I'm with you. Burke is more important to his team—and more versatile on the floor—than McLemore, who in turn is probably a better NBA prospect, at least if you're looking for a prototypical shooting guard. That said, Hampton is also correct: The national player of the year race is as muddled as the top 25.
Are we talking about the most indispensable player? I'd argue that McDermott is far more crucial to Creighton than Burke is to Michigan; after all, Burke has a pretty talented pair of wingmen in Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III, while McDermott has ... well, a bunch of guys whose fathers weren't NBA All-Stars. And what about Duke's Ryan Kelly? With him in the early-season lineup, teammate Mason Plumlee looked like a favorite for player of the year, the Blue Devils beat a trio of top-five-ranked teams in Ohio State, Kentucky, and Louisville, and rose to No. 1 in the rankings on the strength of elite team defense; without Kelly, Duke went 9-4, saw their defense slip and watched fans storm the court at North Carolina State, Miami, Maryland and Virginia. (Much to Mike Krzyzewski's chagrin).
Are we talking about the most indispensable player? Or do close games and elite opposition matter most? Should efficiency count?
Jake, you say that close games and elite opposition matters most. If that's our measuring stick, then a strong case can be made for Indiana's Victor Olapido, who starred in victories over Michigan and Michigan State. Olapido isn't an elite scorer—given the presence of teammate and preseason national player of the year favorite Cody Zeller, he doesn't have to be—but he might be the nation's best perimeter defender, and he's unquestionably the most improved player. In November, ESPN.com's draft guru Chad Ford ranked Olapido No. 110 on his list of draft prospects; by late February, he was ranked No. 5. Dick Vitale compared him to a smaller, campus version of Michael Jordan—and if this missed-dunk highlight captured by Deadspin is any indication, Vitale wasn't being entirely hyperbolic.
Should efficiency count? Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk is the top player on the country's top-ranked team, averaging almost 18 points a game while shooting 70 percent from the field. How about overall production? Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart is averaging 14.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.9 steals. Perhaps our criteria should be all of the above. If that's the case, Deadspin's Dom Cosentino makes a compelling case that Georgetown's Otto Porter might be the country's best player, a one-man show who has led the surprising, modestly-talented Hoyas (full disclosure: my alma mater, but not my favorite college team) to an 11-1 mark in their last 12 games and a possible No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. ESPN.com's John Gasaway explains how:
... what makes Porter both exceptional and indispensable is that his performance just keeps getting better and better the further the Hoyas go into the season. Actually, his season totals aren't doing him evaluative justice. During the Hoyas' current 11-game win streak, for example, Porter has become even more central to the offense, personally accounting for 28 percent of the team's shots while he's on the floor. Over that stretch he has shot nearly identical percentages on both his 2s (52 percent) and 3s (51). Porter has been on the floor for 596 offensive possessions in those 11 games, and he has committed only 16 turnovers. In his past six games he has averaged better than eight free throws per contest, and he has connected on 86 percent of those attempts from the charity stripe. In short, Thompson has a featured scorer who's decimating opposing defenses, and that featured scorer is becoming progressively and measurably more lethal as the regular season draws to a close. If you appreciate the game of basketball, Porter projects to be mandatory viewing in March—and, quite possibly, April ...
And there's the rub. I like Porter. I like Burke. I like McElmore. I like a half-dozen players on any given night. That kind of season, I suppose. The problem with choosing a player of the year is that we're supposed to make up our minds in early March—but this year, at least, we won't have a definitive answer until early April.