Doug McDermott Continues to Overshadow Hyped Freshmen in Player of the Year Race

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Doug McDermott Continues to Overshadow Hyped Freshmen in Player of the Year Race
Dave Weaver-USA TODAY Sports

Doug McDermott casually glided up the court. In one of the most frantic moments of the Creighton Bluejays' season, he reached the mid-court line and began tiptoeing, as if he were a mid-40s YMCA player exhausted from one too many times up and down the floor. It was perhaps the least athletic gait you'll see in all of college basketball this season.

And then McDermott sprung to action. With his hands cocked at his side in perfect catch-and-shoot position, McDermott waited for Austin Chatman to pound the ball up the floor and hand it off to Jahenns Manigat, who dribbled toward the break and then send a pass back his way. Catching the ball with a defender flying over a screen and toward his shot, McDermott fell to his back as he launched a 25-footer.

All net.

McDermott's shot came with 2.5 seconds remaining and served as the game-winner in Creighton's 63-60 win over St. John's on Tuesday night. It was the second time McDermott has hit a clutch shot to clinch a win this season, but the first time he's done so before his home crowd. 

"At home this is the best feeling I've ever had," McDermott said, via the Associated Press (h/t ESPN). "That Saint Joe's one was pretty good, too. This tops it."

The senior forward had a season-high 39 of his team's 63 points, but the occasion rarely felt colossal until that final shot. All of it was merely in a night's work for McDermott, the nation's second-leading scorer and quite possibly the front-runner for the National Player of the Year Award.

Sure, McDermott is far from new on the college basketball scene. As a senior who has exhausted every last bit of his eligibility, the college basketball world is well versed in what Doug McDermott has to offer—if you've taken the time to pay attention.

McDermott is in his third straight season of averaging at least 20 points and seven rebounds. He's shot better than 40 percent from beyond the three-point arc since arriving in the small Catholic university of less than 8,000 situated in a city perhaps most famous for being a pre-snap call from Peyton Manning. 

So McDermott is far from new. Why is it now, four years into the making, he's finally seen as some transformative figure in college hoops?

John Peterson/Associated Press

For some, perhaps it's the dichotomy between him and the players who were supposed to be putting up McDermott numbers this season. Andrew Wiggins. Jabari Parker. Julius Randle. It's the same fearsome freshman class that was supposed to render the old models leftover from last season obsolete and send NBA general managers into full-scale deconstruction mode.

Wiggins, anointed as God himself in a basketball uniform before ever setting foot in Lawrence, became the second freshman in history to be named to the Associated Press preseason All-America team. He and McDermott joined Michigan's Mitch McGary as the forwards selected. Randle replaced McGary on CBS Sports' All-American roster. Sporting News gave a nod to Parker.

Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

It's a bit ironic that Parker, playing the best of the triad, was probably given the least accolades coming in despite his high profile. And it's equally amusing that Kansas center Joel Embiid, absent almost entirely from the preseason hubbub, would probably be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft if the season ended today.

When it comes to college basketball, though, McDermott has separated himself head, shoulders, knees and toes as the best and at times most entertaining player in college basketball.

Among the highest-usage players in the nation—those who represent at least 28 percent of their team's offensive possessions—McDermott has the fifth-best offensive rating in basketball. Parker sits at 21st, and UConn's Shabazz Napier is just barely excluded from the conversation due to his 27.8 percent usage rate. (Napier's offensive rating is below McDermott's regardless.)

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Ken Pomeroy's normalized Player of the Year rankings have McDermott dwarfing Parker and the field. Only 10 best scores are publicly made available, but third-place Nick Johnson is closer to Cleanthony Early than to McDermott—and that woefully undersells the chasm. Only Parker, who is currently going through a miserable shooting slump, can even begin to compare.

More than anything, McDermott is the ecosystem by which perhaps the nation's best offense revolves. McDermott is a dead-eye three-point shooter and a vastly underrated post player who does damage from anywhere at any time. Teams have to account for his presence no matter where he stands on the floor, which makes St. John's defenders crashing toward Chatman all the more perplexing.

They say great players make good players elite and replacement-level players good. The proof has certainly been in the numbers for Creighton this season. 

The Bluejays are averaging 125.0 points per 100 possessions in Pomeroy's adjusted offensive rating, just behind Duke for tops in the nation. The Blue Devils win out because they've played a tougher schedule, but Creighton's move to the new Big East has quelled all those "ain't played nobody" criticisms once and for all.

Though, after Creighton dropped a 96-68 curb-stomp on then-No. 4 Villanova in Philadelphia last week, that probably went without saying. The Bluejays hit a Big East record 21 three-pointers in the contest and led by more than 40 before 'Nova had a late run. Ethan Wragge was the star on that night, tying a school record with nine three-pointers.

But even in a supporting role, McDermott had 23 points and five rebounds, knocking down five of his own from beyond the arc and earning effusive praise from Wildcats coach Jay Wright. 

"I think he's the best player in the country, I really do," Wright said, via ESPN's Jeff Goodman. "I respect that our players respect him. I'm very impressed that our players like his game. I love his combination of skill and intelligence. It seems like he rarely takes a bad shot."

McDermott has 17 games where he's scored 20 points or more already this season. Wiggins, Parker and Randle have combined for 23. He's been a better, more consistent outside scorer than either Wiggins or Parker and at times an even more lethal post threat than Randle, a talented but frustrating player who has a propensity to be a black hole.

Granted, it's patently unfair to foist the same expectations on all four men. McDermott is a 22-year-old man. He's been through this grind before on three previous occasions. Randle, Wiggins and Parker are barely old enough to buy a lottery ticket on their own, their talents more tantalizing for who they could be rather than who they are at the moment. 

Dave Weaver-USA TODAY Sports

Still, you can forgive the McDermotts of the world for being a little tired of it all. The attention given to the yearly wave of freshmen—especially ones as talented as these—often overshadows the already accomplished. The guys whom we already know. The ones like McDermott, talented and breathtaking on the collegiate level but consigned to get the national scraps while everyone fawns over at the kids' table.

"In the back of my mind, it motivated me," McDermott said. "Did people forget I'm still around? I'm still here."

Rest assured, no one is forgetting now. McDermott, at the top of his game and finally getting some deserved credit, is the best player in college basketball. Maybe he doesn't have the future of NBA All-Star Games, mega shoe contracts and perhaps even Hall of Fame potential of these freshmen.

That's fine. For now, McDermott will just have to settle for being plain old better.

 

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