BOZICH | College basketball's best player, coach, freshman, league at mid-season
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- I have a new system to stop myself from rushing to conclusions about this college basketball season. I remind myself of two scores from last season:
Louisville 81, Connecticut 48.
Louisville 71, Connecticut 61.
On the second and third Saturdays of March, the Huskies were beaten by a combined 43 points by Louisville.
On the first Monday in April, the Huskies won the national championship, completing a run that saw them topple Villanova, Michigan State, Florida and Kentucky.
Conclusion: It's dangerous making projections. But I'm prepared to live dangerously – and distribute mid-season awards.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke, freshman center – Great hands. Great footwork. Great touch. Great motor. He can do everything you want – except stop the pick and roll -- and he's an inside guy who wants to play inside. Imagine.
2. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin, senior center – There aren't many guys who have delivered seven double-doubles, while making better than 40 percent of their three-point shots. Frank the Tank can.
3. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky, junior forward – He can stop the other team's best guy – and it doesn't matter if the best guy plays center, forward or guard.
4. Justin Anderson, Virginia, junior guard – He's added the one missing piece to his game – a reliable jump shot. Watch him defend and you'll understand why he's Mr. Virginia.
5. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame, senior guard – The Irish were awfully ordinary after he left the team in mid-season a year ago. They've won 17 of 19 since he came back. Like his Dad (Harvey), he's going to be quite a pro.
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
1. Okafor, Duke center – He's made better than 50 percent of his field-goal attempts in 15 of 18 games.
2. D'Angelo Russell, Ohio State guard – Imagine how much better Louisville would be if the former Central High player was averaging 18.6 points, five rebounds and five assists for the Cards instead of the Buckeyes. He told the Big Ten Network that he had to get out of town after his freshman season because of gangs and bad stuff going on in his neighborhood. Too bad.
3. Melo Trimble, Maryland guard – My favorite Trimble stat: He is an 88.4 percent free throw shooter who goes to the line more than seven times per game. That's a half-dozen points a night right there.
4. James Blackmon Jr., Indiana guard – His 16.6 scoring average is not surprising. His 5.7 rebound average is. Somebody in Bloomington started calling him "The Silent Assassin."
5. (tie) Devin Booker, Trey Lyles, Karl-Anthony Towns, Tyler Ulis, Kentucky – Any one of these guys could crack the top five if they were getting 30 minutes per game, so I'm not going to penalize them for John Calipari's platoon system.
COACH OF THE YEAR
1. Tony Bennett, Virginia – Rick Pitino said he was the best coach in the country. Hard to argue with a 17-0 record from a team without a single McDonald's all-American.
2. Mark Turgeon, Maryland – Before the Terps won 17 of their first 19, Turgeon was showing up on some of those bogus Hot Seat Lists. Take a bow, coach.
3. Larry Krystowiak, Utah – The Utes haven't been this formidable since the late, great Rick Majerus was running the show. I miss Rick Majerus.
4. Mike Brey, Notre Dame – One-point loss to Providence and six-point loss to Virginia are the only games separating the Irish from perfection.
5. Bob Huggins, West Virginia – Don't forget the Mountaineers were 17-16 last season. They've already won 15 this season. Welcome back, Huggs.
MOST UNDERRATED PLAYER
1. Anthony Gill, Virginia, senior forward – Give credit to former Western Kentucky and South Carolina coach Darrin Horn. He recruited Gill out of Charlotte. Gill left for Charlottesville after Horn was fired – and currently ranks second (to Kaminsky) on Ken Pomeroy's Player of the Year standings.
2. LaDontae Henton, Providence, senior forward – I remember that Kentucky limited him to three points. Despite that 1 for 8 performance, Henton is averaging 21.1 points per game while making 35 percent of his three-pointers.
3. Robert Upshaw, Washington, sophomore center – He's moved into the first round of several NBA mock drafts because he's the nation's leading shot-blocker at more than four per game.
4. Keifer Sykes, Green Bay, senior guard – He is listed at 6 feet, which means he is probably 5-10, which makes his averages of 19.7 points and 4.4 rebounds more impressive.
