The idea for this list actually started in a PoliSci class five years ago.
It was the start of the second semester of my sophomore year of college, and my buddy John and I were sitting there listening to some old professor with a monocle talk about Voltaire, the Russian Revolution or something political. I think.
Needless to say, we were bored. Really bored. So John says to me, "Let's make a list. Top 50 college basketball players. At the end of class we'll compare the list." So we did.
I don't remember much about that first list five years ago (I think Chris Paul ended up No. 1. I think), other than that when I handed it John, he skimmed it up and down, got somewhere near the middle to late 30's, and said, "Who the hell is Jordan Farmar???" Much like the Masters, a tradition unlike any other was born that day.
After that, for the rest of college, John and I did these lists constantly, three, four times a year, tweaking them like the original Bill of Rights. Then we got out of college, John got some job, doing something, and he left it up to me to carry the torch. Which is exactly what I'm doing now.
Over the last two days, I've tweaked John's and my original idea, and put together a list of what I consider to be the 40 "Most Valuable" Players In College Basketball. Unlike the original lists, this isn't just a list of the "best," players, because the "best," is simply too arbitrary and objective, like trying to argue who the "hottest," Sports Illustrated swimsuit model is. Why even bother.
Instead, these are the 40 most "valuable." In other words, say in 20 years you were writing the story about the 2010 college basketball season. Who would you have to discuss, in what order and why. That's what I tried to do here.
Along with those parameters, I tried to set up some other rules to try and establish "value," and help figure out what it actually is...
Here are those rules:
1. Competition Matters: My buddy Steve said it best the other day, when he mentioned, "AT I watched Northern Iowa last week, it was a joke. It was a bunch of pale of 6'3 jump shooters running around like chickens with their heads cut off. UConn would beat them by 50. And they're ranked No. 22 in the country! What a joke."
While Northern Iowa fans might disagree with Steve, his point is clear: It's harder to get 21 points and 10 rebounds a night in the Big East than it is in the MEAC or America East. Sorry it's just true.
2. NBA Draft Positioning Does Not Matter: This isn't a list of who the best pure basketball talents are, or what a guy will be like in 10 years. It's based on what they're they're doing right now.
For example, Derrick Favors might be the second overall pick in the next NBA Draft. He's dripping with potential, the way that Gary Williams undershirt is dripping with sweat after games. But Georgia Tech is also 18-9 , and 6-7 in the ACC. Would they really be that much better without him? I don't think so.
3. If Your Team Stinks, Your Value Suffers: It's great that you're getting your 20 and 10 every night, seriously I'm happy for you. But if your team is 10-20, how important is what you're doing?
4. How Replaceable Are Your Stats: As an example, I've seen Pitt a bunch of times this year. I like them as a team, and I like Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker, Jermaine Dixon and Gilbert Brown as players. But if you replaced any of them with the next guy off the bench, would Pitt's record be much different? I'm not so sure it would be.
5. While Stats Do Matter, This Is A List of Value. In Other Words, How Replaceable Is What You Do?: Again, let me give you another example.
Say you took a hardcore NBA fan that's never seen a Kansas game the entire season. If you showed them the stat sheet, Sherron Collins and Xavier Henry aren't really all that different. They get basically the same points, Henry grabs a few more boards and Collins dishes out a few more assists. How could someone who's never seen Kansas play definitively say that one is better than the other?
Now, take that same logic, and ask a Kansas fan. While they might give up their right foot to keep Henry on the court, they'd give up their first born child to keep Collins. Big difference.
With that, here is the list. It starts at No. 40 and works its way down, meaning No. 39 is more valuable to his team than No. 40 is.
And if you think I missed any players, let me know. This is supposed to be fun. I just wish I could include everybody.
Today, we'll reveal Part I of this list, players 40-21. No's 20-1 will be revealed Friday.
Hope you enjoy this list, as much as I enjoyed making it.
