What Makes Marcus Keene a Serious Wooden Award Candidate?
About three months ago, the John R. Wooden Award's National Advisory Board released their Preseason Top 50. Two months later, and less than a month ago, the Wooden Award cut their list down to a Midseason Top 25.
Those two lists contained a lot of the same players: Villanova's Josh Hart, UCLA's Lonzo Ball, Kansas' Josh Jackson, and Kentucky's Malik Monk. They also included the same omission: Central Michigan's Marcus Keene.
However, in the board's latest release, they announced their Late Season Top 20. On it? None other than little ole Marcus Keene.
In surprising fashion, the 5'9" Keene was added to the award's final update prior to the release of ballots next month. But is he worthy?
Most people will first look past the player himself, to Keene's team, the Central Michigan Chippewas. With a 6-5 record in conference, Central Michigan is in a three-way tie for first in the MAC West, but they're only 16-8 on the season. So, unless they win their conference tournament and secure the MAC's automatic bid, the Chips are unlikely to crack the field of 68 come March.
The underlying issue is the competition they've faced. According to KenPom, Central Michigan's strength of schedule ranks 217th out of 351 programs. They've faced poor defenses and offenses, rating 210th and 216th, respectively, in opponent adjusted efficiency.
Fittingly, the Chippewas come in 173rd in our own power rankings. Regardless of the middle-of-the-road ranking, they're quite lopsided, as they own the nation's 22nd-ranked offense and 285th-ranked defense.
Keene plays his part in the team's defensive issues. He doesn't provide much in terms of steals (21) or blocks (0) and posses a defensive box plus-minus of -4.4. And, in addition to his lack of defensive production, Keene is allowing opponents to score an average of 112.4 points per 100 possessions, which ranks last on the team.
Needless to say, playing a one-sided game could hurt his chances.
Keene's defense has been bad -- there's no other way to see it. But his offensive game more than makes up for it.
Sports Reference tells us that the electric point guard, while ranking 2nd in the nation in usage (36.5%), is tied for the 4th-most offensive win shares (4.0) and the 11th-best offensive box plus-minus (8.2) in the country. On a true shooting percentage of 60.9%, Keene is averaging 30.7 points and 4.0 three-point makes in 36.3 minutes per game.
If he maintains his averages, he would be the only player, since 1992 -- with at least 20 games played -- to average 30 points and 4 triples. In the same light, if he can sustain his nightly scoring production, Keene would be the first NCAA player in the last 20 years to average at least 30 points per game.
In case you're not into historical details, Keene is currently leading the country in points (736) and field goals (240) and trails only one other player in made threes (96). He has the opportunity to finish the season first in all three categories.
How crazy is that?
If you take a look at the list of recent bids to do just that, you'll see for yourself.
Since 2000, only one player -- Stephen Curry -- has accomplished this feat over the entirety of a season. Other great scorers and shooters -- like Buddy Hield, J.J. Redick, and Jay Williams -- have come close, ending their individual seasons with the lead in at least two of the three categories.
In fact, Redick and Williams were only five field goals and five three-point makes away in their respective attempts to take this scorer's triple crown of sorts.
Come March, Keene won't need to take all three categories to garner Player of the Year votes. If he does, it only strengthens his argument. But, when the time comes, Keene will warrant serious consideration given the historic nature of his 2016-17 season.