- Jason King
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Pardon me for being indecisive.
Three weeks into the college basketball season, I’m nowhere close to identifying a clear-cut leader in the race for the Wooden Award. Heck, simply whittling my list to 15 players was tricky. I winced when I highlighted the names "Pierre Jackson" and "Elias Harris" and hit delete. Same with Brandon Paul, Erick Green, Peyton Siva, Mike Muscala and Sean Kilpatrick. My editor warned me this job wouldn’t be easy and, boy, was he right.
What follows are the names of my top 15 candidates for the Wooden Award. The list is alphabetized. Things won’t be as easy next week, when I’ll have to actually rank guys on my first official ballot. Make sure you check back then -- and every Thursday after that -- to see how I voted.
Trey Burke, Michigan -- Burke averages 16.7 points and 7.5 assists for the undefeated Wolverines. His signature performance came Tuesday, when he had 18 points, 11 assists and zero turnovers in a victory over North Carolina State. Unless you count Arkansas and West Virginia, Michigan doesn’t have a tough game left on its nonconference schedule.
Isaiah Canaan, Murray State -- The preseason All-American is posting similar numbers (22.5 ppg) to the ones he put up as a junior. The most impressive figures are his shooting stats. Canaan is making 50 percent of his field goals, including 42.6 percent from 3-point range.
Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse -- A sophomore, Carter-Williams is flourishing in his first season as a starter. He’s averaging 10.3 points on a balanced team, but his 9.3 assists per game is best in the nation, and his average of four steals ties him for second.
Allen Crabbe, Cal -- The Golden Bears are taking a 6-0 record into Sunday’s game at Wisconsin, and Crabbe is the main reason. The 6-foot-6 junior averages 22 points and 5.5 rebounds and is shooting 52.3 percent from the field and 43.8 percent from 3-point range. If he keeps this up, Cal will be a contender in the Pac-12.
Archie Goodwin, Kentucky -- Even though he’s more of a 2-guard, Goodwin has been called upon to run the point until Ryan Harrow is physically and mentally ready to get back into the mix. Goodwin averages a team-high 19 points along with 4.4 assists. The freshman is shooting 52.7 percent from the field.
Alex Len, Maryland -- Maryland has an excellent chance to return to the NCAA tournament thanks to the 7-1 Len, who should be a top-10 pick in the 2013 NBA draft. Len averages 15.2 points and nine rebounds for a squad that has lost only to Kentucky.
C.J. McCollum, Lehigh -- The senior guard leads the nation in scoring with 26.3 points per game and already has scored 30 points or more three times. He’s shooting 51 percent from the field and 55 percent from 3-point range -- staggering numbers for a guy who takes 18 shots per contest.
Doug McDermott, Creighton -- The junior’s 21-point scoring average would be considerably higher if not for a five-point performance against UAB on Nov. 14. A first-team All-American last season, McDermott is averaging 26.6 points in his past three games.
Mason Plumlee, Duke -- The Blue Devils' 7-foot center may be the leading candidate for this award after taking his team to victories over Kentucky, Ohio State, VCU, Minnesota and Louisville. Plumlee is averaging 19.9 points and 11 rebounds against the nation’s toughest schedule. No player can match his overall resume thus far.
Otto Porter, Georgetown -- The sophomore’s biggest strength is his versatility. He’s averaging 16.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in his past three games. Porter -- who missed nearly all of two games earlier this season because of a concussion -- will face a big test Friday when the Hoyas take on Tennessee.
Phil Pressey, Missouri -- Pressey has done a masterful job of running a backcourt that is missing two of its key pieces in Michael Dixon and Jabari Brown. Look for his assist average (6.2) to rise -- and his turnovers (3.8) to go down -- once those players join him on the perimeter. Pressey’s 15 points per game rank first on a squad that has lost only to Louisville.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State -- No freshman has turned heads quite like Smart, who does a little bit of everything for the undefeated Cowboys. Smart, a guard, averages 13.7 points, 7 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 2.4 steals. He needs to improve his shooting (37.7 percent) and cut down his turnovers (3.8).
Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State -- The 6-7 Thomas is one of the top pure scorers in America. He’s averaging 22.4 points while shooting 52 percent from the field. Thomas had a so-so game (16 points on 6-of-14 shooting) in Wednesday’s loss to Duke, but he’s still considered one of the top five candidates for this award.
Jeff Withey, Kansas -- The 7-footer recorded just the second official triple-double in Jayahwks history when he had 16 points, 12 rebounds and 12 blocks in Monday’s win over San Jose State. Not many teams in college basketball have a game-changer on the defensive end quite like Withey, who leads the nation with 6.2 blocks a game.
Cody Zeller, Indiana -- Zeller entered the season as the favorite to win the Wooden Award, and he certainly looked deserving in Tuesday’s victory over North Carolina. The sophomore center finished with 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting and also had eight rebounds and four blocks. He averages 15.9 points.