1. Doug McDermott, Creighton: Since 1997-1998, no college basketball player has averaged 24.5 points, 7.2 boards and shot 43.0% from beyond the arc. In NBA history, no player that has shot more than 15 threes in a season has averaged 24.5 points, 7.0 boards and shot 43.0% from three. Right now, McDermott is averaging 24.3 points and 7.2 boards while shooting 42.98% from beyond the arc, and that’s because he’s been in a “slump” the last three games.
His numbers over that stretch? 19.3 points, 7.3 boards and 40.0% shooting from three. Those are all-american caliber numbers. How many players would love to be mired in that slump?
2. Shabazz Napier, UConn: Outside of a forgettable trip to Texas, Napier has been sensational for an otherwise thoroughly mediocre UConn team. The Huskies have won four of their last five and regained their footing in the AAC thanks to Napier, who is now averaging 17.8 points, 6.0 boards, 5.9 assists and 2.0 steals while shooting 44.3% from long range.
3. Jabari Parker, Duke: Parker’s shooting percentages have dipped, but that was something that was bound to happen. As terrific as he was in the first month and a half of the season, Parker was never really known for having the kind of shooting stroke that Doug McDermott does. You should get used to seeing nights where he shoots 5-for-12 or 7-for-19, which is why I think it’s fair to say he’s busted out of his five-game slump. The most important stat for Parker? Free throws. When he’s shooting free throws, it means he’s attacking the basket instead of settling for jumpers. The last four games he’s taken 34 free throws. The five before that, when he was slumping? All of 14.
4. Nick Johnson, Arizona: Johnson’s athletic enough that he’ll throw down some impressive dunks from time-to-time, but outside of that, he’s never going to do much that will ‘wow’ fans in the stands or watching on TV. He’s not going to score 30 or control a game offensively or completely change the way a defense plays. But he’s the best player on the best team in the country — their best perimeter shooter, their best slasher, their best defender, their leader, their go-to guy at the end of a clock. Your game doesn’t always have to be ‘loud’ to be great.
5. Nik Stauskas, Michigan: It’s fun to follow the ebbs and flows of the Player of the Year race in college basketball because it tends to highlight the guy that got hot at the right time. Napier was the favorite to win the award back in November, as he posted monstrous numbers and repeatedly made big shots in clutch moments for the Huskies. Then it was Jabari Parker’s turn to take the lead, as his star turn carried us through the holidays. But as the calendar changed, it was Dougie McBuckets who staked his claim to the award and, essentially, put himself in a position where it’s his title to lose over the final month and change of the season.
At this point, Stauskas may be the guy that puts together the run that can spring an upset in the Player of the Year race. Playing without their three best players from last season’s run to the National Title game, Michigan has climbed right back to the top of the Big Ten standings, and Stauskas is the biggest reason why. It’s good news and bad news for the Wolverines. They look like a title contender again, but it means that Stauskas won’t last in Ann Arbor that much longer.
6. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse: I know what Jim Boeheim told Kelli Anderson of SI.com about C.J. Fair. I don’t care. Ennis is the most important player on this Syracuse team, and he’s playing at an elite level on both ends of the floor.
7. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: Between the flopping, the tantrum against West Virginia and his insistence on trying to be a jump-shooter, Smart has become one of the more frustrating players in the country to watch. There may not be a better all-around player in the country this season. He’s not playing like it right now.
8. Julius Randle, Kentucky: Randle is still the same player he was in November. Here’s the issue: he plays in the SEC, so he’s not landing knockout blows over title contenders on a nightly basis, and he’s the focal point of every defensive game-plan. Want to know why the Harrisons and James Young are starting to have bigger scoring nights? Because Randle gets double- and triple-teamed on every touch.
9. Xavier Thames, San Diego State: I wanted to give Thames some love on this list because I don’t think he is getting enough attention nationally. SDSU’s defense is why they are a top ten team with a win at Kansas under their belt. They’re not a good team on the offensive end, however, which means that: a) everything runs through Thames, and b) his 17.6 points are just that much more impressive. He’s hit as many big shots this year as Shabazz Napier has.
10. Joel Embiid, Kansas: I have to leave Embiid here. He’s turned into arguably the most dominant paint presence in the country.
The next five:
- Kyle Anderson, UCLA
- Bryce Cotton, Providence
- Lamar Patterson, Pitt
- Casey Prather, Florida
- Russ Smith, Louisville
Others: Jordan Adams, Keith Appling, Cameron Bairstow, Sam Dekker, C.J. Fair, Aaron Gordon, Gary Harris, Rodney Hood, Deandre Kane, Sean Kilpatrick, Kevin Pangos, Adreian Payne, Elfrid Payton, Jayvaughn Pinkston, Fred Van Vleet, T.J. Warren, Andrew Wiggins, Chaz Williams