NCAA BK

College hoops' top players

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(Eds: With AP Photos.)By JOHN MARSHALLAP Basketball Writer

Preseason player of the year watch lists are not always accurate.

An entertaining way to get ready for the season, sure, but it's also educated guessing; some players live up to the billing, but others fall off as the season goes along, while others come to the forefront unexpectedly.

Late in the season - as in about now - it's much easier to figure out the top candidates for player of the year.

So, with that in mind, we've got a rundown of six top candidates as the season winds toward March Madness:

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Doug McDermott, Creighton. The do-it-all forward has been a player of the year candidate pretty much since he was a freshman and may win it as a senior. McDermott is a relentless hustling machine who can score inside and out, and has dominated despite being the focal point of every opposing defense. The 6-foot-8 forward is second nationally in scoring at 25.0 points per game, leads Creighton with 7.1 rebounds and is shooting 50 percent, including 44 percent from 3-point range. And he may be getting better as the season goes; on Tuesday night, McDermott scored 39 points and hit a long 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds left to lift the No. 20 Bluejays to a 63-60 win over St. John's.

Nick Johnson, Arizona. The junior guard is one of those players who has played his way into player of the year consideration. Wildcats coach Sean Miller tried getting Johnson into elite summer camps last summer and didn't get a call back, but he will certainly be on everyone's radar if he decides to return for his senior season. The athletic guard has become the catalyst for the No. 1 team in the country, the go-to player whenever the Wildcats need, like the 3-pointer and free throws he hit in Wednesday night's road win over Stanford. Johnson leads Arizona with 16.7 points per game, plays both guard positions adeptly and often guards the opposing team's best perimeter player.

C.J. Fair, Syracuse. Freshman point guard Tyler Ennis has gotten a lot of attention for running the undefeated Orange's offense, but Fair is the best player on the team - just ask coach Jim Boeheim. The senior forward may have the best midrange jumper in college basketball, leads Syracuse with 16.7 points per game and is second in rebounding at 5.8. Perhaps Fair's best attribute is his leadership; when the Orange need a big basket, he's the one to take it and is a big reason they're 19-0.

Shabazz Napier, Connecticut. The Huskies have had their ups and downs this season, but Napier has not, outside of a shaky performance against SMU. Napier appeared in all 41 games during UConn's national-title run in 2010-11 and has become the Huskies' undisputed leader as a senior. The 6-1 guard does it all, filling up the box score nightly. He leads UConn with 17.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 2.0 steals per game. The Huskies bounced back from a rough stretch with five wins in their past six games and have a chance to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament behind a player like Napier.

Jabari Parker, Duke. Parker came into this Year of the Freshmen as one of many talented newcomers. He's arguably been the best of the bunch so far. The versatile 6-8 forward was dominating early in the season before going through a bit of a slump at the start of ACC play. He got back on track with a 17-point, 15-rebound game against Miami on Jan. 22 and set a Duke freshman record with his 12th double-double with 21 points and 11 rebounds in the 17th-ranked Blue Devils' win over No. 18 Pittsburgh on Monday night. Parker leads Duke with 18.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 24 blocked shots.

Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State. Smart has had some inconsistent stretches this season, but still is one of the best all-around players in the country. The sophomore guard had a fantastic start to the season, leading to speculation that he could be the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft this year. He's had some struggles lately, including a four-point game against West Virginia that led to an apology by him after, but has still found ways to contribute, nearly putting up a triple-double against Kansas. With the kind of talent Smart has, expect him to come up big when March rolls around.

Tagged: Arizona, Duke, Creighton, Syracuse, Connecticut, Oklahoma State, Southern Utah, C.J. Fair, Shabazz Napier, Doug McDermott

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