Nine days into the season, and there isn't much we haven't seen. We now know Eric Gordon can dunk, Derrick Rose can drive, Kevin Love can pass and Michael Beasley can do a little bit of everything while posting ridiculous numbers that are already drawing comparisons to Kevin Durant.
That's the early storyline, by the way. Not Gardner-Webb. Or Mercer. It's that this freshman class is seriously talented and unusually deep to the extent that some first-year player seems likely to win the Wooden Award and Naismith Award and every other significant award college basketball hands out.
|As long as Hansbrough can keep the Tar Heels at the top, he has a great chance to take an award. (Getty Images)|
He's the only real hope among the veterans, so if you despise the one-and-done prospect and yearn for the days of yesteryear, you are obligated to put a Gerald Henderson picture on your dartboard, paint your face Tar Heel blue and root, root, root for North Carolina, which opens Wednesday night against Davidson. More to the point, you'd better cheer loud for Hansbrough, the 6-foot-9 junior who is the leading candidate for National Player of the Year honors.
At least for now.
1. Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina)
2. Michael Beasley (Kansas State)
3. Derrick Rose (Memphis)
4. Eric Gordon (Indiana)
5. Kevin Love (UCLA)
Our friends at CSTV.com are doing a Wooden Watch that will start next week, and I formed my initial ballot Tuesday. The above list represents what I would turn in at this moment because those are the five players who best meet the standards I set for individual honors, which is to say they are all difference-makers for good or great teams.
That's what grabs my attention.
Elite talents who win.
Thus it should come as no surprise that four of my five leading candidates (Hansbrough, Rose, Gordon and Love) are undeniable stars and the best players on teams ranked in the top eight of the latest Associated Press poll, and the fifth (Beasley) is posting record-setting numbers for a school ranked 22nd. That's strong. And honestly, how many additional serious candidates exist who meet my established criteria?
Chris Lofton at Tennessee, perhaps.
Maybe Drew Neitzel at Michigan State.
But my guess is that this will ultimately come down to Hansbrough and a handful of freshmen.