Latest Top-10 Ranking for Men's College Basketball National Player of the Year

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesFeatured Columnist IVFebruary 1, 2023

Latest Top-10 Ranking for Men's College Basketball National Player of the Year

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    Even Michigan's 7'1" Hunter Dickinson looks small trying to guard Purdue's Zach Edey
    Even Michigan's 7'1" Hunter Dickinson looks small trying to guard Purdue's Zach EdeyAP Photo/Paul Sancya

    For all intents and purposes, the race for men's college basketball National Player of the Year is over, and it has been for a while. Barring injury or a Purdue losing streak that approaches historical levels of collapse, Zach Edey will take home all of the NPOY hardware.

    The 7'4" Boilermaker juggernaut is No. 1, and has been since our first in-season rankings in early December.

    However, the silver lining to a runaway favorite for NPOY is we can still debate who belongs on the All-American teams and can still discuss the players most worthy of being named finalists for the trophies that Edey will win.

    As a reminder, team success plays a huge role in NPOY discussions. Not only have all but one Wooden Award winner come from a team that earned a No. 4 seed or better in the NCAA tournament, but the finalists also generally come from AP Top 10 teams.

    As a result, we've got six players in the current AP Top Eight and two others in the AP Top 25.

    If you've been following along with our rankings this season, you'll notice we've trimmed the list once again. What was once a top 25 is down to a top 10.

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

No. 10: Jalen Pickett, Penn State

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    Jalen Pickett
    Jalen PickettRich Schultz/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 14

    Season Stats: 17.6 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 7.0 APG, 1.1 SPG, 34.3% 3PT

    This last spot could've gone a number of directions.

    UCLA's Jaime Jaquez Jr. has had a rough couple of weeks, but he's still in the running for at least second-team All-American honors on a Top 10 squad. UNC's Armando Bacot is averaging 17.9 points and 11.4 rebounds per game and just seems to be getting stronger. One could argue that Duke freshman Kyle Filipowski is even more deserving of ACC POY than Bacot. And Connecticut's Adama Sanogo certainly isn't far behind that trio of honorable mentions.

    But give me Jalen Pickett, who is single-handedly willing Penn State to a possible spot in the NCAA tournament.

    Pickett is leading the Nittany Lions in points, rebounds, assists and steals, continuing to put up senior-year Denzel Valentine numbers.

    And if you thought the rugged Big Ten schedule would slow him down, think again. Through 10 league games, Pickett is averaging 19.4 points, 9.5 rebounds and 6.1 assists. And, really, the only reason the assists have declined a bit is because Myles Dread is shooting worse (44% 3PT in nonconference; 34% 3PT in conference) and because Camren Wynter is really struggling to score against Big Ten big men (10.4 PPG in nonconference; 5.7 PPG in conference).

    Penn State's M.O. this season has been three-point shooting, averaging nearly 11 triples per game. And while the deep ball isn't really Pickett's game (23-of-67 on the season), his Jalen Brunson-like ability to run offense from in the paint is what is repeatedly putting Andrew Funk, Seth Lundy and Dread in position to get open looks from the perimeter.

    Call me crazy, but Penn State might've been the best team in the nation if it had been able to find one more year of eligibility for John Harrar. And even without a decent post presence, the Nittany Lions blew out both Indiana and Michigan because of Pickett (and good perimeter shooting).

No. 9: Marcus Sasser, Houston

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    Marcus Sasser
    Marcus SasserBob Levey/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 5

    Season Stats: 16.2 PPG, 3.2 APG, 2.8 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 37.2% 3PT

    Figuring out where to rank Marcus Sasser has been a season-long struggle.

    He's the brightest star and the clear leader of arguably the best team in the nation. He's an excellent defender, a considerably above-average scorer and a key distributor alongside Jamal Shead in the Cougars' dual-combo guard backcourt.

    But the numbers just don't pop.

    Over his last three games—including a loss to Temple, in which Houston really could have used a "put the team on my back" performance from its leader—Sasser has an overall line of 35 points, 13 assists, seven rebounds and four steals.

    By comparison, the next player on our list had 36 points, nine assists, three rebounds and three steals in a single game in early January.

    If Houston ends up at No. 1 in the polls and at No. 1 in the brackets, Sasser will probably get a spot as a first-team All-American—particularly if some voters insist on putting at least two guards on their ballots instead of just giving it to the five best players regardless of position.

