The race for Player of the Year runner-up is heating up.
I know. I know. That's pretty lame. But hey, the award has been won (Doug McDermott, come and claim your prize), and figuring out who is most worthy of runner-up is what we have left to determine.
If McDermott had decided to go pro after his junior season, this would be one of the most open POY races in recent memory. Jabari Parker would be the favorite, but he's not far enough in front to even concede that he'll win ACC Player of the Year.
The good news is that last year we were almost begging for players to step their game up and earn All-American honors. This year, other than McDermott, no one is a lock because there are so many worthy candidates.
This week, not only was it difficult to figure out who was worthy of getting listed in the top 10, I had a tough time cutting down the "10 to Watch" list.
Thankfully, we've got a pretty important month around the corner to help us sort this all out.
10 to Watch:
- Kyle Anderson, UCLA
- Nik Stauskas, Michigan
- Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
- Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State
- Alan Williams, UC Santa Barbara
- Adreian Payne, Michigan State
- Julius Randle, Kentucky
- Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
- Xavier Thames, San Diego State
- C.J. Fair, Syracuse
10. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Stats: 16.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.9 BPG
Here's something that would have surprised no one in the preseason: Kansas is the team with the highest ceiling in college basketball.
That was on display last Saturday when the Jayhawks destroyed Texas and Andrew Wiggins was stroking threes and was at eye level with the rim on an alley-oop.
Wiggins is the most dominant player on the team that, at its best, is the most dominant in college basketball. Over time, he has become one of the best transition players in the country, his jumper has improved (40.4 percent from deep over the last 14 games) and he's become more aggressive in the half court.
The Wiggins we watch now is the Wiggins that most (at least, the realistic among us) expected to eventually see. Did it take some time for him to figure things out and get comfortable? Sure. But he's still been good enough all season to put KU in position for a possible No. 1 seed and himself in position to set the all-time scoring mark for a Jayhawks freshman.
9. DeAndre Kane, Iowa State
Stats: 16.3 PPG, 5.9 APG, 6.7 RPG, 1.3 SPG
DeAndre Kane would likely win Big 12 Player of the Year if the season ended today, and it would be a team award. The Cyclones are in second place in the Big 12 and on their way to their best conference finish since Fred Hoiberg arrived.
Expectations were not low in the preseason—they were picked to finish fourth—but the 'Clones have been better than advertised. And when you really study the numbers, it's quite the accomplishment considering this team does not shoot the three nearly as well as Hoiberg's last two teams.
Hoiberg loves shooters, but he also loves mismatches, and that's what attracted him to Kane. The Marshall transfer has consistently exploited mismatches with his size at point guard while also setting up his teammates in the process. Both Melvin Ejim (another Big 12 POY candidate) and Georges Niang have thrived with Kane in the lineup.
If someone tries to tell you this ISU team lives and dies with the three, they're wrong. They can still get hot from deep, but with Kane, they've become much more diverse, and he's a big reason why this team will likely end up as the runner-up to KU and is capable of going on a deep run in March.
8. Nick Johnson, Arizona
Stats: 16.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.1 SPG
Nick Johnson's importance to Arizona was obvious in the Wildcats' two losses. Johnson scored a combined 18 points in those two games on 6-of-34 shooting.
Both he and Arizona appear to be out of their respective funks after two of their most impressive performances this season. The 'Cats went to Colorado last Saturday and rolled the Buffs by 27, as Johnson scored 20 points and had six assists.
They followed that up with a 28-point payback win over Cal, and Johnson redeemed himself with 22 points and five assists.
If that's the Johnson the Wildcats get in March, they're bound to end up in Dallas in April.
7. Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico
Stats: 20.2 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.5 BPG
Cameron Bairstow is one of the most improved players in the country, and his rise into a premier scorer for the Mountain West-leading Lobos is an unusual one.
Typically, when someone improves as drastically as Bairstow has—from 9.7 points per game last season to 20.2 points per game this year—that player gets an opportunity because other guys leave. New Mexico returned its leading and third-leading scorer off last year's team (Kendall Williams and Alex Kirk), yet Bairstow has passed them by.
One reason his numbers have gone up is new coach Craig Neal has been more willing to throw the ball in the post, where Bairstow improved during the offseason playing for Australia in the World University Games.
Bairstow's production ranks third nationally in points per possession on post-ups for players who have used at least 100 possessions in the post, according to Synergy Sports Technology (subscription required):
- Larry Nance Jr., Wyoming: 1.184 points per possession
- Kyle Kelm, Wisconsin-Milwaukee: 1.146
- Cameron Bairstow: 1.119
- Davante Gardner, Marquette: 1.106
- Kirk Van Slyke, Arkansas State: 1.106
6. Marcus Paige, North Carolina
Stats: 17.5 PPG, 4.6 APG, 3.4 RPG, 1.6 SPG
Jabari Parker has had serious competition for ACC Player of the Year all season. Syracuse's Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair have been on his heels. Now it's a Tar Heel he has to worry about.
