As the college basketball season gets into full swing, with most teams having around 10 games left before conference tournaments begin, college basketball fans everywhere are focusing on a few major story lines that are going to dominate the remainder of the season. Who will be the #1 pick in the draft? Will Kansas’s Joel Embiid actually pass up a legitimate shot at going first overall to stay and develop his game more? Will either Wichita St or Syracuse run the table and go undefeated heading into the tourney? Who will win the Wooden Award (college basketball’s player of the year)?
It is that last question that has been a question that was primarily dominated by a discussion between 5 freshmen for first half of the year, a few notable upperclassmen have joined the conversation and one in particular seems to be the overwhelming front runner. Creighton’s Doug McDermott has “all but locked up the Wooden Award” according to ESPN, but the story isn’t so cut and dry. By the time the season is over, McDermott will not be crowned college basketball’s best player
The national spotlight officially turned to McDermott and the Bluejays on Janurary 20th, after their 28 point beatdown over then #4 Villanova, a game that this writer watched firsthand. From the very first second, everyone at the Wells Fargo Center knew the Wildcats were in trouble, but no one knew exactly what they were about to witness. The Bluejays started the game red hot hitting their first 6 shots which all happened to be beyond the 3-point arc. By the end of the game Creighton was 21-35 from 3, 18 of which were beyond NBA range. Ethan Wragge was the true star of the game, shooting 9-14 from 3 and finishing with 27 points. Ever since then, Creighton and especially Doug McDermott have been in the national spotlight and have climbed the polls to #12 heading into their match-up against DePaul later on today.
Although ESPN has already crowned Doug McDermott the Wooden winner, I feel like there are a few reasons that Dougie McBuckets (nickname the Villanova basketball team gave him before their game in January) should not be considered the clear-cut favorite.
1. He plays in the Big East: This year’s configuration of the Big East is not the Big East of years past. It is not the toughest conference in America anymore and typical games played between conference foes are not grind-it-out slugfests. The conference went from having 6 or 7 national powerhouses and a conference that always sent a ton of teams to the tournament to one that really only features 2 national powerhouses (Villanova and Georgetown, 2 teams that have made names for themselves over the past 5 years (Creighton and Butler) and then a bunch of mediocre to sub-par teams. Sure, McDermott has handled his Big East foes well, but playing in a pretty weak conference when compared to players contending for the Wooden that play in the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 or PAC 12 it has to be taken into consideration.
2. The Wooden is about one year, not a career. So yes, the fact that he is on pace to break 3000 points in his career, and that over the course of his career at Creighton, he has carried the team to 2 NCAA tournaments, winning one game in each and will most likely be a top 5 seed this year is incredible for a player who is always the focus of every opponents defense, that is not what wins the Wooden, or at least it shouldn’t.
3. Other players are having incredible years, and their teams are better than Creighton. In the Year of the Freshman, players like Jabari Parker (Duke), Aaron Gordon (Arizona), Joel Embiid (Kansas), Andrew Wiggins (Kansas), Tyler Ennis (Syracuse) and Julius Randle (Kentucky) have all put up amazing seasons but those have been seemingly disregarded.
For me, this is a 5 man race for the Wooden, with the top 3 all close together. My top 5 in order are:
1. Jabari Parker - 18.7 PPG, 8.2 RPG, .471 FG%, .372 3P% This freshman sensation is one of the most complete players in college basketball today. After a torrid start to the season, Parker has hit a little bit of a wall recently but is sure to pick things up for the rest of the season. If Parker is what he was the first month for the last 10 games, he will win the Wooden
2. Doug McDermott – 25.0 PPG, 7.1 RPG, .500 FG%, .439 3P% The case for McDermott is an obvious one, but because of the reasons listed above, I’m not ready to give it to him
3. Nick Johnson - 16.2 PPG, 3.7 RPG, .462 FG%, 1.1 SPG An elite defender who can score efficiently and is leading the #2 team in the nation to a ridiculous 22-1 start, with all unranked teams left on the schedule, Zona could easily be the #1 team in the nation with a 30-1 record heading into the tournament.
4. Andrew Wiggins - 15.9 PPG, 6.0 RPG, .440 FG%, 1.0 SPG Wiggins is not LeBron 2.0, but is quietly climbing the ranks as the best player in the nation. He has been getting better and better and has the highest ceiling of any player in college basketball right now. He would be the favorite for me if he didn’t have the next guy on this list on the court next to him
5. Joel Embiid - 10.9 PPG, 7.6 RPG, .616 FG%, 2.6 BPG Embiid has had the opposite season from Parker, he started out slow but has been on an absolute tear recently. He has the ability to be a double-double guy every night both in college ball and in the NBA whenever he decides to declare for the draft.
I know all the attention has been thrown at McDermott, and he has certainly had an incredible season. Being the only man on your team who consistently scores can be a blessing and a curse when it comes to Wooden consideration, yes he is carrying the team, but he shoots almost 40% of his team’s shots so his offensive stats are inflated. If Embiid wasn’t stealing votes from Wiggins, and he continues to improve he would be the front runner. Although McDermott has the attention of the nation, Jabari Parker is this year’s Wooden winner.