Award Tour: Ben McLemore Rises As Conference Play Begins and a Russ Smith Sighting…

Posted by DCassilo on January 11th, 2013


David Cassilo is an RTC columnist who also writes about college basketball for SLAM magazine. You can follow him at @dcassilo.

While the non-conference schedule gives us some fun match-ups, conference play is the time of year where we really see what players and teams are made of. Look no further than Ben McLemore. The Kansas freshman was on our radar before Wednesday, but his performance against Iowa State elevated him to another level nationally. So don’t be surprised when you see so many new names on this week’s rankings. It’s just that time of year.


10. Russ Smith – Louisville (Last Week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 19.4 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.0 APG, 2.6 SPG

Always a dangerous scorer, Smith makes his debut this week due to the versatility he’s been showing lately. Against Seton Hall on Wednesday, the junior grabbed seven boards and had six dimes. His ability to be useful even when he isn’t shooting well is what will make him a contender. This week: January 12 vs. South Florida, January 14 at UConn

9. Ben McLemore – Kansas (Last week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 16.9 PPG, 5.3 RPG

The Buffaloes were no match for Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse (Photo credit: Getty Images).

Ben McLemore is in the middle of it all for Kansas. (Photo credit: Getty Images).

McLemore had perhaps the best performance in college basketball this season with his 33 points and 6-of-6 three-point shooting against Iowa State on Wednesday. That included a banked trey as time expired to save Kansas’ home court win streak. The freshman is now on everyone’s radar. This week: January 12 at Texas Tech, January 14 vs. Baylor

8. Jack Cooley – Notre Dame (Last Week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 15.2 PPG, 11.2 RPG

Here’s a player getting absolutely no love for Player of the Year, and I’m not quite sure why. Cooley is averaging a double-double and has carried Notre Dame to a 14-1 start. He may not be a pretty player to watch, but he’s still really good. This week: January 12 vs. UConn, January 15 at St. John’s

7. Cody Zeller – Indiana (Last week – 6)
2012-13 stats: 16.5 PPG, 7.9 RPG

Zeller has been one of only four players to stay in the top-10 all season. While he was expected to be a little higher right now, he has been consistently solid for Indiana, and that is why he is still here.  This week: January 12 vs. Minnesota, January 15 vs. Wisconsin

6. Deshaun Thomas – Ohio State (Last week – 5)
2012-13 stats: 20.3 PPG, 6.8 RPG

Here’s another player that isn’t get as much love as he should. Yes, Ohio State probably isn’t as good as we expected, but Thomas has been a scoring machine since the season began, and he can rebound too. This week: January 13 vs. Michigan

5. Jeff Withey – Kansas (Last week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 13.5 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 5.1 BPG

Not a great move on my part to completely remove Withey from the top-10. After a re-examination of his season, it’s clear that he’s the most dominant defensive big man in the country and has developed into a trustworthy low-post scorer. For now, I’ll say he’s the best player on his team, but that is also open for debate. This week: January 12 at Texas Tech, January 14 vs. Baylor

4. Anthony Bennett – UNLV (Last week – 4)
2012-13 stats: 19.4 PPG, 8.9 RPG

In his Mountain West debut, Bennett was held in check all night due to foul trouble. It was the first time all season he’s picked up four fouls. With more than 26 minutes on the floor, it would be safe to assume UNLV would have left New Mexico with a victory. This week: January 12 vs. Air Force, January 16 at San Diego State

3. Trey Burke – Michigan (Last week – 3)
2012-13 stats: 18.2 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 7.3 APG

Freshman Cousy Award Nominee Trey Burke Is Having A Standout Year That Many Didn't See Coming. (Angela J. Cesere/

Trey Burke is the best point guard in the country. (Angela J. Cesere/

Here’s how you know Burke is hands down the best point guard in the country. In his first two Big Ten games, he had 15 assists and only two turnovers. It really doesn’t get much better than that, and I can’t wait to see him go up against Aaron Craft on Sunday. This week: January 13 at Ohio State, January 17 at Minnesota

2. Doug McDermott – Creighton (Last Week – 2)
2012-13 stats: 22.6 PPG, 7.3 RPG

McDermott’s biggest problem will likely be that the Missouri Valley Conference might not be as deep as expected. Scoring 16 points against Drake isn’t exactly going to catapult him to the top spot. He’ll need to really start scoring in bunches for that to happen. This week: January 11 at Missouri State, January 15 vs. Northern Iowa

1. Mason Plumlee – Duke (Last Week – 1)
2012-13 stats: 17.7 PPG, 11.4 RPG

While Plumlee has kept his rebounding up, his scoring has plummeted since reaching ACC play. Of course, averaging 10.5 PPG against Wake Forest and Clemson could possibly be more a result of Duke not needing him to score to win. We’ll get a better indication this week of where he’s at right now. This week: January 12 at North Carolina State, January 17 vs. Georgia Tech


5. Oregon – 1939. The first team to ever win the NCAA tournament was Oregon. There were eight teams in the field, and the final was played in Evanston, Illinois. For an event with such great history as the NCAA Tournament, it seems that its beginnings are rarely spoken of.

4. CCNY – 1950. In the last Tournament ever to feature eight teams, the City College of New York cut down the nets. A year later, a point-shaving scandal decimated the program, and it is no longer a member of Division I. In 1950, it also won the NIT and is the only school to ever win both in the same year.

3. La Salle – 1954. The Explorers’ opponents on the way to their title gives you an idea of how different basketball has become over the last 60 years. La Salle beat Fordham, North Carolina State, Navy, Penn State and Bradley. Also, their star, Tom Gola, averaged 21.7 PPG and 23 RPG.

2. Utah – 1944. There’s a really interesting story surrounding this title. Utah wasn’t even supposed to be in the NCAA Tournament, but after two players on Arkansas were injured in an automobile accident, the Utes replaced the Razorbacks and went on to win it all.

1. Wyoming – 1943. Due to Wyoming’s hot start this season, I was curious to see when the last time it was in the NCAA Tournament. Little did I know, the Cowboys had actually won the whole thing before. Really cool side story here too. St. John’s won the NIT that year and claimed it was better than Wyoming. So shortly after the season, the two schools agreed to play each other, with all proceeds going to the Red Cross. Wyoming won that game too. With a precedent like this, it makes you wonder why Ohio State and Alabama aren’t playing a football game this weekend.


Since we’re talking old NCAA Tournament champions, here’s some footage from that 1939 title that Oregon won. It’s been 75 years since the NCAA Tournament began, but it’s still just as special.


10. Nik Stauskus – Michigan (Last Week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 13.5 PPG, 3.2 RPG

While he’s making his first appearance of the season here, Stauskus has given the Wolvernies a consistent outside shooter all season. He’s made 52.3 percent of his shots from deep and has made at least one each game. This week: January 13 at Ohio State, January 17 at Minnesota

9. Jordan Adams – UCLA (Last Week – 9)
2012-13 stats: 16.3 PPG, 4.2 RPG

While Adams hasn’t been much of a thief this season, he had seven steals against Stanford last Saturday. Offensively, he had back-to-back games with 12 points. This week: January 12 at Colorado, January 17 vs. Oregon State

8. Jahii Carson – Arizona State (Last Week – 8)
2012-13 stats: 16.9 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 5.3 APG

Carson had his best game of the Pac-12 season on Thursday night by pouring in 20 points against Oregon State. The Sun Devils are putting their faith in he freshman (he had a season-high 19 shots against the Beavers), and it’s paying off, as they have won six straight games. This week: January 13 at Oregon

7. Nerlens Noel – Kentucky (Last Week – 7)
2012-13 stats: 10.5 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 3.5 BPG, 2.6 SPG

For the first time in nearly three weeks, Noel cracked the 10-point mark by scoring 13 against Vanderbilt. After an eight-day layoff, he looked a little more confident offensively, which could be a sign of things to come. This week: January 12 vs. Texas A&M, January 15 vs. Tennessee

6. Archie Goodwin – Kentucky (Last Week – 5)
2012-13 stats: 15.6 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 3.8 APG

For the first time in what seems like forever, John Calipari lacks a freshman who can really take over a game. Goodwin might be his best hope, but he still has trouble shooting the ball some nights. This week: January 12 vs. Texas A&M, January 15 vs. Tennessee

