The race for the 2011 Wooden Award was basically a two-man show.
Some voters liked Brigham Young’s Jimmer Fredette. Others preferred Kemba Walker of Connecticut. But the choice was always between one or other other: Kemba or Jimmer, like Coke or Dr Pepper or McDonald’s or Burger King.
This season, things are different.
While there are some definite frontrunners for the 2012 Wooden Award, the field is more open. Each Wednesday throughout the rest of the season, I’ll reveal how my top-five vote would look if ballots were due immediately. And next Tuesday, we'll reveal on ESPN.com the actual midseason watch list for the Wooden Award.
In my opinion, here are the five most deserving players midway through the season (and a few others worth considering):
Thomas Robinson, Kansas - The best player in the country is usually the most dominant one, and no one has been as unstoppable as the Jayhawks’ 6-foot-9 power forward. Robinson averages 17.5 points and 12.1 rebounds while shooting 53 percent from the field. Robinson has recorded a double-double in all but five of Kansas’ games. His soft shooting touch and ability to handle the ball make him almost as lethal from the perimeter as he is in the paint.
Jared Sullinger, Ohio State - The preseason favorite to win this award is having a banner sophomore year. Sullinger averages 17.4 points and 9.3 boards for a team that was ranked No. 1 earlier this season. Back spasms forced Sullinger to miss a highly-anticipated showdown with Robinson on Dec. 10, but the 6-9, 280-pound forward has already done enough to prove he’s one of the best players in the land.
Kevin Jones, West Virginia - Jones is the most underrated player in college basketball. He receives so little attention that it wouldn’t even shock me if he didn’t earn first-team All-American honors. That’d be a shame. Jones’ scoring has improved dramatically (from 13.1 points to 19.9 points) between his junior and senior year. His rebounding numbers (7.5 to 11.5) have shot up as well. There may not be a player in the country who as is strong on the offensive glass as Jones, who had 28 points and 17 boards against Baylor’s vaunted frontcourt.
Anthony Davis, Kentucky - The likely No. 1 pick in this summer’s NBA draft has been the main reason for the Wildcats’ 15-1 start. Davis is averaging 12.7 points, 10.6 rebounds and 4.6 blocks. He’s also altered countless shots in the paint, which makes him one of the nation’s most imposing defenders. The 6-10, 220-pounder will continue to get better as he adds muscle and strength.
Doug McDermott, Creighton - The son of head coach Greg McDermott is averaging 24.5 points and 8.3 rebounds for a Bluejays squad that 14-2 and ranked No. 21 in the country. McDermott, a sophomore, is shooting 62.2 percent from the field and 56.1 percent from 3-point range. That almost doesn’t seem fair. He had a 44 points against Bradley last weekend.
On the cusp (listed alphabetically)
Harrison Barnes, North Carolina - Averages 16.9 points (in just 25.9 minutes) for the nation’s highest-scoring team.
Marcus Denmon, Missouri - The 14-1 Tigers wouldn’t be anywhere without Denmon, who averages 18.7 points while shooting 44.7 percent from 3-point range.
Draymond Green, Michigan State - Leader of Michigan State’s physical frontcourt with 15.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.
John Henson, North Carolina - An intimidating force in the paint with 14.7 points and 3 blocks per game.
Perry Jones III, Baylor - The Bears’ balance has kept the nation’s most-talented player from posting better numbers (13.4 points, 7.3 boards).
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky - The Wildcats’ “glue-guy” can do a little bit of everything on the court.
Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut - Future NBA lottery pick is scoring 18.6 points per game for defending NCAA champions.
Arnett Moultrie, Mississippi State - With16.3 points and 11.3 rebounds, the UTEP transfer has been the main reason for the Bulldogs’ resurgence.
Herb Pope, Seton Hall - The Pirates (15-2) have been one of the season’s biggest surprises thanks to Pope, who averages 17.5 points and 10.8 rebounds.
Tyler Zeller, North Carolina - Agile 7-footer averages 14.4 points and 8.9 boards.