Now that college football has wrapped up, a lot more eyes are turning to the hardcourt. Selection Sunday is still a couple months away, but we’re already at the midway mark of the year. If you haven’t been paying attention, you’ve missed a lot. Not “what-the-hell-Trump-is-the-new-President??” a lot, but a lot, nonetheless.
There have been epic, March-madness worthy comebacks, a trip heard round the world, an ensuing witch-hunt, and more than a handful of gilded individual performances. One great game does not a season make, however. The owners of the best nights this season (see Malik Monk and Jordan Caroline) aren’t the same guys who have dominated on a nightly basis, nor are they the same guys who were predicted to dominate at the start of the year. Well, not entirely.
The 25-man midseason watch-list for the 2017 Wooden Award (player of the year) was announced on Thursday and there was a lot of turnover compared to the preseason list of 50.
Duke haters will revel in the fact that Grayson Allen (the aforementioned tripper) and highly touted freshmen Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles are nowhere to be found. But then they’ll wince when they see the name Luke Kennard and remember just how well Duke has navigated a host of early-season issues thanks to the sophomore guard.
The biggest snub from the midseason watch-list? How about Memphis’ Dedric Lawson? He’s putting up over 20 points and 10 boards per game and chipping in with nearly four assists and three blocks. He likely got snubbed because the Tigers are only 12-5 on the year and 2-2 in the mediocre AAC.
Let’s accentuate the positive, though, and look at how the players who did make the list stack up.
Midseason Wooden Award Odds (2017)
Josh Hart (Villanova): 3/1
The best player on the best team in the nation is always going to get a long look from the voters. Hart has been so much more than that. He’s averaging nearly 20 points per game while pulling down 6.7 boards and dishing out 3.8 assists per game. Nova has depth, but Hart is the reason the team looks capable of repeating as national champs. He’s showed up in the biggest spots, too, dropping 24 at Purdue, 30 against Wake, and 37 against Notre Dame. If he leads Nova to a one-seed in the tourney, this award is his to lose.
Frank Mason III (Kansas): 5/1
Not everyone will agree that Nova is the best team in the country right now. Folks down in Lawrence, in particular, might object. Kansas hasn’t lost since falling to Indiana in OT on opening weekend. Like Hart, Mason has a strong supporting cast – including fellow watch-list resident Josh Jackson – but he’s the lynchpin and his numbers show it: 20.4 PPG, 5.6 APG, 4.4 RPG. He’s also hitting a ludicrous (and unsustainable) 54.9-percent from beyond the arc.
If he keeps playing like this and leads Kansas to a 13th straight Big 12 title, he’ll push Hart to the bitter end in the Wooden race.
Lonzo Ball (UCLA): 13/2
Ball has been the best freshman in a supremely talented group of rookies. His Bruins have dropped one game (on the road at Oregon, a pre-season top-five team) and own arguably the most impressive win of the year: 97-92 over Kentucky at Rupp. Ball is proving to be one of the best facilitators in the country, dropping double-digit assists five times this year and averaging eight dimes per game. He can also fill the basket (14.7 PPG) and does so efficiently, hitting on 52.8-percent from the field and 43.2-percent from three. Some scouts have questions about how his game will translate to the pros. No one is questioning his ability to dominate the Pac-12.
Luke Kennard (Duke): 12/1
Hands up if you had Kennard as the only Blue Devil on the midseason Wooden watchlist. Now keep your hands up if you’re telling the truth. No hands? Thought so. The 6’6 guard has surpassed all expectations in his sophomore season, averaging over 20 points and five boards per game. The former McDonald’s All-American is the main reason Duke (14-3) has been able to navigate a treacherous schedule while battling key injuries (Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Amile Jefferson) and the constant distraction that is Grayson Allen. His shooting percentage is even better than Ball’s: 53.2-percent from the floor, 44.7-percent from three.
Kennard’s odds are longer than Ball’s because UCLA is more likely to earn a conference title. Sorry Duke, them’s the hazards of playing in the unparallelled ACC. Kennard is also surrounded by a host of uber-talented teammates eager to get theirs, so his stats could easily drop as the season wears on.
De’Aaron Fox (Kentucky): 25/2
Malik Monk has had the sexier games for Kentucky (47 points versus UNC, 34 versus Ole Miss), but Fox (16.7 PPG, 6.4 APG, 5.1 RPG) is the engine that keeps the Wildcat engine purring. He does it all for this team at both ends of the floor. If he could only shoot the three-ball, he’d be unstoppable. He’s horrible from deep (12.5-percent) and it’s still almost impossible to keep him from getting to the basket.
Johnathan Motley (Baylor): 18/1
Baylor wasn’t a top-25 team coming into the year. Then they reeled off wins over no. 4 Oregon, no. 24 Michigan State, no. 10 Louisville, no. 7 Xavier, and started Big 12 play 3-0, vaulting the Bears to no. 1 in the country (before falling at West Virginia). Jonathan Motley’s 15 points and nine boards per game are both team-highs. His name will stay in the Wooden conversation unless and until Baylor falls off the pace in the Big 12.
Maurice Watson (Creighton): 18/1
Watson leads the nation with nine assists per game, a full assist better than Ball, who’s second. He’s hitting 50-percent from beyond the arc and averaging a very respectable 13.6 PPG. Marcus Foster (18.1 PPG) and Justin Patton (14.0 PPG, 75-percent from the field) are both having phenomenal years for the Blue Jays, and it’s Watson who’s letting them reach their potential. Creighton has only dropped one game (to Villanova) and looks like the Big East’s bridesmaid, having just bounced Butler. If they walk away with the Big East title at the end of the regular season – a huge if – Watson will be firmly in the mix.
Caleb Swanigan (Purdue): 22/1
“Biggie” Swanigan has been Mr. Everything for the Boilermakers. He leads the team in scoring (18.3 PPG) and leads the country in rebounding (12.9 RPG). While he’s not all that flashy and doesn’t dominate on defense the way he could with a 6’9, 250-pound frame, racking up those numbers in the Big Ten is a feat unto itself, even if the conference is having a down year.
Dillon Brooks (Oregon): 25/1
Since missing the start of the year with a foot injury, Brooks has been solid and the Ducks haven’t lost since his first game back, when he logged just 13 minutes. He also kicked a dude in the groin, though, damaging both that guy’s sperm and his own Wooden odds. On top of that, his PPG (13.8) and RPG (2.6) are down versus last year (16.7 and 5.4, respectively), largely because of reduced minutes as he made his way back to full health. A game-winning three against UCLA put the Canadian back on the national radar. A big second-half and a Pac-12 title for Oregon could see the preseason All-American gain traction.
Dwayne Bacon (Florida State): 30/1
Can Florida State (16-1) actually best Duke, UNC, Virginia, and Louisville and win the ACC? If they do, Bacon (17.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 37-percent from three) will build a strong Wooden case in the process.
Photo credit: Max Goldberg (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/].