I wanted to do this before conference games started, but oh well; 2-3 games into conference play is closer to halfway through the regular season, anyway. (Note: I'm excluding Kyrie Irving because he's likely out for the year.)
(Additional note: Like always, I try to make my picks in a way that could be an actual basketball team. So even if I think the best five players are guards, I'm not gonna pick five guards. Fortunately, that's rarely the case.)
G- Kemba Walker, UConn (26.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.9 apg)
He's starting to cool off after his outrageous start and as the strain of A)carrying a meager supporting cast and B)facing tough Big East defenses starts to show: he's 25-of-68 from the floor and 4-of-21 from three in conference play. Still, he's been the most productive player in college basketball's first two months.
G- Nolan Smith, Duke (19.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 5.6 apg)
Smith has responded to Kyrie Irving's injury- and additional ball-handling duties- far better than anyone imagined. After a two-point effort in the first game post-Irving, Nolan is averaging 26.2 points and 5.6 assists in his last five games. The career 43% shooter is hitting at an absurd 53.4% percentage from the floor. My runner-up for first-half National Player of the Year.
F- Jordan Hamilton, Texas (19.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 2.3 apg)
The only nitpick with him is that such a gifted scorer built like a prototypical NBA small forward should get to the line a lot more. But his shot selection is far better than last year; he's doubled his production from last year across the board and he's an outstanding shooter.
F- Jared Sullinger, Ohio State (18.1 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 59.5 FG%)
How do you lose the nation's best player and get better? By replacing him with the new best player in the nation. Sullinger hasn't been everything on the low blocks and the glass he was touted to be. He's far more. Not only is he dominant in the post, but moreso than Turner his presence allows others- Lighty, Lauderdale, Buford, Diebler- to fully function in their niches. That isn't a slight on Turner, who was awesome in college. It just is what it is: I'd rather have Sullinger. That's why Ohio State is markedly better. (It also helps that they brought everyone back except Turner, and not only added Sullinger but highly productive forward Deshaun Thomas.)
C- JuJuan Johnson, Purdue (19.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 2.4 bpg)
Reports of Purdue's demise post-Hummel have been greatly exaggerated, and Johnson is the main reason why the Boilers are 14-1 and still in the Top 10 without Robbie (along with E'Twaun Moore). Purdue hangs their hat on their No. 2-ranked defense, which is led by Johnson defending the rim. Offensively he and Moore have done a terrific job of picking up the slack left by Hummel's absence on a team void of any other regular scoring threat.