The committee responsible for naming the National Player of the Year in men’s basketball released a list of their 25 “finalists” yesterday. Before we start breaking down the list, I’d like to mention one very important detail. This list of “finalists” is not actually very “final” at all. Players may be added and removed from this list as the season progresses. Obviously if a player torches the competition in the second half of the season, his efforts are not for naught. For my money, I’d really like to see this list concealed until we get into the meat of conference play, but that’s neither here nor there. I understand we live in a society where statistics and individual awards dominate the headlines, so to each their own.
As I scrolled down the list of the 25 finalists for the Wooden Award, I noticed a few things immediately. First, it’s a long and exhaustive list of players. Since it’s early in the season a lot of players are still being considered, but I immediately observed how long the list appeared. Secondly, both major and mid-major programs are represented. Seven of the list are from mid-major schools, while the remaining 18 are from major conference programs. I believe the seven mid-major players listed are deserving, but I’m not so sure they can be seriously considered (with the obvious exception of Creighton’s Doug McDermott) when taking into account their strength of schedule.
These two observations were just that, observations. I didn’t really feel a specific way about them, but they piqued my interested. The third and final observation was the kind of observation that leads to behavioral change (hair pulling, remote throwing, angry tweeting, therapist calling, laptop closing). I scrolled down the list, scrolled back up the list, adjusted my eyes, took a sip of coffee, changed positions at my desk, scrolled back down the list…and that’s when it hit me…Victor Oladipo’s name was nowhere to be found. My first reaction was this was some sort of sick and tasteless joke, but Andy Katz quickly confirmed my reality in his video assessment of the Wooden list. Katz features Oladipo as one of his two big snubs, along with Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk.
After mulling it over for a couple hours, I came to an unsettling conclusion. It is impossible to grade Victor’s impact on Indiana’s success without watching every second of every game. He is constantly making huge impact plays whether it’s deflecting passes on defense (Tom Crean’s favorite basketball stat, maybe favorite thing in the world behind God, Family, and Diet Coke) or finishing at the rim on the other end. There are very few (maybe zero) players in the country that contribute on both ends of the floor like Oladipo. He is an all-american caliber player who can shift the momentum of the game on a dime. You can feel the energy from your living room couch when Vic enters the game. However, you wouldn’t know how to factor that into a vote unless you sat down and watched every second of Indiana basketball. That’s the only excuse I can manufacture for this committee.
Oladipo is averaging 13.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. However, he’s also third on the team in assists, second in blocks, and leads the team with a very respectable 35 steals. He’s shooting over 67% from the field and over 47% from beyond the arc. Not to mention, he’s one of the best defensive players in the country. If this Indiana team wins a Big Ten title or a National Title, a lot of that will rest on the broad shoulders of Victor Oladipo.
While a lot of us can agree Vic’s snubbing is totally not a feathery situation, we also have to congratulate Cody Zeller on his
inclusion in the 25 Wooden Award finalists. I think many have taken Zeller for granted this year. He’s been Indiana’s rock, playing almost 28 minutes per game, averaging 16.5 points and 7.9 rebounds through 15 contests. Zeller has been a force inside on both ends of the court, and it’s safe to assume his stats would be much more impressive if he wasn’t the subject of every opposing coaches’ whiteboard conversation.
That being said, conference play is upon us and that’s where real men are made. Weakness are exposed and strengths are tested over the course of the Big Ten season. Indiana’s depth and ability at both ends of the court makes them one of the early favorites to win the Big Ten conference, but Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Illinois have already proved they won’t go quietly into the night. It’s heating up in the country’s best conference and individual performances will begin to take a backseat to team success.
Tune-in tomorrow morning for the Indiana/Minnesota pre-game conversation and game preview.
Cody: Congratulations, keep it up.
Victor: #SoNotFeathery bro. You deserve to be there.
Hoosier Nation: It’s Big Ten play. #StrapUp