Although the 2011-2012 NCAA season is barely a month old, we have been treated to a number of top flight individual performances from easily recognizable names like Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger and UNC’s Harrison Barnes.
But we’ve also seen some spectacular showings by some newcomers like Creighton’s Doug McDermott and Iona’s Scott Machado in addition to some fantastic freshmen like Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Duke’s Austin Rivers.
Last season, UConn’s Kemba Walker, BYU’s Jimmer Fredette, and Ohio State’s Sullinger battled all season long for the POY crown, eventually taken home by Fredette. This season, only a handful of players have had breakout jaw-dropping stats or have single-handedly led their squads to victory, so look for it to be a tightly contested POY race all season.
Check out our initial NCAA POY rankings for December:
1) Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
Team Record: 8-1
Very few players in the country are playing any better than Sullinger, who appears to have made a wise decision to return to the Buckeyes for his sophomore campaign. His new look, slimmed down frame seems to have helped rather than hurt his impressive low post play, as his stats are up across the board, including a nearly 3 ppg increase from last season. While Jared will never be an elite level shot-blocker due to only average athleticism, he more than makes up for it with an improved quickness and an off the charts basketball IQ, making him arguably the most well rounded big man in the college game. Although back spasms have forced him to miss 2 games, he has been a double-double machine, notching 4 in 7 games to begin the season. Does anyone doubt if Sullinger had played vs Kansas, that the Buckeyes would still be undefeated?
2) Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut
Team Record: 8-1
Hands down, Lamb has to be the most improved player in America from last season. After Kemba Walker left for the NBA, many wondered if Lamb would take the next step and lead the Huskies going forward. Jeremy has more than exceeded expectations as he leads UConn in scoring, in addition to becoming the team’s go-to-guy in crunch-time. Lamb has scored in double figures in every game, including his first ever 30 point outburst against Columbia. He has shown a much improved jumpshot to go along with some amazing athleticism and rebounds exceptionally well from the guard position. Paired with the almost equally impressive Shabazz Napier at the point, the Huskies have a legitimate shot at repeating as National Champions.
3) Anthony Davis, Kentucky
Team Record: 8-1
With so many star players on the Wildcats this season, we could have easily inserted fellow freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, or sophomores Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones in Davis’ place but each and every time I watch the 6‘11 freshman, I find myself saying simply, wow. While he still has areas in need of improvement, Davis has freakish athleticism allowing him to do virtually anything on the court from blocking shots at an alarming rate, using his quickness to best opposing big men, and finishing off the alley-oop better than anyone in the college game. The sky is the limit for Davis as even though he has played in only 9 collegiate games, he probably would be the #1 pick in the 2012 Draft. He has notched 3 double-doubles, blocked 3 or more shots in 7 of 9 contests, and is shooting nearly 70% from the field. His stat-line against St. John’s says it all – 15 points, 15 rebounds, 8 blocks, 2 steals.
4) Tu Holloway, Xavier
Team Record: 8-0
With the recent Cincinnati/Xavier brawl aside, Holloway has been arguably one of the best clutch players in the country, helping to lead the upstart Musketeers to a lofty Top 10 ranking. His 3 point marksmanship has been key, late in several close contests, against Vanderbilt and Purdue and has helped to validate his Preseason All American status. Holloway is the ultimate stat stuffer, even if he measures all of 6 feet and weighs 185 lbs. He leads the unblemished Musketeers in scoring, assists, steals, and FT% and potentially has his squad in line for an Atlantic 10 crown and a deep NCAA Tourney run.
5) Harrison Barnes, North Carolina
Team Record: 8-2
Similar to Sullinger, Barnes returned to Chapel Hill for his sophomore season in an attempt to improve his draft stock and win an NCAA Championship. Taking over from his torrid 2nd half last season, Barnes remains UNC’s best offensive player, leading the club in scoring and 3 point shooting. He has scored in double figures in every game this season and has reached the 20 point plateau 3 times. On such a talented Tarheel squad including John Henson, Tyler Zeller, and Kendall Marshall, Barnes isn’t asked to do everything but has become more of a leader for one of the nation’s best teams. Look for Barnes to hover around our Top 5 players all season.
6) Perry Jones III, Baylor
Team Record: 7-0
Despite missing the Bears’ first 5 seasons for an NCAA infraction, Jones returned on November 29th to post 27 points and 6 boards against Prairie View A&M. He’s shooting a blistering 68% from the field and instantly regained the Baylor scoring lead from fabulous freshman Quincy Miller, who filled in admirably in Jones’ absence. He remains a physical specimen, as there aren’t many forwards who possess his amazing amount of athleticism, including ball-handling and perimeter shooting, packed into a 6’11 frame. Look for Jones to remain high on our list as he should help keep Baylor in the Big 12 race with Missouri and Kansas all season.
7) Thomas Robinson, Kansas
Team Record 7-2
Is their any player more physical than Robinson? He’s proven to be the college ranks’ version of Blake Griffin as he continues to inflict punishment on the rim, and opposing big men. He has been especially good of late, being named Big 12 Player of the Week for the 2nd time this season for averaging 23.5 ppg, 10 rebounds and shooting nearly 74% from the field in wins over the upstart Long Beach State and Ohio State. Against the Buckeyes, Robinson scored 10 of his team’s final 12 points in besting the 2nd ranked team in the nation. Robinson has scored in double figures in every game this season and ranks among NCAA leaders in double-doubles with 7. Kansas will rely even more heavily on Robinson’s production now that senior PG Tyshaun Taylor will be out of action for 3 weeks.
8) Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette
Team Record: 9-0
As one of the more underrated players in the country, Johnson-Odom is the total package. Along with fellow senior Jae Crowder, and sophomore guard Vander Blue, the dynamic trio have helped the Golden Eagles remain undefeated, and on the verge of a Top 10 national ranking. Darius is a stat stuffer, providing scoring, key rebounding, deft passing, and timely 3 point shooting for coach Buzz Williams. Odom has scored in double figures in every game this season, including reaching the 20 point plateau 5 times, and has connected from beyond the arc on 2 or more treys in all but two games.
9) Marcus Denmon, Missouri
Team Record: 9-0
After a spectacular junior campaign that saw Marcus average 17 ppg and receive some 2nd round NBA Draft buzz, Denmon has raised his game to another level, establishing career highs in virtually every offensive category including setting a new high in scoring with 31 points against Northwestern State. He has scored 20 or more points in 6 of 9 games and has been the key cog in helping the Tigers remain perfect(9-0) and firmly entrenched in the Top 10 of the national rankings. Look for Marcus to help keep Missouri in the Big 12 race all season.
10) Austin Rivers, Duke
Team Record: 9-1
Duke’s fabulous freshman has had enormous pressure heaped upon him ever since he committed to attend Duke while a HS junior. Arriving in time to help replace the lost production of program stalwarts Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler, and #1 NBA Draft pick Kyrie Irving didn’t help ease his transition either but Austin has shown he’s more than capable of holding his own on the collegiate level only 10 games in. He continues to show the ability to score in a variety of ways, reaching double figures in 9 of 10 games. He has an outstanding first step and has NBA range from beyond the arc, nailing 2 or more treys in his last 6 games. He could stand some improvement on the defensive end, but having an elite level shot blocker in Mason Plumlee helps. Rivers, along with Seth Curry, and big man Ryan Kelly have taken turns in helping lead Duke to a Top 10 ranking.
Doug McDermott, Creighton(7-1) – 24 ppg, 9.1 reb, 1 ast, .626 FG%, .606 3PT FG%, .783 FT%
Ashton Gibbs, Pittsburgh(9-1) – 18.7 ppg, 3.3 ast, 3.1 reb, 1 stl, .423 3PT%, .848 FT%
Kris Joseph, Syracuse(10-0) – 13.7 ppg, 6.1 reb, 1.3 ast, 1.4 stl, .381 3PT%
Tony Mitchell, Alabama(8-2) – 15.4 ppg, 7.4 reb, 1.9 ast, 1.1 blk, .513 FG%, .375 3PT%
Scott Machado, Iona(7-2) – 15.4 ppg, 10.4 ast, 4.2 reb, 2 stl, .476 FG%, .433 3PT%, .800 FT%
Allen Moll has been a lifelong NBA and NCAA College Basketball fan who watches and studies games religiously, and coaches youth basketball in his native Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania. Allen has also provided content to Bleacherreport.com, Upperdeckblog.com, Cleveland.com, CSN Philly.com, Buckets Magazine, in addition to being a tenured NBA and NCAA columnist for TheHoopDoctors.com.