As conference tournaments commence, the Wooden Watch comes to a close. 'Tis the nature of things. See where the NCAA's best rank in the final Wooden Watch of the season.
1. Blake Griffin, Oklahoma, So. (Last week: No. 1)
Last game: 33 points, 14 rebounds, two assists, two steals, one block, 12-for-15 from the field in an 82-78 win over Oklahoma State on March 7.
Season averages: 22.1 ppg, 14.2 rpg, 2.4 apg, 1.3 bpg, 1.2 spg, 63.4 fg%
Wooden Worth: The Pope's catholic, human beings need air to breathe and Griffin's going to win Wooden and Naismith Player of the Year honors. It's as close to a given as these things can be. Griffin constantly found new ways to amaze this season, from his total dominance on the defensive boards to his tomahawk jams to his lavishly embroidered sports coat and sizeable diamond studs. His 25 double-doubles set an Oklahoma single-season record and tied him with Drew Gooden for second all-time in the Big 12. To really wrap your head around the extent of his dominance, consider this: Griffin amassed more double-doubles than 13 Top 25 teams did wins. If he hadn't missed time with a concussion, it's reasonable to assume he would have notched at least one more, giving him more double-doubles than 19 Top 25 teams had wins. Now that he's back to full health, Griffin will look to lead the underrated Sooners to a No. 1 seed and NCAA tournament run.
2. Stephen Curry, Davidson, Jr. (Last week: No. 2)
Last game: 43 points, four rebounds, four assists, three steals, 5-for-10 from beyond the arc in 27 minutes in an 84-68 win over Appalachian State on March 7.
Season averages: 28.9 ppg, 5.7 apg, 4.3 rpg, 2.6 spg, 87.1 ft%, 38.9 3p%
Wooden Worth: Davidson may not have lived up to the preseason Top 25 hype, but Curry did, and now, with the Southern Conference tournament under way and an at-large bid to the big dance on the line, he's leading his team when it counts the most. His 43 point performance against Appalachian on Saturday was a SoCon tourney record (imagine if he'd played more than 27 minutes…), and it was his 14th 30-plus (and fourth 40-plus) point game of the season. Though he's been an offensive force all year, Curry's shown there's more to his game than pretty rainmakers. With former point guard Jason Richards gone to the NBA, Curry got a chance to showcase his court vision and passing skills, improving his assist-per-game average from 2.8 and 2.9 his first two seasons to 5.7 this year. On a capable but not gifted team, Curry's been a master puppeteer, deftly setting up his teammates' scoring opportunities and snatching the ball from opponents to the tune of nearly three steals per game. Shot selection (and a propensity to gnaw on his mouth guard) may be the only real flaw in Curry's game.
3. DeJuan Blair, Pitt, So. (Last week: No. 5)
Last game: Eight points, eight rebounds, three blocks in 28 minutes in a 70-60 win over UConn on March 7.
Season averages: 15.6 ppg, 12.4 rpg, 1.5 spg, 1 bpg, 59.6 fg%
Wooden Worth: Blair slowed down at bit at season's end, failing to notch a double-double in the final four games. Still, he, like Griffin, averaged a double-double for the season and dominated when it mattered most. Blair's player-of-the-year candidacy will suffer because he plays alongside Levance Fields and Sam Young, two players vital to Pitt's success. Fields boasts the nation's best assist-to-turnover ratio and is just the type of unselfish court general capable of leading Pitt in March, while Young's a versatile and at times unstoppable scorer. But make no mistake, Blair's the most valuable cog on the nation's best team. For proof, look at Pitt's inability to win this season when foul trouble limited Blair's minutes and aggressiveness (until Saturday's game against UConn, that is, when Blair picked up a couple early ones but managed to play effectively, if not outstandingly). It's been the Wooden Watch mantra all season, but it bears repeating: Nothing short of foul trouble can stop Blair, who's been the nation's best offensive rebounder and an all-around beast down low. Maybe voters will throw in some bonus points for all those wide smiles.
4. James Harden, Arizona State, So. (Last week: No. 3)
Last game: 20 points, two rebounds, two assists, two steals in an 83-66 win over Cal on March 7.
Season averages: 20.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 4.1 apg, 1.7 spg, 35.7 minutes
Wooden Worth: A late-season three-game skid cost the Sun Devils a shot at their first-ever Pac-10 title, but one man can only carry a team so far. Harden's been incomparable this season, doing everything and anything his team requires. His stats may not be gaudy, but he's the Pac-10's leading scorer despite playing on a team with a tempo as slow as molasses (though molasses may drip more rapidly than the Sun Devils, the nation's 331st slowest-paced team). Plus, consider the company in which he's about to find himself. Harden's poised to join Dwyane Wade, Ricky Minard, Brandon Roy, Reggie Williams and George Hill as the only players to average 20 points, five rebounds, four assists in a season and shoot 50 percent. Harden's been the model of consistency all season and has avoided wearing down despite logging more than 35 minutes in every game since Jan. 15. Arizona State fans chanted "one more year!" as the super sophomore attempted a first-half free-throw against Cal. Though he'll likely enter the NBA draft, Harden's made himself a Sun Devil legend in just two seasons.