    And, to be clear, I'm cool with that. As things stand, Sasser would be a first-team All-American (and definitely first-team All-Defense).

    As far as National Player of the Year goes, though, that ship has sailed—and not just because Zach Edey is running away with it.

    For each of the players ranked Nos. 2-8, I can squint hard enough to see a world in which Edey falls off down the stretch and that player goes on a run to win the Wooden Award. Can't see that happening with Sasser, so he slips to No. 9.

No. 8: Markquis Nowell, Kansas State

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    MANHATTAN, KS - JANUARY 28:  Markquis Nowell #1 of the Kansas State Wildcats reacts after hitting a three point shot in the first half against the Florida Gators at Bramlage Coliseum on January 28, 2023 in Manhattan, Kansas.  (Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)
    Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 12

    Season Stats: 16.9 PPG, 8.2 APG, 3.5 RPG, 2.3 SPG, 38.9% 3PT

    Both Markquis Nowell and Keyontae Johnson were named to the Wooden Watch's late-season top 20 on Monday, making Kansas State the only team with multiple players on the list.

    Step forward to claim your prize if you had that before the season.

    Of the two, though, the real NPOY candidate is Nowell.

    Johnson has a slight edge in scoring and a considerable edge in rebounding, but Nowell ranks second in the nation in assists per game and isn't far outside the top 10 in steals per game.

    At his current per-game rates, even if Kansas State immediately gets eliminated from both the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments and only plays in 33 games this season, Nowell is on pace to finish the year with 556 points, 272 assists and 77 steals.

    Here's the full list of players in the past three decades to reach at least 550, 270 and 75, respectively: It hasn't happened.

    Let's scale back those numbers by about 10 percent each, then, and see what that gets us.

    Players to rack up 500 points, 245 assists and 70 steals in a single season: Jason Kidd, Kris Dunn, Jevon Carter, Kyle Collinsworth, D.J. Cooper, Brandin Knight and Chris Thomas.

    Not a bad list of really good college point guards. And with the possible exception of Carter playing in the Big 12 in that 2017-18 season, none of them played in a conference as grueling as the one that Nowell is dominating.

    Because, yes, Nowell has been a freight train in Big 12 play. The Wildcats had a weak nonconference slate, but he entered Tuesday's game against Kansas averaging 22.1 points, 8.1 assists and 2.9 steals in league play.

    If he can maintain anything close to that for another month, he simply has to be a unanimous first-team All-American, right?

No. 7: Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky

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    Oscar Tshiebwe
    Oscar TshiebweAP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

    Previous Rank: 6

    Season Stats: 16.5 PPG, 13.7 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 1.5 APG, 1.0 BPG

    In two of his past three games, Oscar Tshiebwe failed to record a double-double.

    What an inconceivable slump for the reigning National Player of the Year!

    In reality, Big O has continued to play quite well and has averaged 13.3 points and 13.0 rebounds during that "slump."

    In the first non-double-double, Texas A&M threw two very large men (Henry Coleman III and Julius Marble) at Tshiebwe as often as possible, limiting him to five field-goal attempts and seven points. But he still racked up 17 rebounds, and had five points, eight rebounds and an assist in the final 10 minutes as the Wildcats pulled away for a nine-point victory.

    In the other one, Tshiebwe went for 18 points, nine rebounds and four assists in the loss to Kansas.

    And, well, if that's a bad performance, there simply aren't many good ones.

    He did have a double-double in between against Vanderbilt, and has a dozen of them on the season.

    Save for the assists, all of Tshiebwe's per-game numbers are a little bit worse than last year, despite a slight increase in playing time. Kentucky is also decidedly not as good as it was in 2021-22. So even though he has been very good for a second consecutive season, a slip from NPOY to second-team All-American might be the result.

No. 6: Azuolas Tubelis, Arizona

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    Azuolas Tubelis
    Azuolas TubelisAP Photo/John Froschauer

    Previous Rank: 7

    Season Stats: 20.0 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.0 SPG, 42.9% 3PT

    Two Saturdays ago against UCLA was a huge opportunity for Azuolas Tubelis to stake his claim as a first-team All-American.

    Well, it could have gone better.

    Arizona won a defensive grind, and Tubelis did post a double-double while out-performing fellow All-American candidate Jaime Jaquez Jr. But 14 points on 15 shots—against a team that only ever has one true big man on the court at any given time—wasn't the statement game we had in mind.

    Still, he was a key contributor in a huge win for a team back in the mix for a No. 1 seed. And after adding double-doubles on the road against Washington and Washington State this past week, Tubelis is up to 10 such performances on the season, seven of which came in January alone for a player who is well on his way to Pac-12 POY honors.

    What's perhaps most fun about Tubelis is the way this big man runs the floor. Twice in the final two minutes of the first half against Washington, Oumar Ballo grabbed a defensive rebound on one end and Tubelis was making a bucket less than seven seconds later.

    And while he is clearly Arizona's primary scoring option, his willingness to share the rock is noteworthy, as he's got five games with at least four dimes.

    Factor in his three-point range—he only attempts roughly one per game, but at 42.9 percent, you have to respect it—and Tubelis is certainly one of the most versatile big men in the country.

No. 5: Brandon Miller, Alabama

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    Brandon Miller
    Brandon MillerAP Photo/Vasha Hunt

    Previous Rank: 3

    Season Stats: 19.0 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.8 APG, 44.5% 3PT

    Compared to how dominant Brandon Miller had been from mid-December through mid-January, it has been a tough couple of weeks for the runaway favorite for National Freshman of the Year.

    After back-to-back 30-point performances against LSU and Vanderbilt, Miller averaged 13.0 points and 7.0 rebounds against Missouri, Mississippi State and Oklahoma.

    Much like Houston and Arkansas did earlier in the season, Mississippi State's top-tiered defense made Miller fight for every inch of space, both before and after he got the ball. He only attempted one shot in the first 14 minutes and ended up with a rare night of a single-digit number in field-goal attempts.

    Miller was much more assertive in the subsequent game against Oklahoma, taking 11 shots in the first half alone. But he couldn't get much to fall, and that thing was over by halftime with the Sooners spending the entire afternoon on fire.

    Even with those recent less-impressive-than-usual performances, Miller would be a first-team All-American if those ballots were due today.

    Alabama surely is not a one-man team, but it does often feel like Miller is single-handedly carrying the Crimson Tide to unforeseen heights, as they're still well on track for what would be the first No. 1 seed in program history, despite that pummeling at the hands of Oklahoma.

No. 4: Drew Timme, Gonzaga

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    Drew Timme
    Drew TimmeAP Photo/Steve Dykes

    Previous Rank: 4

    Season Stats: 21.4 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.0 BPG

    We are firmly entrenched in the "national media doesn't talk about Gonzaga unless it is to express shock and awe at the one annual WCC loss it suffers" portion of the season, but here's your reminder that Drew Timme is still doing his thing in Spokane.

    He didn't do much (eight points, five rebounds, five assists) this past Saturday against Portland while Julian Strawther went off for 40 points. However, Timme scored a career-high 38 in the previous game at Pacific, so he earned a night off.

    Timme has scored at least 17 points in 12 of Gonzaga's last 14 games and has been the consistent force carrying a team with shortcomings in the backcourt. He is leading the Zags in points, rebounds and blocks, and he's only three assists behind Nolan Hickman for the team lead in that department.

    If he keeps that stat-sheet stuffing going Saturday at Saint Mary's, that would be a major "Hey, remember me?" moment in his case for first-team All-American. Not only are the Gonzaga-Saint Mary's games always the big ones in the WCC, but this year's Gaels squad might also be the best we've ever seen, especially on defense.

    In the same way that we've said in recent years that a 10-point deficit against Virginia sometimes feels like 30, if Timme puts up 21, seven and three in Moraga, it would feel like a 33, 12 and five sort of night.

No. 3: Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana

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    Trayce Jackson-Davis
    Trayce Jackson-DavisDavid Berding/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 13

    Season Stats: 19.6 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 3.6 APG, 3.2 BPG

    That previous ranking of Trayce Jackson-Davis was a bit disrespectful, but it had way more to do with Indiana's status as a projected bubble team than any sort of drop in production from its do-it-all star center.

    Save for Kentucky's Oscar Tshiebwe—fresh off a preposterous 37-point, 24-rebound performance against Georgia, I might add—everyone else in our previous top 10 played for a team that was projected for no worse than a No. 4 seed in the dance.

    But now that TJD has been particularly dominant while the Hoosiers have played their way comfortably back into the tournament picture, it's time to recalibrate and put him legitimately back in the NPOY mix.

