Myron Medcalf, Eamonn Brennan and C.L. Brown gathered round to break down the race for the Wooden Award, detail the progress of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and figure out who has the upper hand in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
Fight the temptation to move The Tank
Let's just get right into it ...
1. Frank Kaminsky, WisconsinPrevious ranking: 1
As tempting as it might be -- and it was tempting -- to demote Kaminsky in favor of Wednesday's victorious opposing center, Duke's Jahlil Okafor, it's much more difficult to argue against the Wisconsin big man's eight-game body of work. Through Wednesday night, Kaminsky is averaging 16.6 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.3 blocks per game, while posting a 119.4 offensive rating on 27.2 percent usage. He grabs a ton of rebounds, he scores, he stretches defenses, and on and on. It just may be the first week of December, but you already know the drill.
Even Wednesday, which Kaminsky will surely regard as a letdown, was statistically impressive: He finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and two assists on 5-of-12 shooting. Kaminsky's two turnovers were shocking in the moment, which should give you some indication of how infrequently he commits Bo Ryan's first cardinal sin. There were a couple of possessions Kaminsky will want back, a late dead-legged miss near the rim chief among them.
But if there was a flaw in Wisconsin's offense Wednesday, it was that the Badgers let Duke's switch-and-scramble defensive help scare them out of entering the ball in the post. It is hard to fault Kaminsky for that, or for the fact that Duke made pretty much every shot on the other end. Individually, at this early date, Kaminsky is still your player of the year.
2. Jahlil Okafor, DukePrevious ranking: 2
Speaking of temptation, it was likewise tempting to demote Okafor and promote fellow freshman Tyus Jones into the Wooden Watch's sacred top five. After all, Jones did post 22 points (on 5-of-8 from 2, 2-of-3 from 3, and 6-of-8 from the line), six rebounds, and four assists in a road win over Wisconsin. I mean, how good is that? But again, as good as Jones looks, Okafor is still the more valuable Blue Devil overall. Wednesday was another prime example: Okafor was 6 of 8 from the field for 13 points, with six rebounds, and every one of his scores (save one easy dump-off dunk) was the product of the kind of post touch Dwight Howard would give his left trapezoid to acquire. When Okafor catches the ball on the block, just give up. That's how good he is.
The one minor complaint? Yep -- it's still foul trouble. This was especially frustrating Wednesday night, as Okafor picked up a couple of silly fouls away from the rim. It's one thing to foul on a hard interior rotation; it's another thing to grab a dribbler 20 feet from the rim. But when Okafor is on the floor, he's devastating, and the fact that Mike Krzyzewski can manage without his star playing 85 percent of possible minutes (he's at 68.4 percent thus far) is less a knock on Okafor as an individual than a testament to how insanely good Duke is as a collective.
4. Montrezl Harrell, LouisvillePrevious ranking: 4
Like Okafor, Harrell took a brief turn as the second-fiddle in his team's Big Ten-ACC Challenge victory this week, with Louisville guard Wayne Blackshear in the role of Tyus Jones. Blackshear's 22 points were crucial in Louisville's survival of Ohio State -- which it led by 19 points early before collapsing on offense in the second half -- on Tuesday night.
No matter: Harrell still put up 13 points and 10 rebounds (six of them offensive) in a 66-possession game, a game in which neither team scored more than a point per trip. The difference was Louisville's ferocious defense, which is the best in the nation on a per-possession basis thus far. The Cardinals' perimeter pressure has a lot to do with that, but Harrell's interior work is just as important: He's a big man who can challenge any shot at the rim, but is now so versatile and intelligent he can extend upward in Rick Pitino's matchup zone formation and challenge any shot from 15 feet and in. And he gobbles up rebounds, which is how Louisville prevents second chances. There will be plenty of ugly Louisville wins this season, but don't be fooled: Harrell is playing a major role in those, too.
