Three days ago, 15 finalists were announced for the Wooden Award, which is given to the most outstanding player in the country. As we head into the major conference tournaments, there are a clear top two candidates to bring home the hardware, but let’s take a look at the top five.
1. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
Kaminsky looks to be the favorite to take home the Wooden Award this year. “Frank the Tank” is one of the few players that have stayed for an entire four years of college. The 7-foot forward from Illinois has increased his production every year at Wisconsin. He is averaging 18.4 points per game and 8.1 rebounds per game. The big man is also shooting 56-percent from the field, 41-percent from three-point land, and 75-percent from the line.
Kaminsky is having his best season as a passer as he has been able to pass when help defense comes and get players like Sam Dekker involved. Kaminsky may get some comparison to a “stretch 4,” but he plays big down low. He has pulled down the second most rebounds per game in the Big Ten, but he has the most when talking about available rebounds.
If we are talking about the most valuable player in the country, I believe it is Kaminsky. If you take Kaminsky off of Wisconsin, then the Badgers are not as good, and if you insert him on another team, that team instantly improves. Unless Wisconsin gets a 2-seed and draws the same bracket as Kentucky, I see the Badgers making it to the championship.
Kaminsky shows off his ball handling and scoring:
2. Jahlil Okafor, Duke
The sensational freshman will most likely be the first pick of the NBA draft next year. Okafor has provided the big man presence that the Blue Devils have needed this season. Coming to the college level as the number one recruit out of high school, Okafor has not disappointed. In his one match-up against Kaminsky and Wisconsin, he scored 13 points and shot 75-percent. Okafor has also pulled down 9 boards a game.
Okafor has provided some key scoring for the Blue Devils, making many and-1s that have sparked the offense. Okafor will have to continue to play at a high level if Duke plans on making a run to the end.
Yes, this is an offensive foul, but look at that Shaq like power!
3. Delon Wright, Utah
Wright has played tremendously on both ends of the court for the Utes this season. He is scoring 15 points a game along with 5 rebounds and 5 assists per game. If Utah was able to beat Arizona even one of the two times, then Wright may be more of a household name. Even though he didn’t shoot well in the last loss to Arizona, Wright still had 17 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 blocks. With that being said, Wright has shot 52-percent from the floor and 84-percent from the free throw line. Wright has also been able to strip opposing players regularly with over 2 steals per game this season, which ranks in the top 20 in the nation.
Wright and Utah can be a surprise team in the tournament if they will play to their potential in a game that isn’t against a weaker Pac-12 team.
Look at this circus finish by Wright against Oregon:
4. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
Grant is not only the best scorer but also the best passer on Notre Dame. Grant has a big impact on the outcomes of the Notre Dame games. He is averaging 17 points on a team that is averaging the 13th most points a game in the country. He is shooting 50-percent from the field, but in all five of the Fighting Irish’s losses, he has struggled shooting. When he is on though, Notre Dame can play with the rest of them. He was able to score 23 against Duke when Notre Dame upset them 77-73 on January 28. He is averaging the 7th most assists in the country with almost 7 per game. The six players that are in front of him are not playing the competition of the ACC.
Notre Dame better hope that Grant is feeling it when they take the court against one of the tough teams they will face if they make it deep into the tourney.
Wright has blessed us with the best dunk of the year:
5. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
This spot could very easily have gone to Cauley-Stein’s teammate Karl-Anthony Towns. Cauley-Stein gets this spot because of his presence down low and dominating defense. He is the best defender on the best defensive team in the nation. Cauley-Stein shows power on the post and has provided some key rebounds and put backs in close games. Kentucky is allowing only 53 points a game, which is 3rd best in the country, and the Wildcats rank second in blocks with 7 a game.
His numbers may be down and may not be with some players on this list, but Kentucky is the deepest team in the nation. He is playing about 25 minutes a game, while Kaminsky and Okafor both play more than 30 minutes a game. Kentucky spreads out the wealth on the offensive end, too. If the Wildcats win the championship, its highest scorer in Aaron Harrison will have the lowest average on a championship team. Cauley-Stein will have to be an impact player if Kentucky wants to complete the season undefeated and raise the trophy when it is all said and done.
This one speaks for itself: