Wooden Watch: Ranking the Top 25 Candidates at Week 16

Avi Wolfman-ArentCorrespondent IIFebruary 21, 2013

Wooden Watch: Ranking the Top 25 Candidates at Week 16

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    It's been two weeks since we last ranked the Top 25 Wooden Award candidates.

    Since then, we've experienced what I would call modest movement at the top, with one major exception: Indiana's Victor Oladipo.

    Even after suffering a minor injury, the junior guard's POY campaign continues to gain momentum, highlighted by stellar performances against Ohio State and Michigan State.

    Oladipo's game is best experienced in real time, and the fact that both games aired on national television hints at the vital role exposure has played in his budding candidacy. No. 1 Indiana generates lots of coverage, and for a seeing-is-believing candidate like Oladipo, that attention is critical to his chances.

25. Isaiah Canaan, Murray State

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    Last Time: 24th

    Key Stats: 20.6 ppg, 4.2 apg, 15.6 field-goal attempts per game

    What's New: Canaan put his stamp on the 2012-13 season with a game-winning three against conference leader Belmont on February 7. It looked, for a moment, like Murray State might make a return trip to the NCAA tournament and give Canaan's POY candidacy a bump in the process. Since, then, however, the Racers have lost two of three, and Canaan is 16 of his last 54 (29.6 percent) from the field.

24. Pierre Jackson, Baylor

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    Last Time: 21st

    Key Stats: 18.4 ppg, 6.3 apg, 36.7 assist rate (2nd in Big 12)

    What's New: After nearly carrying Baylor to an upset win over Oklahoma State on February 6, Jackson's game has been on the wane. The 5'10" senior bottomed out on Saturday, scoring seven points on 2-of-8 shooting in a blowout loss to Kansas State.

23. Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA

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    Last Time: 19th

    Key Stats: 18.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 5.3 fouls drawn per 40 minutes (6th in Pac 12)

    What's New: Unless UCLA makes a move into the Top 25, it's hard to see Muhammad cracking the Top 15 on any POY lists. That said, he's still a national name and an elite scorer—in other words, the exact type of player who could make a big jump if his teammates help him out.

22. Allen Crabbe, California

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    Last Time: NR

    Key Stats: 19.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 58.9 TS% (7th in Pac-12)

    What's New: In a Warholian kind of way, Crabbe's involvement in the Mike Montgomery shoving incident has drawn extra attention to what already a hallmark season for the Pac-12's leading scorer. In the last three games, the 6'6" swingman is averaging 23.3 points per. Cal has won all three contests, and now sits just two games off the pace in a crowded Pac-12.

21. Keith Appling, Michigan State

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    Last Time: NR

    Key Stats: 13.8 ppg, 3.9 apg, 3.6 rpg, 23.2 assist rate (11th in Big 10)

    What's New: Last time, Spartans fans admonished me for not including Appling. And while I still don't think the junior guard measures up to the other players on this list, Michigan State is playing too well right now not to have a representative in the conversation. Appling, Sparty's leader in minutes and points per game, is the clearest-cut pick—although Michigan State's scoring balance makes a sustained POY push unlikely.

20. Mike Muscala, Bucknell

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    Last Time: NR

    Key Stats: 19.1 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 29.1 defensive rebounding percentage (Best in country)

    What's New: With a victory over Lehigh on Monday, Muscala's Bison now sit alone atop the Patriot League. Muscala only scored 12 in the win, but it came on the heels of back-to-back 25-point performances. If we're talking offense only, Muscala ranks right alongside Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk as the best big man in America.

19. Erick Green, Virginia Tech

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    Last Time: 16th

    Key Stats: 25.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 4.1 apg, 121.0 offensive efficiency rating (5th in ACC)

    What's New: Green keeps scoring and Virginia Tech keeps losing. Even a respectable overtime loss at North Carolina State does little to distract from the Hokies' eight-game slide. Green is having a wonderful year, but the committee simply isn't going to recognize a player on such an awful team.

18. Nate Wolters, South Dakota State

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    Last Time: 23rd

    Key Stats: 22.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 5.4 apg, 61.5 TS% (83rd nationally)

    What's New: Wolters broke the shackles of geographical anonymity with a 53-point performance against IPFW on February 7. The feat got Wolters a long-overdue round of national buzz and set the mark for most points scored in a D-I game this season. He's since followed up with games of 36 and 28, and should get a golden opportunity to enhance his profile on BracketBusters this weekend against Murray State.

17. Shane Larkin, Miami

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    Last Time: NR

    Key Stats: 13.1 ppg, 4.3 apg, 4.1 rpg, 2.0 spg, 57.1 eFG% (6th in ACC)

    What's New: Miami's continued success demands that a Hurricane player land on this list, but who? No one on Jim Larranaga's team has a standout statistical profile, and both Kenny Kadji and Durand Scott have had years worthy of recognition. For now, we'll give the designated "Miami spot" to point guard Shane Larkin, who is leading the team in minutes per game and offensive efficiency rating.

16. Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State

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    Last Time: 17th

    Key Stats: 17.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 24.9 defensive rebounding percentage (3rd in MWC)

    What's New: All the athleticism in the world won't save Franklin from the fact that he managed just 22 points total in back-to-back road losses against Colorado State and UNLV. There's a lot to love about the way Franklin defends and rebounds, but it's hard to see voters rewarding either of those unless he puts more points on the board.

15. Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse

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    Last Time: 12th

    Key Stats: 12.9 ppg, 8.0 apg, 4.9 rpg, 3.1 spg

    What's New: The return of teammate James Southerland was supposed to give Carter-Williams a jolt, but in the three games since, his assist totals have been dipped well under his season average. The 6'6" point guard continues to rebound well and create turnovers for the 21-4 Orangemen. But to win this award, he'll need to either improve his shooting percentage (37.2 percent overall) or collect a lot more dimes.

14. Anthony Bennett, UNLV

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    Last Time: 14th

    Key Stats: 18.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 6.2 fouls drawn per 40 minutes (3rd in MWC)

    What's New: Bennett's 21 points and 12 rebounds against San Diego State on February 16 lifted UNLV to an important conference win, but those types of performances for the freshman phenom have been fewer and farther between since conference play began. A visit from No. 22 Colorado State on Wednesday gives the 6'8" forward a major chance to improve his POY stock.

13. Jack Cooley, Notre Dame

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    Last Time: 18th

    Key Stats: 14.5 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 18.6 offensive rebounding percentage (3rd in America)

    What's New: Cooley's rebounding totals remain gaudy, and his pivotal role in Notre Dame's comeback win at Pittsburgh on Saturday gave his candidacy a major boost. But for Cooley to become a Top 10 candidate his team probably needs to establish itself more permanently among the nation's elite teams. As is, fringe-Top-25 simply isn't going to cut it for a player averaging under 15 a game.

12. Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga

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    Last Time: 7th

    Key Stats: 18.0 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 5.3 block percentage (6th in WCC)

    What's New: Olynyk has been his usual dominant self lately, hitting 13-of-17 shots in Gonzaga's Saturday win over San Francisco. But the more I size up this field, the less I feel like Olynyk is a top-tier contender. Looking back at past Wooden Award winners, I couldn't find a single mid-major player who averaged less than 20.4 points per game or a single big man who averaged under 8.2 rebounds a contest. Olynyk is unlikely to pass either threshold before season's end.

11. Ben McLemore, Kansas

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    Last Time: 10th

    Key Stats: 16.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 64.8 TS% (2nd in Big 12)

    What's New: McLemore came through in a big way for his team on February 11, dropping 30 on Kansas State to help the Jayhawks snap a three-game slide. But even with the big scoring nights, it's hard to see how an off-the-ball scorer who touches the rock on just 23.3 percent of his team's possessions can sneak past some of the other names on this list.

10. Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State

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    Last Time: 5th

    Key Stats: 20.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 9.4 turnover rate (2nd in Big 10)

    What's New: Thomas is still scoring at a good clip, but Ohio State's recent struggles—the Buckeyes have lost three of four—have put a damper on his candidacy. Thomas' stat line is good, but probably not good enough to survive a tumble out of the Top 20. And on that matter, the 6'7" junior desperately needs some scoring help from his teammates.

9. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State

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    Last Time: 13th

    Key Stats: 15.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 4.5 apg, 2.9 spg

    What's New: Oklahoma State has won seven straight and Smart's POY stock has risen apace. The burly point guard has seen his scoring average climb during Big 12 play, to the point where it complements his incredible defensive skill and rare rebounding intuition. In other words, Smart's strength isn't as a scorer, but he's doing enough of it to keep his hat in the ring.

8. Russ Smith, Louisville

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    Last Time: 9th

    Key Stats: 18.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 6.5 fouls drawn per 40 minutes (3rd in Big East)

    What's New: Smith's shot has been shaky as of late, but he's still scoring plenty thanks to a healthy free-throw rate. On the defensive end he remains among the nation's premier perimeter pests, leading Louisville to a No. 1 adjusted defensive efficiency rating.

7. Otto Porter Jr., Georgetown

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    Last Time: 11th

    Key Stats: 15.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 117.3 offensive efficiency rating (9th in Big East)

    What's New: Since he won't stand out in any one statistical category, Porter is the kind of player whose POY stock is tied closely to team success. And since Georgetown has won seven straight, Porter has gone from under-appreciated star to trendy dark horse candidate. Provided his teammates hold up their end of the bargain, Georgetown's do-it-all forward should be a factor in this race right down to the wire.

6. Jeff Withey, Kansas

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    Last Time: 6th

    Key Stats: 13.2 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 4.0 bpg, 14.3 block percentage (6th nationally)

    What's New: Withey was one of Kansas' steadier performers during the Jayhawks' three-game losing streak, and has been even better over the last two contests. On the year, Withey has at least one block in 24 of 25 games.

5. Doug McDermott, Creighton

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    Last Time: 3rd

    Key Stats: 22.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 122.8 offensive efficiency rating (2nd in MVC)

    What's New: Creighton has lost three of five and McDermott posted two of his three lowest single-game point totals during that stretch. That's not to take away from the junior forward's fantastic season. He's still the nation's best inside/outside scoring threat, and remarkably efficient offensive player. But it's rare for a player from a mid-major school to win this award, much less one on a team outside the Top 25.

4. Cody Zeller, Indiana

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    Last Time: 4th

    Key Stats: 16.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 64.2 TS% (4th in Big 10)

    What's New: After a brief mid-season lull, Zeller has come on strong in February. The agile seven-footer is averaging 18.2 points and 7.7 rebounds a game since the month began, and would be generating even more buzz if not for the standout play of a certain teammate.

3. Mason Plumlee, Duke

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    Last Time: 2nd

    Key Stats: 17.6 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 23.2 defensive rebounding percentage (4th in ACC)

    What's New: Plumlee's numbers are right where they've been all season, but it's hard to shake the image of his dud performance at Maryland. The 6'10" senior was a sieve on defense and managed just four points against star Terps center Alex Len before fouling out. Plumlee's no-show was the ultimate fuel for critics who say the Duke star can't handle NBA-quality post defenders.

2. Victor Oladipo, Indiana

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    Last Time: 8th

    Key Stats: 14.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.4 spg, 71.0 TS% (4th in America)

    What's New: Oladipo has been an absolute stud over the past two weeks, playing his best ball in Indiana's most important games. As far as POY is concerned, the only question remaining is whether he'll score enough to win. Since the Wooden Award was first given out in 1977, no winner has averaged less than Anthony Davis' 14.2 points per game. Oladipo will get the necessary attention playing on America's best team, but will it be enough to help him overcome a relatively vanilla stat line?

1. Trey Burke, Michigan

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    Last Time: 1

    Key Stats: 18.6 ppg, 6.9 apg, 1.5 spg, 39.3 assist rate (Best in Big 10)

    What's New: Even Michigan's recent struggles aren't enough to knock Burke off the top spot. He scores, he dishes, he's a joy to watch when he has the ball in his hands and, most importantly, he doesn't have a prominent teammate stealing his spotlight.