‪Power Ranking the Naismith Player of the Year Candidates in NCAA Basketball

Thad NovakCorrespondent IDecember 16, 2012

‪Power Ranking the Naismith Player of the Year Candidates in NCAA Basketball

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    With seven weeks of the season in the books, the stars of college hoops are separating themselves from the pretenders in the race for the Naismith Award. Some top-tier players have fallen well short of their preseason billing, while others have surpassed it by a mile.

    One of the latter standouts is Louisville’s Russ Smith, who wasn’t even on the Naismith’s preseason watch list. The high-energy shooting guard has leapt into the top 25 in the country in scoring while continuing to play superlative defense.

    Of course, Smith isn’t the only surprising name among the frontrunners for Player of the Year honors. Read on for a closer look at the biggest advantages—and disadvantages—on the Naismith resumes of each of the top 20.

20. Brandon Paul, Illinois

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    Previous Ranking (from beginning of season, here): Unranked (not on preseason watch list)

    Illinois has soared to a 12-0 start behind the nation’s most prolific three-point shooters. Senior Brandon Paul is the hero of that story, leading the Illini in scoring, rebounding and treys.

    Key Stats: 18.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.8 three-pointers made per game

    Winning Edge: Dominant three-point shooter for unexpected winner.

    Biggest Flaw: Raw scoring totals don’t stand out in this competition.

19. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky

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    Previous Ranking: 4

    Noel’s stats aren’t far behind where he was projected to be, but Kentucky’s weak start hurts his cause. He’s also not producing as many points as you’d like from a Naismith frontrunner.

    Key Stats: 9.0 rebounds, 3.9 blocks, 2.8 steals per game

    Winning Edge: Defensive performance only slightly short of Anthony Davis’ peerless 2011-12 showing.

    Biggest Flaw: Third-best scorer on a disappointing team.

18. Peyton Siva, Louisville

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    Previous Ranking: 12

    Peyton Siva might be a bit higher if Louisville were still undefeated, but not by much. What’s really hurting his ranking is the dazzling performance of teammate Russ Smith, which has relegated Siva to a secondary role.

    Key Stats: 5.8 assists, 2.4 steals per game

    Winning Edge: Doing everything you ask a point guard to do, at an elite level, for a top-10 team.

    Biggest Flaw: Hasn’t been the dominant player on his own roster.

17. Nate Wolters, South Dakota State

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    Previous Ranking: 17

    His team hasn’t scored the upsets he might’ve hoped for, but Nate Wolters has lived up to expectations thus far. He’s essentially duplicated last year’s absurd offensive performance while recording a career high in steals.

    Key Stats: 19.9 points, 6.3 rebounds. 6.0 assists, 1.9 steals per game

    Winning Edge: Most impressive all-around stats in the country.

    Biggest Flaw: Laughable strength of schedule makes numbers a bit hollow.

16. James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina

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    Previous Ranking: 3

    Despite unlimited potential, James Michael McAdoo has been merely very good for North Carolina. His team has disappointed and his own numbers haven’t reached the stratospheric levels of his preseason hopes.

    Key Stats: 15.4 points, 8.3 rebounds per game

    Winning Edge: Highlight-reel athleticism backed up by solid stats.

    Biggest Flaw: Dreadful low-post defender (0.2 blocks per game).

15. Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati

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    Previous Ranking: Unranked (on watch list)

    Sean Kilpatrick has led the Bearcats to 10 straight wins to open the season by improving on every aspect of his game. His scoring shows the most obvious jump, as he’s added five points per game to last year’s performance.

    Key Stats: 19.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.8 steals per game

    Winning Edge: Clear-cut star of Big East’s biggest surprise.

    Biggest Flaw: Not overpowering in any one area.

14. Doug McDermott, Creighton

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    Previous Ranking: 2

    Not only has Doug McDermott’s Creighton team suffered an ugly upset loss at home, but McDermott isn’t living up to his own standards. His rebounding numbers are down from a year ago, and he’s barely scoring more than he did as a sophomore.

    Key Stats: 23.7 points, 6.9 rebounds per game, .529 three-point shooting

    Winning Edge: No. 3 in the country in scoring.

    Biggest Flaw: Competing against own amazing 2011-12 season, and struggling to do so.

13. Isaiah Canaan, Murray State

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    Previous Ranking: 8

    Isaiah Canaan’s individual performance is a hair ahead of last year’s pace, but Murray State’s loss to Colorado was a crushing blow to his chances. The longer the Racers spend outside the Top 25, the less relevant Canaan becomes on the national scene.

    Key Stats: 21.3 points, 4.0 assists per game, .429 three-point shooting

    Winning Edge: Elite scorer with solid passing numbers.

    Biggest Flaw: Lack of visibility.

12. Jeff Withey, Kansas

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    Previous Ranking: Unranked (on watch list)

    Jeff Withey is on pace for the seventh-best shot-blocking season in NCAA history. His other numbers are up across the board, though he’s still pretty one-dimensional.

    Key Stats: 13.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 5.6 blocks per game

    Winning Edge: Overwhelmingly the best shot-blocker in the country.

    Biggest Flaw: Pedestrian scoring performance.

11. Erick Green, Virginia Tech

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    Previous Ranking: Unranked (not on watch list)

    Erick Green has rocketed into the Naismith discussion by raising his scoring average almost nine points per game over last year. He’s also doubled his assist totals.

