Naismith Award: Top 25 Candidates To Win 2015 Trophy

Mar 22, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; Louisville Cardinals forward Montrezl Harrell (24) reacts in the second half of a men's college basketball game against the Saint Louis Billikens during the third round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 22, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; Louisville Cardinals forward Montrezl Harrell (24) reacts in the second half of a men's college basketball game against the Saint Louis Billikens during the third round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports /

The 2014-15 NCAA basketball regular season is less than three weeks away (Nov. 14) and in order get your appetite wet for the season, I have listed my preseason list of the top- 25 candidates to take home the Naismith Trophy . Once the season gets under way, I will have a weekly spot (Saturdays) updating my top candidates for the most prestigious award given in college basketball.

The Naismith Award, which is named in honor of Dr. James Naismith, is given annually to the men’s and women’s college Player of the Year. The winners of the award are selected by the Atlanta Tipoff Club’s Board of Selectors. In 1969, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar became the first male player to be awarded the trophy while Anne Donovan of Old Dominion was presented the first award for females in 1983.

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Since the inception of the award only two men have received the award multiple times, Bill Walton (UCLA) and Ralph Sampson (Virginia). Both Walton and Sampson won the award three times. Also, only two freshmen – Anthony Davis (Kentucky) and Kevin Durant (Texas) – have won the award while 25 seniors have men named the top men’s player.

Creighton’s Doug McDermott, who is now with the Chicago Bulls, took home the award last season.

So, without further adieu here is my list of the top-25 candidates to win the award.

1. Montrezl Harrell (6’8”, Jr., Louisville). Harrell has gotten better each year and the best power forward in college basketball has yet to reach his full potential. He was among the nation’s best in shooting (60.9 percent) and dunks last year. The 2014 American Athletic Conference Most Improved Player also finished among the AAC leaders in scoring (14.0) and rebounding (8.6).

2. Marcus Paige (6’1”, Jr. North Carolina). Paige showed tremendous improvement last year and is a leading candidate for the ACC Player of the Year. The 2014 ACC Most Improved Player is super quick and likes to start the game as a facilitator and becoming aggressive later. Paige averaged 17.5 points to go along with 4.2 assists and 3.2 rebounds a game. Paige shouldn’t have to handle the scoring load as much this year with a much more balanced Tar Heel team, so if he can improve his 2-to-1 assist-to turnover ratio he will be one of the finalist for the award.

3. Frank Kaminsky (7’, Sr. Wisconsin). Kaminsky took a giant step forward last season and there is no reason he can’t again this year, especially after being named the 2014 West Regional Most Outstanding Player following a 28 point and 11 rebound performance in the Badgers Elite Eight victory over Arizona. Kaminsky, who tallied a Wisconsin record 43 points against North Dakota (Nov. 19, 2013), has the skills of a small forward. He averaged 13.9 points and 6.4 rebounds while shooting 52.8 percent from the field and 37.8 percent from beyond the arc.

4. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (6’7”, So., Arizona): With Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson having moved on to the NBA, the success of the Wildcats falls heavily on the shoulders of Hollis-Jefferson. Hollis-Jefferson has a high-motor and is superbly skilled offensively but he focused most of his time last year on defense. He averaged 9.7 points and 5.7 rebounds while shooting 49 percent from the field though most of his shots were around the rim – Hollis-Jefferson only took 10 3-pointers last year.

5. Georges Niang (6’7”, Jr. Iowa State). Niang fits perfectly in Fred Hoiberg’s system and the Cyclones’ offense will run through him more this season with DeAnde Kane and Melvin Ejim now playing professionally. Niang, a power forward, has a nice inside-outside game and is an excellent passer. He averaged 16.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists last year.

6. Jahil Okafor (6’11, Fr. Duke). Okafor, CBS’s Preseason Player of the Year, is very skilled and possesses a polished offensive repertoire. The 2014 consensus No. 1 prospect tallied 27 points and grabbed eight rebounds during a scrimmage for Duke’s “Countdown to Craziness” event on Oct. 24.

7. Aaron Harrison (6’6”, So. Kentucky). It is hard to imagine that a Kentucky player winning the award with the Wildcats being so talented but if it happens Harrison is the most likely candidate. Harrison, who made several clutch three-pointers last year, averaged 13.9 points a game while shooting 42.3 percent from the floor and 35.6 percent from beyond the arc.

During the Wildcats Bahamas trip this summer, Harrison finished third on the team in scoring. He averaged 10.3 points and shot 45 percent from long-range (9-of-20)

8. Tyler Haws (6’5” Sr. BYU). Haws can shoot the lights out and will be one of the top scorers in Division I this season. The 2014 West Coast Conference Player of the Year tallied at 30 points seven times last year, including a 48 point performance against Portland (Jan. 23), and averaged 23.2 points a game for the season. He shot 46.3 percent from the floor and 40.4 percent from beyond the arc.

9. Ron Baker (6’3, Jr. Wichita State). Baker blossomed into one of the best perimeter players last year. He is a three-point specialist, making 38.0 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and 45.6 percent from the field overall last year. Baker, who tallied 20 points against Kentucky in the Round of 32, averaged 13.2 points along with 3.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists last year.

10.Branden Dawson (6’6” Sr. Michigan State). Dawson is an excellent rebounder and elite defender. He is capable of stepping up his offensive production this year but needs to be more consistent. He averaged 11.8 points and 8,3 rebounds last year.

The rest of the top-25 candidates include: 11.Sam Dekker (Wisconsin), 12. Karl Towns (Kentucky) 13. Fred VanFleet (Wichita State), !4. JayVaughn Pinkston (Villanova), 15. Jerian Grant (Notre Dame) , 16. Delon Wright (Utah), 17. Raheed Sulaimon (Duke), 18. Terran Petteway (Nebraska), Myles Turner (Texas), Michael Frazier II (Florida), 21. Ron Hunter (Georgia State) , 22. Buddy Hield (Oklahoma), 23. Perry Ellis (Kansas) 24. Bobby Portis (Arkansas) 25. Kelly Oubre (Kansas).

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