Award Tour: Freshman Marcus Smart Makes His Case and a New No. 1 PlayerPosted by DCassilo on November 23rd, 2012
David Cassilo is an RTC columnist who also writes about college basketball for SLAM magazine. You can follow him at @dcassilo.
I got a chance to go to the Legends Classic on Monday with the opportunity to see what was supposed to be the nation’s top team (Indiana) and top player (Cody Zeller). I left with one certain conclusion: I saw neither. It’s not to say that they won’t claim those titles by season’s end, but now is not the time to give them those honors. But that’s just the theme across college basketball right now. A dominant team or player has yet to emerge, and as I look around the country, I’m not sure if we’ll ever see it. This is as wide open a year as ever for the sport, and that should provide an exciting regular season and NCAA Tournament. We’ve already had plenty, and it’s not even December.
And now on to those awards races, which experienced lots of changes and player debuts this week. Also in there is a Thanksgiving list leftover.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR CANDIDATES
10. Le’Bryan Nash – Oklahoma State (Last Week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 19 PPG, 6.8 RPG
While he might have been overshadowed by his teammate below, Nash is just as crucial to the Cowboys’ hot start. Part of what makes him so dangerous is his ability to get to the free throw line, as he has attempted at least 12 shots from the charity stripe in each of the last three games. It’s becoming clear that he makes up half of one of the best duos in the country. This week: Nov. 25 vs. Portland State
9. Marcus Smart – Oklahoma State (Last Week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 14.8 PPG, 8 RPG, 5 APG, 3 SPG
The other half of that duo, Smart is officially on everyone’s radar after a stellar performance at the Puerto Rico Tipoff. In the championship game, he put up an eye-opening line of 20 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, four steals and four blocks. His ability to excel in big games is something not many players in the country have, let along freshmen. This week: Nov. 25 vs. Portland State
8. Doug McDermott – Creighton (Last Week – 3)
2012-13 stats: 16.8 PPG, 7.5 RPG
It has been a bit of disappointing start for McDermott, who was expected to score in bunches this season. Instead, he is attempting nearly five fewer shots per game and has a season-high of “just” 24 points against lesser competition. He’ll need to do much better to move back up in the rankings. This week: Nov. 23 vs. Wisconsin, Nov. 24 vs. Arizona State/Arkansas, Nov. 28 vs. Boise State
7. Isaiah Canaan – Murray State (Last Week – 4)
2012-13 stats: 18.3 PGG, 3.5 RPG, 3.5 APG
If Canaan could get his three-point shot to fall, his numbers would look a lot better. He is shooting 34.4 percent from deep his season and was 3-for-11 in each of his last two games. He’s been much better in the past and a return to the 40 percent range is likely. This week: Nov. 24 vs. Old Dominion, Nov. 26 at Lipscomb
6. C.J. McCollum – Lehigh (Last Week – 7)
2012-13 stats: 25.6 PPG, 5 RPG
McCollum had already topped the 30-point mark twice this season. This past week he tallied 35 points against Fairfield. As a small school player, McCollum will likely have to keep up this pace to earn consideration at year’s end but nothing so far has suggested he cannot. This week: Nov. 25 at Sacred Heart, Nov. 27 at Quinnipiac
5. Trey Burke – Michigan (Last Week – 6)
2012-13 stats: 18 PPG, 7.5 APG
It would be difficult to find guard that is as good as Burke at scoring and finding his teammates. The sophomore has had at least six assists in every game this season. The Wolverines are in complete control while he is on the floor. This week: Nov. 23 vs. Kansas State, Nov. 27 vs. North Carolina State
4. Cody Zeller – Indiana (Last Week – 1)
2012-13 stats: 15.2 PPG, 7.6 RPG
Even this ranking is generous as it was difficult to walk away from the Legends Classic thinking that Zeller was the best player in the tournament. He has yet to take the leap forward that was expected this season and will need to do so as Indiana needs him after struggling to defeat inferior competition. This week: Nov. 25 vs. Ball State, Nov. 27 vs. North Carolina
3. James Michael McAdoo – North Carolina (Last Week – 2)
2012-13 stats: 16.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG
It wasn’t quite the Maui Invitational that many had envisioned for McAdoo after his dynamic start to the season. He was unable to top 10 points or five rebounds against any team besides Chaminade. At this point, it is still a bit of a mystery as to how good McAdoo is. This week: Nov. 27 at Indiana
2. Mason Plumlee – Duke (Last Week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 21.3 PPG, 10.8 RPG
Plumlee bursts onto the scene after a monster week for Duke. He began with 28 points against Florida Gulf Coast and followed that with 20 points and 17 rebounds against Minnesota. In a surprising turn of events, Plumlee has established himself as the best big man in the country so far. This week: Nov. 23 vs. VCU, Nov. 24 vs. Louisville/Missouri, Nov. 28 vs. Ohio State
1. Deshaun Thomas – Ohio State (Last Week – 5)
2012-13 stats: 25 PPG, 7 RPG
He’s done it quietly, but Thomas has been a terror for defenses so far this season. At the Hall of Fame Tipoff, Thomas scored 56 points in two games against Rhode Island and Washington. As the go-to player for the first time in the Ohio State offense, Thomas has blossomed. He should have a national coming-out party against Duke on Wednesday. This week: Nov. 23 vs. UMKC, Nov. 28 at Duke
TOP FIVE TEAMS WITH SOMETHING TO BE THANKFUL FOR
5. Rutgers – For being asked to join the Big Ten. From a basketball standpoint, Rutgers is pretty irrelevant. But when you take into account football and the changing landscape in college sports, Rutgers shifting to the Big Ten is a major move for a program that was irrelevant in all sports just a decade ago.
