With one month remaining in the regular season, it only seems fitting that the leading candidates for the Wooden Award hail from the country’s best league.
Michigan’s Trey Burke and Indiana’s Victor Oladipo have represented their schools and the Big Ten in grand fashion all season. But their reputations have been enhanced even more in recent days thanks to All-American-type performances in mammoth victories that commanded the attention of the nation.
Three days after Oladipo propelled Indiana to an 81-73 victory over Michigan, the Wolverines and Burke bounced back with a 76-74 overtime win against Ohio State. Burke made a handful of key defensive stops down the stretch to help secure the win.
Burke and Oladipo haven’t completely separated themselves from the pack, but ranking them No. 1 and 2, respectively, at the moment was a no-brainer. Here is my latest ballot.
Trey Burke, Michigan -- Burke made two huge defensive plays (a strip and a block) on Ohio State standout guard Aaron Craft in the final minute of overtime Tuesday to help preserve a 76-74 victory. He also scored 18 points and dished out six assists.
Victor Oladipo, Indiana -- No one would’ve thought before the season that Oladipo, a junior, would be on this list. But one of the nation’s most well-rounded players (14 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 2.5 assists) couldn’t be more deserving.
Doug McDermott, Creighton -- The one-time leader for the Wooden Award averages 23.3 points, but he was limited to only eight points in Wednesday’s 19-point setback against Indiana State. The loss was the third in six games for McDermott’s squad.
Mason Plumlee, Duke -- The senior forward is averaging 19.8 points in his past three games and 17.6 points on the season. He’s also snaring 10.8 boards and swatting 1.7 shots per contest. His play in the absence of Ryan Kelly (foot) has been huge.
Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga -- This could be Mark Few’s best team yet at Gonzaga, and Olynyk -- a 7-foot center -- is the main reason. He’s averaging a team-high 17.9 points and seven rebounds while shooting 64.3 percent from the field.
On the cusp (listed alphabetically):
Jahii Carson, Arizona State -- The Sun Devils’ freshman point guard should be considered for Pac-12 Player of the Year. He’s scoring 18.3 points and dishing out 5.3 assists for Arizona State (17-5, 6-3), which was picked to finish 11th in the Pac-12.
Kenny Kadji, Miami -- The 6-foot-11 Florida transfer is one of the main reasons Miami is undefeated in the ACC and hasn’t lost since Dec. 25. Kadji ranks second on the team in points (13.4) and rebounds (6.8).
Ben McLemore, Kansas -- The nation’s most talented freshman missed all six of his 3-point attempts in Wednesday’s shocking loss at TCU. McLemore is too nice at times. He needs to demand the ball.
Nerlens Noel, Kentucky -- The freshman is averaging a pedestrian 10.6 points per a game, but Noel is excelling in other areas. His 9.5 rebounds per contest is clearly a team high and his average of 4.6 blocks leads the nation. No player in the country is better defensively.
Otto Porter, Georgetown -- The Hoyas are on a four-game winning streak, and Porter is the main reason. He’s averaging 17.8 points during that span. Not many big men in the country are as versatile as Porter, who brings it every night.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State -- The freshman guard had 25 points, nine rebounds and five steals in Saturday’s upset of Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. He struggled offensively against Baylor two nights later but still had eight rebounds, seven assists and five steals
Russ Smith, Louisville -- The junior guard is averaging 17.1 points during the Cardinals’ current three-game win streak. If Smith continues to play at a high level, Louisville still has an excellent opportunity to win the Big East title.
Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State -- Thomas, who has been on his list all season, is averaging 16 points in his past two games and 19.9 points on the season. He has scored 20 or more just once in his past five contests.
Jeff Withey, Kansas -- The 7-foot center averaged 11.5 points, eight rebounds and three blocks in the Jayhawks’ last two games -- both of which were losses. He continues to be one of the nation’s top defensive threats.
Cody Zeller, Indiana -- The preseason favorite for this award made huge strides last week by averaging 19 points and 10.5 rebounds in victories over Purdue and Michigan. He’s playing his best basketball of the season.