Wooden Award Watch 2015 Edition

*Article was originally posted on http://www.Rotoworld.com, click here for the Rotoworld article*

It’s the WOODEN WATCH!

I’m not referring to the new Rolex wrist-apparel that smells of rich mahogany sported by the likes of Kanye West, I’m talking about the College Basketball John Wooden Player of the Year Award.

With March Madness clearly in our sight, every game, every minute moving forward is critical as teams across the nation push and shove for a place at the big table.

But who’s the big piece of chicken this year? Who’s the gravy? Who’s the cherry on top of the desert? (sorry I missed lunch today)

Who’s the front-runner for National Player of the Year?

What player this season will etch his name in stone next to the greats of yester-year college basketball excellence like Larry Bird, Chris Mullin, David Robinson and his “Airness” when he was still wearing Carolina Blue converse, Michael Jordan.

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  • Jahlil Okafor – Duke

Strengths: Mr. Okafor is a full, distinguished lumberjack-beard among pencil-thin mustaches inside the paint this season for Coach K’s Blue Devils. He’s as polished a big man offensively at the age of 19 as anyone in college since Tim Duncan was at Wake Forest. Okafor has an orchestra-arrangement of moves in the post, to go with a feathery touch, great footwork and an NBA-ready body. On paper, he fits the mold of a dominant big man, stats don’t lie: 18 ppg, 9.1 rpg and 1.4 apg are nothing to scoff at.

He passes well out of the post, sees the double team quickly (he gets doubled more than an IN-N-OUT Burger order) and never seems to rush anything, he’s always under control.

Weaknesses: Jahlil isn’t an incredible athlete when speaking in terms of the NBA. His size and decent footwork makes up for it at the college level, but in the NBA he’ll be going up against players like DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins ( I really like saying Boogie), Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Deandre Jordan, all of whom are either bigger or stronger or BOTH compared to Jahlil.   He needs to get better defensively and physically stronger, which could be said for about 99% of players that come out of college early.

Okafor will need to learn quickly how to affect a game at the defensive end too, otherwise he’ll see a lot of this in the league:

Overall, Jahlil Okafor is the best player in the country and deserves all the player of the year honors that come with that title. He’s as good a college player as you’re going to see in this one-and-done era of hoops which I’ve grown to lement greatly, seriously can we just fix the one-and-done thing already?

****RANT ALERT: If the player wants to go to the NBA out of high school then let him make that mistake (for every Lebron James or Kobe Bryant there’s 10 Lenny Cooke’s or DeAngelo Collins’s, who??? Exactly.) otherwise the player must stay a mandatory two years in college, it’ll make the college game better, the pro game better, everyone’s happy. Oh, and the NCAA should start paying athletes too while we’re at it.

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  • Frank Kaminsky – Wisconsin

Frank “The Tank” Kaminsky is a close second for player of the year behind Okafor, I believe “splitting hairs” is the metaphor I would use for evaluating between Okafor and ”The Tank” because they are THAT close. For the record, I have no idea if anyone calls him “The Tank” but I think it totally fits, so I’m going with it.

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Strengths: Kaminsky is a silky smooth 7-footer who can step out and hit the 3-pointer with ease, he can put the ball on the floor and beat taller/slower defenders to the rim, he can take smaller defenders down to the block and abuse them like a fat kid takes out a cookie cake, he’s a matchup nightmare for all college coaches. His stats are right in line with Okafor’s at, 17.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.5 apg, but with the ability to step out and go all Dirk Nowitzki on people, Kaminsky is probably tougher to strategize for.

 

Weaknesses: Kaminsky lacks great athleticism, but makes up for it with size and the ability to stretch defenses out. His lateral movement is sub-par and there is definitely a question about his ability to play-make and create for himself in a wide-open, faster paced offensive setting at the next level. He most likely will strive in a more structured offense in the NBA, similar to the way Pau Gasol has worked in the past for the Lakers and now the Bulls. If I were Kaminsky, I’d become real good friends with Dirk Nowitzki before he’s drafted into the NBA, his game mirrors what Dirk looked like early in his career. “The Tank” will need to improve his foot speed, his overall strength and his ability to create shots for himself to be a good pro.

  • Jerian Grant – Notre Dame

Jerian Grant has been my favorite player to watch this season in the NCAA, and not just because I get to see crowd-shot cameos of his father, Harvey Grant and his uncle, Horace Grant………the greatest goggled twin brother duo since Ace & Gary.

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Strengths: Jerian Grant is a huge, athletic combo-guard averaging 16.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg, and 6.3 apg for the Fighting Irish. He’s single-handedly offered two of my favorite moments in college basketball the last two seasons. The DUNK against Georgia Tech this season that made me question the theory of gravity:

and then there was the time last season when he scored 12 points in 28 seconds to take a game to overtime and eventually beat Lousiville:

Grant has a pro body, an athletic build and as you can see has a bloodline “clutch” gene that just can’t be taught.

