Ranking Top 25 Candidates for Men's College Basketball National Player of the Year

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesFeatured Columnist IVDecember 8, 2022

Ranking Top 25 Candidates for Men's College Basketball National Player of the Year

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    Could Kentucky's Oscar Tshiebwe repeat as NPOY?
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    We were promised a men's college basketball "Year of the Big Man," and 2022-23 has not disappointed.

    Ten of the 25 stars atop our super early player of the year rankings have attempted 10 or fewer three-pointers, and 14 are averaging north of eight rebounds per game.

    The biggest man of all, Purdue's 7'4" Zach Edey, is already starting to distance himself ahead of the field.

    It feels way too early to be thinking about NPOY, but can you believe most teams have already played around 30 percent of their games?

    As an annual reminder, team success plays a huge role in NPOY discussions.

    Of the 15 players who appeared on the final Wooden Award ballot this past March, nine played for either a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, and the only one from a team that didn't earn at least a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament was Ohio State's (earned a No. 7 seed) E.J. Liddell, who averaged 19.4 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.6 blocks and 2.5 assists for a team that was ranked for most of the season.

    Moreover, the only time the Wooden Award went to a player from a team seeded lower than a No. 4 was to Andrew Bogut for No. 6 seed Utah in 2005.

    So, yes, most of these players are from currently ranked teams.

    Not all of them, though. The nation's top scorer as well as the leader in assists made the cut from unranked squads, and barely unranked Iowa has a clear-cut top-10 candidate for NPOY for a fourth consecutive season.

    Players are ranked on a combination of overall individual production/efficiency and team success.

    Statistics current through start of play on Thursday, Dec. 8.

    Honorable Mentions: Reece Beekman, Virginia; Santiago Vescovi, Tennessee; Kendric Davis, Memphis; Anthony Black, Arkansas; Mark Sears, Alabama; Julian Strawther, Gonzaga. Arkansas' Nick Smith Jr. is also on our radar, though he has only played in three games thus far.

Nos. 25-22: Adam Flagler, Marcus Carr, Cason Wallace, Tolu Smith

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    Kentucky's Cason Wallace
    AP Photo/Young Kwak

    No. 25: Adam Flagler, Baylor
    16.1 PPG, 6.1 APG, 3.0 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 51.9% 3PT

    Flagler has always been a good shooter, but his development as both a distributor and a defender has been remarkable. His assist rate as a freshman at Presbyterian was 8.1, while his steal percentage was 1.5. Those numbers are currently 34.9 and 2.7, respectively. And that all-around impact has turned a solid spot-up shooter into legitimate Player of the Year material and possibly a contributor in the NBA next season.

    No. 24: Marcus Carr, Texas
    14.6 PPG, 4.1 APG, 2.7 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 32.5% 3PT

    It's probably going to be a seasonlong toss-up between Carr and Tyrese Hunter for Texas' MVP, but we're leaning toward the seasoned veteran who does more than just score. Carr has tripled Hunter in steals, is nearly doubling him in assists, and has committed five fewer turnovers. He's the straw that stirs the drink for arguably the best team in the nation.

    No. 23: Cason Wallace, Kentucky
    11.0 PPG, 4.6 APG, 4.1 RPG, 2.6 SPG, 50% 3PT

    The Wildcats have been slightly disappointing as a whole, but Wallace certainly hasn't been. In Kentucky's three games against opposition worth a darn (Gonzaga, Michigan and Michigan State), the freshman combo guard averaged 14.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and an incredible 4.3 steals while shooting 8-of-12 (66.7%) from three-point range. It should only be a matter of time before he records a triple-double.

    No. 22: Tolu Smith, Mississippi State
    16.3 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 2.1 APG

    Mississippi State has been a pleasant, undefeated surprise in the first month, and this double-double machine has carried the Bulldogs thus far. Between the two wins over Marquette and Utah in the Fort Myers Tip-Off, Smith had 23 points, 32 rebounds and six assists. He has also twice eclipsed 23 points in a single game. MSU doesn't face Kentucky until mid-February, but Smith vs. Oscar Tshiebwe should be quite the showdown.

