The college basketball regular season has about six weeks left and AP has a look at player of the year candidates. Like last season, there are a couple of front-runners and a handful of players who could make a run at the award with a strong finish. Here’s the way it’s shaping up as the season heads toward the final stretch:
Jahlil Okafor, Duke. The list starts with him for a reason. The 6-foot-11 freshman was a preseason All-American and has lived up to expectations, putting up big numbers for one of the nation’s best teams. Okafor leads the fourth-ranked Blue Devils with 19.9 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. He’s shooting nearly 67 percent from the floor and has a good eye for passing out of double teams, which he sees a lot. He has been a handful at both ends of the floor and arguably the nation’s most dominant player.
Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin. Another preseason All-American who has played like one. The 7-foot senior returned to Madison after leading the Badgers to the Final Four last season and has done nothing to hurt his NBA stock after skipping a chance to leave early. Kaminsky leads No. 5 Wisconsin with 17.2 points, 8.2 rebounds per game and is shooting 53 percent, including 40 percent from 3-point range. Put a smaller player on him, Kaminsky will go down in the post. Beef up against him and Kaminsky will take them outside.
Delon Wright, Utah. Wright is one of the most dynamic players in college basketball. The 6-foot-5 senior swingman can get to the rim against just about anyone and is an adept long-range shooter, averaging 14.6 points on 53 percent shooting — 31 percent from the 3-point arc. Wright also is a superb facilitator, averaging 6 assists per game, and isn’t afraid to go in and get rebounds, averaging 4.3. The 11th-ranked Utes are on the rise and Wright has been a big part of it.
Jerian Grant, Notre Dame. After missing the second part of last season due to an academic issue, Grant has played like he’s trying to make up for lost time. The 6-foot-5 senior leads the eighth-ranked Irish with 16.8 points and 6.1 assists per game, and is tied for 10th nationally in assists-to-turnover ratio at 3.43. If you haven’t seen his dunk against Georgia Tech yet, check it out.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky. The 7-foot junior doesn’t get the minutes many of the nation’s other best players do because of the Wildcats’ platoon system. He still manages to be a dominant force for the team’s No. 1 team. Cauley-Stein skipped a shot at the NBA after missing the final three games of the 2014 NCAA tournament with an ankle injury and has probably improved his stock this season. Exceptionally athletic for his size, he can shoot over smaller defenders and take the ball to the basket, where he usually finishes with a dunk. Cauley-Stein is even more troublesome for opponents as the anchor of the nation’s best defensive team with long arms that swat a lot of shots.
Justin Anderson, Virginia. The No. 2 Cavaliers are one of two remaining undefeated teams in Division I and Anderson is the motor that makes them go. Built like a linebacker at 6-6, 230 pounds, the junior can bull his way through opponents or stroke it from long range after greatly improving his 3-point shooting. Anderson leads the Cavaliers with 13.9 points while averaging 4.4 rebounds. He’s shooting 50 percent and his 3-point shooting is up to 51 percent after shooting just under 30 percent last season.
A few other players who might have a shot at player of the year with a strong finish: Stanley Johnson, Arizona; D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State; Georges Niang, Iowa State; Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga; Montrezl Harrell, Louisville.
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