By John Marshall, AP Basketball Writer
Kentucky’s Anthony Davis was pretty much everyone’s choice as the national player of the year last season.
This season, at least as it nears the midpoint, the player of the year honor appears to be up for grabs.
Though there are a few players who might be considered front-runners, there are roughly two dozen, maybe more, who could be considered the best in the country.
Here’s a few, sort of a sampler of the season so far:
Mason Plumlee, Duke. Best player on the No. 1 team is a pretty good start the conversation. The versatile, 6-foot-10 forward has been dominating at times during his senior season, shooting 61 percent from the floor while averaging 19.1 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. Plumlee had 21 points and 15 rebounds in the Blue Devils’ rout of Elon Thursday night, a day after getting 19 and nine against Cornell. When Duke (11-0) needs a big shot or rebound, it’s usually Plumlee who gets it, and he’s a big reason the Blue Devils climbed to No. 1 for the 16th straight season under coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Trey Burke, Michigan. Burke thought about leaving for the NBA after his freshman season. Deciding to stick around may end up helping his draft status. The 6-0 sophomore was an AP preseason All-American and has arguably been the nation’s best point guard through the first two months of the season. Burke got away with playing on natural ability last season, but his game has matured and he’s helped the Wolverines open the season 11-0 and climb to No. 2 in the AP Top 25. He’s shooting 53 percent, impressive for a guard, while averaging 18 points and seven assists, teaming with Tim Hardaway Jr. in what may be the nation’s best backcourt.
Doug McDermott, Creighton. Another preseason All-American, the coach’s son is as tenacious as anyone in the game. Teams have tried just about everything against the 6-8 junior forward and few have found a way to slow him down. McDermott was third nationally with 22.9 points per game last season and is third again this year, up to 23.7. McDermott became the first Creighton player since 1990 to score 30 points in consecutive games last week and is averaging 6.8 rebounds. He’s also shooting 55 percent, including 51 percent from 3-point range.
Nick Johnson, Arizona. East Coast fans probably don’t get to see much of Johnson since Arizona’s games are usually on late, but he’s been the glue that’s held the Wildcats (9-0) together during their best start in 25 years. An athletic 6-3 guard, he was solid as a freshman last season, but has played with much more poise and confidence as a sophomore. Johnson has hit some big shots for Arizona while scoring 13.6 points per game, second on the team, and is a tenacious defender in the vein of his uncle, former Boston Celtics great Dennis Johnson.
C.J. McCollum, Lehigh. McCollum was fifth nationally with 21.9 points per game last season and drew plenty of attention by scoring 30 points in Lehigh’s upset victory over Duke in the NCAA tournament. Even with opponents geared toward stopping him, McCollum has been nearly unstoppable during his senior season. The 6-3 guard leads the nation with 24.9 points per game and is averaging 5.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists. McCollum is tied for fifth nationally in 3-point shooting, hitting 51.9 percent, and is generating plenty of attention from NBA scouts.
Isaiah Canaan, Murray State. Canaan may be the best player in his state, which is saying something with powerhouses like Louisville and Kentucky just down the road. The 6-1 senior guard led the Racers to national prominence last season and has been even better this season. A preseason All-American and the reigning Ohio Valley Conference player of the year, he’s seventh nationally in scoring at 21.3 points per game and has led Murray State to a 9-1 record. Relatively unheralded when he joined the Racers, he could be headed to the NBA after he leaves Murray.
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