Dana O'Neil, Eamonn Brennan and Chantel Jennings gathered to break down the race for the Wooden Award and weigh in on what's happening across college basketball.
Wooden Watch: Trading places at No. 1
How Frank Kaminsky's offense has brought Wisconsin's offensive dreams to life, why Duke's zone should help Jahlil Okafor be even better, the difficulty of picking Virginia's "best" player -- all this and more awaits in our latest edition of Wooden Watch.
1. Frank Kaminsky, WisconsinPrevious ranking: 2
Someday, when Bo Ryan's coaching career is over, and he's thinking about the glory days of Wisconsin's 2014-15 season, he will find no better souvenir than the box score from Wisconsin's 82-50 win over Iowa Tuesday night.
Ryan has plied his trade since 1972, when he was named head basketball coach at Brookhaven Junior High School in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. He built Wisconsin-Platteville into a national powerhouse. His Wisconsin teams have appeared in the NCAA tournament in every season of his tenure to date. He has perfected the swing offense. He has honed the acquisition and development of players who thrive within it. All along, one core pillar of his philosophy has remained: Turnovers are the enemy.
In that context, it's possible Tuesday night marks the best a Wisconsin offense has ever played the game of basketball. The box score is an artifact of pure basketball nerdery: balanced scoring and production from every starter, 82 points in 54 possessions, 54 percent shooting from 2, 41 percent shooting from 3, 16 assists and exactly one turnover -- which came on a bang-bang, shot-clock dispute to boot. It's hard to imagine a more philosophically satisfying performance.
Of course, Ryan's teams have never turned the ball over. This team is different, and the difference starts with Kaminsky. He led the Badgers in assists (six) Tuesday night, finishing with 13 points and 11 rebounds to go along with his typically underrated interior defense. Alongside Sam Dekker, Nigel Hayes, Josh Gasser and reserve point guard Bronson Koenig (filling in for the injured Traevon Jackson), Wisconsin almost never puts a player on the floor who isn't an excellent passer -- and Kaminsky, a 7-foot center, might be the best.
The result is a team that transcends the mere avoidance of turnovers, that passes not to make a defense work but to actively shred that defense into tiny bits. When Ryan closes his eyes and imagines the ideal offense, Kaminsky & Co. must be what he sees.
2. Jahlil Okafor, DukePrevious ranking: 1
For most of the season, Okafor's ability to stay out of foul trouble was considered a plus. After all, the Duke freshman is the high-usage, highly efficient engine of the Blue Devils offense. But you can't dominate possession, ruthlessly abuse interior defenders and pass out of constant double-teams if you're stuck on the bench with three early fouls.
Unfortunately, Okafor's ability to avoid fouls turned out to be a harbinger of his chief weakness, the one that might yet sink Duke's chances of winning the 2014-15 national title: defense.
Okafor is not a bad defender in the low post. He is a bad help defender, however. When Duke's guards are beaten off the dribble, which they were repeatedly in losses to NC State and Miami, Okafor's rotations can be slow. When Okafor's man sets a screen on the ball handler -- which Miami constantly did last Wednesday -- he doesn't hedge high enough to turn the ball handler or contain well enough to keep things in front. When you're playing a high-pressure man-to-man, which Duke does, all of the above can be a problem.
That's why Mike Krzyzewski made the rare switch to zone against Louisville in Saturday's bounce-back road win and why he went back to it against Pittsburgh this week. It has the twin effect of making perimeter penetration more difficult and keeping Okafor out of ball-screen defense -- freeing him to be the nation's most effective offensive player without such a large defensive target on his back.
3. Anthony Gill, VirginiaPrevious ranking: NR
It's official: Justin Anderson is mortal. After two months of almost impossible 3-point shooting excellence, Anderson finally had an off day from the arc, going 0-for-4 from 3 against Boston College on Saturday. Naturally, Virginia still won the game handily (66-51), and Anderson still finished with eight points, all of which came on free throws. But in light of Anderson's (possibly temporary) return to corporeal existence, what better time to recognize just how good Anderson's teammate, forward Anthony Gill, has been?
