College Basketball Nation: POY straw poll 2013

The Player of the Year race still feels wide open.

While Michigan sophomore guard Trey Burke still has a hold on the top spot in the fourth Player of the Year poll, comprised of voters for the AP, Naismith, Robertson and Wooden Awards, a gaggle of people are keeping pace, most notably Indiana guard Victor Oladipo.

The junior entered the poll two weeks ago in fourth place and moved to second in our panel of 51 voters, including being in first or second place on every ballot but one that came in after Indiana’s 72-68 win over Michigan State on Tuesday night.

The other big mover was Gonzaga junior forward Kelly Olynyk, who sits in fifth place after receiving votes for the first time in the last poll two weeks ago.

As a reminder, pollsters are asked for their top three vote-getters in the poll anonymously, with three points given for a first-place vote, two points for a second-place vote and one for a third-place vote.



Tracking the contenders:
Burke: Preseason -- T-11th; first regular-season poll -- 2nd; second regular-season poll -- 2nd; third regular-season poll -- 1st; fourth regular-season poll -- 1st.
Oladipo: Preseason -- NR; first regular-season poll -- NR; second regular-season poll -- NR; third regular-season poll -- 4th; fourth regular-season poll -- 2nd.
McDermott: Preseason -- 2nd, first regular-season poll -- 3rd, second regular-season poll -- 1st, third regular-season poll -- 2nd; fourth regular-season poll -- 3rd.
Plumlee: Preseason -- NR; first regular-season poll -- 1st; second regular-season poll -- 3rd; third regular-season poll -- 3rd; fourth regular-season poll -- 4th.
Olynyk: Preseason -- NR; first regular-season poll -- NR; second regular-season poll -- NR; third regular-season poll -- T-10; fourth regular-season poll -- 5th.
Zeller: Preseason -- 1st; first regular-season poll -- 4th; second regular-season poll -- 4th; third regular-season poll -- 5th; fourth regular-season poll -- 6th.

Poll analysis
  • With the way the poll is going, the Big Ten Player of the Year and National Player of the Year races might come to a head on March 10 in Ann Arbor, Mich., where the Hoosiers and Wolverines close out the regular season by facing each other. If Oladipo continues to surge and Burke keeps pace and that game stalemates, a split could be conceivable.
  • Doug McDermott and Mason Plumlee are still hanging around, but fading from view. This is the first time all season at least one of the two big men wasn’t in the top two of the poll.
  • Erick Green, Shane Larkin and Otto Porter make their poll debuts. Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams, Miami’s Durand Scott and Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier departed the poll after receiving votes two weeks ago.
  • Three obligatory notes: Polls were due at 5 p.m. Wednesday, before Wednesday night’s games. Ballots are sent out every other Thursday and voters can submit their ballots at any time from when the call for ballots are sent out until that point Wednesday. Also, as a reminder, the poll is at the mercy of pollsters responding, which results in some fluctuation between the numbers of pollsters both overall and from region to region each week.
videoVictor Oladipo arrived at Indiana as part of the rebuilding process, a player with a ton of athleticism but who needed vast improvement in the nuance of basketball.

The potential was there, but Oladipo needed to hone it.

Indiana coach Tom Crean saw Oladipo’s desire from when he arrived in Bloomington, Ind. Now he’s seeing the results, too, as Oladipo has become one of the biggest impact players for the Hoosiers.

“My freshman year, it was kind of like I wanted to, but I wasn’t capable,” Oladipo told reporters recently. “I started growing my sophomore year and now my junior year, I have to bring it every night on both ends of the floor.”

It took one big matchup on a national stage against then-No. 1 Michigan -- and player-of-the-year candidate Trey Burke -- for Oladipo to reach the latest growth step: Consideration as one of the best players in the country.

Burke overtook Creighton’s Doug McDermott to take a slight lead in the third ESPN.com Player of the Year poll, but Oladipo made the biggest move. He entered the poll for the first time and sits in fourth place. His performance, especially defensively against Michigan, helped.

“He eats up space and keeps his hand out,” Burke said. “He moves his feet really well. He’s very athletic, so you really don’t have time to play around with him.”

Oladipo’s defensive ability goes back to his athleticism. On defense, it shows with his ability to shut down and close out opponents. On offense, it comes with his overall ability -- and was on display during a missed alley-oop dunk against the Wolverines when he caught the ball one-handed in the air and just missed finishing it off.

