Which One of These Guys Is College Basketball's Player of the Year?


Thus far, it's been a race without a clear frontrunner.

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Every week, our panel of sports fans discusses a topic of the moment. For today's conversation, Hampton Stevens (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), Jake Simpson (writer, The Atlantic), and Patrick Hruby (writer, Sports on Earth and The Atlantic) try to pick this year's best college basketball player.

Hey guys,

The Ravens rule the NFL. The Heat are clearly the NBA's best team. The Chicago Blackhawks are the NHL's top dogs, and could end up mentioned along with the '72 Dolphins and '95 Chicago Bulls as best teams of all time. The Royals are baseball's best—in Spring Training anyway, having won their first 10 straight.

Sometimes, though, there's a muddle at the top. Like in the 2012 college hoops season. Last year Kentucky was clearly best of show, and star Anthony Davis obviously the best college player. In 2013, the best team, well, that seems to change from week to week. So does the race for best player.

Creighton's Doug McDermott and Victor Oladipo of Indiana tops most POY lists. Not mine, though. As a member of the Jayhawk faithful, I'd always rather see the Naismith trophy go to a player whose home games are on Naismith Court.

Any other year, that would be Jeff Withey. The nearly-seven-foot senior has become a surprisingly threat to score in the low-post. Withey even makes defense fun to watch with picture-perfect, record-breaking shot-block technique. He's a legit lottery pick.

For player of the year, though, he's overshadowed by Ben McLemore. Just a red-shirt freshman, McLemore might be the best athlete in a generation to play for KU. He's certainly the best shooting guard.

The obvious comparison to McLemore is Paul Pierce, the KU alum and Celtics legend. Both players are stealthy slashers and deadly shooters with a silky, minimalist stroke. As a kid, McLemore even went to Pierce's basketball camp.

Ben, though, can jump higher now than Pierce could when he left KU after his junior season. Pierce certainly never had the flair and ferocity around the bucket that Ben does. In that, and in his number 23, it's clear that Ben's game—right down to the "Air McLemore" nickname—is built on emulating Michael Jordan.

He's not done a half-bad job of it, either. The player-of-the-year race was over last weekend when McLemore had a performance--hyperbole or not--that has to be called Jordan-esque.

In a romp over West Virginia, Ben scored 36, and he did it virtually every way that it's possible for a player to score. He hit cold-blooded midrange jumpers. He dunked from the baseline off set plays. He dunked from the free-throw line on the fast-break. He hit three-pointers from everywhere, including a falling-backwards-off-one-foot buzzer-beater from two steps beyond the arc. It was ruthless. Late in the game, McLemore floated sideways at the top of the key, squared and dropped a 15-footer on a play so Jordandish you could almost hear Craig Ehlo cry.

Guys, to me it's obvious. Ben McLemore is most talented player in the college game. One-and-done or not, he's plainly player of the year. Care to disagree?


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Patrick Hruby, Jake Simpson, and Hampton Stevens 

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