Wooden Watch: Ranking the Top 25 Candidates at Week 14
Just as it's been hard to identify a clear favorite in the NCAA title chase, so too has the postseason award picture taken on a muddled tone.
Naturally, there's some relation between the two. Kentucky's dominance last season drove fans and pundits on a straight line to star forward Anthony Davis. Four years earlier, the same process played out for North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough.
What we have this year instead is a class of players—somewhere between three and five strong, depending on your generosity—with a chance to state their respective cases over the season's remaining month. And even within that, there's room for a late bloomer to cloud matters further.
So while we don't have an alpha dog to heap praise upon, we do have ourselves one heck of a debate. And it continues in the slides ahead.
Note: All tempo-free stats courtesy of KenPom.com and current as of publication. All per-game stats courtesy of ESPN.com, updated Feb. 7.
25. Laurence Bowers, Missouri
Key Stats: 16.1 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 124.4 ORtg (45th nationally)
The Good: Ability to impact game inside and out. Surprisingly efficient shooter.
The Bad: Injury prone. Split vote with teammate Phil Pressey.
A recent ankle injury sidelined Laurence Bowers for five conference games, likely ending his shot at a postseason award. In his absence, Missouri suffered losses to Ole Miss and Florida and now looks like a nonfactor in the SEC title chase.
24. Isaiah Canaan, Murray State
Key Stats: 21.0 PPG, 15.5 field-goal attempts per game
The Good: Volume scorer. Name recognition high for mid-major player.
The Bad: Shoots a ton. Team probably headed to NIT.
Isaiah Canaan first came to national attention last year when he led Murray State to a 23-0 start. Early losses to Colorado, Dayton and Valparaiso ended any hope of a similar run this season, and with the Racers a step or two behind Belmont in the Ohio Valley Conference, it's unlikely Canaan will draw much media attention.
23. Nate Wolters, South Dakota State
Key Stats: 20.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 5.6 APG, 33.0 assist rate (70th overall)
The Good: Gifted playmaker. Performed well against SEC foe Alabama and AP-ranked New Mexico.
The Bad: Poor competition overall. Doesn't play much off the ball.
Two early losses by South Dakota State in Summit League play quashed any realistic chance of Nate Wolters capturing this award. He's a great talent to watch if you can catch him, but we're unlikely to see the Jackrabbits star on a big stage anytime soon.
22. Phil Pressey, Missouri
Key Stats: 12.1 PPG, 7.2 APG, 3.6 turnovers per game
The Good: Veteran leader and steady contributor for a team that's needed both.
The Bad: Not on par with point guards like Trey Burke and Michael Carter-Williams. Streaky scorer.
Pressey's 25 points last Wednesday weren't enough to prevent a head-turning loss against SEC bottom-feeder LSU. Mizzou bounced back four days later with a win over Auburn, but Pressey managed only four points. it was his fourth single-digit scoring output in eight conference games.
21. Pierre Jackson, Baylor
Key Stats: 19.3 PPG, 6.0 APG, 3.7 turnovers per game
The Good: Senior volume scorer with decent efficiency ratings.
The Bad: Team playing below its talent value. Can be a bit shot-happy.
Three straight Big 12 losses have Baylor sinking into bubble territory. Pierre Jackson topped 20 in each game, but it took him 57 shots combined.
20. Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati
Key Stats: 18.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.2 fouls committed per 40 minutes (21st overall)
The Good: Great scorer. Good rebounder for his position. Protects the ball well.
The Bad: Nothing particularly eye-opening about his stats when compared to other top contenders.
Sean Kilpatrick has been the undisputed standout player on a Cincinnati team that had won five of its last six prior to Wednesday's loss at Providence. His steady play has helped the Bearcats withstand Cashmere Wright's recurring injury woes and climb into the Top 20 for the first time since late December.
19. Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA
Key Stats: 18.4 PPG, 42.6 3P%, 9.5 offensive rebounding percentage
The Good: Rare combination of strength and touch. One of the hardest assignments in America.
The Bad: Team falling short of expectations.
There was a moment during UCLA's recent 10-game winning streak when it looked like freshman superstar Shabazz Muhammad might make a serious run at the Wooden Award outright. Since then, the Bruins have dropped three of four in conference and Muhammad's stock has fallen apace.
The Las Vegas native hasn't played poorly during that stretch, but it'll be hard for him to overcome the stigma attached to his talented-but-inconsistent team.
18. Jack Cooley, Notre Dame
Key Stats: 14.8 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 20.0 offensive rebounding percentage (first overall)
The Good: Rugged post presence. Nation's best offensive rebounder.
The Bad: On fringe Top 25 team. Struggles against top conference foes.