Like Anderson, Gill has emerged this season bearing almost no resemblance to the solid but unspectacular sophomore reserve he was a season ago. His offensive rating (126.3) is through the roof despite playing more minutes and touching the ball more frequently. His offensive rebounding rate (15.4 percent) has nearly doubled, his turnover rate (11.1 percent) is down and he's maintained his 58 percent shooting mark despite a bunch more shots.
Virginia is like Kentucky in this way: The Cavaliers are so good it's hard to decide which of their best players is truly worthy of individual honors. Coach Tony Bennett doesn't have quite as many stars to choose from as Kentucky's John Calipari, but the ones he does have -- Anderson, Gill and Malcolm Brogdon -- are almost equally great on both sides of the ball and equally important to UVa's remarkable 17-0 start.
4. Delon Wright, UtahPrevious ranking: 3
After a month of pretty much nonstop dominance, Utah experienced an abrupt return to Earth in last Saturday's 69-51 loss at Arizona. Wright had one of his least effective outings of the season and still finished 4-of-9 from the field for 10 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds and 1 steal. It was a disappointing day for a team that had rocketed up the national-perception radar since mid-December, but that's probably all it is. Arizona is very difficult to beat anywhere; it's impossible to overcome in Tucson, Arizona. Utah will have another crack at the Wildcats on Feb. 28. In the meantime, there's no reason to expect anything but Pac-12 title contention from the Utes and their do-it-all scoring guard.
5. Willie Cauley-Stein, KentuckyPrevious ranking: NR
Last Thursday, Cauley-Stein slipped off the list for the first time in weeks through no fault of his own: Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer had just been too good to ignore. But Wiltjer's case relies almost entirely on offensive brilliance, which is a nice way of saying he's kind of a terrible defender. Cauley-Stein, meanwhile, remains the best, and most crucial, defensive piece on the nation's best defensive team -- an athletic, 7-foot terror who blocks shots, gobbles rebounds (he had nine defensive boards in Kentucky's Tuesday win over Vanderbilt), creates a swath of uncredited deflections and recorded steals and often serves as the inbound-trapping spear of Wildcats' disruptive press.
Don't get it twisted: The Watch loves itself some fluid offense. But defense happens to be a rather sizable portion of a player's contribution on the basketball court, and no one is contributing more -- for a team that defends as well as any in decades, no less -- than Cauley-Stein. If there's a better defensive player in the country, we haven't seen him.
Also receiving mentions: Kyle Wiltjer, Jerian Grant, Justin Anderson, Stanley Johnson, Montrezl Harrell, Ron Baker, Malcolm Brogdon, Ryan Boatright, Karl-Anthony Towns, D'Angelo Harrison, Georges Niang, Melo Trimble, Tyler Haws, Larry Nance Jr., Bobby Portis
Duke's Jahlil Okafor
John R. Wooden Award
Top 25 List
Here are the 25 players who made the midseason cut in the race for the Wooden Award. Is this the final list? No. Can a player not on the list still win the award? Yes. So, there is still plenty of time to make a move.
• Justin Anderson, Virginia
• Ron Baker, Wichita State
• Ryan Boatright, UConn
• Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
• Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
• Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
• Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
• D'Angelo Harrison, St. John's
• Tyler Haws, BYU
• Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
• Stanley Johnson, Arizona
• Tyus Jones, Duke
• Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
• Jordan Mickey, LSU
• Georges Niang, Iowa State
• Jahlil Okafor, Duke
• Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
• Bobby Portis, Arkansas
• Chasson Randle, Stanford
• Terry Rozier, Louisville
• D'Angelo Russell, Ohio State
• Juwan Staten, West Virginia
• Melo Trimble, Maryland
• Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga
• Delon Wright, Utah