5. Tyler Hansbrough, UNC, Sr. (Last week: No. 7)
Last game: 17 points, eight rebounds, two blocks, five fouls in a 79-71 win over Duke on March 8.
Season averages: 21.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 52.8 fg%, 85.4 ft%
Wooden Worth: As discussed throughout the season, Hansbrough's numbers (particularly rebounding) are down slightly from last season's player of the year stats. And as discussed, point guard Ty Lawson's been the engine that's made the Tar Heels roar all season and arguably deserves this spot more than Hansbrough. But Hansbrough's played all season with a bull's-eye on his back, both on the court and in newsrooms everywhere. His numbers are still good, and so it's easy to say "they're not as good as last year," because his past success has put him more squarely under the microscope. One could argue Hansbrough's only finishing in the top five because of last season's momentum and expectations and then turn around and argue, just as soundly, that he's not higher up because he's being punished for his failure to just barely live up to past success. Bottom line: When the tournament rolls around, the Tar Heels and their fans will anxiously await seeing Psycho T take the court, and his opponents will dread it.
6. Hasheem Thabeet, UConn, Jr. (Last week: No. 8)
Last game: 14 points, 13 rebounds, five blocks in a 70-60 loss to Pitt on March 7.
Season averages: 13.6 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 4.5 bpg, 64.1 fg%
Wooden Worth: Like most legends who find themselves in front of a microphone every day or so, Coach Jim Calhoun has a tendency to exaggerate. But when he called Thabeet "the most powerful force in America," he really meant it. Thabeet lost his first battle with Blair this season, but to be fair, he also almost lost an arm. Aside from a handful of forgettable performances, Thabeet was, without question, the most dominant defensive force in the country. Those 10-plus rebound nights are nice, but what really separates Thabeet from other centers is his ability to completely alter an opponent's inside game. Indeed, his 4.5 blocks per game stem as much from the unnatural shots he forces his opponents to take as from his extreme height and wing span. Thabeet's capable of putting up monster offensive numbers, too, but UConn features a beautifully balanced offensive attack and so his services are, simply but, not always necessary.
7. Luke Harangody, Notre Dame, Jr. (Last week: No. 4)
Last game: 31 points, 12 rebounds, one block, one assist in a 74-55 win over St. John's on March 6.
Season averages: 23.7 ppg, 12.1 rpg, 2.2 apg, 78 ft%
Wooden Worth: On stats alone, Harangody's having arguably the best season in the country, and certainly an individual season on-par with Griffin. But his team's inability to win has sent him tumbling down the player of the year standings. Unlike Curry and Harden, who also play for good-but-not-great teams, Harangody's monster nights rarely correlate with Notre Dame's success. And so while he's been outstanding -- as a scorer, rebounder and free-throw shooter -- it hasn't mattered.
8. Tyreke Evans, Memphis, Fr. (Last week: Not ranked)
Last game: 17 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, four steals, one block in a 74-47 win over Tulane on March 7.
Season averages: 16.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.7 apg, 2.1 spg, 28.5 min
Wooden Worth: Without an experienced point guard on their roster, the Tigers knew they'd experience some growing pains this year without Derrick Rose. And go through growing pains they did -- for a month. Then Evans stepped up and emerged as one of the top freshman in the country. Though Evans isn't a true point guard and hasn't shot well (or often) from deep, he's routinely used his superior athleticism and size to penetrate defenses, creating shots for himself and scoring opportunities for his teammates. He's filled in so admirably for Rose that the Tigers could land a No. 1 seed for the second year in a row.
9. Jerel McNeal, Marquette, Sr. (Last week: No. 6)
Last game: 25 points, three rebounds, two assists, two steals in 45 minutes in an 86-79 OT loss to Syracuse on March 7.
Season averages: 20.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.9 apg, 2.1 spg, 40.7 3p%
Wooden Worth: It's been rough sailing lately for the Eagles, losers of four in a row and six of their last nine, but McNeal's been a model of consistency all season. He hasn't been able to make up for fellow senior guard Dominic James' absence, but as stated last week, he couldn't do much more than he'd already been doing. McNeal's shown a lot of heart and hustle and the leadership he's exhibited has been as impressive as his consistent scoring and stingy defense.
10. Jodie Meeks, Kentucky, Jr. (Last week: Not ranked)
Last game: 15 points, five rebounds, two steals in a 60-53 loss to Florida on March 7.
Season averages: 24. 7 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.4 spg, 40.8 3p%
Wooden Worth: The Wildcats, like most SEC teams, have struggled this season, but Meeks deserves credit for most of their success. Because Kentucky and the SEC are having down years, Meeks hasn't received the attention and praise he deserves, but he's been a lethal scorer and a leader all season. He's been forced to shoulder the offensive load, taking the highest percentage of his team's shots of any player in D-I, and he's delivered in admirably efficient fashion.
On the Cusp: Ty Lawson (UNC), Cole Aldrich (Kansas), Jon Brockman (Washington), Terence Williams (Louisville), Jeff Teague (Wake Forest)