The upheaval in college hoops’ Top 25 this week has produced plenty of ripples on the leaderboard for the Naismith Award. Some Player of the Year favorites have kept their teams and themselves on the winning track, while others have seen their spots on the list usurped by rising stars.
Since the last edition of these rankings, no player has made a bigger splash in joining the leaders than Kansas’ Ben McLemore. The redshirt freshman almost single-handedly saved the Jayhawks from an upset loss to Iowa State. In the process, he showed that he’s one of the most gifted scorers anywhere in college basketball.
Herein, a closer look at McLemore and the rest of the 20 most promising candidates for this year’s Naismith honors.
Previous Ranking: 17
As impressive as Nate Wolters’ individual numbers are, it’s awfully tough for a player from the tiny Summit Conference to stay relevant. Now that his South Dakota State squad is two games out of first, Wolters’ national profile is hanging by a thread.
Key Stats: 21.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 1.6 steals per game
Winning Edge: Unmatched versatility and scoring punch at the point guard spot.
Biggest Flaw: Another upset loss has his Jackrabbits looking like also-rans in a weak league.
Previous Ranking: 18
Even a career-high 25 points from Marcus Smart couldn’t save Oklahoma State from falling to Kansas State, one of three losses in the team’s last four games.
Even Smart’s outstanding all-around stats will have a tough time overcoming a weak record for the Cowboys.
Key Stats: 14.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 2.8 steals per game
Winning Edge: Oklahoma State’s best rebounder and defender is also an awfully good point guard.
Biggest Flaw: Not exactly looking like a leader with Cowboys floundering.
Previous Ranking: Unranked
Heralded in the preseason as Kansas’ next offensive star, redshirt freshman Ben McLemore needed some time to get his feet under him.
After he dissected Iowa State for 33 points on 10-for-12 shooting, though, he’s left little doubt of how much he means to the No. 6 Jayhawks.
Key Stats: 16.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game; .431 three-point shooting
Winning Edge: NBA-ready athlete has shown offensive explosiveness in abundance.
Biggest Flaw: Scoring average still well below the nation’s best…and he has little else in his favor besides scoring.
Previous Ranking: 16
While UCLA has been tearing up the Pac-12 early on, star freshman Shabazz Muhammad hasn’t been as impressive. Weak outings against Colorado and Utah took some of the shine off his 23-point, 10-rebound game vs. Stanford.
Key Stats: 18.2 points and 4.9 rebounds per game; .450 three-point shooting
Winning Edge: Highlight-reel scorer and athlete brings respectable rebounding game on the perimeter.
Biggest Flaw: 0.8 assists per game is an awfully low average, even for a primary scorer.
Previous Ranking: Unranked
C.J. Leslie is finally proving that he’s the alpha wolf in N.C. State’s Pack. The 6’9” forward has emerged as the leading scorer and second-leading rebounder for the new darlings of the ACC.
Key Stats: 16.2 points and 7.3 rebounds per game
Winning Edge: Face of a red-hot team led huge win over Duke (25 points, six boards).
Biggest Flaw: Raw numbers don’t impress compared to other combo forward types in Naismith contention.
Previous Ranking: Unranked
After two years on the bench and a redshirt season, seven-footer Kelly Olynyk entered 2012-13 with zero expectations. With half a season gone, he’s eclipsed perennial NBA prospect Elias Harris as the best player on the 16-1 Zags.
Key Stats: 18.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game
Winning Edge: Surprise leader for a team firmly planted in the top 10.
Biggest Flaw: Non-factor on defense, unlike most big men on this list.
Previous Ranking: 15
Peyton Siva’s Cardinals haven’t even broken a sweat in going to 3-0 in Big East play. His 17-point outburst against South Florida was his second big offensive showing in four outings.
Key Stats: 5.8 assists and 2.3 steals per game
Winning Edge: Prototype point guard leading a top-three team
Biggest Flaw: At just 11.9 points per game, he’s as weak a scorer as any player on this list.
Previous Ranking: 14
Kansas’ continuing strong play keeps defensive stalwart Jeff Withey in good shape where his Naismith prospects are concerned. His nine-block showcase in locking down Temple doesn’t hurt, either.
Key Stats: 13.4 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.8 blocks per game
Winning Edge: Dominant shot-blocker leads one of the country’s toughest defenses.
Biggest Flaw: Neither flashy nor a big-time scorer.
Previous Ranking: 13
Pierre Jackson has made few mistakes in leading a 3-0 start for Baylor in Big 12 play. He scored 11 of his 24 points in overtime in a win over Texas.
Key Stats: 19.2 points, 6.3 assists and 1.9 steals per game
Winning Edge: Renowned clutch scorer putting up impressive stats as a point guard.
Biggest Flaw: Early-season losses have him playing well out of the limelight.
Previous Ranking: 12
To no one’s surprise, Doug McDermott continues to be as overwhelming a pure scorer as there is in the country. His 39-point explosion against Missouri State was a season high—and his fourth 30-point night for the year.