 Weaknesses: Is he a PG or a SG in the NBA? Is he quick enough to guard the Point Guards in the league, is he physical enough to guard the bigger Shooting Guards? On paper he seems to be the total package for the next level, I could see him as a Victor Oladipo type of player in the NBA, but I could also see him as a guy who doesn’t quite fit a NBA position or style, I hope he ends up in the right situation where he can be an immediate impact guard for the right team/system (not Denver, Sacramento, Philadelphia, New York, Minnesota or Detroit).

  • D’Angelo Russell – Ohio State

D’Angelo Russell has taken the country by storm the last month, averaging 20 ppg, 7.8 apg, 8.8 rpg over the last five games, not to mention when he pulled an Ice Cube against Rutgers, messing around and getting a triple-double (23 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds). If you don’t know about D’Angelo, NOW YOU KNOW!

 Strengths: He’s HUGE! D’Angelo Russell (I want to make an R&B music D’Angelo joke so bad) 6’5” Freshman combo-guard that has put Ohio State on his back like a ninja turtle with nunchucks. He’s highly skilled offensively, creative and doesn’t seem to shy away from the big moment. He’s also reinvented the “Pistol” Pete spinning-cue-ball-english bounce pass:

Then he did it again against Northwestern:

D-Russ can do it all, he creates for himself and others offensively, he can take it to the rim and finish, defend bigger AND smaller guards, and he shoots it very well (48% fg and 45% threes).

Weaknesses: The only real weakness in his game is that he is a bit unproven as a true Point Guard. Can he handle the pressure of quicker, aggressive guards in March when it really counts?

For now though, get your popcorn ready for tourney-time, cause this kid is the real deal.

  • Delon Wright – Utah

I rounded out my top 5 list with a bit of a long-shot here. If you don’t know Delon Wright, you’re about to be introduced to the best thing to come out of Utah since the freeway that leads to Las Vegas.

 Strengths: Delon is a great athlete on both ends of the floor, he fills passing lanes, he runs the floor, he can post up well for a guard, he shoots it very well from inside the arc and gets to the rim aggressively.

His stats are impressive, 14.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg and 5.6 rpg for a #11 ranked Utah Utes team that is poised to make a serious run in the tournament this season. Since the state of Utah doesn’t allow the internet, television or cheerleader’s midriffs, most people haven’t seen what Delon can do……until now:

Weaknesses: He doesn’t shoot the three-ball well consistently, 25% for his career isn’t going to cut it at the next level. He’s a streaky shooter at best, he’ll have to extend that range for the NBA. In addition, he tends to occasionally be out of control in the open floor, he’ll need to learn to pick and choose his moments a little better.

So there’s your official Wooden Watch list, some notables left off the list are Willie Cauley-Stein of Kentucky (his numbers aren’t good enough), Ryan Boatright of UCONN (no unranked team has ever had a Wooden Award winner), Kevin Pangos of Gonzaga (like Cauley-Stein, the numbers aren’t there), Tyus Jones of Duke (numbers aren’t there), and Tyler Haws of BYU (unranked school, but his numbers are huge).

Second-Christmas is just around the corner ya bunch of degenerate, hoops junkies. It’s almost March Madness and basketball-Saint Nick has loaded his bag with game-winners, high-flying dunks, overachieving mid-major schools and maybe if we’ve been REALLY good this year, John Calipari will cry.

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written by Casey S. Gutting

-Casey is the founder and Editor in Chief of TheCoLA and a contributor to http://www.Rotoworld.com-

Who wants to dance, NCAA Sweet 16: Breakin-2 Electric Boogaloo

1.  Which higher seeded team has a chance to continue to dance: NC State, Wichita State, Xavier, UCLA or Michigan State?

  • This is a tough call between Wichita State over Notre Dame or Michigan State over Oklahoma.  I’m going Michigan State over Oklahoma based on one man, Tom Izzo.  He continues to impress every single season, he constantly gets the MOST out of all his players and somehow it always culminates in March.  Point Guard play has been great the first two games behind Travis Trice’s 19 ppg, 4.5 apg, and .43 %fg in the NCAA tourney.  NOT TO MENTION, Michigan State has had a tough route to get here already, beating a gritty, athletic Georgia team and then knocking out seemingly everyone’s favorite to come out of the East bracket, the University of Virginia.  Michigan State is primed to make a Kemba Walker/Shabazz Napier-UCONN  kind of run to the Final Four.

2.  Who’s the best players (playing the best right now) left in the tournament?

  • Some of these names may come as a surprise, after peeling back the stats and implementing the old-fashioned eyeball test, several names started to come to the forefront (some of which were very unexpected):

Bryce Alford, UCLA – In two games, he’s averaging 24.5 ppg, shooting .57% fg AND .75% from three-point!!!!  Son-of-Steve is shooting 50-75-80 (fg%-3p%-ft%) over the first two games of the tournament.  WOW!  No wonder UCLA has upset SMU and UAB.

Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga –  No one has been able to stop the silky smooth, long-armed shot-maker from the kennel.  He’s already got a championship ring from his time spent coming off the bench at Kentucky (Kyle transferred to Zaga in 2013), now he’s ready to cut down the nets in the name of the Zags.   Kyle’s two-game average in the NCAA tournament: 23.5 ppg, .75% fg and .67% three-point in only 28 minutes per game so far.  Kyle’s putting in work the second he steps on the floor, he’s a constant threat to score every time he touches the ball.

Jahlil Okafor, Duke – Everyone knows Jahlil’s the best player in the country, he’s the forgone conclusion for the #1 pick in the NBA draft.  BUT there’s a reason for all the accolades, the kid can play.  He has GREAT hands combined with unbelievable, Olajuwon-ish footwork, AND he seems to be improving his mental toughness and physical play each and every game.  He doesn’t shy away from the big plays or the big game lights, he’s ready to lead Duke to an NCAA championship RIGHT NOW.  Jahlil’s stats through two games:  23.5 ppg, .78% fg and 5 rpg.

Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State – Having the coolest (but for some reason incredibly hard to say) last name in the tournament should be reason enough to make this list.

Should we call him FVV, FV-squared or FV2 or maybe the Flying V?  All good choices, regardless the F-double-V has made his presence known in the NCAA tourney to anyone owning a TV that his Shockers of Wichita are not disappearing softly into the Kansas twilight.  Van Vleet is putting up 22 ppg, 5 apg and 4 rpg in the Shockers tourney run.  He will lead his Wichitaians (?) to battle once again this weekend against Notre Dame in the Sweet 16.

***Other Post-Season names worthy of note:  Myles Davis – Xavier, Yogi Ferrell – Indiana, Sir’ Dominic Pointer – St. John’s, Nimrod Hilliard – North Carolina Central, Isiah Umipig – Seattle and BillyDee Williams – West Virginia.

Travis Trice, Michigan State – Lead his team to wins over the #10 seed and the #2 seed in the East when lots of college hoops pundits were writing the Spartans off in the first round as an upset possibility.  Travis Trice has been doing his best Shabazz Napier impression in an attempt to WILL his Michigan State posse to the Final Four.  Double T is averaging a gritty 19 ppg on .43% fg and .46% three-point shooting.  Michigan State’s Achilles-heel this season has been consistent scoring, but Trice has turned on the big play ability in the NCAA tournament and seems to have his hand on the wheel and isn’t looking back.

Kentucky…..the whole team – Seriously, have you watched them play?  They are everything and more that you’ve heard all the “experts” talk about.

  1. They’re huge.  Karl-Anthony Towns is 6’11”, Willie Cauley-Stein is 7’0″, Trey Lyles is 6’10” and Dakari Johnson is 6’10”.  They’re ALL athletic, they all can move exceptionally well.  They have two point guards who can do EVERYTHING AND THEY’RE 6’6″ (Harrison twins), by the way shouldn’t it be illegal to have twin 6’6″ point guards on the same team?  I mean that’s just impossible to match up with and more confusing than David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive”.  
  2. They’ve figured out how to play together well and share the ball effectively.  Usually when you have 9-10 guys on ONE team that are considered to be NBA prospects and were All-American high school players……wait, that’s NEVER happened before in the NCAA.  They have 10 McDonalds All-Americans!  Anyway, getting all those egos in check is nothing short of a miracle manufactured by Kentucky-basketball Jesus: John Calipari.
  3. It’s really, really hard to go undefeated.  I mean, really, really hard.  No team has done it since the 1976 Indiana University team lead by Bobby Knight and Quinn Buckner.  Only seven teams in the history of NCAA Men’s Basketball have gone undefeated, and those teams had names like Alcindor, Walton, Goodrich, Russell and Jones.   Give Kentucky credit, what they’re doing this season is an unbelievable accomplishment, and we still have a couple games to go.

3.  Final Four (and other) Predictions

  • Kentucky, Arizona, Michigan State and Duke in the Final Four.
  • Duke and Kentucky in the National Championship, an all BLUE championship game with Ashley Judd sightings (over/under crowd-shots set at 7.5) and hopefully Ken Jeong (he went to Duke Med school) will pop out of the Blue Devil mascot’s gym bag completely naked with a big blue “D” painted on his chest and run around the floor during warm-ups.
  • Kentucky wins 78-71, Coach Calipari cries in the post-game interview and then signs 10 more one-n-done freshman for next season before he leaves the locker room.
  • Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles enter the NBA draft and are all top 10 picks.
  • The Harrison twins stick around for their Junior years to torment every defender in the country with “twin pranks” for another season.
  • Kentucky is back in the Final Four in 2016, Karl-Anthony Towns comes to the game and sits behind the bench wearing a Philadelphia 76ers hat, Willie Cauley-Stein wears a Boston Celtics hat and Trey Lyles sports a Sacramento Kings hat.  Somewhere the Lakers’ entire Front Office is crying.

You heard it hear first dear readers.  Enjoy the rest of the tournament.