Although the Wooden Award voters won't choose their 15 finalists for national Player of the Year until early March, that’s no reason not to start the speculation on which stars will make the cut. The contenders for the 2013-14 prize include plenty of new faces, but also some battle-tested veterans back for one last shot at a national title.
One of the latter is Syracuse standout C.J. Fair, who helped key last year’s Final Four squad as Michael Carter-Williams’ sidekick. Now a rising senior, the high-jumping, hard-dunking Fair will be one of the nation’s most exciting and versatile players, giving him a great shot at impressing the Wooden Award committee.
Read on for more on Fair’s chances, along with the rest of the likeliest prospects for those last 15 spots on the ballot in March.
Duke’s lineup for 2013-14 is far from perfect, but it’s exceptionally well suited to letting Jabari Parker show off his many talents.
The versatile freshman SF will have a veteran point guard to set him up (Quinn Cook), scorers to feed as a playmaker (Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson) and plenty of chances for rebounds in a three-point shooting offense.
Parker will also get his chance to make a mark as one of the top perimeter defenders in the ACC, if not the entire country. With his 6’8” length and outstanding basketball IQ, he’ll be an instant hit with Coach K as well as with postseason award voters.
Although he’s a natural small forward, Glenn Robinson III will probably spend another year shoehorned into the PF spot in Michigan’s undersized lineup.
Fortunately for him, he’s now got a year of low-post experience to help him figure out how to exploit his outstanding athleticism.
Robinson will be a lethal transition scorer once again, and he’s also likely to play a much bigger role in the half-court offense with Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. gone.
The Wolverines have ample talent to hang around in the top 15 or 20 in the national rankings. That should combine with a jump in Robinson’s already respectable stats—11 points and 5.4 rebounds per game—to put him in Wooden Award contention.
After two seasons as a starter, Patric Young has left no doubts about his toughness in the middle. The Gators’ brick wall of a center led the squad with 6.3 boards and 1.6 blocks a night last season.
The only thing keeping Young off the top of the Player of the Year charts thus far has been his lack of explosive scoring, but he’ll get more touches now that he's a rising senior (and the only returning double-digit scorer on the roster).
If he spends the summer working on a few extra post moves and improving his appalling free-throw shooting (.489), he could easily become one of the dominant big men in college hoops.
Like his postseason-banned UConn team, Shabazz Napier was largely ignored last year because there was never any question of his leading a tournament run for the Huskies.
With that restriction lifted, the rising senior PG will have his team near the top of the AAC, putting himself in the thick of the Wooden Award chase in the process.
The 6’1” Napier is a scorer first, averaging a team-high 17.1 points per game, but he’s also a skilled distributor (4.6 assists a night).
He’s improved his three-point shooting every year of his college career (up to 68 treys on .398 accuracy last season), and he’s coming off a career-high 2.0 steals per contest to top it all off.
New Mexico stands to be one of the top mid-major squads in the country next season, with another Mountain West crown all but guaranteed.
That kind of team notoriety will keep Alex Kirk in the national spotlight for the first time in his career, and the rising junior is ready for his closeup.
The 7’0”, 250-pound Kirk was right on the verge of greatness last season, averaging 12.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game.
With the confidence he’ll gain after a full year as a starter (not to mention a veteran point guard in Kendall Williams to feed him on the low block), the Lobos star should be an even stronger Wooden candidate than conference rival Anthony Bennett was last season.
The new blood in the Tar Heel frontcourt—freshmen Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks—will be the key to UNC reclaiming the ACC championship.
However, the best player on Roy Williams’ roster will still be the lone forward who tried to carry the entire team's low-post game last season, James Michael McAdoo.
The agile 6’9” PF won’t face nearly as many unfavorable matchups now that he’ll be playing with a second big man alongside him.
That should turn his good performance as a sophomore (14.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game) into a spectacular one next season.
Two years ago, Anthony Davis proved that the best defender in the country can win the Wooden Award even without jaw-dropping offensive stats.
The next player to follow that model could well be ball-hawking Aaron Craft, who’s been terrorizing Big Ten guards since Davis was a high school senior.
In addition to his defensive wizardry, Craft is a solid playmaker who averaged 4.6 assists a game last season.
If he can raise his 10 point-per-game scoring average now that Deshaun Thomas is gone, he’ll be a lock for the list of finalists as the leader of a Big Ten title contender.
While Ben McLemore was playing his way to the top of the NBA draft at Kansas, another redshirt freshman guard was quietly putting together a dazzling season of his own.
Arizona State’s poor record kept Jahii Carson from getting the attention that McLemore did, but the 5’10” Sun Devil won’t stay anonymous much longer.
Carson averaged 18.5 points and 5.1 assists per game for an unimpressive ASU team a season ago, and the year of experience should make him even more dangerous in a conference with few top-tier PGs.
Look for Carson to capture the Pac-12 scoring crown on his way to a serious run at POY recognition, both in conference and nationally.
Once again, John Calipari’s astonishing recruiting prowess has Kentucky soaring in the preseason polls. Unlike last year’s edition, this season’s Wildcats should live up to expectations, and the biggest reason why is Andrew Harrison.
The 6’5” Harrison—one of six McDonald’s All-Americans in this year’s UK recruiting class—is far and away the nation’s best freshman point guard.
His size will allow him to adjust to the college game quickly, he’s got a massive arsenal of scorers to feed, and he’ll put plenty of points on the board himself to complete a potent Wooden Award package.
As brilliant as Michael Carter-Williams was for the Orange, he couldn’t have piled up his gaudy assist totals without some dangerous scorers to set up. The best of the bunch, rising senior C.J. Fair, is back for another go-round in Syracuse’s ACC debut.
The 6’8” Fair is a combo forward who does much of his damage in the mid-range game (with a sideline in highlight-reel dunks).
Just as important, he’s the best defender in Jim Boeheim’s smothering 2-3 zone, as well as the best rebounder on the Orange roster.
Being the No. 1 freshman in the country is no guarantee of winning a Wooden Award, but it will certainly get you a long look from the voters.
This year’s most-heralded recruit, Andrew Wiggins, will have the advantage of jumping into a Kansas starting lineup in serious need of his scoring punch.
The Jayhawks are replacing all five starters, though new point guard Naadir Tharpe should ensure that Wiggins gets plenty of opportunities to put points on the board.
Wiggins is a fine passer himself (not to mention a productive rebounder and defender), and he’ll get to show off all his skills during what should be yet another Big 12 title run for KU.
If the Wooden Award went to the country’s most impressive athlete, Adreian Payne would be an immediate favorite.
The 6’10”, 240-pound Spartan has the quickness to take bigger defenders off the dribble and the strength and leaping ability to finish thunderous dunks when he gets the opening.
Payne’s mobility also serves him well on defense, where he can get up for some impressive blocked shots (at a rate of 1.3 a night last season).
With his scoring opportunities sure to increase in Derrick Nix’s absence, the rising senior has a great chance to bring home the trophy that eluded Draymond Green in 2012.
Earning first-team All-America recognition even once is usually cause to leave for the NBA these days, so it’s a real rarity when the Wooden Award voters have a two-time (soon to become three-time) All-American to consider.
There’s little question over whether Doug McDermott will be a finalist yet again, but whether he can reach the top spot is another question.
The 6’8” forward finished second in the country last season with 23.2 points per game, thanks in large part to superhuman .490 accuracy on his three-point shots.
McDermott is a solid rebounder as well (7.7 boards a night), but it’ll be his own scoring punch and his Blue Jays’ success that really determine how high he finishes in the voting as a senior.
Easily the most NBA-ready player in the country, Marcus Smart would’ve been a top-five pick in this month’s NBA draft had he left Oklahoma State.
Instead, the 6’4”, 225-pound wrecking ball is back to show off the country’s most complete package of point guard skills against another year’s worth of hapless college opponents.
If Smart merely replicates his numbers from last year—15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and a Big 12-high 3.0 steals per game—he’ll have an outstanding shot at winning the Wooden Award.
Considering that both he and backcourt mates Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash are a year more experienced (including getting used to playing as a unit), it’ll be a surprise if the rising sophomore doesn’t put up even scarier stats in 2013-14.
Russ Smith’s return to the college ranks cemented defending champion Louisville as the team to beat next season. It also put Smith himself, the Cardinals’ leader and best player, squarely at the front of the Wooden Award race.
As a junior, the 6’1” SG continued the pattern he’d established as a reserve in 2011-12, attacking on defense for steals (2.1 per game) and outrunning the other team to the rim to turn them into points (18.7 a night).
Smith’s role in the Cards’ half-court attack will only get bigger with Peyton Siva gone, meaning that 20 points per game isn’t at all out of reach in his final year in Louisville.