Player of the Year Race: Honing recklessness boosts Smith's stock staff
Pitino says of his junior guard, 'You take the good with the bad with Russ Smith.' (AP)
Pitino says of his junior guard, 'You take the good with the bad with Russ Smith.' (AP)

By Jeff Goodman and Gary Parrish | College Basketball Insiders

Conference play is here, and that means we'll start to separate the contenders from the pretenders in the National Player of the Year Race.

Entering league play, two players have established themselves as co-favorites, but one guard has slowly crept up into the conversation.

National Player of the Year Race
Week 7
1. Mason Plumlee -- Prev. 1
PF | 6-10 | SR | Duke

Plumlee put up yet another double-double, his eighth in 12 games this season, with 22 points, 13 rebounds and five assists in Duke's win Saturday over Santa Clara. He's averaging 19.5 points and 11.6 boards for the undefeated and top-ranked Blue Devils.

2. Doug McDermott -- Prev. 2
F | 6-8 | JR | Creighton

McDermott collected 29 points and 10 boards in Creighton's win over Evansville and is averaging 23.5 points and seven rebounds while shooting 50 percent (29 of 58) from beyond the arc.

3. Trey Burke -- Prev. 3
G | 6-0 | SOPH | Michigan

The Wolverines are still unbeaten and Burke is arguably the nation's top point guard. He had 22 points and 11 assists in a rout over Central Michigan and is averaging 17.8 points, 7.4 assists and 3.1 rebounds.

4. Russ Smith -- Prev. 8
G | 6-0 | JR | Louisville

Russdiculous was in full effect vs. Kentucky as the unpredictable guard had his share of crazy moments, and still wound up with 21 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals in the win over the Cats. He's averaging 19.8 points and has been stellar defensively.

5. Jeff Withey -- Prev. 4
C | 7-0 | SR | Kansas

He didn't need to do much in Kansas' rout over American, and the nation's top defensive big man wound up with 11 points, four rebounds and four blocks. He's averaging 13.8 points, 7.9 boards and 4.9 swats.

G | 6-6 | SOPH | Syracuse

Carter-Williams didn't need to do much in the Orange's win over Alcorn State (five points, six assists), but he nearly had a triple-double over Central Connecticut State with 18 points, 13 assists and nine rebounds. His averages: 12.2 points, 10.2 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 3.2 steals.

7. Anthony Bennett -- Prev. 9
F | 6-8 | FR | UNLV

His Runnin' Rebels lost to North Carolina, but Bennett still racked up 15 points and 13 boards. He's averaging 19.2 points and 8.8 rebounds.

8. Ben McLemore -- Prev. N/R
SG | 6-5 | FR | Kansas

Yes, the Jayhawks have two guys on this list. McLemore has quickly become the go-to scorer, leading the team in scoring with 15.8 points a game. He's also grabbing 5.5 rebounds while shooting 41 percent from deep.

9. Cody Zeller -- Prev. 6
C | 7-0 | SOPH | Indiana

Zeller has been good, but not great this season -- and is in danger of falling off our list. He had 16 points and six boards vs. Jacksonville, but he struggled for most of the game, and then went for 19 points and 10 rebounds in the Hoosiers' road win over Iowa. He's averaging 16.6 points and 8.1 rebounds, but hasn't been nearly as dominant as many anticipated.

10. Brandon Paul -- Prev. 7
G | 6-4 | SR | Illinois

The Illini barely beat Auburn, and much of that can be attributed to an off-game from their star. Paul was 3 of 12 from the field and finished with 13 points. He's still averaging 18.7 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists for a team that has shocked the nation.

Dropped out: San Diego State wing Jamaal Franklin


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