After a long winter indoors (watching college basketball, of course), the days are getting longer and the weather is getting warmer. We’re getting to closer to spring. For the college basketball fan, signs of warmer weather are synonymous with the coming of March, our month-long basketball Christmas season. With a majority of the college regular season in the books, we’ve been wowed by freshmen and seniors alike who have been essential to the success of their respective teams. So, with that said, crack open a window, get some fresh air, and enjoy my list of the top 5 Wooden Award candidates as of President’s Day.
Honorable Mention- Markelle Fultz (G- Washington)
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Why not just call it a top 6 list? Well, frankly, Fultz doesn’t even qualify for this award because his team, the Washington Huskies, are a miserable 9-17 on the year. Wooden Award winners are players who not only have eye-popping stats, but also lead their team into the NCAA Tournament. With that being said, Markelle’s averages of 23 points, 6 assists, and 6 rebounds, along with his electrifying style of guard-play, were too impressive to simply overlook.
5 – Jonathan Motley (F- Baylor)
Motley caught the eye of college basketball fans after his 32 point, 20 rebound outing against Texas back in January and he hasn’t looked back since. Motley leads the Bears in points and rebounds per game at 16.7 and 9.5 respectively. The junior big man has led Baylor to a likely top 3 finish in conference play and a record of 22-5 on the year.
4 – Lonzo Ball (G- UCLA)
Lonzo Ball – one of the flashier players on this list – finds himself here largely due to the fact that he’s led the bruins into the AP top 10 with 23 wins so far in his freshman season. This feat is even more impressive considering UCLA finished 15-17 last year without Ball. The 6’6” freshman point guard is averaging 15.4 points, 7.6 assists, and 6.0 rebounds. Lonzo is a player who makes the team around him better. Ball’s game is very appealing to the casual fan because of his unwavering confidence and his deep 3-point range. Lonzo has also shown great maturity in late game situations throughout the year (for example his game winning 3 against Oregon). Ball has brought great energy back to the UCLA fan base, and, while he’ll almost certainly only be there for one year, his presence has given UCLA new life, which is great for college basketball.
3 – Josh Hart (G- Villanova)
Hart is once again leading Villanova to a potential number 1 NCAA tournament seed. Coming off a National Championship victory, Hart has increased his production for the wildcats, as he’s averaging 18.8 point, 6.5 rebounds, and just over 3 assists per game. Experiencing no hangover after last season’s run, Hart has the Wildcats atop the Big East with a record of 26-2 on the year.
2 – Caleb Swanigan (F- Purdue)
I’ll be honest- Caleb “Biggy” Swanigan is one of my favorite college basketball players this season. At 6’9” and 250 pounds, Swanigan plays and old-school style of basketball: post-ups and vicious rebounding. At the same time, Swanigan isn’t afraid to step outside and shoot once in a while either, as he’s shooting 47.5 % from beyond the arc this year. Swanigan ranks second in the Big Ten in scoring, averaging 18.7 points per game, and is first in the Big Ten in rebounding, averaging a ridiculous 13.0 rebounds per game. As you can see by these stats, Swanigan is an absolute double-double machine. Swanigan has logged 23 (yes, 23!!!) double-doubles this season. Included in these double-doubles are 4 twenty point, twenty rebound games. To put that in perspective, Swanigan has had the same number of 20-20 games as the number of games in which he didn’t get a double-double. Out of Purdue’s 27 games thus far, Swanigan has only failed to get a double-double 4 times. That’s crazy. Swanigan has led Purdue into the AP top 20 and has positioned them for a good chance at clinching a Big Ten Championship. I think it’s fair to say that, without Swanigan, Purdue would be a middle of the pack Big Ten team in one of the conference’s worst years in recent memory.
1 – Frank Mason III (G- Kansas)
Frank Mason is one of those players who seems like he’s been in school for 8 years. Mason, like Hart, is one of the few seniors this year who’ve been fantastic. Fresh off the “Year of the Senior” last year, Mason finds himself in the driver’s seat for this year’s Wooden Award thanks to the fact that he accounts for nearly 40 percent of Kansas’ offense. Mason is a clutch scoring point guard who creates plays for his teammates. He’s been placed in a significant role at KU since his sophomore year, yet, this year, he’s taken a huge leap forward, averaging 20.2 points and nearly 5 assists per game. If there’s one player on this list that I want on my team, it’s Mason. The leadership and calming presence that Mason brings to his team are so valuable in college basketball, especially in the tourney (KU will likely be my Nat’l Champion pick). Mason has the mindset of “we can still win this game” at all times and does not panic in tough situations (as we saw in the WVU game last week). Mason will likely be the latest Jayhawk to lead Kansas to their 13th straight Big 12 regular season title and will finish with great numbers as well. Mason is my Wooden Award front runner with just over 2 weeks left in the regular season.