The 6-foot-5 junior from Upper Marlboro, Md., has affected the game on offense, where he averages 14 points, and on defense, where he averages 5.8 rebounds and 2.5 steals.

“He can guard two actions at one time, the screen and the man, and it is rare you see that. His recovery time, because of his lateral quickness, is exceptional,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “And there’s a lot of people who are very athletic like that, but they don’t want it like he does. He wants to be a good defender.

“That makes a big difference.”

Enough to put Oladipo in the race to be the country’s top player.

Tracking the contenders
Burke: Preseason -- T-11th; first regular-season poll -- 2nd; second regular-season poll -- 2nd; third regular-season poll -- 1st.
McDermott: Preseason -- 2nd, first regular-season poll -- 3rd, second regular-season poll -- 1st, third regular-season poll -- 2nd.
Plumlee: Preseason -- NR; first regular-season poll -- 1st; second regular-season poll -- 3rd; third regular-season poll -- 3rd.
Oladipo: Preseason -- NR; first regular-season poll -- NR; second regular-season poll -- NR; third regular-season poll -- 4th.
Zeller: Preseason -- 1st; first regular-season poll -- 4th; second regular-season poll -- 4th; third regular-season poll -- 5th.

Poll analysis
  • A reminder: Players get three points for a first-place vote, two for a second-place vote and one for a third-place vote. Every voter is an actual voter for at least one of the Wooden, Naismith, Associated Press or Robertson awards. Voters have been granted anonymity to participate in this poll, which is conducted every two weeks.
  • For the fourth consecutive poll -- including the preseason -- there is a new leader. Cody Zeller led the preseason poll, Mason Plumlee the first regular-season poll, Doug McDermott the most recent poll and now Burke nudging ahead of McDermott in this edition.
  • While there is still time left for someone, perhaps Oladipo, to make a run, this appears to be shaping up as a good two-man race between McDermott and Burke.
  • Two obligatory notes: Polls were due at 5 p.m. Wednesday, before Wednesday night’s games. Also, as mentioned in the last poll, the poll is somewhat at the mercy of the pollsters and once again, voters from the Far West have not responded to our queries. Once again, we will try to figure out a way to get more people in the Far West involved.
  • Louisville’s Russ Smith and UNLV’s Anthony Bennett both departed the poll this week.
Every season, there has usually been one. Whether the player has ended up winning the award or comes close, at least one player from a mid-major league usually enters the player-of-the-year conversation by the middle of the season.

Some, such as BYU’s Jimmer Fredette two years ago, have ended up leading the poll at the end of the year and sweeping the four big player-of-the-year awards. Others, such as Stephen Curry from Davidson in 2008-09, come close.

Creighton junior Doug McDermott was in the conversation for player of the year last season, finishing fourth behind Anthony Davis, Thomas Robinson and Draymond Green. Now, in the second in-season poll of the 2012-13 basketball season, McDermott has ascended to the top spot of our Player of the Year poll, just ahead of Michigan sophomore Trey Burke.

In the five-year history of the poll, the only season in which a non-BCS candidate did not garner serious consideration was in 2009-10, when Fredette made a late charge and showed up way down on the list during the final poll.

This season, two non-BCS players are receiving major attention in McDermott and UNLV freshman Anthony Bennett; a third, Nate Wolters from South Dakota State, is also receiving a vote.

McDermott, who was third two weeks ago in the initial in-season POY poll, leapt over Burke and the leader of the first poll, Duke senior Mason Plumlee, to take the lead.

There is a long way to go, though, between now and when awards ballots start to come due in March. McDermott and Burke, as you’ll see below, are not separated by much. Plumlee is still hanging around, and the players below them could all make a charge in this balanced race.

A common thread among the non-BCS candidates is usually making some noise the year before -- either in the NCAA tournament, in the case of Curry, or through a high-scoring regular season the year before, in the cases of Fredette and now McDermott.

For those who don’t remember, the poll consists of actual voters from the four major player-of-the-year awards -- the Wooden, Naismith, Associated Press and Robertson -- and each voter is asked to give his top three vote-getters, anonymously. A first-place vote garners three points, a second-place vote two points and a third-place vote one point.

