The best team in college basketball is No. 1 Kentucky (29-0, 16-0). This is not a debate. If you try to debate it, you will lose.
But the best player in college basketball? That’s not as clear-cut.
In fact, Doug Gottlieb believes Kentucky junior forward Willie Cauley-Stein should be named National Player of the Year, while Jon Rothstein believes Wisconsin senior forward Frank Kaminsky is most deserving.
“I firmly believe that one thing that’s really flying under the radar right now is that Frank Kaminsky did not play against Rutgers, which is when Wisconsin had one of their losses,” the CBS Sports college basketball insider said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “So I think if we were looking at Wisconsin right now with two losses instead of three – (and) potentially (only one) – it would look a little different.”
No. 6 Wisconsin (26-3, 14-2) beat Michigan State, 68-61, on Saturday to clinch at least a share of the Big Ten title. As of now, the Badgers are a firm 2-seed with the potential to climb into one of the top four spots depending on how things play out.
Whatever happens, though, there is one scenario that Rothstein hopes does not unfold.
“We all have fears in life,” he said. “I think that’s part of being human. My biggest fear right now in my life is that Kentucky and Wisconsin are going to be in the same region, and that’s something I’m struggling with every day.”
Really? That’s your biggest fear in life right now?
“Look, there’s a lot of things I’ve wished for in life,” Rothstein said, defending his claim. “I want great health for my family and friends, I want a Graeter’s ice cream to open on the Upper East Side that I can only get in Cincinnati because I love the raspberry chip, and I want a rematch between Wisconsin and Kentucky in Indianapolis. It doesn’t have to be the national championship game. It doesn’t have to be the semifinals. But just one of the two. It’s the small things in life.”
But let’s check out the tale of the tape:
Kaminsky is averaging team-highs in points (18.1), rebounds (8.3), blocks (1.6) and field-goal percentage (.549). He’s also second in three-point percentage (.417) and assists (2.5). Cauley-Stein, meanwhile, is fourth on Kentucky in scoring (9.1 points), second in rebounding (6.4) and blocks (1.6) and first in steals (1.4).
Statistically, Kaminsky may be more important to his team, but Gottlieb believes there are a few things working in Cauley-Stein’s favor. No. 1, he’s been the best player on the best team in America. No. 2, he is the main reason why Kentucky leads the nation in defensive field-goal percentage (34.4). In fact, that is a record low for the shot clock era.
“People talk about big men that can get up and down the floor, and they say, ‘He’s great running rim-to-rim,’” Rothstein said. “Willie Cauley-Stein is unbelievable sideline-to-sideline. How many 7-footers in college basketball lead their team in steals?”
Answer: Not many.
And the other thing to consider with Cauley-Stein: Because of Kentucky’s platoon system, key players are not getting as many minutes as key players on other teams. Kaminsky, for example, is averaging 32.4 minutes per game. Cauley-Stein is averaging 25.4.
“So you have people playing a quarter of the game more,” Rothstein allowed. “It’s not really a level playing field if you’re evaluating Kentucky statistically.”
Kentucky closes the season at Georgia (19-9, 10-6) on March 3 and against Florida (14-15, 7-9) on March 7. Wisconsin closes with two road games: at Minnesota (17-12, 6-10) on March 5 and at No. 23 Ohio State (21-8, 10-6) on March 8.