Wooden Watch: Suit up, Zion Williamson

The Wooden Watch isn’t so suspenseful this year, thanks to an incredible season from Zion Williamson. 

OK, it’s over. Probably. The Wooden Award race has lacked suspense because Zion Williamson separated himself from the other contenders early in the year.

Still, we had similar thoughts about Trae Young after the first few months of the 2017-18 season, and Jalen Brunson won the award due to his consistency and efficiency. But this is different.

We all know Williamson will most likely win this award. And his effort against Boston College on Tuesday — 16 points, a career-high 17 rebounds, three assists, three blocks and four steals — felt like the start of a victory lap for the talented freshman. He’s had a remarkable year thus far that will likely continue in the final weeks of his collegiate career.

It’s time for Williamson to pick out the right suit, decide whom he wants to invite to the ceremony and prepare his speech. He’s looking back at the field now.

Who would win the award today

Zion Williamson

Some NBA scouts and executives aren’t convinced this is a particularly fruitful draft class. The 2018-19 campaign features an abundance of projects and promising athletes, but no sure thing. At the top of the heap, however, is Williamson, the projected No. 1 pick.

If he were to pull off the Wooden Award/No. 1 pick double, he’d join an esteemed class of athletes. Since 1990, eight players have been the No. 1 pick the same year they won the Wooden Award: Larry Johnson (1991), Glenn Robinson (1994), Tim Duncan (1997), Elton Brand (1999), Kenyon Martin (2000), Andrew Bogut (2005), Blake Griffin (2008) and Anthony Davis (2012), a group that has made a combined 34 NBA All-Star Game appearances. Griffin and Davis are still active.

Davis is the only player on the list who won a national title in the same season he pulled off the Wooden Award/No. 1 pick double. He was a dominant force during his lone season at Kentucky. Here’s what he did during the 2011-12 season: 14.2 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.4 SPG, 4.7 BPG, 65.3 percent clip inside the arc. Here are Williamson’s numbers: 22.0 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 2.3 APG, 2.0 BPG, 2.2 SPG, 75.2 percent clip inside the arc.

Perhaps that puts some of this in perspective. Davis was the most dominant athlete in recent college basketball history and he’s a top-five player in the NBA right now. That doesn’t mean Williamson will make a similar transition to the next level, but his achievements to date match those of some great players who starred at this level before moving on to the NBA.

Next three contenders

Carsen Edwards: A week ago, Edwards wasn’t on this list. Our apologies, Purdue fans. The college basketball sleep deprivation tends to hit hard in late January. Not only did Edwards, a notable inclusion on the late-season Top 20 watch list released earlier this week, deserve a mention, but you could make the case that he’s in the best position to overwhelm voters in the next month and pull off an upset. It would take a miracle to defeat Williamson. But Edwards is walking on water at Purdue, which entered the week in a three-way tie for first place in the Big Ten. This is a program that lost one of America’s most accomplished senior classes a year ago. Every team in the country knows they’ll stop Purdue if they can stop Edwards. But they just can’t seem to corral Edwards (24.5 PPG, 3.5 APG, 1.7 SPG, 38 percent from the 3-point line, 86 percent from the charity stripe), a legit national player of the year threat.

Ethan Happ: Yes, another Big Ten player is still in the mix, too. The Wisconsin star entered the week as the catalyst for Wisconsin’s five-game win streak. Happ also entered the week averaging 18.5 PPG and 10.3 RPG. And he’s currently 11th nationally in assist rate on KenPom.com. Happ is the only player 6-foot-10 or taller within the top 80 slots in assist rate. And if he stays in this spot, he’ll be the tallest player to secure a top-11 spot since at least the 2006-07 season. He’s like a European forward blossoming in his final season on campus. And if he were Ethan Happ of Milan, Italy, instead of Ethan Happ of Milan, Illinois, more folks would acknowledge as much.

Grant Williams: When you’re the best player on the best team in America, you’ll probably put yourself in a position to win national awards. That’s why Williams will probably remain in this category throughout the season. He’s nearly a lock to secure first-team All-America honors. He’s averaging 20.1 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.6 BPG and 1.2 SPG. He’s also making 84 percent of his free throws. All of this from a 6-foot-7, 236-pound veteran.

The other contenders (all numbers through Tuesday)

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