For the past three weeks I’ve been supplying you with lists of players who could work their way into the mix for the Wooden Award.
Now it’s time to get serious.
One month into the 2012-13 season, the fine editors at ESPN.com have demanded I turn in my first official ballot for college basketball’s most prestigious piece of hardware. No more splattering a bunch of names in no particular order onto a computer screen. This is an actual ranking of the top five players in college basketball, plus 10 others to keep an eye on as things progress.
I’ll be honest. Choosing the top two players on this list -- Duke’s Mason Plumlee and Creighton’s Doug McDermott -- was easy. But things got tricky after that. Feel free to give me your opinions and comments, and make sure you check back for an updated ballot each Thursday throughout the season. Things will almost certainly change.
Mason Plumlee, Duke -- The 6-foot-10 senior forward has averaged 19.6 points and 11 rebounds against some of the nation’s toughest opponents. The undefeated Blue Devils own victories over Ohio State, Louisville, Minnesota, VCU and Kentucky thanks to Plumlee, who is shooting 76.1 percent from the foul line. He made 52.8 percent of his free throw attempts last season.
Doug McDermott, Creighton -- One season after earning first-team All-America honors, McDermott is having another monster season for the 16th-ranked Bluejays. He’s averaging 21.3 points on the season and 26 points in his past four games. Not many players in America are as fundamentally sound as McDermott, who is shooting 53.8 percent from the field and 47 percent from 3-point range.
Cody Zeller, Indiana -- The national preseason player of the year has been solid for the No. 1 Hoosiers with averages of 15 points and 7.6 rebounds. Indiana is so balanced that Zeller isn’t always going to post eye-popping scoring figures. He has been held to single digits twice in his past five games. He’ll have a chance to climb this list once the Hoosiers begin play against top competition in the rugged Big Ten.
Trey Burke, Michigan -- The sophomore point guard has emerged as the best in the country at a loaded position. Burke is averaging 17 points and 7.1 assists for the No. 3 Wolverines, who own quality wins against North Carolina State, Pittsburgh and Kansas State. He had 18 points, 11 assists and zero turnovers against NC State.
Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State -- One of the nation’s elite scorers has become the Buckeyes’ premier player following the loss of Jared Sullinger to the NBA draft. Thomas hasn’t disappointed. He’s averaging 21 points and shooting 49.5 percent from the field for the Bucks, whose only loss is to No. 2 Duke.
On the cusp:
Isaiah Canaan, Murray State -- The preseason All-American has done nothing to squelch the hype that surrounded him entering the 2012-13 campaign. A senior guard, Canaan is averaging 21.4 points while shooting 41.4 percent from 3-point range.
Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse -- NBA scouts will surely be channeling a lot of their attention toward Carter-Williams, a 6-6 point guard who averages a national-best 9.5 assists. Not bad for a sophomore in his first season as a starter.
Erick Green, Virginia Tech -- The nation’s second-leading scorer at 24.9 points per game, Green has netted at least 21 points in each of the Hokies’ wins during their stunning 7-0 start. He has shot better than 50 percent in all but one contest.
Elias Harris, Gonzaga -- The senior forward scored 23 points to help the Zags avoid an upset against Washington State on Wednesday night in Pullman. He leads Gonzaga's first-ever D-I 9-0 team with 16.8 ppg and 8.1 rpg.
Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati -- With wins over Iowa State, Oregon and Alabama, it’s time to give Mick Cronin’s team its props. The Bearcats are legit, and Kilpatrick is the main reason. The guard is averaging 19.9 points and shooting 49.5 percent from the field.
Alex Len, Maryland -- The 7-1 giant from Ukraine could be a top-five pick in next summer’s NBA draft. Len is averaging team-highs in points (14.7), rebounds (9.0) and blocks (2.6).
C.J. McCollum, Lehigh -- The senior guard ranks third in the nation in scoring with 24.4 points per game. McCollum has had three games of 30 or more points and is shooting 53.2 percent from 3-point range.
Mike Muscala, Bucknell -- The 6-11 center ranks fifth in the country in rebounds with 11.4 boards per contest. He’s also averaging 18.8 points for the Bison, who are 8-1 with quality wins over Purdue, George Mason and Kent State.
Otto Porter, Georgetown -- Porter is one of the nation’s most versatile players at 6-8. He averages 12 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3 assists for a team that's lone loss is against No. 1 Indiana in overtime.
Jeff Withey, Kansas -- College basketball’s leading shot-blocker is averaging 5.7 swats per contest along with 14.6 points and 8.1 rebounds. Not many teams in college basketball, if any, have a defensive presence as imposing as Withey.