Wooden Award Watch List: Early Odds for 2016-17 College Basketball Season
The 2015-16 college basketball season is still fresh in our memories, close enough to where we can still relive Kris Jenkins' thrilling game-winning shot to give Villanova the national title. But that also means we're still a long ways away—almost seven months to be exact—from next season.
So, that makes this the perfect time to toss out some super-early odds on who will be the 2016-17 national player of the year, right?
The Wooden Award is among the top national honors each year, with this past award going to Oklahoma's Buddy Hield. He was a senior, though, and with him and most of the other finalists either graduating or having turned pro (and signing with agents), we're basically starting over when it comes to viable candidates.
That's where we come in. We've put together a preliminary watch list, attaching odds to each candidate based on what he's accomplished to this point and what role he's projected to have in 2016-17.
One thing to take note when checking out these odds, though: They're based on the wholly optimistic (but sure-to-be-fruitless) belief that every player who has decided to "test the NBA draft waters" will ultimately withdraw his name and return to school. In reality, most will probably stay in the draft, so sometime in the summer we'll revisit these odds to reflect a new field of candidates.
This came true on Thursday when California freshman forward Jaylen Brown, who would have been high on this list, declared for the NBA draft. According to Jeff Faraudo of the Bay Area News Group, Brown plans to hire an agent and thus his college career is over.
In putting together our watch list, we started with a ton of worthy players and had to make some tough cuts. The players listed below are likely to be on the Wooden Award's preseason top 50 when it comes out just before the 2016-17 season, and they could move into the top 20 (19 after Jaylen Brown turned pro) as the year goes on, but for now they're on the outside looking in.
- Ben Bentil, Jr., Providence*
- Antonio Blakeney, So., LSU
- Miles Bridges, Fr., Michigan State
- Chris Boucher, Sr., Oregon
- Vince Edwards, Jr., Purdue*
- Terrance Ferguson, Fr., Arizona
- Harry Giles, Fr., Duke
- Ethan Happ, So., Wisconsin
- Kris Jenkins, Sr., Villanova
- Monte Morris, Sr., Iowa State
- Malik Newman, So., Mississippi State*
- Alec Peters, Sr., Valparaiso*
- Ivan Rabb, So., California
- Dennis Smith, Fr., North Carolina State
Note: Players with an asterisk have declared for the NBA draft but haven't signed with an agent and thus are eligible to return to school if they withdraw by May 25.
19. London Perrantes, Virginia
Height, weight: 6'2”, 189 lbs
2015-16 stats: 11.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 4.4 APG, 1.1 SPG, 43.9% FG, 48.8% 3P, 80.3% FT
London Perrantes made great leaps and bounds last season when it came to being a viable offensive option, but he'll need to make a monumental jump to be a true Wooden contender. As a three-year starter in Virginia's offense, he knows all the ins and outs; now it's up to him to take off the self-imposed handcuffs.
His 280 field-goal attempts in 2015-16 were nearly as many as he had in his first two seasons. He didn't take enough threes to qualify among the national leaders, but most of his makes came in key situations, so the ability is certainly there.
Virginia is bringing in its best recruiting class yet during coach Tony Bennett's tenure, and it includes players who could be primary weapons. That's unless Perrantes asserts himself and puts it all together.
Odds to win: 200-1
18. Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin
Height, weight: 6'8”, 235 lbs
2015-16 stats: 15.7 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.1 SPG, 36.8% FG, 29.3% 3P, 73.6% FT
Nigel Hayes has improved his scoring each year at Wisconsin, but this past year that came more by default than anything else. He was a 51 percent shooter as a freshman and still made 49.7 percent of his field goals in 2014-15, a number that would have been much higher had Hayes not decided to be a three-point shooter.
That continued in his junior year when he was one of 33 players in Division I with more than 130 three-point attempts and worse than 30 percent accuracy. This impacted his overall shooting touch, making a career-worst 40 percent of his two-pointers.
If Hayes comes back, in order to make another jump in scoring (and be considered for the Wooden), it will require him to buckle down and find the shot that works best for him.
Odds to win: 150-1
17. Markelle Fultz, Washington
Height, weight: 6'4”, 170 lbs
Rated No. 8 in the 2016 class by 247Sports, Markelle Fultz is entering a situation at Washington where he won't get much of a breaking-in period. Besides senior and leading scorer Andrew Andrews, the Huskies also saw freshmen Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray turn pro and sign with agents, leaving sophomore Noah Dickerson (7.5 points per game) as their top returning scorer.
