Power Ranking the College Basketball Naismith Player of the Year Candidates
College basketball’s conference schedule is serving up plenty of high-stakes clashes (like Saturday’s Indiana-Michigan showdown), and the race for Naismith Player of the Year honors is tightening up accordingly.
In the week since our last set of rankings, there wasn’t a more impressive big-game effort than the Hoosiers’ home win over the top-ranked Wolverines. Preseason Naismith favorite Cody Zeller looked spectacular in the victory, but the game also showcased the value of Zeller’s high-energy teammate Victor Oladipo, who makes his first appearance in these rankings.
Read on for more on both Hoosier stars, along with the rest of the 20 best candidates to hoist this season’s Naismith trophy.
20. Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA
Previous Ranking: 17
Shabazz Muhammad battled through illness to put in a valiant 22-point effort against USC in overtime. Unfortunately for the Bruins and their star player, the end result was still an embarrassing home loss to a sub-.500 archrival.
Key Stats: 18.4 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, .426 three-point shooting
Winning Edge: Freshman sensation is a top-drawer scorer.
Biggest Flaw: Not producing a whole lot outside of his scoring punch.
19. Scottie Wilbekin, Florida
Previous Ranking: 19
Florida’s streak of double-digit blowouts is alive and well, and Scottie Wilbekin has been right in the middle of it. Although he didn’t do much in the laugher over South Carolina, his 13 points and seven assists helped key a romp against No. 16 Ole Miss.
Key Stats: 5.1 assists and 1.7 steals per game
Winning Edge: Two-way point guard with bite leads peerless defense.
Biggest Flaw: Like his Gators teammates, disappoints as an individual scorer.
18. Victor Oladipo, Indiana
Previous Ranking: Unranked
Big Ten steals leader Victor Oladipo has been Indiana’s best defensive player all season. As the year’s gone on, he’s increasingly made himself indispensable in other areas of the game, especially as the second-leading scorer behind Cody Zeller.
Key Stats: 14 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.5 steals per game
Winning Edge: Dynamic all-around playmaker for title contender.
Biggest Flaw: Aside from his steals numbers, individual stats don’t wow you.
17. Ben McLemore, Kansas
Previous Ranking: 14
It’s hard to blame Ben McLemore for a loss in which the KU defense rolled over and played dead, but even McLemore’s 23 points weren't enough to save his team against Oklahoma State.
A subpar game in a win at West Virginia doesn’t help the redshirt freshman’s cause either.
Key Stats: 16.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, .455 three-point shooting
Winning Edge: Face of the offense for season-long title contender.
Biggest Flaw: Raw scoring totals don’t hold up in this competition.
16. Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga
Previous Ranking: 15
Kelly Olynyk deserves his share of credit for staving off a near-upset at San Diego, but individually he did little to distinguish himself this week. The Zags have kept winning, but their star center neither impressed nor flopped.
Key Stats: 17.9 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, .643 field-goal shooting
Winning Edge: Best offensive big man in the country.
Biggest Flaw: Worst defender on this list.
15. Pierre Jackson, Baylor
Previous Ranking: 12
Despite a strong pair of individual efforts from Pierre Jackson, Baylor lost to two unranked Big 12 foes this week. Worse yet, Jackson may have run out of late-game magic. He missed a potential game-saving trey against Oklahoma in the final seconds.
Key Stats: 19.1 points, 6.0 assists and 1.7 steals per game, .418 shooting
Winning Edge: Elite scoring point guard who can also play some serious defense.
Biggest Flaw: Team in free-fall against unremarkable competition.
14. Russ Smith, Louisville
Previous Ranking: 10
Russ Smith certainly didn’t hurt Louisville in its successful recovery from a three-game skid, but he didn’t do anything special, either. Smith was right around his averages as the Cardinals took down Pitt and Marquette, so he was neither a hero nor a goat.
Key Stats: 18.4 points and 2.2 steals per game
Winning Edge: Country’s best two-way 2-guard.
Biggest Flaw: Despite scoring punch, not an especially accurate shooter.
13. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky
Previous Ranking: 16
Another week, another mind-boggling set of stats from Nerlens Noel in SEC play. The overpowering freshman set a Kentucky record with 12 blocks at Ole Miss and then avenged a loss to Texas A&M with 19 points and 14 boards in an overtime road win.
Key Stats: 9.5 rebounds, 4.6 blocks and 2.3 steals per game
Winning Edge: Best all-purpose defender in college game is now its leading shot-blocker.
Biggest Flaw: Improved offense still isn’t too impressive.
12. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Previous Ranking: 18
For the first time since Big 12 play opened, Marcus Smart has put together back-to-back brilliant games.
Torching unranked Iowa State is one thing. Racking up 25 points, nine rebounds and five steals in a road upset of mighty Kansas, on the other hand, is an eye-opening performance.
Key Stats: 14.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2.9 steals per game
Winning Edge: Most physical point guard around is also immensely productive.
Biggest Flaw: Though they’re riding high now, his Cowboys have been seriously inconsistent.
11. Jeff Withey, Kansas
Previous Ranking: 9
The Jayhawk defense disintegrated against Oklahoma State, and star Jeff Withey has to take the brunt of that blame. He turned in a pretty pedestrian effort against West Virginia, too, dropping to third in the nation in blocks in the process.
