Wooden Watch: Week 14
With conference tournaments on the horizon, teams are getting into the meat of their schedules. This season of college basketball has been a rollercoaster with numerous upsets and no truly dominant teams. As the year has gone on, different teams have risen and fallen in the rankings, but one constant has been the dominating play by the best players in the country battling for the John R. Wooden Award. Here are four potential candidates who have a shot at bringing home the title of college basketball’s best player.
Kamar Baldwin, Butler
For several years, Kamar Baldwin was listed as a sleeper candidate for the Wooden Award, but this year, after coming off an ankle injury, he is a serious contender to bring it home. Baldwin has led the No. 19 Butler Bulldogs to an 18-5 record while averaging 16 points and four rebounds per game. His leadership qualities as the team’s lead ball-handler differentiate himself from the other talented guards in the country. He just nailed a clutch game-winner against No. 10 Villanova Wednesday night and will continue to make his case for the player of the year with conference play coming to an end shortly. If Baldwin firmly establishes himself as the best end game performer this year, then he has a great shot at lifting the Wooden Award.
Lamar Stevens, Penn State
The past 10 years for Penn State basketball have been dreadful, but the emergence of Lamar Stevens as a freshman changed the whole dynamic of the program. Stevens now leads an upstart 22nd-ranked Penn State basketball squad that is on a season-high five-game win streak. He is averaging 16 points and seven rebounds as the Nittany Lions’ heart and soul. Tuesday night, Stevens scored 24 points and snatched seven boards in a 75-70 win at the Breslin Center against No. 16 Michigan State. Stevens is Penn State’s best talent in years and is making a strong case for the coveted Wooden Award with his dominating presence on the court. If he keeps playing lockdown defense with consistent isolation play on the offensive side, then he gives himself his best chance to win it.
Payton Pritchard, Oregon
Payton Pritchard is the savior for Oregon basketball. Pritchard is the heart and soul of No. 14 Oregon, and he controls how far the team will go this year. In end-of-game situations, the ball is always in Pritchard’s hand, even if he has had a bad night overall. During Thursday night’s 77-72 win over California, he broke Oregon’s all-time assist record. He is an elite scorer, averaging 19 points and five assists per game. If Pritchard leads the Ducks to win the Pac-12 Tournament, he’ll have a great shot at winning the Wooden Award.
Cassius Winston, Michigan State
This year has not gone as planned for Michigan State, but Cassius Winston’s play has not gone unnoticed. The guard was one of the favorites coming into the year for the Wooden Award, and he has backed that up by averaging 18 points and five assists a game. He is the leader for a talented Spartans team that still has national title potential despite its occasional struggles. If Winston can lead his reeling 16-7 Michigan State squad to a Big Ten Tournament title, then he will have the best chance of anyone on this list to win the Wooden Award.
Ben Geller is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.