The request for my Naismith Award Preseason Watch List came in at 4:08 p.m. Tuesday, give or take 20 minutes after news spread that Baylor's LaceDarius Dunn was suspended, maybe six minutes before we found out he was charged with aggravated assault against his girlfriend, and maybe 40 minutes before her lawyer and family began to do damage control and temper down talk of a second-degree felony. It's not clear yet where the case is going -- the police report says the woman's jaw was fractured; the woman says she doesn't want to press charges -- but it should merit a significant in-season suspension.
How does that relate to the awards watch? Well, there appears to be a paucity of star power in the 2010-11 season, and Dunn is one of the few electrifying scorers -- a lock for any player-of-the year short list. Now he'll have to appear with an ugly asterisk. He has yet to defend or explain himself, but my enthusiasm for watching him has diminished.
In an attempt to be as transparent as possible with the building of the rest of my Naismith list, what follows is the step-by-step process of building up a watch list of 100, and whittling it down to a final 50. The overarching goal is to not leave the eventual Naismith winner off this list, because that would be embarrassing. Due to the nature of college basketball -- a level where players are still developing -- my criteria has combine statistics and speculation about potential.
My preferred method is to build pools of players, starting with the "Untouchables," a group of All-America-candidate upperclassmen that have to be included in the final 50.
And thus the first 10 spots are taken, although Dunn, as previously mentioned, is asterisked due to a possible suspension.
I've listed the above names in a Player-of-the-Year pecking order; although Duke's Kyle Singler is the biggest name to pull out of the NBA draft, the Blue Devils' roster is so loaded that it'll be difficult for him to put up the numbers of a Jimmer Fredette or Jacob Pullen. Those two guards have the offensive ability to wage a solid battle (along with Dunn) for the national scoring title.
The next pool is purely speculative: the small group of freshmen whom I believe are also All-America candidates, and therefore must make the watch list.
That brings my list to 14. North Carolina's Harrison Barnes has the best shot at winning the Naismith, since he'll be the focal point of the Heels' offense, and is more than capable of being a 20-points-per-game scorer. Kyrie Irving could very well lead Duke to its second straight national championship before becoming a lottery pick, and Enes Kanter and Jared Sullinger already have the frames -- and talent -- to be formidable post presences. Kanter needs to be asterisked due to the fact that he may not be deemed eligible by the NCAA.
The third pool is also somewhat speculative: the elite group of sophomores who stayed out of the draft and could blossom into major college stars.
They bring my list to 19. I'm especially interested in Arizona's Derrick Williams, who could emerge as the best player in the Pac-10 this season. Alec Burks was a huge sleeper prospect at Colorado who has caught the NBA's attention, and Gonzaga's Elias Harris is currently the top foreign import in college hoops.
The fourth pool is a select group of elite players from outside the BCS conferences, Atlantic 10, Mountain West and Conference USA. It's important to diversify the list with mid-major talents who don't get enough national attention, and these four are worthy:
They expand my list to 23. Kenneth Faried is really the one to watch here; he's the nation's best overall rebounder (16.2 OR%, 36.7 DR%), and has the chance to become a first-round draft pick despite being relatively hidden in the Ohio Valley Conference.
That leaves us with 27 more spots, a number of which need to go to my second tier of the "Establishment" -- high-quality, major-conference upperclassmen.
The 12 players above all have some star power and are capable of putting up numbers at a similar level their peers in Pool 1. They're necessary inclusions. Virginia Tech's Malcolm Delaney, Wisconsin's Jon Leuer and Washington State's Klay Thompson could all very well be their conference's players of the year.
They bring our list to 35, meaning only 15 spots remain. The problem is that I have a massive pool of candidates -- 65 in all -- for those final positions. Here's who's under consideration:
How does one go about narrowing down this list? I'll start with the freshmen, including the only two that I feel have a chance to make a Naismith-level impact:
The list is now at 37, although Selby needs to be asterisked because he, like Kanter, has yet to be deemed eligible. I think he has a much better shot than Kanter at gaining eligibility, but we're still awaiting word from the NCAA.
Moving on to the upperclassmen, I feel that a talent line can be drawn after the first nine on the "also under consideration list," so I'll include them as well:
That brings the list to 46. Four spots remain, but I also need three more provisional picks in case Dunn, Kanter and Selby don't play.
The two players on the transfer/ineligible list from last season aren't going to make the cut. I love Seth Curry, but he may not even start at Duke this year; and Renardo Sidney, although he has loads of potential, has to sit out the first nine games of the season. There's plenty of talent on the remaining list of sophomores, but none seems like a must-include on the final list, so I'll pick exclusively from the upperclassmen:
Past statistics don't necessarily support West Virginia's Kevin Jones, Syracuse's Kris Joseph, or Vandy's Jeffery Taylor, but all three players should grow into major roles for their teams this season after stars departed for the NBA. Tracy Smith has been an underappreciated force on the interior for N.C. State. He earns the last spot before my "provisional group" of (in this order) Durrell Summers, Jimmy Butler and Chris Wright -- quality players who are longer shots for All-America status.
That brings us to the final list of 53, which was e-mailed to the Naismith folks on Thursday morning, and will be a part of the group voting results released in late October or early November:
(The three players with asterisks are potentially ineligible; their fill-ins are marked with ^s)