Four finalists; four completely different players.
On Sunday afternoon, Doug McDermott, Jabari Parker, Russ Smith and Nick Johnson—four players who couldn't be more different in their makeup and how they lead their teams—were named as the finalists for the Naismith College Player of the Year Award.
Rob Dauster of NBCSports.com has the four names:
Naismith Award finalists announced: Doug McDermott, Jabari Parker, Nick Johnson and Russ Smith.— Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) March 23, 2014
There's very little question that McDermott is the front-runner.
Capable of scoring from anywhere on the court, the coach's son leads the nation at 27.0 points per game. His dominance at the offensive end has not only made Creighton the most efficient offensive team in the land, but it helped the Bluejays' move to the Big East go just about as swimmingly as possible.
With Dougie McBuckets at the helm, Creighton finished second in the conference, earning a No. 3 seed in the Big Dance.
"I've always had a chip on my shoulder because I wasn't rated or didn't have any scholarship offers," McDermott told ESPN's Elizabeth Merrill. "It was more of a trying to prove people wrong early in my career. Now I feel like I've established myself and I'm just playing for the love of the game.
For the other forward finalist, Parker, it has been just about the exact opposite. Dubbed at one point by Sports Illustrated (via Jeff Benedict) as "the best high school basketball player since LeBron James," the freshman phenom has had to live up to the hype instead of proving people wrong.
And he's done just that.
As the clear go-to offensive option for a Duke team that constantly hovered around the top 10 in college basketball, Parker averaged 19.1 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. He and the Blue Devils suffered an early disappointing upset at the hands of Mercer, but that doesn't take away from some of the transcendent moments.
Then you have the guards.
With the departure of point guard Peyton Siva, Louisville's Russ Smith has gone from "Russdiculous"—electric scorer but painfully erratic—to steady leader. While his points per game didn't change much (18.1 points down from 18.7 as a junior), he increased his assists (4.7) and shot a career-high 46.9 percent from the field.
While still serving as the electrifying, annoying face of Louisville's full-court press, his emergence as an efficient scorer has been key to the Cardinals' success.
Finally, there's Arizona's Nick Johnson.
Who will win this award?
His numbers may not stand out (16.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.1 steals) compared to others on this list, but as a defender, leader and unbelievable athlete, his impact went far beyond the box score.
The junior was the best player on arguably the nation's best team all season.
At this point, it would be a shock if McDermott, who leads the nation in win shares, didn't come away with the award, but considering his competition, he probably shouldn't feel safe until his name is actually called.
This is a stacked group, and it's indicative of the 2013-14 scintillating college basketball campaign.