9. Jeff Withey, F, Kansas
Photo Credit: Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE
In his 5th year at Kansas, Withey is finally the man on the team after playing in the shadows of the Morris twins and Thomas Robinson. While Withey may not put up the most points of all the players on this list, and he may not look the best doing it, he is the leader of the Jayhawks squad. Withey is averaging an absurd 5.7 blocks per game and has 4 games of over 5 blocks so far on the season. In a game against San Jose State, Withey recorded a triple-double with 16 points, 12 rebounds and 12 blocks. The 5th year senior may not be the best offensive player, but Withey surely is the defensive leader of this team.
8. Pierre Jackson, G, Baylor
After being the 6th man for a very good Baylor squad last year, the 5-10 senior is now the star of the team. The super-athletic guard is averaging nearly 20 points a game and has turned in masterful performances throughout the season. In the season opener against Lehigh, Jackson turned in a double-double with 14 points and 12 assists. Against Kentucky this past week, Jackson stuffed the stat sheet with 17 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 steals. If Jackson can keep up his high performance so far, he should be able to lead the team back to the NCAA Tournament.
7. Trey Burke, G, Michigan
After a freshman year in which Burke averaged 15 points per game and shot nearly 35% from beyond the 3-point arc, he decided to return to Michigan to lead the Wolverines, now the #3 team in the country. Burke is averaging over 16 points per game along with 7 assists per game and has partnered with Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III to get Michigan off to a 7-0 start.
6. Doug McDermott, F, Creighton
After averaging almost 23 points per game last season, McDermott led Creighton to a win in the NCAA Tournament over Alabama before falling to North Carolina, but the Tournament put both Creighton and McDermott in more of a national spotlight. This year, McDermott is off to a great start averaging 21.3 points and 7.1 rebounds and despite losing to Boise State last week, the Jays still have a 7-1 record. McDermott’s best game of the season came against Wisconsin, a “power-6” conference team that makes the tournament year in and year out, where he had 30 points and 8 boards.
5. Peyton Siva, G, Louisville
Even though Peyton Siva is in his 3rd season as the point guard for Rick Pitino’s squad, he has a new role this year as the teams true leader. Kyle Kuric, Louisville’s leader in both minutes and points last year is gone and the Cardinals are looking to Siva and Russ Smith to pick up their games and be the team’s leaders. The challenge got even more difficult when it was announced that Gorgui Dieng, the team’s starting center would be out for more than a month. Siva is averaging 11 points and 6 assists per game so far this season, and will be one of the vital, if not the most vital, pieces to the Cardinals as they look to bounce back from an early season loss to Duke and make another run in both the Big East and NCAA Tournaments.
4. James Michael McAdoo, F, North Carolina
Photo Credit: Kelvin Kuo-US PRESSWIRE
Although he is only a sophomore, McAdoo is expected to be the star on this year’s Tar Heel squad. Last year, McAdoo came off the bench behind Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, and John Henson all of whom went on to be 1st round draft picks in the NBA. This year, McAdoo is already leading the team in both points, nearly 16 a game, and rebounds, just over 9 a game. Although North Carolina already has 2 losses this year, one was in Indiana against the #1 team in the country and they are still ranked 20th in the AP poll. If the Tar Heels plan on making a run in the ACC against in state rivals NC State and Duke, they will need McAdoo to carry the team and maybe even up his scoring average closer to 20 points a game.
3. Mason Plumlee, F, Duke
After 3 seasons at Duke Mason Plumlee is no longer playing in the shadow of his older brother Miles Plumlee, and he is finally the focal point of the Blue Devils inside game. Plumlee is averaging nearly 20 points and 11 boards so far this season with an absurd 2 blocks per game. With his younger brother currently injured, Mason Plumlee is the Blue Devils’ only true down low threat because of how often 6-11 Ryan Kelly likes to play outside. If the middle Plumlee can continue his dominant post play, the Blue Devils should enter the NCAA Tournament as a 1 seed and could make a deep run.
2. Deshaun Thomas, F, Ohio State
Photo Credit: Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE
After losing Jared Sullinger to the NBA, Ohio State will turn to Deshaun Thomas to be the next forward to star for the Buckeyes. The junior forward is averaging over 21 points per game and 6.5 rebounds a game. The Buckeyes play in the very tough Big 10 that includes Illinois (#13 in the country) twice, Minnesota (#14), Michigan (#3) twice, Michigan State (#19) twice, Indiana (#1), as well as unranked, but always dangerous, Wisconsin, and they will also play Kansas (#9) and already played Duke (#2). Ohio State’s schedule this year is grueling and they most likely will not win the Big 10 because of how stacked this conference is, a conference that could end the season with 6 or 7 teams ranked in the top 25. If THE Ohio State is to come close to winning the Big 10, either the regular season or the tournament, it will be on the mainly on the shoulders of Deshaun Thomas.
1. Cody Zeller, F, Indiana
Via ESPN Magazine
Super sophomore Cody Zeller might not be putting up the best numbers in the country, but his numbers are very impressive and he is doing it for the #1 team in the country the Indiana Hoosiers. Zeller is averaging 15 points, almost 8 rebounds and about 1.5 blocks per game, and he has been doing that in under 28 minutes a game. Imagine what will happen to his stats when they get into conference play and the Hoosiers start to play closer games forcing Zeller and other starters to stay on the court later into games. The Hoosiers are going to make a run through the NCAA Tournament and should enter the Tournament as a 1 seed or a 2 seed at the absolute worst. Even though some number 1 seeds have been upset in the tourney before the Final Four, nobody should be surprised if they see this Hoosiers squad playing in Atlanta come the end of March.