Ranking the Naismith Player of the Year Candidates in NCAA Basketball at Week 17
As potential conference champions jockey for position throughout NCAA basketball, the Naismith Player of the Year candidates get the opportunity to prove themselves in the brightest spotlights. Where some stars have dimmed since the last edition of these rankings (see Franklin, Jamaal), others have made the most of the chance to shine.
No player has made more of an impact at the top of the polls lately than Georgetown star Otto Porter Jr. His Hoyas are ranked No. 7 and riding a nine-game winning streak, and the versatile sophomore has been the engine driving all of that success.
Read on for more on Porter and the rest of the 20 most impressive candidates for Naismith honors this season.
20. Rodney McGruder, Kansas State
Previous Ranking: Unranked
Eight wins in nine tries for No. 13 Kansas State provide a major boost to the Naismith stock of team leader Rodney McGruder.
The physical shooting guard is on his second straight season topping the Wildcats in scoring, and even in a loss against the mighty Kansas defense he managed 20 points on 7-for-14 shooting.
Key Stats: 14.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.
Eye Test: Getting a lot more help on offense than he did a year ago, but still the Wildcats’ first option in crunch time.
Winning Edge: Physical senior provides brains and muscle for Big 12 co-leaders.
Biggest Flaw: Shooting a career-low .336 from beyond the arc.
*This spot originally belonged to Florida's Scottie Wilbekin, but Wilbekin was absent from the Atlanta Tip-Off Club's newly-updated list of Naismith prospects.
19. Rotnei Clarke, Butler
Previous Ranking: 18
Even despite a subpar showing in the loss to St. Louis, Rotnei Clarke has been leaving little doubt of his value to No. 20 Butler.
Clarke scored 22 of his team’s 68 points in a win at Fordham. Even while being held to 13 points by the Billikens, the 6’0” senior grabbed a season-high seven rebounds.
Key Stats: 17 points per game, .433 three-point shooting
Eye Test: Bulldogs’ most reliable scorer, even against constant double-teams.
Winning Edge: As good a pure shooter as you’ll find in college hoops.
Biggest Flaw: Often struggles to contribute outside of his point production.
18. Seth Curry, Duke
Previous Ranking: Unranked
Though he’s been unable to practice all season because of a foot injury, Seth Curry is still one of the scariest long-range marksmen in the country.
His point totals have shot up in ACC play overall, and his 25-point outburst (on 11-for-17 shooting) nearly salvaged Duke’s upset loss at Maryland.
Key Stats: 16.8 points per game, .437 three-point shooting
Eye Test: Can shoot opponents out of a game faster than almost any player in the country.
Winning Edge: Fighting through season-long injury to headline Duke’s always-potent perimeter arsenal.
Biggest Flaw: Rarely makes an impact with any play that isn’t a shot.
*Curry replaces New Mexico's Kendall Williams, absent from the updated Naismith list despite his team's impressive ranking.
17. Isaiah Canaan, Murray State
Previous Ranking: Unranked
Isaiah Canaan is playing some of his best ball of the year at just the right time.
His 22 points and five assists keyed a BracketBusters comeback against South Dakota State, and he just missed a career high one game earlier when he poured in 35 points in a double-OT win over Morehead State.
Key Stats: 21.2 points, 4.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game
Eye Test: His leadership means at least as much to a thin Murray State roster as his scoring punch.
Winning Edge: One-time All-American making a bid for a second selection as nation’s eighth-leading scorer.
Biggest Flaw: Racers aren’t nearly the national powerhouse they were a year ago.
*Canaan replaces Arizona's Mark Lyons, the final casualty of the updated list of prospects.
16. Matthew Dellavedova, St. Mary’s
Previous Ranking: Unranked
No, Matthew Dellavedova couldn’t save his team from a home loss to Gonzaga, not even with 22 points and six assists.
Of course, he also dismantled an awfully good Creighton squad in BracketBusters, racking up 19 points, six rebounds and another five assists on the night.
Key Stats: 16.1 points and 6.3 assists per game
Eye Test: Tremendous shooting range helps Dellavedova draw defenders out of position, creating openings for the rest of the Gaels’ scorers.
Winning Edge: Ultra-confident floor leader of fast-rising mid-major.
Biggest Flaw: Like the Gaels as a team, unremarkable on the defensive end of the floor.
15. Jack Cooley, Notre Dame
Previous Ranking: 14
Although Notre Dame is still one of the Big East’s hottest teams, Jack Cooley has slowed his pace in recent games. His double-double streak finally ended at six, and his scoring has quieted along with it.
