This week’s edition of the Watch comes just one day after the Wooden committee itself released its midseason list of candidates -- a Wooden Watch straight from the proverbial horse’s mouth. This could be intimidating. But fortunately, the midseason’s tally of 25 players is entirely non-binding -- players can still play their way onto the list before the committee’s next cut in early March -- and yours truly doesn’t have to reroute his list for consistency’s sake.
In other words, nothing has changed. Beginning with ...
I’m sure you’re always seeking ways to boost the Doug McDermott Awesomeness Tracker. Here’s a stat for ya.
Doug McDermott’s stats this season of 24.8 points, 7.1 rebounds and 44.0 percent marksmanship from three-point range put him in even more elite company than imagined. Since 1997-98, no college player has averaged at least 24.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and shot 43 percent or better from three-point range over the course of an entire season (min. 15 3FG’s). In NBA history, no player has ever averaged 24.5 points, 7.0 or more rebounds and shot 43 percent or better from three-point range (min. 15 3FG’s).
Every time you think you’ve got your arms around how good an offensive season McDermott is having -- the 122.3 offensive rating he somehow maintains while taking 33 percent of his team’s possessions and 37 percent (!!!) of his team’s shots -- things somehow manage to get crazier. Rob’s stat would have been more than enough for one week of ACDMcAT vapors, but he sent it to me two days after Creighton played the single-best offensive basketball game I’ve seen since, like, the 2005 Phoenix Suns. I have no idea where we go from here.
2. Nick Johnson, Arizona: It’s still early, mind you, but right now there looks like one and exactly one possible route for someone other than McDermott to win the national player of the year award. It is as follows: Arizona gets to Feb. 2 (after a road trip to Stanford and Cal) without a loss and talk of an unbeaten regular season picks up. Johnson goes on an individual tear. People become numb to McDermott’s brilliance, search for new angles and start writing bored, counterintuitive "but what about the best player on the best team?!" columns. That’s how someone might upend one of the best college basketball players of the past 20 years for the 2013-14 Wooden Award. Which sounds like a disservice to Johnson. It isn't. He really is one of the best players in the country, bar none. That it would take that confluence of factors for Johnson to unseat McDermott says far more about the latter than the former.
3. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: Saturday night, your humble Wooden Watch correspondent was navigating the snowy Connecticut terrain between Bristol and Storrs when he felt a strange disturbance in the Force -- as if millions of whistles cried out and were suddenly silenced. He raced to the nearest TV, adjusted the antenna and that’s when he knew: Marcus Smart had been seduced by the power of the dark side.
Smart’s flop(s) against Kansas Saturday weren’t his first, or his most egregious. (I think my personal favorite came against Kansas State, but the quarter-court swan dive against Colorado was a thing to behold.) They were, however, in front of the largest audience yet, which tells me that Smart doesn’t actually care about (A) being a flopper or (B) being seen as being a flopper. This is troubling. At first, you’re just making the clever play, doing anything you can to help your team to win. Before you know it, you’re trying to trick officials into free throws every time down the court. You’re holding your face after every shot. You’re rolling around on the ground like someone hit your pelvis with a hammer. You’re one of the best players in the world, and you’re doing stuff like this. And this.
Marcus, you’re the best all-around point guard in the country. Please, I beg of you: Don’t become Dwyane Wade. Turn away from the dark side. Before it’s too late.
4. Jabari Parker, Duke: Parker, and by extension the Blue Devils, got back on track against NC State Saturday; nothing cures offensive woes quite like a visit from a team allowing 1.10 points per trip in ACC play. But Parker was good again at Miami Wednesday and, occasional blips aside, he is taking on a huge share of offense (and defensive rebounding) for a Blue Devils team that struggles on the frontline and desperately needs to outscore its opponents to win.
5. C.J. Fair, Syracuse: Another week, another Syracuse swap. This position was held by Tyler Ennis in the past two weeks, and for good reason -- Ennis is a brilliant and efficient point guard without whom the Orange offense would be stuck. Jim Boeheim disagrees. “C.J. is by far our best player," Boeheim told SI.com’s Kelli Anderson this week. "He has been our best player for two years. Some people think Jerami Grant is our best player because he gets highlight dunks. Some people think Tyler Ennis is because he makes great plays. But the reason we're in a position for those guys to do that is because C.J. Fair is there for us. Sometimes we forget -- sometimes even I forget -- C.J. Fair is why we won the game. He's the reason the win, and sometimes even I don't see that." Personal rule: Don’t argue with Boeheim.
