The Forgotten Little Big Man Of College Basketball

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

The Wooden Award released its midseason top 25 on Wednesday. It's simply a promotional tool for the award, presumably listing the 25 best players in college basketball to this point in the season. Nothing is binding about it: Players excluded from the list are still eligible to win the honor.

But the list, like any list, gets people talking about who's not on the list. At the top of that discussion was Kansas center Joel Embiid. Embiid's clearly deserving of mention with the best in the game and a lot of people commented as such after the watch list was released. You don't need me to spend additional time rehashing that, especially since Creighton's Doug McDermott is going to end up winning the award anyway.


However, I would like to talk about the guy who was left out of the conversation about who was left off the watch list. That man is UC Santa Barbara's Alan Williams. The Wooden Award does not release the ballots that were submitted for the top 25 list, but it's quite possible that Williams didn't even get a vote.

The case of Alan Williams' anonymity is an interesting one. For fans of conventional stats, I hate you, but I'll have you know that entering Thursday's games he's fifth in the nation in scoring average (22.8 points per game) and sixth in rebounding average (11.0), according to There's no other player ranked in the top 15 of both categories. Williams is not exactly cheating his way to this accomplishment, either. He's averaging an unremarkable 30 minutes per game on a team that ranks among the nation's 100 slowest teams.


The raw numbers alone would seem to get him some notoriety, but sadly, Williams continues to do his work off the grid. The main reason probably lies in the fact he plays in the Big West, and the rare TV appearances by the Gauchos are late starts for the East Coast media establishment. East Coast bias is often a sloppy and unfair criticism to make of college basketball coverage, and in the era of conference networks and online feeds it doesn't really apply to Pac-12 or Mountain West teams any longer, but one has to do serious work to catch a UCSB game. Nobody's going to make it easy for you.


My other theory is that it might also help if Williams had a more marketable name. Perhaps it's easier to root for a guy with a name like Isaiah Canaan or Damian Lillard or Nate Wolters. If Alan Williams were Lightning Bolt McGee and played for Harvard instead of UCSB, you'd already know a lot about him. Instead, you are left with me laying out the case for the man they call Big Sauce.

For starters, Williams has taken 39.3 percent of his team's shots when he's been on the floor, a figure that leads the entire country. Nobody is going to hand out a trophy for shot volume, but Williams isn't exactly chucking up prayers on a regular basis. He's made 54 percent of his attempts to this point, all of them two-pointers and most of them close to rim, often drawing the attention of more than one defender. Furthermore, Williams is good at the things people don't notice. While Embiid gets a free pass for committing 14 turnovers in his last three games, Williams, despite the enormous workload, has committed just 13 over his past eight.

Williams is a prolific rebounder, ranking in the top 100 of both offensive and defensive rebounding percentages. He pulls down one out of eight of his team's misses, and one out of every four opponents' misses, a difficult task considering UCSB is usually playing zone. Those numbers are down from his freshman and sophomore seasons as Williams makes a serious effort to end the foul-happy ways of his past. (After fouling out of seven games last season, Williams has avoided a single DQ as a junior.) Even so, Big Al has had five double-digit rebounding performances in 12 games against D-I competition this season.


You know what else Williams is good at? Pretty much everything, but let's tackle the art of blocking shots next. He's blocked 9.6 percent of opponents' two-point attempts, good for 46th-best in the country. This is a good time to point out that Williams is listed at 6-7. Of the nation's top 50 shot blockers, 45 of them are 6-8 or taller. For good measure, Williams also has 17 steals on the season. You don't expect defense from a guy who scores as much as Williams, and it's fair to say he takes the occasional possession off defensively, but between the blocks, steals, and rebounds, he does make an impact on that end of the floor.

It's reasonable to suggest that Williams' numbers might not be so gaudy were he playing in a league better than the Big West. Although it's not unheard of, you don't see many power conference teams starting a 6-7 center. However in four games against top 100 competition, Williams' numbers have barely suffered. In those contests, he's averaged 23 points and nine boards, while making 51 percent of his shots.


Alan Williams may or may not find himself on the national stage at some point this season. UC Santa Barbara is a fine team, good enough to beat a healthy Cal squad at home, but not good enough to avoid a loss to Cal Poly on the road. The Gauchos may well be the favorite to win the Big West tournament, but there's enough parity at the top of the conference that they'll need some good fortune to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament.

I don't know what the future holds. It may involve another season-and-a-half in obscurity at Santa Barbara followed by a lucrative career with CSKA Moscow. Regardless of how things turn out, he'll continue make life difficult for scorekeepers that must record his frequent exploits. Obviously, he not going to be considered for the Wooden Award, but among college centers, his production is truly unmatched.


Correction: A stat above originally read that is no other player in the top 20 in points and rebounds; it's been corrected to say top 15.

Image via Getty

Ken Pomeroy is the founder of, the best site for advanced analysis of college basketball. He's written for, Sports Illustrated, and the New York Times.