A Column of Enchantment: Robert Upshaw, URI and Honestly Fixing College Hoops

Posted by Joseph Nardone on January 29th, 2015

Looks like another week of people getting on their soapboxes to tell the world how horrible other people are. Stuff like that happens to be one of the things I hate about social media. You know, some guy or gal behind a keyboard pounding away on some keys to tell other people who aren’t even in remotely the same position as the person or group of people who they are bashing how horrible they are. Good times, right? A lot of the soap-boxing is going on in the world of the NFL where Marshawn Lynch is getting scorned by old white guys for not doing what they want him to do. But this is a college basketball column (kind of), so let’s move on to another weird situation going on in that sport. This one has to deal with an ultra-talented big man who also happens to have first-round NBA Draft talent.

Robert Upshaw (USA Today Images)

Robert Upshaw (USA Today Images)

Robert Upshaw has been dismissed by the Washington Huskies for violating team rules. The seven-footer has no one to blame for this but himself. Between his rocky stay with Fresno State and his seemingly tumultuous time with Washigton Upshaw, reportedly, has failed multiple drug tests. That is completely on him. Not a soul to blame, regardless of his drug of choice, for not learning to make better decisions. However, none of us “really” know this kid. Few probably know what personal demons he might have or what insecurities come with being a seven-foot human in a six-foot-ish world. Passing judgment on him over reports that aren’t that detailed just seems silly to me. But man, you have a hot take about people choosing drugs over money (or here, the potential of money), so get to your keyboard!

People do realize that is not the choice people are making though, right? It is not as if Upshaw or any other athlete is thinking about losing out on millions of dollars over one more hit of weed or whatever. Not to mention, in Upshaw’s case, he is a kid — a kid in college. He probably thinks he is invincible. I know I did in my early twenties. I don’t know what you were doing in college or in your early twenties, but I doubt you were spending your Friday nights giving blankets out to the homeless. I mean, if you were, then give yourself a gosh slam gold star. These athletes live in a microscope that no one on the outside could even comprehend. Maybe we should stop pretending we can.

There’s also some dirty little code stuff going on whenever someone gets in trouble over getting busted for weed or drugs or booze. People mostly don’t seem to think the actual offense is that bad, but that the person who violated should be punished. Here is a question I have for that: If it is weed, which most people think is not that horrible of a thing, why are you so mad at that person? Do you just want him to be punished for breaking a stupid rule or do you care about that rule so much in the first place? Answer that question honestly because it will tell you a lot about yourself. If you honestly care that much about the letter of the law then I guess it is what it is. But if you’re the person who doesn’t really care about the rule but still wants the person punished, why? Why is punishment always the preferred method instead of getting people help? Then again, if it is something so blah that you don’t think they actually need help (like weed not being addictive), why are you so mad? Don’t know if you can tell what I did there, but basically you’re all a bunch of scumbuckets for judging other people and wanting punishment for punishment’s sake.

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Morning Five: 01.29.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 29th, 2015