Key Stats: 14.4 points, 11 rebounds, 1.4 blocks per game
Eye Test: Not always pretty to watch, but controls the paint with the best of them.
Winning Edge: Best and toughest big man in the bruising Big East.
Biggest Flaw: Rarely takes over as a scorer.
14. Ben McLemore, Kansas
Previous Ranking: 10
After demolishing Kansas State two weeks ago, Ben McLemore has hit a rare rough patch.
Strikingly, the worst of three straight subpar scoring games came at Oklahoma State, when he played 49 minutes of a double-OT thriller with just seven points to show for his trouble.
Key Stats: 16.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, .426 three-point shooting
Eye Test: The attention he draws makes every other KU offensive player better.
Winning Edge: Highlight-reel scorer keeping No. 6 Kansas in Final Four conversation.
Biggest Flaw: Playing on supercharged Jayhawk defense, he looks merely ordinary.
13. Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga
Previous Ranking: 15
Even by his high standards, Kelly Olynyk has been on a tear in the last couple of weeks. He didn’t miss a shot in a 20-minute cameo against overmatched San Diego (14 points, nine boards), and he destroyed San Francisco with 26 points on 13-for-17 shooting.
Key Stats: 17.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, .660 field-goal shooting
Eye Test: Unguardable for smaller defenders, though he’s only the best of many impressive pieces in the Zags’ offense.
Winning Edge: Best offensive post player in the college game.
Biggest Flaw: At 7’0”, 238 pounds, doesn’t have nearly as much muscle as he does skill.
12. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Previous Ranking: 12
Impressive as always for his all-around game, Marcus Smart hasn’t been quite as sharp with his passing lately. Still, though he’s been held under four assists in three of his last five games, his defense and rebounding have made up for a lot.
Key Stats: 15 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.9 steals per game
Eye Test: Occasionally tries to do too much, but Cowboys would be lost without him.
Winning Edge: Nation’s most athletic, versatile point guard helping his 15th-ranked team blow away expectations.
Biggest Flaw: Aggressiveness can get the better of him, leading to fouls and turnovers.
11. Shane Larkin, Miami
Previous Ranking: 9
After lighting up Florida State for 22 points, Shane Larkin has dropped into a mild slump. His scoring and assist numbers are down over his last three games, and even his ACC-leading steal figures have dipped a bit.
Key Stats: 13.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2.1 steals per game, .416 three-point shooting
Eye Test: Biggest difference between last year’s forgettable ‘Canes and this year’s first-place model is Larkin’s performance as floor general.
Winning Edge: Defensive leader for ACC front-runner also keeps offense flowing.
Biggest Flaw: Will have a big scoring game one night and a great defensive game the next, but rarely puts it all together.
10. Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse
Previous Ranking: 8
It’s hard to dispute Michael Carter-Williams’ importance to Syracuse, because when he’s off his game, the talent-rich Orange don’t win.
The sophomore standout was held to a single assist in an upset loss at UConn and managed just seven points (and a subpar five assists) in Saturday’s home defeat against Georgetown.
He followed that up with zero rebounds and four turnovers (against five assists) in another loss at Marquette.
Key Stats: 12.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, 7.9 assists and 2.9 steals per game.
Eye Test: Awe-inspiring in transition, but loses a lot of luster in the half court.
Winning Edge: No. 4 in the country in steals to key Syracuse’s brilliant defense, No. 2 in assists on the other end of the floor.
Biggest Flaw: Misses an awful lot of shots, especially considering the wealth of scorers he has around him.
9. Russ Smith, Louisville
Previous Ranking: 13
Louisville hasn’t played a ton of games lately, which is a shame for the scorching-hot Russ Smith.
The 6’1” guard is averaging six rebounds a night over his last five outings, he’s topped four assists in four of those games, and he’s still racking up points and steals in bunches.
Key Stats: 18.4 points and 2.1 steals per game
Eye Test: One-man fast break provides valuable safety net for Louisville’s inconsistent offense.
Winning Edge: No player in the country turns defense into offense better than Smith does.
Biggest Flaw: For all his point production, his shot (and his shooting percentages) aren’t exactly pretty.
8. Cody Zeller, Indiana
Previous Ranking: 7
Cody Zeller’s been a bit more of a shot-blocking presence than usual in recent games, but that’s about all the impression he’s making.
His scoring is right around his average, and his rebounding is down (whether against overmatched Nebraska or hard-hitting Michigan State).
Key Stats: 16.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game
Eye Test: There’s no faulting his numbers, but he’s hardly a go-to guy for the top-ranked Hoosiers, either.