Nos. 21-19: Yuri Collins, Kyle Filipowski, Jaime Jaquez Jr.

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    Duke's Kyle Filipowski and Jon Scheyer
    David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    No. 21: Yuri Collins, Saint Louis
    11.8 PPG, 11.1 APG, 3.5 RPG, 1.0 SPG

    Last year, Tshiebwe set the single-season rebounds per game record (since 1985-86), and maybe Collins can do the same this year for assists? He'll need to pick up the pace to catch Avery Johnson's record mark of 13.3 assists per game in 1987-88, but he is at least on a great trajectory to join Ja Morant (10.0) as the only player in the past 27 years to average double-digit dimes per night. And if Saint Louis can get into the mix for a single-digit seed in the NCAA tournament, Collins should get a lot of national attention.

    No. 20: Kyle Filipowski, Duke
    14.9 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 1.2 APG, 35.0% 3PT

    Duke is still waiting on Dereck Lively II and Dariq Whitehead to get fully up to speed and start living up to the hype, but Filipowski has shouldered the load in the meantime. The 7'0" stretch-4 freshman has scored in double figures in each Duke game, including six double-doubles. He generated a lot of buzz by going for 17 and 14 in the Champions Classic against Kansas.

    No. 19: Jaime Jaquez Jr., UCLA
    18.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.6 SPG

    The deep ball hasn't been there for Jaquez, who is shooting below 28 percent from three for a second successive season. But he recently had a two-game stretch against Bellarmine and Stanford in which he made 25-of-29 two-point attempts. That'll work! That said, he's one of five Bruins averaging at least 10 points per game, so it wouldn't be a surprise if Tyger Campbell, Jaylen Clark or freshman star Amari Bailey eventually supplant him in the NPOY discussion.

Nos. 18-16: Armando Bacot, Ricky Council IV, Jalen Pickett

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    Penn State's Jalen Pickett
    Justin Casterline/Getty Images

    No. 18: Armando Bacot, North Carolina
    16.1 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 1.1 APG

    Bacot is still doing his double-double thing, but his field-goal percentage is down, his foul and turnover rates are way up and North Carolina is crashing and burning like a meteorite. As was the case with Hunter Dickinson last year, though, it's safe to assume Bacot—who was a top-five player heading into the season—will surge back up the NPOY rankings if and when his team recovers from plummeting out of the AP rankings. Could be a great buy-low candidate.

    No. 17: Ricky Council IV, Arkansas
    19.8 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.8 APG, 2.0 SPG

    With freshman Nick Smith Jr. finally playing, Council's role in the offense is already changing. He averaged 15.3 field-goal attempts in his first seven games and has taken 13 total shots between Smith's two starts. Still, the Wichita State transfer put up 17 points in 27 minutes in one of those games and is clearly still going to be a major factor moving forward. But we'll see if he can remain ahead of teammates Smith and Anthony Black as the most valuable Razorback.

    No. 16: Jalen Pickett, Penn State
    15.8 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 7.7 APG, 1.4 SPG

    Pickett already has one triple-double, and he has flirted with several others. The former Siena star is going to finish his career with numbers comparable to those of former Maryland great Greivis Vasquez. (One of just three players in the past three decades with at least 1,900 points, 700 assists and 600 rebounds.) Really, it's just a question of whether the Nittany Lions will be relevant enough for Pickett to be named a consensus All-American.

