Instead of putting together our Player of the Year Power Rankings in a post every week, we will be counting them down on the CBT FaceBook page each and every Tuesday.
Well, for starters, it looks pretty cool.
But it also helps promote the page, and we’re going to be doing more things on the FaceBook page throughout the season. So like the page, follow the page and comment away, because it’s that much easier for us to interact with you all over there.
And we love all you.
Even you, Big Blue Nation.
Anyway, to the rankings …
Player of the Year Power Rankings: It’s Frank Kaminsky’s award to win
1. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: It’s getting to the point in the year where the question on every NBA fan’s mind is the comparison: Who will Player X be in the NBA? The comparison du jour for Kaminsky these days is Brad Miller, which isn’t that bad. He did average around 15 points, nine boards and four assists for a good six or seven seasons in his prime, although I’m not sure that Kaminsky can pull off the tattoos or facial hair quite like Mr. Miller.
Anyway, Kaminsky had some thoughts of his own on this comparison:
“@dandakich: OSU’s Russell is James Harden..Frank Kaminsky is Brad Miller..” No I’m pretty sure I’m still Frank…
2. Jahlil Okafor, Duke: The biggest reason why Jahlil Okafor has been replaced by Frank Kaminsky as the favorite to win the National Player of the Year award is that Okafor really struggles on the defensive end, and it’s those defensive issues that limit Duke’s upside as a national title contender. The issue is two-fold, as I explained here. Okafor is not great at defending screen-and-roll actions, which is something that will come with time, and he’s not a natural rim protector, which may actually be the bigger problem. Duke’s defense is built around extended man-to-man pressure, which encourages offensive players to penetrate. The Blue Devils don’t have great perimeter defenders, which means that they really need a security blanket around the rim if they get beaten. Okafor, as good as he is, is not that:
3. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: The Wildcats are no longer on pace to be the historically great defensive group we all thought they could end up being this season, but it doesn’t change the fact that this team has a chance to become the first team to ever go undefeated, that they’ll do so because of their defense and that Cauley-Stein is the anchor for everything they do on that end of the floor. He’s as important to UK’s defense as Okafor, Kaminsky and anyone else on this list is to their team’s offense.
4. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: If there is a red flag for Notre Dame this season, it’s Grant’s penchant for having off-nights shooting the ball. He can be inconsistent at times. In lasy week’s loss to Syracuse, he was 2-for-9 from the floor and 0-for-6 from three. In last month’s loss at Duke, he was 3-for-10 from the floor and 1-for-7 from the line. That doesn’t change just how good he’s been this season, but it certainly puts that much added pressure on him heading into March.
5. D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State: Russell snapped out of his slump by going for 28 points, seven boards and a pair of assists in a key win over Purdue on Sunday. How anyone can watch this kid play and not see the second coming of James Harden boggles my mind:
6. Delon Wright, Utah: Before I say anything about Wright’s play this season, just do me a favor and watch this pass:
Wright’s being double-teamed after coming off of a ball-screen. He’s dribbling to his left, away from the rim, and somehow manages to not only spot Chris Reyes but throw a pass across his body from 40-feet away to Reyes, who is open at the rim. I’m not sure there are three other players in the country that can make that pass. It’s criminal that he didn’t get an assist for that. The Utes have slid back in the Pac-12 standings of late thanks to a pair of losses in the last 10 days, but that shouldn’t change your opinion of just how good Wright has been this season.
7. T.J. McConnell, Arizona: Someone that shall remain nameless tweeted over the weekend that McConnell was an Aaron Craft clone, and while their appearance and their numbers might match up well, they aren’t the same player. At all. For starters, Craft could only go right and never developed a reliable perimeter jumper. He wasn’t a guy you wanted creating offense as much as you wanted him to run your offense. McConnell, on the other hand, has become one of the best pick-and-roll guards in the country. According to Synergy’s logs, only two players in the country — Jerian Grant and DePaul’s Billy Garrett — have been as efficient in pick-and-roll actions while running more than 300 of them this season. His ability to create scoring opportunities for a team that can go through severe scoring droughts is far more important than he gets credit for. For example:
Defensively, they’re quite similar. Craft was as good as any on-ball defender as you’ll ever find. McConnell isn’t quite on his level, but he does do a terrific job of chasing players around screens.
8. Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa: Tuttle was given the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year award on Tuesday, an award he won despite losing in the MVC regular season title game on Saturday to a Wichita State team that includes preseason all-americans Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet. And here’s the most impressive part: He 100 percent deserved the award.
9. Cameron Payne, Murray State: The trendy cinderella pick this March is going to be Murray State and their star guard Cameron Payne, who is averaging 20.2 points and 5.7 assists on the season. Payne is nothing like the most recent Racer star, Isaiah Canaan. Payne is bigger and longer, and while Canaan was a pure-bred bulldog of a scorer on the wing, Payne is a smooth lead guard that’s excellent at getting into the lane and finishing around the rim.
10. Kris Dunn, Providence: I’m still on the Kris Dunn bandwagon, but I think there’s a valid argument to be made that St. John’s forward Sir’Dominic Pointer has surpassed him as the Big East Player of the Year.
OTHERS THAT WERE CONSIDERED: Justin Anderson (Virginia), Ron Baker (Wichita State), Ryan Boatright (UConn), Rakeem Christmas (Syracuse), Kyle Collinsworth (BYU), Tyler Haws (BYU), Buddy Hield (Oklahoma), Stanley Johnson (Arizona), Derrick Marks (Boise State), Jarell Martin (LSU), Jordan Mickey (LSU), Georges Niang (Iowa State), Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga), Sir’Dominic Pointer (St. John’s), Bobby Portis (Arkansas), Juwan Staten (West Virginia), Melo Trimble (Maryland), Brad Waldow (St. Mary’s), Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga), Joseph Young (Oregon)
Player of the Year Power Rankings: Why Jerian Grant, Kyle Wiltjer need more attention
1. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: A quick update on Kaminsky’s potentially historic season. Wisconsin has slid back a bit in recent weeks and is now on pace to be just the fourth most efficient offense in the KenPom era (2002-2015). Kaminsky is still putting up ridiculous numbers, however, with an offensive rating of 126.3 while using 27.5 percent of Wisconsin’s possessions when he’s on the floor.
2. Jahlil Okafor, Duke: I’ve said numerous times in this space that Okafor has the offensive skill set to one day become an all-time great big man. Here are three reasons why:
That’s a 6-foot-11, 270 pound 19-year old making those moves. Are you kidding me?
3. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: The Irish are 24-4 on the season and are going to finish the season as a top four team in the ACC despite having a defense ranked 165th in adjusted efficiency, according to KenPom, and playing almost half of every game with a lineup that uses 6-foot-5 Bonzie Colson as the center. It’s incredible how much better Grant makes everyone on that team. He’s still not getting enough attenion, so I’m just going to leave this right here.
5. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: Josh Richardson is Tennessee’s best player this season. A 6-foot-6 wing, he is averaging 15.7 points and 3.6 assists while shooting 36.5 percent from three. He also runs the point for the Vols from time-to-time. On Tuesday night, when Kentucky played at Tennessee, Cauley-Stein — Kentucky’s 7-foot-1 center — drew the assignment of covering Richardson, who finished 4-for-14 from the floor:
He also drew the assignment of covering Auburn’s K.T. Harrell. Cauley-Stein might be the best defensive center in the country. He might also be the best perimeter defender in the country. He can single-handily take any advantage an opposing team has when they run a screen-and-roll by his ability to switch out onto ball-handlers.
6. Delon Wright, Utah: The Utes fell at Oregon over the weekend, putting their Pac-12 title hopes in jeopardy, but that shouldn’t take any of the luster off of the season that Wright is having. We’ve discussed this before, but one of the things that makes Wright so efficient offensively despite the fact that he doesn’t make many threes is that he’s incredible at getting to the rim and finishing over bigger players. If you didn’t believe me, here’s some visual proof:
7. Kris Dunn, Providence: Dunn had 21 points, four boards, four assists and four steals in last week’s win over DePaul, a relatively mediocre win for the guy that should be in everyone’s college basketball FanDuel lineups whenever he is suiting up. But he also had six turnovers in that game, which is not all that surprising considering that he is averaging 4.2 turnovers on the season. Is that the reason that he doesn’t show up on more Player of the Year listings?
