On Thursday, I went ahead and named the first half of his list of the 40 Most Valuable Players In College Basketball. We laughed, we cried, and ultimately it was a fun experience for both me the writer, and the readers too. Unless you're a fan of the Pac-10. Then you probably just wanted to drown yourself in the bathtub.
For those of you who missed players No. 40-21, click here.
Today, it's time to reveal No.'s 20-1.
But before we go any further, let me clarify some things.
In that first list, I explained how a friend and I came up with the idea for this list, and how I've gone about determining "value." For those of you who missed it, let's go through again:
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 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 might 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.
And with that, let's get to the second half of the list. As always, we couldn't include everybody, but feel free to voice your opinion on who's ranked properly, and who needs to be moved.
I just hope you guys enjoy this list, as much as I enjoyed putting it together!
20. Jacob Pullen, Kansas State: A freakishly consistent player (He’s scored double-figures in every game this season) on a freakishly consistent team. The only thing that kept Pullen from moving up on this list, is that Kansas State really relies on all five starters every night, meaning they don’t need Pullen to be great for them to beat really good teams (I’d like to present Pullen’s 2 for 15 performance in a win over Texas as Exhibit A).
Pullen also gets the exciting honor of being the guy on this list whose name most makes him sound white, until you watch him play and realize that he’s most definitely not. Don’t lie, the first time you heard the name ‘Jacob Pullen,’ you definitely thought he was some gunner from Appleton with Jay Cutler’s haircut. I know I did.
19. E’Twaun Moore, Purdue: On the original draft of this list, I had Moore ranked in the late 20’s with Robbie Hummel in the top 12. Now that Hummel is out for the year with a knee injury, Moore unfortunately must be bumped up this list. As for Hummel, well, I guess he’ll have to settle for being the honorary captain of this team. I’m sorry Purdue fans, I really am.
Anyway, the reason that Moore has become the most valuable Boilermaker (even more so than JaJuan Johnson), is because with Hummel out, he's the player who needs to step up his production the most. At the end of the day, Johnson is still a big guy, meaning that he relies on others to get him the ball in position to score. And obviously Keaton Grant and Chris Kramer aren’t natural scorers.
So the pressure’s on Moore. He has to shoulder more than anyone else on Purdue right now if his team is going to keep winning. If that isn’t value, I don’t know what is.
18. Kalin Lucas, Michigan State: Initially, I had Lucas higher on this list, since ya know, when he got hurt Michigan State lost three games in a row. Value, right?
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized, “Wait a second, they still lost to Texas, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio State with him at full strength.” Meaning their best win with him in the lineup would be a 3-way tie between Gonzaga way back in November, Wisconsin, and Illinois. All three were at home, none of them overly impressive in hindsight. Not exactly the kind of victories to rally a fanbase.
Michigan State has a lot of nice wins with Lucas in the lineup, but no great ones. There’s still time to change that though (Cough…At Purdue Sunday…Cough). Until then, I can't put Lucas any higher.
17. Matt Bouldin, Gonzaga: Bouldin not only makes this list at No. 17, but also wins the award for the guy who “Most Looks Like Someone Who’d Be Playing Guitar for Loose Change at Your Local Starbucks.” Congratulations Matt!
In all seriousness though, I saw Bouldin in person a few years ago, and always thought of him as a nice complimentary piece, but not someone you could build a good team around.
And if you watch Gonzaga play this year, Elias Harris is a better pure scorer, Robert Sacre a better rebounder and Demetri Goodson is quicker with the ball. But Bouldin is the glue that holds them together, the guy that does everything well, but nothing particularly great. Which exactly what this team needs him to be.
Gonzaga would still be pretty good without Harris, Sacre, Goodson or anyone else. But I literally can't picture them at all without Bouldin. Which is saying something.
16. Cole Aldrich, Kansas: Lots of good stuff to talk about here with Aldrich. He plays hard every single possession. He sacrifices his stats for the good of the team. He’s underrated as an instinctive defender and shot blocker, and is a player who I think will be better in the NBA than he is in college. And of course, he’s also teamed up with Alexander Ovechkin as the only athletes of my lifetime to make it cool to be missing one of your front teeth (Seriously, Google ‘Cole Aldrich,’ and the first thing that comes up is ‘Cole Aldrich missing tooth.’ I can’t make this stuff up).