5. Shabazz Muhammad – UCLA (Last Week – 4)
2012-13 stats: 18.5 PPG, 5 RPG

Muhammad had his first real clunker in awhile by only scoring six points against Utah on Thursday night. He still doesn’t do much else but score, so when his shot is off, he’s not much use to the Bruins. This week: January 12 at Colorado, January 17 vs. Oregon State

4. Isaiah Austin – Baylor (Last Week – 6)
2012-13 stats: 14.9 PPG, 8.5 RPG

There might not be a player in the country who is more under-the-radar than Austin. He’s everything that Baylor hoped Perry Jones III would be. Teamed up with Pierre Jackson, this is a team that can do damage in March. This week: January 12 vs. TCU, January 14 at Kansas

3. Marcus Smart – Oklahoma State (Last Week – 2)
2012-13 stats: 14.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 4.8 APG, 2.8 SPG

Marcus Smart is the Real Deal: BUY.

Marcus Smart is the Real Deal.

Freshman of the Year in the Big 12 is one heck of a race. While McLemore is out doing his thing, Smart has started his conference season by shooting 12-of-16 from the field. The only thing Smart doesn’t have is a memorable moment like McLemore’s. This week: January 12 at Oklahoma

2. Ben McLemore – Kansas (Last Week – 3)
2012-13 stats: 16.9 PPG, 5.3 RPG

If you missed it above, McLemore has cracked the top-10 players list, as well. I’ve heard people call him the best Jayhawk guard since Paul Pierce, and that might just be right. This week: January 12 at Texas Tech, January 14 vs. Baylor

1. Anthony Bennett – UNLV (Last Week – 1)
2012-13 stats: 19.4 PPG, 8.9 RPG

A little prediction… due to the fact no one stays up late enough to watch UNLV or searches hard enough to find CBS College Sports Network, people will start saying McLemore is better than Bennett. It’s simply not true. Bennett is without question the best freshman right now. This week: January 12 vs. Air Force, January 16 at San Diego State


5. John Beilein – Michigan (Last week – NR)
Record: 16-0

Not only is Michigan undefeated, but it is also doing it in a dominant fashion. Since December 4, the Wolverines have won every one of their games by at least 13 points. That’s great and all, but their toughest test will come over the next two games.This week: January 13 at Ohio State, January 17 at Minnesota

4. Bill Self – Kansas (Last week – NR)
Record: 13-1

Kansas was pushed to the limit this past week. But even when the Jayhawks trailed against Iowa State late on Wednesday, you just knew Self would find a way to get his team a victory, and that’s exactly what he did. This week: January 12 at Texas Tech, January 14 vs. Baylor

3. Tubby Smith – Minnesota (Last week – 3)
Record: 15-1

After what Minnesota did to Illinois on Wednesday night, it’s pretty easy to argue that this looks like a Final Four-caliber team. From the balanced offense to the physical defense, the Golden Gophers can play with anyone in the country. And they’ll be tested, as the week ahead is perhaps the most difficult for any team this season. This week: January 12 at Indiana, January 17 vs. Michigan

2. Brad Stevens – Butler (Last week – 2)
Record: 13-2

Butler looked like an Atlantic 10 veteran as it came from behind to beat St. Joseph’s on the road on Wednesday night. In a very strong year for the conference, Stevens’ squad will be tested nearly every night. This week: January 12 at Dayton, January 16 vs. Richmond

1. Mike Krzyzewski – Duke (Last week – 1)
Record: 15-0

If the Blue Devils can win at North Carolina State on Saturday, you really have to start discussing a possible perfect season. It’s a down year for the ACC, and the Wolfpack are the only other ranked team. This week: January 12 at North Carolina State, January 17 vs. Georgia Tech

DCassilo (19 Posts)

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One response to “Award Tour: Ben McLemore Rises As Conference Play Begins and a Russ Smith Sighting…”

  1. Matt says:

    Gotta put Gregg Marshall in the top 5 Coach of the Year candidates. 15-1 (4-0 in the Valley) with an RPI of 18. Lost Four starters from last year, and has been missing three starters for a good portion of this season due to injury, including leading scorer Carl Hall. Also the only team to win at VCU this year.

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