Key Stats: 23.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, .507 three-point shooting
Winning Edge: Most efficient offensive weapon in the nation.
Biggest Flaw: Hasn’t played a big-time opponent in the last month.
Previous Ranking: 8
Jack Cooley has been the Big East’s best big man this year, but he’s not off to a fast start in conference play.
His Fighting Irish have split a pair of key games against Cincinnati and UConn, and Cooley’s been held well below his season averages in both outings.
Key Stats: 15.1 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game
Winning Edge: Double-double machine leads stacked Notre Dame lineup.
Biggest Flaw: Hard to stand out in the Big East on raw power alone.
Previous Ranking: 11
The biggest beneficiary of C.J. McCollum’s devastating foot injury, Erick Green moves into the top spot among all scorers in the nation. He’s also a fine point guard, though his Hokies are getting roughed up early in ACC play.
Key Stats: 24.8 points, 4.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game
Winning Edge: Leading scorer in Division I, and he can pass, too.
Biggest Flaw: Hasn’t elevated a mediocre team.
Previous Ranking: 6
As well as Louisville has played in a 3-0 Big East start, Russ Smith hasn’t been quite as impressive. The Cardinals’ star SG has just two steals in the three games, and even his team-leading scoring has dropped off a bit.
Key Stats: 18.7 points and 2.4 steals per game
Winning Edge: Game-changer as both a scorer and ball hawk.
Biggest Flaw: Reverting to scattershot offensive form of 2011-12.
Previous Ranking: 10
Only a hair less impressive than C.J. Leslie’s scoring outburst against Duke was Deshaun Thomas putting Ohio State on his back against Michigan.
The Big Ten scoring leader racked up 20 of the Buckeyes’ 56 points—making him the only OSU player in double figures—in his team’s biggest win of the year.
Key Stats: 20.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game; .406 three-point shooting
Winning Edge: Carrying entire offense for top-15 team.
Biggest Flaw: Unremarkable rebounding numbers leave him competing with the few pure scorers even better than he is.
Previous Ranking: 7
With teammate Xavier Thames struggling, Jamaal Franklin has stepped up to lead the Aztecs in assists as well as scoring and rebounding.
He put on a ridiculous show on the road at Fresno State, piling up 20 points, 18 rebounds, five assists and three blocks.
Key Stats: 17.8 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game
Winning Edge: All-around perimeter weapon blends PF, SG and PG skills.
Biggest Flaw: Horrific three-point shooter (.278).
Previous Ranking: 4
On the season, Anthony Bennett’s numbers are still a match for any big man’s in the nation, and better (by a wide margin) than any freshman’s.
He does take a slight hit, though, for turning in a rare off night (12 points and six boards) in a tough loss at New Mexico.
Key Stats: 19.6 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game
Winning Edge: Nation’s best freshman is a fearsome all-around post presence.
Biggest Flaw: His Rebels are weakest team among the top five Naismith prospects.
Previous Ranking: 5
Uber-consistent Cody Zeller continues to put up some strong (if not earth-shaking) individual numbers for mighty Indiana.
Now, though, he has the strength of the Big Ten schedule on his side, as a fairly typical stat line—18 points, six boards, three blocks—looks a lot better when it comes against eighth-ranked Minnesota.
Key Stats: 16.6 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game
Winning Edge: Versatile leader of nation’s most dangerous offense
Biggest Flaw: Balanced Hoosier attack also keeps his scoring numbers out of the stratosphere.
Previous Ranking: 2
Michael Carter-Williams is starting to become the victim of his own success. Though he’s played awfully well in Syracuse’s 4-0 Big East start, he’s reached his lofty assist average just once in those four games while still struggling to score consistently.
Key Stats: 4.9 rebounds, 9.4 assists and 3.2 steals per game
Winning Edge: Nation’s leading passer also hanging on at fourth on steal charts.
Biggest Flaw: Sinking assist totals make iffy scoring harder to ignore.
Previous Ranking: 3
An impressive Big Ten start had Trey Burke all ready to claim the top spot had his Wolverines stayed unbeaten. Even in a hard-fought loss at Ohio State, Burke scored a team-high 15 points and dished out four assists despite awful shooting from his supporting cast.
Key Stats: 18 points and 7.1 assists per game
Winning Edge: Electric floor leader for leading Final Four contender.
Biggest Flaw: Improving defense still not up to par in this competition.
Previous Ranking: 1
Don’t blame Mason Plumlee for Duke’s tough loss to N.C. State. He had 15 points and 11 boards (not to mention four steals), though it wasn’t enough to overcome the absence of running mate Ryan Kelly in an already-undersized lineup.
Key Stats: 17.5 points, 11.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game
Winning Edge: Most dominant big man in college ranks.
Biggest Flaw: Almost required to overextend himself with Kelly hurt.