Key Stats: 13 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.2 blocks per game
Winning Edge: Dominating star of one of the country’s toughest defenses.
Biggest Flaw: Only a competent offensive player.
10. Erick Green, Virginia Tech
Previous Ranking: 6
Erick Green had such an off night against North Carolina on Saturday that he lost half a point off his scoring average in one game. Compounding Green’s troubles, his Hokies have now dropped four in a row to fall into a last-place tie in the ACC.
Key Stats: 25 points and 4.2 assists per game
Winning Edge: No. 1 scorer in college hoops.
Biggest Flaw: Disastrous team is only getting worse.
9. Jack Cooley, Notre Dame
Previous Ranking: 13
Notre Dame needed a monster week from its low-post star, and Jack Cooley delivered. Seventeen points and 16 rebounds against Villanova, followed by 26 and 16 in overtime against DePaul, secured a pair of hard-fought Irish wins.
Key Stats: 15 points and 11.3 rebounds per game
Winning Edge: Making a push for the title of nation’s top post player.
Biggest Flaw: Team has dropped off the radar.
8. Doug McDermott, Creighton
Previous Ranking: 11
The ridiculous thing about Doug McDermott’s season is that his 29-point, 10-board effort against Missouri State wasn’t even all that special by his standards. His stock gets a major boost from Creighton having recaptured first place in the MVC.
Key Stats: 24 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, .510 three-point shooting
Winning Edge: Hyper-efficient scorer has kept mid-major Creighton in national rankings.
Biggest Flaw: Lackluster defender.
7. Anthony Bennett, UNLV
Previous Ranking: 5
Anthony Bennett had a schizophrenic week. He rebounded well but scored poorly against Nevada and then posted a reverse performance against Boise State.
More worrisome is the fact that UNLV’s loss to the Broncos drops it two games out of first in the Mountain West, making Bennett’s success that much less relevant on the national scene.
Key Stats: 18.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game
Winning Edge: Top freshman in college hoops can contend with any post player in the country.
Biggest Flaw: Doesn’t have the raw muscle of a Jack Cooley or Mason Plumlee.
6. Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State
Previous Ranking: 8
Deshaun Thomas’ pattern of letting up against weaker opponents continued as he allowed Nebraska to hold him to a meager 15 points.
When the Buckeyes actually needed him in a defensive clash with Wisconsin, though, Thomas stepped up with 25 of his team’s 58 points.
Key Stats: 20 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, .400 three-point shooting
Winning Edge: Leading scorer in country’s toughest conference.
Biggest Flaw: Doing little to set himself apart from other, more prolific, pure scorers.
5. Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State
Previous Ranking: 7
San Diego State’s MWC woes continued on Saturday with a surprising loss at Air Force, but for Jamaal Franklin, that game might prove to be a turning point.
After scuffling through a shaky 10-day stretch, Franklin shredded the Falcons for his best game in weeks: 25 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and a pair of steals.
Key Stats: 17.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game
Winning Edge: Unparalleled combination of perimeter and post skills.
Biggest Flaw: Individual numbers have been tumbling along with team’s performance.
4. Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse
Previous Ranking: 2
Syracuse’s second straight upset loss would’ve been bad enough for Michael Carter-Williams if he’d played well.
Instead, he had one of his worst games of the season, dishing out just two assists and shooting 3-for-12 from the field as his Orange got dismantled by Pitt.
Key Stats: 8.6 assists and 3.0 steals per game
Winning Edge: National leader in assists is also fourth-best ballhawk.
Biggest Flaw: Atrocious shooting percentages, even as scoring has risen to 12.6 points per game.
3. Cody Zeller, Indiana
Previous Ranking: 4
On his biggest stage of the year, Cody Zeller destroyed Michigan with 19 points and nine boards. He put up nearly identical numbers on Wednesday in a blowout win at archrival Purdue.
Key Stats: 16.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game
Winning Edge: Core of college basketball’s best offense.
Biggest Flaw: Hasn’t always been as assertive as you’d want from a player with his skills.
2. Trey Burke, Michigan
Previous Ranking: 1
Michigan came out on the wrong end of Saturday’s clash of the titans in Bloomington, but Trey Burke couldn’t have done much more to win the game for the Wolverines.
The sophomore point guard piled up 25 points, eight assists and two steals in a losing cause after turning in a solid game in Wednesday’s win over Northwestern.
Key Stats: 18.2 points and 7.2 assists per game
Winning Edge: Country’s best offensive point guard leads one of its most explosive teams.
Biggest Flaw: Now zero-for-two in mega-pressure road games (despite terrific individual performances).
1. Mason Plumlee, Duke
Previous Ranking: 3
The story of Mason Plumlee’s week was the career-high 32 points he pounded home in holding off upset-minded Wake Forest on the road.
Even in limited playing time in a rout of Florida State, Plumlee showed that he’s moving in the right direction with a three-block effort to put the Blue Devil defense back on track.
Key Stats: 17.6 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game, .604 shooting
Winning Edge: Nation’s best all-around big man.
Biggest Flaw: Even when he gets his stats, has rarely overwhelmed ACC centers.