As college basketball fans and pundits on the East Coast were going to bed with visions of Marcus Smart, Jabari Parker and Frank Kaminsky (seriously) in their heads, there was a National Player of the Year candidate quietly adding to his resume.
Arizona State sophomore Jahii Carson turned in yet another electric performance on Tuesday night, this time pouring in 40 points to help his Sun Devils to an impressive 86-80 win over UNLV at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Carson hit 16-of-25 shots (2-of-3 from long range, 6-of-9 from the charity stripe) to go with seven assists, three rebounds and a steal.
Moreover, with his team trailing, 56-49, the explosive guard took over and scored 18 points to go with three assists in the final 13 minutes of the contest—he accounted for 24 points as the Sun Devils outscored the Rebels 37-24 over that final span.
Let's just get this out there now: With the exception of maybe Doug McDermott at Creighton, you aren't going to find a player in the nation more crucial to his team than Carson.
The Sun Devils have some really nice pieces in Jermaine Marshall and Jordan Bachynski. But without Carson, they are near the bottom of the Pac-12, and with him, they are a dark-horse contender to be dancing in March.
Take it in, folks. We are in the midst of a truly unique college basketball season. The sheer depth of jaw-dropping talent at the top of the sport is unprecedented.
Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon are the freshmen quartet who get most of the hype, but it's deserved. They are already putting on transcendent displays and will only continue to get better. Sophomore Marcus Smart, who dropped 39 with five steals against one of the best backcourts in America on Tuesday, suddenly has a jump shot and is arguably the best two-way player in America (with a high IQ to boot).
Then you've got the older guys. No one can really score like McDermott. Electric UConn senior Shabazz Napier flirts with a triple-double every night. You can't forget about Russ Smith, who is now the bona fide leader at Louisville with Peyton Siva graduated.
Even at this early point in the season, there are usually only four or five players who are realistically National Player of the Year candidates. This season, there are at least eight.
And while he may be flying under the radar because his team plays when a majority of the country is asleep, Carson undoubtedly belongs in this group.
After Tuesday's outburst, he is now averaging 24.0 points on 57.4 percent shooting with 5.5 assists and 1.0 steals per contest. Considering his ability to get into the lane at will (and a jumper that forces defenses to stay honest), continuing to replicate those numbers isn't out of the question.
In a year with countless candidates, Carson probably won't win National Player of the Year. But he belongs in the discussion.
And as one of America's most electrifying talents, he is at least worth staying up for.