40. Kyle Singler, Duke: Hey, why not start off this list with a bang right?
Look, I get the knocks on Singler, I do. His numbers are down a bit from last year. He doesn’t have elite athleticism and isn’t a great defender. His NBA Draft stock is dropping like it’s controlled by Bernie Madoff. Oh, and by the way, he might be one of the 10 ugliest humans in recorded history.
But is Duke No. 5 in the country and rolling through the ACC without him? Because I don’t think so.
And while his numbers might be down a bit, let’s look at this thing logically. Duke is playing way more guys in the post then they ever have before. Meaning, Singler is spending a ton of time on the perimeter shooting jump shots, where as, a year ago he was taking a bunch of four foot chippies.
And for a guy whose numbers are so “bad,” he’s still scored in double-figures in 15 of his last 16 games, and all but one in the ACC. I mean, how many guys in the country could Duke really replace Singler with to get equal production? Five? Six?
39. Kemba Walker, UConn: Ahh, Kemba Walker, maybe the most controversial player on this list. At least in my mom's house anyway.
You see, my mom and I are both alumni of UConn, and watch most of the games together. And she hates Kemba Walker. I mean hates him. Like right up there on her s**t list with the Ayatollah, Simon Cowell, Fidel Castro and Lady Gaga. Weird list, I know.
And like Singler, I get why she and others have grown weary of Walker. He plays most possessions out of control, and some, just downright reckless. He forces too many shots and not enough passes. He makes bad decisions, lots of them.
But in Kemba’s defense, look at who he’s playing with. The other “stars,” on UConn are Jerome Dyson and Stanley Robinson, who are nice kids, most of the time probably a little too nice if you know what I mean (Honestly I’ve seen Mormon kids at frat parties less passive than those two in crunch time). And except for Gavin Edwards, UConn’s bigs are young and raw, which is a nice way of saying that at times they're actually just gawky and clumsy.
Enter Kemba. He’s not perfect, I get it. But when the game is on the line, he wants the ball. And there’s no one else on UConn you can say that about. Finally, here are two other reasons why Kemba made this list:
1. As I said, he wants the ball in crunch time. And I don’t care how pretty or ugly he is when he gets the ball, the guy gets to the foul line and makes his shots. Do not underestimate how important this will be if UConn makes the tournament.
2. Speaking of the tournament, as bad as UConn has been for parts of this season, they can still get there. But it couldn't happen if not for wins against Villanova and West Virginia in the last two weeks. And in those two wins, Kemba went for a combined 50 points, and was the leading scorer in each. I’m just saying.
38. Da’Sean Butler, West Virginia: I’ve seen West Virginia play a bunch of times this year, and honestly, it was hard for me to put Butler (Or any of their players really) this high on the list. Watching them, it just seems like they’ve got seven or eight guys that are pretty much interchangeable. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
So why Da’Sean Butler on this list over Kevin Jones, Devin Ebanks or Wellington Smith? Because of that group, he is by far the most consistent. Every time Butler goes out there, you know exactly what you’re getting: Double-digit scoring, good defense, no dumb mistakes, and solid free throw shooting. And last time I checked, going for 16 and six a night in the Big East wasn't exactly an easy thing.
37. Quincy Pondexter, Washington: Not only does Pondexter have the coolest name on this list (Seriously, doesn’t he sound like a detective from a bad 1960’s TV show?), but he also doubles as the only player from the Pac-10 to make it as well. Why is he the only one, you ask? Well, because the Pac-10 sucks, that’s why.
Anyway, what I like most about Pondexter is that he’s one of those old-school guys who didn’t come to college with a big reputation, bloated ego, or 20 person entourage. Instead, he’s just worked his butt off for four years, and gotten better in each and every one. He’s taken a back seat to Spencer Hawes and Jon Brockman during that time, and is finally now getting his time in the spotlight after earning it. Too bad that the rest of his team (and conference as a whole for that matter), are more dysfunctional than the cast of a Real World season.
36. Ish Smith, Wake Forest: Ish Smith is the classic example of what someone’s value to their team actually is, versus what the stat sheet might tell us their value is.
