With the regular season reaching the homestretch, it is time to start thinking about the national player of the year awards.
The U.S. Basketball Writers Association announced its 16 finalists for the 2010 Oscar Robertson Trophy earlier this week. Kansas' Sherron Collins, Notre Dame's Luke Harangody and Ohio State's Evan Turner are holdovers from last season and joined by Kansas' Cole Aldrich, Kentucky freshmen DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall, Oklahoma State's James Anderson, South Carolina's Devan Downey, Brigham Young's Jimmer Fredette, Purdue's Robbie Hummel, Texas' Damion James, Syracuse's Wesley Johnson, South Florida's Dominique Jones, Georgetown's Greg Monroe, Villanova's Scottie Reynolds and Duke's Jon Scheyer.
AnnArbor.com polled 49 college basketball experts this week and Turner came out on top. The junior forward, despite missing six games with a broken bone in his lower back, is indeed having a tremendous year as he is averaging 19.5 points, 9.2 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 33.6 minutes a game while shooting 55 percent from the field.
Turner is also faring well in the advanced metrics as he ranks second in the nation in assist percentage (39.0) and 29th in defensive rebounding percentage (25.2). How important he is to Ohio State is summed up by the fact that he has been involved in 33.8 percent of possessions, the fifth-highest rate in the country.
Wall was second in the poll while Reynolds was third and Collins was the only other player to receive first-place votes.
Wall, the freshman point guard, has a 17.1/4.0/6.3/34.2 line and his 34.4 assist rate is 30th in the country. However, the advanced statistics shows that Wall is not the best player on Kentucky's roster or even the Wildcats' best freshman. That honor belongs to center DeMarcus Cousins, even if he hasn't received the hype of Wall.
Cousins has averages of 16.0/10.3/1.0/22.8 and is shooting 55 percent. He is all over the national leader boards in the Pomeroy Statistics as he is first in offensive rebounding percentage (23.3), second in fouls drawn per 40 minutes (8.8), 12th in defensive rebounding percentage (26.7) and 65th in block percentage (8.0). The numbers also show that Kentucky's offense flows through Cousins rather than Wall as his 33.5 percentage of possessions is seventh in country and his 32.6 percentage of shots is 36th.
Senior guards Reynolds and Collins are the unquestioned leaders on teams with legitimate national title hopes. Reynolds has an 18.4/2.9/3.4/29.6 line and is 42nd nationally in true shooting percentage (63.4), 65th in fouls drawn per 40 minutes (6.5) and 77th in offensive rating (120.6). Collins' averages are 15.1/2.1/4.2/32.6 but the only Pomeroy category in which he cracks the top 100 is fouls called per 40 minutes, standing 88th with a 1.8 mark.
So while you can make a case for Reynolds, it's hard to do the same for Collins.
My Robertson ballot has yet to arrive. However, if I had in my hand today and was forced to send it in, my choice would not be Turner, Cousins or Reynolds.
My pick would come from a mid-major, a player who is having an incredible season for a team that is talented enough to crash the Final Four party in Indianapolis. That would be Fredette, the best player nobody ever sees play because the Mountain West Conference has its national television package with CBS College Sport.
Fredette's line is 21.5/3.2/5.0/31.0 for a Brigham Young team that is 22-3. However, Fredette's true worth can be found in Pomeroy's tempo-free stats as the junior guard ranks in the nation's top 100 in seven categories: 1.4 fouls called per 40 minutes (18th), 31.0 percentage of possessions (27th), 122.1 offensive rating (59th), 31.5 assist rate (67.5), 30.6 percentage of shots (82nd), 1.4 fouls called per 40 minutes (85th) and 61.9 true shooting percentage (61.9).
Colorado State coach Tim Miles summed our man up quite well after Fredette burned his Rams for 36 points on Wednesday night in a 92-70 victory.
"Fredette is a special player and his numbers are remarkable," Miles said. "We tried multiple defenders, we tried traps and he still finds ways to hurt you."
For his part, Fredette, a native of Glens Falls, N.Y., isn't all that impressed with himself and that just adds to his allure in an era of me-first, one-and-done players.
"I just want to go out there and do whatever the team needs for me to win," Fredette said. "A lot of times that means I've got to go out there and score, no matter what, but you need to have a good balance between scoring and getting your teammates the ball. That's what I try to do."
Duke Reemerges Atop ACC
It seems like old times this season in the ACC with Duke on top of the standings. The Blue Devils are 22-4, 10-2 in the conference and hold a 1 ½-game lead over Maryland (18-7, 8-3) and Virginia Tech (21-4, 8-3). The Blue Devils dusted the Terps 77-56 last Saturday and host the Hokies on Sunday night.
Duke won five straight regular-season conference titles from 1996-2001 then finished first again in 2003-04 and 2005-06. North Carolina, the Blue Devils' archrival, won the last three championships but is tied for ninth place this season at 14-12, 3-8.