Marcus Paige has been the one North Carolina player who has been consistently good all year, but he's taken it to another level lately, and he had a POY moment on Wednesday night.
Paige hit the game-winning layup in overtime against North Carolina State and scored a career-high 35 points, the second time he's topped 30 this year. Parker, it's worth noting, has yet to score 30.
After 10 straight wins, the Heels have the same number of losses in the ACC (four) as the Blue Devils. Paige and Parker are close enough that the winner of the season finale on Mar. 8 between the two rivals could determine which team finishes higher in the ACC standings and which player is more deserving of conference POY.
5. Shabazz Napier, Connecticut
Stats: 17.8 PPG, 5.5 APG, 5.9 RPG, 1.9 SPG
Doug McDermott has made Player of the Year voting easy nationally. Now good luck to the voters in the American Athletic Conference, who might as well flip a coin.
Shabazz Napier and the next two guards on this list (Cincinnati's Sean Kilpatrick and Louisville's Russ Smith) are all worthy of the award, and ranking them was not easy. The reason Napier is currently in third place is because the Huskies have not performed as well as the other two teams, and the argument could be made that the talent surrounding all three is comparable.
Napier does have a chance to win the award over his final three games, as the Huskies play the Bearcats on Saturday and travel to Louisville for their season finale on Mar. 8.
4. Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati
Stats: 20.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.4 SPG
Cincinnati is one of those teams that could go on a deep run in March or could lose early. The Bearcats struggle to score—hence the concern—but their defense is so elite most of the time it does not matter.
They also have one scorer capable of putting them on his back. Sean Kilpatrick, obviously, is that guy. And considering how much Kilpatrick has been asked to do this season, it's pretty remarkable that he only seems to be getting better. Kilpatrick is averaging 23.8 points over Cincy's last 11 games.
If we're talking most valuable player to his particular team's roster, few (if any) are more valuable than Kilpatrick.
3. Russ Smith
Stats: 17.7 PPG, 4.5 APG, 3.4 RPG, 1.9 SPG
The evolution of Russ Smith was on display last Saturday in Louisville's win at Cincinnati. Smith had the ball on the final possession with the Cardinals trailing by one, and he actually gave it up to a teammate.
He would eventually get the ball back from Terry Rozier to the hit the game-winner—a beautiful, high-arcing shot—but it was the sign of a do-anything-to-win unselfish player that he gave it up in the first place.
Smith still has his moments of Russdiculousness, but for the most part, he's been steady from both a production and decision-making standpoint this year. The Cards are also quietly beginning to look like a contender again, and postseason experience cannot be discounted in March.
2. Jabari Parker, Duke
Stats: 18.8 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.4 BPG, 1.1 SPG
Mike Krzyzewski said it best of Jabari Parker's performance last Saturday night against Syracuse: "I thought he started out young in the game and got old real quick in the last 25 minutes. He was a real man the last 25 minutes."
Watching Parker up close, he's more powerful than you realize and a better athlete than he gets credit for. For example, Parker caught the ball at the top of the key late in the shot clock on Saturday, took three long steps and took off from just inside the paint. He didn't finish the dunk over Rakeem Christmas, but he did get fouled and did at least get to the rim.
In Duke's last six games, Parker has had five double-doubles and is averaging 11.8 rebounds. Early in the year, Parker dominated games with his skill. But lately, he's embraced mixing it up in the paint. He's still got the skill, he's just combined it with some old-man strength.
1. Doug McDermott, Creighton
Stats: 26.0 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.6 APG
It's a waste of time now to argue the credentials of Doug McDermott compared to the other Player of the Year candidates. There aren't really any other candidates. He is the only candidate. He will win.
What we should be turning our attention to now is how McDermott's POY season compares with other past winners. It's hard to compare McDermott with, let's say, Anthony Davis. They're completely different players who won (or will win) for completely different reasons.
McDermott falls in the category of POY winners who were great scorers, and since the beginning of the 2000s, there are four other winners who fit in that category: Adam Morrison (2004-05), J.J. Redick (2005-06), Kevin Durant (2006-07) and Jimmer Fredette (2010-11). All four, like McDermott, averaged better than 25 points per game.
Instead of just using the eye test to say who had the best season, let's use two advanced statistics (offensive rating and effective field-goal percentage) that provide a good measure of the effectiveness of a scorer, according to KenPom.com (subscription required):
- Morrison: 114.5 (offensive rating)/53.3 (eFG%)
- Redick: 120.2/57.8
- Durant: 116.5/53.6
- Fredette: 114.5/53.3
- McDermott: 124.0/59.2
There you have it. McDermott isn't just a clear-cut winner this year. He's having a historically dominant season and would win in just about any year.
C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.