After monster performances against Villanova and DePaul, Jack Cooley managed just 10 points in a loss to Syracuse. Against teams with better-than-.500 records in Big East play, the Notre Dame forward is averaging a mere 11 points per game.
17. Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State
Key Stats: 17.6 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 6.6 fouls drawn per 40 minutes
The Good: Gets to free-throw line with stunning regularity. Can play inside or out.
The Bad: Needs to improve three-point form or drop it altogether. Team unable to separate itself in conference play.
Jamaal Franklin is shooting almost 17 times a game in conference play, a noticeable spike from his early-season average. His scoring totals have jumped as well, though not in proportion with the number of extra shots. That in part explains why his team is out of the Top 25 and stuck in the middle of the Mountain West standings.
16. Erick Green, Virginia Tech
Key Stats: 25.0 PPG, 4.2 APG, 16.9 field-goal attempts per game
The Good: Silky smooth scorer. Posting big numbers with little help.
The Bad: Neutral defender at best. Awful team.
ACC defenses have been no better at containing Erick Green than their nonconference counterparts. They have, however, been plenty effective at shutting down the rest of this Virginia Tech team, which has now lost four in a row. Barring a miracle turnaround by his Hokies, Green isn't anything more than a novelty player in the postseason awards drama.
15. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky
Key Stats: 10.6 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 4.6 blocks per game, 2.2 steals per game
The Good: Best defensive player in the country. Superstar talent.
The Bad: Rough offensive game. Atrocious free-throw shooter.
You had the feeling that if Kentucky ever got rolling, the Nerlens Noel POY train would pick up some serious steam. And here we are, with Big Blue on four-game winning streak and the shot-swatting freshman sensation generating more buzz than ever.
14. Anthony Bennett, UNLV
Key Stats: 18.3 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 61.1 true shooting percentage
The Good: Post bully with impressive face-up game. Best high-major freshman scorer in America.
The Bad: Team struggling in conference play.
I wonder if those taking issue with Anthony Bennett's up-and-down play during the conference season have any idea just how good the Mountain West is this year. Either way, it'll be tough for the UNLV star to make serious noise in this race if his team doesn't improve on its 4-4 league mark.
13. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Key Stats: 14.2 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 4.7 APG, 5.3 steal percentage (eighth overall)
The Good: Stalwart perimeter defender. Fantastic overall athlete.
The Bad: Still developing a jump shot. Can be turnover prone.
My, what a week for Oklahoma State freshman Marcus Smart. The Texas-born floor general sank a game winner over Iowa State and followed that with a 25-point, eight-offensive-rebound effort in the Cowboys' upset win at Kansas.
For many national viewers, the Kansas game was an introduction to Smart's diverse skill set and defensive toughness. And one they won't soon forget.
12. Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse
Key Stats: 12.2 PPG, 8.5 APG, 3.7 turnovers per game, 35.9 FG%, 3.0 steals per game
The Good: Leads nation in assists per game. Dynamic athlete capable of highlight-reel passes and finishes.
The Bad: Poor shooter. Turnover prone.
Carter-Williams is at his best when he's penetrating the lane to set up teammates. When he falls in love with his jump shot—as he did during Syracuse's recent two-game skid—he can be a drag on Jim Boeheim's offense.
11. Otto Porter Jr., Georgetown
Key Stats: 14.8 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 46.2 3P%
The Good: Gifted all-around player. Carrying team in absence of Greg Whittington.
The Bad: Won't post huge numbers in plodding offense. Doesn't stand out in any one area.
Since a puzzling loss to South Florida, Georgetown has won four straight behind the steady play of Otto Porter. In those games combined, the sophomore forward is shooting a scintillating 56.3 percent from three while snagging 8.5 boards a game.
10. Ben McLemore, Kansas
Key Stats: 16.3 PPG, 50.0 FG%, 42.6 3P%
The Good: Future lottery pick. Fantastic jump shooter. Great finisher at the rim.
The Bad: Not an expert at creating his own shot. On team with another POY contender.
After weeks of positive momentum, Ben McLemore seems finally to have leveled off following a ho-hum performance against West Virginia and a good-but-not-good-enough showing in Kansas' loss to Oklahoma State. The freshman sensation remains one of the nation's most exciting players to watch, and he should go in the top five of this year's NBA draft.
But a POY is unlikely unless McLemore can bump his scoring average above the 18-point threshold.
9. Russ Smith, Louisville
Key Stats: 18.2 PPG, 2.2 steals per game, 33.3 3P%
The Good: Disruptive defender. Nearly unstoppable in transition.
The Bad: Can struggle with shot in half court. Tendency to play hero ball.