morning5

  1. Any hopes that Washington had of making the NCAA Tournament this year disappeared over the weeekend when they announced that they had dismissed Robert Upshaw for an unspecified violation of team rules. The talented but troubled big man was clearly the Huskies best player averaging 10.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, and a NCAA-leading 4.4 blocks per game. This is the second time that Upshaw has been kicked out of a program as he was also dismissed from Fresno State in 2013. While this certainly won’t help his draft stock he is still probably a late first round pick because skilled big men are hard to find even if there are some red flags around them. There is a possibility that Upshaw could start playing in the NBA Development League much like P.J. Hairston did last year, but that would require him to be ineligible to play NCAA basketball. Since we don’t know all the details behind Upshaw’s dismissal we cannot comment too much on the probability of that happening, but it is worth keeping an eye on moving forward.
  2. As we have mentioned many times we don’t pay that much attention to high school recruiting for a variety of reasons (including, but not limited to time constraints and a desire to remain sane), but the McDonald’s All-American designation has been around for long enough that we still pay attention when the rosters are announced. This year’s roster was no different even if we only know about half of the players well. The first thing that jumped out at us was that there was only one Kentucky commit on the two rosters, which is certainly different than previous years although part of that has to do with how Kentucky is recruiting now, but there are still nine uncommitted players in the game so John Calipari still has plenty of time to catch up. The other thing was that the players were spread out pretty evenly with only two schools–Duke and LSU–having two commits in the game.
  3. Speaking of Kentucky and their recruiting, maybe one of the reasons that their recruiting is “down” this year is that they are not just focusing on American talent. A striking example of this is the verbal commitment they received from Tai Wynyard, a 6’9″ power forward out of New Zealand. Although we are a little uncertain of the skills of a player from New Zealand, we do trust Calipari’s eye for talent and he has played at a high level internationally. For now the big question regarding Wynyard is when he would come to Lexington as he is still just 16 and currently in the class of 2016, but might reclassify to the class of 2015 meaning he would be on campus for next fall, which would already add to what could be the #1 class in the country (again).
  4. Wichita State guard Conner Frankamp was arrested early Sunday morning on a DUI charge. Frankamp blood alcohol level at the scene was 0.186, which is twice the legal limit in the state of Kansas (0.08). Although Frankamp is still sitting out this year after transferring from Kansas, the school did release the typical generic statement saying they will be looking into the matter. Despite Frankamp’s meager production at Kansas (2.5 points per game last year), he was a top-50 recruit coming out of high school, which would seem to suggest the possibility that he could have a big role playing with less competition particularly against a lower level of competition too.
  5. Speaking of transfer, former Memphis forward Kuran Iverson will be transferring to Rhode Island. Like Frankamp, Iverson’s production (4.6 points and 1.9 rebounds per game) does not particularly grab your attention, but he was also a top-50 recruit coming out of high school. Unlike Frankamp, Iverson made sure to leave a mark at the school on his way out by first getting suspended then retweeting someone’s criticism of Josh Pastner at which point the decision for Iverson to transfer was probably welcome on both sides. While the AAC is not exactly a basketball powerhouse, the move down to the Atlantic-10 (however slight it might be) and perhaps more importantly new scenery might be the boost that Iverson needs to show us why he was so highly recruited coming out of high school.

Rushed Reactions: #8 Notre Dame 77, #4 Duke 73

Posted by Walker Carey on January 29th, 2015

Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Wednesday night’s game between Duke and Notre Dame in South Bend.

Irish Eyes Were Smiling Wednesday Night (USA Today Images)

Irish Eyes Were Smiling Wednesday Night (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Jerian Grant proved that he is one of the best players in the country. The senior guard turned in an amazing performance on Wednesday night, finishing the game with game-highs in both points (23) and assists (12). His dozen assists also set a new career-high. None of those assists were more important than the one he threw to sophomore guard Steve Vasturia for an open three to put the Irish up by four with 22 seconds to play. Points and assists were not the only categories where Grant excelled, though, as he showcased his durability by playing all 40 minutes and picking up six rebounds, three steals, and two blocks. Notre Dame is now 20-2 on the season and 8-1 in ACC play, and the biggest reason for the team’s incredible start to the 2014-15 campaign has been the All-America play of the team’s senior leader. The Irish now expect to be an ACC contender for the rest of the season, and if Grant can continue his play at such a high level, that expectation will become a reality.
  2. This was an incredible college basketball game. There has been talk this season about how college basketball has been a bit unwatchable, but that was absolutely not the case on Wednesday night as Notre Dame and Duke completed one of the most entertaining games of the regular season. Swings in momentum came fast and furious. For example: Notre Dame led by seven at the 9:01 mark of the first half before Duke went on a big run to take a three-point lead into the half; Duke then led by 10 at the 10:58 mark of the second half before being outscored 22-8 the rest of the way. Another reason why Wednesday’s battle in South Bend was so entertaining was that two of the best players in college basketball turned in star performances. Jerian Grant’s stat-stuffing game was mentioned above and Duke freshman big man Jahlil Okafor also turned in a performance that has practically become the norm for him during his first year in Durham. The freshman finished the game with 22 points on 10-of-18 shooting to go along with a game-high 17 rebounds. Sure, there are some nights where college basketball doesn’t put its best foot forward, but Wednesday night at Notre Dame, those nights seemed very distant. Read the rest of this entry »