But because he’s not a true low post scorer, I just can’t put him any higher on this list.
He’s important, don’t get me wrong. And Kansas isn’t 27-1 without him. But say Aldrich evaporated into thin air before the start of the season, Kansas didn’t have him for a single game, and the Morris twins split up his minutes. Sure the Jayhawks frontcourt depth would suffer, but would they really be that much worse for the wear? What's the absolute worst their record would be, 23-5 instead of 27-1? 22-6?
Kansas can’t win a National Championship in March without Aldrich, which is why he’s at No. 16. But there are other big guys who are just...more...valuable. Like this guy…
15. Jarvis Varnardo, Mississippi State: What I’m most amazed about with Varnardo is this:
Look, there are only so many good big guys in college basketball, and most only stay for a year or two. So why aren’t more coaches at lower-level BCS schools building their teams like Mississippi State, with one horse in the middle (Varnardo), a penetrating point and a bunch of spot of shooters?
I know it’s flawed idea in principle to think that you’ll ultimately succeed with just one big guy. I get it. But if you’re say Auburn, LSU, Oregon State, Nebraska, whoever, don't you have to at least try it this way, rather than playing it conventionally and losing year after year? Wouldn’t you rather have one guy that’s 6’10 that can really play, rather than two undersized 6’7 forwards and a center who can’t catch a pass?
Oh, and on a different note, Varnardo just set the all-time NCAA blocked shots record. Congrats my man.
14. Chris Wright, Georgetown
13. Austin Freeman, Georgetown
12. Greg Monroe, Georgetown:
Much like a set of triplets being adopted out to foster parents, I just couldn’t split these three up.
Wright is the steady point guard, Freeman the dangerous slasher, and Monroe the do it all big man. If all three are playing well, this team can go to the Final Four. If two are, they can beat anybody. If only one is? See their loss to Rutgers. It isn’t pretty.
Away from the court though, I've got to ask: Why has no one in the Georgetown Marketing Department come up with some cheesy, “Three Amigos,” slogan, with Wright, Monroe and Freeman on a poster wearing cowboy hats? I want some answers!
Could we at the very least, maybe, get these three a cool nickname? I don’t know, like "Wronroeman?" Maybe, "MonFreeight?" (Ok that one just sounds like a bad German action movie). You know what, scratch the nickname, but I'm working on trade marking the poster right now.
Let's get back to the list...
11. Andy Rautins, Syracuse: I hate to say this as a UConn fan, but somehow, inexplicably, Rautins has become my favorite player in college basketball this season. Yes, I feel dirty. I think I’m going to drink a glass of nail polish remover to make myself feel better.
But on a serious note, watch any Syracuse game this year. Rautins does 15 things that won’t show up in a box score, but help his team win. Tipped passes, help defense, diving for loose balls, you name it. He always makes the extra pass. He runs a perfect fast break.
To win a National Championship you need at least one guy that does all the little stuff. Kansas has Brady Morningstar. Kentucky has Eric Bledsoe. I’d take Rautins over both any day.
10. Greivis Vasquez, Maryland: Thanks to my prolific, borderline compulsive habit of refreshing ESPN.com approximately 92,500 times a day, I found out today that Vasquez is the only player in ACC history to have at least 2000 points, 700 assists and 600 rebounds in his career. Thanks ESPN!
On top of everything, he’s gotten all those stats with a collection of teammates that would at best, be at the bottom of the ACC, and at worst get beaten by good intramural teams without him. Basically, the guy has gotten double teamed every night for the last three years and still always gets his 18-5-6.
Love him or hate him, Vasquez can play. He's also one of my top five favorite Venezuelan basketball players of all-time. That's got to count for something. Right?
9. Luke Harangody, Notre Dame: Harangody’s entire career defies explanation. He’s a slow, unathletic, 6’8 center who dominates a league full of 6’10, 6’11 and in some cases 7’3 future NBA front court guys. I mean, I could crack a joke, but why even bother. The guy forever has my respect.