4. Ron Baker, Wichita StatePrevious ranking: 3
Tough night for the Shockers on Wednesday, and by "tough night for the Shockers," I mean Wichita State lost a basketball game. For most teams? Oh well. For Gregg Marshall's team, the heartbreaking overtime loss at Utah ends an unbeaten regular-season streak that extends back to March 2013. (Because of the whole going-unbeaten-until-the-NCAA-tournament-last-year thing, you see.)
Baker didn't have the best game of his career Wednesday, but he was still very good: 6-of-13 from the field including 3-of-6 from 3, with 15 points and six rebounds. His late drive in overtime, the one that put Wichita State up 68-67 with 28 seconds to play -- the one wherein Baker beat his man to the baseline, met Utah's rotation help, and somehow drove past it back into the lane for a right-handed scoop finish -- may have been the play of the year had it determined the outcome. Instead, Delon Wright made a pretty floater on the other end, Fred VanVleet missed the back-end of two free throws, and the Shockers lost by a point in the Huntsman Center.
5. Juwan Staten, West VirginiaPrevious ranking: 5
Staten's own counting stats aren't quite at the bonkers level they were last season, when he posted an 18-5-5 line and shot 40 percent from 3. The good news? They don't need to be. West Virginia has remained unbeaten in its two cupcakes since its striking upset of Connecticut in Puerto Rico; Devin Williams, Jonathan Holton, and Jevon Carter are all submitting efficient supporting contributions, and Staten is at something like cruising altitude: 15.1 points, 4.3 assists, 2.3 rebounds, 1.4 steals. The fact that Staten is rebounding less is a crucial marker of the Mountaineers' improvement: Your 6-foot-1 guard probably shouldn't lead your team in rebounds, and this season Staten doesn't have to. He can shoot the ball better. He's just 30 percent from 3 this season. But for now, Staten's per-possession production for assists, turnovers, steals and fouls drawn all point to continued success.
ARM: Ryan Boatright, Tyus Jones, Perry Ellis, Wesley Saunders, Fred VanVleet, Marcus Paige, Alan Williams, D'Angelo Harrison, Dakari Johnson, Stanley Johnson, Angel Rodriguez, Sam Dekker, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Georges Niang, Malcolm Brogdon, Delon Wright, Aaron Harrison, Tyler Haws, Willie Cauley-Stein
Watch Out For Georges Niang
John R. Wooden Award
The John R. Wooden Award is presented annually to the most outstanding men's college basketball player.
Top 50 List
Here are the 50 names to make the cut on our Wooden Watch list. Fear not: If your favorite player isn't on this list, it does not make him ineligible for the award. After all, it is a long season.
• Cliff Alexander, Kansas
• Brandon Ashley, Arizona
• Ron Baker, Wichita State
• Ryan Boatright, UConn
• Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia
• Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
• Branden Dawson, Michigan State
• Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
• Perry Ellis, Kansas
• Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
• Marcus Foster, Kansas State
• Michael Frazier II, Florida
• Treveon Graham, VCU
• Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
• Olivier Hanlan, Boston College
• Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
• Aaron Harrison, Kentucky
• Andrew Harrison, Kentucky
• Tyler Haws, BYU
• Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
• Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona
• R.J. Hunter, Georgia State
• Stanley Johnson, Arizona
• Tyus Jones, Duke
• Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
• Caris LeVert, Michigan
• Jordan Mickey, LSU
• Nic Moore, SMU
• Georges Niang, Iowa State
• Jahlil Okafor, Duke
• Kelly Oubre Jr., Kansas
• Marcus Paige, North Carolina
• Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
• Terran Petteway, Nebraska
• Bobby Portis, Arkansas
• Chasson Randle, Stanford
• Terry Rozier, Louisville
• Wesley Saunders, Harvard
• Josh Scott, Colorado
• Wayne Selden Jr., Kansas
• D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown
• Juwan Staten, West Virginia
• Keifer Sykes, Green Bay
• Isaiah Taylor, Texas
• Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky
• Myles Turner, Texas
• Fred VanVleet, Wichita State
• Dez Wells, Maryland
• Delon Wright, Utah
• Joseph Young, Oregon
Say Hello To Tyus Jones