1. Doug McDermott, Creighton: We are in the midst of the longest break of the Creighton Bluejays’ season: Their last fixture was all the way back on Jan. 28, when McDermott splashed that 39 and a game winner on the Red Storm's unsuspecting heads. You'd think, then, that this would be a light week for the Arbitrarily Capitalized Doug McDermott Awesomeness Tracker (ACMcDAT) -- the statistical equivalent of a walk-through. You’d think wrong.
McDermott is still averaging 25.0 points and 7.1 rebounds per game while shooting 50 percent from the field, 43.9 percent from 3, and 89.3 percent from the free throw line. His offensive rating (121.5), true shooting (62.5), usage (33 percent) and shot rate (37 percent) is all still what it was last week. He’s still closing in on Larry Bird and Oscar Robertson on the all-time scoring list.
But, thanks to a hot ESPN Stats & Info collabo, the ACMcDAT is pleased to add these fresh knowledge patties to your brain grill:
McDermott needs eight field goals to reach 1,000 in his career. The last time any player reached 1,000 career field goals in a season was 1992-93, when Calbert Cheaney and Alphonso Ford both surpassed that mark.
McDermott led the nation in field goals in each of the past two seasons. He is on pace to do so again in 2013-14. If he does, he will be the first player since Wayman Tisdale in 1983-85 to accomplish that feat.
Fittingly, Tisdale and his contemporary, some guy named Patrick Ewing, were the last players to earn three straight first-team All-American selections. McDermott will do the same this season.
A week off? The ACMcDAT doesn’t take weeks off, and neither do the crazy things you can find to say about Doug McDermott’s career.
2. Jabari Parker, Duke: Remember when Parker was in a slump? It isn’t much of a slump anymore. Since Parker got back on track against NC State on Jan. 18 he’s posted offensive ratings of 141, 104, 104, 105, 93, and 153 while averaging 18.5 points per game. That 93 came against Syracuse, by the way, when he finished with 15 points on 15 shots in just 26 foul-pocked minutes. The Syracuse interior was too much for Duke on a systemic level. But Parker’s scoring was noticeable when he was on the floor, and he followed that up with Tuesday’s near-perfect 21-point, 8-of-10, 8-rebound, 2-block, 2-steal night in a 20-point win over Wake Forest. When he’s scoring like that, he’s capital-G great. When he’s not, he’s still Duke’s second-best rebounder. In any case, the Blue Devils aren’t close to the nation’s most efficient offense without him.
3. Nick Johnson, Arizona: Saturday was a tough night for Arizona generally, and for Nick Johnson specifically. The Wildcats scored 58 points in 66 possessions -- and shot 2-of-11 from 3 and 18-of-51 from 2 (!) -- in their first loss of the season. Brandon Ashley suffered a season-ending injury. And Johnson finished with the worst line of his career: 4 points, 1-of-14 from the field, 5 turnovers, 27 ORtg. Just … blech. Worse yet, his last miss of the game was a good look Johnson earned from 14 feet or so, one that just didn’t fall -- and opened the window for California’s Justin Cobbs to make the game winner on the other end.
And so what? Rough nights happen. Shots don’t go in. You lose conference games on the road. Do not reappraise Johnson’s player of the year candidacy based on the biggest outlier that ever out … lied? Laid? Lay?
4. C.J. Fair, Syracuse: So C.J. Fair kind of had a rough night of his own Monday night. Did you notice? Trevor Cooney scored 33 and Syracuse won, so it was all good. But Fair did play probably his worst game of the season. File this under the Nick Johnson "So what?" file: On Saturday night Fair unleashed one of the most beautiful, brilliant individual scoring performances I’ve seen a long time. His Saturday against Duke was the fully realized C.J. Fair, the Fair that Jim Boeheim has seen in his mind’s eye for years, the one who had Duke fans pleading for mercy -- the Fair who went so far above and beyond his "reliable workhorse" baseline that he was bound to suffer a slight hangover come Monday night. Well-earned.
5. Xavier Thames, San Diego State: Thames is so good. I understand this is not an especially interesting thing to write about a basketball player. But really: What can you say?