Not that Fultz was hoping to ease into a role. He's a volume scorer and a strong ball-handler, one who could easily top the 20.9 points and 4.4 assists per game that Andrews had this past year.
Odds to win: 100-1
16. Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall
Height, weight: 6'4”, 210 lbs
2015-16 stats: 18.2 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 5.1 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.4 BPG, 37.9% FG, 39.0% 3P, 76.0% FT
Isaiah Whitehead is among the large number of players who have declared for the draft but aren't all the way gone yet. He's likely waiting until after May's draft combine, when he'll get plenty of feedback about his pluses and minuses as well as his chances of getting picked, before making a final decision.
We have our own feedback for Whitehead, which could not only help him whenever he gets to the pros but also at the college level: better shot selection and better care of the ball.
Whitehead took 512 field goals this past season, 20th-most in Division I, averaging 15.1 per game and 18.7 per 40 minutes. He also turned it over 119 times, tied for ninth-most in the country, and improving one or both of those facets would go a long way for Seton Hall in 2016-17 and Whitehead in the pros.
Odds to win: 80-1
15. Thomas Bryant, Indiana
Height, weight: 6'10”, 245 lbs
2015-16 stats: 11.9 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.0 APG, 68.3% FG, 70.6% FT
Thomas Bryant had the kind of freshman year that usually leads to a player jumping to the NBA, and he even had the perfect springboard game when he had 19 points on 6-of-8 shooting in the second round against Kentucky. Instead, Bryant is coming back to an Indiana team that's glad to have him for another year.
Now it will be a matter of making Bryant more involved on the offensive end, where he showed he can convert—he ranked fifth in Division I in two-point shooting—but only took 6.6 shots per game. Part of that was the Hoosiers' bevy of other offensive threats and a more perimeter-oriented attack, but Bryant didn't help his cause by averaging five fouls per 40 minutes.
To be a legitimate Wooden contender, he'll need to significantly increase his 22.6 minutes per game, and that will require better discipline and a greater desire to get the ball.
Odds to win: 60-1
14. Malik Monk, Kentucky
Height, weight: 6'3 ½”, 187 lbs
Ranked No. 5 by 247Sports in the 2016 recruiting class, Malik Monk is one of two Kentucky newcomers whom we've given odds to. He's in line to inherit the go-to scoring role that Jamal Murray had in 2015-16, though if either Isaiah Briscoe or Charles Matthews decides to return to school, the job won't just be handed to him.
In that case, Monk will then just show he's the best option at shooting guard and also one who can log minutes at the point. He's smaller than Murray but has a better knack for rebounding, making him Kentucky's best threat for a triple-double on a nightly basis.
Odds to win: 50-1
13. Justin Jackson, North Carolina
Height, weight: 6'8”, 193 lbs
2015-16 stats: 12.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.8 APG, 46.6% FG, 29.2% 3P, 66.7% FT
No official announcement has been made, but ESPN's Jeff Goodman has reported that Justin Jackson put his name into consideration for the draft. He didn't hire an agent, per Goodman, and with his name not appearing on many draft boards, he's a strong candidate to come back barring a strong combine performance.
The national runner-up loses Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige, so the 2016-17 team would revolve around Jackson. The hope is he'd be able to make an exponential leap in his third season after two good-but-not-great seasons.
Jackson has gotten stronger since coming to North Carolina but continues to rely on the jump shot, and while his mid-range game works, he either has to change the way he takes three-pointers or abandon that altogether.
Odds to win: 45-1
12. De'Aaron Fox, Kentucky
Height, weight: 6'3”, 171 lbs
The third-ranked player in the 2016 recruiting class, per 247Sports, De'Aaron Fox is the second Kentucky freshman on our list. He gets the slight nod over Malik Monk because Fox is guaranteed not to have anyone to compete with for playing time with Tyler Ulis off to the NBA.
A lefty who can score or facilitate depending on the situation, he'll be more like Ulis was as a sophomore than any freshman point guard the Wildcats have had the last few years. Kentucky's frontcourt is expected to be vastly upgraded next season, which will make for some nice assist numbers, but if there are production struggles down low, Fox is more than capable of picking up the slack.
Odds to win: 40-1
11. Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga
Height, weight: 6'3”, 185 lbs
2014-15 stats (with Washington): 15.6 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 5.9 APG, 1.1 SPG, 44.2% FG, 25.6% 3P, 76.3% FT
Remember him? If not, Nigel Williams-Goss won't take long to jog your memory after he returns to action following a year on the bench.
Washington's leading scorer and assist man in 2014-15 as a sophomore, Williams-Goss was unhappy with what he described as "changes" in the Huskies program during his two seasons, according to Percy Allen of the Seattle Times. He was arguably the most coveted non-grad transfer on last year's market, and Gonzaga getting him to come to the other side of the state helped set it up for a future that won't include Kyle Wiltjer and others in 2016-17.
The Bulldogs lost four of their top six scorers from last year's Sweet 16 team, and though assists leader Josh Perkins will be back as a sophomore, it stands to reason that the offense will operate through Williams-Goss.
Odds to win: 35-1
10. Allonzo Trier, Arizona
Height, weight: 6'4”, 190 lbs
2015-16 stats: 14.8 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.1 APG, 46.6% FG, 36.4% 3P, 79.3% FT
With Arizona set to bring in four 5-star recruits next season, had Allonzo Trier opted to turn pro, the Wildcats would have been OK. But Trier's return gives them a potent offensive weapon with experience for a team that is losing its top two scorers.
Trier likely would have been Arizona's No. 1 scorer had he not missed time with a broken finger on his right hand, which affected his shooting after he returned. He shot 40.3 percent from the field after the injury, compared to 51.8 percent beforehand.
What didn't change—and what Trier should continue to do in order to separate himself from the rest of Arizona's guards next season—is his aggressiveness in getting to the line. He averaged 8.6 free throws per 40 minutes, and Arizona was just 6-5 in games that Trier played and took five or fewer foul shots.
Odds to win: 30-1
9. Dwayne Bacon, Florida State
Height, weight: 6'7”, 210 lbs
2015-16 stats: 15.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.0 SPG, 44.7% FG, 28.1% 3P, 71.4% FT
As one-half of the only freshman teammates in the country to average 15 points and five rebounds last season, Dwayne Bacon was fun to watch on offense. What he and Malik Beasley did was impressive, but it wasn't enough to get Florida State into the NCAA tournament.
Beasley has turned pro and signed with an agent, leaving Bacon to carry the mantle for that explosive duo. He won't be doing it alone, though, not with the Seminoles also set to bring back guards Terance Mann and Xavier Rathan-Mayes. They will also welcoming 6'10” freshman forward Jonathan Isaac to the lineup.
Bacon and Beasley, as fun as they were together, essentially canceled each other out when it came to any potential for national honors last year. Isaac and others won't have the same effect on Bacon in 2016-17, assuming he can become a better perimeter shooter and maybe pass the ball (18 of his 34 games saw him record one or zero assists) from time to time.
Odds to win: 25-1
8. Lonzo Ball, UCLA
Height, weight: 6'6”, 170 lbs
The No. 7 player in the 2016 recruiting class, per 247Sports, Lonzo Ball is a unique talent in that he can score at will when he wants to but is willing to defer to others. With volume shooters such as Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton more than willing to take his passes, Ball could end up leading the nation in assists in his first season.
The last freshman to lead Division I in assists was T.J. Ford, who dished out 8.3 per game in 2001-02 for Texas.
UCLA is coming off its first losing season since 2009-10, but Ball's arrival (along with fellow freshman T.J. Leaf) has the Bruins projected as an NCAA tourney team again. Bleacher Report's Kerry Miller has them as a No. 4 seed in his way-too-early 2017 bracket projection, and such a rise figures to be as much due to Ball's play as anyone else.
Odds to win: 20-1
7. Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
Height, weight: 6'6”, 215 lbs
2015-16 stats: 15.1 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.2 APG, 42.4% FG, 39.8% 3P, 77.0% FT
Xavier had to say goodbye to post man Jalen Reynolds, who has signed with an agent and won't come back for his senior year, but it's hoping Trevon Bluiett is just using the draft process to see what he needs to work out. If the Musketeers can get the versatile wing back for another year, they'll stay in the hunt in the Big East.
Bluiett could score at the rim when he wanted to, but his mid-range game and perimeter shooting were just as effective. He would have been second in the conference in three-point percentage had he taken more shots, and when he struggled from the field, Xavier usually followed. Of its six losses, five were when Bluiett didn't make 40 percent of his shots.
An 11-point scorer as a freshman, if Bluiett can get to 20 per game in 2016-17, his name will have to be in the Wooden conversation.
Odds to win: 18-1
6. Jayson Tatum, Duke
Height, weight: 6'8”, 208 lbs
The No. 4 prospect from 247Sports' 2016 recruiting class, Jayson Tatum isn't the highest-rated player from Duke's monster group of freshmen (that's power forward Harry Giles), but with Giles recovering from a torn ACL, he might be brought along slowly next year. That's not the same for Tatum, who was the first of the Blue Devils newcomers to commit.