8. T.J. McConnell, Arizona: This isn’t necessarily going to be about T.J. McConnell, but I wanted to take the chance to highlight a brilliant coaching move from Sean Miller over the weekend. With Arizona locked in a tight game at home against UCLA, Miller noticed that the Bruins had switched to a 3-2 zone late in the second half. Kevon Looney, who was killing the Wildcats in the second half, was playing at the top of the zone. He also had four fouls, so Miller called for a set play — one he likely implemented that week while prepping for the game — where Stanley Johnson and Gabe York set in-screens on the two wings, leaving Looney to guard McConnell 1-on-1. McConnell goes by him and draws Looney’s fifth foul, getting the potential lottery pick out of the game:
9. Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa: As long as the Panthers and Wichita State can get past their midweek games, they’ll head into Saturday — the final game of the regular season — tied for first place in the Missouri Valley. On a Saturday with some unreal matchups, that might end up being the best of the day.
10. Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga: The only reason Justin Anderson isn’t listed here is because he’s dealing with that broken finger, but don’t let that take away from the season that Wiltjer has had. He’s 17.4 points and 5.8 boards he’s averaging while shooting 46.9 percent from three is impressive in and of itself, but when you look at his efficiency numbers is when it goes from good to great. Wiltjer’s offensive rating, according to KenPom, is 132.1, an insanely high number before you even consider the fact that he’s using 26.3 percent of Gonzaga’s possessions. Only one other player since 2004, when KenPom started keeping track of these numbers, has had an offensive rating above 130 while using at least 24 percent of his team’s possessions.
If Wiltjer wasn’t such a question mark on the defensive end, he’d be much higher on this list.
OTHERS THAT WERE CONSIDERED: Justin Anderson (Virginia), Ron Baker (Wichita State), Ryan Boatright (UConn), Rakeem Christmas (Syracuse), Kyle Collinsworth (BYU), Tyler Haws (BYU), Buddy Hield (Oklahoma), Stanley Johnson (Arizona), Jarell Martin (LSU), Jordan Mickey (LSU), Larry Nance Jr. (Wyoming), Georges Niang (Iowa State), Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga), Bobby Portis (Arkansas), Juwan Staten (West Virginia), Melo Trimble (Maryland), Seth Tuttle (Northern Iowa), Brad Waldow (St. Mary’s), Joseph Young (Oregon)
Player of the Year Power Rankings: Kaminsky’s postgame, Okafor’s ‘regression’
1. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: Dan Dakich, polarizing as he is, is one of the best color commentators currently working in college hoops, and he had an interesting statement early on in Wisconsin’s win over Nebraska last week. “I don’t think you should double Kaminsky,” Dakich. “The weakness of Kaminsky’s game is going to score on the block, and when you double Kaminsky you leave others open.”
It was an interesting comment, because Kaminsky is quite proficient at scoring on the block. According to Synergy’s logs, 25.5 percent of the possessions Kaminsky uses are post-ups, and he’s scoring 1.011 points-per-possession (PPP) on those post touches. But it’s also where Kaminsky is actually the least-efficient, at least according to the logs on Synergy, which goes to show you just how good of a player Kaminsky actually is.
But that’s neither here nor there, and while I can show you any number of the beautiful post moves that Kaminsky had against Illinois on Sunday, that goes against the point that Dakich is trying to make. Wisconsin has too many capable passers on their roster, too many guys that are smart, and willing, enough to make a pass when a teammate comes open, and the result of doubling Kaminsky in the post is likely going to end up being an open jumper or a Wisconsin player attacking a close out.
In other words, Dakich you’re better off taking your chances 1-on-1 against Kaminsky on the block than letting the Badgers move the ball and move your defense. But frankly, neither option is ideal, because … well, because of this:
There’s a reason Wisconsin is on pace to be the most efficient offense in KenPom’s database.
2. Jahlil Okafor, Duke: Okafor responded to getting bumped out of the top spot in these rankings by going for 23 points and 13 boards on 10-for-15 shooting while holding Syracuse’s all-american center Rakeem Christmas to 11 points on 5-for-17 shooting, easily his worst game of the season.