Nos. 15-13: Johni Broome, Brandon Miller, Hunter Dickinson

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    Alabama's Brandon Miller
    AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

    No. 15: Johni Broome, Auburn
    10.9 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 3.4 BPG, 1.7 SPG

    Broome is a defensive stalwart and a per-40 machine. He's only playing 21.7 minutes per game, but that translates to 20 points, 16 rebounds, 6.3 blocks and 3.2 steals per 40 minutes. He has been struggling from the field, shooting just 41.7 percent compared to 56.1 percent over the past two seasons at Morehead State. But if his shots start falling and his minutes increase a bit, he could easily vault into the top five.

    No. 14: Brandon Miller, Alabama
    19.1 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.0 BPG, 46.6% 3PT

    Miller couldn't buy a bucket in the quadruple-overtime win over North Carolina in Portland, shooting 4-of-21 in that one. Nevertheless, this freshman phenom has scored at least 14 points in each game played, and there were stretches of the PKI games against Michigan State and Connecticut in which he looked like the most unstoppable player on the planet. It'll be exciting to see what he's able to do in the next 10 days against Houston, Memphis and Gonzaga.

    No. 13: Hunter Dickinson, Michigan
    19.6 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 2.4 BPG, 1.3 APG

    It's not Dickinson's fault that Michigan is 5-3 with work to do to prove it belongs in the NCAA tournament. He had 23 points and five blocks in the two-point loss to Virginia. He also had 23 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in the four-point loss to Kentucky. And if the Wolverines manage to get back into the mix for a single-digit seed in the dance, their 7'1" star may be a consensus All-American once again.

Nos. 12-10: Jordan Walker, Azuolas Tubelis, Terrence Shannon Jr.

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    Illinois' Terrence Shannon Jr.
    G Fiume/Getty Images

    No. 12: Jordan "Jelly" Walker, UAB
    25.7 PPG, 4.6 APG, 2.7 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 41.7% 3PT

    Walker is leading the nation in scoring while also making major contributions in both the assist and steal departments. But for him to make any sort of legitimate run at NPOY, UAB—which only faces one current KenPom top-50 opponent all season—probably needs to go 31-3 and generate a lot of buzz as a top mid-major. Otherwise, Walker will be just another Peter Kiss or Darius McGhee, both of whom averaged 25 points per game last season and never got any NPOY love.

    No. 11: Azuolas Tubelis, Arizona
    20.1 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 2.0 APG

    Tubelis is putting up great early numbers, but teammate Oumar Ballo was the star of the Maui Invitational and is the better early candidate for National Player of the Year. That can change in a hurry, though, if Tubelis keeps going for 25 points and 12 rebounds like he did in a win over Cal on Sunday.

    No. 10: Terrence Shannon Jr., Illinois
    19.3 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.1 SPG, 37.9% 3PT

    When healthy over the past three seasons at Texas Tech, Shannon had flashes of brilliance. It just took transferring to Illinois for him to excel on a more regular basis. His 29-point gem against UCLA was one of the best performances of the first month of the season. And he carried Illinois through overtime with 12 points in the bonus five minutes of a marquee victory over Texas on Tuesday night.

Nos. 9-7: Drew Timme, Adama Sanogo, Trayce Jackson-Davis

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    Connecticut's Adama Sanogo
    AP Photo/Jessica Hill

    No. 9: Drew Timme, Gonzaga
    19.8 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.3 BPG

    Gonzaga has already suffered three losses, matching its highest pre-New Year's mark in over a decade. But it's the guard play that has let the Zags down, not their mustachioed star who had 29 points, 17 rebounds and four assists in the recent battle with Kent State. For them to play their way back into a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, it would take Timme's most herculean effort yet.

    No. 8: Adama Sanogo, Connecticut
    18.5 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1.1 SPG, 43.8% 3PT

    Though we've praised Connecticut's depth in recent weeks, there's no question that this pack of Huskies has an alpha dog. Heading into Wednesday's game against Florida, Sanogo was averaging 30.1 points and 11.1 rebounds per 40 minutes, shooting 61.5 percent from the field, 43.8 percent from the perimeter and 82.5 percent from the free-throw line. Impressive stuff from a guy who had attempted one three-pointer over the previous two seasons.

