Many awards are given alongside the tournament — the most popular being the player of the year award. The Naismith College Player of The Year award, named after founder of basketball Dr. James Naismith, is annually presented to the top collegiate basketball player.
The leaders in this year’s award race are some of the most exciting, league-ready players we’ve seen as of late.
My top five candidates are as follows: Trey Burke, University of Michigan; Victor Oladipo, Indiana University; Cody Zeller, Indiana University; Ben McLemore, University of Michigan; and Mason Plumlee, Duke University.
Let’s start with Burke, who’s averaging 18.6 points, 3.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game. He’s a 6-foot, 190-pound sophomore guard. Burke currently holds the top spot in the POY polls and is playing like he intends to keep it that way.
In Michigan’s Feb. 7 game against Penn State, Burke dropped 29 points along with three rebounds and five assists. He’s a crafty passer who likes to set up plays for his teammates, and his style has produced POY-worthy numbers.
Victor Oladipo, from Indiana University, is a fierce player on the court. The junior guard played a game so great against rivals Michigan State that even the former Spartan, Magic Johnson, was giving him praise.
Basketball Hall of Famer, Dick Vitale, whose commentated games since the ‘70s, claimed Oladipo’s style of play was similar to the likes of Michael Jordan in his college days.
Oladipo is averaging 14 points, two assists and six rebounds per game. I’m not quite sold on his jumper, but he’s also shot 63 percent from the field on this season. Those are impressive figures.
You may recognize the last name Zeller — that’s because he’s the brother of Tyler Zeller, current Cleveland Cavalier and former North Carolina Tar Heel.
Zeller has arguably been the best player in the country over the last month and a half. He’s averaging 16.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and a block per game, which makes him the scariest big man in Division I ball.
Zeller runs the floor well and maintains constant mobility, despite adding strength over the summer. I think he has the potential to be much better than his big brother.
Ben McLemore has risen from the shadows to become a favorite to win not only POY, but also several other awards, such as the John Wooden Award and the Oscar Robertson Trophy.
McLemore is a young athletic player with great leaping ability who can score in traffic. He’s a standout to me because I rarely see him rush shots, he sees the floor very well and can be a defensive stopper when needed.
A McLemore win would be unexpected, but so was his breakout freshman year at Kansas. Don’t rule him out.
Last but not least is Mason Plumlee. Plumlee is a good example of coach Mike Krzyzewski getting everything he can out of a player. He went from scoring three points a night as a freshman to becoming a double-double machine for the Blue Devils. His progression has been remarkable, but it probably won’t score him the award.
So, who do I think will take it all? It’s still early, but Oladipo would be my pick. I was sold after watching him shred Michigan State in their Feb. 19 meeting.
If Indiana can remain at the number spot in the polls, Oladipo’s path to the award will be even easier.