    Key Stats: 24.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.8 steals per game

    Winning Edge: Leads all major-conference players in scoring.

    Biggest Flaw: He’s the face of the Hokies, but the Hokies have been very erratic.

10. Jack Cooley, Notre Dame

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    Previous Ranking: Unranked (on watch list)

    Unlike fellow designated rebounder Andre Roberson (previously No. 19 on this list), Jack Cooley has shown up on offense in 2012-13. He’s improved his scoring just enough to give his rebounding and defensive performance a chance to get noticed.

    Key Stats: 14.6 points, 11.1 rebounds, 1.6 blocks per game

    Winning Edge: Superior rebounder with respectable numbers elsewhere.

    Biggest Flaw: Doesn’t wow anybody as a scorer.

9. C.J. McCollum, Lehigh

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    Previous Ranking: 10

    C.J. McCollum has shot even better than expected, overtaking Doug McDermott to lead the country in scoring. Unfortunately, his other numbers (particularly his formerly-spectacular defense) have fallen to ordinary levels.

    Key Stats: 24.9 points, 5.4 rebounds per game, .519 three-point shooting

    Winning Edge: Unstoppable scorer.

    Biggest Flaw: Despite his best efforts, his team has gotten blown out by its only two major-conference opponents.

8. Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State

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    Previous Ranking: Unranked (on watch list)

    Picking up right where he left off in last year’s brilliant NCAA tournament showing, Deshaun Thomas has carried No. 7 Ohio State in an 8-1 start. He's both a first-class scorer and a devastating athlete who generates an impressive highlight package.

    Key Stats: 20.3 points, 6.7 rebounds per game, .429 three-point shooting

    Winning Edge: Leading scorer in loaded Big Ten.

    Biggest Flaw: Weak rebounding showing for his size, athleticism.

7. Russ Smith, Louisville

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    Previous Ranking: Unranked (not on watch list)

    This year’s Thomas Robinson turns out to be a 6’0” guard. Russ Smith has gone from elite sixth man to game-changing starter by nearly doubling his scoring average. He's also among the most disruptive perimeter defenders in the game.

    Key Stats: 20.2 points, 3.1 steals per game

    Winning Edge: Unmatched combination of defense and scoring.

    Biggest Flaw: Though much improved, still only a competent shooter by SG standards (.362 from long range).

6. Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State

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    Previous Ranking: 16

    While many contenders have slipped, Jamaal Franklin has managed to improve on what was already a stellar sophomore year. He’s posting career highs in almost every major category, even with his backcourt mates struggling.

    Key Stats: 18.6 points, 9.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals per game

    Winning Edge: Scores like a guard, rebounds like a post player.

    Biggest Flaw: God-awful three-point shooter (9-for-37 on the year).

5. Cody Zeller, Indiana

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    Previous Ranking: 1

    Indiana’s fall from the ranks of the unbeaten isn’t even the main weakness in Cody Zeller’s case for the Naismith. The preseason favorite has barely improved on his freshman-year performance, leaving him well short of being the nation's top post threat.

    Key Stats: 15.7 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.4 blocks per game

    Winning Edge: Best weapon on stacked offense of a national title contender.

    Biggest Flaw: Not taking over games the way a 7’0” center should.

4. Trey Burke, Michigan

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    Previous Ranking: 5

    Michigan’s offense has been even better than advertised in an 11-0 start. Trey Burke has been a major reason for the improvement, adding 2.4 assists per game to last year’s already-respectable average.

    Key Stats: 18 points, 7.0 assists per game

    Winning Edge: His team is undefeated thanks overwhelmingly to the offense he’s orchestrating.

    Biggest Flaw: Iffy defender at just 1.3 steals per game.

3. Anthony Bennett, UNLV

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    Previous Ranking: Unranked (not on watch list)

    Ranked No. 7 in this year’s freshman class by ESPNU, Anthony Bennett is actually exceeding his hype. He’s been the second-best big man in all of college hoops, and he played his best game when his team needed him most (25 points and 13 boards at California).

    Key Stats: 20.3 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.9 blocks per game

    Winning Edge: Best freshman in the country by a huge margin.

    Biggest Flaw: Has yet to face a Top 25 team, or even many tournament-bound teams.

2. Mason Plumlee, Duke

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    Previous Ranking: Unranked (on watch list)

    Last year, Mason Plumlee was an outstanding rebounder and a good defender. Now, he’s added “go-to scorer” to his resume while leading Duke to an extraordinary 9-0 start.

    Key Stats: 19.2 points, 11.3 rebounds, 1.7 blocks per game

    Winning Edge: Best big man in college game, and star of country’s best team.

    Biggest Flaw: Has battled foul trouble in some key games.

1. Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse

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    Previous Ranking: 6

    If No. 4 Syracuse continues as a championship contender, Michael Carter-Williams will belong among the greatest college point guards ever. He’s leading the nation in assists—on pace for the NCAA’s third-best average all-time—and placing second in steals.

    Key Stats: 5.2 rebounds, 10.8 assists, 3.7 steals per game

    Winning Edge: Potentially historic season as a distributor.

    Biggest Flaw: Terrible outside shooting makes him subpar scorer (12.3 points per game).