6. Julius Randle, Kentucky: There’s really nothing new to offer to buttress Randle’s case; his candidacy is roughly as strong as it was in November, when he nearly willed Kentucky to a comeback win over Michigan State in the United Center on the sheer strength of his talent alone. And, yes, the fact that Kentucky beat Louisville without Randle’s second-half services provided the impression that he was surplus to their needs. That game is actually a microcosm of UK’s season: Had Randle not been so good in the first half (17 points, 7-of-7 shooting), the Wildcats would have been in a deep hole in the second. Meaning: When John Calipari’s team gets good nights out of Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, James Young and Willie Cauley-Stein, it looks frightening precisely because it is an addition to the dominant baseline Randle sets on the low block. Without him, this team would be a mess.
7. Lamar Patterson, Pittsburgh: Patterson’s combination of elite perimeter scoring and passing has made him the best offensive asset in the country not named McDermott this season. A quick sprint through the numbers: 122.8 offensive rating, 27.4 percent usage, 31.5 percent assist rate, and shooting 55.3 percent from 2, 44.3 from 3, and 78.8 from the line. Oh, and as Mark Titus wrote at Grantland on Wednesday, Patterson might have the single best-looking jumper in recent memory: "Patterson is a fifth-year senior who has been a solid 3-point shooter his entire career, so I’m not sure why I haven’t noticed his jumper’s flawlessness until this season. But now that I have, it’s like the clouds parted and angels started singing Enya songs. ... Ray Allen is the best shooter in the history of basketball and he’s often praised for having perfect shooting form. Well, Lamar Patterson makes Ray Allen look like Shawn Marion or Bill Cartwright." Go ahead, check out YouTube. I’ll wait. Mark’s not wrong.
Now that it’s late January and we’ve officially discarded any and all personal New Year’s resolutions, let’s re-up with one worth keeping: No more overlooking Lamar Patterson. (This goes for you, too, Wooden committee.) Pitt’s home game against Duke Monday night should assist in this regard.
8. Nik Stauskas, Michigan: How good has Nik Stauskas been for the past two months? So good that his dad is talking about the NBA as a "matter of months." Stauskas apologized for his father's comments after Wednesday night's game, in which he put up what has become a trademark Staukas performance: 37 minutes, 26 points, 8-of-14 shooting, 5 assists and 5 rebounds. The Michigan guard has morphed from a mostly standstill spot shooter to a ballhandling, step-backing, all-court offensive threat and actually become more efficient in doing so. No wonder his pop is excited.
9. Joel Embiid, Kansas: Wooden committee voters submitted their midseason ballots Jan. 10, which makes sense. These things take some logistical wrangling, and early deadlines are always a good idea. The problem? Embiid’s development is moving roughly as quickly as the particles whipping around the Large Hadron Collider; the rules of space and time only barely apply. What the voters missed since Jan. 10 was Embiid evolving into the most imposing shot-blocker in the country (he blocked one of every four available shots taken by Oklahoma State Saturday) while adding offensive moves some 10-year NBA veterans still can’t seem to crack and suddenly making Kansas look like the likeliest non-Syracuse, non-Arizona national title contender in the country.
10. Xavier Thames, San Diego State: San Diego State's best player is its defense. Its best offensive player -- heck, its only offensive player -- is Thames, who has utterly refused to regress to the mean now three months into his brilliant senior season. Thames is shooting 45.3 percent from 3 and he rarely turns the ball over, facts that have kept his 40 percent 2-point shooting from having much of an effect on his stellar overall offensive rating (120.0). He defends well, too, of course, but without him the Aztecs would be Florida State.
Honorable mentions: Russ Smith (Louisville), Keith Appling (Michigan State), Casey Prather (Florida), Shabazz Napier (Connecticut), Cameron Bairstow (New Mexico), Adreian Payne (Michigan State), Cleanthony Early (Wichita State), Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga), DeAndre Kane (Iowa State)