While the Wooden Award is certainly not the Heisman in terms of prestige and historical significance, the names adorning the Past Winners list is impressive, nonetheless—many of them titans of college basketball history. There are ethereal freshmen (Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant) and all-time greats (Tim Duncan).
Joining that list this year will be tough, if only because the pool of candidates is so deep. No fewer than 12 players have a legitimate shot at taking home college basketball’s top honor this season. That’s wide open in mid-to-late February terms.
Is this really the entire list of candidates, though?
It’s not that there are not deserving candidates and numbers—and perhaps it’s a product of the talent drain and weak draft—but this field certainly does not tip the name-recognition scale. Has Mason Plumlee really risen to the pinnacle of individual achievement in college basketball? That’s quite an improvement.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll watch Trey Burke or Ben McLemore or Doug McDermott play any day, but am I supposed to consciously lump those names in with J.J. Redick, Larry Johnson or Ralph Sampson? Not yet. Maybe one day. It’s naïve to think there have not been drop-offs in the past, for, like with any award, there are bound to be T.J. Fords sprinkled into the field. It’s easier to cast judgment in hindsight.
Candidates like Kelly Olynyk and Jack Cooley do not invoke flashbacks of basketball greatness, though. Yet here we are.
KEEP AN EYE ON…
Victor Oladipo, Indiana: Though Magic Johnson’s exaggerated comparison of Oladipo to a combination of Jordan and Wade drew some good-natured ire, there’s no question the do-it-all Hoosier has distinguished himself as a National Player of the Year contender. In the biggest games, Indiana leans on him. The junior averages 20 points per game against ranked opponents (13.8 overall) and has played himself into what looks like a lottery selection. He just might help lead the top-ranked Hoosiers to a title, too.
John Thompson III, Georgetown: Hand it to JT3, this team is not built to be the nation’s No. 11 team (or better), but the Hoyas are rolling without one of their best players in one of the toughest conferences to play in. While rolling off eight straight wins, including an upset of Louisville, a shellacking of Notre Dame and two solid victories over Marquette and Cincinnati. If Thompson’s squad earns a 2- or 3-seed in the Dance, they’ll be tabbed for an upset alert. No matter. This is an impressive run.
THE FIFTH WATCH
New Mexico at Colorado State: With its smothering defense, New Mexico has an opportunity to make some waves in the NCAA Tournament next month, but this a big stretch of games in terms of seeding with CSU (No. 13 RPI), San Diego State (No. 31) and Wyoming (No. 63) on the slate. It’s a classic offense-versus-defense matchup, with the efficient Rams looking to stay in the Mountain West hunt. Sticking with Kendall Williams and the Lobos—even on the road. Pick: New Mexico
Georgetown at Syracuse: Digesting Syracuse’s recent struggles is tough—losses to UConn, Pittsburgh and Villanova were unexpected—as the Orange still rank in the top-15 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. But one common thread in all three losses came on defense, with the Orange allowing 1.06 points per possession (.18 points more than its season average, a notable jump). Jim Boeheim’s squad will need to lock that down, as points will be hard to come by against Georgetown’s offense. Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse’s assist machine, is due for a big game. Pick: Syracuse
VCU at Xavier: This one has been circled on the calendar ever since VCU announced its move to the Atlantic 10, and even though Xavier is not the Xavier of old, this is still a challenging road trip to the Cintas Center. But here’s a problem for the Musketeers: they turn the ball over on 19.1 percent of their possessions. They haven’t seen a defense like Shaka Smart’s “Havoc” yet, either. Saint Louis didn’t have a problem with it, but this looks like trouble. Pick: VCU
Michigan State at Ohio State: At this point, it seems like the Big Ten is throwing four or five ranked teams into a hat and spitting out matchups. A couple days removed from a draining showcase against No. 1 Indiana, the Spartans turn around and head to Columbus. Despite their two losses to the Hoosiers, though, the Spartans remain the conference’s most consistent team to-date. MSU freshman Gary Harris is coming into his own, scoring at least 14 points in six of his last seven games. Pick: Michigan State
Indiana at Minnesota: Big Ten play has ravaged Minnesota’s ascension into the national Top-10, but losing eight of its last 11 games has disguised the possibility that Tubby Smith’s team is still good—perhaps underrated even. Keep in mind: the Gophers have still knocked off Wisconsin, Michigan State and Illinois this season. If Minnesota can re-figure out how to close games (and once again start forcing turnovers), it remains a dangerous draw. Just not against the Hoosiers. Pick: Indiana
THIS IS WHY…
With 10 words, Donna Shalala’s response to the NCAA’s latest example of hypocrisy was needed. It was refreshing to see the University of Miami’s president fire back at NCAA prez Mark Emmert and his slightly-less-than-daunting Notice of Allegations.
With 10 simple words—“We deeply regret any violations, but we have suffered enough”—Shalala’s statement highlighted that the Hurricanes athletic program is not going to go quietly into the infractions-cursed night, not with accusations of “lack of institutional control,” a dire charge by NCAA standards, being handed down from an institution that, well, lacked institutional control during its very own investigation.
Aside from trudging through its look into Miami’s athletic program and the claims of former booster (and Ponzi-schemer) Nevin Shapiro for two years, the NCAA is in hot water for its investigation tactics. The organization, which is not new to the world of fudged up investigations, is alleged by Shalala to have leaked information, taken the word of a convicted liar, exaggerated its findings and refused to interrogate essential witnesses.
As Jay Bilas pointed out, releasing the Notice of Allegations a day after firing Julie Roe Lach, Emmert’s personally appointed director of enforcement, for paying Shapiro’s lawyer for information, was tone-deaf defined.
With Shabazz Muhammad, Myck Kabongo and numerous other examples in its infamous rearview mirror, the NCAA dishing out any punishment regarding lack of institutional control is a pot-kettle metaphor waiting to happen.
The organization has been incompetent for years, but now it’s just acting like a disingenuous bull in a china shop.
The terminal joke of the entire foundation the NCAA operates on, is that it’s an organization with zero control over its sporting empire—just check out conference realignment—all while puffing up its chest and presuming complete authority on all things college athletic. It lost its touch years ago. Emmert and his staff are just shooting blanks, regardless of how much damage their most recent NOA eventually inflicts on Miami. Their power is evaporating.
This is why it was refreshing to see Shalala, a no-nonsense president seemingly hell-bent on protecting her institution, fire back. The NCAA messed up its investigation. There are consequences for such actions beyond labeling them “missteps.” In all likelihood, Miami’s athletics program is guilty of NCAA infractions at some level—Shalala admitted as much in her statement. But to allegedly drop the hammer (the NOA has not been made fully public, yet) from a false high horse is beyond reprehensible.
This is why, beyond the situation in Coral Gables, the NCAA is in need of more than an overhaul—the whole thing needs to be burnt down and started from the ground up.