At this time last year, the folks with the Wooden Award and Naismith Award could have started engraving Doug McDermott’s name on the national player of the year trophy.
The Creighton forward started the season as one of the favorites and turned it into a one-man race early into conference play.
This season could have more drama. The player of the year race may be as heated as any 2010-11 when BYU’s Jimmer Fredette and UConn’s Kemba Walker battled for end-of-year hardware and the scoring title until late into the season.
This year might be the year two centers — unless a freshman guard in the Big Ten starts to make a late push — go for the top award at the end of the season.
The Wooden Award released its late season top 20 list Wednesday, so this is as good a time as any to survey the field.
We’ve ranked the top 20 players on that list by their likelihood of taking home the Wooden Award other national postseason honors.
1. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
Frank the Tank is even better than he was a year ago when he scored 43 points in a game and carried Wisconsin to the Final Four. His numbers are up across the board for a team that’s 21-1 when he’s in the lineup. He’s averaging 17.3 points per game (up from 13.9 last season) and 8.3 rebounds (up from 6.3). Perhaps what’s most striking for a seven-footer who hits 40 percent of his free throws is that he’s improved as a passer, averaging 2.5 assists per game. Kaminsky is the only player in the country averaging 17 points, eight rebounds, two assists and 1.5 blocks per game.
2. Jahlil Okafor, Duke
Okafor lived up to the hype and more. He’s the best true center in the college game in decades and arguably the best freshman since Anthony Davis or Kevin Durant. Okafor averages 1.6 points per field goal attempt, an outlandish number for a player averaging 18 points per game in a major conference. Okafor also ranks fourth nationally in offensive rating on KenPom.
3. D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State
Russell is making a late push for Big Ten player of the year and national freshman of the year, remarkable considering he’s in competition for those awards with Frank Kaminsky and Jahlil Okafor, respectively. Russell has become the most exciting player in the Big Ten, if not the country. His versatility at Ohio State is akin to 2010 player of the year Evan Turner. In Big Ten play, Russell is averaging 21.3 points per game, 7.2 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 1.6 steals. His offensive rating of 121.0 ranks third in the country, two spots ahead of Okafor.
4. Delon Wright, Utah
Utah’s multi-dimensional guard has put the Utes into Pac-12 contention. Wright is averaging 14.2 points and 3.1 assists per turnover while leading Utah’s standout defense. The 6-5 guard was one of the nation’s most underrated players a year ago, and now he could be an All-American.
5. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
Harrell, the most important player to opt for school instead of the NBA Draft, picked up where he left off last season as one of the most imposing players in the country. He’s averaging 15.8 points and 9.2 rebounds — both career bests — for a top-10 Louisville team. It’s easy to see why. The big man has developed an all-around offensive game all the way out to the 3-point line.
6. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
Grant has come back from his extended absence last season to average 17 points per game and plenty of clutch performances. Grant played his best game of the season against Duke (23 points, 12 assists, six rebounds in South Bend) and one of his worst games against Duke (3-of-10, seven points in Durham).
7. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
Someone needs to be on the list to represent undefeated Kentucky, and it may as well be Cauley-Stein, the Wildcats’ most experienced player and anchor of the defense. Because of Kentucky’s platoon, it’s more useful to look at Cauley-Stein’s per-40 minute numbers. Cauley-Stein averages 14.3 points per 40 minutes to go with 9.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks.
8. Justin Anderson, Virginia
Anderson would have been a compelling case for postseason awards. His 13.4 points per game don’t jump off the page — he ranks 19th in the ACC in scoring. With Virginia’s tempo and balance, that has to be taken in context. Anderson is arguably 21-1 Virginia’s most valuable player. That said, his stock for award season will drop due to the hand injury that will keep him out 4-6 weeks.
9. Bobby Portis, Arkansas
Even as Kentucky overwhelms the conversation in the SEC, it’s impossible to overlook the season Portis is having in Fayetteville. He’s one of the most improved players in the country, going from 12.3 points per game on an NIT team to 17.9 for a team that’s close to sealing an at-large bid. Portis has turned it up in conference play, averaging 19.3 points and 11 rebounds in the SEC.
10. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
The Big 12 may be the best conference in the country, or at least the most balanced from top to bottom. Yet, the league doesn’t have a ton of guys in All-America contention. Oklahoma has been streaky this season, but not Hield. He’s averaging 19.5 points per game in Big 12 play, though OU might be better when the Sooners are more balanced. He averages 18 points per game in eight Big 12 wins and 22.5 points in four conference losses.
11. Ron Baker, Wichita State
Few 21-3 teams receive less pub. Part of that is the shadow of the Shockers’ 35-0 start a year ago. Baker, though, is as steady as ever. He’s averaging 15.5 points per game, up from 13.1 a year ago. He’s also up for 41.3 shooting from 3-point range despite shooting at a greater volume (six 3s per game) than a year ago.
12. Stanley Johnson, Arizona
Johnson turned the ball over seven times in his final non-conference game, a loss to UNLV. Johnson is averaging only two turnovers per game since to go with 14.7 points per game in conference play.
13. Tyus Jones, Duke
That’s two Duke freshmen in the national player of the year race, and that doesn’t count Justise Winslow playing at an elite level during stretches this season. All Jones has done is displace a senior at point guard for a top-five team and average 5.3 assists per game for a 3.8 assist-to-turnover ratio. He’s also proven to be a clutch 3-point shooter (39.5 percent).
14. Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
Pangos’ scoring is down from the last two seasons at 12.1 points per game, but there’s no doubt who Gonzaga’s top player is. Pangos is the floor general of a balanced offensive team that is 24-1 and nearing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. He averages 3.6 assists per turnover.
15. Georges Niang, Iowa State
Even as Iowa State has six guys averaging double figures, Niang is the focal point. The 6-foot-8 forward leads the Cyclones at 14.9 points and is second in rebounds (5.3) and assists (3.5). He’s the Big 12’s best mismatch.
16. Terry Rozier, Louisville
Rozier has slid into the void left by Russ Smith, averaging 18.7 points per game as a sophomore and leading one of the most aggressive backcourts in the country. Rozier is also averaging 5.7 rebounds after Wednesday's double double against Pittsburgh.
17. Chasson Randle, Stanford
At 20.3 points per game, Randle accounts for 27.1 percent of Stanford’s scoring, the highest rate for anyone on this list.
18. Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga
A forgotten man at Kentucky, Wiltjer has flourished at Gonzaga. The Bulldogs’ leading scorer, Wiltjer is 10th in the country in points per 40 minutes (24.9).
19. Juwan Staten, West Virginia
West Virginia is enjoying a turnaround season, and Staten deserves his due for two outstanding seasons in Morgantown after his transfer from Dayton. Still, West Virginia has been sliding in recent weeks due to struggles in the halfcourt.
20. Tyler Haws, BYU
Haws is second in the nation at 22.5 points per game and is second in KenPom’s offensive rating, but he plays for a fringe NCAA Tournament team. A tough sell.