Power Ranking the Last 10 College Basketball Player of the Year Award Winners
Last week, we talked a bit about some of college basketball's top players, candidates for the nation's most prestigious individual honor—the John R. Wooden Award. The Los Angeles Athletic Club, which presents the Wooden Award, has finally announced its 50-man preseason watch list, which you can examine here.
To give a sense of what it takes to earn a trophy named after the Wizard of Westwood, let's take a look back.
Over the past decade, 10 of college hoops' all-time greatest players have taken home national player of the year honors. Of the 10, which man was the ultimate baller? Who dominated his season in the strongest possible fashion?
Read on and you'll surely find something to disagree with, but you'll also be reminded how great some of these players were.
10. Andrew Bogut, Utah (2005)
Utah stormed through the Mountain West Conference during the 2004-05 season, and Australian center Andrew Bogut was the primary reason. It might not be a stretch to say he was the only reason.
The Utes protected their house all year, going undefeated at the Huntsman Center. They lost only at Arizona, Utah State and New Mexico, plus a neutral-site meeting with Washington.
The season was all the more impressive considering the coaching turmoil the program experienced over the past year. Rick Majerus left in January 2004 to work on his health, and the university tapped unknown Ray Giacoletti from Eastern Washington as a replacement.
Bogut's dominant performance set a high bar for the program.
He led the MWC in scoring (20.4 points per game), rebounding (a nation-best 12.1 rebounds per game) and field goal percentage (.620) while finishing second in blocks. No other Ute averaged more than 10.7 points or 4.2 rebounds.
The skilled Aussie propelled the Utes to the Sweet 16, scoring 20 points and pulling 12 rebounds in a regional semifinal loss to Kentucky.
Since Bogut left after his breakout season, Utah has had only one 20-win season and one winless NCAA tournament appearance. His place among Utah's all-time greats becomes more secure with every difficult season the program endures.
9. Blake Griffin, Oklahoma (2009)
The scouting report on the 2008-09 Oklahoma Sooners would eventually come to read, "Stop Blake Griffin."
The rest of the page would be blank.
The closest anyone really came to stopping Griffin was when Texas' Dexter Pittman landed an inadvertent shot to Griffin's face that shut him down for that game and the next with a concussion.
The Sooners entered that Texas game with only one loss. Without Griffin, they lost that one and the next, part of a late-season swoon that included a short one-game appearance in the Big 12 tournament.
In the NCAA tournament, Griffin averaged 28 points and 15 rebounds, carrying OU to the Elite Eight, where it fell to eventual national champion North Carolina and defending national player of the year Tyler Hansbrough. Despite Hansbrough's team winning that battle, Griffin beat "Psycho T" to all of the major player of the year awards.
For the season, Griffin put up 22.7 points per game to lead the Big 12, 14.4 rebounds per game to lead the country and a .654 field-goal percentage to finish second in America. His 504 total rebounds were the most since Larry Bird's 505 in 1978-79. Griffin's 30 double-doubles finished one short of David Robinson's NCAA record.
Like Andrew Bogut, Griffin bolted after his sophomore season. Also like Bogut, Griffin's alma mater has struggled since he left. The Sooners have made only one tournament appearance—with no wins—since that 2009 run.
8. J.J. Redick, Duke (2006)
Although J.J. Redick has settled into a decent NBA career as a shooter for hire, most of his collegiate career was spent as Public Enemy No. 1. Opposing ACC fans, particularly those at Maryland (video language warning), took every opportunity to bash Redick as the symbol of Duke's consistently strong early-2000s teams.
The 2005-06 squad was one such group, a team that spent the first two months of the season at No. 1 and ended up earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Redick's deadly shooting was a primary reason, as he drilled 47 percent of his overall shots and 42 percent of his threes.
Redick scored 30 or more points 14 times, including three 40-point nights. He waged a spirited battle with Keydren Clark of St. Peter's for the NCAA's all-time three-point basket record. Redick would eventually win that war by hitting 27 triples in the ACC and NCAA tournaments. He finished with 457 made threes to Clark's 435.
Redick finished second in the nation in scoring behind Gonzaga's Adam Morrison. Both players—who actually shared the NABC award and Oscar Robertson Trophy—would prefer to forget the final act of their respective careers.
While Morrison was memorably left crying at center court with a Sweet 16 loss to UCLA, Redick was ending his career with a miserable 3-for-18 shooting performance in the same round against LSU.
