For the second week in a row, let's forget about a sweeping thematic introduction and get to the Wooden Watching. (Oh, and in case I don't see you: Happy Holidays, kids.) Begin!
Aaron Gordon, Arizona: Yep. You read right.
Why did I pop Aaron Gordon from (near) the bottom of the Wooden Watch individual list to the absolute top? Because if the season ended today, if Arizona's impressive start were stretched out over five months, and Gordon had played a key role in sealing a road win at Michigan, I feel fairly confident he would be atop most people's player of the year list. At the very least, he would be close, and since it's only December and this list will undergo massive changes before the actual end of the season, why not? It's not like he hasn't been great.
In fact, he probably has been even better than you think. Arizona's most impressive improvement this season has been on the defensive end; specifically, in the shots it forces opponents to take. Simply put, it is impossible to get a good interior look against the Wildcats. They back-line opponents into perimeter jumpers, and even if you are lucky to get into the lane, you usually miss, or have your shot blocked. Defense is half the game, and Gordon is the main factor. When you combine that raw defensive ability with his rebounding on both ends of the floor, and with his scoring (as his third or maybe even fourth most important contribution) -- I think you can make a real case here. Actually, I think I just did.
Russ Smith, Louisville: There's no denying it: The Cardinals' schedule these past few weeks has been downright bad. (Frankly, their entire nonconference was weak.) It's been easy, then, to lose sight of Smith's performance. As Master Secretary of the Watchness, it is my solemn duty to remind you that Smith is probably (note: probably) the best two-way player in the country again this season -- and much more efficient on offense, with a vastly higher assist rate, to boot. He has done very little in the past few weeks to upend that impression.
Shabazz Napier, Connecticut: Downgrade Napier a bit for his misses at the end of Wednesday's 53-50 home loss to Stanford if you like, but I wouldn't go too far: Napier already has made his fair share of fittingly clutch baskets down the stretch, and his numbers (120.1 offensive rating, 25.5 percent usage, 35.6 assist rate, 51.4 percent from 3) are still pretty bonkers.
Casey Prather, Florida: Forget the most surprising player of the season. Prather is the most surprising player in a decade. For three years, Prather averaged around three points per game; in nine games for UF thus far, he's at 18.7 (with 5.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists). He is shooting 62.1 percent from inside the arc (and he has attempted only three shots beyond it), which means he should be easy to guard. But he has become so explosive, and so polished, that he manages to get to the rim anyway. He sealed Tuesday night's win over Memphis; in a year of personnel turmoil, he is Florida's undisputed star.
Doug McDermott, Creighton: Time for another edition of Insane McDermott Stat Watch: 31.9 percent usage rate, 121.6 offensive rating, 53.4 percent from 2, 44.1 percent from 3, 89 percent from the free throw line, 25.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. See you next week!
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: Smart has a big chance Saturday to reclaim some of the early buzz he had at the top of this list, but if his 3-point shooting continues to drift downward toward last season's levels, his shot at being a transcendent sophomore goes with it. And guess what? He's still really, really good, and probably won't leave this top 10 (if not top five!) all season.
Jabari Parker, Duke: Duke's defense is still having its fair share of issues, but Parker keeps rolling, shooting 57.4 percent from 2 and 46.9 percent from 3 while commanding 31.4 percent of the Blue Devils' offensive possessions. Oh, and he's still Duke's best (only?), most consistent defensive rebounder. Heads up for a fun one against UCLA on Thursday night.
Keith Appling, Michigan State: Like Smith, Appling plays on a team that has lacked quality opponents since a loss to North Carolina, and that has kept the attention fleeting, but I'm keeping him on this list. He's still playing by far the best and most efficient basketball of his career.
C.J. Fair, Syracuse: It's looking more and more likely Fair's turnover rate isn't going to drastically decline as discussed/predicted in past editions of the Watch. Oh well: Everyone has to have one flaw, right? Fair is doing almost everything else well in a much more difficult and demanding position on the floor than he ever has been asked to play, and his team is benefiting as a result.
Joseph Young, Oregon: I swung between three Pac-12 players for this last spot: Jahii Carson, Jordan Adams and Young. All three have nearly equal cases, but I gave Young the nod this time, and deservingly so: He has been the best player on an undefeated Oregon team and -- arguably! -- the best all-around perimeter scorer in the country. (Your move, Mr. Adams.)
Honorable mentions: Andrew Wiggins (Kansas), Jahii Carson (Arizona State), Jordan Adams (UCLA), Cameron Bairstow (New Mexico), Ron Baker (Wichita State), Julius Randle (Kentucky), Brice Johnson (North Carolina) Marcus Paige (UNC), Tyler Ennis (Syracuse), Gary Harris (Michigan State), Sam Dekker (Wisconsin), Chaz Williams (UMass), 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)