This is as difficult as it has been since I have been doing the Player of the Year power rankings to pick a frontrunner a month into the season.
Generally speaking, at this point in the year, we have some idea who is the frontrunner for the award, whether it’s Trae Young, or Frank Mason, or Buddy Hield, or Frank Kaminsky.
There is no frontrunner this year, and that’s because so many of the best teams in the country don’t have a favorite for Player of the Year on their own roster, let alone National Player of the Year.
For example, take Michigan. The Wolverines are a top five team that have put together the most impressive start to the season of anyone in the sport, but they probably don’t have anyone on their roster that will end up being an all-american. At Kansas, Dedric Lawson has put up the best numbers but Lagerald Vick has been the guy that’s hit big shots and saved Kansas from losing games. Are you rolling with Zion Williamson or R.J. Barrett from Duke? De’Andre Hunter or Ty Jerome from UVA? There’s even an argument to be made that Brandon Clarke and Josh Perkins have been more important to Gonzaga this season. Hell, it was Zach Norvell that sparked the come-from-behind win at Creighton.
I am having trouble deciding if this is a good thing or a bad thing, and I think I’m leaning towards it being a good thing.
There is plenty of star power in the sport — particularly on Duke — and the fact that there aren’t many teams with just one defined superstar means that there are other teams talented enough to take Duke down.
Anyway, here are the updated Player of the Year Power Rankings:
1. ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke
For my money, Williamson still tops this list.
The simple reason is that Williamson is the best player on what I still believe is the best team in the country. That’s enough to earn him a spot at the top of a list like this.
But there’s more to it than that. Williamson currently averaging 20.8 points, 8.8 boards, 2.4 assists, 2.3 blocks and 2.0 steals this season. No one in college basketball has put up that stat line over the course of an entire season since 1992, which is as far back as the database on Basketball Reference goes. This is fun with small sample sizes eight games into a season and with three of those eight games coming against totally overmatched competition, but it is something to keep an eye on as we move forward.
(As an aside, the only other player in the database that that has averaged 20 points, eight boards, two blocks, two steals and two assists is Lamine Diane, a freshman at Cal St.-Northridge who is currently averaging — get this — 25.6 points, 10.8 boards, 2.1 blocks, 2.0 steals and 2.0 assists. Not bad.)
2. RUI HACHIMURA, Gonzaga
The difficult part about ranking Rui this high is that you can make the argument that he wasn’t the best player for Gonzaga in either of their biggest wins. Zach Norvell Jr. was the best player on the Zags, scoring 22 second half points in a come-from-behind win on the road, while Josh Perkins and Brandon Clarke thriving in the roles they’re asked to play is what allowed Gonzaga to beat Duke.
That said, Rui probably has the best “Heisman Moment” this season. It was his bucket that gave Gonzaga an 89-87 lead over the Blue Devils in Maui, and it was his rim protection — along with Clarke — that ensured the win, even if he missed the two free throws that left the door open.
3. LAGERALD VICK, Kansas
No one has made more big shots this season than Vick. No one has saved their team from losing games they have no business losing than Vick. He had 32 points and made eight threes in a game against Vermont where Kansas was trailing in the second half. He had 33 points and hit seven threes in a game against Louisiana where the Jayhawks trailed by 12 points. He scored eight straight in a Kansas win over Tennessee in New York in a game where Udoka Azubuike couldn’t stay on the floor and Quentin Grimes forgot he was a basketball player.
And then this weekend, he scored 27 points to help Kansas avoid an upset home loss to Stanford. That included a three he hit at the end of regulation to force overtime and the first eight points of the overtime period.
Dedric Lawson is averaging 18.8 points, 11.2 boards and 3.5 assists. In four games against high-major competition, he’s averaging 23.5 points, 13.5 boards and 4.0 assists. And there is no question in my mind that Vick, not Lawson, is the Player of the Year candidate from the Jayhawks at this point in the year.
4. ETHAN HAPP, Wisconsin
I’m sure there are going to be plenty of stories written about how Happ has made a leap this season and it is why the Badgers are going to be relevant nationally again this season. I don’t necessarily believe that to be true. Yes, Happ is having a terrific year, but he’s basically doing the same things he’s done in the past. Maybe at a higher level, but he is just as good as he has been for the last three seasons.
He has a supporting cast this year. D’Mitrik Trice has been sensational; I’m not sure he’s missed a shot this season. Brad Davison is what we all expected him to be. That’s where the improvement has come for the Badgers, and the result is we’re all starting to see just what we were missing with Happ.
Oh, and it’s worth nothing this: He’s averaging 17.7 points, 10.8 boards and 5.0 assists. That hasn’t been done since 1992, which is as far back as the Basketball Reference database goes.
5. R.J. BARRETT, Duke
The concern with Barrett was how much he was shooting and how inefficient he had been after going 9-for-25 against Gonzaga. In the last two games, Barrett is 21-for-28 from the floor and 4-for-8 from three. One of those games was against Stetson, so it doesn’t count, but he also went 9-for-18 and 2-for-4 from three against Indiana. Is he figuring it out?
6. DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia
Hunter has been terrific this season, impressive enough that he’s climbed into the top five of some mock drafts. The 47.6 percent shooting from three matters, as does his ability to do things like this:
7. JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech
Another come-from-behind win for the Red Raiders, another monster performance from Culver in that win. He had 20 points, six boards, six assists, two steals and two blocks as Texas Tech rallied from a double-digit second half deficit to beat Memphis. They trailed against both Nebraska and USC, and Culver was terrific in leading those comebacks as well.
8. CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue
Purdue has lost three of their last four — all to teams ranked in the top 15 — and Edwards has seen his efficiency plummet as teams have started to figure out just how good he is, especially when compared to the rest Purdue’s roster. Edwards is going to continue to put up massive numbers this season, but it is going to be hard for him to get into a position where he has a real chance to win this award because Purdue seems destined to end up as something closer to a borderline top 25 team than a true contender.
9. GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee
Williams hasn’t had to do much since the loss to Kansas, a game that he took over in the second half before fouling out. The Vols face off with Gonzaga on Sunday. Buckle-up.
10. NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech
Alexander-Walker has seen his scoring come back to earth a bit in the last three games, but two of those contests were blowouts and the other came in a loss in Virginia Tech’s first true road game of the season. The difference between this year and last year for Alexander-Walker has been how much Buzz Williams has trusted him as a playmaker in ball-screens, something that he rarely had the opportunity to do last year: