College Basketball Player of the Year Rankings Post-New Year
The 2017-18 men's college basketball season isn't even 50 percent complete, but it already feels like everyone except for Oklahoma's Trae Young is fighting for silver in the National Player of the Year race.
But just in case Young gets hurt or Oklahoma falls apart in the second half of the campaign, we've ranked the top 10 Wooden Award candidates heading into the 2018 portion of the season.
It's important to note from the outset that team success is critical. Were Young putting up 30 points and 10 assists per game for some team struggling to maintain a .500 record, he might only be an honorable mention. After all, neither Ben Simmons nor Markelle Fultz even got a whiff of an invite to the Wooden Award ceremony while wowing NBA scouts in recent seasons.
With limited exceptions, players from teams outside the AP Top 25 were barely even considered. Of the players in our top 10, eight play for teams currently in the AP Top 10. Fair or not, POY candidates don't come from teams without a reasonable shot at reaching the Final Four.
Beyond that, players are ranked based on a combination of individual stats and how indispensable they are for their respective teams.
Statistics are current through the start of play on Jan. 2.
At the end of November, I wrote 10 words each about 20 honorable mentions. This time, we're going the opposite way: 20 words each on 10 honorable mentions. Perhaps by the next go-around, we'll be able to cut this list to just five players, but there are too many guys out there still doing incredible things.
Angel Delgado, Seton Hall (13.7 PPG, 11.5 RPG): Already one of the best rebounders to ever play the game, Delgado has improved as both a passer and defender.
Luke Maye, North Carolina (18.4 PPG, 10.9 RPG): His percentages are coming back to earth after a hot first month, but Maye's tireless motor is still carrying the Tar Heels.
Jordan Murphy, Minnesota (19.1 PPG, 12.6 RPG): Murphy has at least 10 points and 10 rebounds in all 15 games, but Minnesota might not make the tournament.
Mohamed Bamba, Texas (11.7 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 4.5 BPG): Bamba is still figuring things out on offense, but his rebounds and blocks make him one of the nation's top players.
Gary Clark, Cincinnati (12.5 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.6 SPG, 1.5 BPG): In his fourth season of filling up stat sheets, people are finally starting to appreciate Clark's impact for the Bearcats.
Jock Landale, Saint Mary's (21.8 PPG, 9.8 RPG): Last year's breakout sensation has become an unstoppable scoring machine, tallying at least 20 points in 10 of 15 games.
Kenrich Williams, TCU (15.1 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 3.9 APG, 2.7 SPG): This is the best version of the Horned Frogs we've ever seen, and Williams is the primary reason for their success.
Mikal Bridges, Villanova (17.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.1 APG, 2.1 SPG, 1.4 BPG): A pair of December duds bumped him behind Jalen Brunson, but both Villanova stars have the potential to win the Wooden Award.
Landry Shamet, Wichita State (17.0 PPG, 4.7 APG, 3.2 RPG): The Shockers are having major issues on defense, but their sophomore point guard is putting on a show on offense.
Isaiah Wilkins, Virginia (7.3 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.4 BPG, 1.3 SPG): No one mentions Wilkins in these discussions, but if there were a "Glue Guy of the Year," he'd win unanimously.
10. Jevon Carter, West Virginia
2017-18 Stats: 16.6 PPG, 6.6 APG, 5.6 RPG, 3.7 SPG, 39.4% 3PT
MVP Performance: 23 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, two steals vs. Virginia (Dec. 5)
Rank on Nov. 30: No. 9
Now that there are no undefeated teams remaining, West Virginia has the longest winning streak in the nation. Since dropping the season opener against Texas A&M in Germany, the Mountaineers have reeled off 13 consecutive victories.
That's primarily because of senior point guard Jevon Carter.
West Virginia lost four of its seven leading scorers from last season and played every game thus far without a fifth member of that septet (Esa Ahmad) because of a 17-game suspension. The Mountaineers shouldn't be this good. But Carter is carrying them on both ends of the floor.
On offense, he has become a table-setting machine, nearly doubling his per-game assist average from 3.7 as a junior to 6.6 as a senior. He's also scoring at a higher rate and getting to the free-throw line more often than in previous seasons.
Carter was already a defensive wizard in his first three years in the Press Virginia scheme, but now he's more like a warlock, a sorcerer or whatever you call the highest evolution of a wizard. He has recorded multiple steals in 13 of 14 games and leads the nation in steals per game. As a result, West Virginia is once again one of the top defenses in the country.
However, Carter has struggled early in conference play. After scoring at least 13 points in each of his first 11 games, he has shot just 3-of-17 from the field against Big 12 opponents while averaging 5.5 turnovers per game. One week ago, he might have been a top-five POY candidate. After two straight duds, he's barely hanging onto a spot in the top 10.
9. Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
2017-18 Stats: 21.4 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 2.4 BPG, 2.0 SPG
MVP Performance: 37 points, 11 rebounds, three steals, two blocks vs. Dartmouth (Dec. 19)
Rank on Nov. 30: No. 2
It has been a disappointing season for Notre Dame. Thanks to early losses to Ball State and Indiana, the Fighting Irish aren't even in our projected NCAA tournament field from Tuesday morning.
But don't blame Bonzie Colson. Their preseason Wooden Award candidate has been doing everything in his power to keep them afloat.
Colson has scored at least a dozen points in every game this season and has recorded a double-double in nine of 14 contests, including each of the last five.
On offense, he isn't as efficient as he was last year. Though he doesn't shoot a ton of threes, his conversion percentage from the perimeter is way down. He's also coughing up turnovers 50 percent more often, and his assist rate has dropped by roughly a third.
And yet, there's a strong argument to be made that he's even more valuable than he was as a junior, because he has become a superstar on defense. Colson has a block rate of 7.3 percent and a steal rate of 3.7 percent. In both categories, he ranks in the top 100 nationally. He has at least three combined blocks and steals in each of his last 13 games.
Unfortunately, Colson recently suffered a foot fracture in practice and is expected to miss up to eight weeks. Because of that, he has no chance of winning the Wooden Award. But based on his play from the past eight weeks, he would at least be in the conversation today.
8. Devonte' Graham, Kansas
2017-18 Stats: 17.2 PPG, 7.6 APG, 3.9 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 45.4% 3PT
MVP Performance: 35 points, five assists, five rebounds, two steals vs. Toledo (Nov. 28)
Rank on Nov. 30: No. 7
When Devonte' Graham decided last April to put off the NBA for one more year, it immediately made Kansas one of the top candidates to win the 2018 national championship.
For a guy playing second fiddle to Frank Mason III for the past two seasons, he managed to put up impressive numbers. We could only imagine how much of an impact he might make as the primary weapon in this offense for the first time in his career.
As it turns out, Graham has been even better than advertised.
Were it not for Trae Young's ridiculous combination of points and assists, more people would be marveling at the fact that Graham is averaging better than 17 points and 7.5 assists per game—something that has only been done 10 times in the past 25 years, according to Sports Reference. Both his rate of three-point attempts per game and his three-point percentage are higher than in any previous season in his career. He has also improved as both a defender and rebounder.
It's easy to make the argument that Udoka Azubuike has been the most valuable player for the Kansas Jayhawks. At any rate, it's hard to imagine what this team would look like without its sophomore big man, given the lack of other frontcourt options on the roster.
But Graham was voted as the Big 12's preseason POY, and he has improved in just about every category aside from turnovers—and even that can be largely contributed to his drastic uptick in time with the ball in his hands. Until further notice, Graham shall remain the primary national POY candidate for the Jayhawks.
7. Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
2017-18 Stats: 19.7 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.0 APG, 41.5% 3PT
MVP Performance: 23 points, eight assists, six rebounds at Marquette (Dec. 27)
Rank on Nov. 30: Honorable Mention
Statistically, it has always been a challenge to make the case for Trevon Bluiett as the nation's best player.
He's not the most efficient scorer (79 points on 71 field-goal attempts in his last five games). He isn't much of a volume scorer, either (only one career game with 30 or more points). He doesn't grab a ton of rebounds (nine career double-doubles). And he doesn't do much of anything on the defensive end of the floor.
Yet, if you watch Xavier play on even a quasi-regular basis, you inevitably come away with the notion that there cannot possibly be five players in the country more valuable than Bluiett.
Maybe it's because he can affect the game in so many ways as a savvy veteran. Perhaps it's his ability to suddenly catch fire, even if he was previously having an off night. Most likely, it's because he's typically the one taking (and making) a big shot when the Musketeers need one the most.
Whatever the cause, there's no denying that Bluiett is Xavier's sine qua non. Because of him, the Musketeers are legitimately in the running for their first NCAA tournament No. 1 seed in program history. And as long as he keeps showing up in big moments, a first-ever trip to the Final Four might also be in the cards for Xavier.
6. Michigan State's TBD MVP
Nick Ward: 15.4 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.7 BPG
Miles Bridges: 17.0 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 2.7 APG
Jaren Jackson Jr.: 10.5 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 3.2 BPG
Cassius Winston: 13.1 PPG, 7.1 APG, 56.9% 3PT
On Monday morning, Michigan State climbed to No. 1 in the AP poll for the first time this season. And on Monday night, I ran a poll on Twitter to find out who the general public thinks is the MVP of the Spartans.
As expected, there was no runaway favorite. In fact, there wasn't a favorite at all. As of Tuesday morning, first place was a three-way tie with Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Nick Ward each receiving 28 percent of the votes. And Cassius Winston wasn't a distant fourth place at 16 percent.
I didn't cast a vote, and I don't know who I would pick.
Jackson has been sensational on defense, and his versatility as a stretch 5 makes things flow smoother for the rest of the offense. Ward is only playing 18.5 minutes per night, but he is averaging an absurd 33.2 points and 16.1 rebounds per 40 minutes.
Winston has been lethal as both a passer and a perimeter shooter. And Bridges—virtually everyone's preseason pick for the Wooden Award—is leading the team in scoring and rebounding and is starting to dominate after a slow, injury-plagued start to the year.
Because it's so difficult to decide on the best Spartan, it's even harder to argue that any of them belong in the top five in the national POY debate.
But as was the case with Kentucky in 2014-15 when Willie Cauley-Stein ended up being named a Wooden Award finalist, someone from this Michigan State team will inevitably come to be regarded as one of the nation's top players if it remains in the top five of the polls.
If Bridges is the player who separates from the pack, he would give the Spartans the best shot at winning the Wooden Award since he was so hyped up at a national level before the year began.
5. Deandre Ayton, Arizona
2017-18 Stats: 19.7 PPG, 11.9 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.5 BPG
MVP Performance: 29 points, 18 rebounds vs. Alabama (Dec. 9)
Rank on Nov. 30: Honorable Mention
Sometimes, a player's worst game will tell you just how valuable he is.
When a guy like Deandre Ayton puts up double-double after double-double—10 in 14 games—one inevitably grows numb to the box scores. At this point, it's almost a given that he'll finish the night with at least 14 points and 10 rebounds, and it's only when he nearly doubles that expectation in both categories that it even begins to jump off the page.
But Ayton recently had a subpar performance against Connecticut. He got into early foul trouble and never had the chance to get into any sort of rhythm. Having watched at least half of Arizona's games this season, I can attest to the fact that his performance against the Huskies felt like a colossal dud compared to the rest of his freshman-year campaign.
He still finished with nine points, seven rebounds, five assists and a pair of blocks. And when he was on the floor, it seemed like it would only be a matter of time before he finally exploded.
Again, that's the floor for Ayton right now. When he's at his ceiling, it's more of a "How could any NBA franchise possibly pass on this guy with the No. 1 pick in June?" feeling of dominance.
There are slight areas for improvement that keep him out of our current top four, though. The big one is that we'd like to see more consistency in his assertiveness. He averaged 18.0 field-goal attempts in Arizona's first, third, fifth and seventh games in December. In the second, fourth and sixth games, though, he only took 8.3 shots.
Given how big and strong he is, Ayton should practically be living at the free-throw line, too. Instead, he has only averaged 3.5 attempts over the last eight games, including three nights without a single trip to the charity stripe.
This guy is unstoppable. The sooner he realizes that and takes advantage of it on a nightly basis, the sooner we'll have someone challenging Trae Young for the Wooden Award.
4. Tra Holder, Arizona State
2017-18 Stats: 22.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.8 SPG, 46.3% 3PT
MVP Performance: 40 points, four rebounds, four assists, three steals vs. Xavier (Nov. 24)
Rank on Nov. 30: No. 8
If you've been waiting for Tra Holder and Arizona State to come back to earth, you've been sorely disappointed.
Holder has taken a minuscule step backward from the red-hot assassin who scored 35 in a win over UC Irvine and followed it up with 40 in a win over Xavier less than a week later, but he has become a more consistent source of offense for the Sun Devils.
The senior combo guard has scored at least 19 points in each of his last five games, including a 29-point performance in the season-defining road win over Kansas, as well as 31 points in this past weekend's close road loss to Arizona. He has averaged better than 10 free-throw attempts during that five-game stretch, repeatedly rewarded for the assertiveness we just lamented not seeing more often in Deandre Ayton.
It's not just the points, though. In a recent game against Longwood, Holder had six assists, six steals and five rebounds to go along with his 20 points. It was the fourth time this season that he had at least 15 combined assists, steals and rebounds, and it was the 11th consecutive time that he had at least nine in that made-up category.
For that type of stat-sheet stuffer to also shoot better than 45 percent from three-point range is incredible. Aside from blocking shots—three in his career, none this season—there's nothing that Holder cannot do. If Arizona State stays in the running for a spot on the top two seed lines in the NCAA tournament, he should be one of the five finalists for the Wooden Award.
3. Jalen Brunson, Villanova
2017-18 Stats: 18.9 PPG, 5.0 APG, 3.4 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 49.2% 3PT
MVP Performance: 31 points, six rebounds, five assists at Temple (Dec. 13)
Rank on Nov. 30: No. 3
Jalen Brunson doesn't put up gaudy numbers, but his efficiency is almost incomprehensible.
Per KenPom, Brunson has the second-highest O-rating in the nation. He also ranks in the top 25 in effective field-goal percentage as well as true-shooting percentage. He is averaging 1.62 points per field-goal attempt and 3.9 assists per turnover.
Basically, as long as Brunson is on the floor, Villanova is in great shape.
He was already a darn fine player last year, but he is performing at an elite level now that Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins are out of the picture—as was expected when Brunson was my preseason pick for the Wooden Award. His ability to find open space and/or make difficult shots in the paint is remarkable, but how are opponents supposed to stop him from getting into the lane when he's also nearly a 50 percent three-point shooter?
There's a lot of senior-year Frank Mason III in junior-year Brunson, which is high praise, considering Mason won the Wooden Award last year.
He's the best scorer on the team, and he also excels at getting others involved in the offense. He's probably not going to pop off for 40 points in any given game, but he's consistent enough that you can almost always count on him to produce at least 30 points between his own scoring and his assists. And at critical junctures in the game, there's no question that he's the one you want taking the shot.
In most seasons, he would be the obvious front-runner for the Wooden Award, but Marvin Bagley III and Trae Young have been out of this world. If those guys hit the proverbial freshman wall midway through conference play, look for Brunson to be the one reaping the benefits.
2. Marvin Bagley III, Duke
2017-18 Stats: 21.9 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 1.6 APG, 0.9 BPG, 35.7% 3PT
MVP Performance: 32 points, 21 rebounds vs. Florida State (Dec. 30)
Rank on Nov. 30: No. 1
Marvin Bagley III has scored at least 15 points in every game this season except for one, and it wasn't even an opposing defense that managed to slow him down. It's because Javin DeLaurier accidentally poked him in the eye just 10 minutes into the Champions Classic game against Michigan State.
Were it not for that incident, his averages would be even more outrageous than they already are. On a per-40 minutes basis, he's putting up 28 points and 15 rebounds.
And he's still improving.
In five games in December, he shot 36-of-47 (76.6 percent) from inside the arc and 6-of-13 (46.2 percent) from three-point range. In November, those numbers were 64.1 percent and 26.7 percent, respectively. And his MVP performance was his most recent one. Of his 21 rebounds, 11 came on the offense glass. He nearly had a double-double in each half against the Seminoles.
What's perhaps most impressive is that he's putting up these numbers while playing on a team with so many other contributors. Pretty much everyone else on this list is the clear alpha dog on his roster. At worst, he's the better half of an excellent two-man show. But Bagley has to share the spotlight with Grayson Allen, Gary Trent Jr., Trevon Duval and Wendell Carter Jr.
Bagley isn't getting quite as many opportunities as his talent deserves—both in terms of scoring or rebounding—but he's still lighting up the box score on a nightly basis. He's arguably the second-most dominant freshman of the past decade. He's just No. 2 on this list because the other one happens to also be playing this season.
1. Trae Young, Oklahoma
2017-18 Stats: 29.6 PPG, 10.7 APG, 3.5 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 41.3% 3PT
MVP Performance: 39 points, 14 assists, four rebounds, two steals at TCU (Dec. 30)
Rank on Nov. 30: No. 5
You know what would be a fun slideshow at the end of this season? Ranking Trae Young's 10 most ridiculous individual performances of the year.
Young has been the KenPom.com MVP in nine of Oklahoma's 12 games this season, and I have no clue how that number isn't even higher.
In one of his alleged "non-MVP" performances, he had 28 points, eight assists, five rebounds and three steals in a win over UT San Antonio. For most players, that might be the best game of an entire career. Heck, it's a better stat line than Trevon Bluiett's best of the season, and he was No. 7 on this list. But for Young, it was incredulously one of his three least impressive outings.
In another game in which Young wasn't named MVP, he had 28 points, five assists, three rebounds and a pair of steals in Oklahoma's lone loss to Arkansas. And in the season opener against Nebraska Omaha, he wasn't rated as the MVP despite 15 points, 10 assists, six rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
Even at his worst, Young has been better than everyone else. So when he's at his best, it's a thing of beauty. And like Marvin Bagley III, he's still improving. Over Young's last three games, he has averaged 32.0 points and 16.0 assists while shooting 17-of-33 (51.5 percent) from three-point range.
Let me say that again. Young is averaging 32 points and 16 assists over his last three games.
And, oh by the way, Young has done that while only playing 31.3 minutes, as opposed to the 48 minutes available to the professionals.
Oklahoma's freshman sensation is leading the nation in both points and assists per game, and he's showing no signs of stopping. For all intents and purposes, the race for the 2018 Wooden Award was over before December was.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.