Elite Eight: College Basketball’s Top 8 Players In The Country

It’s finals week on many college campuses, which means it’s a good time to take a look at which players are in the lead for National Player of the Year. It’s only six weeks into the season, so don’t worry if your favorite player (Austin Rivers?) isn’t listed quite yet.

Some of these names aren’t the standard fare, but rest assured, you’ll likely be seeing these names as March approaches. Rather than a traditional Top 10, I’ve chosen to go with a Top 8 to reflect a coaches’ regular rotation.

Players are listed alphabetically, not by rank.

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Isaiah Canaan, Murray State, junior
After becoming the Ohio Valley Conference Freshman Player of the Year and taking the Racers to the NCAA Tournament in 2010 (where they beat No. 4-seed Vandy), Canaan took them to a second-straight OVC regular-season title last year. But he’s saved his best for now, averaging 19.8 points per game and orchestrating the Racers’ 10-0 start and 76-72 upset of Memphis on the road. He’s adjusting just fine with new coach Steve Prohm after Billy Kennedy left for Texas A&M, and playing efficiently with the ball in his hands — 50 percent from the field, 48 percent from three and 84 from the line, all career bests. It’s shown; his offensive win shares rating of 1.9 is the second-highest in the nation.

Anthony Davis, Kentucky, freshman
With respect to past Wildcats, every Kentucky team in John Calipari‘s three years have been loaded, but this may be the most so — with Davis as its eye-popping centerpiece. The impossibly long-limbed, 6-11 frosh’s game-saving block on John Henson with seconds remaining to beat North Carolina in an instant classic was his “Hello, world” moment so far. Just don’t tell that to opposing teams’ forwards who have played against Davis. He’s shooting 67 percent with 11 points, nine rebounds, four blocks and just one turnover per game. He’d have even more blocks if opponents were more inclined to challenge him in the lane, and he will be more of a low-post offensive factor as he feels more comfortable.

Kim English, Missouri, senior
English leads Frank Haith‘s frenetic pressure attack in Columbia like never before. A big guard at 6-6, he’s tailor-made for jumping passing lanes or creating his own shot once he gets in the lane. This has led to a career-best 16.2 points per game on 56 percent shooting from the floor — a huge 17 percentage points better than his previous best — and is at a career-best clip from three-point range, shooting 54 percent (his career high up to now is 37 percent). It’s all well enough to have a breakout season, but consider he’s doing it while playing at the four in extended stretches because of Laurence Bowers‘ ACL tear. Watch out for the No. 10 Tigers.

Tu Holloway, Xavier, senior
His role in the Crosstown Shootout fight with rival Cincinnati — accused by Cincy coach Mick Cronin of chirping at the Bearcats’ bench the entire second half — his regrettable postgame comments and the resulting one-game suspension are damning, but can’t wholly blot out his season’s production. His 124.4 Orating (points produced per 100 possessions) is extremely strong, and his toughness, yes toughness, manifested itself in an ugly way against Cincy but has been key to the Musketeers’ 8-0 start.

Kris Joseph, Syracuse, senior
Another 6-7 forward who’s played well in big games and was named the NIT Season Tip-Off MVP. The most complete player on the nation’s best team doesn’t have glittering statistics with a 13.7 points average, six rebounds and 44 percent from the field. But he deserves merit as the engine that’s kept the Orange (10-0) churning in a turbulent season.