Magic Johnson went out on a limb when describing Victor Oladipo earlier this season.
Working as a color analyst for the 6´5 Indiana guard's game against Michigan State, Johnson, one of the all-time greatest players in NBA history, lauded Oladipo with praise. He then stretched praise into hyperbole by calling him a combo of two of the greatest 2-guards the game of basketball has ever seen. Johnson described the soon-to-be First Team All-American as a mix between Michael Jordan and Dwyane Wade. Yeah, the other MJ stepped out on a limb there.
However, Oladipo should hold at least one career similarity by the end of the season — he's been the best player, game in and game out on both ends of the floor, in the country.
Oladipo does not sport the typical offensive game averages — at 13.7 points per game, he would become the lowest scoring Wooden Award winner in history, undermining Kentucky's Anthony Davis last season — but don't let that cloud your judgment: he's an elite college player on both ends of the floor, a rarity in today's game. As outlined by ESPN Stats and Info recently, among the 15 Wooden finalists, Oladipo finished the regular season with the highest net rating, scoring 42.4 points more than he allows per 100 possessions. That's better than Otto Porter Jr. (Georgetown), Kelly Olynyk (Gonzaga), Trey Burke (Michigan), Mason Plumlee (Duke) or his Hoosier teammate Cody Zeller.
When it comes to "two-way" players, only Porter pushes Oladipo for top individual honors (despite the Hoosiers guard thinking Zeller is the man). Plus, he's done it in college basketball's elite conference. Sure, there were some clunkers, but when the lights came on, Oladipo didn't disappoint. He finished the regular season with a 58.5 true shooting percentage (sixth nationally), 2.2 steals (25th) and 6.2 rebounds per game (11th in Big 10). Those may not be the sexy numbers recent winners Kevin Durant and (Duke’s) Jason Williams put up, but it's been a wide open (if not underwhelming) race, and Oladipo stands out as much as anyone. If this season has a Hoosier-inspired lesson this March, it’s that Victor Oladipo will have something big in store.
Trey Burke: The Michigan sophomore had some competition in the floor general department — Shane Larkin, Marcus Smart and Michael Carter-Williams will make a few lists — but after watching Burke's explosive play-making ability I have no problem placing him here. Burke finished the regular season 24th in scoring (19.2) and fourth in assist-turnover ratio.
Ben McLemore: By far the streakiest player on this list, the Kansas redshirt freshman has POY potential, but couldn't pull it together in some of the Jayhawks' bigger games. All the same, he has the makings of an All-Star scorer at the next level (16.7 points per game) and came on strong, as the season winded down. He’ll be one of the nation's most intriguing players in next week's NCAA tourney.
Victor Oladipo: Obvious choice. Oladipo played fewer minutes than most of the country's top players — Indiana is flush with talent — but his playing time should increase as March progresses, so expect his overall numbers to rise.
Doug McDermott: In a season when he joined the likes of Oscar Robertson and Larry Bird in career numbers, it's tough to deny the Creighton points-machine. Amazingly, the 6´8 quirky scorer has pretty much matched his superb sophomore season (23.1 points, 7.5 boards). Don't let the Missouri Valley Conference cloud any of his accomplishments — McDermott is averaging 29 points versus Power 6 conference teams.
Otto Porter: Georgetown's 6´9 future lottery pick was the catalyst behind one of the nation's best teams, a squad that looks fairly paltry on paper without him. Porter finished in or near the top-10 in the Big East in nearly every statistical category that matters, and his defensive effort (the Hoyas rank second in defensive efficacy) and offensive versatility has John Thompson III's team looking dangerous.
THE FIFTH WATCH
Big Ten Tournament: It's not outside the realm of possibility for seven of the conference's top eight teams (sorry, Iowa) to possibly make a run for the tourney title here, but, for time's sake, let's cut it down to Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State. Of those four teams, the Buckeyes are playing the best basketball right now — five straight wins — and their defense should keep them in any game. Ohio State is not the conference's best team, but it could easily steal a few games in Chicago. Pick: Ohio State
ACC Tournament: This has been Mike Krzyzewski's event to win or lose for years. Duke is coming off a dominant road win over a hot North Carolina team and, with forward Ryan Kelly (14.6 points) back in the mix, looks every bit like the No. 1 seed it did when it was knocking off the likes of Louisville, Kentucky and Ohio State. Conference champ Miami has not played well of late, and with the Blue Devils still playing for seeding, there's both motivation and energy. Pick: Duke
Big East Tournament: Forget the midseason slump and five-OT loss to Notre Dame, Louisville is back on track. After knocking off Syracuse and the Irish over the last three games, the Cardinals are looking like a Final Four team once more. Louisville's defense (No. 1 nationally) has not allowed a team to score more than 61 points during its current seven-game winning streak. Don't expect Rick Pitino's team to get more lenient on that end as they advance through the postseason. Pick: Louisville
SEC Tournament: On the SEC coaches teleconference Monday, every coach reiterated the same sentiment: "It's wide open." Florida is by far the conference's best team, but after losing to Missouri and Kentucky in recent weeks, there's doubt surrounding the legitimacy of the Gators. Not here, though. This senior- and junior-heavy team is poised for a deep run, and still ranks in the top-5 on both ends of the floor. Kentucky, Mizzou or even Alabama could challenge them this week, but the Gators are hard to bet against. Pick: Florida
Mountain West Tournament: With respect to the Big 12 and Pac-12 (just kidding, Pac-10), the Mountain West and Atlantic 10 tourneys are more intriguing and deeper. New Mexico and San Diego State should not be sneaking up on anybody at this point (maybe Colorado State should), but I'll stay consistent with my preseason picks — UNLV is looking great. With Anthony Bennett, Mike Moser and Khem Birch regaining their form in the tourney opener versus Air Force, the league's most talented team is a good bet. Pick: UNLV
THIS IS WHY…
Staying consistent deserves its rewards, or something.
During the preseason, my picks for the Final Four were Louisville, Indiana, Arizona and UNLV — by no means a perfect selection in hindsight, but there's something to hang a hat on there. Arizona is not inspiring any confidence after capturing the fourth seed in the Pac-12 tournament (seriously, Wildcats?), but with UNLV and Louisville back on the rise — Indiana never really faltered — that's four tournament teams still with a fighting chance. There's two or three teams there worth serious Elite Eight or Final Four consideration, depending on how the bracket opens up.
Here's the point: Consistency during bracket seasons is a rarity, with folks filling out multiple brackets with wildly different outcomes. Then, of course, there are victorious cheers on the social media airwaves saying something to the effect of, "I won one of my 13 leagues!" No…you didn't. Let's put it this way: If you fill out more than one bracket with different Final Four results, you didn't win anything this March (unless there's a perfect bracket in there, in which case, props, my friend).
Hedging your bets doesn't make you a college basketball savant; it makes you a mathematician simply playing the odds. And no one likes those guys. This is why you should stick to your bracket-busting guns next week. Without sounding too much like a shoe commercial, adopt the motto, "One Month, One Bracket, One Winner." Don't be that guy/girl, the Taylor Swift of office pool winners. This is why I'll be sticking to my bracket predictions…because I'm fully prepared to be a loser like everyone else.