Wooden Award Watch List Breakdown

Posted by zhayes9 on October 4th, 2011

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

For each college basketball fan, there’s one moment in the weeks that lead up to the season opener when it hits you: the season is coming. To some, it’s when the players are introduced to blaring music and flashing lights during Midnight Madness. For others, it’s the release of the first poll or perusing the airport newsstand and seeing Lindy’s preview issue.

As far as I’m concerned, the release of the Wooden Award watch list is the striking epiphany that in short time I’ll be watching meaningful college basketball once again. The list outlines who will dominate the headlines all season long, providing a rundown of the top candidates to be this year’s Jimmer Fredette or J.J. Redick or Kevin Durant and dominate the discussion from November to March. Among the list of 50 players, some candidates are superior to others, some are primed to disappear from the list once the competition heightens, some star for mid-major upstarts and some are head-scratching choices in place of glaring snubs. But one factor unites all 50 inclusions: they’re going to make an impact on the upcoming season.

Let’s take a magnifying glass to this year’s list that was released yesterday to get a closer look:

Jared Sullinger is our preseason favorite for the Wooden Award

Odds-On Favorite: Jared Sullinger, Ohio State. Sullinger is the player who has the best chance to win this award for a multitude of reasons. One, he plays on a team expected to contend all season long, keeping his name in the headlines and on a national stage. Two, the entire Buckeyes offense will revolve around his play in the post, boosting his statistical profile more than a fellow contender like Kentucky’s Terrence Jones who has a surplus of talented teammates that will need their reps. Three, he’s sure to receive the ball in opportune spots for easy points with such an intelligent point guard like Aaron Craft on his side. Most importantly, Sullinger should be incredibly motivated to not only prove that returning to Columbus was a worthwhile decision, but to avenge last season’s stunning Sweet 16 exit.

Runner Up: Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin. Joining his Big Ten adversary atop the contenders is Taylor, a point guard so incredibly potent that Bo Ryan scrapped his preferred swing offense to keep the ball in Taylor’s hands last season. Expect more of the same philosophy in 2011-12, especially with Jon Leuer moving on to the NBA and a dramatic drop-off in proven offensive commodities on the roster. Taylor played nearly 91% of available minutes for Wisconsin and utilized 27.4% of their possessions; I fully anticipate those numbers to climb even more this upcoming season. Not only is Taylor an immensely talented scorer capable of exploding for 35 points on any given night, but his staggering lack of turnovers has earned the unshakeable trust of his coach.

Likeliest Long Shot: Allen Crabbe, California. Mostly because his team plays on the West Coast and struggled to remain over the .500 mark, Crabbe wasn’t covered to the extent of fellow rookies Sullinger, Harrison Barnes, Brandon Knight or Kyrie Irving last season. That should change during a sophomore campaign when Crabbe makes a major push for All-America recognition. Despite garnering California high school player of the year honors and winning a state title, Crabbe exploded late and was an under-the-radar coup for head coach Mike Montgomery. His outstanding jump shot and athleticism were in full force during a debut campaign in which Crabbe scored 13.3 PPG, shot a respectable 40% from deep and played his best basketball into February. The freshman standout scored at least 19 PPG and played a minimum of 38 minutes in his last four contests. He appears primed to carry that momentum into 2011-12.

Biggest Stretch: Ray McCallum, Detroit. I’m not biased against including mid and low-major stars on this list at all. Andrew Nicholson is 100% deserving. Michael Glover is a worthy addition. It would have been a crime if Orlando Johnson wasn’t included. The difference between those players and McCallum is substance as opposed to potential. McCallum was a heralded recruit who entered the public consciousness by choosing to play for his dad in the Horizon League over joining powerhouses like UCLA and Arizona. He should absolutely be commended for that decision and there are certainly facets of McCallum’s repertoire – outstanding free throw and assist rates, strong perimeter defense – that deserve applause. Unlike Nicholson, Glover, Johnson and others on the Wooden list, though, McCallum’s statistical profile is underwhelming. Despite playing over 33 MPG in a mid-major conference, he averaged just 13.5 PPG and shot 31% from three. On the assorted occasions I saw the Titans play, McCallum failed to stand out. His ceiling is high enough where he could explode as a sophomore. I just want to see that potential exhibited consistently on the court before such an esteemed inclusion is bestowed.

Biggest Snub: Kyle Weems, Missouri State. It boggles my mind that the reigning POY in a challenging league like the Missouri Valley is apparently unworthy of a spot. Doug McDermott should be an outstanding player for Creighton, but Weems is much more deserving. The fact that Missouri State lost their other four starters and Weems remained loyal to the Bears after being wooed by a number of high-major programs this summer speaks volumes about his character, not to mention his 16/7 averages for the regular season league champs.  Luckily, the Wooden snub list is overblown; any player can emerge during the season and join the list. Ben Hansbrough wasn’t anywhere close to the list in October and five months later won Big East POY.

Biggest Sleeper: Tu Holloway, Xavier. I have a difficult time including a mid or low-major here because of the extreme unlikelihood that a player who goes up against that type of competition can actually win the award. As we found out with Jameer Nelson, Andrew Bogut or Jimmer Fredette, though, a player doesn’t necessarily have to star for a BCS-conference program to garner such an honor. Holloway’s situation is similar to Nelson, Bogut and Fredette. The Musketeers could optimistically be a top-15 team that plays an action-packed non-conference slate and might be in a year-long battle with Temple for the A-10 title. Holloway is a legitimate star after averaging 20/5/5, garnering third team All-America honors and even posting two triple-doubles as a junior. I’m sure his five point disappearing act against Marquette in the NCAA Tournament hasn’t sat well all summer, either.

Deserving Freshmen/Transfers: Incoming freshmen and transfers of any kind are not eligible for nomination. If that wasn’t the case, there’s little doubt that Duke’s Austin Rivers, Connecticut’s Andre Drummond and Kentucky’s Anthony Davis would be three rookies on the list, with sensible arguments for Florida’s Bradley Beal, Texas’ Myck Kabongo and Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Impact transfers like Fairfield’s Rakim Sanders, Michigan State’s Brandon Wood and Florida’s Mike Rosario would have received consideration, as well.

Ranking the Best Ten

  1. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
  2. Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin
  3. Harrison Barnes, North Carolina
  4. Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut
  5. Terrence Jones, Kentucky
  6. Robbie Hummel, Purdue
  7. Tu Holloway, Xavier
  8. Ashton Gibbs, Pittsburgh
  9. William Buford, Ohio State
  10. Perry Jones III, Baylor
zhayes9 (301 Posts)

Share this story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *