The John R. Wooden Award's Preseason Top 50 list was released earlier today and wouldn't you know it? Nine Big Ten players were among those recognized as some of the best college basketball players in the country. Every season the Los Angeles Athletic Club (no east coast bias!) bestows the Wooden Award upon whomever they decide is the best college basketball player in America. Jimmer Fredette won last season's award in the spring. While the Preseason list is limited to returning players only, it's possible for freshmen and transfers to appear on the Midseason list and on the final ballot.
Let's get down to it and rank the Big Ten players in the Top 50 based on the chances they have of actually winning the award.
1. Jared Sullinger, Power Forward, Ohio State
Beast mode! As a freshman, Sullinger was a terror in the post. He averaged 17.2 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, mostly by overpowering anyone who stood in his way. With David Lighty and Jon Diebler having graduated, Ohio State will likely depend even more on Sullinger's talents in the coming season. However, the big guy won't be all bull-in-a-china-shop this time around. Sullinger has reportedly lost a lot of weight in order to become a more versatile player. If Sullinger can add some quickness and a jump shot while still dominating on the boards (no small order), he has a real shot to be the best player in America.
2. Robbie Hummel, Power Forward, Purdue
The snake-bitten senior could be finally back in action this season. Back-to-back knee injuries have forced Hummel to sit out the 2010 postseason and the entire 2010-11 season. Back in the 2009-10 season, Hummel averaged 15.7 points and 6.9 rebounds per game while leading Purdue to a 14-4 Big Ten record. After Sullinger, every Big Ten players is pretty much a longshot to win the Wooden Award, but if Hummel's smooth jumper is still there, there's always a chance. With JaJuan Johnson out of the picture, Hummel should be able to improve on his rebounding numbers this season. Now the Boilers just need to find the right big dude to help take some pressure off of Hummel on the defensive end.
3. Jordan Taylor, Point Guard, Wisconsin
OK maybe one of my favorite players from last season should be a notch higher on this list. I just feel like if a point guard is going to win this award, he will be from an up-tempo offense and not Wisconsin's super slow attack. That doesn't say anything about Taylor's abilities, though. Last season he averaged 18.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game while shooting 43% on three-pointers. With Jon Leuer out the door, can Taylor average 20, five and five? I'd be surprised if Taylor would be able to improve on both his point and assist totals this season, but that's what it's going to take to get the attention of the Los Angeles Athletic Club.
4. Draymond Green, Power Forward, Michigan State
Kalin Lucas is gone, so the man known as The Dancing Bear is now the undisputed leader of the Sparty Squad. Delvon Roe isn't going to be there either, so Green will likely go from doing a little bit of everything to a little bit more of everything. Last season he averaged 12.3 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.2 blocks per game. Green is a true jack-of-all-trades and a joy to watch. It will be really interesting to see how he handles being the number one option on offense. Tom Izzo will hope that youngsters Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne provide enough frontcourt support for Green to flourish.
5. Tim Hardaway Jr., Shooting Guard, Michigan
The original Tim Hardaway may be my least favorite basketball player of all time, but there's no denying that Junior is a special talent. Playing alongside Darius Morris last season, Hardaway found the bucket often with 13.9 points per game. With that freshman season under his belt, Hardaway has a chance to do a ton of scoring this season in John Beilein's offense that encourages a healthy dose of long range shooting. If Hardaway can improve on his 36.7% three-point shooting from last season, it's going to be a fun season for Wolverine fans.
6. John Shurna, Power Forward, Northwestern
Yeah, we know a kid from Northwestern probably isn't going to be in the running for the Wooden Award, but that's not to say he's not a heck of a player. Shurna is a string bean who doesn't do a ton of rebounding, but he can score from anywhere on the court. He knocked down 52.3% of two-pointers and 43.4% of three-pointers last season en route to 16.5 points per game. In order to garner more national attention for both himself and Northwestern this year, Shurna will need to step up his rebounding and shot blocking skills.
7. Trevor Mbakwe, Power Forward, Minnesota
It's Trevor time! Mbakwe is a champ at rebounding, but he's not a dynamic enough scorer to be considered for an award whose last two winners were Jimmer Fredette and Evan Turner. If Mbakwe were able to develop some sort of consistent mid-range game, he could turn into a really scary player. Right now, he's just a superb rebounder and a decent shot blocker who needs to be very close to the basket to score.
8. Aaron Craft, Point Guard, Ohio State
Craft had an amazing freshman year, and he's clearly the second-best point guard in the Big Ten. The combination of quickness, floor vision and defense that Craft gives the Buckeyes makes him one of the most exciting players to watch going forward. Unfortunately, for Craft's Wooden Award chances, he plays on the same team as Jared Sullinger. The sensational sophomore combination is the main reason why Ohio State will be favored to win the Big Ten this season, but it's almost a certainly that Sullinger will be the number one guy to go to on offense.
9. William Buford, Shooting Guard, Ohio State
Buford gives Ohio State a third Wooden Award candidate. That's actual only the second-most in the country thanks to North Carolina's four candidates. Poor Ohio State will have to settle for only having three of the top 50 most outstanding returning players in the country. While Craft is doing the distributing and Sullinger is scoring in the post, Buford should handle the bulk of the outside shooting for the Bucks. He's a big threat from long distance and can score a bit inside the arc as well. Buford is just not going to get a ton of assist and rebounding opportunities and that makes him the bottom man on this list.
Who got snubbed?!
ESPN's Andy Katz wrote a great piece on all the awesome players who were not included on the Wooden Award Top 50 list. A lot of the guys on Katz's list are freshman or transfers that are not considered eligible for the preseason list, but others, such as Illinois center Meyers Leonard, just got overlooked. Leonard didn't play much for the Illini as a freshman last season, but Katz notes his strong performance on the US under-19 team this summer as a reason to look out for him. D.J. Richardson is another player whom Katz expects to breakout this season on a much younger Illinois team.
As for freshman and transfers to watch, Indiana big man and top recruit Cody Zeller should contribute right away to Tom Crean's squad, while Valparaiso transfer Brandon Wood should help Michigan State offset the loss of Kalin Lucas.