5. Venkys Jois, Eastern Washington, junior center – You don't want to face Jois (18 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.8 blocks) and his sidekick Tyler Harvey in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Ask Indiana.
MOST SIGNIFICANT INJURIES
1. Mick Cronin, Cincinnati coach – As the New York Times reported last week in this story, Cronin, the former Rick Pitino assistant at U of L, is making steady progress back from an arterial dissection in his brain. Get well quick, Mick.
2. Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall guard – Kevin Willard, another former Pitino assistant, has been without his shooting guard since he was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his right foot Dec. 21.
3. Caris LeVert, Michigan guard – The Wolverines start their journey without their best player for the rest of this season tonight at Rutgers.
4. Traveon Jackson, Wisconsin guard – The Badgers hope to get their senior point guard back from his foot injury by late February. They'll need all hands on deck in March.
5. Chris McCullough, Syracuse forward – A knee injury could mean the end of McCullough's college career because he is projected as a first-round pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.
1. Kentucky 72, Kansas 40 – In case you missed it, the Jayhawks are tied for first in the Big 12. Nobody ever smacks Kansas like this.
2. Virginia 76, Maryland 65 – The game was in College Park and the Cavaliers limited the Terps to six points in the first 10 minutes.
3. Duke 80, Wisconsin 70 – The Blue Devils handled the Badgers in Madison – and didn't have to drag out the 2-3 zone defense.
4. Arizona 69, Utah 51 – The Wildcats showed the Utes that the road to the Pac-12 title goes through Tucson.
5. Maryland 72, Iowa State 63 – Considering this game was played on a neutral court, will somebody explain why the Cyclones are ranked ninth and the Terps are 13th in the latest AP college basketball poll?
1. New Jersey Institute of Technology 72, Michigan 70 – I can't add anything to this one.
2. Texas Southern 71, Michigan State 64 (overtime) – Mike Davis beats Tom Izzo. Congrats, Mike.
3. Eastern Kentucky 72, Miami 44 – The Hurricanes beat Duke, Illinois and Florida, but were no match for the Colonels.
4. DePaul 87, Stanford 72 – Even Mark Aguirre had to be shocked by this one. Whatever happened to Mark Aguirre?
5. Oregon State 58, Arizona 56 – At 3-2, the Beavers are the surprise team in the Pac-12 – and this was their most surprising moment.
OLD FACES IN NEW PLACES
1. Kyle Wiltjer, from Kentucky to Gonzaga – The big fella is everything coach Mark Few hoped he would be, averaging 16.6 points while making 30 of 66 three-point shots.
2. Kevin Ware, from Louisville to Georgia State – As his confidence increases, so does his game. Ware has averaged 11 points in his last seven games. Great to see him healthy again. Ware talked to Sports Illustrated about his new life in this story.
3. Remy Abell, from Indiana to Xavier – The former Eastern High star is averaging close to 10 points per game and has only turned the ball over 15 times.
4. Ryan Harrow, from Kentucky to Georgia State – He's getting all the shots that he desires, averaging 20.4 points on 15 field-goal attempts per game.
5. Luke Fischer, from Indiana to Marquette – After scoring 41 points with 15 rebounds in his first two games, the big man gave the Golden Eagles just nine points and seven rebounds against Creighton and Xavier.
1. Big 12 – First, by a comfortable margin in the Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin ratings. Six teams in the current AP Top 25. Joe Lunardi has eight teams from the Big 12 – and the ACC – in his latest NCAA Tournament bracket projection. Everybody but Tubby Smith -- 0-5 at Texas Tech -- is having fun.
NATIONAL TITLE CONTENDERS
This one requires a short explanation. Some will argue that one way to narrow the list of legitimate national title contenders is to identify the teams that rank in the Top 20 in offensive and defensive efficiency in Pomeroy's ratings.
Here is the list. But here is also a disclaimer: UConn's final numbers last season were 39th in offensive efficiency and 10th in defensive efficiency. You have been warned.
1. Kentucky – seventh on offense, first on defense.
2. Virginia – fourth on offense, third on defense.
3. Arizona – 20th on offense, ninth on defense.
4. North Carolina – 16th on offense, 13th on defense.
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