Take Wake Forest for example. Look at their box scores, and Al-Farouq Aminu jumps out at you. You’d assume he’s their best player, and talent wise he might be. And ask a scout about him, and they’ll get hot flashes like a 14-year-old girl at a Justin Timberlake concert.
Then actually watch a Wake Forest game. Don’t get me wrong, Aminu is good, but Smith is the straw that stirs them. Take Aminu out of the lineup, and they’re still a top five team in the ACC. Take Smith out? They literally might not be able to run a half-court offense. That counts for something on this list.
35. Dominique Jones, South Florida
34. Jeremy Hazell, Seton Hall:
Can't have one on this list without the other. Their similarities are just plain eerie.
Jones is a 6’4 shooting guard. Hazell is a 6’5 shooting guard.
Jones is averaging 21.3 ppg. Hazell is averaging 21.5.
Both are on teams treading water for an NCAA Tournament berth. Neither of those teams could beat a good girl's high school squad without them.
Oh, and one more thing. When these two played each other earlier in the year, Jones went off for 28 points. Guess how many Hazell had? Yep, 28.
Told you the similarities were eerie.
33. Ekpe Udoh, Baylor: Look at Baylor’s stat sheet, and LaceDarius Dunn (18.9 ppg) and Tweety Carter (16 points, six assists a game) jump out at you.
Here’s the thing though: Any coach in America can find a couple of guards to handle the ball and hit open jumpers. They’re a dime a dozen.
But try to find an athletic 6’10 guy that’s competent on offense, rebounds hard and protects the rim. There just aren’t that many of them out there. And when you’re able to sucessfully recruit one, you know you’ve arrived as a program.
Well guess what? Udoh is the first player that Baylor has had like that since Scott Drew took over the program seven years ago. Not coincidentally, this is also his best team during that time. My guess is that Drew would part with Dunn or Carter before he would Udoh. Just my guess.
32. Gordon Hayward, Butler: Howard is a really good player, on a really good team, with an underrated all around skill-set. Not to mention he also wins the award for “Token White Guy That Announcers Get A Little Too Excited About,” when he does something good.
Here’s why I can't put Howard in a better position on this list though. I like his game, but based on what Butler tries to do (run a smart, crisp half-court offense, and play lockdown defense), is Hayward really that important to their success? Yeh he’s good, but they also have four players scoring in double-figures. Couldn’t you plug in a lot of 6’7-6’8 wings from around the country that’d be able to put up similar stats to what he does?
Butler is 25-4 right now with him. What’s the worst they’d be if you replaced him with a guy almost as good ? 23-6? 22-7?
Again, one of the criteria (and maybe the most important one) is how valuable you are within the makeup of your team. Using that logic, I'm not so sure on Hayward.
31. James Anderson, Oklahoma State: Seems like Anderson should be held to the same criteria as Hayward, no? Are there a lot of 6'6 guys that could come in and be effective like Anderson out there? I guess.
But could those same guys drop 23 a night, when no one else is scoring more than 13? Especially on an Oklahoma State team that needs to outscore everybody, every night? For my money, Anderson is one of the most underrated guys in the game.
30. Trevon Hughes, Wisconsin: Can you believe that Trevon Hughes (Who? Trevon Hughes, that’s who!) is the player I struggled most trying to figure out where to put him on this list? Again, weird, I know.
Hughes fits all the predetermined criteria I wanted: He gets good stats in a defensive oriented league; Based on what he does, you couldn’t see him being easily replaced (imagine Kemba Walker trying to run Wisconsin’s offense. Better yet, don’t); And he’s certainly valuable to his team, considering their second leading scorer missed a bunch of games in the middle of the year. Plus, he’s one of those slightly undersized, not overly athletic, but innately intelligent guards that always seems to thrive under Bo Ryan.
So why isn’t he higher on this list? Well, the truth is that Wisconsin just isn’t a good road team. And neither is there best player.
In road losses at Illinois, Purdue and Michigan State, Hughes is averaging just nine points a game, compared to close to 16 points a game in all others. And if you can’t get it done against the best, how high can I really put you?
