College Basketball Player of the Year rankings: Caleb Swanigan jumps to No. 1
The Purdue sophomore is one of five players who could reasonably be called the frontrunner
Last year, by this time, the National Player of the Year race was down to Denzel Valentine and Buddy Hield. Year before that, it was Frank Kaminsky and Jahlil Okafor battling for the honor. Year before that, Doug McDermott ran away with everything.
This season isn’t like those seasons.
And what I mean is that I genuinely don’t see how anybody could pretend this isn’t at least a three-player race between Josh Hart, Frank Mason and Caleb Swanigan — and if somebody wanted to also throw Lonzo Ball and Nigel Williams-Goss into the mix, that’d be fine with me too. In other words, I think you can, right now, make a reasonable case for five different players to be National Player of the Year.
Again, that’s unusual for this stage of the season.
Here’s how I’d rank the candidates at this moment:
(Remember, National Players of the Year do not historically come from non-NCAA Tournament teams. So I do not consider players from such teams as candidates. That’s why, for instance, Washington’s Markelle Fultz is not listed. He’s terrific, a statistical monster and the likely No. 1 pick of the 2017 NBA Draft. But his team isn’t good enough for him to be considered for National Player of the Year. I’m not saying it’s fair. I’m just saying it’s true.)
1. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue (Last week: 3)
Great players for really good teams are the only true Player of the Year candidates, and it’s time to consider Swanigan the frontrunner. No, his Purdue team isn’t as good as Mason’s Kansas team or Hart’s Villanova team, I don’t think. But the Boilermakers are 11th at KenPom, which is good enough. And Swanigan is averaging 18.7 points and 13.0 rebounds with 22 double-doubles. Simply put, the sophomore forward has been the nation’s most consistently awesome player. He’s earned this ranking.
2. Frank Mason, Kansas (Last week: 1)
Mason missed 19 of 26 field goal attempts but still averaged 18.0 points and 4.5 rebounds in the Jayhawks’ past two wins that probably ensured they will, at worst, get a share of their 13th straight Big 12 title. The senior point guard is averaging 20.2 points, 4.9 assists and 4.3 rebounds heading into Saturday’s rematch with Baylor. He’s shooting 50.9 percent from 3-point range.
3. Josh Hart, Villanova (Last week: 2)
Hart is about to win his fourth straight Big East title — probably by multiple games. And he’s the main reason the Wildcats have a real shot to repeat as national champions. The senior guard is averaging 18.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He’s shooting 50.9 percent from the field and 40.4 percent from 3-point range.
4. Lonzo Ball, UCLA (Last week: 4)
Ball averaged 18.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists in the two games since these rankings last updated and is now averaging 15.4 points, 7.6 assists and 6.0 rebounds. The freshman point guard is shooting 55.1 percent from the field and 43.2 percent from 3-point range. He’s the conductor of the nation’s most efficient offense — a historically great offense that’s scored at least 100 points eight different times.
5. Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga (Last week: 7)
Anybody leading the nation’s top-ranked team in points, rebounds and assists has to be a serious National Player of the Year candidate. So Williams-Goss is a serious National Player of the Year candidate. The Washington transfer is averaging a team-high 15.7 points, a team-high 5.8 rebounds and a team-high 4.6 assists for the undefeated Zags. He’s shooting 50.5 percent from the field and 88.9 percent from the free throw line.
6. Johnathan Motley, Baylor (Last week: 6)
Motley has played three games since these rankings last updated and averaged 20.0 points and 7.7 rebounds in them while leading the Bears to a 2-1 record. The junior forward is now averaging 16.7 points and 9.5 rebounds for a Baylor team that still projects as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. He’s produced three double-doubles in his past five appearances.
Thornwell backed his 44-point, 21-rebound effort against Alabama with a 28-point effort in a weekend win at Mississippi State. So the senior guard is now averaging 19.8 points and 7.2 rebounds for a South Carolina team that’s tied in the loss column with Kentucky and Florida atop the SEC standings. The Gamecocks are 17-2 in games in which he’s played.
8. Josh Jackson, Kansas (Last week: Not ranked)
Jackson finished with 31 points and 11 rebounds in Saturday’s win at Texas Tech, then got 14 points and 11 rebounds in Monday’s improbable come-from-behind victory over West Virginia. The freshman wing is now averaging 16.5 points and 7.2 rebounds for a school that’s on track to win its 13th straight Big 12 title. He’s averaging 20.4 points and 8.4 rebounds in the Jayhawks’ past seven games, which is a stretch that includes victories over Baylor, Kentucky and WVU.
9. Malik Monk, Kentucky (Last week: 9)
Monk is averaging 21.7 points for a Kentucky team that’s on a three-game winning streak and coming off of an 83-58 victory over Tennessee. The freshman guard grabbed eight rebounds in that win, which provided evidence that he might suddenly be interested in doing something more than just scoring. That was a great sign for Monk, who is shooting 41.9 percent from 3-point range and is responsible for 83 of Kentucky’s 193 made baskets from beyond the arc.
Kennard scored 20 points in last Thursday’s win over North Carolina, then added 25 more in Saturday’s win over Clemson. So the sophomore guard is now averaging 20.0 points while shooting 45.9 percent from 3-point range for a Duke team that will take a five-game winning streak into Wednesday’s game at Virginia. He’s the primary reason why the Blue Devils, despite all of their adversity, are only one game back in the loss column of first place in the ACC standings.
THE NEXT TEN (in alphabetical order): Dwayne Bacon (Florida State), Joel Berry (North Carolina), Bonzie Colson (Notre Dame), De’Aaron Fox (Kentucky), Ethan Happ (Wisconsin), Justin Jackson (North Carolina), Jock Landale (Saint Mary’s), Lauri Markkanen (Arizona), Donovan Mitchell (Louisville), Alec Peters (Valparaiso).
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