Below you will find the exclusive unveiling of the Wooden Award preseason top 50. Freshmen and transfers are not eligible, but they can be added to the list as the season progresses and ultimately win the award. For example, former Kentucky star Anthony Davis won the honor last season.
The John R. Wooden Award has been distributed since 1977, when UCLA’s Marques Johnson captured it. Media members vote on a list of candidates established by the award’s national advisory board toward the end of the season.
Here’s a rundown of the players who cracked the preseason watch list (alphabetical order):
Keith Appling, G, Michigan State: With Draymond Green gone, the shifty point guard (11.4 ppg, 3.9 apg) is the top scoring option for a Michigan State squad with national title hopes just months after it exited the NCAA tournament in a 13-point loss to Louisville.
Chane Behanan, F, Louisville: Rick Pitino’s plans to return to the Final Four are partially based on Behanan’s continued development. The 6-foot-6 forward averaged 13.2 ppg and 8.0 rpg during Louisville’s run to New Orleans.
Kenny Boynton, G, Florida: Florida is ranked 10th in the Associated Press preseason poll in part because the 6-2 Boynton (15.9 ppg, 41 percent from beyond the arc) returns to a Gators squad that looks like a threat to Kentucky’s SEC title hopes.
Lorenzo Brown, G, NC State: Brown has recovered from offseason knee surgery, so he’s ready to continue the momentum he amassed in NC State’s run to the Sweet 16. The 6-5 guard was the Wolfpack’s most versatile player in the NCAA tournament (13.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 6.0 apg).
Trey Burke, G, Michigan: As a freshman, Burke (14.8 ppg, 4.6 apg) led Michigan to a share of the Big Ten title. He enters 2012-13 as one of the most prolific point guards in America.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, G, Georgia: Caldwell-Pope was a silver lining in Georgia’s 15-17 finish in 2011-12. He cracked the SEC’s all-freshman squad after averaging 13.2 ppg for the Bulldogs.
Isaiah Canaan, G, Murray State: Canaan (19.4 ppg, 3.8 apg) was critical as Murray State won its first 23 games last season. The return of the Associated Press preseason All-American point guard raises projections for the Racers in 2012-13.
Jack Cooley, F, Notre Dame: He’s not the nation’s flashiest player, but Cooley is a blue-collar forward who produces. Cooley finished last season with a 122.9 offensive rating, 11th among players who used at least 20 percent of their team’s available possessions.
D.J. Cooper, G, Ohio: Cooper (14.7 ppg, 5.7 apg, 2.3 spg) led the Bobcats to last season’s Sweet 16, where they nearly upset North Carolina in overtime.
Vincent Council, G, Providence: Council is the catalyst for a Friars squad that finished 15-17 in 2011-12. Marks of 15.9 ppg, 7.4 apg and 4.1 rpg made Council one of the top -- and most underrated guards -- in the country.
Allen Crabbe, G, California: Crabbe (15.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg) earned first-team all-Pac-12 honors and guided the Bears to an NCAA tournament slot in 2011-12.
Aaron Craft, G, Ohio State: The reigning Big Ten defensive player of the year (2.5 spg) will take on a larger offensive role with the Buckeyes as they adjust to life without Jared Sullinger.
Seth Curry, G, Duke: With Austin Rivers gone, Curry (13.2 ppg, 38 percent from the 3-point line) is Mike Krzyzewski’s top perimeter threat.
Brandon Davies, F, BYU: The Cougars will not cede the WCC to Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s without a fight, because Davies (15.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg), the league’s top post player, is back.
Matthew Dellavedova, G, Saint Mary’s: Dellavedova (15.5 ppg, 6.4 apg) helped Saint Mary’s secure the regular season and conference tournament titles over Gonzaga in 2011-12. He played with Australia’s national team in the Olympics in London during the summer.
Gorgui Dieng, C, Louisville: The Senegalese big man’s knack for blocking and altering shots (3.2 bpg) helped Pitino’s squad reach the Final Four and achieve the nation’s highest defensive efficiency rating last season. He also averaged 9.1 ppg, 9.1 rpg and 1.2 spg for the Cardinals.
