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Top 10 college basketball Player of the Year candidates

Last season, Villanova's Jalen Brunson swept all the major college basketball Player of the Year Awards. Will we see another player follow the same path?

Perhaps that one true dominating freshman at Duke? Or what about one of his rookie Blue Devils teammates? Some may see the gap between favorite and the field for said awards to be pretty big at the moment, but anything can happen in the final month of the season.

Here's a look at 10 serious contenders (in alphabetical order) for any of the various national Player of the Year awards for the 2018-19 college basketball season.

RJ Barrett, F, Duke, Freshman
He was the nation's top recruit heading into the season and has certainly lived up to the billing. As expected, Barrett is doing it all for the Blue Devils. He leads Duke in scoring, and how about that through-the-legs-pass to Cam Reddish for a tying three-pointer in this week's seemingly improbable comeback at Louisville? Barrett's biggest obstacle is that he currently plays alongside Zion Williamson, the expected No. 1 pick in this year's NBA Draft. Barrett won't be far behind Williamson in the draft and likely in the national Player of the Year voting.

Jordan Caroline, G-F, Nevada, Senior
Like Barrett, Caroline plays on a team loaded with talent, though not to the extent of what Duke possesses. Caleb Martin is worthy of postseason accolades like this, but Caroline has taken his game to a new level this season. He's averaging a double-double for the Mountain West's best team, one that has the potential to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Caroline made a career-high six three-pointers while scoring 40 against Colorado State this month.  

Carsen Edwards, G, Purdue, Junior
Edwards' cause has been helped by the fact that Purdue is in the hunt for a Big Ten regular-season title. That's an important factor because the Boilermakers were picked by some to slip in 2018-19. The preseason All-American leads the conference in scoring and remains a strong candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year. Edwards' assists and steals are up this season, and he's also excelled as the leader of a team that could be dangerous come March.

Ethan Happ, F, Wisconsin, Senior
Happ can be viewed as the front-runner for the Big Ten Player of the Year at the moment. Though the winner of that prize might ultimately come down to whose team fares better, especially with Edwards in the picture. Happ, though, might be the one player across the country worthy of putting the heat on the boys from Duke in this national race. He's averaging career highs in points (18.4), rebounds (10.5) and assists (4.8); however, that 44.5 free-throw percentage does stand out. Happ was already a great college player before this season, and his improvement in 2018-19 should make him worthy of much postseason hardware.

Rui Hachimura, F, Gonzaga, Junior
Perhaps the most intriguing thing about Hachimura is that he's still getting better, which might be hard for fans of the college game to believe considering how dominant he's been this season. He's certainly stepped up his game offensively while averaging more than 20 points in 2018-19, but just imagine how much better he will be with further refinement and polish. He's the best player on the West Coast, but his progression as a player will likely need to happen while in the uniform of an NBA team next season.

Markus Howard, G, Marquette, Junior
There might not be a hotter player in the country at the moment than Howard. The Golden Eagles star is averaging 30.8 points on 50.5 percent shooting and making more than 45 percent of his three-point attempts over a five-game stretch. Howard is the favorite to win Big East Player of the Year and should receive some love on the national scene, especially if Marquette continues to remain in the hunt as an NCAA Tournament championship contender.

Dedric Lawson, F, Kansas, Junior
The Jayhawks have their issues, but Lawson has not disappointed during his first season at Kansas. He's currently averaging a career-high double-double for points and rebounds and has probably been the most consistent performer in Bill Self's lineup. Kansas' unexpected struggles this season will likely hinder Lawson's cause for the individual national awards, but he's likely to live up to his All-American billing.

Ja Morant, G, Murray State, Sophomore
When the season started, Morant was hardly on any Player of the Year radars — in the Ohio Valley Conference, let alone nationally. But he's become a popular dark horse. Heading into Thursday's game vs. Austin Peay, the Racers point guard is averaging 23.9 points and a nation-leading 10.2 assists — huge jumps from his freshman averages of 12.7 ppg and 6.3 apg. Morant has put together quite the highlight reel and blossomed into a potential lottery pick...should he decide to leave school after this season.

Grant Williams, F, Tennessee, Junior
Teammate Admiral Schofield is also among the best in the country, but Williams is the undisputed leader for the nation's No. 1 team. He lets his play do the talking and has the ability to take over games at both ends of the court. Williams' 43-point performance that included a 23-of-23 effort from the free-throw line in the Vols' comeback overtime win at Vanderbilt last month will be talked about for years. He's a top-five Player of the Year candidate worthy of some first-place consideration.

Zion Williamson, F, Duke, Freshman
The National Player of the Year race is Williamson's to lose. What more is there really to say about the sensational Dookie? He's shown time and time again that he's more than the current master of the dunk shot. Williamson's all-around game, especially when it comes to ball-handling and court-awareness, makes him the most-coveted NBA prospect since the days of LeBron James. A national title would reinforce his brief collegiate legacy.

Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.

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