Breaking Down College Basketball’s Early Player of the Year Candidates

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Who is College Basketball's Player of the Year?

Who is College Basketball's Player of the Year?
Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY SPORTS

The title of Player of the Year Award is sort of unique in the sense that it doesn’t mean the nation’s leading scorer. In the NBA, the MVP trophy almost always goes to the top scorer regardless of playoff positioning — not in college.

The player who wins this award almost always has to play on a team that is a regular among the AP Top 25 and is a legitimate contender for the national championship. Plenty of players around college basketball score at much higher rates than those on this list, but against inferior competition.

Most college basketball pundits already have their top three favorites for the Naismith trophy — and they’re all freshmen. Duke’s Jabari Parker, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins and Kentucky’s Julius Randle are the trio of freshman phenoms to which I am referring. Each of the three have already graced the college basketball world with their wonderful skills and talents early on in their first year playing at this level. They will all become NBA lottery selections one day — perhaps the top three selections in the 2014 draft — but for now they are showcasing their abilities at the college level. Any NBA franchise would love to have either on its roster, but who is the early favorite to win the 2013-14 Naismith Award?

Last year’s winner was Trey Burke of Michigan despite trailing Otto Porter Jr. of Georgetown as the favorite early in the season. Any player can step up and take this award, it doesn’t have to be one of the freshman listed above. Here are the top 10 players who have played the best basketball so far this season.

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10. Roberto Nelson, Oregon State

 Roberto Nelson, Oregon State
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Nelson currently ranks third in the country with 25.4 points per game. He won’t get as much credit as he’s due because of the team he’s on, but he’s good enough to crack the top 10.

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9. C.J. Fair, Syracuse

9. C.J. Fair, Syracuse
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Fair leads the No. 4 ranks Syracuse Orange in scoring with 17.6 points per game. He hits more than 45 percent of his shots and is a solid .853 from the free-throw line. Fair will need to pick it up a bit if he wants a more serious shot at the honor, but being on Syracuse helps his chances tremendously.

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8. Russ Smith, Louisville

8. Russ Smith, Louisville
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Russ Smith was a preseason All-American and it seems as though he may retain that title at the end of the season. He currently leads reigning National Champions Louisville in scoring with 18.9 and assists with 3.9 per game.

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7. Nick Johnson, Arizona

7. Nick Johnson, Arizona
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Nick Johnson is the best player on the second-best team in the nations. Johnson leads the No. 2 Wildcats with 17.1 points per game. He would receive more credit for Arizona’s positioning in the polls if it weren’t for phenom freshman Aaron Gordon.

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6. Gary Harris, Michigan State

6. Gary Harris
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Harris leads the best team in the nation in scoring with 17.7 points per game. There are plenty parts of his game he can improve, however. He shoots just .265 from three point land in 49 attempts, and his field-goal percentage is down from a year ago to .414. Should he see a spike in those numbers his chance at earning Player of the Year Award will rise as well.

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5. Jahii Carson, Arizona State

5. Jahii Carson, Arizona State
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY SPORTS

This sophomore has improved tremendously from a year ago, and his is starting to emerge into the national spotlight. He currently leads his Sun Devils team with 20.2 points and 5.1 assists per game. Playing in the Pac-12 doesn’t help his chances, but he’s playing at an elite level and will be an NBA player one day.

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4. Doug McDermott, Creighton

4. Doug McDermott, Creighton
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This guy is a scoring machine, and he’s scoring more than last year when he finished second in the nation in scoring. Despite scoring more per game than a year ago, he currently ranks sixth in the country with 24.4 points per game. He’s not likely to win the Naismith Award, but he’s worthy of the consideration.

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3. Julius Randle, Kentucky

3. Julius Randle, Kentucky
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY SPORTS

There’s no secret Randle is a legitimate contender for the Naismith Award despite somewhat playing in the shadow of two other freshman phenoms. Randle currently leads Kentucky with 18.1 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. His rebound average is good enough for a tie for second in the nation.

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2. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas

2. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY SPORTS

Andrew Wiggins’ play has slowed down significantly since the beginning portion of the 2013-14 season, though he still has a legitimate shot at winning this award. He no longer leads his team in scoring, but he definitely has the ability and skill to get those numbers back up. He is a pure basketball player and will not go away quietly in an effort to win this honor.

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1. Jabari Parker, Duke

1. Jabari Parker, Duke
Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY SPORTS

Jabari Parker has to be the front-runner for the 2013-14 Naismith Award, right? He’s the best player on Duke, a nationally recognized school, and he’s playing fantastic basketball. He currently leads the No. 10 Blue Devils in scoring with 22.1 points and in rebounds with 7.8. Andrew Wiggins was thought to be the best NBA prospect heading into this season, but Parker’s play has some suggesting otherwise. He’ll be in this discussion through the end of this college basketball season.

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