We are witnessing a tremendous season of individual performances around college basketball. Whomever winds up winning national player of the year honors will likely stack up favorably in comparison to many of the (very good) honorees across the past decade or so.
It could be a historic season. It's on pace for that now, at least.
And while there is an undebatable frontrunner at this point, the crowd just below the most famous player in college basketball is deep, talented and far from being left behind. College basketball is not short on stardom, not this season, and if you think otherwise then it's because you haven't been paying much attention. The sport has become loaded with big names and reliable storylines from a lot of the guys in contention for All-America status.
It's a crowded race for best player in college hoops this season. As we near the halfway mark of conference play, here's who I rank as the top 10 for NPOY honors.
1. Zion Williamson, Duke
Key stats: 21.7 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 1.8 bpg, 41.8 PER
The galactic numbers, ever-reliable jaw-dropping highlights and indisputable indispensable play speaks for itself. Zion Williamson is the frontrunner to win Freshman of the Year, Player of the Year and be the No. 1 pick. His Player Efficiency Rating is blowing away the modern-era record. Williamson is shooting 74.7 percent from 2-point range. There is no argument for anyone else as of today.
2. Grant Williams, Tennessee
Key stats: 20.3 ppg, 7.5, 3.6 apg, 31.1 PER
Grant Williams has the edge over teammate Admiral Schofield, who would easily crack a top-20 list of this variety. Tennessee is a top seed in Vanderbilt was the second best foul-shooting performance in a game in Division-I history.in no small part because of the way Williams has exerted his will onto his team -- and pushed the Vols to their best start ever (17-1). His 23 for 23 free-throw shooting display in the OT win at
3. Ja Morant, Murray State
Key stats: 24.1 ppg, 10.6 apg, 5.8 rpg, 32.6 PER
Ja Morant Belmont, perhaps Murray State would have won with him at full strength.for his viability to be the National Player of the Year. Murray State is 15-3, Morant leads the nation in assists and is as valuable to his team -- perhaps more -- than any player in college basketball. Had he not been injured early in Thursday night's huge game vs.
4. Dedric Lawson, Kansas
Key stats: 19.5 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 29.2 PER
Dedric Lawson has been everything Kansas wanted, hoped for and more. When he sat out last season as a redshirt, buzz began to build that Lawson would become an even better player from the volume stat stuffer he was at Memphis. Spoiler alert: it came true. He's a load to handle and is probably going to be responsible, more than any other player, for KU finishing atop the Big 12 for the 15th consecutive season.
5. Markus Howard, Marquette
Key stats: 24.3 ppg, 4.4 apg, 4.0 rpg, 43.4 3pt%
I slot Markus Howard right alongside Williamson and Morant as the must-see guys in the sport. There is not 3-point shot he won't take, and degree of difficulty only seems to make him better. He's the best player in college hoops under 6 feet. He's also made more foul shots this season than anyone (134). The only player on this list responsible for more points produced than Howard's 464 is Morant (496).
Key stats: 18.3 ppg, 7.3 apg, 2.4 rpg, 44.7 3pt%
Cassius Winston, a junior, is on his way to becoming an MSU legend. He's improved himself in almost every statistical category from where he stood last season. This next statement is both subjective and objective: Michigan State has never had a more beautifully smooth offense under Tom Izzo than this year's group. Winston is at the heart of that. And now he's starting to stunt on really good college players like Anthony Cowan. This slow-motion video is so good.
7. RJ Barrett, Duke
Key stats: 23.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 4.0 apg
RJ Barrett leads Duke in scoring, is now in charge of running the offense and has very strong all-around numbers. He's top-10 in scoring nationally as well, though he takes 35.6 percent of Duke's attempts when he's on the floor, which is an extreme usage. Still, if not for Williamson's abnormal/incredible season -- if Zion wasn't on Duke's roster -- Barrett would be top-three on this list.
8. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
Key stats: 19.2 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 4.8 apg, 32.0 PER
Ethan Happ clocks in at No. 2 in KenPom.com's player of the year algorithm, but in reality, a team's success has impact on the award. Happ is the only player on this list whose team has more than four losses; Wisconsin has six. But he's an efficiency monster and the best center in college basketball. It's almost a lock he'll be at Second Team All-American at worst.
9. Shamorie Ponds, St. John's
Key stats: 20.6 ppg, 5.7 apg, 4.2 rpg, 2.7 spg
Shamorie Ponds carries as much watch-me-do-this confidence as any guard in college basketball, far as I can tell. He's sneaky in the lanes and, overall, an improved prospect from a season ago. Without him, St. John's wouldn't be near the NCAA Tournament conversation. I know this because SJU lost to DePaul in the only game Ponds didn't play this season. Like so many players on this list (Williamson, Morant, Winston, Howard, Williams), Ponds rates top-10 nationally in plus/minus (+9.3).
10. Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga
Key stats: 16.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 3.0 bpg, 36.2 PER
Gonzaga may come to thrive as the No. 1 seed out West, but since the team is so good and balanced across the board, Brando Clarke and Rui Hachimura (who I put 12th on my list, if you want to know) are going to cancel each other out for consideration due to production abundance. At this point, though, Clarke has to get the nod. Top-five defender in college basketball, and he ranks top 10 in 13 of 49 statistical categories tracked by College Basketball Reference; Hachimura shows up three times.