Happy Holidays, one and all; hopefully Santa was good to you. Let’s dispense with the introduction and get into a Christmas-break-shortened edition of the Wooden Watch, which ranks the contenders for the annual John R. Wooden Award honoring the nation's best college basketball player.
1. Jabari Parker, Duke: The reason Parker fell so low in past editions of the Watch had a lot more to do with Duke’s struggles: its inability to defend, its close calls against inferior opponents, its lack of quality wins, etc. And some of those qualifications still apply. But Parker has been so good on the offensive end -- so clearly the most dangerous and entertaining player in the country -- that it’s silly to penalize him for the rest of it. (He’s also a heck of a defensive rebounder and a pretty good defender, too.)
2. Aaron Gordon, Arizona: Gordon was atop the list last week, to some of the loyal commenters’ chagrin, but I’ll stick by the argument: Arizona is excellent this season most frequently because of its interior defense, where Gordon is at his absolute best.
3. Russ Smith, Louisville: After a couple weeks of quietly and tidily handling inferior opponents, Smith and the defending champs get a big-time showcase at Kentucky on Saturday. Let’s see how far they’ve come.
4. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: Not much has changed regarding Smart’s case, even after the Cowboys’ second-best win of the season against Colorado last week: He’s still a great, great defender, still a good but occasionally flawed offensive player, still a terror in the open court, still a crucial floor leader, still a POY candidate.
5. Doug McDermott, Creighton: Welcome to the McDermott Efficiency Watch, Week 6: 32 percent usage (36.6 percent shot rate!), 119.8 offensive rating, 53.8 percent on 2-pointers, 40.6 percent on 3-pointers, 89.3 percent from the line, 24.8 PPG, 7.5 RPG. See you next week!
6. Shabazz Napier, Connecticut: Napier is one of the most well-rounded guards in the country, a great passer, an even better ball handler, and a timely and often lights-out perimeter shooter and scorer. But if his team slips here and there, as it did last week at home to Stanford, his chances of winning the Wooden go with them.
7. Casey Prather, Florida: The most surprising candidate on this list, Prather is a three-year glue guy who has suddenly morphed into a rim-attacking force averaging nearly 20 points per contest. It doesn’t look like he’ll be leaving the list anytime soon.
8. Adreian Payne, Michigan State: After a 33-point, 10-for-13 performance at Texas, Adreian Payne has officially usurped Keith Appling’s spot on the Watch list. And rightfully so: If Payne produces at even, like, 75 percent of that level the rest of the season, the Spartans are going to be pretty much unstoppable.
9. C.J. Fair, Syracuse: Speaking of big showcases for player of the year candidates, Syracuse’s visit from Villanova on Saturday afternoon is not just a chance for the Wildcats to show they’re back, it’s a chance for Fair to prove himself above and beyond the solid excellence he has displayed to date.
10. Joseph Young, Oregon: Oregon keeps winning, and Young’s stats keep getting crazier: With a 140.7 offensive rating on a 27.2 percent shot rate (21.2 percent usage), Young is averaging nearly 20 points per game.
Honorable mentions: Julius Randle (Kentucky), Jordan Adams (UCLA), Keith Appling (Michigan State), Andrew Wiggins (Kansas), Marcus Paige (UNC), Tyler Ennis (Syracuse), Gary Harris (Michigan State), Sam Dekker (Wisconsin), Chaz Williams (UMass), Tim Frazier (Penn State), Roberto Nelson (Oregon State), Kendall Williams (New Mexico), Caris LeVert (Michigan), Cleanthony Early (Wichita State), LaQuinton Ross (Ohio State), T.J. Warren (NC State), Augustine Rubit (South Alabama), James Bell (Villanova), DeAndre Kane (Iowa State)