Okafor’s season has been a fascinating one to track. He’s exceeded the hype that he had coming out of high school. He’s averaging 18.2 points and 9.3 boards on a top five team. He’s the centerpiece of the nation’s second-most efficient offense. He’s a throw-back big man, a low-post player with the kind of quick feet, soft touch and back-to-the-basket arsenal that has evoked comparisons to the likes of Tim Duncan and Kevin McHale.
We haven’t seen a player with his skill set in a long, long time, but the discussion seems to always be leaning towards who is catching up to Okafor, not how good he has been and continues to be. The same way that Kaminsky has surpassed him atop Player of the Year rankings, there is talk that Karl Towns — and, potentially, D’Angelo Russell — could end up getting picked No. 1 this June. While that’s not exactly unexpected, I hope everyone can appreciate what they’re watching with Okafor. It will be a long time before we someone that can do what he does again.
3. D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State: The last month of Russell’s collegiate career will be interesting to watch. After a stretch where he completely dominated the sport for a solid three-week stretch, Russell has struggled in three of his last four games. Ignoring the triple-double against Rutgers — that’s a lot to ignore, I know — Russell is shooting 34.1 percent from the floor and 5-for-19 from three against Purdue, Penn State and Michigan State. The Buckeyes lost to both the Boilermakers and the Spartans on the road.
Not that he wasn’t before, but Russell is going to be the focal point of everywhere defensive scheme the rest of the season. It’s a point of pride now; no one wants to be caught playing lazy defensively on the next vine of an absurd Russell bounce-pass that gets a million loops. How will he respond to really, truly being guarded?
4. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: I still don’t think Grant is getting the credit that he deserves for just how good he has been this season, and the sad thing is that he may never get it. More than any other team in the country — save, maybe, Indiana — the Irish are completely buoyed by their elite offensive attack, and Grant is the centerpiece of that offense. When he gets taken away — as Quinn Cook did in the second meeting with Duke, a 90-60 blowout loss — the Irish look lost. But if this group ends up getting bounced early in the NCAA tournament again, he’ll end up getting written off as just another overhyped star on an overrated Notre Dame team. I hope that doesn’t happen.
5. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: Cauley-Stein has been paying attention to his detractors, it seems. “I feel the whole criticism is I’m soft. Or something like that,” he told reporters after Kentucky’s win over South Carolina on Saturday. “I’m just going to dunk over people. I don’t see how you can start calling me soft if I’m dunking on people. That’s my whole mentality going into games now.” That’s scary, because that quote came a week after he did this to Florida’s Devin Robinson and five days after dunking on LSU’s Jordan Mickey four times in one game. Whatever Cauley-Stein has planned next, let’s just hope he will continue to wear hats like this:
6. Delon Wright, Utah: At this point, Wright is probably somewhat underrated from a national perspective. He’s the point man for a Utah defense that is No. 7 nationally, according to KenPom, and he also happens to be one of the most efficient offense players in the country despite the fact that he doesn’t shoot a ton of threes, a difficult task for a point guard. How? He rarely makes the wrong play. He’s sports one of the nation’s best assist rates as well as one of the highest assist-to-turnover ratios. He rarely settles for jumpers, instead attacking the paint where he’s a 58.1 percent shooter from inside the arc. He finishes around the rim, he draws fouls and he makes his free throws.
In short, Wright understands what his strengths and weaknesses are as a player, and he plays to them. That’s an incredibly valuable skill for a star with a notable weakness (three-point range) to have.
7. Kris Dunn, Providence: Dunn has put up some incredible numbers this season — 15.4 points, 5.8 boards, 7.6 assists — but he’s simply been a turnover machine at times. He’s averaging 4.2 giveaways on the season, and he’s committed less than three turnovers in just six of the 26 games the Friars have played. Those turnovers are the reason he rarely shows up on Player of the Year lists.
8. T.J. McConnell, Arizona: Stanley Johnson might end up being the popular pick for the All-American on this year’s Arizona roster, but I think McConnell is having a more valuable, if not better season. He’s embraced his role as point guard when Arizona is playing well, but he’s also taken over games in which the Wildcats have struggled.
9. Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa: Only two players in the country — BYU’s Tyler Haws and UC-Davis’ Corey Hawkins — have a higher offensive rating than Tuttle while using at least 28.0 percent of their team’s offensive possessions than Tuttle. He’s an unbelievable shooter — 48.6 percent from three and 65.5 percent from two — that anchors Northern Iowa’s offense. He’s can also do things like this:
Tuttle deserves to be in this conversation.
10. Justin Anderson, Virginia: We’ll get into this a little more later this afternoon, but if Virginia’s struggles over the course of the last three games have proven anything, it’s that Justin Anderson truly deserved his spot on this list. He’s Virginia’s best shooter, best perimeter defender, toughest player and leader. Replacing that was not as easy as some of us (ahem, me) originally thought.
OTHERS THAT WERE CONSIDERED: Ron Baker (Wichita State), Ryan Boatright (UConn), Kyle Collinsworth (BYU), Rakeem Christmas (Syracuse), Tyler Haws (BYU), Buddy Hield (Oklahoma), Stanley Johnson (Arizona), Jarell Martin (LSU), Jordan Mickey (LSU), Larry Nance Jr. (Wyoming), Georges Niang (Iowa State), Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga), Bobby Portis (Arkansas), Juwan Staten (West Virginia), Melo Trimble (Maryland), Seth Tuttle (Northern Iowa), Brad Waldow (St. Mary’s), Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga), Joseph Young (Oregon)
Player of the Year Power Rankings: It’s time for Frank Kaminsky to get his due
1. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: I went in-depth on this topic last week, but Frank Kaminsky is statistically having one of the greatest seasons in recent history. Wisconsin is on pace to finish the season as the most efficient offense in the KenPom era, which dates back to 2002. And Kaminsky is the biggest factor in that offense, notching an obscene 126.7 player rating while using 27.8 percent of Wisconsin’s possessions. The only player to have a rating that high while using that many possessions since 2004 was Utah State’s Spencer Nelson back in 2005. That same season, Travis Diener posted a 126.6 offensive rating while using 30.5 percent of Marquette’s possessions. For comparison’s sake, in 2008, Kevin Love finished the season with an offensive rating of 126.6 while using 27.7 percent of UCLA’s possessions.
That’s a lot of numbers to throw at you, but where Okafor was a clear front-runner for the Player of the Year award for much of the first three months of the season, at this point, I think Kaminsky has overtaken him at this point. That’s less of a knock on Okafor than it is recognition for the season that Kaminsky is having.
So while you chew on that, let’s watch Frank Kaminsky pass out when he hears that he’s the No. 2 pick in Gameday’s college basketball draft:
2. Jahlil Okafor, Duke: Okafor’s limitations on the defensive end of the floor were on full display on Monday night, as the seven-footer was on the receiving end of a brutal Mozgoving at the hands of Florida State’s Phil Cofer. Despite his size and his wingspan, Okafor couldn’t get up high enough to do anything other than foul Cofer on his way to the rim.
That said, I’ve watched a lot of tape on Duke defensively over the last two days, and I actually think Okafor is getting better on that end of the floor. He’s never going to be a defensive menace the likes of Anthony Davis or, say, Tyson Chandler, but I think that his issues this season have had just as much to do with, A) Inexperience when it comes to his ability to defend outside of the paint, specifically in ball-screen actions, and B) An effort by the Duke coaching to keep him out of foul trouble and on the floor. He’s been much better on that end in the wins over Notre Dame and Florida State, but he also missed extended minutes in both first halves with two fouls.
Anyway, Okafor had some funny words about the poster last night:
😂😂😭😭 happens to the best of us right @QCook323 I survived though. So stop it with the RIP tweets to me. Hahaha
If you’ve never been dunked on, you’ve never played basketball at a high level.
3. D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State: I’m running out of things to say about Russell this season, so instead of be bombarding you with stats and number proving how good he is, why don’t you just watch every highlight from his 23-point, 11-assist, 11-rebound triple double against Rutgers. The passes he throws are on another level:
4. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: Jerian Grant struggled mightily in Notre Dame’s ugly loss at Duke on Saturday, finishing with just seven points and four assists. It wasn’t the kind of sterling performance we’ve come to expect from the All-American, but credit needs to be given to Quinn Cook, who face-guarded Grant from the tip and forced Notre Dame to essentially play four-on-four.
5. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: Karl Towns has been Kentucky’s best player over the course of the last week, but after watching the Wildcats move past both Georgia and Florida this week, I was reminded why Cauley-Stein ranked so high on this list earlier in the season. He’s arguably the most important piece in Kentucky’s historically good defense. He doesn’t log as many blocked shots as Towns, but that’s because Cauley-Stein is typically guarding the more perimeter-oriented big man, the just most likely to be used in ball-screen actions. And it’s his ability to switch onto ball-handlers that has made the Wildcats so good in that area. According to Synergy, Kentucky allows just 0.652 points-per-possession against pick-and-rolls, which is second nationally to Rhode Island. Oh, and this:
6. Kris Dunn, Providence: Dunn doesn’t get the hype that guys like D’Angelo Russell and Delon Wright do, but he’s having just as good of a season running the show for a Providence team that may very well be the second-best in the Big East. He’s averaging 15.1 points, 7.5 assists, 6.0 boards and 2.6 steals, and while the knock on him his entire career has been his ability to shoot from the perimeter, but he’s 10-for-20 from three in the last six games. He’d be higher on this list if it wasn’t for the 4.3 turnovers he averages.
7. Delon Wright, Utah: Wright has been terrific this season, but it’s hard not to notice just how much he as struggled in Utah’s losses to Arizona and UCLA. Against the Wildcats, he started hot but finished with just 10 points. Against UCLA, his final stat line was decent enough — 15 points, six boards, two assists on 6-for-9 shooting — but the Bruins took him away from 36 minutes in a game that Utah trailed by a large margin for the entire second half.
9. Justin Anderson, Virginia: Anderson went down with a broken finger on his left (shooting) hand that will require surgery and keep him out until the postseason. Anderson wasn’t necessarily a go-to guy for Virginia, but he is their best perimeter defender and was shooting just under 50.0 percent from three.
9. Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse: I’m going to give the man they call Rak some love here because it seems like it’s the only place where anyone will give him the respect that he’s due. Christmas is one of the greatest stories in college basketball this season, going from a three-year bit player for the Orange to a center averaging 18.5 points, 9.6 boards and 2.3 blocks, the lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal Syracuse season. Christmas won’t be playing in the postseason this year thanks to the utterly shameful, self-imposed ban that the university put into place, but that shouldn’t take any of the luster off of what has been a phenomenal year for him.
10. T.J. McConnell, Arizona: Stanley Johnson may actually be a more deserving Player of the Year candidate, but McConnell deserves some love as well. Outside of Delon Wright, there may not be a more important player in the Pac-12 this year. McConnell is the quintessential point guard for Sean Miller, a guy who has no issue distributing the ball but has proven he can take over a game when his team needs him to.
OTHERS THAT WERE CONSIDERED: Ron Baker (Wichita State), Ryan Boatright (UConn), Kyle Collinsworth (BYU), Tyler Haws (BYU), Buddy Hield (Oklahoma), Stanley Johnson (Arizona), Jarell Martin (LSU), Jordan Mickey (LSU), Larry Nance Jr. (Wyoming), Georges Niang (Iowa State), Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga), Bobby Portis (Arkansas), Juwan Staten (West Virginia), Melo Trimble (Maryland), Seth Tuttle (Northern Iowa), Brad Waldow (St. Mary’s), Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga), Joseph Young (Oregon)
Player of the Year Power Rankings: This four-man race will be special to follow
The race for National Player of the Year has been whittled down to four players with just over a month left in the regular season, and it’s to the point that I think all four would end up being consensus first-team all-americans if the season were to end today.
Appreciate this season. We’re looking at what could end up being one of the best Player of the Year races this side of J.J. Redick vs. Adam Morrison and Kemba Walker vs. Jimmer Fredette:
1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke: At this point I’m going to leave Okafor at the top of the Player of the Year rankings because, quite simply, I think that he is the best player in college basketball. He has his flaws defensively, and he may not be as important to his team’s success as some of the other guys on this list, but if you are tasked with starting a team from scratch, you’re picking Jahlil Okafor.
