National Player of the Year Rankings (Jan. 26)

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Updated: January 26, 2015
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For most teams in college basketball, they have reached the halfway points of their season. Conference play is heating up with top teams beating up on each other on a daily basis (Hi, Big XII). Upsets are becoming a common trend like it’s March already and awards races are starting to take shape.

The most prestigous awards in college hoops are the six different versions of the Player of the Year awards.

The most well-known of the bunch? The Naismith National Player of the Year Award, sponsored by the Atlanta Tipoff Club.

Who are the frontrunners for college basketball’s biggest individual prize? We’ll take a look, starting with the consensus pick for the 2015 NBA Draft’s No. 1 overall selection.

 

1. Jahlil Okafor, center, Duke

Not only is Jahlil Okafor the best player in college basketball, he’s the best NBA prospect with the draft just five months away.

While averaging a team-high 18.5 points per game for the No. 5 Blue Devils, Okafor’s shooting a modest 67.1 percent from the floor and pulling down nine rebounds per contest.

The 6-foot-11, 272-pound freshman played one of his best games this past Sunday against St. John’s, scoring 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting and grabbing 10 rebounds in a 77-68 Duke victory that gave Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski his 1,000th career victory.

 

2. Frank Kaminsky, center/forward, Wisconsin

Frank Kaminsky‘s value to Wisconsin was made extremely clear on Jan. 11, when Wisconsin was upset by unranked Rutgers. The 7-footer from Illinois missed the Badgers’ 67-62 loss due to a concussion in the game prior.

The preseason All-American is having his best season in his four years in Madison, scoring 17.2 points and grabbing 8.2 rebounds per game. His versatility offensively and his rim-protecting defense has made Kaminsky one of the best players in the country this season for a team that’s heading towards a fast track back to the Final Four.

 

3. Delon Wright, guard, Utah

Delon Wright is probably the best player in college basketball that you’ve never heard of (or haven’t heard much about).

The senior guard from Los Angeles has carried the Utes to a 16-3 start and has been the catalyst against premier teams like San Diego State, Wichita State, Kansas and Arizona.

If you remember DeAndre Kane from Iowa State last season, I’m sure you see some of Kane’s versatility in Wright’s game. While playing just under 32 minutes per contest, Wright is averaging 14.6 points, along with 6.1 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game.

 

4. Jerian Grant, guard, Notre Dame

Boy, it’s amazing how much things change when your best player is on the floor and not in trouble in the classroom.

Jerian Grant has returned with a vengeance for the No. 8 Fighting Irish. In Notre Dame‘s 18-2 start, Grant is averaging 17.1 points, 6.2 assists and three rebounds per game.

Without Grant, the Irish would be nowhere near the top 10 in the rankings, and that’s a fact. As fundamentally sound and smart as the Irish are on offense, the fluidity of one of the nation’s best offenses doesn’t happen without Grant’s playmaking ability.

 

5. Willie Cauley-Stein, center/forward, Kentucky

The most important player on the best team in America? Of course.

The ridiculously athletic 7-foot junior from Kansas has been a valuable piece to No. 1 Kentucky‘s 19-0 start. With head coach John Calipari’s “platoon system,” the stats won’t look as stellar as some of the other names on the board, but it doesn’t matter.

Cauley-Stein is the best defender in the college ranks and can guard any position on the floor at a high level. His impact defensively is what makes UK’s historic defensive pace. The ability to switch on the floor is vital for Kentucky’s success on defense and when you possess a 7-foot weapon on that end, it’s not even fair with eight other McDonald’s All-Americans.

 

Other names to watch:

  • Montrezl Harrell, forward, Louisville
  • Anthony Gill, forward, Virginia
  • Stanley Johnson, guard/forward, Arizona
  • Georges Niang, forward, Iowa State
  • Marcus Paige, guard, North Carolina
  • Melo Trimble, guard, Maryland

 

(Photo Credit: Grant Halverson/Getty Images North America)

Mike Whitlow

Mike Whitlow

Michael Whitlow is Sideline Sports Report's college basketball editor. The 22-year-old from Fort Wayne, Indiana is currently a journalism major at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Originally from Fort Wayne, Indiana, Michael calls Chicago, Illinois his home because of the sights, the sounds and passion Chicago sports fans show each and every day.

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