With Harangody injured, and his floundering without him in the lineup, let me take a minute share a quick story about him that I probably won't get a chance to at any other point. Here goes:
Come back with me to the winter of 2008, as Harangody was wrapping up that year's Big East Player of the Year award. Notre Dame is playing at UConn, and a couple of my buddies and I decided to go.
Earlier in the year, the two teams had played and Hasheem Thabeet owned Harangody. Like, Thabeet literally blocked every shot Harangody put up that night (I actually just looked it up, Thabeet had 10 blocks in their first game. I’m not kidding). While Notre Dame got the win, Harangody, cheeks red, looked like he was about to cry by the end. Like Thabeet had stolen his lunch money. It wasn't pretty.
Anyway, fast-forward to their second game at UConn. Harangody came into it averaging right around 20 and 10, and I told anyone that would listen that he wouldn't get 10 and 5 against UConn. I even bet on it I think.
Well, in true Harangody fashion, he made the adjustments, and finished the game with 32 points and 16 rebounds. Notre Dame didn’t get the win in that second game. But I learned a very valuable lesson. Never doubt Luke Harangody.
8. Damion James, Texas: Yes, I know, I know, Texas is a train wreck right now. But it’s also not James’ fault that Dogus Balbay blew out his knee, J’Covan Brown is a turnover machine, Jordan Hamilton pouts like a little kid if he doesn’t get his shots and that Dexter Pittman plays half their games with the excitement of a 16-year-old working the Sunoco night shift.
The reason I like James’ game though is this: When a lot of guys decide to skip the NBA Draft and return to school, they always say the right things, about how they’re going to improve this part of their game or that part. Then they get back to campus and get right back to old habits.
But James’ game has improved exponentially in his senior year. He’s hitting 3-pointers more than ever before, still leading the team in rebounds, and has become a leader, despite being a marked man every night.
You can’t tell just by his numbers, but James is a much, much better player. It’s too bad his team is in the tank.
7. DeMarcus Cousins, Kentucky: So the other day I was in the shower, and thinking about the Cousins vs. John Wall SEC Player of the Year debate. Why was I thinking about that in the shower? Your guess is as good as mine.
Anyway, as I was thinking about it, I was also thinking about what I’d do if I had the No. 1 pick in the next NBA Draft. Because I’m starting to wonder if I'd take Cousins over Wall. No seriously, hear me out.
The thing is, you’re not going to win a championship with either one of them by themselves. That’s understood, even Kobe needed Pau Gasol. But I think it’d be easier to build a championship team around Cousins than it would be Wall (You know, assuming that Cousins doesn’t go Zach Randolph on us and take 10 years in the league to reach his potential).
Think about it. If you draft Wall, you’ll have to go conventional around him, meaning you’ll need to find an adequate low post scorer. And there just aren't that many of those around. At the very least, you could take the Phoenix Suns route, and surround Wall with shooters and undersized, athletic big guys. Still not easy though.
With Cousins, couldn’t you just set him up with a good, smart point guard, a couple of shooters, and another low post player who’s juuuuuust good enough so that they can’t double team him? Wouldn't you win a lot of games like that?
Apparently, these are the things I think about in the shower. But for the sake of this exercise, of who is more valuable, I’ve got to give the upper-hand to Wall (Don’t worry, we’ll get to him more later).
College basketball is a guard’s game, and Wall is the best there is. In a league like the SEC, Kentucky could still win a lot of games without Cousins (Hell, look at Tennessee, they only start one guy taller than 6’7 and are still going to the NCAA Tournament).
But you could never, ever win the way Kentucky has without Wall (I’m getting to him. I promise!).
6. Scottie Reynolds, Villanova
5. Jon Scheyer, Duke:
Two of my favorite players this season, who pretty much give you the same thing: Efficient, smart, guard play, without trying to do too much. They always get their stats, but get them within the flow of the team game. Which is exactly what a senior point guard should be doing.
If you held a gun to my head, I’d take Reynolds over Scheyer if I was starting a team. But based on the criteria of this list, I do need to give the slightest of advantages to Scheyer.
