Saturday’s tilt between No. 1 Michigan and third-ranked Indiana in Bloomington, Ind., could be one of the most important games of the season, not just for college basketball but also the Wooden Award.
Three players who have a legitimate shot to win the trophy will be on the court at Assembly Hall. Michigan point guard Trey Burke is the current leader in some people’s eyes. But Indiana guard Victor Oladipo has been as good as any other player in the country in recent weeks. Another Hoosiers player, forward Cody Zeller, was the preseason favorite to win the Wooden Award and is still in the mix. Perhaps one of these players will create some separation Saturday night.
In the meantime, here’s my latest ballot.
Trey Burke, Michigan: The sophomore is averaging 17.9 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. His consistency has been remarkable. Burke has scored 15 or more points in 15 of his past 16 contests and has had two or fewer turnovers in all but three games.
Doug McDermott, Creighton: I dropped McDermott to No. 2 after Creighton lost a few games, but it will be hard to keep him here for long. The junior is averaging 27.3 points and 7.7 rebounds in his past three games.
Jeff Withey, Kansas: With their offense struggling, the Jayhawks have had to rely on defense to win games in the Big 12. Withey has blocked four shots in each of the past two games and altered plenty of others. He’s averaging 4.3 swats this season.
Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga: Olynyk averages 18.2 points and seven rebounds for one of the best teams in school history. If the 7-footer keeps this up, it will be a shame if he doesn’t earn first-team All-American honors.
Victor Oladipo, Indiana: Not many players in the country have been as good as Oladipo the past few weeks. He’s averaging 19 points, 6.3 rebounds and four steals in his past three games.
On the cusp:
Anthony Bennett, UNLV: The freshman forward is averaging 8.8 points this season, but his numbers have dipped in recent weeks. Bennett is averaging just 12 points and 5.5 rebounds in his past four games and is in danger of falling off this list.
Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse: The point guard scored 17 points but was just 4-of-17 from the field in last weekend’s loss to Villanova. He also had five turnovers. A few more performances like that and he’ll be off this list, as well.
Erick Green, Virginia Tech: Green would probably garner more national player of the year talk if he were on a different team. The guard is averaging a national-best 25.5 points per game. He’s been even better (27.4 points) against ACC opponents.
Ben McLemore, Kansas: The potential No. 1 pick in this summer’s NBA draft leads the nation’s second-ranked team in scoring with 16.1 points per game. He’s shooting 56 percent from the field in Big 12 play and 54 percent from 3-point range.
Nerlens Noel, Kentucky: The best shot-blocker in college basketball is helping the Wildcats get back on track. Noel had 12 blocks against Ole Miss on Tuesday and is averaging 7.5 swats -- along with 10 points and 9.1 rebounds -- in his past seven games.
Mason Plumlee, Duke: The senior forward helped the Blue Devils stave off Wake Forest’s upset bid Wednesday with a season-high 32 points and 11 rebounds. Plumlee is averaging 22 points and nine boards in his past three games.
Otto Porter, Georgetown: The Hoyas have won three straight games thanks in large part to Porter, who is averaging 18.4 points during that span. Georgetown will host a red-hot St. John’s team on Saturday.
Russ Smith, Louisville: The junior guard helped the Cardinals stop a three-game losing streak with a 20-point effort in Monday’s home win over Pittsburgh. Smith is averaging a team-high 18.4 points this season.
Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State: The first-team All-American candidate had 25 points on 10-of-17 shooting in Tuesday’s win against Wisconsin. He’s averaging 20.3 points this season.
Cody Zeller, Indiana: The sophomore bounced back from a pair of single-digit scoring efforts with a 19-point, 11-rebound performance in Wednesday’s victory at Purdue. He’ll need to come up huge Saturday for the Hoosiers to have a chance against Michigan.