I don't really know why I care about the Wooden Award. That's not a great intro, obviously, but it's true. College basketball has multiple player of the year awards, and as a result doesn't have one with the cache of a Heisman or Hobey Baker award. Still, when the midseason watch list came out yesterday, it had some curious omissions and some curious inclusions.
We'll get this out of the way early: Barring disaster, Doug McDermott is going to win. He's putting up insane numbers at Creighton (the per game numbers alone are ridiculous: 24.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.8 apg) and he's doing so efficiently and on a team that has a chance to go deep in March. That's hard to ignore.
There have been some bigtime snubs, however. The most glaring omission is Kansas Freshman Joel Embiid. NBA potential does not a Wooden candidate make, but his college numbers have been fantastic as well. He's making almost 70% of his twos, he's been a well above average offensive and defensive rebounder, and is the 11th best shot blocker in the country, percentage wise. Elsewhere, Iowa's Devyn Marble is shooting 37.5% from three, has a 22% assist rate and 12% turnover rate, and is the best perimeter defender for a team that is ranked 6th in KenPom and is a definite final four contender. Finally, PItt's Lamar Patterson might be the most egregious omission from this list. Not having great per game numbers because of Pitt's pace doesn't make the fact that he has a 31.5% assist rate and just an 18% turnover rate, or that he's posting nearly a 60% eFG any less impressive. There are certainly others who could be listed on the watch list, but those are the big omissions.
Because I don't believe in listing snubs without listing who should be removed (otherwise it's just lazy), here are the three guys who I would take off the list:
1. Aaron Craft, Ohio State
As far as stat heavy types go, I think I am actually the resident Aaron Craft apologist, despite my criticisms of him. The case for Craft, from a stats standpoint, is that defense is perennially undervalued by analysts (see: any talk comparing Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins) and Craft is a very good defender. His critics allege he is only able to do it because he clutches and holds, but I don't see it. He has quick feet and fast hands, and he uses those to get a lot of steals, and generally harrass the other team's opposing point guard. Given how guard driven college hoops is, that's a big weapon to have.
But Craft's offensive numbers are so bad that he can't be mentioned on this list. He's barely shooting, and he's also and an under 50% eFG (though, to be fair, he's shooting twos fairly well, it's just when he takes a medium or longer range jumper that disaster strikes) and far from being a steady, team first type point guard, Craft has a 26.5% assist rate paired with a 24% turnover rate. It hasn't been good for the Senior. Obviously people make the case that he's clutch or a winner or some other adjective, but that hasn't really rung true this year: Ohio State is in the midst of a 4 game losing streak and has a sub 100 ranked offense. That at least partially falls on Craft, and should have kept him off the list.
2. Cleanthony Early, Wichita State
Early has had a good season, but honestly a pair of his teammates should probably be on the list before him. Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet both have better offensive ratings, and both have lower turnover rates despite higher assist rates. VanVleet in particular has been amazing, with an assist rate that is over 20% higher than his turnover rate. Anthony got the nod because he is the best scorer on a very good Wichita State team, but I would push him aside for one of his teammates.
3. Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
Dekker is getting a little unfairly punished here because of how many good offensive players Wisconsin has this year, but he's "just" a shooter, and I like my Wooden candidates to have a bit more variety in their games. He's a very good shooter, no doubt, making 58% of his twos (though he is under 33% from three), but he has a higher turnover rate than assist rate, and doesn't help out much on the boards despite standing 6'7"