7. Evan Turner, Ohio State (2010)
Evan Turner thoroughly owned the rest of the Big Ten in the 2009-10 season, so much so that even a broken back didn't stop him from winning national honors.
Fractured vertebrae in Turner's back cost him six games at midseason, including the first two Big Ten games, which both ended up as OSU losses.
Upon his return, Turner proceeded to score 15 or more points on every conference opponent except the two meetings with Indiana. He put up 61 points in two games against Purdue and 52 in two wins over Penn State.
By season's end, Turner accomplished the unprecedented feat of finishing first or second in the Big Ten in scoring, rebounding and assists. For good measure, he threw in a third-place finish in steals.
OSU recovered from those two opening losses to take the conference title at 14-4.
The Buckeyes ranked fifth in the final Associated Press poll, earning a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
They fell short of expectations, however, by stumbling in the Sweet 16 against Tennessee. Turner poured in 31 of OSU's 73 points in the loss.
6. Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina (2008)
Most collegiate players find a 12-point, six-rebound game solid. Average that for a season and you're a substantial contributor to your team's success.
Tyler Hansbrough set those as baselines in 2007-08. He never scored less than 12 points in any of his 39 games, and he fell short of six boards only once.
His consistent role in North Carolina's success was the primary reason that he beat out spectacular Kansas State freshman Michael Beasley for national POY honors.
"Psycho T" topped 25 points 16 times during the '07-'08 season, helping his own cause by being an 80-percent foul shooter.
Ken Pomeroy's calculations (subscription required) ranked Hansbrough third in America with 8.1 fouls drawn per 40 minutes, and he was rewarded with a national-best 377 free-throw attempts. He earned his nickname by willingly and gleefully taking all that contact.
The Tar Heels were the preseason No. 1 team in the nation and stayed that way until a surprising home loss to Maryland in January.
By season's end, though, Hansbrough had UNC riding on top once more, despite missing point guard Ty Lawson for seven games in February, a span in which Hansbrough upped his production to 28 points and 12 rebounds per game.
In the first Final Four ever to feature all four No. 1 seeds, UNC fell behind Kansas by as many as 28 points before rallying. Hansbrough produced 17 points and nine rebounds, a good game for most but pedestrian by his standards.
Like almost every other POY winner in the past decade, Hansbrough fell short of the ultimate prize.
Unlike most, he and his team returned to redeem themselves the following year.
5. Jameer Nelson, St. Joseph's (2004)
With Jameer Nelson at the point, the 2003-04 St. Joseph's Hawks scaled heights that the school had not experienced since Jack Ramsay led the team in the mid-1960s.
No Hawks team had been ranked in the AP top 5 since '66. None had ever risen to No. 1.
None had ever gone 27-0 in the regular season, either. The Hawks had only eight games decided by single digits during that 27-game run, which was snapped with a 20-point drubbing at the hands of Xavier in the Atlantic 10 tournament.
Nelson also led SJU to its first regional final since 1981. Of course, for a top seed that stormed to an unbeaten regular season, the Elite Eight still felt like a letdown. Nelson had a chance to tie the regional final after a clutch three-pointer from Oklahoma State's John Lucas III, but his miss capped a difficult 6-for-18 shooting night.
For the season, though, Nelson crunched serious numbers.
He ranked in the A-10's top 10 in field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage, scoring and assists, plus finished fifth in the nation at 2.8 steals per game. He finished his career as SJU's all-time leader in points, assists and steals.
4. Jimmer Fredette, BYU (2011)
By the end of the 2010-11 season, the only name to know in college basketball was "The Jimmer." Some opponents figured out ways to slow Jimmer Fredette down, but not many.
Fredette was held below 20 points only four times all season, as he carried BYU to a 32-5 record and a Mountain West title. He cracked 30 on 16 occasions, including four 40-point nights and a school-record 52 against New Mexico.
The Mountain West had never seen two members face off in a battle of top-10 teams until BYU and San Diego State met in January. Jimmer dropped 43 on the Aztecs, sinking 14 of 24 from the field and 5-of-8 from the three-point line.
For the season, Fredette dropped in 1,068 points. He became the first player to crack a grand since Purdue's Glenn Robinson scored 1,030 in 1993-94.
The Cougars rose as high as third in the AP poll, tying the 1987-88 team for the school's highest ranking ever. BYU fans also got to cheer their school's first Sweet 16 appearance in 30 years, but once there, Jimmer hit a wall.