    No. 7: Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana
    17.5 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 3.3 APG, 2.0 BPG

    Between Indiana's two best wins over Xavier and North Carolina, TJD had a combined 51 points, 16 rebounds, seven blocks and six assists. Those are good frontcourts, by the way. Xavier has Jack Nunge and Zach Freemantle. UNC has Armando Bacot and Pete Nance. Jackson-Davis shouldn't have been able to have those types of field days, but sometimes there's nothing that can be done to stop him.

Nos. 6-4: Oumar Ballo, Kris Murray, Marcus Sasser

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    Houston's Marcus Sasser
    AP Photo/Andy Nelson

    No. 6: Oumar Ballo, Arizona
    19.1 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2.0 BPG, 1.5 APG

    In the entire 2021-22 campaign, Ballo had just one game with at least 12 points and seven rebounds—marks he has reached in each game thus far this season. He has been a force in the paint, making 76.9 precent of his field-goal attempts while also serving as Arizona's last line of defense.

    No. 5: Kris Murray, Iowa
    19.4 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 1.8 APG, 37.8% 3PT

    Though not quite the "23 or more points in each of his first six games" type of dominant start that his brother, Keegan, had last year, Murray has done a phenomenal job of stepping into the spotlight for the Hawkeyes. He had 29 points and 11 rebounds in a road win over Seton Hall, followed later by a ridiculous 31 points, 20 rebounds, four assists and two blocks against Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets are nothing special, but it was one of just 30 30/20 performances since the beginning of 2010-11, and the only one to include at least four assists and two blocks.

    No. 4: Marcus Sasser, Houston
    16.9 PPG, 2.9 APG, 2.8 RPG, 1.8 SPG

    Sasser would need to hit 14 consecutive three-pointers to get his perimeter percentage back up to where it was when he suffered his season-ending injury last December. But aside from that, it's hard to complain about the impact he has made as the leading scorer and second fiddle in both assists and steals for an all-around great Houston team. Upcoming games against Alabama (Dec. 10) and Virginia (Dec. 17) are major opportunities for Sasser to have his "Wooden Moment."

Nos. 3-1: Oscar Tshiebwe, Jalen Wilson, Zach Edey

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    Purdue's Zach Edey
    Justin Casterline/Getty Images

    No. 3: Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky
    14.2 PPG, 13.5 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.5 SPG, 1.5 BPG

    Like Cason Wallace, Tshiebwe has been most productive against Kentucky's toughest competition, averaging 18.3 points and 15.7 rebounds in the three games against Gonzaga, Michigan and Michigan State. The reigning NPOY also averaged 4.3 fouls and 3.0 turnovers in those games, as opponents are at least frustrating him, even if they can't do anything to stop him. He'll need to increase his scoring if he wants to repeat.

    No. 2: Jalen Wilson, Kansas
    21.9 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 3.3 APG, 35.7% 3PT

    Though Wilson averaged better than 11 points per game in each of the past two seasons and was a huge part of Kansas' championship run last spring, you could easily argue he has been the breakout player of the year. Wilson had double-doubles in each of the victories over Duke, NC State, Wisconsin and Seton Hall and has greatly improved as both a perimeter shooter and distributor.

    No. 1: Zach Edey, Purdue
    23.2 PPG, 13.3 RPG, 1.8 BPG

    Edey averaged 30.3 points, 16.2 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per 40 minutes last season, and he entered Wednesday's game against Hofstra with nearly identical marks—30.6, 16.8 and 2.6. Except instead of thriving in a part-time role of 19.0 minutes per game, the 7'4" Boilermaker is dominating at a little over 30 minutes per night. The only game thus far in which he didn't score at least 20 points was the opener against Milwaukee, in which he was still the clear MVP with 12 points, 17 rebounds and six blocks. We're only one month into the season, but it sure feels like the Wooden Award is Edey's to lose.