Originally Published: January 14, 2015

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Wooden Watch: And the list shrinks

By Eamonn Brennan | ESPN.com

All Wooden Watches are created equal, but some are more equal than others. So it is today, when our weekly look at the national player of the year race arrives alongside the official unveiling of the Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 list.

Hold on: It's the midway point of the season? Really? Already? How did that happen?

Anyway, you can view the committee's top 25 list on the right side of this page. As you do so, it's worth noting that players can (and will) move on and off the official list between now and when the committee further narrows the field in March -- just as some players (such as Ohio State's D'Angelo Harrison and Maryland's Melo Trimble) excluded from the preseason top 50 now find themselves in the mix. The midseason list is a non-binding advisory, a handy heads up, but that's about it. Besides, save a couple of minor disagreements (LSU's Jordan Mickey is a nice player and all, but really?), the Los Angeles Athletic Club hit the appropriate marks.

Still, a formless list is one thing; making sense of the race is another. Order out of chaos: This is the Watch's weekly toil. Let's get to it.

1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke

Previous ranking: 2

Whatever you do, don't blame Jahlil Okafor for Duke's two-game ACC slide. Duke's issues -- and that list begins (and maybe ends) with "suddenly porous defense" -- exist despite Okafor's performance, or at the very least apart from it.

How good has the freshman big man been? Tuesday night's loss to Miami, Duke's first at home since March 2012, was the first time since Nov. 30 that Okafor missed more than four shots in a game. He was 6-of-13 for 15 points Tuesday. He also chipped in 15 rebounds. What a slacker, right? In his previous seven games, Okafor averaged 21.6 points per game, second highest in the country, and was the only player in the nation in that span to average a double-double while shooting -- wait for it -- over 70 percent from the field. Okafor is putting up these kinds of mind-boggling numbers while using nearly 29 percent of Duke's available possessions, seeing frequent double-teams on touches in the post, and blocking a fair number of shots without fouling.

Okafor has flaws, sure. Free throw shooting, for starters. Block rate aside, he could probably be a better help defender around the rim. But the real holes in Duke's defense have come on the perimeter, where Duke's guards (especially against Miami, which ran away with 56 points in Tuesday's second half, and scored 90 in 73 possessions on the night) have been totally ineffectual when they extend man-to-man pressure. That leads to a lot of scrambling rotations and open shots and layups, and ... well, that's another analysis for another day. The point is, individually, Okafor has been off the charts.

2. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin

Previous ranking: 1

Wisconsin lost its second game of the season Sunday, a 67-62 road defeat at Rutgers that came littered with caveats. Chief among them was Frank Kaminsky's absence. The center sat out Sunday after suffering a concussion; he has since been cleared to return for Thursday night's home game against Nebraska. The loss to Rutgers could reinforce just how important Kaminsky is to Wisconsin, but the fact is the Badgers are probably still much better than the Scarlet Knights even without their best player. Sometimes a loss is just a loss.

In any case, if you've been reading the Watch this season, you already know the deal: Kaminsky is a consistently efficient 7-foot forward with every conceivable skill, from post moves to deft passing to perimeter shooting, with a hearty helping of defense and rebounding thrown in. Neither he nor Okafor have fallen below No. 2 on this list yet, and that doesn't look likely to change soon.

3. Delon Wright, Utah

Previous ranking: 3

That said, if anyone is going to shake up that two, it may well be Utah guard Delon Wright, who in the past three weeks has led Utah's ascension from "emerging object of intrigue" to "arguable Pac-12 favorite." Wright hasn't played since last week's Watch, and so his numbers remain as eye-popping as they were Thursday: A 128.2 offensive rating, 63 percent shooting from 2, a 37.4 percent assist rate to match a low 14.0 percent turnover mark, and so on.

Two things make Wright special. The first is defense. Few players create steals and block shots, and even fewer guards manage it; Wright does both, with a steal rate that ranks among the nation's best, while leading a defense that has utterly pulverized opposing offenses for the past month. The second is self-awareness: Wright is not a particularly good 3-point shooter, which would normally be a major problem for a scoring point guard. But because Wright wisely eschews 3s -- he's taken just 28 all season -- and because he has enough midrange game to keep defenses guessing, he remains a major offensive weapon even without the most valuable shot in the game in his arsenal.

There is one thing Wright doesn't do well on the basketball court, and his solution is to not that do that thing very often. That's as impressive as any statistic when you really think about it.

4. Justin Anderson, Virginia

Previous ranking: 4

The Watch is still waiting. Week after week, we laud Justin Anderson's obscene 3-point field goal percentage, and then we add the disclaimer: He can't keep this up forever. After all, Anderson shot just 29.4 percent from 3 a season ago, and at a much more infrequent clip, and eventually sample size catches up with everyone ... right? Right?

Anderson keeps defining that immutable law. Virginia's win at Notre Dame on Saturday was one of the most impressive road victories of the season (not least of which because it came against a team with exactly the right kind of attack to launch 3s over UVa's pack-line defense). On Tuesday, the Cavaliers manhandled Clemson at home. Overall, Anderson finished 5-of-10 from 3 in those two games, which is somehow just off his overall pace of 55.7 percent. Focusing too much on Anderson's shooting can come at the cost of appreciating his overall game -- his athleticism, his role in the Hoos' stifling defense, and more. But we're halfway through the season now, and the dude keeps making shots, and Virginia keeps winning. We're still waiting.

5. Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga

Previous ranking: NR

It was totally possible to see Kyle Wiltjer coming. After all, Wiltjer was about as high-profile as transfers come: He was the second man off the bench in Kentucky's 2011-12 national title run, and he was the focus of immense frustration as the 2012-13 Wildcats slid out of contention and into the NIT. Meanwhile, he was transferring to a program where his mix of stretch-4 shooting and traditional-4 post work would slot in perfectly alongside senior point guard Kevin Pangos and 7-1 center Przemek Karnowski. In October, we assumed Wiltjer, and Gonzaga, would be good.

Still, it's time to confess: We had no idea he'd be great. But he has been. Wiltjer is averaging 16.4 points and 5.1 rebounds in 25 minutes per game. He's shooting 43 percent from 3 -- exactly the same rate as his spot-up work in limited minutes for Kentucky three seasons ago -- and a career-high-by-a-mile 56 percent inside the arc. His offensive rating is 126.8, which he has achieved despite taking over a third of available shots while on the floor. Individually, in its own right, Wiltjer's relocation has been an astounding success.

Yet Wiltjer's arrival in Spokane looks even more impressive in the context of the Bulldogs' season. He has relieved Karnowski of the pressure of being Gonzaga's lone low-post scorer, allowing the Polish big man to flourish as a second option (and a suddenly amazing post passer). He's arguably been even better for Pangos, who can now sit back, choose his spots, and punish teams for focusing too much attention on the frontcourt. Thanks to less usage and better setups, Pangos is currently enjoying the highest shooting percentages of his career (54 percent from 2, 49 percent from 3), the highest assist rate, the lowest turnover rate, and by far the highest offensive rating -- an absurd 141.5 mark, the nation's third highest.

Gonzaga has a very realistic shot of winning the rest of its regular-season games and entering March with one loss, at Arizona, in overtime. Two seasons ago, the Zags were a No. 1 seed. This team is better. Wiltjer is why.

Also receiving mentions: Willie Cauley-Stein, Jerian Grant, Anthony Gill, Montrezl Harrell, Ron Baker, Ryan Boatright, Juwan Staten, Karl-Anthony Towns, D'Angelo Harrison, Stanley Johnson, Georges Niang, Melo Trimble, Tyler Haws, Larry Nance Jr., Bobby Portis


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