Remember, one of the rules was, “How Replaceable Are Your Stats?”
While Reynolds is absolutely irreplaceable as a veteran, and as a leader, Villanova could survive without him. Jay Wright collects guards the way Justin Timberlake collects supermodels.
But would Duke be anywhere near as good as they are without Scheyer? Not even close.
4. Wes Johnson, Syracuse: You can make a case that Rautins is in theory more valuable to Syracuse than Johnson is, and I honestly wouldn’t put up much of a fight.
But here’s the thing about Johnson though. Not only is he good, not only do his stats back it up, but more importantly, he has completely changed the culture around Syracuse basketball.
Look, I’ve watched Syracuse for years. On the surface they seemed like any other team. But reading between the lines, it seemed like Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris were never happy these last couple years. With their shots, with their roles on the team, whatever. That’s why both of them decided to go play pro ball in Cambodia last spring, than return to Syracuse for their senior years.
Regardless though, when coach Jim Boeheim insisted at the beginning of this year that Syracuse would be better without those two and Jonny Flynn, not only did nobody believe him, I myself called him an out and out liar. Boy was I wrong.
Enter Wes Johnson. The guy, well, I don’t know how to describe him. I guess the best word would probably just be “happy.” Like Will Ferrell in Elf, “I love smiling. Smiling is my favorite,” happy. Johnson smiles, laughs, cracks jokes. He just keeps everybody loose.
And it’s rubbed off on this Syracuse team. They play hard for each other. Everybody makes the extra pass. Everybody is always smiling. It’s like Martians planted chips in their brains or something.
In the process, they’ve become maybe my favorite college basketball team in recent memory. They’re definitely the most unselfish since the 2006 Florida Gators.
No matter how far Syracuse goes this year, I’ll be rooting for them, and it’s because of Wes Johnson.
He’s made basketball fun again. Not only for Syracuse fans and not only for his teammates. But for me too.
3. Sherron Collins, Kansas: What can you say about Sherron Collins that hasn’t already been said? He’s tough. He’s smart. He’s good. He’s one of the only guys in college basketball that can be the best player in the game, without scoring a point.
He’s a star when he needs to be. A role player at other times. But he always leads by example.
I firmly believe you could replace anyone else on Kansas, and they’d still be a pretty good team. Maybe not National Championship good, but still really good.
But Sherron Collins? He’s irreplaceable.
2. John Wall, Kentucky: As I already mentioned in the DeMarcus Cousins section, I’ve been thinking a lot about Wall lately (Hey, keep your comments to yourself! This is a family friendly website).
After watching virtually every Kentucky game this year, I really thought that Cousins should be the SEC Player of the Year and not Wall.
Then a read named Chris in Louisville, sent along an e-mail with his thoughts on the topic. Here is a part of it:
Wall or Cousins is an ongoing debate down here. Good problem to have for sure. I’d say if you took a poll of UK fans, it would probably lean 60-40 to Cousins’ favor. But, Wall is incredibly clutch. I think he holds back a bit in favor of the team. We blow a lot of leads. And once we fall behind or the other team catches up, he tends to take over (or make clutch plays) as needed. Stanford, Miami, Tennessee, Vandy, Louisville, Miss. St., UConn, are all good examples. If you caught the 2nd half of the NC game, you saw what we looked like without him – it wasn’t pretty! Cousins at times is unstoppable... So, it’s a tough call, but I’d probably vote for Wall.
Alright, well I can't argue with that. And since I couldn't say it any better myself, let's just move on.
1. Evan Turner, Ohio State: Look at the stats on Turner if you want: 19.7 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 5.8 asp, 54 percent shooting from the field, 73 percent from the line. Then remember that he fractured his back in December and was supposed to miss eight weeks. He missed about three.
More importantly though, ask yourself this: Where is Ohio State without him? Anywhere close to the NCAA Tournament? Anywhere near the Big 10 lead?
There’s only one guy on this list who can single handedly carry his team to the Final Four.
That’s the No. 1 most valuable player in college basketball. That’s Evan Turner.