That led to the question of whether Duke has again supplanted North Carolina as the top program in the ACC. Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski dismissed that idea out of hand, though.
"We're not going to get into a week-to-week or month-to-month evaluation of who has the best program because it just doesn't work that way," Krzyzewski said. "You might win the conference for a couple of seasons and you're the best program for those two seasons. We did it for a long time but we didn't bill ourselves as the best program then. It's too fluid nowadays. There are too many good players and too many good programs to decide which one is the best. We're just happy we're in contention for the regular-season crown. Talk about who has the best program is fleeting. If you win a championship, though, that stays with you forever. That's what we're trying to do."
Duke has relied heavily on three players this season as Scheyer, the senior guard, has a 18.9/3.3/5.4/36.4 line; junior guard Nolan Smith is averaging 18.0/2.7/3.2/35.3 and junior guard Kyle Singler's line is 16.5/6.9/2.4/35.6. No other Blue Devils player is averaging more than 6.0 points a game. Scheyer is having a marvelous year, illustrated by a 133.7 offensive rating that ranks third nationally.
"We knew coming into the season they would be good. They have been good and they can be better," Krzyzewski said of his terrific trio. "That's how we started building our team offensively, right from the very first practice. Kyle has done well in making the change from playing both inside and outside to totally outside. What Nolan has done doesn't surprise me because I thought he would be really good off what we saw toward the end of last year and during the workouts in the preseason. Jon has been a special player for four years and everyone knows what he is capable of doing."
Big Ten Up for Grabs
There is a big jumble at the top of the Big Ten standings as Michigan State (21-6, 11-3) holds a one-half game lead over Purdue (22-3, 10-3) while Ohio State (20-7, 10-4), Illinois (17-9, 9-4) and Wisconsin (19-7, 7-5) are still in the title picture.
However, Purdue took a big step toward putting itself in position to win the championship with its 60-57 victory at Ohio State on Wednesday night. The Boilemakers have home games with Illinois on Saturday night and Michigan State on Feb. 27 and their other three games are against non-contenders as they visit Minnesota on Feb. 24, host Indiana on March 2 and finish the season at Penn State on March 6.
Michigan State has four games remaining. It hosts Ohio State on Saturday night then has a week to prepare for the game at Purdue before finishing with games at home against Penn State on March 2 and at Michigan on March 6.
Purdue coach Matt Painter, though, says he is not too fixated on the standings.
"You have a lot of basketball still to play," he said. "We still have five games to play. You can say you're in a driver's seat or in good position to get in the driver's seat and look at someone's schedule but every single game is tough. The way people are winning on the road now, we've been able to do it but a lot of teams in our league have been able to do that and a lot of teams across college basketball have been able to do it, you can't take anything for granted."
Speaking of winning on the road, Purdue is just the second Big Ten team ever to win at Illinois, Indiana, Michigan State and Ohio State in the same season. Minnesota pulled off that grand slam in 1976-77 but later had to forfeit the victories because of NCAA rules violations.
"It's very impressive," Painter said. "It's something our seniors kind of set as a goal. We went a long time without winning in East Lansing and Columbus, so I think for our seniors it's a great accomplishment for them to be able to do that in their last year."
Harris Does Everything for UMass
Massachusetts senior guard Ricky Harris won't get any national player of the year votes and it's doubtful he will win the award in the Atlantic 10 Conference. However, if they had a Most Valuable Player award, Harris might win it.
Few players in the nation mean more to their teams than Harris. He is the Minutemen's only scholarship senior on a team that starts three freshmen and a sophomore. Additionally, he is Massachusetts' leading scorer, made the move from shooting guard to point guard when David Gibbs suffered a broken foot last month and has become the defensive stopper. Oh by the way, he has also been one of the top scorers in the country in recent weeks, his 10-point outing n a 66-60 loss at George Washington on Wednesday night notwithstanding.
"We ask Ricky to do everything and I mean EVERYTHING," Massachusetts coach Derek Kellogg said. "I don't think anyone has had more weight put on their shoulders in college basketball this season than Ricky. We've asked him to be a leader and our best player on both the offensive and defensive end. Not too many kids could handle all that but he's a special player and a special person."
Harris' line is 19.2/3.1/3.0/30.4 and he had scored at least 23 points in seven consecutive games until Wednesday's clunker. Not surprisingly, he is 10th in the nation in percentage of possessions (32.2) and 17th in percentage of shots (33.8). While Massachusetts is just 10-16, it has hope for the future with a talented group of young players and Harris said he will take satisfaction in watching them grow in the years to come and perhaps end an NCAA Tournament drought that stretches back to 1998.
"UMass is going to be really good and I'm glad I've been able to play a part in starting to get things turned around," Harris said.
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.