If I were to submit a ballot today for the Naismith Award, it would look like this:
- Doug McDermott, Creighton
- DeAndre Kane, Iowa State
The casual college basketball would probably take a look at that ballot and ask, "Who is No. 2?"
So this week, instead of ranking the National Player of the Year candidate, my editors decided to have me come up with the 10 biggest stars in college basketball.
My formula was slightly scientific, but mostly subjective. I looked at Twitter followers and YouTube hits, but mostly I took a step back and asked: "Who does the casual fan know?"
And in the year of the freshmen, they might not be the front-runners for Player of the Year, but they're still the guys everyone is watching.
Twitter Followers: 19,677 (@jojo_embiid)
YouTube Hits: 349,624
Three months ago, Embiid would not have been close to making this list. He wasn't even a starter for Kansas at the beginning of the season.
Today, he's in the conversation to be the first pick in the NBA draft and taking attention away from his teammate Andrew Wiggins. On Monday night at Iowa State, for instance, Wiggins had 17 points and 19 rebounds, yet Embiid was the story.
Some guys are billed as "the next (insert superstar)" and they never live up to it. Embiid has been billed the next Hakeem Olajuwon, and he can already do the "Dream Shake."
He has the highest ceiling of any player in the country, and we're just starting to get to know the big man. By the end of the season, he could be at the top of this list.
Twitter: 18,912 (1_AG_1)
YouTube Hits: 1.8 million-plus
But Arizona is the top-ranked team in the country and getting as much attention as you can in the Pacific time zone. And Aaron Gordon is a big reason why.
Similar to Andrew Wiggins, there's always a chance that Gordon could pull off some crazy dunk that you don't want to miss.
He's not even his team's best scorer, but if you polled 20 casual basketball fans and asked them to name an Arizona player, Gordon would be the first answer for most.
Twitter Followers: 68,008 (@NativeFlash22)
YouTube Hits: 438,245
But Henderson is still college basketball's best shot at making TMZ. Last season, he drained threes, popped his jersey, flapped his gums, flipped off fans and enjoyed some beverages in the process. It was hard to look away.
This year Ole Miss isn't as good and Henderson, as far as we know, has been on good behavior, but he's still the game's most recognizable bad boy.
Twitter Followers: 25,344 (@ApolloBasedKing)
YouTube Hits: 144,048
Why He's a Star: It's hard not to be a star when you're the leading scorer on a national champion. It's also hard not to be a star when you have the personality of Russ Smith.
Russdiculous is one of the most lovable guys in the game. He's also underappreciated because of his reputation as a guy who takes ridiculous shots.
This year his scoring numbers are down and his assist numbers are up. He's playing better ball, but the Cardinals are not, so it's been easier to pay less attention to Smith...except when he's throwing down on Julius Randle.
Twitter Followers: 62,593 (@J30_RANDLE)
YouTube Hits: 490,670
Why He's a Star: No matter the year, you could take the best player on Kentucky's roster—particularly in the John Calipari era—and put him on this list.
It's hard not to be a big star in Big Blue Nation. Julius Randle is that guy this year for the Wildcats.
If Kentucky was pursuing 40-0 like Calipari had hoped, Randle might have been at the top of this list. And in any other year, he'd be the most famous freshman in college basketball. He just made the mistake of entering college the same year as Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker.
Twitter Followers: 27,180 (@dougmcd3)
YouTube Hits: 38,780
Why He's a Star: Doug McDermott is going to win National Player of the Year. He's going to be a three-time All-American. He's likely going to finish second in the NCAA in scoring.
He has a cool nickname—Dougie McBuckets (copyright Troy Machir)—and he's a blast to watch.
So why is he not No. 1 on this list?
- A quick-release jumper and crafty up-and-unders aren't exactly the rage on SportsCenter.
- He plays in Nebraska.
And that's not a knock on the state. Hey, Peyton Manning really digs the city where McDermott gets his buckets.
But McDermott is not the game's biggest star. He's just its best player.
Twitter Followers: 10,484 (@ac4osu)
YouTube Hits: 788,052
Why He's a Star: You know a guy is famous when his roommates can start a Twitter account and get 20,000-plus followers.
Aaron Craft is not one to self-publicize—he's tweeted once since last March—but he doesn't need to. His roomies and Dan Dakich will do it for him.
Tune in to any Big Ten game on ESPN that Dakich is calling and it's a Craft love-fest whether the Buckeyes are playing or not. He's so admired by those in the game for his defense and hustle that broadcasters and coaches fawn over his game. (KU coach Bill Self recently showed his team a clip of Craft diving for a ball.)
While Craft is a perfect student, a perfect teammate and what many of the game's gatekeepers would say is what's right with college basketball, opposing fans can't stand the guy.
If Opie was a villain, he'd be Aaron Craft.
Twitter Followers: 15,245 (@smart_MS3)
YouTube Hits: 96,486
He's one of the few projected top-five picks to ever return to college, and that means that the networks and the broadcasters are going to give him a ton of love.
Smart does not play in a big market or for a blue blood, but for this season, the Cowboys are getting treated as such.
YouTube Hits: 1.7 million-plus
Both of those things could still happen, but Parker has struggled in the last two weeks and his POY odds have plummeted. Over his last five games, he is averaging 10.8 points and shooting 32.2 percent.
In other words, he's gone face first right into that freshman wall.
That doesn't change the fact that Parker was unbelievable to start the season, scoring 20-plus points over Duke's first seven games.
The biggest stars are those guys who you don't want to miss their games because they might do something that you'll want to say you witnessed. And during that stretch, Parker was so good that every Duke game this season became must-see (or must-DVR) television.
Twitter Followers: 131,451 (@22Wiggins)
YouTube Hits: 4 million-plus
Wiggins has not exactly lived up to the LeBronian expectations, but the interest in his play and performance has not slowed down.
While the expectations were not in tune with reality, Wiggins has embraced the big moments. He's averaged 20.2 points and 9.6 rebounds in five games against ranked opponents. That suggests, like most stars, he likes life under the lights.
Wiggins is no longer a lock to be the No. 1 pick, but he's still the favorite. He's still giving us highlight dunks. And he's just starting to kick it into gear, averaging 19.5 points and 12 rebounds in KU's last two games.
When 20,000-plus show up for a preseason scrimmage to see a freshman, that's some star power. Now imagine what'll happen if KU makes it to the Final Four.
C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @cjmoore4.