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Wooden Award – A Two Horse Race

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With the regular season of college basketball winding down, the recognition for great performances by both teams and individual players are entering into the forefront of our thoughts. This season has been one that, aside from Kentucky, has been relatively inconsistent and sporadic in terms of who’s on top. However, the Wooden Award seems to be a relatively clear choice between two of the nation’s most dominant big men, Frank Kaminsky of No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 4 Duke’s Jahlil Okafor. To the fans’ delight, the race is far from over.

Kaminsky is the best player on the team that many college basketball analysts believe poses the biggest threat to the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats. His stats speak for themselves; averaging 17.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game to go along with 2.5 assists and 1.6 blocks is no joke. The numbers are astonishing, demonstrating Kaminsky’s all around dominance so far this season in B1G play. However, it’s the eye test that has made Kaminsky one of the most impressive players in college basketball so far this season. Offensively, he can work the block, both faced up and with his back to the basket; he can distribute the basketball to his always dangerous three point shooting teammates; and he can shoot the rock himself, shooting over 40% from three this season. Defensively, he can block shots, he alters and contests everything that comes down the lane, and he makes those around him better.

The counterpart to Kaminsky this season, and the other thoroughbred in this race is Jahlil Okafor. For as savvy and skilled as Kaminsky is, Okafor is just as intelligent and just as dominant, just in a different way. Statistically, the two players are similar. Okafor averages 17.9 points and 9.4 rebounds per contest, to go along with his 1.5 blocks. Shooting 66% from the field, Okafor feels nearly automatic when he’s in possession of the basketball. Just like Kaminsky, the stats aren’t the most impressive part of Okafor’s game, it’s again the eye test. When Okafor collects the ball on the low block with his back to the basket, his footwork and sheer size make him nearly impossible to guard. He’s got a hook shot, a turnaround jump shot, an overwhelmingly powerful backdown game, and some of the best out of the block passing I’ve ever seen from a big man in college basketball…and he’s a freshman. When you watch Okafor play, you could never possibly guess that he is playing his first season in the ACC, a conference who has five teams talented enough to make deep runs into March and maybe even April. Game in and game out, Okafor dominates the paint against the best competition in college basketball.

There are still others that have not quite been eliminated from this race just yet. With the dismissal of PG Chris Jones, both guard Terry Rozier and forward Montrezl Harrell of Louisville have the potential to carry their youthful team through the conclusion of the regular season, as well as the rigorous ACC tournament. Harrell’s per game averages push double-double and Rozier is leading the ACC in scoring. If they’re able to do that, both of them could put their names right back in the discussion. The same goes for Utah senior guard Delon Wright, with his per game averages bordering on 15 points, five rebounds, and five assists; his Utes are ranked in the top ten in the country, miles ahead of where anyone had them to start the season. Kyle Wiltjer has been one of the biggest factors in turning Gonzaga into the best version of itself since Adam Morrison. Of course, with Wichita State’s phenomenal backcourt of Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker and Kentucky’s superstar at every position, the award isn’t a lock until the winner is announced.

Ultimately, the award is really only a competition between Okafor and Kaminsky. The other players are only in the conversation because a two player award race isn’t intriguing. The reality is that you really can’t go wrong. Both Okafor and Kaminsky are the most dominating big men in their conferences, and their conferences are two of the top three in college basketball. Gun to my head, I’m picking Frank Kaminsky of the Wisconsin Badgers. His game is more refined and more expansive. Okafor may be a better pro prospect, but Kaminsky is one of the most dominating college basketball players in recent memory.

*Section Photo credit to Andy Manis, Associated Press; Featured Photo (above) credit to Cal Sports Media via Associated Press.

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