Award Tour: Setting the Candidates For the 2012-13 SeasonPosted by DCassilo on November 9th, 2012
David Cassilo is an RTC columnist who also writes about college basketball for SLAM magazine. You can follow him at @dcassilo.
It’s a brand new season of college basketball, and what better way to celebrate than a brand new weekly feature on Rush The Court. Every Friday this season, I’ll be updating the races for Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year, and Coach of the Year. But don’t think of this as just a list of 10 players each week with a few sentences attached. There’s more that we love about college basketball than its players and coaches. There are the fans, the venues, the announcers and the madness, and each week I’ll be looking at something different that makes November through early April the most exciting time of the year.
We’ve waited long enough, though, so without any more delay, here’s a look at the top 10 candidates to succeed Anthony Davis as college basketball’s top player.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR CANDIDATES
10. Mike Moser – UNLV, junior
2011-12 stats: 14 PPG, 10.5 RPG
A double-double machine, Moser is the only player on a Top 25 team to average at least 10 points and 10 rebounds last season. Consistency was his biggest problem last season. For every 34-point game, there would be a four-point dud a few nights later. With a light non-conference schedule, Moser should be able to pad his stats early on. This week: Nov. 12 vs Northern Arizona
9. C.J. McCollum – Lehigh, senior
2011-12 stats: 21.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG
It’s not too often that a Patriot League player is considered one of the nation’s best, but it’s just the latest stereotype that McCollum has dispelled at Lehigh. His run in the NCAA Tournament last season made him a big enough name to remove any small school bias. He could finish the season with the best scoring average in D-I. This week: Nov. 9 at Baylor, Nov. 12 vs. Robert Morris, Nov. 13 vs. Pittsburgh/Fordham
8. James Michael McAdoo – UNC, sophomore
2011-12 stats: 6.1 PPG, 3.9 RPG
A ranking based more on potential and opportunity than anything else, McAdoo is expected to be the No. 1 option on the Tar Heels. With North Carolina’s deep roster last season, he took on a reserve role but averaged 11.8 PPG in just 19.3 minutes per game in the NCAA tournament. Remember, he was MVP of the 2011 McDonald’s All-American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic. This week: Nov. 9 vs. Gardner-Webb, Nov. 11 vs. Florida Atlantic
7. Jamaal Franklin – San Diego State, junior
2011-12 stats: 17.4 PPG, 7.9 RPG
Forget national player of the year, the race between Franklin and Moser for conference player of the year should be fun enough to watch. After averaging 2.9 PPG as a freshman, Franklin exploded onto the scene last season. Still, not many people have heard of him, but they might after Sunday’s game against Syracuse. This week: Nov. 11 vs. Syracuse, Nov. 13 vs. San Diego Christian
6. Trey Burke – Michigan, sophomore
2011-12 stats: 14.8 PPG, 4.6 APG
Burke will not fill the stat sheet like some of the other candidates, but don’t count out an emotional leader of what will be one of the nation’s top teams. He can score when he has to, as he had 30 points against Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament. Don’t forget that he and Cody Zeller were voted co-freshman of the year in the Big Ten. This week: Nov. 9 vs. Slippery Rock, Nov. 12 vs. IUPUI, Nov. 13 vs. Cleveland State/Bowling Green
5. Shabazz Muhammad – UCLA, freshman
Assuming he is cleared to play by the NCAA, no freshman should score like Muhammad. He is expected to be the focal point of the Bruins’ offense this season. Putting UCLA back on the map could give him an extra boost during awards season. This week: Nov. 9 vs. Indiana State, Nov. 13 vs. UC Irvine, Nov. 15 vs. James Madison
4. Deshaun Thomas – Ohio State, junior
2011-12 stats: 15.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG
After starting last season in Jared Sullinger’s shadow, Thomas ended it as perhaps the Buckeyes’ best player. He opened the NCAA Tournament with bang, scoring 31 points. Now without question the top scoring option in Columbus, Thomas’ stats could take a leap this season. This week: Nov. 9 vs. Marquette, Nov. 11 vs. Albany
3. Isaiah Canaan – Murray State, senior
2011-12 stats: 19.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 3.6 APG
In an unexpected run at an undefeated season, Canaan became a star for the Racers. His scoring and playmaking abilities make him one of the toughest guards to cover in the nation. If Canaan can lead the Racers to another memorable season, he might just take home the top spot in the player of the year race. This week: Nov. 9 vs. Brescia, Nov. 15 vs. Auburn
2. Doug McDermott – Creighton, junior
2011-12 stats: 22.9 PPG, 8.2 RPG
As the nation’s top returning scorer, McDermott’s game should be circled on the calendar every time he makes it to national television. He topped 30 points five times last season as a sophomore, including 33 points in the Missouri Valley title game. A strong season by Creighton could take him from candidate to favorite. This week: Nov. 9 vs. North Texas, Nov. 14 vs. UAB
1. Cody Zeller – Indiana, sophomore
2011-12 stats: 15.6 PPG, 6.6 RPG
Zeller is the consensus pick to win the award, as he is the best player on the nation’s best team. With so much competition, though, he will need to raise his scoring and rebounding averages to leave with the hardware. The favorite until proven otherwise, Zeller should be in consideration all season. This week: Nov. 9 vs. Bryant, Nov. 12 vs. North Dakota State, Nov. 15 vs. Sam Houston State
TOP FIVE TEAMS THAT MUST WIN A TITLE
5. Gonzaga Bulldogs. A bit of a long shot here, but with the recent success of mid-majors in the NCAA Tournament, the Bulldogs have turned into an afterthought. Before Butler and VCU, though, it was Gonzaga who had higher seeds shaking in their boots. A title win would remind everyone who started it all.