29. Demetri McCamey, Illinois: The exact opposite of most guys on this list. With almost everyone else, their value is overrated by statistics. With this guy, you can't evaluate him properly until you actually look at them.
Look around at Illinois' roster. A bunch of good, scrappy, hard-working guys. But nobody besides McCamey averages more than 11 points a game. Seriously. Yet somehow, he's second in the country in assists! That'd be like a quarterback in the NFL leading the league in passing without a receiver over 5'10 or one that could run a sub-4.6 40. Which, needless to say, is impressive.
28. Malcolm Delaney, Virginia Tech: A nice guard that doesn't do anything great, but a lot of things good. And oh, he leads the ACC in scoring, which has to count for something, right?
27. Donald Sloan, Texas A&M: Honestly, watching Texas A&M, I'm not really sure how to put Sloan's true value into words.
Ok, I guess let's just stick with the sports analogies. Sloan is to Texas A&M, what a hot pitcher is to the Major League Baseball playoffs. You know how some teams need a starter to pitch well in Games 1, 4 and 7, and then possibly make a relief appearance or two if they have any chance to win? Well Sloan is the basketball version of that.
I can't think of a single guy, who has the nightly pressure he does. He plays in the toughest conference in the country. His best teammate has been out for every game since the New Year. And yet he's averaging 18 points a game, and has scored in double-figures in all but one of them since the start of Decemeber. December!
Now that my friends, is value.
26. Devan Downey, South Carolina: Similar to Sloan in that, if Downey isn't lighting up the scoreboard, South Carolina isn't winning. Period.
I do give Downey the slight edge though, since he has less talent around him, and his coach looks more like the lead singer of a Barbershop quartet, than a guy competing with John Calipari and Bruce Pear in the SEC. Not to mention that Downey's averaging 27 points a game in SEC play, and dropped 30 on Kentucky in their only loss of the season. That's all.
25. Samardo Samuels, Louisville
24. Omar Samhan, St. Mary's:
When differentiating between the two, it comes down to this: We know Samuels could get his same numbers (16 points and seven rebounds a game) in the West Coast Conference. But could Samhan get the 21 and 11 he's averaging in the WCC in Big East play? I think he'd come pretty close.
(Random side note: Once upon a time, I joked that 'Samardo Samuels,' sounded more like a trendy New York City hair designer than a basketball player. But isn't that even more true of Omar Samhan? Maybe they could go into business together)
23. Jimmer Fredette, BYU
22. Darington Hobson, New Mexico:
This is the point where the savvy college basketball fans among us would say, "Hey Aaron wait a second, what could a 6'2 Mormon point guard have in common with a 6'7 forward from New Mexico?" Well I'm glad you asked.
These two are the two best players in the totally underrated Mountain West Conference. Each is freakish in that Fredette averages almost 22 points a game, while still leading the conference in assists, while Hobson, an undersized forward who averages almost nine rebounds a game, despite getting routinely guarded by guys that he's giving up 2-3 inches to.
So why does Hobson have the upper-hand? Well, when they played earlier this year, Hobson's team won. That, and I bet if you held a gun to the head of every coach in the Mountain West, Hobson would win Player of the Year by a small margin.
Glad we cleared that up.
21. Wayne Chism, Tennessee: Alright, so if you asked 100 die-hard college basketball fans who Tennessee's best player is, 90 would say Scotty Hopson, right? But remember, this isn't a list of the best, but of the most valuable.
And it's inarguable (Wait, did I just make up a word?) that Chism is more valuable to Tennessee than Hopson is. Especially since the Vols went through a huge stretch of the season without their starting small forward (Tyler Smith, who was kicked off the team), and best big off the bench (Brian Williams, suspended 10 games), and Chism was legitimately, the only guy bigger than 6'7 on the court. He doesn't score a ton of points, but I can't think of another guy who's tougher in the paint.
There's a small chance that Tennessee would have beaten No. 1 Kansas without Hopson. There's a zero percent chance they'd have done it without Chism.
Make sure to check back Friday for Players No. 20- No. 1 on this list.