Jamaal Franklin, G, San Diego State: San Diego State will challenge UNLV for the Mountain West crown with Franklin, who led the Mountain West in scoring with 17.2 ppg in 2011-12 and won the league’s player of the year honor, anchoring a guard-heavy lineup that maintained its core from last season.
Tim Frazier, G, Penn State: Frazier cracked the all-Big Ten first team in 2011-12 after finishing second in the league with 18.8 ppg and leading the conference in assists (6.2 apg). The Big Ten all-defensive team member was also second in the league in steals (2.4 per game).
Tim Hardaway Jr., G, Michigan: Burke’s backcourt mate was equally pivotal in Michigan’s push for the Big Ten title after averaging 14.6 ppg last season.
Elias Harris, F, Gonzaga: The 6-8 senior from Germany enters 2012-13 as a strong candidate for WCC player of the year. He averaged 13.1 ppg and 8.5 rpg, and he connected on 41 percent of his 3-point attempts in 2011-12.
Solomon Hill, F, Arizona: The gutsy, 6-7 forward was forced to play power forward for Sean Miller last season. But Hill (13.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 2.6 apg and 1.0 spg) was one of the Pac-12’s most versatile performers despite his disadvantage in size.
Pierre Jackson, G, Baylor: Jackson (13.8 ppg, 5.9 apg) leads one of the nation’s top backcourts in Waco. Baylor’s leader makes the Bears Kansas’ greatest threat in the Big 12 race.
Elijah Johnson, G, Kansas: Johnson came alive in the NCAA tournament (13.3 ppg in six games) as Kansas soared into the national title game. The dynamic combo guard could lead the Jayhawks to their ninth consecutive Big 12 title.
Sean Kilpatrick, G, Cincinnati: The 6-5 guard/forward pushed the Bearcats into the Sweet 16 with 18 points and six rebounds in a 62-56 victory against Florida State in the third round.
C.J. Leslie, F, NC State: The former McDonald’s All-American’s decision to return for another season increased the buzz surrounding the Wolfpack, the favorite to win the ACC for the first time in more than 40 years. NC State hasn’t won a regular-season title since 1989, but Leslie (14.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg) changed all expectations when he led the Wolfpack to the Sweet 16.
James Michael McAdoo, F, North Carolina: McAdoo (6.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg) will be the central figure of Roy Williams’ Tar Heels in 2012-13. The sophomore passed on the NBA for an opportunity to develop and showcase his full arsenal.
Ray McCallum Jr., G, Detroit: McCallum finally became the leader his father and coach Ray McCallum Sr. needed him to be during the final stages of last season. McCallum led the Titans to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1999 by amassing 21 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 steals in a win over Valparaiso in the Horizon League title game.
C.J. McCollum, G, Lehigh: The Associated Press preseason All-American opened eyes around the country when he dropped 30 points during an upset against Duke in the NCAA tournament. His 113.6 rating was 10th among players who’d used at least 28 percent of their team’s possessions in 2011-12.
Doug McDermott, F, Creighton: McDermott (22.9 ppg, 8.9 rpg) finished 2011-12 with a 123.5 offensive rating and exploded onto the national scene as he ended the season with multiple All-American honors.
Rodney McGruder, G, Kansas State: The 6-4 senior averaged 15.8 ppg and connected on 38.5 percent of his 3-point attempts for the Wildcats last season. He was also an 80 percent free throw shooter.
Tony Mitchell, F, North Texas: Mitchell (14.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg) nearly led the Mean Green to the NCAA tournament as a freshman. The double-double machine (10 for North Texas last season even though he wasn’t eligible until mid-December) is a projected lottery pick in next summer’s NBA draft.
Mike Moser, F, UNLV: Moser’s all-around effort fueled UNLV’s 26-9 season in 2011-12. Moser (14.0 ppg, 10.5 rpg) is one of the nation’s most complete players.
Brock Motum, F, Washington State: The 6-10 forward led the Pac-12 in scoring in 2011-12. He also finished with a 109.0 offensive rating (18th among players who used at least 28 percent of their team’s possessions).
Le'Bryan Nash, G/F, Oklahoma State: The athletic, versatile player (13.3 ppg) made a splash in his freshman season in 2011-12. Paired with freshman Marcus Smart, Nash & Co. could spice up the Big 12 title race.