Okafor struggled to find a rhythm in the win over Virginia — he finished with 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting and didn’t get to the free throw line — but it’s important to note that the Cavaliers focused their defensive gameplan on taking him away. No one in the country is better at doubling the post on the catch than Virginia, and it completely took Okafor out of a rhythm. But more than anything, Duke’s struggles offensively for the first 30 minutes of that game should highlight just how much of their offense runs through the big fella.
It also should be noted that Okafor had a couple of critical offensive rebounds and second chance baskets during their run, and his pass out of a double-team resulted in what amounted to the game-winning bucket:
He was fired up about it:
2. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: Is it just me, or does it feel like Kaminsky has been completely overlooked this season? Maybe it’s because we expected this kind of season out of him, that the 17.6 points, 8.9 boards and 2.3 assists he averages while shooting 41.1 percent from three as a seven-footer don’t blow us away. Maybe it’s because Wisconsin plays the 340th fastest pace in the country, according to Kenpom, so his stats aren’t eye-popping enough unless you’re a tempo-free diehard. Tyler Haws leads the nation in offensive rating for players that use more than 28.0 percent of their team’s possessions at 122.5. Kaminsky’s offensive rating is 125.7, and he uses 27.8 percent of Wisconsin’s possessions.
What Kaminsky does is rarely flashy, and Wisconsin’s system has a way of bogging down a star’s overall numbers. But rest assured, Kaminsky is having a terrific season as the clearcut No. 1 option for a team on pace to be the most efficient offense of the Kenpom era.
3. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: I wrote a long piece last week on why Jerian Grant is a legitimate National Player of the Year contender and the Most Valuable Player in college basketball. You can read that here.
The one thing I’ll add? Despite playing poorly in a loss at Pitt on Saturday, if Steve Vasturia had hit an open three with less than five seconds left in that game, Grant would have single-handily lead another impressive, come-from-behind Notre Dame win:
It was the exact same shot that Vasturia had made three days earlier to ice the win over Duke, also set up by … Jerian Grant:
4. D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State: Russell is the single-most entertaining player in college basketball this season. He’s so smooth it hardly looks like he’s breaking a sweat, but he can drop you with ankle-breaking crossovers, make you look foolish with ridiculous ‘How did he see that?’ passes, beat you to the rim or drill a pull-up three in your face.
And over the course of the last five games, he’s played absolutely out of his mind, posting averages of 24.2 points, 9.0 boards, 6.0 assists and 1.8 steals while shooting 55.1 percent from the field and 47.5 percent (19-for-40) from long distance. Ohio State is 4-1 in that stretch, with wins over top 25 teams Maryland and Indiana.
On the season, he’s averaging 19.4 points, 5.6 boards, 5.2 assists, 1.8 steals and shooting 47.7 percent from the floor and 45.4 percent from three, and that’s including a stretch early in the year where he was an utter disaster against elite competition. His first four games against high major program — Marquette, Louisville, North Carolina and Iowa — he averaged 11.8 points and had 13 turnovers while shooting 27.6 percent from the floor and 22.2 percent (6-for-27) from three.
And then there is everyone else:
5. Delon Wright, Utah
6. Justin Anderson, Virginia
7. Stanley Johnson, Arizona
8. Georges Niang, Iowa State
9. Melo Trimble, Maryland
10. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
OTHERS THAT WERE CONSIDERED: Ron Baker (Wichita State), Ryan Boatright (UConn), Rakeem Christmas (Syracuse), Kyle Collinsworth (BYU), Tyler Haws (BYU), Montrezl Harrell (Louisville), D’angelo Harrison (St. John’s), LaDontae Henton (Providence), Buddy Hield (Oklahoma), Jonathan Holmes (Texas), Jarell Martin (LSU), Jordan Mickey (LSU), Larry Nance Jr. (Wyoming), Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga), Bobby Portis (Arkansas), Juwan Staten (West Virginia), Brad Waldow (St. Mary’s), Ty Wallace (Cal), Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington), Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga), Joseph Young (Oregon)