Ranking the Naismith Player of the Year Candidates in NCAA Basketball at Week 18
NCAA basketball heads into its final week with multiple stars still very much in the running for Naismith Player of the Year honors. Some of the most high-stakes games of the regular season have provided ample opportunity for the prime contenders to rise (or fall) with the conference tournaments coming up fast.
One year-long favorite for Naismith recognition, Creighton’s Doug McDermott, has already closed his regular season on a Wagnerian high note. The junior forward almost single-handedly decimated Wichita State in a winner-take-all duel for the Missouri Valley title.
Read on for more on McDermott’s sensational one-man show and the rest of the most impressive contenders to hoist the Naismith hardware this season.
20. Rotnei Clarke, Butler
Previous Ranking: 19
With only one game for Butler last week, Rotnei Clarke had nowhere to hide.
The usually-indomitable offensive leader of the Bulldogs was smothered by Virginia Commonwealth’s renowned pressure D, scoring a mere five points on 2-of-8 shooting in a 32-point shellacking by the Rams.
Key Stats: 16.5 points per game, .428 three-point shooting
Eye Test: Bulldog offense relies on him to a fault, but can fight through double-teams as well as anyone in the country.
Winning Edge: Deadeye shooter provides offensive spark for defense-heavy Bulldogs.
Biggest Flaw: Not a major contributor with anything other than his jump shot.
19. Isaiah Canaan, Murray State
Previous Ranking: 17
Although Murray State’s defense betrayed it in two upset losses to close the year, Isaiah Canaan and the Racers’ offense don’t deserve much of the blame.
Canaan poured in 53 points in the two home defeats, shooting a solid 42 percent in the process and even getting a combined three steals in the losing efforts.
Key Stats: 21.6 points, 4.0 assists and 1.5 steals per game
Eye Test: Runs Racer offense with a steady hand, a welcome asset for a team that’s much younger than last year’s version.
Winning Edge: Devastating all-around scorer is also a fine point guard.
Biggest Flaw: Team heading in wrong direction with two-game skid to close regular season.
18. Rodney McGruder, Kansas State
Previous Ranking: 20
Rodney McGruder’s stat line in a nail-biting win over Baylor—18 points, four assists, three steals—would’ve been solid enough on its own.
Even more impressive, though, was the way McGruder capped his night: a buzzer-beating three-ball to send the Bears packing on their home floor.
Key Stats: 14.9 points and 5.3 rebounds per game
Eye Test: Big-time leader whose defense goes way beyond his unremarkable stat lines.
Winning Edge: Physical senior is most consistent offensive weapon on rising Wildcats.
Biggest Flaw: Late-game heroics notwithstanding, he’s more workmanlike than flashy on offense.
17. Seth Curry, Duke
Previous Ranking: 18
In a wildly schizophrenic week, Seth Curry started by nearly saving Duke from an upset loss at Virginia, lighting up the vaunted Cavaliers’ defense for 28 points on 7-of-14 shooting.
Then, like all the rest of the Blue Devils, he took a back seat to Ryan Kelly against Miami, scoring a quiet seven points in Duke’s hard-fought win.
Key Stats: 16.9 points per game, .433 three-point shooting
Eye Test: Even with Kelly back, there’s no scarier three-point threat in a Duke uniform.
Winning Edge: Sensational long-range marksman is Blue Devils’ most explosive offensive player.
Biggest Flaw: Though he had five boards against Miami, he rarely makes the other contributions you’d like to see from a 2-guard besides scoring—not least because he’s severely undersized for the position at 6’2”.
16. Jack Cooley, Notre Dame
Previous Ranking: 15
It was pretty much a lost week for Jack Cooley, as a flu bug limited him to 15 ineffective minutes in Notre Dame’s lone game. Whether he’ll be back at 100 percent for Tuesday night’s date with St. John’s is anybody’s guess at this stage.
Key Stats: 13.9 points and 10.6 rebounds per game
Eye Test: He’s the heart of the Irish defense, but doesn’t always show the same aggressiveness on the offensive end.
Winning Edge: Big East’s most productive (and toughest) big man.
Biggest Flaw: Though he gets tons of second-chance points, he’s limited as a go-to scorer.
15. Matthew Dellavedova, St. Mary’s
Previous Ranking: 16
Facing minimal pressure in two easy wins, Matthew Dellavedova cruised to a solid but unremarkable week.
His scoring was up a bit (46 total points in the two games), though an ugly 0-of-7 three-point shooting effort against Santa Clara didn’t help his case any.
Key Stats: 16.5 points and 6.2 assists per game
Eye Test: St. Mary’s has a wealth of long-range shooters, and Dellavedova gets the best out of all of them.
