The John R. Wooden Award announced five finalists for the nation’s most outstanding college basketball player on Monday.
The group is highlighted by three players who will participate in the Final Four. Wisconsin senior center Frank Kaminsky, Duke freshman center Jahlil Okafor, Kentucky junior center Willie Cauley-Stein, Notre Dame senior guard Jerian Grant and Ohio State freshman guard D’Angelo Russell are the five finalists.
The winner will be announced April 10 at 8 p.m. ET on the College Basketball Awards Show.
The Wooden All-Americans were also announced, with Wichita State junior guard Ron Baker, Northern Iowa senior forward Seth Tuttle, Virginia junior guard Malcolm Brogdon, Utah senior guard Delon Wright and Gonzaga junior Kyle Wiltjer joining the five national player of the year candidates.
No. 3 Notre Dame knocks off No. 7 Wichita State to get to the Elite 8
For the first time since 1979, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are headed to the Elite 8.
And man, did they make a statement along the way.
With 16:41 left in the game, No. 7 Wichita State completed their comeback from an early 13-point deficit, using a 6-0 spurt to take a 38-37 lead, their first of the game. It would also be their last lead of the game, as No. 3 Notre Dame hit eight straight shots and 15 of their next 17 field goals as they went on a game-winning 38-16 run over the course of the next 12 minutes.
“We got going a little bit,” head coach Mike Brey said in his postgame interview on CBS. “We guarded to get out of here, and then we got into one of those offensive rhythms.”
Demetrius Jackson was terrific for the Irish, finishing with 20 points and three assists, while Pat Connaughton added 16 points and 10 boards, but the real star of the night was Jerian Grant, who made the evisceration of a good Shocker defense seem effortless.
Grant had nine points and 11 assists while committing just two turnovers, putting on a clinic in how to run the pick-and-roll. Wichita State put Tekele Cotton on Grant, and he actually did a pretty good job in limiting the first-team all-american’s ability to score. But what the Irish do offensively is to spread the floor with shooters, which created quite a bit of space for center Zach Auguste rolling to the rim; Auguste was 6-for-6 from the floor and had 15 points. When Wichita State’s defense slid over to help, Grant picked out those shooters, as the Irish went 9-for-19 from beyond the arc.
The question that everyone is going to ask after seeing Notre Dame put on this kind of offensive clinic is whether or not the Irish can get to the Final Four, a path that, you would assume, runs through No. 1 Kentucky. The conversation is going to be dominated by talk of whether or not the Irish can actually get that win, but for now, it may be moot.
At least to Notre Dame.
Brey is a terrific basketball coach, a guy that has won more than 400 career games in his 15 seasons at Notre Dame, but his relative lack of tournament success has left him the butt of jokes. This is Brey’s first trip to the Elite 8, and it was only the second time at Notre Dame that he even reached the second weekend, the first since 2003. And given what he’s been through this week, with his mother passing away the day of Notre Dame’s win over No. 6 Butler, what choice does Brey have beyond living in the moment.
Frankly, I don’t think who they play matters to Brey, who, according to reporters in Cleveland, walked into the press room early and, when told he could wait for his turn at the podium in a back room, asked, “Is there a bar in it?”
He’s not worried about who he plays. He’s just happy to be playing another game.
As he told CBS after the game, “see you Saturday, baby.”
Kaminsky has greatly outperformed expectations he had entering the season, even though he was a preseason all-american pick. He’s been sensational, leading the Badgers in scoring, rebounding, assists, blocks and steals. Not bad for a guy that averaged 10 minutes as a sophomore.
Jahlil Okafor, Duke (17.6 ppg, 9.2 rpg)
Okafor is an easy pick as well, as he was the most dominating offensive force in the country this season. To get an idea of just how good he can be, think about this: He’s not just a poor defender, he can be downright awful at times, and yet he’s going to finish the season as a consensus first team all-american and the runner-up to Kaminsky in the Player of the Year voting. Not bad.
D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State (19.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 5.2 apg)
If Kaminsky has been the nation’s best player and Okafor has been the most dominating offensive force, than Russell has to be the nation’s most entertaining player. He can take over a game with his ability to score, and he throws some absurd passes in transition. Can he be this year’s Shabazz Napier in the NCAA tournament?
Jerian Grant, Notre Dame (16.8 ppg, 6.7 apg)
The Irish have no business being a top ten team this season, but they are because Grant has been incredible. Notre Dame has one of the most potent offensive attacks in the country, and it all centers around Grant’s ability to make plays off the dribble and in ball-screen actions. He’s better than anyone else in the country at making his teammate’s better.
Cauley-Stein’s numbers don’t measure up to anyone else on the first team, but what he does best doesn’t necessarily show up in the scorebook. The Wildcats are downright dominant on the defensive end of the floor, and Cauley-Stein is the engine that drives them. He’s the best perimeter and the best interior defender in the country all at the same time.
NBCSPORTS.COM’S SECOND TEAM ALL-AMERICANS
Delon Wright, Utah (14.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 5.3 apg, 2.1 spg): Wright did so much for Utah this season, and while his numbers were impressive, it was his defense and ability to understand his strengths offensively that were most important to the Utes.
Kris Dunn, Providence (15.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 7.4 apg): The only reason Dunn isn’t in the conversation for National Player of the Year is that he turns the ball over too much. He was completely dominant at times this season.
Buddy Hield, Oklahoma (17.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg): Hield has a rep for being one of the nation’s best defenders, dating back to his freshman season. Now he’s also one of the best wing scorers.
Rico Gathers, Baylor (11.6 ppg, 11.7 rpg): Gathers is the nation’s best rebounder, an improving scorer on the block and a critical component for arguably the nation’s most surprising team.
Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse (17.5 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 2.5 bpg): He won’t get to showcase his ability this March, but there was not a more improved player in the country than Christmas this season.
NBCSPORTS.COM’S THIRD TEAM ALL-AMERICANS
T.J. McConnell, Arizona (9.6 ppg, 6.3 apg, 2.1 spg): McConnell’s numbers are nowhere near as impressive as the other lead guards here, but if you watched Arizona play over the last two months, you understand just how important he was to that team’s success.
Melo Trimble, Maryland (16.1 ppg, 3.1 apg): Maryland is ranked 31st in KenPom. Yet, they’re a top ten team that’s going to be a top four seed because they’re 11-0 in games decided by six points or less. Trimble is their ‘closer’. He earned this spot.
Justin Anderson, Virginia (13.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 48.5% 3PT): Anderson was in the mix for first team all-american when he broke his finger. He deserves recognition despite missing time.
Bobby Portis, Arkansas (17.8 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.5 bpg): I was called out by an Arkansas assistant coach for having Bobby Portis ranked 62nd in our top 100 players list in the preseason. That coach was right.
Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa (15.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 3.3 apg): I’m fully on the Tuttle bandwagon. He’s a low-post scorer with three point range, the ability to put the ball on the floor and terrific vision. He’s Frank Kaminsky 2.0.