Last week, I walked you through, step-by-step, how Trae Young managed to lose his stranglehold on the National Player of the Year race.
He’s still in front, but another pair of losses last week didn’t firm up the ground that he’s standing on. Not at all, although the three guys right behind him — Jalen Brunson, Marvin Bagley III and Deandre Ayton — all did their best to avoid making up ground as all three lost a game at home.
That said, I still believe that those four are in a league of their own when it comes to the race to be named a first-team all-american, so today, I figured we should take a look at the race for that final spot on the first team. Here are the six guys I think have the best chance of playing their way onto that list:
1. TRAE YOUNG, Oklahoma
2. JALEN BRUNSON, Villanova
3. MARVIN BAGLEY III, Duke
4. DEANDRE AYTON, Arizona
FIVE FAVORITES FOR THE FINAL SPOT
5. KEITA BATES-DIOP, Ohio State: If the season ended today, I think that Bates-Diop would be the guy that I would pick to be the fifth first-team all-american. He’s the go-to guy and star player for an Ohio State team that has shocked just about everyone and played their way into sole possession of first place in the Big Ten. He’s had big moments, too — he led the comeback from 14 points down at Purdue and made the game-winning shot.
6. KEENAN EVANS, Texas Tech: Evans is putting up 18.4 points and 3.5 assists for an offensively-deficient teams while also playing stellar defense and taking games over at the drop of a hat. He had 38 points and hit the game-winning shot in overtime against Texas. He had 31 points in a come-from-behind win at South Carolina. He was the best player for the Red Raiders in their win at Kansas earlier this year, and it’s that win that has Chris Beard’s club in the driver’s seat to win the outright Big 12 title.
7. TREVON BLUIETT, Xavier: If the NCAA tournament started today, Xavier would not only be a No. 1 seed, they’d have a pretty strong grip on the third No. 1 seed with a shot at overtaking Villanova for that second overall spot. Bluiett has been the biggest reason why, making countless big shots and averaging 18.9 points on the season. Like Evans, Bluiett has a chance to upend a dynasty, taking Villanova off of the top spot in the Big East.
8. JOCK LANDALE, Saint Mary’s: The Gaels were smoked at home by Gonzaga on Saturday night. Landale had four shots and didn’t get to the free throw in 37 minutes. He’s been phenomenal this season, but it’s hard to ignore that he had zero impact on what is arguably the biggest game of the year for that team.
9. GARY CLARK, Cincinnati: Clark’s numbers are never going to impress. He’s averaging 12.8 points, 8.8. boards, 2.0 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks. He’s also anchoring a defense that is second nationally in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric and seems like a virtual lock to set a record in the KenPom era — since 2002 — for the fewest points-per-possession allowed in a season.
And just because, here’s the other Gary Clark shredding:
THREE MORE NAMES TO WATCH
10a. DEVONTE’ GRAHAM, Kansas: On the one hand, Graham is having a terrific season carrying the load for a team where he has to play 40 minutes a night as the primary ball-handler and best perimeter defender. He’s averaging 17.7 points, 7.3 assists and shooting 42.5 percent from three while playing on the ball this year. On the other hand, he might be the fourth Big 12 point guard in line for honors.
10a. LUKE MAYE, North Carolina: Who would have thought, back in October, that Luke freakin’ Maye would be anywhere near the conversation for an all-american team? No one. That’s who. Not even Luke freakin’ Maye. But here we are in mid-February and Maye is averaging 18.3 points, 10.4 boards and 2.4 assists for a UNC team that suddenly looks like they might end up as a top three seed come Selection Sunday.
10c. CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue: I’m having a tough time picking someone on Purdue for this list. Edwards is the guy that I would put on this list, but that’s not exactly a consensus. If Michigan State has shown us anything, Isaac Haas is going to be Purdue’s most important player down the stretch of the season as teams focus their energy on taking away the three ball. And if you talk to coaches in the league — or Tom Crean — they’ll tell you that it’s actually Dakota Mathias who is the engine that makes that team run.
ALSO CONSIDERED: MIKAL BRIDGES, Villanova; MILES BRIDGES, Michigan State; JEVON CARTER, West Virginia; CHANDLER HUTCHISON, Boise State; CALEB MARTIN, Nevada