This year’s race for the Wooden Award may come down to a missed free throw attempt and a layup that never found its way through the net. With the NCAA tournament less than a week away, those are the only things separating Indiana’s Victor Oladipo and Michigan’s Trey Burke in the battle to be named national player of the year.
At least in my opinion.
Burke and Oladipo faced off in the Big Ten regular-season finale Sunday. In a high-stakes game that decided the conference championship, Burke wilted when it mattered most. With his team leading 71-70 with 28 seconds remaining, Burke clanked the front end of a one-and-one opportunity, and Indiana capitalized on a layup by Cody Zeller that gave the Hoosiers a 72-71 lead with 14 ticks left.
Burke had a chance to win the game on the ensuing possession, but he missed a contested layup, and Jordan Morgan’s putback attempt in the final seconds was off target. Indiana celebrated the outright Big Ten title on Michigan’s court. The Wolverines finished in a tie for third place and will be the No. 5 seed in this week’s Big Ten tournament.
Burke has had a tremendous season, but in a race this close, winning and performing well in the clutch are the deciding factors. Here’s my latest ballot.
1. Victor Oladipo, Indiana -- The junior wing does everything for the Hoosiers. He averages 13.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 2.1 assists and sets the tone on the defensive end. He’s the key reason why Indiana emerged as the champion of the nation’s toughest conference.
2. Trey Burke, Michigan -- The sophomore averages 19.2 points and 6.8 assists -- and he also leads the country in assist-to-turnover ratio. Michigan, though, has lost five of its final 10 regular-season games. As a point guard, Burke needs to provide more leadership as the Wolverines prepare for the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
3. Doug McDermott, Creighton -- As one of the top offensive players in the country, McDermott is the focal point of every opposing defense. Still, the junior forward is averaging 23.1 points on 56.1 percent shooting for the Bluejays, who won the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season championship along with the league tournament.
4. Otto Porter, Georgetown -- NBA scouts love the versatility of the 6-foot-8 sophomore, who can bring the ball up the court like a point guard on one play and get down and dirty in the paint the next. Porter helped Georgetown win a share of the Big East title despite the loss of the top three scorers from last season.
5. Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga -- What’s not to like about the 7-foot Canadian? In just 25.7 minutes per game, Olynyk averaged 17.4 points and 7.2 rebounds for a Zags squad that finished 31-2 and won the West Coast Conference regular-season and tournament trophies. Gonzaga will likely be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history thanks to Olynyk.
On the cusp:
Erick Green, Virginia Tech -- Despite being on the last-place team in the league standings, Green was named ACC Player of the Year this week following a regular season in which he averaged a nation-best 25.4 points while shooting 48.2 percent from the field.
Shane Larkin, Miami -- It’d be a crime not to include the leader of a team that won its first ACC title in more than a decade. A sophomore point guard, Larkin averages 13.7 points, 4.4 assists and 2 steals.
Rodney McGruder, Kansas State -- The senior wing led K-State to its first conference title since 1977 by averaging a team-high 15.1 points and 5.2 rebounds. The first-team All-Big 12 selection had 22 points in Saturday’s loss at Oklahoma State.
Ben McLemore, Kansas -- The freshman was one of the few players who performed well in Saturday’s 23-point loss to Baylor. He scored 23 points and is now averaging 16.7 points for the Big 12 co-champions.
Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA -- Projected as a lottery pick in this summer’s NBA draft, Muhammad led the Bruins to the outright Pac-12 title by averaging 18.3 points and 5.1 boards. He shot 45 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from beyond the arc.
Mason Plumlee, Duke -- The 6-10 Plumlee was back in beast mode Saturday, when he scored 23 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in a blowout win against North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He’s a lot better with Ryan Kelly in the lineup.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State -- The freshman point guard is averaging 22.5 points in his past two games along with 7 rebounds. He was named Big 12 Player of the Year, a high honor considering he had strong competition from KU’s Jeff Withey and Ben McLemore.
Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State -- The Buckeyes enter this week’s Big Ten tournament on a five-game winning streak thanks, in large part, to Thomas. He’s averaging 17.8 points during that span and 19.7 points on the season.
Jeff Withey, Kansas -- The 7-foot center ranks second in the nation among active players in blocks with 4.1 per game. The first-team all-league selection averages 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds and shoots 58.2 percent from the field.
Cody Zeller, Indiana -- The Hoosiers center was the best player on the court during Sunday's Big Ten title-clinching win at Michigan. He finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds and made the winning basket with 14 seconds remaining.