Friday, February 22, 2013

Friday Roundtable: College National Player of the Year

Trey Burke and Victor Oladipo are No. 1 and 2 in the latest Player of the Year straw poll and will be two of a handful of players battling for the award in the last month of the season. ( 

BDD's Friday Roundtable is a weekly discussion among three of our writers on a trending NBA or college basketball topic.

This week's question: If the season ended today, who would be your choice for college basketball's National Player of the Year?

If voting ended today, Trey Burke would be at the top of my ballot. However, it doesn't and after a few surprising losses, Creighton is poised for a late comeback with Doug McDermott leading the Bluejays.

The junior is third in the latest NPOY straw poll after making a run at the award last year and with good reason. He is averaging 22.5 ppg, 7.8 rebounds per game and nearly as many nightly assists (1.8) as Indiana guard Victor Oladipo, who came in second in the same poll.

McDermott's race toward NPOY could mirror Jimmer Fredette's. Preceded by a stand-out year on the national stage, Fredette shouldered the workload for his team and won the title the following season. Both players are from schools outside of Power Six conferences, and an argument could be made for this year's Missouri Valley being tougher than the Mountain West in which Jimmer competed when he won NPOY.

Voters have soft spots for athletes from mid-major schools and players whose teams succeed based almost entirely on their play. McDermott fits both those descriptions and Creighton is on the path to finish at or near the top of the MVC before playing in the NCAA tournament.

Trey Burke has been one of the front runners in the NPOY race all season, and for good reason. Burke is one of the best scoring guards in the game and yet is still a great passer and makes his team better. If the season ended today, Burke would receive my vote, but there's still another player that I think has a legitimate chance to overtake Burke in the final month of the season.

I've always been a fan of Doug McDermott, but I'm afraid Creighton's struggles will keep him out of the race. I think Kelly Olynyk of Gonzaga has been the most improved player in the country and has turned into one of the best and most versatile big men in college basketball. Again, playing in a weaker conference without the national attention on a weekly basis as a Burke or Mason Plumlee will keep him from being in the top three.

Then there's Indiana's Victor Oladipo. While he averages fewer points per game than Burke (14 to 18.6), although he is one of the best rebounding guards in college averaging six boards per game, Oladipo seems to make big play after big play for the Hoosiers and has proven to be their most valuable player. Take the Michigan State game Tuesday as an example. Oladipo tallied 19 points, but more importantly, every time a game-changing play needed to be made for Indiana, Oladipo was the one with the ball. With Indiana inbounding the ball with under a minute left in the game against the Spartans, it was Oladipo who broke free from his defender for a wide-open dunk that all-but sealed the Hoosiers' victory. Not to mention Oladipo had nine rebounds and five steals in the contest.

Burke still has the upper hand at this point in the season, but if Oladipo's numbers remain consistent and if he continues to be the most clutch player on the nation's No. 1 team, I could see Oladipo taking the crown from Burke.

The point guard is the most important position on a basketball team. He sets the tone defensively and is the quarterback for the offense. So how is it, then, that no point guard has won the Wooden Award since Jameer Nelson in 2004 (there is some dispute regarding whether Jimmer Fredette classified as a true point guard)? If the Player of the Year were to be chosen today, I believe that streak should finally come to an end, as Trey Burke (G, Michigan) and Marcus Smart (G, Oklahoma St.) have pushed out in front of a crowded field of contenders.

Burke dominates the statistical categories that are typically strong for a point guard, posting 18.6 points and 6.9 assists per game. Meanwhile, Smart does it all. He has a remarkably strong stat line across multiple categories, with 15 points, six rebounds, 4.4 assists, and three steals per game. It may be that no single player in the country is more valuable to his team than Smart. He has time and again led the Cowboys to victory, seemingly by will alone. Not to mention, Smart is still a freshman.

All said, I would ultimately cast my ballot for Burke. He has excelled as the premier floor general in the nation's best conference. He is a consistent scoring threat, whether he is shooting from deep or taking his defender off the dribble. Most impressively, though, he posts an eye-popping 3.8 assist-to-turnover ratio. Michigan and Burke ran into a rut recently, but he has averaged 23.5 points the last two games and looks poised to gain momentum down the stretch.

There is no position more important than point guard, and no one I would rather have filling it than Trey Burke. At least until Marcus Smart proves me wrong.

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