Top 10 Story Lines of the 2015-16 Season – #9: Wide Open Wooden Race

In a wide open Wooden Race to start the season, anyone could virtually come away with the award at season's end. One top contender is Iowa State's Georges Niang, but there are a slew of others vying for the award.
In a wide open Wooden Race to start the season, anyone could virtually come away with the award at season’s end. One top contender is Iowa State’s Georges Niang, but there are a slew of others vying for the award.

The 2015-16 college basketball regular season officially gets under way on Friday, November 13th, with over 150 games across the college basketball landscape to finally satisfy our cravings for NCAA hoops.

This season promises to be one full of excitement mixed with a little bit of drama along the way. With so many great teams across the country, this season will be a wide open race towards Houston and the national championship.

Over the next ten days, leading up to the week that the season starts, we will be taking a look at 10 of the top story lines for the upcoming season. While they all may not feature the biggest programs in the country, these are headlines that will be talked about over the course of the season and can alter several conference races down the stretch.

Story line #9: The Race for the 2015-16 Wooden Award is Wide Open!

In each of the past two seasons, there was a clear-cut favourite for the Wooden Award in the NCAA. Just two years ago, it was Doug McDermott of the Creighton Bluejays, and it was a runaway victory for the senior who finished his career as one of the top scorers in NCAA history.

Last year was a bit of a closer race, with several players making their case over the course of the season. However, it came down to a two-horse race in the end, between Wisconsin senior Frank Kaminsky and Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor. Kaminsky entered the season as the slight favourite, and ended up taking home the award when the season was done.

Both Okafor and Kaminsky used their strong seasons and became first-round selections in the NBA Draft, with Okafor going to Philadelphia and Kaminsky going to Charlotte.

Heading into the 2015-16 season, there are a slew of players who could come away with the award at season’s end. This year’s crop is comprised of experienced veterans and a handful of incoming freshmen, all of whom will be key contributors for their respective teams over the course of the year.

Below are five players who should be in the running at season’s end, barring they can stay healthy and perform up to the expectations surrounding them.

The first candidate, and likely the most popular choice entering the season, is LSU freshman Ben Simmons. The Australian is the top ranked recruit from the class of 2015, and will team up with fellow freshman Antonio Blakeney and give the Tigers a top-tier offensive unit overall. Simmons is a power forward with the ball handling abilities of a point guard and the shooting ability of a scoring guard. With his unique skill set, and overall talent and unlimited potential, Simmons will be a front-runner for the 2015-16 season. If he can live up to his preseason hype, he could very well be the one bringing home the award at season’s end.

Another freshman could very well be a top candidate, and that is Kentucky guard Jamal Murray. The Canadian shooting guard lit things up at the 2015 Pan American Games, playing against men when he hasn’t played a game of collegiate basketball. With Kentucky losing pretty well all of their talent from last season, with the exception of Tyler Ulis, Murray has the opportunity to step in and be the team’s go-to offensive threat this season. His decision to re-classify to the Class of 2015 gave the Wildcats a big boost, and may give himself the best opportunity to succeed now and in the future.

After the two talented freshmen, you can consider a trio of upperclassmen who will be the leaders of their respective teams. Iowa State’s Georges Niang will look to lead the Cyclones to a Big 12 title, and erase the memory of last season’s shocking upset to UAB in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. The senior forward will be a big factor in the Cyclones’ offense this season, and will make the transition much easier for new head coach Steve Prohm.

Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes is another top candidate for the Wooden Award, as he steps into the lead role for the Badgers with the departure of Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. Hayes is the top returnee for Bo Ryan’s crew, and could put up some big numbers in the Big Ten this season.

Rounding out the trio of experienced players is someone who many people think will be the winner when all is said and done. North Carolina will be the beneficiary of having a healthy Marcus Paige back in the lineup this season, and that could do wonders for their offense this season. The senior guard will lead a talented, experienced Tar Heels team as they enter the season as the top team in the country.

Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer, Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, Kansas’ Perry Ellis, and Wichita State’s Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet could also be in the mix down the stretch.

Heading into the 2015-16 college basketball season, the list of candidates for the 2016 Wooden Award is a lengthy one. You can make the case for a wide array of players, which is what makes college basketball that much more exciting.

With a wide open race for the top player in the country, you can bet the 2015-16 season will be one for the ages.

– T.B.