Notes
  • A note on the polling: I poll voters from every region, but the poll is unfortunately at the mercy of those pollsters who respond, hence the lack of response from the Far West region. The majority of potential pollsters from the Far West -- and even Southwest -- regions have not responded at the same clip as those in other regions. Understand, too, that national writers and broadcasters are listed in the states in which they live, not as national writers, which could help explain some of the regions being more populated than others. That said, the poll is going to make a concerted effort for more West Coast pollsters in two weeks when the third poll is released.
  • The nine players are an all-time low for the poll, but that is actually not so surprising considering the way the race has been shaping up. There is no one true breakaway candidate, but rather a logjam of three candidates hanging out at the top. This probably means fewer players will get one or two votes since those top candidates -- with guys such as Carter-Williams, McLemore and Zeller hanging around, too -- are starting to separate themselves.
  • The nine players are from seven different conferences -- the ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Missouri Valley, Mountain West and Summit.
  • McDermott and Burke essentially split regions, with the Creighton forward winning the northeastern part of the country, Burke taking the South and the middle of the nation and McDermott seeing an advantage out west. In the first poll, Plumlee led every region but the Far West (McDermott) and Midwest (Burke).
  • A host of players -- Kansas senior Jeff Withey, Santa Clara senior Kevin Foster, Notre Dame senior Jack Cooley, UNC sophomore James Michael McAdoo, UCLA freshman Shabazz Muhammad and Bucknell senior Mike Muscala all departed from the last poll. The only new addition to the poll was Syracuse sophomore Michael Carter-Williams.
  • Votes were due by 5 p.m. on Wednesday.

One began the season without much consideration as a player of the year candidate. Another started off the year as a top point guard, but not high on the national radar. The third guy came back as someone to watch and was one of the more discussed names in the preseason.

They are Duke forward Mason Plumlee, Michigan guard Trey Burke and Creighton forward Doug McDermott -- the three leaders of the first ESPN.com Player of the Year straw poll of 2012-13 regular season.

Plumlee leads the poll of 63 voters with 126 points and 30 first-place votes, followed by Burke with 99 points and 13 first-place votes and McDermott with 97 points and 16 first-place votes.

The gap between first and second place is similar to last season’s first poll, when Kansas’ Thomas Robinson led Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger by 25 points and Sullinger led third-place McDermott by four points.

A three-person grouping at the top of the first poll of the season shouldn’t be surprising, especially in a season where there have been a lot of good players, but no true dominant one to this point.

And for those sitting behind Plumlee, there shouldn’t be much concern either. The past three seasons have seen tight races with at least one lead shift, including last season when Robinson led the initial poll and was eventually overtaken by Kentucky’s Anthony Davis.

Davis was a distant fourth in the first poll. Cody Zeller, who topped our preseason poll, is a distant fourth this season.

For those who don’t remember, a quick primer on how the poll works: Voters for the Associated Press, Naismith, Robertson and Wooden awards are asked every two weeks for their top three players, in order, and we promise them anonymity in the process. The votes are then tabulated, with a first-place vote earning three points, a second-place vote given two points and a third-place vote getting one point.

This is the fifth season of the poll and it has been correct every season. We added a preseason poll this year and also a regional breakdown, which should be even more interesting this season with a potentially tight race until the end.

Here is the full poll, regional breakdown and analysis. It's important to note that ballots were due Wednesday afternoon, so that night's games (hello, Ben McLemore) were not taken into consideration:

Poll analysis:
  • Not surprisingly, no player appeared on all 63 ballots. The closest was Plumlee, who ended up on 54.
  • Of the 18 players who appeared in our preseason Player of the Year poll, only four remain on the first regular-season ballot -- the preseason leader Zeller (now in fourth), the preseason No. 2 McDermott (now third), Shabazz Muhammad (four points in preseason, one now) and Burke, who received two votes and three points in the preseason and is now second behind Plumlee. Plumlee, of course, was not on any preseason ballots. Part of the reasoning for the massive shift is, in many cases, preseason expectations compared with actual performance, and in others, such as UNLV junior Mike Moser and now Lehigh senior C.J. McCollum, injuries. McCollum actually received a vote prior to his injury last weekend, but the pollster changed the selection after he was hurt.
  • Perhaps the most intriguing thing is how it breaks down by region. Burke owned the Midwest, where he grew up and now plays. Plumlee did quite well on the East Coast and McDermott did well in his region, the Southwest.
  • Only 14 players appeared on this ballot, down from the 17 players who received votes on the first ballot from last season. Those players represented the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Missouri Valley, Mountain West, Pac-12, Patriot, Summit and West Coast conferences.

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