the best team in college basketball, and part of the reason for that is that Brunson makes full use of the weapons that are around him. Yes, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, Omari Spellman and Phil Booth are better than Brady Manek, Christian James and Kristian Doolittle, but being on a team that is led by a point guard that is as good, as smart and as unselfish as Brunson has unquestionably made each of them better.
So let’s take a look into the future.
Young has 10 league games remaining, and five of them are on the road. KenPom currently has them projected to win seven of those ten games, but two of those wins are by one points: West Virginia at home and Baylor on the road. I would personally set the over/under for Oklahoma regular season wins at six, which would put them at 11-7 in the Big 12, which will likely put them in second or third place in the league and somewhere in the 15-20 range in the AP polls. Let’s say Young has as many Alabama games (17 points, eight assists, five turnovers, 6-for-17 shooting, vanishing act down the stretch) as he does TCU games (43 points, 11 boards, seven assists, dominant down the stretch) the rest of the way.
Would that be too much for Brunson to overcome if he keeps up with his production and Villanova wins the Big East outright? As it currently stands, Villanova has a one-game lead on Xavier and a two-game lead on everyone else in the league. Their four toughest games left on the schedule — at Providence, at Xavier, at Creighton, at Seton Hall — come in a five-game stretch over the course of 14 days. I think they’ll win at least two, and probably three, of those games.
And then there is this nugget: Brunson has played his best basketball this season against KenPom’s Tier A opponents, meaning games against top 50 competition, adjusted for home-or-away.
In theory, that would mean that Brunson will be better down the stretch than he has been to date.
So while I still think Young has a commanding lead, this race is far from over.
3. MARVIN BAGLEY III, Duke
4. DEANDRE AYTON, Arizona
5. DEVONTE’ GRAHAM, Kansas
6. JOCK LANDALE, Saint Mary’s
7. KEITA BATES-DIOP, Ohio State
8. CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue
9. TREVON BLUIETT, Xavier
10. KEENAN EVANS, Texas Tech
ALSO CONSIDERED: MIKAL BRIDGES, Villanova; MILES BRIDGES, Michigan State; KEENAN EVANS, Texas Tech; TRA HOLDER, Arizona State; CHANDLER HUTCHISON, Boise State; CALEB MARTIN, Nevada; YANTE MATEN, Georgia; LUKE MAYE, North Carolina; SHAKE MILTON, SMU; ALLONZO TRIER, Arizona