College basketball is a game that's often viewed through the lens of another game. Even college hoops fans who profess to "not care" about the pro game can unconsciously lapse into talking about Doug McDermott or Joel Embiid in a way that corresponds to the perspective of an NBA general manager rather than to the results of college games.
This list is an attempt to correct that tendency. If the NBA disbanded this afternoon and we had to rank every player in Division I based purely on what they've done this season as college players, who would rise to the top of the list?
To answer that question I've watched games and talked to coaches every chance I get. But because I can't possibly see every game or even talk to every coach, I also look at measures of individual player performance. Those measures include but are by no means limited to:
• The excellent individual player stats generated by Ken Pomeroy at kenpom.com
• Data on play-by-play performance collected by Jeff Haley and available at hoop-math.com
• Translations that project NBA performance based on college metrics, compiled and maintained by my Insider colleague Kevin Pelton
• Win Shares data available from sports-reference.com
Drawing upon all of these sources doesn't make my list the final word, of course. You could go through the exact same process and come up with a completely unique set of rankings. The Wooden Award's list, released early afternoon Wednesday, may in fact be entirely different.
You'll find that it's impossible to cut off your list after only 25 players, and that someone very high in your rankings will promptly go out and have a 3-for-13 night. Believe me, I know of what I speak. Nevertheless, I've done my part, so without further ado ...
In terms of college production -- and not NBA potential -- here are the top 25 players in the nation:
Note: Statistics as of Jan. 20.
1. Doug McDermott, Creighton Bluejays
McDermott is not the best player in the nation when it comes to electrifying a crowd with a sensational dunk, but what the 6-foot-8 senior can do -- measurably, markedly and consistently -- is single-handedly make his team much better than it otherwise would be.
This season McDermott is achieving career highs in workload (he takes 37 percent of the Bluejays' shots while he's on the floor), fouls drawn (seven per 40 minutes) and free throw accuracy (90 percent). Creighton has possibly the best offense in Division I, the Bluejays are a viable contender for the league title in a conference currently ranked No. 3 in the nation at kenpom.com and the likelihood is that none of the above will still hold true next season when McDermott has graduated.
Basketball is a simple game. McDermott shoots more often than any major-conference player in the country, and his shots go in (53 percent of the time inside the arc, and 44 percent of the time outside of it). No one is more effective at putting points on the board, so put me down as agreeing with Villanova head coach Jay Wright: Doug McDermott really is the best college basketball player in the country.