RTC Weekly Primer: Duke’s Hell Week

Posted by Henry Bushnell on January 27th, 2015

The hurdles just keep on coming. That’s what Mike Krzyzewski and Duke must be thinking right now. After a glorious Sunday and heartfelt celebrations, including a hero’s welcome back home in Durham, the Blue Devils have no time to bask in the glory of Coach K’s 1,000th win. Instead, they must hop aboard another plane, this time to the Midwest, and begin a murderous week. The ACC isn’t quite as relentless and unforgiving as the Big 12. But when it can deal a team a Wednesday-Saturday weekly slate that includes two games on the road at top-10 teams, it’s pretty darn strong. This past weekend on College Gameday, Jay Bilas even tried to argue that the ACC is the best conference in America. I’m not going to go that far (his logic was arbitrary and therefore a bit flawed), but it’s certainly up there. At the very least, the ACC will provide more marquee matchups than any other league. For evidence, look no further than this week.

After Sunday's Celebration, No Rest This Week for the Blue Devils (USA Today Images)

After Sunday’s Celebration, No Rest This Week for the Blue Devils (USA Today Images)

Three for the Money

  • Duke at Notre Dame | Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. EST, ESPN2. It’s an ACC trifecta this week because, as mentioned above, Duke’s mettle is going to be put to the test. And what’s more, that test, which begins Wednesday in South Bend, should be a whole lot of fun. Both Duke and Notre Dame are top-five offensive clubs nationally, and especially recently, neither is particularly stout defensively. The floor will be beautifully spread, three-pointers will be flying, and the Joyce Center should be rocking. If Notre Dame can match Duke blow for blow, and especially if it can win, it’ll be time to accept the Fighting Irish as a legitimate top-10 team.

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RTC Rewind: No. 1,000, Kansas Bill Selfing, Crazy Endings at WVU, Maryland…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on January 26th, 2015

One thousand wins. One, zero, zero, zero. It was a busy weekend in college basketball, but everything else was overshadowed by that number. We’ll start by stating the obvious. In a career full of them, what a truly remarkable accomplishment for Mike Krzyzewski. It’s one thing to coach for a long time and break records and reach milestones based on longevity, but what makes Coach K so special is that he’s combined all those years with such consistent winning. His teams are perennial contenders. He’s established a tradition of greatness, and built a distinct culture over 30 years in Durham that has not eroded in the least.

Coach 1K Was the Story of the Weekend (USA Today Images)

Coach 1K Was the Story of the Weekend (USA Today Images)

One of the things that made win No. 1,000 so awesome was the way in which Krzyzewski and Duke achieved it. Their Sunday afternoon performance in the World’s Most Famous Arena was evocative of the culture and recipe for sustained success that he has crafted. Trailing by as many as 10 points in the second half, the Blue Devils fought back with a 26-7 run to end the game. The players, of course, knew what was on the line, taking it upon themselves to come through for their coach — playing with incredible passion, emotion and commitment. They slapped the floor. They punched the air. They were determined and focused. Afterward, when his team hugged Krzyzewski and his wife and donned shirts and hats to commemorate the milestone, their love for their leader was crystal clear. And in the end, that is exactly why Coach K has been able to achieve what he has achieved. And has he ever achieved a lot! Afterward, Krzyzewski was insistent that the focus remain on the present as opposed to the past. As big of a win it was for him personally, it was also a huge one for Duke. St. John’s — seeing the resume-enhancing possibility with Duke in its building — came to play on Sunday, and made things very difficult for the Blue Devils for most of the game. But in crunch time, Tyus Jones, Quinn Cook and Jahlil Okafor all found another gear, and it pushed Duke to a dominant finish that the Johnnies just couldn’t match.

And That Sets Up…

An ACC showdown on Wednesday in South Bend, because Notre Dame pulled out a massive comeback win of its own at NC State on Sunday. The Wolfpack jumped out to an 18-point first half lead, but the Fighting Irish’s consistent scoring allowed them to claw back into the game so that Jerian Grant and his supporting cast could showcase their ‘clutch genes’ down the stretch. Notre Dame is now 19-2 and will welcome Duke to the Joyce Center on Wednesday. What a game that will be.

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RTC Top 25: Week Ten

Posted by Walker Carey on January 26th, 2015

The last week of the college basketball season was highlighted by two previously Top 10 teams falling victim to a conference foe on the road. First, Maryland was knocked off Thursday night in Bloomington by a hot-shooting Indiana squad. Then on Saturday, Iowa State – fresh off of home victories over Kansas and Kansas State – went down to Lubbock and suffered a surprising defeat to Big 12 cellar-dweller Texas Tech. While the Terps and Cyclones were unable to avoid the road upset bug, #2 Virginia and #9 Notre Dame overcome road deficits Sunday to earn key victories. The Cavaliers trailed for most of the game at Virginia Tech before finally grabbing the victory. The Fighting Irish trailed by as many as 18 points at North Carolina State before storming back and securing an overtime victory. With the calendar flipping to February next Sunday, expect conference play to continue to deliver the good as we get closer and closer to March.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump…

RTC25 01.26.15

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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The RTC Podcast: January Doldrums Edition

Posted by rtmsf on January 24th, 2015

It was a pretty dry week of games last week, but that didn’t stop the guys from getting together for another RTC Podcast. In this week’s episode, host Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) guides us through some of the big results of last weekend’s action, a few rapid-fire thoughts on topics such as favorite player, Coach of the Year, and biggest disappointment, and with special guest Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) in tow, we look forward to a semi-busy weekend of games. The full rundown is below.

  • 0:00-2:27 – DePaul!
  • 2:27-6:58 – Duke Wins in Louisville
  • 6:58-11:46 – Re-evaluating the Big 12 Title Race
  • 11:46-15:46 – Arizona Reaffirms Spot at Top of Pac-12
  • 15:46-18:48 – Other Results of Note
  • 18:48-27:01 – Rapid fire
  • 27:01-32:23 – You, Me & the AP (VCU, Villanova)
  • 32:23-40:17 – Weekend Preview
  • 40:17-43:48 – #CBBSurvivor Update

Sweet Seven Scoops: Bright Lights LoVett, Fultz Rising Up, & More…

Posted by Sean Moran on January 24th, 2015

http://rushthecourt.net/mag/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/7sweetscoops.png

Seven Sweet Scoops is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you seven notes from the high-stakes world of college basketball recruiting. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Fouldedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

1. Bright Lights Hits Chicago

Chicago basketball fans have been spoiled over the last few years from watching Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor, Cliff Alexander, and Tyler Ulis play in the area. While there aren’t any future top five NBA Draft picks currently in the Windy City, senior guard Marcus LoVett has seized the opening and is becoming the big city’s hottest act. The 5’11” four-star guard has bounced around the past few years in both high school and AAU, averaging around 30 points per game as a freshman for Providence of Burbanks (CA) and becoming a YouTube sensation. Now a senior, LoVett is the point guard at Morgan Park, the back-to-back 3A state champion. He’s hit buzzer-beaters and scored 20+ points numerous times. Kansas offered him a scholarship in the fall when the buzz around him was starting to build, but other schools are showing interest as well. On Tuesday night, LoVett hit a game-winning jump shot in front of assistants from Florida State, Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh. He also took in an Illinois game over the weekend. Right now LoVett is ranked at just No. 91 overall, but with the buzz that is slowly building around him, it would not be a surprise to see him catapult up the rankings after his senior year.

2. Stock Riser: Markelle Fultz

Dematha Catholic (MD) High School sports one of the most prestigious basketball programs in the country, so it’s no surprise that the junior varsity team has a bunch of talented players. Last year, 6’4” guard Markelle Fultz was a sophomore playing on the JV team; one year later he is the star for the No. 1 team in the Washington D.C. area. The previously unranked Fultz jumped into ESPN’s top 60 for the junior class (No. 55 overall) and is now considered a four-star prospect who college coaches are extremely interested in. He scored a total of 53 points in two games at the famed Hoop Hall classic last weekend and has received scholarships from schools such as Arizona, Wake Forest, Georgetown, Maryland, and Washington, among others. It didn’t take long for Fultz to make a name for himself, but he has shown how quickly things can change.

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A Column of Enchantment: On Charter Planes, Losers & Bill Self Crazy Like a Walrus

Posted by Joseph Nardone on January 22nd, 2015

This past week was a good one in the world of college basketball. We had things ranging from last second shot attempts to schools imposing some “stiff” penalties on their own beings to finding out that the NCAA is incapable of properly booking flights. All in all, really, just some good ole fun courtesy of some unpaid labor doing terrific things and people who keep the unpaid labor from being paid being about as smart as a bag of rocks. Good times.