Florida harassed Fredette into 3-of-15 shooting from long range, rendering his 32 points slightly hollow in an 83-74 loss.
All in all, it was an unprecedented year for BYU, and it's likely to be a long time before any Cougar player captures national attention the way The Jimmer did.
3. Trey Burke, Michigan (2013)
Trey Burke took a gamble on improving his draft stock when he returned to Michigan for his sophomore season. It turned out to be a highly lucrative move.
All Burke did in 2012-13 was quarterback the most efficient offense in America, according to Ken Pomeroy.
The Wolverines started the season on a tear, with a major highlight coming in a win over NC State in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Burke put up his first career double-double with 18 points and 11 assists, and the 18th-ranked Wolfpack could not force a turnover from him.
Burke added three more double-doubles by the time the season ended. That included a 23-point, 10-assist night against Kansas in the Sweet 16. All 23 points came after halftime, and a long three with 4.2 seconds remaining forced overtime. Burke would take Michigan to the national title game, but his 24 points were not enough to overcome Louisville in the final.
For the season, Burke put up 18.6 points and 6.7 assists per game, the latter figure tops in the Big Ten. No Big Ten opponent had managed to hold him to less than 15 points. Only seven times all season was he held to fewer than five dimes.
The Wolverines' trip to the title game was impressive, even more so that they made it as a No. 4 seed. While point guards, such as Jay Williams and Jameer Nelson, had recently won national player of the year honors, none have ever done so without leading their team to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Also, Burke became only the fourth national POY in the last 20 years to reach the national title game, joining UCLA's Ed O'Bannon (1995), Duke's Shane Battier (2001) and Kentucky's Anthony Davis (2012). That certainly counts for something.
2. Anthony Davis, Kentucky (2012)
Anthony Davis was not Kentucky's primary offensive weapon in 2011-12. He was far from it.
Even backup forward Kyle Wiltjer used a higher percentage of his available possessions than Davis, according to StatSheet.com; however, unlike most POY winners, Davis proved himself capable of dominating a game without producing a massive number of points.
The national championship game against Kansas serves as the primary exhibit.
Davis took 10 shots and only made one as part of a six-point night. It seems like a pitiful night until one adds in his 16 rebounds, five assists, three steals and six blocks. Davis' primary POY challenger, Kansas forward Thomas Robinson, scored 18 points but shot 6-of-17 to do it.
Davis never pulled down fewer than six rebounds, and he likewise had no games of fewer than two blocks. He raced past UK's single-season blocks record in only the Wildcats' fourth SEC game, 19th overall.
By season's end, he had set both the national freshman record and the overall SEC record with his 186 swats. That total surpassed the rejections of all but 11 whole teams in America.
That dominant all-around performance against Kansas earned Davis the Final Four Most Outstanding Player award, to say nothing of UK's eighth national championship.
Ultimately, that final victory is where Davis succeeded and so many POY winners failed.
1. Kevin Durant, Texas (2007)
Although Kevin Durant couldn't match Anthony Davis as a national champion, he blazed a different trail for the one-and-done freshman.
No rookie had ever won national player of the year honors before Durant swooped in and swept all the major awards (and most of the minor ones).
Durant finished fourth in the nation in both scoring (25.8 points per game) and rebounding (11.1 rebounds per game) while also finishing fourth in the Big 12 in steals (1.9) and first in blocks (1.9).
Any time and any place Durant felt like scoring, he scored. According to Pomeroy (again, subscription required), Durant dropped in 50 percent of his two-point shots, 40 percent of his threes and 81 percent from the line.
The Longhorns were a young team, with five of the top seven minute-earners being freshmen and the other two sophomores. Aside from Durant and sophomore A.J. Abrams, the rest of UT's team shot a sickly 6-of-26 from the floor in the second round of the NCAA tournament, resulting in the Horns being upset by USC. Thus, Durant's career came to an ignoble close.
With the one-and-done rule in only its second season, it needed a star to rally behind. A player who could make the rule's opponents thankful that they at least got to see him in a college uniform. After all, the only freshmen who were first-round NBA draft picks in 2006 were Tyrus Thomas and Shawne Williams.
When Durant declared, he was taken second behind another oft-dominant freshman, Greg Oden of Ohio State. Had it not been for the controversial rule, college fans would have never seen Durant at all. Every dark cloud, etc.
For more from Scott on college basketball, check out The Back Iron.
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