Jan. 21, 2010

By Anthony Oliva III

We're nearly three months into this season and we don't have a clear-cut favorite for player of the year. Last year, Oklahoma's Blake Griffin dazzled us from the onset. Two years ago, it was hard to turn on the TV and not hear about North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough. And, the year before that, Texas' Kevin Durant burst on the scene and immediately became one of the biggest stories.

This year is different. There is no one player that has separated himself from the pack. There is a lot of basketball left, and whoever shines brightest from here to March could be in line to get some hardware. Here are a few of the candidates, broken up into three different categories of players. 

THE HEADLINERS: These are the guys that are putting up monster numbers for some of the nation's best teams. They're highlight reels waiting to happen. Many award winners come from this category, but not always. Think Blake Griffin last year.

Damion James - Texas
James' production is a huge reason the Longhorns earned their first-ever No. 1 ranking. The 6-foot-7 senior forward opted to stay in college this year and it has paid off in a big way. James is averaging a double-double with 17.3 points and 11 rebounds a game. He also contributes over a block and a steal per game.

James has been good when it counted the most. In back-to-back victories against North Carolina and Michigan State in December, James averaged 24 points, 14 rebounds and 2.5 steals. More recently, he amassed 26 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks as the Longhorns narrowly avoided being upset by Texas A&M.

Evan Turner- Ohio State
Sure he missed six games due to a broken back, but when he has been healthy, he carried the Buckeyes on that very same back. Without Turner, Ohio State went 3-3. With him and his 18.6 points, 9.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game, Ohio State is 11-2.

It all started in the first game of the year when Turner, a point guard, went off for 14 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists. This was only the second triple-double in Ohio State history. Thirteen days later, the junior did it again with 16 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists against Lipscomb. He does it against top competition too. On Jan. 12 versus then-No. 6 Purdue, Turner put on a show with a 32-point, nine-rebound effort in a 70-66 win.

John Wall - Kentucky
What can I say about John Wall that hasn't already been said? The freshman point guard has garnered more attention than any other player in the nation, and rightfully so. He is averaging 17.1 points per game and dishes out 6.9 assists per night - which is third in the nation. He has been erratic at times, averaging over four turnovers a game, but lets remember, he is still a freshman.

His stats are impressive, but how he does it is even more impressive. A regular sight on SportsCenter, Wall is one of the nation's top playmakers. He also shows more poise than any freshman should. In his first collegiate game, Wall hit a jumper in the final seconds to defeat Miami (Ohio). Against Connecticut on Dec. 9, he scored 12 of Kentucky's last 15 points to earn a three-point victory. His free throws also iced victories over North Carolina and Auburn. Wall is a major reason Kentucky is the nation's last unbeaten.

Others considered: Luke Harangody (Notre Dame), Wesley Johnson (Syracuse).

THE CAPTAINS: These are the guys that may not have the mind-boggling stat sheets like the guys above, but their leadership for their respective teams makes them just as valuable. With first-class production on the court, these guys can do it all. Think Tyler Hansbrough in 2008.

Robbie Hummel - Purdue
Hummel is a model of consistency and is the glue to the Boilermakers. The 6-foot-8 junior has scored in double figures in every game this year except one. That game, he had nine points. For the season, Hummel averages 16.3 points, seven rebounds and over one steal and one block per game.

Hummel's value was seen last year when he went out with a back injury and Purdue struggled. Purdue needs him to stay healthy if it wishes to contend for the Big Ten title. Hummel's signature game came in a loss to Ohio State when he dueled with Evan Turner. Hummel hit eight first half 3-pointers on his was to 35 points and 10 rebounds. With Hummel you know what you're getting, and that's consistent production.

Scottie Reynolds - Villanova
Reynolds made the infamous coast-to-coast lay-up to get Villanova into the Final Four last year, and he has picked up right where he left off. The 6-foot-2 guard leads the team with 18.5 points a night, which is fourth in the Big East. He is Villanova's floor general and has led the Wildcats to a 16-1 record.

In consecutive wins versus Louisville and Georgetown last week, Reynolds erupted for a combined 63 points and shot 17-for-25 from the field. The senior has scored over 20 points in eight of his last 11 games. Reynolds appears to be turning it on at just the right time, and his senior leadership will be vital for Villanova as the Wildcats attempt to make back-to-back Final Fours.

Jon Scheyer - Duke
You won't find Jon Scheyer rattling the rim with dunks or dazzling the crowd with electrifying quickness, but you will find him getting the job done each and every night. The senior point guard is leading Duke in points and assists, with 19.1 and 5.8 respectively. Scheyer is the quintessential Duke point guard - and that's a good thing.

Scheyer's biggest game came on Dec. 15 against Gardner-Webb. Scheyer poured in 36 points, shot 7-for-9 from 3-point range, dished our nine assists and grabbed eight rebounds. Scheyer is also efficient, shooting over 43 percent from the field, 39 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the free-throw line on the season.

Others considered: Sherron Collins (Kansas), Trevor Booker (Clemson).

THE UNKNOWNS: Every once in a while a player can come into a program and revitalize it. These are guys that have taken teams that are not perennial powers and turned them into contenders. They may not get the national attention yet, but it's just a matter of time. Admittedly, not many players from this category win the award, but their value cannot be understated. Think Jameer Nelson in 2004

Jimmer Fredette - BYU
The Cougars are sitting at 19-1 and Fredette is a big reason why. BYU is ranked No. 14 in the nation and Fredette is averaging 19.4 points and 5.0 assists per game, both tops on the team. The junior guard shoots 47 percent from the field, 43 percent from 3-point range and nearly 90 percent from the charity stripe.

In a three-game stretch where BYU beat Nevada, Nebraska and Arizona in December, Fredette averaged 35.3 points and 6.3 assists. The highlight was a 49-point outburst against Arizona where he shot 16-for-23 from the field and chipped in with seven rebounds and nine assists. Fredette has scored 20 points in 10 of the 18 games he's played this year. If BYU continues to be a factor nationally, Fredette will be the main reason.

Gordon Hayward - Butler
Butler came into this season with high expectations, yet it struggled to get a signature win early. With Hayward playing some of his best basketball, the Bulldogs have won eight of their last nine, including wins over Ohio State and Xavier. Now, Butler appears to be fulfilling this year's lofty expectations.

Hayward leads Butler with 15.8 points and 8.4 rebounds a game. In Butler's two biggest wins against Ohio State and Xavier, Hayward was at his best. In those two games, he averaged 23 points and 11 rebounds. The 6-foot-8 sophomore can score from the outside and can also be a factor in the post, and that's why he is so valuable to this team.

Hassan Whiteside - Marshall
Whiteside is anything but a household name, but that should all change. The 7-foot-0 freshman has exploded onto the scene and made Marshall a contender in a wide-open Conference USA. Marshall is 15-3 on the year and 4-0 in conference play. Two of Marshall's losses were to North Carolina and West Virginia, the latter only being a eight-point decision.

Whiteside is leading the Thundering Herd in points, rebounds and blocks. In fact, Whiteside's 5.4 blocks per game is tops in the nation. He also averages 12.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per contest. Whiteside has two triple-doubles and nine double-doubles on the year. If Marshall wishes to contend for a conference title, Whiteside is the player that will lead them.

Others considered: Ryan Wittman (Cornell), LaceDarius Dunn (Baylor).