    Indiana entered Tuesday's game at Maryland on a five-game winning streak. And during that streak, Jackson-Davis averaged an unreal 25.4 points, 13.4 rebounds, 4.2 blocks and 4.2 assists, amassing at least 18 points, nine boards, two dimes and two rejections in each game.

    Putting up big numbers against lowly Minnesota probably shouldn't be impressive, but Indiana barely won that road game 61-57 and needed every bit of his 25 points, 21 rebounds and six blocks in that one.

    Per Sports Reference, TJD joined Mike Daum, Shawn Long and Jake Stephens as the only players to post a 25-20-5 line in the past 13 seasons. And if we switched that to 25-21-5 or 25-20-6, Jackson-Davis would stand alone in a one-man club.

    And, like, for a guy averaging roughly 20 points, 10 rebounds and three assists (and three blocks), it barely stood out as an outlier.

    That's how ridiculous Jackson-Davis has been all season.

    Indiana will host Purdue this Saturday and has its road game against the Boilermakers on Feb. 25. If TJD clearly outplays Zach Edey between those two games, maybe...just maybe...there could still be some NPOY drama down the stretch.

No. 2: Jalen Wilson, Kansas

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    Jalen Wilson
    Jalen WilsonPeter G. Aiken/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 2

    Season Stats: 21.4 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 2.5 APG, 34.8% 3PT

    For the uninitiated, Saturday's win at Kentucky was a prime example of how pivotal Jalen Wilson has been to Kansas' success all season.

    He got the Jayhawks rolling early with eight of their first 13 points. And then in the second half, every time Kentucky threatened to tie the game or take the lead, there was Wilson with a back-breaking, crowd-silencing bucket in Rupp Arena.

    He finished with a game-high 22 points and has scored 113 points over his last four contests.

    Wilson's not the reason they sputtered through a recent three-game losing streak. Rather, he's the reason Kansas almost managed to win the games at Baylor and at Kansas State on nights when two of the starters and basically the entire bench struggled to accomplish much of anything.

    There has been a lot of talk lately that Wilson has become for Kansas what Ochai Agbaji was last year. That sounds like high praise, as Agbaji was a consensus All-American and the Big 12 Player of the Year.

    But there's little question the current Jayhawk has been better and much more important than the previous Jayhawk was, and Wilson would be the NPOY were it not for that big guy in West Lafayette, Indiana.

    Wilson is both the primary scorer and the top rebounder for Kansas. And though he figures to play the 3 when he gets to the NBA, this 6'8" wing ends up spending a lot of time defending in the post, reminiscent of Jabari Parker's lone year at Duke nearly a decade ago.

    With Wilson shouldering a heavy load, Kansas is in great shape for yet another No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

No. 1: Zach Edey, Purdue

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    Purdue's Zach Edey
    Purdue's Zach EdeyMichael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 1

    Season Stats: 22.1 PPG, 13.0 RPG, 2.2 BPG, 1.4 APG

    It has become comical that in every Purdue game, the commentators will say—typically at least three times over the course of two hours—something along the lines of, "You know, I think Zach Edey might be the National Player of the Year if I had to pick right now." And it's funny because they keep saying it as if it's some sort of original, hot take, blatantly disregarding the fact that Edey has been the overwhelming betting favorite for NPOY for over a month.

    Just in case there was any doubt, Edey scored a career-high 38 points in a blowout win over Michigan State last Sunday.

    Coupled with Edey's destruction of the Spartans on Martin Luther King Day, Tom Izzo has now been forced to watch in disbelief as the big man throttled his team for a combined 70 points and 30 rebounds.

    He's far from the only coach in that helpless club, though.

    Edey has recorded a double-double in 17 of 21 games this season and is showing absolutely no signs of fatigue, despite the increase from 19.0 minutes per game last year to 31.5 minutes per game this year.

    The Edey haters love to complain about the foul disparity—he draws 6.8 per 40 minutes while committing just 2.1. But actually watch him play and it feels like he should be getting more like 10 trips to the free-throw line for every foul called against him.

    Edey does an excellent job of legally establishing his spot in the post on offense, rarely contacts the shooter when attempting a block, keeps his hands straight up in the air when distracting shots at the rim and has great box-out form. It only looks like he has to be doing something illegal because he's so damn big.

    Unless otherwise noted, statistics are current through the start of play Tuesday.

    Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report. You can find him on Twitter: @KerranceJames