Breaking Down the 2011 Preseason Wooden Award ListPosted by nvr1983 on October 5th, 2010
Yesterday, the Los Angeles Athletic Club announced its preseason list of the 50 candidates for the Wooden Award. Among those listed are names of players with whom we are all familiar, like Kyle Singler, Kalin Lucas, and Robbie Hummel, but there are also many lesser-known but still talented players like Nikola Vucevic and Kawhi Leonard (feel free to yell “East Coast bias!” in the comments). Even though this is one of about a thousand Player of the Year awards it holds a special place for most college basketball aficionados because of its namesake, the late John Wooden, and especially the year after his death. Established in 1976, The Wooden Award has been awarded to an individual after a 26-member panel — I’m sure our invite is lost in the snail mail or got caught in a spam filter — narrows down the list of candidates down to 20 players and then lets 1,000 voters (seriously, where’s our invite?) pick the ten All-Americans and the Player of the Year (last year Evan Turner took home the hardware). Looking back through past winners provides you with a veritable “Who’s Who” of college basketball in the past quarter century and includes luminaries like Phil Ford, Larry Bird, Ralph Sampson (twice), Michael Jordan, David Robinson, Danny Manning, Larry Johnson, Christian Laettner, Tim Duncan, Elton Brand, Shane Battier, Jason Williams, Jameer Nelson, Kevin Durant, and Tyler Hansbrough.
One of the big caveats for the early season list is that it does not include freshman or transfers. Now, the latter usually do not factor into these awards with the exception of Larry Johnson and Wesley Johnson, who picked up a few votes last year, but the former (like Durant and Michael Beasley) are beginning to play a growing role in this and other awards. We do have a few issues with the list, which you will see more of over the next few weeks as we unveil our “Impact Players” by region. For today we will just focus on our favorites and some notable freshman who were left off the list, but we expect to be in the running for the actual award later this season. We will leave off the non-freshman omissions because frankly we do not expect any of them to factor into the final ballots.
We have listed the players in alphabetical order (by last name) with those from non-BCS conferences highlighted in yellow. Players with an asterisk by their name were on the 2010 Wooden ballot.
Interestingly, nine of the 50 players are from those non-BCS conferences, which appears impressive at first glance until you realize that if the superstar freshman were included they would probably knock a few of those nine players off the list.
In our minds, the favorites are pretty clear– Malcolm Delaney, LaceDarius Dunn (assuming he can stay out of trouble), Jimmer Fredette, Austin Freeman, Hummel, JaJuan Johnson, Lucas, E’Twaun Moore, Jacob Pullen, Singler, and Nolan Smith. A couple caveats outside of Dunn’s recent legal troubles:
- The Purdue trio is ridiculous, but they will probably cannibalize the national attention the others may have received
- Duke is in a similar situation with Singler, Smith, and Kyrie Irving, whom we will get to in a minute. Fortunately for those three they are still Duke, so their bench will probably get more national TV exposure than anybody else on this list.
- Delaney may run into some problems with Virginia Tech‘s relative mediocrity. If Seth Greenberg is sweating on Selection Sunday again, don’t expect Delaney to be contending. Like the Felix Hernandez AL Cy Young Award debate, it seems unfair, but we doubt that the voters will be progressive here.
- Fredette may be one of the best shooters/scorers in the country, but playing in the Mountain West is going to make it very difficult to win this award unless he is miles ahead of everyone else.
Now we come to the big sticking point when we are reviewing these preseason lists: the freshmen and transfers. Honestly, Seth Curry is really the only transfer we expect to make a significant impact that might merit consideration for a list like this. The big issue is the freshmen:
- Harrison Barnes: Everybody expects him to light up the ACC and lead Roy Williams and UNC back to the NCAA Tournament. He will need to do more than that to merit consideration going up against these upperclassmen. It is instructive to note that Durant is the only freshman to win it (Hansbrough won it over Beasley the following year even though UNC fans would have to admit that Beasley was the far more dominant player that year).
- Kyrie Irving: He is expected to be the focal point of a Duke team that is trying to repeat. He will have the ball in his hands most of the game, and most of the games will be nationally televised. If he is as good as advertised he has a legitimate shot to be an All-American even if the big award might be a little out of reach.
- Brandon Knight: He will also have the ball in his hands most of the game for Kentucky, but he does not have quite as good of a supporting cast as Irving does particularly with regards to the experience of the other players. John Calipari has a talented group of players, but one of the problems with building your program by reloading with recruits is that those teams have very little experience.
We would put players like Enes Kanter and Josh Selby on this list too, but we still aren’t sure if they are going to play a minute this year. If their eligibility was clear we would have to expand the list of freshmen to five, but as it is we don’t see any other freshmen threatening to win The Wooden Award this year.
Even though we find it ridiculous that someone could consider this preseason list as a list of the top 50 players in the country when it intentionally ignores freshmen and transfers, we recognize that it is hard to judge how their games will translate to the next level and undoubtedly there will be some other new face that, by the end of the season, will make a strong case for inclusion on the All-American teams and potentially Player of the Year.