Obligatory. (USA Today Images)

Obligatory. (USA Today Images)

Those types of things are not trends, however. Rather, they are themes that seem to keep happening and happening. If this were the world of pro wrestling, it would be like fans who are all upset because John Cena has never left the title picture despite the odds always being stacked against him. Weird analogy, I know, but it truly seems like any person with any sort of resemblance to power in college basketball is doing the same thing over and over, none of them being that swell or beneficial to anyone but people in other power positions, yet there is nothing we can do about it because, well, the Sam Cassell Jr. if I know.

Arm-drag.

———

Holy charter planes, Batman! Reports have come out that teams may have to pack for an extra day when the NCAA Tournament begins. While it would be a lot funnier if this was because Mark Emmert didn’t know how to properly use Expedia, it is essentially as simple as there being more men’s and women’s teams traveling too near the same time as there will be a proper number of charter planes. So, yeah, some kids will have to stay a full extra day after they are eliminated from the Big Dance.

Never mind the fact, though, that these kids should have never been rushed to go back to school, home or wherever it is they go back to, to begin with. I was never comfortable with the NCAA using them for a single night, only to shuffle them away as quickly as possible. Like college football bowls, first dates and encounters with aliens from outer space, the NCAA Tournament should feel like an experience for these kids — not just a business trip. You know, because it isn’t a business, right Mark Emmert?

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Morning Five: 01.22.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 22nd, 2015

morning5

  1. In hopes of lessening potential NCAA penalties from an investigation into what happened during the Donnie Tyndall era, Southern Mississippi has decided to self-impose a postseason ban for this season. As you may remember from a few months ago, the allegations around the program reportedly involve how tuition and other expenses were paid for recruits who signed with the school, but were not yet eligible for scholarships. While the school says “this self-imposed penalty was painful” in reality the team is 5-11 this season under new coach Doc Sadler having lost eight straight including their first five in Conference USA so all they are probably missing out is an opening round loss in the Conference USA Tournament at most since only 12 of the 14 teams in the conference even make the conference tournament. Meanwhile, Tyndall is having an impressive season at Tennessee and probably will not get much more than a slap on the wrist from the NCAA.
  2. It turns out that North Carolina might not be alone in its academic misconduct. According to a report from The Chronicle of Higher Education, the NCAA is currently investigating 20 programs for allegations of academic misconduct. The names of the programs–18 of which are Division I schools–were not released, but a few schools are named including UNC (obviously). Our key takeaway from this is not that there are plenty of issues with academics in NCAA programs, but instead the enormity of the task facing the 60 individuals tasked with reviewing these programs and monitoring every other program within the purview of the NCAA. So while the amount of time it has taken the to make a ruling on North Carolina (we’re still waiting…), it becomes much more understandable when you look at everything they have to watch over.
  3. You may have heard that Mike Krzyzewski is approaching his 1000th career win (ESPN has been mentioning it on occasion), which has led to several retrospectives on his career. Most of them have been talking about the sheer enormity of the accomplishment of being that good for that long, but Mike DeCourcy decided to take it a step further declaring Krzyzewski the greatest college basketball coach ever. While Krzyzewski is obviously in the discussion (and you can make a very strong case for him being the best), we are a little more reluctant to be quite as dismissive of what John Wooden did and note that Krzyzewski’s peers had to deal with the same nuances of the time as he did. In the end, it is an interesting debate albeit one that we might tend to take the easy way out of by simply saying that each is the best of his era.
  4. We have heard about the antics of many mascots over the years (Sebastian the Ibis nearly getting arrested for using a fire extinguisher on Osceola’s burning spear and West Virginia’s mascot killing a bear with the school’s musket), but it has been a while since we heard about one getting fired. So when we heard that Oklahoma had fired one of the people who dressed as their mascot for taunting Oklahoma State fans we figured it had to be for something fairly amusing. Instead, it turns out the mascot was blocking the view of the fans and poured popcorn on some of the fans including Heather Ford, the wife of Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford. While it is certainly a fireable offense (the individual had been told multiple times to stop), we would have hoped the mascot could have gone out in a more memorable way.
  5. We aren’t sure how we missed this before, but Zach Helfand has an excellent story on the only hotel we know of that is dedicated to a college basketball figure (at least a current one): the Steve Alford All-American Inn located in Alford’s hometown of New Castle, Indiana. As you might expect it isn’t exactly a luxury hotel, but according to Helfand it seems like a decent hotel, which is about all you can expect for around $60/night. We can’t necessarily make a recommendation for something we have never seen, but this certainly seems like the type of thing that is worth checking out as one of the more unique basketball experiences around particularly if you are in the area even if it is just to stop by as you are passing through.

