With the NCAA tournament on the horizon, the 15 finalists for college basketball's prestigious John R. Wooden Award were announced on Saturday, and there is no shortage of star power.
According to Myron Medcalf of ESPN.com, superstar freshmen Jabari Parker of Duke and Andrew Wiggins of Kansas were named finalists. Here is a full list of the players who are in the running to be named the Player of the Year:
|Cleanthony Early||Wichita State||Sr.|
|Gary Harris||Michigan State||So.|
Both Parker and Wiggins entered the college basketball fray with huge expectations, and they have largely lived up to them thus far.
Parker's Blue Devils are currently ranked No. 4 in the nation, and he leads the team in both scoring and rebounding, with 18.8 points and nine boards per contest.
Wiggins has helped the Jayhawks achieve the No. 8 ranking, and he too is a leading scorer. Wiggins is averaging 16 points per game and nearly six rebounds per contest. Wiggins' season got off to a slow start, but he has really come on since late January in order to insert himself into the Wooden conversation.
Wiggins' numbers aren't as dominant as some of the other finalists, but head coach Bill Self believes that speaks to Wiggins' understanding of doing what is best for the team, according to Gary Bedore of the Lawrence Journal-World.
His whole mind-set is, 'Hey, we're fine. We're winning big. It doesn't make any difference.' A lot of times guys make postseason honors and things like that because they put up numbers in games that don't matter, because it helps their season stats. In a situation ... when the game was in hand, it doesn't matter to Andrew. I think that's one thing that's really cool about him.
A third freshman stud in the form of Kentucky forward Julius Randle is on the ballot as well. Randle is averaging a double-double on the year with 15.4 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, but the Wildcats have struggled recently and find themselves barely inside the top 25.
Who will win the 2014 Wooden Award?
All three freshmen have a legitimate chance to capture the Wooden Award, but they may all be chasing Creighton senior Doug McDermott. The high-scoring forward nearly won the award last year, and he is once again among the favorites with averages of 25.9 points and seven rebounds per game.
McDermott and the Jays are 23-6 overall and 13-4 in the new Big East. Creighton is viewed as a threat to make some noise in the NCAA tournament this season, and McDermott will be the driving force behind that.
Peter Bukowski of Sports Illustrated broke down a bit of McDermott's NBA potential:
As a catch-and-shoot player, McDermott could at least be Kyle Korver: a deadly shooter who can space the floor and won't kill you on defense. But McDermott also gets to the free throw line 6.4 times per game, grabs almost seven rebounds and consistently seems in heat-check mode.
He's not a premier NBA scorer but could be a second option or the leader of an NBA team's second unit. Run the offense through him while the starters sit, and if you're down late, he's certainly a potential crunch time scorer and shooter.
Although McDermott may not boast the same potential for success at the NBA level as the likes of Parker, Wiggins and Randle, the Wooden Award is about honoring college basketball's best player.
It is difficult to argue against the notion that McDermott has been precisely that in 2013-14.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter