Midseason Awards: Long arms of big men gathering in the hardware

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By Gary Parrish and Jeff Goodman
College Basketball Insiders

We've reached the midpoint of college basketball's regular season.

So it's a good time to give out some midseason awards.

CBSSports.com Midseason National Player of the Year: Mason Plumlee, Duke. The 6-foot-10 senior is a completely different player than he was during his first three years at Duke. His confidence is back. He's competing with more intensity. He has become a leader -- and he's even making free throws. Plumlee is averaging 17.7 points and 11.4 rebounds for the nation's top-ranked team. Consequently, he gets this honor over Creighton's Doug McDermott.

CBSSports.com Midseason National Freshman of the Year: Anthony Bennett, UNLV. Dave Rice's most talented player at times looks like a man among little boys while overwhelming the competition in his first (and likely only) season of college. The 6-8 forward is averaging 19.4 points and 8.9 rebounds for the 13-3 Rebels. That's good enough to make us go with Bennett over Kansas' Ben McLemore.

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CBSSports.com Midseason National Coach of the Year: John Groce, Illinois. The Illini were projected as an NIT team entering the season, but Groce has done a phenomenal job with this group. The first-year coach has Illinois off to a 14-3 start even after Wednesday's loss to Minnesota. The Illini own wins over Butler, Gonzaga and Ohio State.

CBSSports.com Midseason Defensive Player of the Year: Jeff Withey, Kansas. The fifth-year senior has developed into the nation's top interior defender. Withey has blocked 71 shots through 14 games while committing just 17 fouls. He's basically this season's version of Anthony Davis (with two eyebrows).

CBSSports.com Midseason Comeback Player of the Year: Allan Chaney, High Point. There were lots of worthy candidates, like Missouri's Laurence Bowers and BYU's Tyler Haws. But nobody deserves this more than Chaney -- who collapsed and nearly died of heart issues early in his college career. He went 1,346 days between games. Chaney now has a wireless defibrillator. He's averaging 13.4 points and 7.8 boards for the Panthers.

CBSSports.com Midseason Most Improved Player: Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga. This 7-footer with long hair redshirted last season after averaging 5.8 points and 3.8 rebounds in 13.5 minutes per game as a sophomore. He's now averaging 17.1 points and 6.6 rebounds in 25 minutes per game. He's among the reasons the Zags are 15-1 and ranked ninth.

CBSSports.com Midseason All-Americans

G: Trey Burke, Michigan. John Beilein's sophomore star has been spectacular. He's averaging 18.2 points and 7.3 assists while shooting 39.2 percent from 3-point range for the undefeated and second-ranked Wolverines.

G: Russ Smith, Louisville. It's wild that Smith has earned a spot among the top players in the country. He has transformed from a mid-major recruit to a dynamic scorer who is averaging 19.4 points and guarding well on the perimeter for the third-ranked Cardinals.

F: Doug McDermott, Creighton. He's not Larry Bird, as some suggest. But McDermott is really fun to watch. He can score in a multitude of ways and has led the Bluejays to a top-15 ranking by averaging 22.6 points and 7.3 rebounds while shooting 49.3 percent from 3-point range.

F: Mason Plumlee, Duke. He has been the best player on the nation's best team. Plumlee has nine double-doubles in 14 games this season and is the main reason the Blue Devils remain undefeated.

C: Jeff Withey, Kansas. Bill Self's latest gifted big impacts the game as much as anyone on the defensive end of the floor. And he has become a competent threat on the offensive end -- averaging 13.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 5.1 blocks.

CBSSports.com Midseason Freshman All-Americans

G: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State. The number that matters most when talking about Smart is wins and losses. There's a reason Travis Ford's Cowboys are 11-3. Smart's detractors will say he's only shooting 40 percent from the field and below 30 percent from deep. But he's a winner. He's averaging 14.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.8 steals.

G: Ben McLemore, Kansas. The 6-5 Saint Louis native isn't a true freshman; he sat out last season because of academics. But he has quickly become Self's go-to guy. McLemore is averaging 16.8 points and 5.3 rebounds. He got 33 points in Wednesday night's win over Iowa State.

F: Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA. The heralded wing out of Las Vegas had to miss the first three games due to an NCAA ruling, but he has wasted little time making an impact under Ben Howland. Muhammad is known for his toughness and work ethic -- and he has helped the Bruins turn it around. He's averaging 19.6 points and 5.2 boards while shooting 48.6 percent from 3-point range.

F: Anthony Bennett, UNLV. The Canadian forward has drawn comparisons to former UNLV great Larry Johnson with his body and play. Bennett is averaging 19.4 points and 8.9 rebounds. He can do work in the paint or step out and make shots from the perimeter.

C: Nerlens Noel, Kentucky. He hasn't been as dominant as Anthony Davis, but Noel has still been effective -- especially on the defensive end. He's averaging 10.1 points and 9.6 rebounds, and he has blocked 49 shots in 14 games.

CBSSports.com Midseason Miscellany

Player who needs to step up: Michael Snaer, Florida State. Some had the senior wing as a first-team All-American in the preseason, but neither Snaer nor his Seminoles have met expectations. Snaer is shooting just 40.4 percent from the field. His team is 10-5 with losses to South Alabama, Mercer and Auburn.

Coach on the way out: Jeff Bzdelik, Wake Forest. The former NBA coach who got the Wake Forest job after three seasons at Colorado in which he went 10-38 in the Big 12 is almost certainly on his way to a third consecutive losing season with the Demon Deacons. Yeah, Wednesday night's win over Virginia was a nice way to start ACC play. But Bzdelik will still likely finish near the bottom of the league, and it's hard to imagine a school with the tradition of Wake Forest giving him a fourth year if that's the case.

Most overrated team: Georgetown. The Hoyas are ranked 19th mostly because they beat UCLA and played Indiana tough early. But what have they accomplished beside that? Beat Tennessee? Virginia, Memphis and Ole Miss also did that. Truth be told, Georgetown's résumé looks weak coming off a 73-45 loss at home to Pittsburgh. John Thompson III's team might take a third straight loss Saturday at St. John's.

Most underrated team: Kentucky. The Wildcats have four losses and aren't in the Top 25, but there aren't 10 teams in the nation with a better shot to win a national title. In other words, UK's résumé is just OK. But UK's ceiling is really, really high. John Calipari's team will compete for the SEC title, and they just might win it.

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