With college basketball’s season coming closer to a conclusion, major awards will soon follow. Players like Trae Young have electrified the sport on the court all season long, but the race for Player of the Year has definitely narrowed in recent weeks, and there are a number of strong candidates.
Here’s a look at 10 players who deserve to be in the discussion when it comes to the sport’s Player of the Year award.
1. Jalen Brunson, Villanova
Villanova’s play of late certainly works in Brunson’s favor as far as Player of the Year consideration goes. The big part, though, is that Brunson can consistently do anything on a basketball court. He put up 22 points, five assists, and five rebounds in the team’s loss to Creighton, but that’s just demonstrative of what he can do. If you need Brunson to score, he can do it. If a teammate has the hotter hand, he’ll get out of the way and serve as the facilitator. He’s the best player on one of the nation’s best teams, and his play recently has begun to separate him. If you believe winning matters, Brunson is probably atop your list for the honor.
We’ve reached the point in the college basketball season where freshmen are no longer brand new on the scene. At season’s open, true freshmen are fresh-faced first-timers out of high school and onto a new scene. It can take time for coaches to find the right fit and right situation for their players. Now that we have seen half a season of every freshman in college basketball, it’s easier to gauge who will be a factor in March and who can help push their team to a Final Four run. These 10 freshmen have put themselves above the competition and made a name for themselves in 2017-2018.
10. Lindell Wigginton, Iowa State
During a season that has been filled with talk of the Big XII featuring America’s best basketball, Iowa State has been largely left out of the conversation. The Cyclones have been one of the Big XII’s best programs over the last half decade, finishing conference play with a winning record and top 5 finish every year since 2011. This season is a re-focusing year of sorts for Iowa State, but Lindell Wigginton has been a source of hope. The 6-foot-2 Canadian guard has been surprisingly excellent to date, totaling 16.2 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. His hot shooting, to the tune of 43 percent outside the arc, has helped Iowa State in conference play. In the Cyclones’ last five games, Wigginton is sinking 47 percent of his threes and posting 20 points per game, including a 30-point outing versus Baylor.
9. Wendell Carter Jr., Duke
College basketball’s first semester has come to a close. For the casual fan, this means the season has barely begun, but for the diehard followers, so much has already taken place. Top teams have crumbled, surprising contenders have emerged, and star players have made their mark on the landscape. Despite the best efforts of all parties involved, the college basketball schedule early on fails to really attract attention.
Now as the calendar turns, teams are sliding into conference play with more on the line. Beyond bragging rights, tournament bids and seeds are there for the taking. Teams, both good and bad, are now required to step out of their comfort zone and play true road games in front of packed crowds. This is where the season truly begins to get chaotic. Before that happens though, it’s crucial to look back at what has already occurred and what events will set the stage for the rest of the season.
10. LiAngelo Ball’s departure from UCLA
The middle brother of the most boastful family in basketball was never going to make an impact at UCLA this season. He was given a scholarship mostly as part of the Bruins’ recruiting of his older brother Lonzo, who is now with the Los Angeles Lakers. LiAngelo entered his freshman season as an undersized forward with few skills other than an outside jumpshot. In the span of a four-year career, he may have developed into a contributor.
A player of his caliber being mentioned on this list is no easy feat. For the college basketball world to care about LiAngelo Ball, he had to become part of an international incident, reportedly involving two of the world’s most powerful figures, when he and two teammates were arrested in China for shoplifting. After a few presidential tweets and a flight home, the Ball family chose to pull LiAngelo from college. Fans of the collegiate version of basketball let out a collective sigh of relief as LaVar Ball became someone else’s problem.
9. Fletcher Magee on historic pace
College football’s best players were just in New York and Atlanta to receiver their honors, while their basketball counterparts are just getting started the race to be the nation’s best. With about a quarter of the season done, and barely any conference games having been played, some players have already showcased the kinds of performances worthy of end of season awards. The college basketball landscape is littered with freshmen off to a hot start to their careers and upperclassmen establishing their dominance early on.
