NCAA Basketball Player of the Year Rankings 2013-14: Week 4 Edition
The current Player of the Year race has two point guards—Connecticut's Shabazz Napier and Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart—out in the lead. And the immediacy effect of the final plays of their last games has a big impact with where they rank this week.
Napier is the pick today after his game-winner against Florida, knocking Smart from the top spot after his two turnovers in the final minute against Memphis, combined with several other mistakes he made down the stretch.
The fact that Connecticut even had a shot to beat Florida in the final seconds was because of Napier's four-point play in the final minute, but he easily could have taken the blame for the final possession going wrong had he not received a very fortuitous bounce to set up his buzzer-beater.
Look at the screen shot in the final slide, and you can see that as Napier rises to take his shot, both Lasan Kromah and Niels Giffey are open and would have had time to take a dribble and possibly get to the rim had Napier passed the ball.
Is it fair to award Napier when his biggest moment came off a somewhat selfish play, and then drop Smart in the process for some selfish play that went bad against Memphis?
From what we've seen over the course of their careers thus far, I say yes.
Smart is at his best when he's picking his spots to attack the basket and looking for open teammates in the process. His approach down the stretch against Memphis was going to fail more times than not.
Napier has earned the right to be a tad on the selfish side, because he makes difficult shots—like the three on the four-point play—and he makes more shots than he misses off the dribble. So far this season, 36 of Napier's 43 baskets have been unassisted, according to Hoop-Math.com.
Yes, he probably should have given up the ball the first time around on the final possession, but Kevin Ollie wants Napier taking the final shot, even if it's a difficult one. And if I can pick any guy in the country to take an open shot from the elbow down one at the buzzer, I'm taking Napier.
10 to Watch: Jahii Carson, Arizona State; Joseph Young, Oregon; Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati; Chaz Williams, UMass; Alex Kirk, New Mexico; Perry Ellis, Kansas; Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga; Marcus Paige, North Carolina; Tyler Haws, BYU; Kyle Anderson, UCLA.
10. Lamar Patterson, Pittsburgh
Stats (8 games): 17.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 5.4 APG, 1.8 SPG
Lamar Patterson has consistently filled up the stat sheet for Pittsburgh during the team's undefeated start. Patterson has yet to have a game with less than four assists and he's scored in double figures in all but one game (Fresno State) and in that game, he had seven assists.
9. Nick Johnson, Arizona
Stats (8 games): 17.1 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.0 BPG, 0.6 SPG
Nick Johnson has been the best player on the team that some might argue is the best in the country.
Johnson has become a much more consistent scorer this season by getting to the rim and free-throw line more often. He's drawing 5.3 fouls per 40 minutes, compared to 3.7 per 40 last season, according to KenPom.com (subscription needed). Johnson is also shooting a career-best 81.4 percent at the line.
Johnson deserves some credit for those improvements, but he's also benefited a lot from new point guard T.J. McConnell. The two guards seem really comfortable playing together and McConnell is setting Johnson up to succeed.
8. Russ Smith, Louisville
Stats (7 games): 18.9 PPG, 3.9 APG, 2.9 RPG, 1.7 SPG
Russ Smith performed at an All-American level last year—he was snubbed and should have made the first team—and he's been even better thus far this year on the offensive end.
What might be most impressive about Smith's season is how he's handled success. Smith has scored 30 or more points twice and he's followed each performance by attempting only eight shots in the next game with five assists and six assists in those two games.
The old Smith would have tried to get 30 again. Before this season, anytime Smith scored at least 25, which happened seven times, he averaged 14.9 field-goal attempts the next game. Now, he's using the attention defenses give him to set up his teammates.
7. Jordan Adams, UCLA
Stats (8 games): 21.5 PPG, 2.9 APG, 4.0 RPG, 3.4 SPG
Jordan Adams is putting up Doug McDermott-like efficiency numbers and he's also making a huge impact on the defensive end. His 3.4 steals per game ranks third nationally. He's shooting 40 percent from distance, making 66.7 percent of his twos and 88.1 percent at the free-throw line, where he's averaging 7.4 attempts per game.