Winning Edge: Superb offensive point guard has mid-major Gaels safely in at-large picture.
Biggest Flaw: Not nearly the leader on defense that he is with the ball in his hands.
14. Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse
Previous Ranking: 10
With the Orange floundering in the standings, it’s little surprise that Michael Carter-Williams hasn’t been at his best, either.
Eleven assists in two losses last week were a bad enough sign, but he also played 37 minutes without a rebound against Marquette and totaled a mere three steals in the two defeats.
Key Stats: 12.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 7.9 assists and 2.9 steals per game
Eye Test: Syracuse offense doesn’t need him as badly as his stats might suggest, but his defense is the real deal.
Winning Edge: Athletic PG in top five nationally for both assists and steals.
Biggest Flaw: Lousy shooting percentages are often a function of him taking too much on his own shoulders.
13. Ben McLemore, Kansas
Previous Ranking: 14
Although he’s been in quite a slump lately (including seven lonely points in an overtime win over Iowa State), Ben McLemore redeemed himself appreciably on Saturday.
In a rout of West Virginia, the youngster exploded for a KU freshman-record 36 points (including 5-of-6 three-pointers) along with seven boards and four assists.
Key Stats: 16.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, .425 three-point shooting
Eye Test: When he’s on, creates shots better than anyone in a Jayhawk uniform.
Winning Edge: Dynamic scoring leader for Final Four front-runner.
Biggest Flaw: Losing his consistency as a scorer just as the year wraps up.
12. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Previous Ranking: 12
Although the Cowboys sailed to a pair of easy wins last week, Marcus Smart wasn’t at his best offensively. He combined for just 20 points and eight assists over the two contests, though as always, his defense (seven total steals) was unimpeachable.
Key Stats: 14.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.9 steals per game
Eye Test: His decision-making can raise eyebrows, but Oklahoma State wouldn’t be in the Top 25 without him.
Winning Edge: College game’s most versatile point guard has NBA athleticism as a freshman.
Biggest Flaw: More mistake-prone than the top upperclass floor leaders.
11. Cody Zeller, Indiana
Previous Ranking: 8
Although Cody Zeller rang up an impressive double-double against Iowa, it’s his lack of production against Minnesota that made the biggest splash this week.
Held to just nine points on 2-of-9 shooting, Zeller looked flustered by the physical Gopher defense and gave little indication of the leadership you want from a star center in a key conference game.
Key Stats: 16.5 points and 8.1 rebounds per game
Eye Test: Impressive at his best, but really just another weapon in the loaded Hoosier attack.
Winning Edge: Leading scorer for one of the scariest offenses going.
Biggest Flaw: As Minnesota proved, can be pushed around by the right defender.
10. Shane Larkin, Miami
Previous Ranking: 11
With his team’s reputation on the line, Shane Larkin put in a heroic effort at Duke. Though Larkin’s 25 points and four assists weren’t good enough to pull out a win, they certainly showed why he’s been the ‘Canes' MVP all season.
Key Stats: 13.8 points, 4.3 assists and 2.0 steals per game, .416 three-point shooting
Eye Test: Surprisingly poised for a first-year starter, and has the respect of a veteran lineup.
Winning Edge: No player has been more responsible for Miami’s breakout season than its attacking sophomore PG.
Biggest Flaw: Though he’s coming off a strong week, he’s a very streaky scorer overall.
9. Mason Plumlee, Duke
Previous Ranking: 4
There were few similarities between Duke’s upset loss at Virginia and its clutch win over Miami, but one was the subpar play of Mason Plumlee in both games.
Obviously, everyone in a Blue Devil uniform deferred to Ryan Kelly against the Hurricanes, but Plumlee’s sorry 10-point, seven-board night against the Cavaliers was a key factor in a defeat that might have cost his team a No. 1 seed.
Key Stats: 17.1 points, 10.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game
Eye Test: Kelly’s return made it even clearer that Plumlee can’t carry the team by himself, try as he might.
Winning Edge: There’s no better all-around low-post player in college hoops.
Biggest Flaw: In a surprising slump at a crucial stage of the season.
8. Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State
Previous Ranking: 7
Facing overmatched Northwestern in his lone game of the week, Deshaun Thomas landed almost directly on his season averages. He’ll get a much better opportunity to impress in Tuesday’s road date with top-ranked Indiana—now he just has to follow through.
Key Stats: 19.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game
Eye Test: Has to make a lot of plays by himself in this offense, and he’s done the job all year long.
Winning Edge: Has kept his Big Ten-leading scoring average consistent all season, despite the rigors of the nation’s toughest conference.
Biggest Flaw: Contributes little to sensational OSU defense.
7. Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga
Previous Ranking: 13
Another pair of Gonzaga wins gave Kelly Olynyk two more chances to show off his extraordinary accuracy from the floor.
In addition to his 34 combined points on 14-of-18 shooting, he notched a rare double-double (15 points and 11 boards against Portland) and added to his late-season shot-blocking surge (two rejections against BYU).
Key Stats: 17.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, .668 field-goal shooting
Eye Test: Zags have plenty of weapons, but in the likely event of a mismatch, they’ll always feed Olynyk first.
Winning Edge: Country’s No. 3 field-goal shooter leads top-ranked WCC champs.
Biggest Flaw: Improving defense is still unimpressive given his size.
6. Russ Smith, Louisville
Previous Ranking: 9
Russ Smith’s uncharacteristic run of three straight five-assist games was snapped on Monday night against Cincinnati, but that’s about all the bad news for the Louisville guard.
Smith has been ringing up points in bunches while his Cards have run off six straight wins (including a signature victory at the Carrier Dome on Saturday).
Key Stats: 18.4 points and 2.1 steals per game
Eye Test: Improved though he is in the half court, Louisville’s best source of offense is still one of his coast-to-coast drives.
Winning Edge: Exceptional combination of scoring and defense (with the latter turning into the former more often than not).
Biggest Flaw: Subpar jump shot for a 2-guard of his caliber.
5. Victor Oladipo, Indiana
Previous Ranking: 2
No Hoosier came closer than Victor Oladipo to salvaging the loss against Minnesota, but his 16 points and five boards weren’t enough.
He played a much more defensive role in a romp over Iowa, racking up eight rebounds and four steals to go with a quiet 10 points.
Key Stats: 14 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game
Eye Test: Whether it’s a rebound, a dribble-drive or a blocked shot, if Indiana needs it in crunch time, Oladipo is ready to provide it.
Winning Edge: Ultra-versatile guard provides much-needed energy for finesse-heavy Hoosiers.
Biggest Flaw: Can score in bunches, but can just as easily disappear for entire games in the points column.
4. Trey Burke, Michigan
Previous Ranking: 1
As painful as Michigan’s upset at the hands of Penn State was, Trey Burke actually played a perfectly respectable game (18 points, six assists).
It doesn’t hurt that the sophomore PG put on a master class in his next outing, willing his team to a home win over Michigan State with 21 points, eight assists and a jaw-dropping five steals (including two in the final minute).
Key Stats: 18.8 points, 6.9 assists and 1.6 steals per game
Eye Test: As much as Tim Hardaway Jr. has done for the Wolverines this year, when it comes down to the final minutes, Burke is always the main man.
Winning Edge: Top offensive point guard in the country leads one of its most explosive scoring teams.
Biggest Flaw: When team struggles, too eager to try to win game by himself.
3. Jeff Withey, Kansas
Previous Ranking: 3
Held without a block against Iowa State last week, Jeff Withey responded by demolishing West Virginia (14 points, 10 boards, nine rejections).
He didn’t slow down much on Monday night against Texas Tech, ripping the Red Raiders for 22 points, nine boards and four more blocks.
Key Stats: 13.8 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.0 blocks per game
Eye Test: Forces opponents out of their comfort zone just by his presence in the middle.
Winning Edge: Game-changing shot-blocker keys nation’s top field-goal defense.
Biggest Flaw: Scoring is more or less an afterthought, though he’s had some big games lately.
2. Doug McDermott, Creighton
Previous Ranking: 6
Doug McDermott turned in one of the most unforgettable season finales of the last decade, winning the MVC title for Creighton by eviscerating Wichita State with a season-high 41 points on 15-of-18 shooting.
Even his previous game against Bradley (32 points and 11 boards) pales by comparison.
Key Stats: 23.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, .481 three-point shooting
Eye Test: Does a little of everything for Creighton, but his scoring eclipses all the rest of it.
Winning Edge: Nation’s second-leading scorer carries one of its best mid-majors.
Biggest Flaw: Very limited as a defender.
1. Otto Porter Jr., Georgetown
Previous Ranking: 5
Otto Porter Jr. scored a team-high 22 to save Georgetown from a double-OT upset by UConn, then came up with an even more impressive game for an encore.
His stat line against Rutgers—28 points, eight boards, three blocks, four steals—would be two good games for many forwards.
Key Stats: 16.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game, .469 three-point shooting
Eye Test: Georgetown’s offense emphasizes interchangeable options, but Porter is the option who can actually score.
Winning Edge: Terrific all-around player is at the top of his game and leading nation’s hottest team.
Biggest Flaw: Though defense is a strength, shot-blocking needs work.