Midseason Rankings for College Basketball's Player of the Year in 2014-15 Season
We're nearly three months deep into the college basketball season, and much like everyone thought in the preseason, Duke's Jahlil Okafor and Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky pace the Player of the Year race.
The two big fellas are putting together two of the best offensive seasons for centers since the turn of the century. They've been so good and so consistent that it's going to be really hard for anyone else to put themselves into the conversation.
That's not to say some other guys aren't producing special seasons. The best of the rest is pretty darn good, most notably a couple of senior guards who have carried their teams up the rankings ladder.
The ranking criteria is pretty simple: Team success, each player's value to his team and production were all considered.
So let's get to the Okafor vs. Kaminsky debate, and the other 23.
Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse
Georges Niang, Iowa State
Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky
Darrun Hilliard, Villanova
25. Le'Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State: Nash has helped the Marcus Smart-less Cowboys remain relevant. He's averaging a career-best 17.6 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.
24. Frank Mason, Kansas: Where would the Jayhawks be without their point guard? Bill Self finally found a good one in Mason, who has been a rock on a roster of talented but inconsistent Burger boys.
23. Jake Layman, Maryland: Earlier this season before Maryland played Iowa State, an ISU assistant coach told me Fred Hoiberg loves Layman. Why wouldn't he? He's a stretch 4 matchup nightmare. Melo Trimble has been awesome, but Layman (14.7 PPG and 6.8 RPG) deserves a lot of credit as well for Maryland's unexpected rise.
22. Aaron White, Iowa: White is one of the most underappreciated stars in college basketball. He's the quickest big man in the country, has endless energy and gets to the line 7.8 times per game. He's averaging 15.6 points per game, but the Hawkeyes probably don't get him the ball enough.
21. Tyler Haws, BYU: This guy is still getting buckets at BYU. When will he ever graduate? Haws is just a professional scorer with the rare killer mid-range game. He's the nation's second-leading scorer at 22.5 points per game.
20. Bobby Portis, Arkansas: The Razorbacks have been disappointing in SEC play—off to a 3-2 start—but it's hard to put that on Portis. He's averaging 20.6 points and 10.0 rebounds in conference play and had the game-winner in overtime Thursday night against Alabama.
19. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville: Oh captain, oh...wait. Not sure what to make of Harrell "removing himself" from his captaincy—probably doesn't mean much—but he has been pretty solid on the court. He's averaging 14.9 points and 9.2 rebounds for the Cardinals, who could use a signature win to help boost Harrell's stock in these rankings.
18. Terry Rozier, Louisville: Harrell got all the preseason hype, and he's been good, but Rozier has been Louisville's best player. He and Chris Jones make opposing guards uncomfortable with their defense, and Rozier is one of the best drivers in college hoops.
17. Larry Nance Jr., Wyoming: Nance Jr. is the go-to scorer (16.2 PPG) on the Mountain West's first-place team. He's a guy who purists should enjoy, with some of the best footwork from the blocks in the country. He's also got hops like his pops.
16. D'Angelo Russell, Ohio State: He's having a freshman season that puts him in the company of Steph Curry and James Harden. He can score (19.3 PPG), and he can distribute (4.9 APG). Enjoy him while you got him, Buckeyes.
15. Treveon Graham, VCU: It's cool to see a great college player stick around for four years and keep adding things to his game. This season, Graham has become a tougher cover by adding some range to his jumper. He's already made 41 threes—he made 58 all of last season—and is shooting a career-best 45.6 percent from deep.
14. Brad Waldow, Saint Mary's: Waldow is putting up the best numbers of any big man in the country—20.6 PPG and 10.1 RPG entering Thursday's game—and he'd put up numbers wherever he was playing. He's an immovable object on the blocks with a feathery touch.
13. Stanley Johnson, Arizona: The Wildcats are starting to live up to their potential, and it helps that Johnson is beginning to dominate the college game. He's averaging 19.7 points over his last three games.
12. Chasson Randle, Stanford: Randle is a pro, and the Cardinal are a scary team to play because he can beat you by himself. He's averaging a career-best 20.2 points per game this season.
11. Ron Baker, Wichita State: Baker has seamlessly slid into a starring role this year. He is putting up similar scoring numbers to Cleanthony Early last year—Baker's at 16.2 PPG, and Early averaged 16.4. Meanwhile, the Shockers are cruising along at 17-2.
10. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
Need a bucket? Call Buddy!
Hield is one of the best bucket-getters in the country, and his "hot" is like nobody's hot. Take last Saturday, for instance, when he scored 27 points against rival Oklahoma State and didn't miss a shot all night.
He nearly led the Sooners to a crazy comeback win against Kansas two days later when he dropped 26 points at Allen Fieldhouse. Hield has also improved on the defensive end this season, and he's one of the best rebounding guards in the country, pulling down 5.6 boards per game.
9. Melo Trimble, Maryland
Raise your hand if you had the Terps starting the season 17-3 and 5-2 in the Big Ten.
Even the homerist homer Maryland fans wouldn't have dreamed of such a start. They're not feeling so hot after Thursday night's blowout loss to Indiana, but Maryland is still one of the best stories in college basketball. It's been made possible by a roster that fits really nicely together, and it sure has helped to have one of the best point guards in the country.
