This conversation seemed improbable, at best, two months ago when conference play started.
Did the player of the year race look wide open? Sure -- and at the time, it was. The candidates, though, have gone through an almost complete overhaul.
Faded away are Indiana’s Cody Zeller and Duke’s Mason Plumlee, the preseason player of the year and the leader of the first player of the year straw poll, respectively. Inserted in their place is a group which has risen from almost unknown to part of a five-player free-for-all in the final weeks of the regular season to nab at least one of the four major player of the year awards.
Oladipo made a strong entry into the race in the third poll of the season after three straight standout performances -- including one against Burke and Michigan on Feb. 2 -- from the end of January to early February. Olynyk also received votes for the first time in that poll.
Two weeks later, Olynyk made a move to fifth place; Porter started receiving votes for the first time in the Feb. 21 edition. The past two weeks, though, have seen a surge of attention for Porter, who received two third-place votes in the previous poll.
Two days later, he scored 33 points on national television against Syracuse and followed that up four days later with 22 points and a game-winner in double overtime against Connecticut. Porter now sits in second place in the latest poll, behind Burke.
How will this shake out?
Tough to say, in part due to the way this season has gone -- with insanity taking over more often than not. Add in the component of staggered deadlines for the various award votes, and it is anyone’s for the taking.
The Robertson Award, given out by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, requires its ballots be submitted by Sunday evening. The Associated Press wants its ballots on Selection Sunday. The Wooden Award wants ballots by March 25, after the first weekend of NCAA tournament games, and the Naismith Award has the latest deadline -- April 6, the Saturday of Final Four weekend.
What can happen between now and then? A lot. Just look at Porter.
Tracking the contenders
Burke: Preseason -- T-11th; first regular-season poll -- 2nd; second regular-season poll -- 2nd; third regular-season poll -- 1st; fourth regular-season poll -- 1st; fifth regular-season poll -- 1st.
Porter: Preseason -- NR; first regular-season poll -- NR; second regular-season poll -- NR; third regular-season poll -- NR; fourth regular-season poll -- T-10th; fifth regular-season poll -- 2nd.
Oladipo: Preseason -- NR; first regular-season poll -- NR; second regular-season poll -- NR; third regular-season poll -- 4th; fourth regular-season poll -- 2nd; fifth regular-season poll -- 3rd.
McDermott: Preseason -- 2nd, first regular-season poll -- 3rd, second regular-season poll -- 1st, third regular-season poll -- 2nd; fourth regular-season poll -- 3rd; fifth regular-season poll -- 4th.
Olynyk: Preseason -- NR; first regular-season poll -- NR; second regular-season poll -- NR; third regular-season poll -- T-10; fourth regular-season poll -- 5th; fifth regular-season poll -- 5th.
Last-chance saloon for a lot of the candidates in terms of the Robertson: Porter and Georgetown play Syracuse on national television Saturday. Oladipo and Burke face off against each other Sunday. McDermott and Olynyk have their conference tournaments. Something could shake loose out of these games.
How wide open is this race? The leader, Burke, was left off of 15 ballots. Burke, though, led every region but the Far West, where he had one vote, and Porter led. Also, other than Burke in the Midwest, no player led his “home” region. Porter was second in the Mid-Atlantic. Oladipo was second in the Midwest. McDermott was third in the Southwest, and Olynyk was second in the Far West.
Reminders: The poll is at the mercy of the voters. I send out emails seeking input from multiple voters in every region; it is up to them to respond. Ballots were due at 5 p.m. ET Wednesday, before Michigan’s game at Purdue and Georgetown’s game at Villanova. The structure for the poll is three points for a first-place vote, two for a second-place vote and one for a third-place vote.