4. Butler – For the arrival of Rotnei Clarke. After a down year for the Bulldogs, they showed in Maui that they are back on the national radar. Give some of that credit to Clarke, who surprised many by transferring from Arkansas after three seasons. His buzzer-beater against Marquette should be the first of many memorable moments.
3. Michigan – For the return of Trey Burke. There’s no way the Wolverines would have a shot at the national title had Burke went through with his decision to enter the NBA Draft. Now that he’s back, Michigan looks as balanced as any team in the country and could easily be ranked No. 1 right now.
2. UCLA – For an overheard conversation on a plane. Were it not for that conversation, the NCAA might have dug in its heels and kept Shabazz Muhammad ineligible for the entire season. Instead, Muhammad is finally in uniform, and UCLA is poised to make noise in the NCAA Tournament again.
1. Indiana – For Tom Crean. Without Crean, Indiana might still be in the mess that it was. Instead, he’s made them a factor again in recruiting and in the national title race. He’s also just a great coach, as well. Top to bottom, Indiana is not the most talented team in the country but he maximizes the strengths of each of his players.
Since we’re in the Thanksgiving theme here, let’s include a real turkey for our weekly video. Here’s that male cheerleader who almost blew that game for Louisville two seasons ago. He’s the definition of a turkey. Priceless commentary by Rick Pitino at the end of the clip too. I bet he put the Louisville Cardinals’ mascot’s head in the cheerleader’s bed the next morning to send a message.
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
10. Gary Harris – Michigan State (Last Week – 8)
2012-13 stats: 12 PPG, 1.3 RPG
Harris’ per game stats are misleading because he played just one minute on Tuesday before leaving with a shoulder injury that will keep him out for a few weeks. Before that he was the Spartans’ top scorer and will likely be back on this list when he’s healthy. This week: Nov. 23 vs. Oakland, Nov. 25 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, Nov. 28 vs. Miami
9. Ben McLemore – Kansas (Last Week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 14 PPG, 6.2 RPG
After academic issues left McLemore on the sideline last season, he has already had a major impact for the Jayhawks this season. He’s the team’s top scoring option and should only get more comfortable in that role as the season progresses. This week: Nov. 26 vs. San Jose St.
8. T.J. Warren – North Carolina State (Last Week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 16.5 PPG, 4.3 RPG
It’s very hard to do what Warren is doing. On a good team that is returning most of its core, Warren has stepped in and become arguably its top player. With Warren and Rodney Purvis, the future is bright for the Wolfpack. This week: Nov. 23 vs. UNC-Asheville, Nov. 27 vs. Michigan
7. Shabazz Muhammad – UCLA (Last Week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 18 PPG, 2.5 RPG
All things considered, it was a good start in a difficult situation for Muhammad. The freshman sensation carved out a role for himself in the Bruins’ offense. He didn’t force many shots, attempting 22 in two games. As Muhammad finds his rhythm, he should start to dominate games. This week: Nov. 25 vs. Cal Poly, Nov. 29 vs. Cal State Northridge
6. Jordan Adams – UCLA (Last Week – 5)
2012-13 stats: 19.6 PPG, 3.8 RPG
Adams will see the biggest decline in his role due to Muhammad’s return. It showed Brooklyn, as Adams followed a 22-points with just four points on six shots against Georgia. He’s still a terrific scorer, but he should see less opportunities. This week: Nov. 25 vs. Cal Poly, Nov. 29 vs. Cal State Northridge
5. Isaiah Austin – Baylor (Last Week – 4)
2012-13 stats: 14.8 PPG, 9 RPG
The seven-footer struggled with his shot this past week, shooting just 33 percent in two games. His ability to rebound, though, has allowed him to impact games in other ways. Somewhat troubling is his one block in four games this season. This week: Nov. 24 vs. College of Charleston
4. Archie Goodwin – Kentucky (Last Week – 3)
2012-13 stats: 18.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 3.3 APG
Choosing the best Kentucky freshman this season is like choosing your favorite Thanksgiving dish – impossible. He’s third for now based more on competition than performance. His 28 points against Morehead State were a season-high for the team. This week: Nov. 23 vs. LIU Brooklyn, Nov. 29 at Notre Dame
3. Nerlens Noel – Kentucky (Last Week – 1)
2012-13 stats: 11 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 3.3 BPG, 3.3 SPG
Noel has proven to be the ultimate stat sheet stuffer this season. His last game against Morehead State was a perfect example as he finished with nine points, 11 rebounds, four assists, six blocks and three steals. The scary thought is that he still is relatively raw on both ends of the court. This week: Nov. 23 vs. LIU Brooklyn, Nov. 29 at Notre Dame
2. Alex Poythress – Kentucky (Last Week – 2)
2012-13 stats: 17.5 PPG, 7 RPG
After a lackluster season opener, Poythress has had at least 20 points in three straight games. Even more remarkable is that he’s shooting 71 percent from the field in those games. He’s the most consistent option for Kentucky, and it’s no surprise that his constancy leaves him at No. 2 this week. This week: Nov. 23 vs. LIU Brooklyn, Nov. 29 at Notre Dame
1. Marcus Smart – Oklahoma State (Last Week – 7)
2012-13 stats: 14.8 PPG, 8 RPG, 5 APG, 3 SPG
All of the reasons for this year are in the Player of the Year section, but keep this in mind about Smart. He led his team to back-to-back state titles in high school. It’s yet another reason why he just seems like a winner. This week: Nov. 25 vs. Portland State
COACH OF THE YEAR
We will get things officially rolling here next week, but let’s tip our cap to Travis Ford of Oklahoma State and John Groce of Illinois. Ford, a terrific recruiter, appears to have a team capable of winning a Big 12 title. Meanwhile, Groce has added some much-needed energy to an Illinois program that desperately needed it.