Yes, Melo Trimble as a freshman is already in that conversation. He's been so good that if Maryland needs a crunch-time bucket these days, he's somehow supplanted Dez Wells, who has scored 1,460 points in his career, as that man.
He's also really good at breaking ankles.
8. Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa
Ranking Seth Tuttle this high might surprise some, but let's do a quick exercise...
Imagine there's a player on the 20th-ranked team in America who is 6'8", averages 14.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, makes 64.2 percent of his twos and 42.9 percent of his threes.
That's an All-American, huh? That's Seth Tuttle.
It's likely a player from the Missouri Valley will end up on an All-American team. It could just come down to whether Northern Iowa or Wichita State wins the Valley. But realize Tuttle and Ron Baker could play (and thrive) anywhere.
7. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
As long as the 'Cats keep racking up wins, they probably deserve someone in the Player of the Year conversation, and Willie Cauley-Stein has been the most valuable Wildcat.
First, let's take a look at Cauley-Stein's numbers per 40 minutes (because, you know, the platoon): 15 points, 11 rebounds, three steals and three blocks.
Even those numbers don't do Cauley-Stein justice. He's the most valuable defender in the country, because he allows the 'Cats to switch almost any ball screen. At 7'0", he can stick with a point guard. He's also been better than expected offensively this season, even showing off the occasional jumper.
6. Justin Anderson, Virginia
Someone needs to look into Tony Bennett's offseason training methods. Why is that? Well, have you watched Justin Anderson this season?
Anderson was a nice sixth man last year. Heck, you could argue he was the best in the country. But no one saw him turning into what he's become.
The junior guard is shooting a ridiculous 53.3 percent from deep after making only 29.4 percent of his threes last year. So he went from "no need to guard that dude" to "don't you dare leave him."
He's an extremely difficult cover because he's a lefty, he's 6'6" and he's really smooth off the bounce. Plus, he's a key piece to Virginia's killer defense. Yes, Virginia is great because of great coaching, but don't undersell its talent, either. Anderson is a stud.
5. Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga
Kyle Wiltjer is the leading scorer on what could be the greatest Gonzaga team ever. The Zags are 18-1, and their one loss was in overtime at Arizona.
Wiltjer is just cruising along, averaging 16.6 points, making 55.8 percent of his twos and 44.6 percent of his threes (entering Thursday's game vs. Saint Mary's).
If he were still at Kentucky, Big Blue Nation would probably be running a smear campaign on Jahlil Okafor right now to get Wiltjer the Naismith and Wooden Awards. Well, he is on a top-five team and still deserves the love.
4. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
It's so much fun to watch Notre Dame this season, and I'm not just saying that because this might happen. You have seen that dunk, right? Seriously, you better have seen that dunk.
No, the Irish are so fun to watch because they can all shoot it and Jerian Grant is a seasoned playmaker who has as good a feel as any guard in the country. They share the ball. They take the right shots. And unlike the rest of college basketball, they actually make most of them.
The byproduct is the most efficient offense in the country. Grant picks his spots when to attack, and he's been pretty much whatever Notre Dame needs him to be from game to game.
3. Delon Wright, Utah
Delon Wright isn't scoring as much in Pac-12 play now that Jordan Loveridge has returned, but Wright has adjusted by being more of a setup man.
He's averaging 7.0 assists per game since then and has a stellar 4.2 assist/turnover ratio. Wright might have jumped into one of the top two spots had he showed better last Saturday at Arizona.
The senior point guard had 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting and a season-high four turnovers in the loss to the Wildcats. Even with that poor showing, he's been the best and most consistent point guard in the country.
2. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
Frank Kaminsky does so many things so well. He's an excellent shooter (40.4 percent from distance this season). He has great back-to-the-basket moves. He's a good defender and decent rim-protector. Solid rebounder. But what probably gets overlooked is how good a passer Kaminsky is for a big fella.
In his last four games, Kaminsky has had six assists on two different occasions.
The Badgers rank second nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, per kenpom.com, and Kaminsky is a big reason why. On any other team, he could probably average more points, but his passing helps the Badgers get a quality shot every possession.
That was on display Tuesday night in the clinic Wisconsin put on in an 82-50 win over Iowa, one of Kaminsky's six-assist gems. If the Badgers and Kaminsky can even come close to sustaining that level of play, this POY race will get really interesting.
1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke
He's the most feared scorer in college basketball, is always a blink of an eye away from a double-team, and yet Jahlil Okafor shoots a higher percentage (67 percent) than every player in the country except for one.
It's almost impossible to live up to the hype as a one-and-done phenom these days, but Okafor has arguably been even better than expected. He's scored in double figures in every game and is nearly averaging a double-double (18.6 PPG and 8.9 RPG).
The only real criticism anyone could have of Okafor is that he's struggled defending ball screens, but Mike Krzyzewski is helping his big fella out lately by adopting the zone defense from his good friend Jim Boeheim.
Whoever ends up winning this award—Okafor or Kaminsky—could depend on whether Duke or Wisconsin finishes with the more impressive season. Since they both have two losses and Duke won the head-to-head battle, Okafor is still in the lead.