Good Russ Smith reemerged last week, keying Louisville to two much-needed wins. His 7-of-15 performance against Pittsburgh helped the Cardinals break a three-game losing streak, while his 18-point effort versus Marquette helped Rick Pitino's team build a first-half lead it would never relinquish.
8. Victor Oladipo, Indiana
Key Stats: 14.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 2.5 steals per game, 70.7 true shooting percentage, 51.4 3P%
The Good: Highlight-reel dunker. Stat-sheet stuffer. Oppressive on-ball defender.
The Bad: Overshadowed at times by teammates. Not an elite scorer.
Victor Oladipo's breakout performance against Michigan was a snapshot of what Indiana fans have seen all year from the nation's most improved player: relentless defending, fearless driving and a jump shot opponents finally have to respect.
Dick Vitale has even taken to calling the DeMatha product a miniature Michael Jordan. A bit hyperbolic perhaps, but Oladipo's all-around game has, at minimum, made him one of the game's most entertaining players.
7. Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga
Key Stats: 17.9 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 68.8 true shooting percentage, 6.5 fouls drawn per 40 minutes (30th overall)
The Good: Best offensive game of any center in the country.
The Bad: Underwhelming rebounder for his size. Spotty defensive reputation.
Kelly Olynyk, to many folks' surprise, didn't appear on the Wooden midseason watch list. The Canadian seven-footer has since responded with a 31-point effort against St. Mary's, a 21-point performance against Portland and a 9-of-9 shooting night against BYU.
The question is, how will voters grade those numbers considering they came against mid-major foes?
6. Jeff Withey, Kansas
Key Stats: 13.0 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 4.2 blocks per game
The Good: Best interior defender in the country. Efficient scorer.
The Bad: Not a dynamic offensive player.
Against the Kansas defense, opponents shoot an anemic 37.8 percent from two-point range, the worst success rate in the country (per KenPom.com, subscription required). Jeff Withey is the overwhelming reason why. And unlike fellow shot-blocker Nerlens Noel, the senior center converts a remarkable percentage of his swats into changes of possession.
5. Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State
Key Stats: 19.9 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 57.1 true shooting percentage, 34.7 minutes per game.
The Good: Nightmare matchup that can score from anywhere on the court. Does it without much help.
The Bad: Indifferent defender at times.
When Deshaun Thomas is playing well, Ohio State can play with anybody in the country. When he is off his game or off the floor, the Buckeyes have almost no one capable of creating individual offense. Luckily for Thad Matta, the 6'7" swingman has played often and played well for the 17-5 Buckeyes.
4. Cody Zeller, Indiana
Key Stats: 16.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 125.8 ORtg (33rd overall)
The Good: Complete offensive game. Linchpin player for nation's best team.
The Bad: Can disappear for stretches. Questionable defensive toughness.
Cody Zeller's back-to-back 19-point performances against Purdue and Michigan keyed Indiana's re-ascent to No. 1 in the national polls. That doesn't completely erase the stain of a nine-point outing against Michigan State, but it does put the Hoosiers big back in the POY conversation.
3. Doug McDermott, Creighton
Key Stats: 23.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 67.8 true shooting percentage, 50.5 3P%
The Good: Nation's best combination of volume scoring and offensive efficiency. Can bang bodies inside and shoot from beyond.
The Bad: Not an elite athlete. Does most of his work against mid-major competition.
In Creighton's four games this year against Power Six competition, Doug McDermott averaged a cool 30 points a contest. Even that, however, hasn't quieted those critics who suggest the Creighton forward would wilt in a higher-level conference. Expect to hear fragments of that debate ad nauseum up until the Wooden Award results are released in April.
2. Mason Plumlee, Duke
Key Stats: 17.6 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 60.4 FG%
The Good: Carrying the offensive load inside for Duke. Plus athlete.
The Bad: Scoring has leveled off in conference play. Reputation for struggling against athletic frontlines.
Mason Plumlee followed his career-high, 32-point outburst against Wake Forest with a quiet night against Florida State. It's hard to know how the loss of floor-spacing forward Ryan Kelly has affected Plumlee directly, but it's worth noting that his scoring overall has fallen off in recent weeks.
1. Trey Burke, Michigan
Key Stats: 18.1 PPG, 7.2 APG, 3.77 assist-to-turnover ratio
The Good: Lightning quick with ball in hand. Clear leader of nation's best offense.
The Bad: Team coming off high-profile loss. Great step-back jumper, but can rely on it too often.
Burke's 25-point performance in a loss to Indiana wasn't all that efficient, but it undoubtedly enhanced his national profile. And unlike Indiana's Cody Zeller, Burke wasn't sharing the spotlight with a fast-rising teammate.