By now, you should know how San Diego State’s formula works: The Aztecs play insanely good defense on one end of the floor and then rely on Thames for a huge share of their offense on the other end. Thames is so good, he makes this formula work. Wednesday night’s come-from-behind 67-65 win at Boise State -- a ruthless, ice-cold dagger delivered through the Broncos' collective sternum -- was maybe the best example yet.
After an uncharacteristically lenient first half, Steve Fisher's team clamped down on the defensive end in the second, which is when Thames went to work: At the 5:50 mark, his 3 cut Boise’s lead to 2. On the next possession, he tied it. Then he made the go-ahead bucket at 4:05 to give San Diego State its first lead since Thames' first 3 in the first 26 seconds of the game. With 58 seconds left, he swiped a steal from Boise star Derrick Marks, got to the free throw line, and made both. Then, on the decisive possession, he drew every defender in the incorporated western territories before deciding to pass to Dwayne Polee II, who made a wide-open 3.
Thames finished with 23 points in 27 minutes on 5-of-7 from the field (3-of-4 from 3) and 10-of-11 from the free throw line, and the Aztecs still haven’t lost since Arizona on Nov. 14. Seriously, dude is good.
6. Cleanthony Early, Wichita State: Early was a charter member of the honorable mentions (this would have been a great band name in 1993) pretty much since the start of the season. It’s about time we involved him more fully in this discussion, because there isn’t much he isn’t good at. He rebounds the ball, especially on the defensive end. He shoots efficient percentages from everywhere (55.0/35.7/83.8). He blocks shots. He gets to the free throw line. And, oh by the way, he does all of it for a team that after Wednesday night’s win at Indiana State (their toughest regular-season game to date, and remaining) now has, per KenPom.com, a 55.6 percent chance of ending the season unbeaten. (The BPI roughly concurs.) The mutual excellence of Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet had something to do with why Early wasn’t on this list … previously. But it's time to choose sides now, and he's the Shockers' easy choice.
7. Russ Smith, Louisville: If we’ve said it once, we’ve said a hundred times: Smith is having the best season of his career -- scoring, passing, defending, the works. That he occasionally drives his coach crazy, and that his team isn’t quite as good as last year's national title contender, need not be held against him.
8. Lamar Patterson, Pittsburgh: Patterson still wasn’t his typically hyper-efficient self at Miami Wednesday, but he finished with 25 points, and the Panthers escaped Coral Gables, Fla., with a win. After two squandered chances to beat good teams at home (Duke, Virginia) with a six-day rest between them, Pitt’s season -- and Patterson's All-American candidacy -- couldn’t have afforded a loss to the 11-11 Hurricanes.
9. Julius Randle, Kentucky: The bona fide star of the Most Analyzed Team in Sports History™ has recovered from that ugly 3-for-11 at LSU quite nicely: He was solid in Tuesday’s win over Ole Miss and imperious in the second half against Missouri, making one big shot after another as Kentucky held off a super-hot Tigers team for a huge road win. UK’s offense has gone back and forth between gorgeous and grinding, but its baseline operates as a function of what Randle does, and the attention defenses must pay him.
10. Joel Embiid (Kansas): It wasn't that Kansas' loss to Texas Saturday was all that surprising: The Longhorns have been playing better-than-you-think ball for most of the season. But the details were stunning. The Jayhawks' steamroller of an offense was held to just 69 points in 69 trips thanks largely to the fact that Texas was bigger, stronger, and tougher on the inside. To wit, Rick Barnes' team blocked 12 KU attempts, or 23.5 percent of their shots. Kansas blocked only four. It is fair to bump Andrew Wiggins off this list (he was No. 10 last week, and he submitted a 7-point, 1-for-10 stinker), but Embiid deserves to stay, for now.
Honorable mentions: Nik Stauskas (Michigan), Andrew Wiggins (Kansas), Shabazz Napier (Connecticut), DeAndre Kane (Iowa State), Tyler Ennis (Syracuse), Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati), Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State), Keith Appling (Michigan State), Casey Prather (Florida), Cameron Bairstow (New Mexico)