Trier and Ayton are one pair out of several teammate tandems among candidates for this year's Wooden Award. Each week we'll take a look at the race to be named college basketball's player of the year by checking in on different contenders and trends worth watching. The watch list this week is full of one-two punches, including teammates from Villanova, Duke and Arizona. That's a recipe for team success. But on an individual level, is it helping or hurting their cases to be named the game's best player?
Trier (19.6 points per game) and Ayton (20.4 PPG) are both among the most efficient offensive players so far this season. Ayton's arrival and some slow starts to games have kept Trier relatively low on the radar outside of Tucson halfway through the season. He didn't seem to think earlier this year that the big man's presence would slow him down, though.
"I'm gonna make the game easier for him, and he's going to make the game easier for me," Trier told azcentral.com back in early December. "So, we're trying to find that good balance, that yin-yang."
Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges likely know how they feel. Brunson runs the offense for No. 1 Villanova; the junior guard might mean more than anyone to the Wildcats' ability to put nearly 90 points per game. But Bridges is going to give Brunson a run for his money for team MVP honors. Bridges, a 6-foot-7 redshirt junior, is having a breakout season while averaging 17.8 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.
Duke guard Grayson Allen, a senior, also is learning about the lengthy shadows that a freshman star can cast. Allen was the star of the Champions Classic in early November, but he since has ceded his role in the middle of the Blue Devils' offense to Marvin Bagley III, a star freshman who is as big, if not bigger, physically and in magnitude, as Ayton.
In some cases, a talented teammate can open opportunities that might not be there if opponents can focus solely on shutting down a one-man show. In other situations, the lack of having one alpha -- a player who can fill up a stat sheet and remain the go-to option in clutch situations -- will make it hard to stand out in a crowded field of candidates.
The senior guard went toe-to-toe with the country's hottest player this past weekend and in many ways got the better of him. Carter's West Virginia team beat Oklahoma and Trae Young 89-76 to climb to No. 2 in the AP poll. Carter's all-around play was as good against Young as it has been all season.
Carter tied a team high with 17 points and added 10 assists and seven rebounds. More important, he forced Young to a season-high eight turnovers and held him to five assists, which is equal to his lowest output in that category all season. Carter's defense remains a staple of his game. As long as his Mountaineers remain atop the Big 12, he won't be lost in the shuffle of other candidates with flashier numbers.
The 6-foot-6 shooter can be as dangerous as anyone in the country when he's in a groove, but consistency has been a problem for the senior guard this season. Xavier has struggled through some of Bluiett's in-game dry spells before, and it caught up to them against Providence this past week.
Bluiett didn't score a point in the second half of the upset loss to the Friars.
He had to dig his team out of a hole against Wisconsin (which, to his credit, he did quite effectively) early this season after a poor first half, and he missed 11 straight against East Tennessee State in December before hitting a game winner to narrowly avoid an embarrassing result. Bluiett at his best has the skills and the poise to be one of college basketball's five best players. At less than his best, Bluiett and his Xavier team can run into trouble. This past week, he wasn't at his best.
Big Week Ahead
Let's wrap up this veteran-laden version of Wooden Watch with one more senior. No matter what the future holds for the Jayhawks and big men Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa, they will have to rely heavily on Graham on the path back to the top of the Big 12. Graham is off to a good start in league play, scoring 23 or more in the past three games.
Graham has done a better job getting to the free throw line in January (26-of-28 on free throws in his past two games). He should be able to continue that trend against Kansas State this Saturday, prior to a major test against No. 2 West Virginia on Monday night. A loss to the Mountaineers would give the Jayhawks their fourth defeat of the season, with most of a treacherous Big 12 schedule yet to be played. That would not bode well for Graham's player of the year hopes.