Winning Edge: Top scorer for the nation’s top team (and very nearly its top-scoring offense, too).
Biggest Flaw: Too willing to let the game come to him, rather than taking over.
7. Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State
Previous Ranking: 6
For just the second time this season, Deshaun Thomas has gone three straight games without a 20-point outing.
He hasn’t been contributing much in other areas either (a total of one assist during that time), and it took a career game from Aaron Craft to salvage Thomas’ 14-point showing against Michigan State.
Key Stats: 19.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.
Eye Test: Erratic shooting can undermine his sensational point totals, but the Buckeye offense runs through him every game.
Winning Edge: Leads the nation’s toughest conference in scoring.
Biggest Flaw: A nonentity on an otherwise terrific defense.
6. Doug McDermott, Creighton
Previous Ranking: 4
Creighton’s second-half struggles have continued, and its 2-3 skid bodes ill for Doug McDermott’s Naismith hopes.
The junior scoring machine isn’t helping himself much, either, having been held to pedestrian totals of 10 and 15 points in two of his last four contests.
Key Stats: 22.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, .480 three-point shooting.
Eye Test: Does a remarkable job of fighting through constant double-teams, but all that defensive attention doesn't translate into many points for his teammates, either.
Winning Edge: Jaw-dropping pure scorer leads high-powered mid-major contender.
Biggest Flaw: Must shoulder bulk of the blame for Bluejays’ second-half slump.
5. Otto Porter Jr., Georgetown
Previous Ranking: 11
A career day against Syracuse got all the headlines, but that’s only the best of many impressive recent performances for Otto Porter Jr.
His 33 points, eight boards and five steals sunk the Orange, but in his last four overall he’s averaged 20.3 points, 6.3 boards and 2.8 steals per contest.
Key Stats: 15.9 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game, .453 three-point shooting
Eye Test: Often, Porter is the only thing keeping Hoya offense in the game.
Winning Edge: Red-hot Georgetown’s premier offensive weapon is also a first-rate defender.
Biggest Flaw: Surprisingly ineffective as a shot-blocker, tough though he is in the post.
4. Mason Plumlee, Duke
Previous Ranking: 1
Mason Plumlee has played three strong games in the last two weeks, including an 18-point, 11-rebound pounding of arch-rival North Carolina.
Nevertheless, the game that will leave a lasting impression is his worst performance of the season: a four-point, three-rebound collapse (capped by a foul-out) against towering Alex Len in an upset loss at Maryland.
Key Stats: 17.5 points, 10.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game.
Eye Test: Even when he’s not scoring, makes Duke offense go by starting fast breaks with his defensive rebounding.
Winning Edge: Best all-around big man in the college ranks.
Biggest Flaw: Completely different player when he doesn’t have a size advantage to exploit.
3. Jeff Withey, Kansas
Previous Ranking: 5
A rare offensive surge from Jeff Withey has coincided with some of the Jayhawks’ best performances of the year. A string of three straight double-doubles provided a great complement to Withey’s impeccable low-post defense.
Key Stats: 13.6 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.0 blocks per game
Eye Test: Changes the way every Kansas opponent plays offense.
Winning Edge: De facto No. 2 shot-blocker in the country leads the nation’s No. 1 field-goal defense.
Biggest Flaw: Not a prototypical back-to-the-basket scorer.
2. Victor Oladipo, Indiana
Previous Ranking: 2
Setting aside his injury-shortened outing against Purdue, Victor Oladipo has stayed on the same do-everything track he’s followed all season. Wins over Michigan State and Nebraska have seen Oladipo total 32 points, 17 boards and eight steals.
Key Stats: 14 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game
Eye Test: IU would not be ranked No. 1 without Oladipo’s exceptional hustle and ability to make whatever play the situation demands.
Winning Edge: Defensive stopper and offensive sparkplug keys nation’s best team.
Biggest Flaw: On the whole, a good scorer rather than an outstanding one.
1. Trey Burke, Michigan
Previous Ranking: 3
Even when Michigan got run out of the gym in East Lansing, Trey Burke was the only Wolverine who had a game to feel good about (18 points, four assists, three steals).
Against two vastly inferior opponents since, the sophomore star has combined for 55 points while still dishing out 13 assists.
Key Stats: 18.9 points, 6.9 assists and 1.4 steals per game
Eye Test: Terrific decision-maker maximizes Michigan’s chance to win.
Winning Edge: There isn’t a better offensive point guard in the college game.
Biggest Flaw: Defensive instincts improving, but still a work in progress.