Let's dispense with the introduction and hop right in, shall we? And yes, the standard disclaimer -- that it's still early and getting angry about specific POY projections and rankings this early is dumb, dumb, dumb -- applies. Onward!
Shabazz Napier, Connecticut: One of the more difficult balances to strike in this space is the difference between public opinion and my own. I'm going to give you my own thoughts, of course, but lamentably, the Wooden Award is not given to "Eamonn Brennan's Player of the Year." (Not for long, Mr. Bond. Not for long. Muahaha!) It's given to the -- well, you know -- and as such, I should be giving you some sense of the national consensus.
In the case of Napier, the two need not diverge. Napier has been on this list for weeks, but since the Florida buzzer-beater, he has emerged as the public pick. The good news is Napier's combination of late-game nerves and all-court wizardry can satisfy both the old-school "he's a winner" types and anyone who takes a second or third look at his production. He has been great.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: Once you take that third glance, you'll notice Napier has, on the whole, been better than Smart, which is why he deserved to unseat the Cowboys guard atop this list for the first time in its four-week run. The margin is minimal, but the hot outside shooting Smart displayed against Memphis in November has cooled considerably. He's better than he was last season, and he was already very good, but he isn't quite the destroyer of worlds he looked like in the first few weeks.
Russ Smith, Louisville: If you read last week's Smith description, there isn't a whole lot else to add this week, even if Saturday's 113-74 win over Louisiana-Lafayette is more impressive than it sounds. (Louisiana-Lafayette: not terrible!) Smith is still playing the most efficient, intelligent offense of his career with little downtick in usage, and he's still defending like a madman.
Doug McDermott, Creighton: This might be McDermott's best year yet. He is averaging 25.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, shooting 53 percent from 2, 45 percent from 3 and 87 percent from the free throw line and putting up a 120.1 offensive rating while taking 36.8 -- 36.8! -- of his team's shots. You get the idea.
Jabari Parker, Duke: Of the top freshmen, Parker has been the one least damaged by expectations. A prep injury helped; so did the reclassification of Andrew Wiggins. But Parker also has been very good in a vacuum. He's one of the best pure scorers in the country who is asked not only to lead the way on offense but on the defensive glass too. He has been up to the task.
Casey Prather, Florida: Prather has morphed from a three-year glue guy into a star, and even when he doesn't have things obviously going -- just 1-of-5 for 12 points in a win over Kansas on Tuesday -- his ability to fill that gluey midcourt role (getting to the foul line 12 times, making 10, and grabbing eight rebounds) makes him invaluable to a Florida team still patching its personnel together.
Aaron Gordon, Arizona: Nick Johnson occupied this role for the Wildcats last week; I'm giving it to Gordon again. Maybe we'll do a rotating basis. But the more you look at the Wildcats' defensive numbers, the more you realize the impact Gordon's interior athleticism -- his shot-blocking -- has had on a defense that is suddenly among the nation's best. Also: dunks. Lots and lots of dunks.
Keith Appling, Michigan State: Appling seems to be getting less attention than he was a few weeks ago; doubtless the home loss to North Carolina had something to do with that. But his numbers are still really good. They're not merely the best of his career but about as good as you could ask from a point guard -- efficient scoring from everywhere on the floor, high assist rate, low turnover rate, defensive rebounding, the works.
C.J. Fair, Syracuse: As we've discussed before, the efficiency numbers aren't as kind to Fair as the counting stats appear to be, mostly because he's turning the ball over on 21.8 percent of his possessions. As that number comes down -- and it will come down, right? -- the advanced stats will begin to more accurately resemble what the most important player on a very good Syracuse team should look like on paper.
Julius Randle, Kentucky: Whatever Kentucky's ills, it is hard to pin them on Randle, the nation's most dominant physical force on the low block even when he's using that spin move way too much.
Honorable mentions: Jahii Carson, Arizona State, Jordan Adams (UCLA), Marcus Paige (UNC), Tyler Ennis (Syracuse), Gary Harris (Michigan State), Joseph Young (Oregon), Sam Dekker (Wisconsin), Chaz Williams (UMass), Tim Frazier (Penn State), Roberto Nelson (Oregon State), Kendall Williams (New Mexico), Caris LeVert (Michigan), Cleanthony Early (Wichita State), LaQuinton Ross (Ohio State), T.J. Warren (NC State), Augustine Rubit (South Alabama), James Bell (Villanova), DeAndre Kane (Iowa State)