4. Ohio State Buckeyes. Now that John Calipari has cut down the nets, has Thad Matta taken on the distinction of best active coach never to win an NCAA title? Matta has come close in the last decade, but he can’t quite win the big one. The pressure will begin to mount until he does.
3. UCLA Bruins. The Bruins have been a mess recently, and if John Wooden was around to read the Sports Illustrated article about them, he might never stop by campus again. All of that can be quieted though if UCLA wins it all this year. With Muhammad and Kyle Anderson both possible one-and-dones, it might be the Bruins’ best shot.
2. Louisville Cardinals. When Kentucky wins a title, no one takes it harder than Louisville fans. Rick Pitino will be feeling the heat to keep the championship in the Bluegrass State. The Cardinals definitely have the talent to do so.
1. Indiana Hoosiers. There is no fan base dying for a return to glory more than those in Bloomington. The last title for Indiana came in 1987, and the team has been to the championship game just once since then. Fans might be behind Tom Crean now, but they expect to win it all and might turn on him if they don’t.
We’ll start the season off right by featuring one of my favorite YouTube clips of all time. It will take you back to the 2006 NCAA dunk contest, in which James White of Cincinnati stole the show. With a great soundtrack to go along with some sensational dunks, it’s the perfect way to get pumped for the season ahead.
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
10. Gary Harris – Michigan State
As an elite defender, Harris has cracked Tom Izzo’s starting-five as a freshman. He also has great touch from the outside and can play multiple positions. He should play and score enough to be in the mix for this honor all season. This week: Nov. 9 vs. UConn, Nov. 13 vs. Kansas
9. Archie Goodwin – Kentucky
Only on Kentucky does being your team’s third best freshman get you in top 10 in the nation. He has enough offensive potential to become the leading scorer on the Wildcats this season, and if he does that, he could be a candidate for the nation’s top rookie too. This week: Nov. 9 vs. Maryland, Nov. 13 vs. Duke
8. Marcus Smart – Oklahoma State
Smart has the chance to be one of those players that the top basketball powers are kicking themselves over not recruiting hard enough. He has great athleticism and will be very difficult to stop of the dribble. It would be a shock if he didn’t have an instant impact on the Big 12. This week: Nov. 9 vs. UC Davis, Nov. 15 vs. Akron
7. Isaiah Austin – Baylor
Much like Perry Jones III, Austin enters his collegiate career full of potential. Whether he maximizes that and becomes a dominant center at Baylor remains to be seen. It would not be a shock to see him at the top of this list or off of it all together. This week: Nov. 9 vs. Lehigh, Nov. 11 vs. Jackson State, Nov. 15 vs. Boston College
6. Alex Poythress – Kentucky
Poythress will be asked to fill the role Michael Kidd-Gilchrist did a season ago. He’s a great defender with the ability to score, but it’s not his best quality. Look for him to be an integral part of the Kentucky’s title defense. This week: Nov. 9 vs. Maryland, Nov. 13 vs. Duke
5. Kaleb Tarczewski – Arizona
The top prospect in a stellar recruiting class for the Wildcats, Tarczewski is as an explosive big man who should have his share of highlight plays. He does a little of every on both ends of the floor and should fill the stat sheet every night. This week: Nov. 11 vs. Charleston Southern, Nov. 15 vs. UTEP
4. Steven Adams – Pittsburgh
Jamie Dixon has never been one to play freshmen, but Adams should break that stereotype this season. A post player with superior athletic ability, Adams will be a monster on offense and defense for Pittsburgh on a nightly basis. This week: Nov. 9 vs. Mount St. Mary’s, Nov. 12 vs. Fordham, Nov. 13 vs. Robert Morris/Lehigh
3. Kyle Anderson – UCLA
The “other” freshman at UCLA, Anderson is one of the most intriguing players to come along in college basketball in a long time. As a 6’9″ point guard, he will invoke his fair share of Magic Johnson references but more likely, think Shaun Livingston before he got hurt. This week: Nov. 9 vs. Indiana State, Nov. 13 vs. UC Irvine, Nov. 15 vs. James Madison
2. Nerlens Noel – Kentucky
Since the day he committed to Kentucky, Noel has been compared to Anthony Davis. It isn’t a fair comparison as a player like Davis doesn’t come around every season. Noel is not quite as good offensively or defensively as his predecessor but then again, few are. This week: Nov. 9 vs. Maryland, Nov. 13 vs. Duke
1. Shabazz Muhammad – UCLA
You can read above for a full explanation, but Muhammad is a rare talent who should light up the scoreboard each night. Paired with Anderson, the duo should be as fun as any to watch this season. This week: Nov. 9 vs. Indiana State, Nov. 13 vs. UC Irvine, Nov. 15 vs. James Madison
Since every team currently has the same record, we’ll take a look at Coach of the Year a bit later this month.