The college basketball player of the year race is wide open. That was my prediction in October and it still stands.
Here is my take on who is still in the running for player of the year and who deserves some more consideration. Let’s break it down:
Ethan Happ, Sr., Wisconsin: Happ came back to school to lead the Badgers back to the NCAA tournament and a possible Big Ten title. He’s doing everything in his power to make that happen. He has played so well in every big game, averaging 19.2 and 10.7. He’s pushing nearly five assists a game. He’s got the pole position for Big Ten Player of the Year.
Dedric Lawson, Jr., Kansas: Bill Self wasn’t fooling around when he said Lawson could be the Big 12 Player of the Year and the national player of the year. Lawson is the most consistent Jayhawk and the reason Kansas entered the Big 12 with only one loss. He is averaging 19.6 points and 10.8 boards.
Markus Howard, Jr., Marquette: Howard stepped up in each big non-conference game after the loss at Indiana. He scored 45 points against Kansas State and 45 against Buffalo. Both at home. Howard is the favorite at this juncture for Big East Player of the Year.
Grant Williams, Jr., Tennessee: The Vols have two legitimate candidates for national player of the year. Williams is the reigning SEC player of the year and he hasn’t slipped, averaging 20 points and 8 rebounds so far. But he has company on his own team.
Admiral Schofield, Sr., Tennessee: Schofield is averaging just a shade below Williams with 18 and six, but he hit one of the biggest shots of the season — a 3-pointer to beat Gonzaga in Phoenix. The Admiral nickname is taken, but this Admiral can make his own mark this season.
Rui Hachimura, Jr., Gonzaga: Hachimura hit the game-winning, buzzer-beater to knock off Washington. He’s averaging 21.2 points and 6.5 boards. He has instrumental in the win over Duke in Maui. But like many of the elite teams, Hachimura isn’t alone. San Jose State transfer Brandon Clarke is having a banner season and is averaging 17 and 8. Zach Norvell Jr., is a big-time scorer/shooter and Josh Perkins is the steady lead guard.
Zion Williamson, Fr., Duke: Williamson has been as good as advertised with his 19.8 points and 9.4 rebounds a game. He has put on a phenomenal show nearly every time on the floor. But has plenty of company on the Blue Devils. Does Williamson get the nod over RJ Barrett and Tre Jones? All have been important to this start. Williamson will be in the thick of the race, though, throughout the season.
The backboard is too low for Zion. pic.twitter.com/NPZc0BWt1o— Duke Basketball (@DukeMBB) December 20, 2018
Ignas Brazdeikis, Fr., Michigan: Brazdeikas has been one of the biggest surprises in the country, let alone the freshmen class. He’s been instrumental in the Wolverines undefeated start and can be counted on to go for double figures.
Cassius Winston, Jr., Michigan State: Winston is the leading scorer among a trio of players that have been a rock for the Spartans. Winston’s 17.5 points leads the team averages, but he has also become a reliable 3-point threat and distributor. Winston, Joshua Langford and Nick Ward made life easier for Tom Izzo’s offense because he knows at least one or two of them will step up each night.
Caleb Martin, Sr., Nevada: Martin is the leading scorer for Nevada at 19.9 a game, but it’s hard to discuss the Wolf Pack without mentioning Jordan Caroline’s 18 a game and his overall importance. Caroline may be the team’s most important player since he’s the toughest matchup. Regardless, Martin is playing like an all-American so far.
Myles Powell, Jr., Seton Hall: Powell hits big shots (see: Kentucky) and his presence allows for him to be a decoy for others (see: Myles Cale, or even Shavar Reynolds). Powell is averaging 22.5 a game and has the Pirates in position to challenge for the Big East title.
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Don’t count them out
Carsen Edwards, Jr., Purdue: Edwards can still go for 30 or 40 in a single game. He’s averaging 25.8. The problem for Edwards has been the lack of elite wins so far this season. That could easily change in the Big Ten. He was my pick for preseason national and Big Ten player of the year. If Purdue could mount a Big Ten title run then he will be back in the race.
Shamorie Ponds, Jr., St. John’s: The preseason Big East Player of the Year could make a national splash if the Red Storm were to win the league. Ponds was averaging 19.2 and six assists a game before scoring 26 and dishing out five assists in a home win over Marquette Tuesday night. He out shined Markus Howard in the first meeting, but he still has work to do to get past him for Big East player and national player of the year.
Keldon Johnson, Fr., Kentucky: This Kentucky team is blossoming into the squad that was projected. It just took time. And the options from Johnson to Reid Travis to Tyler Herro and PJ Washington means that it will be hard for one to stand out. But Johnson is the potential star.
Kyle Guy, Jr., Virginia: Guy, De’Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome have taken turns being the go-to guy on the team. So, it may be hard for Guy to be the standout. But if Virginia is a No. 1 seed again and wins the ACC he will deserve recognition.
Jordan Murphy, Sr., Minnesota: Murphy is a double-double machine. He’s averaging 15.7 and 12.6 this season. He’ll have help now with Eric Curry’s return so the depth of scoring will improve with the Gophers. Murphy has all-American numbers, but the Gophers need to compete for the Big Ten title for him to be in the conversation for national player of the year.
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James Palmer Jr., Sr., Nebraska: Palmer returned to Nebraska for one reason — to get the Huskers back to the NCAA tournament and raise his stock. He’s on track for both with nearly 20 points a game and almost four rebounds per outing.
R.J. Barrett, Fr., Duke: Barrett is leading the Blue Devils in scoring but not in the wow category. Zion Williamson gets that nod. But what if Barrett leads Duke to an ACC title and No. 1 seed and possibly a Final Four? Then he will be a first-team all-American and right in the mix for the player of the year.
Romeo Langford, Fr., Indiana: Langford hasn’t had the national pub that the Duke freshmen have received but he’s putting up comparable numbers with nearly 18 points a game.
Juwan Morgan, Sr., Indiana: Morgan has been a steady presence for the Hoosiers with 16 and 7 this season. He has a real shot for a top three finish in the Big Ten Player of the Year race if the Hoosiers can finish in the top three.
Tyler Cook, Jr., Iowa: Cook is having another break through season for the Hawkeyes, averaging nearly 17 and nine. If Iowa mounts a surge toward the top of the Big Ten then his national profile will rise.
Remember the name
Ja Morant, So., Murray State: Morant has been sensational as the lead guard for the Racers with 23 points, 6.7 rebounds and 9.6 assists a game. Murray State still has to get past Belmont to win the OVC but if he gets a chance on the national stage in the NCAA tournament then postseason honors will come.
Mike Daum, Sr., South Dakota State: Mike Daum hasn’t missed a beat in each of the last two seasons. He’s a bucket getter and a board hunter. He is averaging 24.6 a game and 10.9 rebounds. If he can get back to the NCAA tournament then he’ll be back on the stage where he’ll shine for a chance to make Jackrabbit memories for a lifetime.
Marial Shayok, Sr., Iowa State: Shayok has had one of the best seasons so far of a transfer. The former Virginia player has been a rock for Steve Prohm’s crew, averaging 20.1 points and 5.6 rebound a game. His production has been critical in the absence of Lindell Wigginton for all but two of the first dozen games.