Who’s Got Next? Carlton Bragg & Chris Lewis Goes With Harvard

Posted by Sean Moran on January 21st, 2015

http://rushthecourt.net/mag/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/whosgotnext.jpg

Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitment of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul dedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

Kansas Lands Its First 2015 Recruit

Kelly Oubre committed to Kansas shortly after taking his official visit during the school’s 2013 Late Night in the Phog event, but after hosting a number of five-star players during this year’s version, no immediate commitments were forthcoming. That wait ended a couple of weekends ago when five-star forward Carlton Bragg selected the Jayhawks. Bill Self has logged top five recruiting classes in each of the past two years with Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid featured in the 2013 class and Cliff Alexander and Oubre last year’s class. It was only a matter of time until Self got started building his star-studded 2015 class.

The tourney upsets his Kansas teams have suffered will not be forgotten (Getty).

No surprise that Bill Self is racking up another stellar recruiting class. (Getty)

Bragg is a 6’9” power forward who plays for Villa Angela – St. Joseph (OH) High School (one of the top programs in the Buckeye State), and is currently ranked as the No. 12 player in the country and the No. 3 player at his position. The athletic forward started to climb up the rankings during the summer before his junior season and continued to improve from there, resulting in strong interest from the likes of Self, John Calipari and John Groce. Bragg’s versatility should blend in nicely with Kansas’ high-low offense given his ability to convert short hook shots, but he is also very comfortable stepping outside and knocking in jumpers from 15 to 18 feet. While he does have nice form and touch on his jumper, Bragg also has the tendency to fall in love with it, something Self will work with him on correcting. On the defensive end, Bragg moves his feet well and can defend the pick-and-roll while also protecting the rim with his quick leaping ability. Read the rest of this entry »

Handicapping the Wooden Award Finalists

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 21st, 2015

The Wooden Award released its midseason top 25 list last week. College basketball’s top individual honor will likely go to a player named on that list, but there’s still time for others (attention: Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet, Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon and Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas) to work their way into the picture. However, it’s also true that the field of real contenders for the award is thinning as we near February and March. RTC handicaps the race for the Wooden…

Jahlil Okafor, Duke. Odds To Win = 3/2.

Any national Player of the Year discussion must begin with Duke’s freshman sensation. Okafor’s averages of 18.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game begin to explain his value to the Blue Devils, but the impact of his presence runs much deeper than that. His steadiness (double-figure points in every game this season) has stabilized a Duke attack that was far more reliant on the three-point shot a season ago, while his unselfishness has helped the Duke guards find space on the perimeter. The presumptive top pick in next June’s NBA Draft has looked like the best player in college basketball from opening night, but an April coronation as the National Player of the Year will surely depend on Duke’s success. Balance has fueled the rise of other national title contenders (Kentucky and Virginia most notable among them), but there is no question that Okafor will continue to lead the Duke charge. Pole position has been well-earned: This is Okafor’s award to lose.

At The Midway Point Of The Season, Duke Freshman Jahlil Okafor Is The Frontrunner To Win The Wooden Award. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

At The Midway Point Of The Season, Duke Freshman Jahlil Okafor Is The Frontrunner To Win The Wooden Award. (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin. Odds To Win = 5/2.

Kaminsky nabbed the national spotlight last March with a show-stopping regional final performance against Arizona. He has not given it up since. ‘Frank the Tank’ is grabbing more rebounds (8.2 RPG this season), blocking more shots (1.8 BPG) and even handing out more assists (2.4 APG) than he did a year ago. The Wisconsin center has been outstanding all season, but his value to the Badgers may have been best exhibited in a 40 minute stint on the bench. As their star sat out with a concussion on January 11, Wisconsin fell to Rutgers in one of the most shocking results of the season. The loss showed just how important the versatile center has become for Bo Ryan’s team. A balanced Badgers’ lineup may pose some threat to Kaminsky’s Wooden Award chances, but that surrounding talent is also what’s made the his team legitimate national title contenders. And as Wisconsin chases that elusive championship, its versatile big man is making a serious push for the most prestigious of individual accolades.

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