The best moments from the best players in the country
On Dec. 18, 2012, Mike Krzyzewski visited an uncommitted Jabari Parker in Chicago to discuss his goals for the phenom. The goals were: become the national player of the year, win a national championship and be the first overall pick in the NBA draft. Although the second two goals are still on the table, the first one is finished.
It's not Parker's fault that he won't win the Wooden Award. The fresman has played as well as anyone could have expected of him, and he showed leadership and maturity beyond his years in bouncing back from a midseason slump and leading Duke back into college basketball's elite late in this regular season. Parker's only problem is that he is up against Doug McDermott. As SI.com's Seth Davis wrote this week: If you don't vote for McDermott as player of the year, you don't deserve a vote.
McDermott entered the season as a two-time All-American and a candidate for the Wooden Award, but being the leading scorer in the nation for a top-10 team has all but engraved his name on the trophy with two weeks still remaining in the regular season. With that in mind, we offer the best moments of each candidate's season so far.
1. Doug McDermott, Creighton
Stats: 26.0 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists, .521 FG/.443 3-pt/.884 FT
Back on Jan. 28, St. John's was stumbling while Creighton was surging. With 12 minutes left in their game in Omaha, the Bluejays had built up an 18-point lead. But as with their season at large, the Red Storm simply refused to go away. With 11.1 seconds left, the teams were tied. With five seconds remaining, McDermott was left open for a 25-footer. He caught the ball and fired the game-winner without a shred of hesitation. "Big-time shot by a big-time player," Red Storm coach Steve Lavin said after the game, which Creighton won 63-60. That three capped a 39-point night for McDermott, who is now just 83 points shy of becoming just the eighth Division I player to score 3,000 in his career.
2. Jabari Parker, Duke
Stats: 19.1 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.2 apg, .485/.382/.728
Parker's finest moment of the season happened early, coming on Nov. 12 against No. 5 Kansas in just the second game of his college career. After finishing the first half with 19 often spectacular points, Parker provided something even more special for his first bucket of the second half. Guard Quinn Cook lobbed him an alley-oop and Parker channeled his inner Grant Hill to finish with a one-handed slam. The game -- and this play -- confirmed that Parker would indeed live up to expectations in Durham. He finished with 27 points, the second of his 15 20-point games to date.
When San Diego State took on Boise State on Feb. 5, the Aztecs had only one loss on the season and were perfect in conference play. Nevertheless, the Broncos held a 14-point lead into the second half before Thames led SDSU's revival by scoring 15 of his 23 points after halftime. Down by one point with 11 seconds remaining, the Aztecs gave Thames the ball, and he skirted past a triple team with a chance for a seven-foot floater. Instead, he kicked the ball out to Dwayne Polee for the game-winning three-pointer.
"It was like the Red Sea parted," Polee said. "I wasn't surprised. X is a real unselfish player, and if there was one person open, he was going to find them."
When the American Athletic Conference fell into place out of the Great Conference Shuffle, everyone thought Louisville would be the team to beat. The defending national champions returned a player of the year candidate in Russ Smith, a Hall of Fame coach in Rick Pitino and plenty of talent around the two of them.
But when the Bearcats collided with the Cardinals on Jan. 30, they wanted to prove quickly that they were the better team. For his first act, Sean Kilpatrick threw a 26-foot pass to Justin Jackson, who finished the alley-oop over 6-foot-10 Louisville freshman Mangok Mathiang. On the ensuing possession, Kilpatrick wanted one of his own. Leading a fast break, he threw down a dunk over the next man on this list.
The dunk and the win sent a message that Cincinnati wasn't to be taken lightly in the AAC -- or in the country. The senior is now the Bearcats' second all-time leading scorer with 2,018 points in his career, trailing only the legendary Oscar Robertson.
5. Russ Smith, Louisville
Stats: 17.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 4.5 apg, .457/.374/.699
Smith saw to it that the Cardinals would get their revenge on the Bearcats. Trailing by one in the final seconds on Saturday, Smith sank an 18-footer with 2.2 seconds remaining to give Louisville a 58-57 win. It also gave Smith a double-digit scoring total for the 26th time in 27 games this season.
It's no surprise that a top team like Syracuse has not one but two legitimate contenders for the Wooden Award. Senior C.J. Fair entered the year as the leader and designated go-to guy for the Orange, but it didn't take long for the freshman Ennis to prove he deserved to be in this discussion as well.
While Fair is Syracuse's leading scorer and had a game-winner of his own against N.C. State, Ennis has been invaluable for the sixth-ranked Orange, and no one will top his buzzer-beating 35-footer against Pittsburgh this season. You know the story: Then-No. 1 Syracuse was struggling in front of the Zoo, trailing by a point with 4.4 seconds left. Ennis got the inbounds pass and didn't give it up till he heaved this three-pointer on the run that somehow found the bottom of the net to keep the Orange undefeated.
Arizona won its first 21 games of the year, and its biggest scare along the way may have come in the last of those games, a visit to Stanford. With the game tied at 55, Wildcats forward Kaleb Tarczewski grabbed an offensive rebound and kicked it out to Johnson, who buried the go-ahead three-pointer with under 50 seconds to go. "Nick Johnson's plays at the end were as big as you can come up with," coach Sean Miller said after the game. Johnson leads the Wildcats in scoring by more than four points per game.
8. Shabazz Napier, UConn
Stats: 17.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 5.4 apg, .433/.409/.884
For much of last season and the fist part of this season, UConn's formula for success was simple: Keep it close until late in the game, then give the ball to 'Bazz and let him close it out. Napier's most memorable play this season came on Dec. 2 against then-No. 15 (and now No. 1) Florida. With UConn trailing 64-63, the senior guard danced around the arc, almost losing the ball before firing over four Florida defenders ... and missing, badly. But the ball bounced back to him and he drilled his second-chance game-winner. Napier leads the Huskies in points (17.8), rebounds (5.9) and assists (5.4) per game.
If we're being honest, Randle's best play of the year was drawing this face off head coach John Calipari. But if we're talking strictly basketball, Randle's biggest moment came in overtime against LSU last Saturday. Kentucky had lost to the Tigers on Jan. 28 in Baton Rouge and trailed by one with 11.5 seconds remaining in overtime in the rematch at Rupp Arena. Wildcats guard Andrew Harrison passed to James Young who drove and missed, but Randle was there to scoop the rebound and sink the floater that gave Kentucky a 77-76 win.
10. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Stats: 16.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.6 apg, .448/.357/.759
It's been a while since the super-hyped freshman has appeared on our list. At times, he's been overshadowed by both his classmates around the nation and his teammates in Lawrence -- particularly center Joel Embiid. But it was Wiggins who bailed out Embiid against Texas Tech. The center lost his handle on the ball with Kansas down a point and just four seconds remaining. Wiggins recovered and put in the go-ahead layup.