Brandon Paul, G, Illinois: Paul (14.7 ppg) wasn’t always consistent last season, but his efforts kept Illinois alive in multiple games.
Mason Plumlee, F, Duke: Plumlee (11.1 ppg, 9.2 rpg) erased memories of his late-season struggles when he scored 19 points (9-for-9) and grabbed 12 rebounds in Duke’s upset loss to Lehigh in the NCAA tournament.
Otto Porter, F, Georgetown: The sophomore forward (9.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg) finished strong in 2011-12. He was inserted into Georgetown’s starting lineup down the stretch and proved that he belonged with his efforts in the Big East and NCAA tournaments.
Phil Pressey, G, Missouri: Pressey (10.3 ppg, 6.4 apg) is one of the few returning contributors on a Missouri team that lost four starters from a 30-win team. Frank Haith will count on Pressey -- the Big 12’s assists leader last season -- to develop cohesion within a group that welcomes multiple newcomers.
Andre Roberson, F, Colorado: Roberson (11.6 ppg, 11.1 rpg and 1.9 bpg) led the Pac-12 in rebounding and blocked shots in 2011-12.
Peyton Siva, G, Louisville: The Louisville point guard recorded 31 assists in the Cardinals’ run to the Final Four in April. He finished fourth in the Big East with 5.6 apg.
Michael Snaer, G, Florida State: Snaer (14.0 ppg) hit a pair of winning shots for the Seminoles last season and secured a slot on the ACC’s all-defensive team.
Jarnell Stokes, F, Tennessee: Stokes (9.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg) held his own despite joining the Volunteers midway through the 2011-12 season after graduating from high school a semester early. Greater feats are expected from the 6-8 sophomore in 2012-13.
Adonis Thomas, G/F, Memphis: Thomas (8.8 ppg) is a combo forward who will have an expanded role for Josh Pastner now that he’s fully recovered from a nagging ankle injury that hindered him last season. The 6-8 sophomore is a Conference USA player of the year candidate.
Deshaun Thomas, F, Ohio State: Jared Sullinger’s departure elevated Thomas, an Associated Press preseason All-American, into a more significant role for the Buckeyes. The 6-7 forward is effective inside and outside.
Christian Watford, F, Indiana: Watford’s biggest moment last season was the buzzer-beating 3-pointer that sealed Indiana’s win over Kentucky in December. But Watford’s performance toward the end of the 2011-12 season (57 points in three NCAA tournament games) was the most important stretch for the 6-8 senior, who hit 44 percent of his 3-point attempts last season.
Jeff Withey, C, Kansas: Withey established an NCAA tournament record with 31 blocks, as he protected the paint for a Kansas squad that reached the national title game in New Orleans.
Nate Wolters, G, South Dakota State: Wolters didn’t play many nationally televised games last season, but his 19 points in the Jackrabbits’ eight-point loss to Baylor in the NCAA tournament elevated his profile.
BJ Young, G, Arkansas: Young’s Razorbacks finished with a 6-10 record in the SEC. But without Young (15.3 ppg, 109.9 offensive rating), Arkansas would have ended the season even lower in the conference standings.
Patric Young, C, Florida: The Gators big man averaged 10.2 ppg and 6.4 rpg in 2011-12. Young, a 6-9 senior, could be an All-American by the end of the season.
Cody Zeller, F, Indiana: Zeller (15.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.2 bpg, 1.4 spg), an Associated Press preseason All-American, is arguably the top returning player in the country. His return -- he would have been a lottery pick in last summer’s NBA draft -- positioned Indiana as the No. 1 team in America entering the 2012-13 season.
The rules place limits on the players who can be included on the award’s initial watch list. And 50 slots aren’t necessarily enough to peg every potential candidate. So here’s a list of 15 players -- including transfers and freshmen -- who could make the midseason and final watch lists for the John R. Wooden Award.
C.J. Aiken, Saint Joseph’s
Kyle Anderson, UCLA
Isaiah Austin, Baylor
Jared Berggren, Wisconsin
Khem Birch, UNLV
Cashmere Wright, Cincinnati
Jamelle Hagins, Delaware
Ian Hummer, Princeton
Kerron Johnson, Belmont
Mark Lyons, Arizona
Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota
Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA
Nerlens Noel, Kentucky
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Dezmine Wells, Maryland