The only knock on Adams is that UCLA hasn't played anybody. The Bruins' best win is against Drexel at home, but that is about to change. UCLA travels to Missouri on Saturday and then plays Duke at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 19.
6. Julius Randle, Kentucky
Stats (8 games): 18.1 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.6 BPG
Julius Randle, Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins have all hit what could be a freshman wall. Randle's double-double streak ended at seven games on Sunday against Providence when he put up only 12 points and eight rebounds, and he's averaging 13.7 points in Kentucky's last three games.
It's not that the Wildcats have gone away from Randle. His usage rate has still been high; he's just not finishing as well or getting to the line as often. But Randle in a funk is still a productive player and he'll have a chance to bounce back in front of a national audience on Friday in Dallas against Baylor.
5. Doug McDermott, Creighton
Stats (8 games): 24.4 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 0.9 APG
Doug McDermott scored seven points on Sunday against George Washington, the first time he's scored in single digits since Feb. 6 and the first time all season he's failed to score at least 20 points this season.
Not to worry too much, as McDermott bounced back with 21 points in 22 minutes on Tuesday against Long Beach State. The George Washington performance dropped him a couple spots in these rankings and provided proof that McDermott may not be a machine, as suspected.
4. Keith Appling, Michigan State
Stats (7 games): 16.9 PPG, 5.6 APG, 3.0 RPG, 1.1 SPG
Tom Izzo has unleashed Keith Appling as a rim attacker because of the way the game has been called. It's his way of showing the rules are flawed, but it's turned into great strategy for his team.
Appling has made 15 of his 17 shots inside the arc in Michigan State's last two games and all 15 of those buckets have been in the paint. With that kind of success, you could argue the rules are benefiting the Spartans.
3. Jabari Parker, Duke
Stats (9 games): 22.1 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.6 BPG, 1.1 SPG
Jabari Parker had his first two "off" nights in the last two games, failing to reach 20 points for the first time against Arizona—he scored 19 points on 21 shots—and following that up with 15 points against Michigan.
Even when Parker is off, he looks like the best player on the court and he seems to be adjusting just fine to being treated that way by opposing defenses.
2. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Stats (8 games): 20.5 PPG, 3.6 APG, 5.0 RPG, 3.0 SPG
Marcus Smart had the best three-game stretch of any player in the country when he averaged 31.3 points against Memphis, South Florida and Purdue. In those three games, it helped that Smart made 10-of-21 threes, but it hurt the Cowboys the next two games.
Because of the confidence that came with those games, Smart spent the next two games throwing up heat checks and went one of 10 from deep. He missed all five of his threes in the loss to Memphis.
I'm not saying Smart should not shoot from outside, but a majority of the shots he was taking were not good shots and he's not a good enough shooter to be taking 10 threes in two games. He also has a really good supporting cast. For Smart to get back to playing great, he needs to trust those guys.
1. Shabazz Napier, Connecticut
Stats (8 games): 16.4 PPG, 5.4 APG, 7.1 RPG, 1.9 SPG
In the intro, I wrote about Shabazz Napier taking the initial shot in the final possession when he probably should have passed the ball (see screen shot above), but it's tough to blame the guy. He has carried his team in the two biggest games of the year: both one-point wins against Indiana and Florida.
In those two games, Napier has averaged 26.5 points, made 10-of-15 twos (66.7 percent) and 9-of-14 threes (64.3 percent). His teammates have made 17 of 48 of their twos (35.4 percent) and 8-of-29 threes (27.6 percent), and DeAndre Daniels has been the only Husky to score in double figures in one of those games—he did so against Florida.
College basketball calls its best player the "Player of the Year" and Napier is deserving of that so far, but if the award was "Most Valuable Player" like the NBA, there wouldn't even be a debate based on what's happened a month into the season.
Follow C.J. on Twitter @cjmoore4.