Through about one month of play, this group of players has jumped out as possible winners of National Player of the Year.
10. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
Though the season has not started perfectly for the Badgers, Happ has not been the issue so far. As Wisconsin has stumbled to a 4-7 record, the junior center has averaged 16.3 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 3.1 assists, while playing some of the most impressive and versatile defense in the nation. He’s led the Big Ten in steals back-to-back seasons, plus topped the conference in 2-point field goals and offensive rebounds last year. Though known for his work on the block and around the basket, Happ has attempted to add a jump shot to his repertoire this season. Last season, just 18 percent of his shots were jumpers, and he only made 34 percent of those jump shots. This season, more than a quarter of his attempts are jump shots, and he’s making half of them. If defenders need to respect him from outside of ten feet, his inside game and fleet footwork becomes even more effective.
9. Kyle Guy, Virginia
Marvin Bagley III committed to Duke as a class of 2017 recruit last month, but he still needed approval from the NCAA to be able to play immediately. The 18-year-old received it on Friday.
Duke basketball announced on Twitter that its top recruit has been given the green light.
— Duke Basketball (@DukeMBB) September 8, 2017
Bagley averaged 24.6 points and 10.1 points per game as a senior at Sierra Canyon High School in Chatsworth (Calif.) after sitting out his junior year due to transfer rules. He had previously spent his freshman and sophomore years in his home state of Arizona.
While it’s still early to say how Bagley will perform at the next level, many expect him to be the top overall pick in next year’s NBA Draft. If you want to know how much hype is surrounding the 6-foot-11 big man, just look at how Duke’s championship odds were affected when he announced his commitment.
After nearly three decades of hanging in the rafters at Duke, Danny Ferry’s No. 35 jersey is coming out of retirement for star freshman Marvin Bagley III. Now Ferry is explaining why he offered his blessing.
In an interview with Hank Tucker of Duke’s student newspaper The Chronicle earlier this week, Ferry opened up about his decision to allow the jersey to come down for Bagley, who wore the number in high school.
“[Associate head coach] Jeff Capel and I had talked about it a while ago, at which time I offered and said I was totally fine with it at some point if they needed to use one of the retired jerseys,” said Ferry. “I’m very proud my jersey will still be hanging in Cameron, but I’m most attached to what is best for Duke and the basketball program.
“Speaking pragmatically, with so many retired jerseys and the great tradition that hopefully continues, this was going to be an issue going forward for the school at some level,” Ferry continued. “For it being a high-quality player and a high-character kid, it certainly makes decisions like this easy.”
Ferry, who went to a lengthy NBA career and a three-year stint as Atlanta Hawks GM, was one of the more storied players in Duke basketball history. A four-year guy, Ferry was a two-time ACC Player of the Year and a two-time All-American selection as well as Naismith College Player of the Year in 1989.
Tucker notes that the Blue Devils have retired 13 jersey numbers in the history of the program, but this is the first time ever that a number has been brought out of retirement. Nevertheless, with how drastically Bagley’s commitment has improved Duke’s title odds, it makes sense for him to be the trailblazer.
If you’re a sports bettor, hopefully you got your money in on Duke to win the 2018 national championship prior to Monday, because the price just went up.
High school star Marvin Bagley III announced on Monday night that he was reclassifying to the class of 2017 and that he would play for Duke.
In response to the news, one Las Vegas sportsbook instantly made the Blue Devils 3:1 favorites to win the title, a spike from where they began in April at 12:1.
The Bagley effect: Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook just made Duke 3-1 favorite to win 2018 NCAA MBB title. Duke had opened 12-1 back in April.
— Steve Carp (@stevecarprj) August 15, 2017
Bagley, who played last season at Sierra Canyon High School in Chatsworth, Calif., is viewed as the No. 1 recruit in this year’s class, and a strong contender to be the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Some believe the 6-foot-11 forward may be the most valuable player coming out of high school since LeBron James.
Bagley’s reclassification still needs to be approved by the NCAA. If the move is approved, Duke will end up with a good shot at winning their second championship in four years.