Tatum is built similar to Brandon Ingram—who he'll effectively be replacing in Duke's lineup—but has more strength to handle the defensive part of the job. The Gatorade National Player of the Year is the second such winner to go to Duke, with the other being Jabari Parker in 2012.
Giles may ultimately have a greater impact on Duke's 2016-17 season, and let's not forget about returning junior guard Grayson Allen (spoiler alert!), but for now Tatum is in line to be a major force from the outset.
Odds to win: 15-1
5. Melo Trimble, Maryland
Height, weight: 6'3”, 190 lbs
2015-16 stats: 14.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 4.9 APG, 1.3 SPG, 41.0% FG, 31.4% 3P, 86.3% FT
We probably won't know whether Melo Trimble decides to return to school or remain in the NBA draft until after May's combine, but either way Maryland could be in for trouble in 2016-17. Bleacher Report's Kerry Miller has it on his list of teams that are destined for a rebuilding year.
But if Trimble comes back and is able to rebound from his uneven sophomore season, he figures to lead the Terrapins back to the NCAA tournament and thus would be in contention for national honors.
Trimble will have to become far more efficient and take better care of the ball, though, and he won't have the benefit of a veteran guard next to him like with Dez Wells in 2014-15 and Rasheed Sulaimon last year.
Odds to win: 12-1
4. Josh Jackson, Kansas
Height, weight: 6'7”, 202 lbs
A freshman has only won the Wooden Award twice, most recently in 2012 when Kentucky's Anthony Davis was the top player in the country. If a third newcomer is going to take the prize, it'll be the nation's No. 1 overall prospect, per 247Sports.
Josh Jackson, who recently picked Kansas over Arizona and Michigan State, steps into a situation in Lawrence where he will have to replace the production of both Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden. That's a lot to ask of a freshman, but Jackson has the game to be a dominant force right off the bat, and he could rub off on the rest of the Jayhawks.
"Josh Jackson is as competitive of a kid as I've covered," Scout.com's Evan Daniels tweeted. "It's contagious, too."
Kansas' most notable freshmen over the last two seasons didn't get that involved, but Jackson figures to have the biggest impact since Andrew Wiggins.
Odds to win: 8-1
3. Josh Hart, Villanova
Height, weight: 6'5”, 205 lbs
2015-16 stats: 15.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.2 SPG, 51.3% FG, 35.7% 3P, 75.2% FT
It was Kris Jenkins whose buzzer-beating three gave Villanova the NCAA title, but the Wildcats wouldn't have gotten that far without Josh Hart.
One of the best rebounding guards in the country, Hart became the focal point of Villanova's offense this past season, but he stood out because he could score from the perimeter or near the rim. He made nearly 60 percent of his two-pointers and had more than 50 threes for the second year in a row.
"There's not a single facet of his game that's underdeveloped, but he is a prolific offensive player above all," PennLive.com wrote.
Hart's stock soared during the postseason, and he's entered the NBA draft to see whether the evaluation process will move him into a position to get selected.
Odds to win: 7-1
2. Dillon Brooks, Oregon
Height, weight: 6'5”, 205 lbs
2015-16 stats: 16.7 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.1 SPG, 47.0% FG, 33.8% 3P, 80.6% FT
Dillon Brooks has declared for the NBA draft, but based on DraftExpress' latest mock rankings, he's not likely to get taken and thus will probably return to school. That's great news for Oregon, which could bring back almost its entire Pac-12 championship team if Brooks and guard Tyler Dorsey return to join center Chris Boucher, forward Jordan Bell and guard Casey Benson.
And Brooks is the engine that makes the Ducks run, having led them in scoring and assists last year thanks to 13 20-point games.
The player that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said was “too good of a player” to take an unnecessary three- pointer at the end of the Sweet 16 win over the Blue Devils could be Oregon's first Wooden winner.
Odds to win: 6-1
1. Grayson Allen, Duke
Height, weight: 6'4”, 195 lbs
2015-16 stats: 21.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.3 SPG, 46.6% FG, 41.7% 3P, 83.7% FT
Duke has had five Wooden winners since the award was first handed out in 1977, with the most being J.J. Redick in 2006. That was Redick's senior year, making him the fourth of five Duke winners to be in their junior or senior year when selected (Elton Brand, in 1999, was a sophomore).
That likely had no factor in Grayson Allen's decision to return for a third season with the Blue Devils, but it does make him the early front-runner for the 2017 award. So does being the second-leading returning scorer from a power conference team, trailing only the 22.4 points per game of Tennessee's Kevin Punter.
Allen saw a massive leap in production as a sophomore, going from 4.4 points per game in 2014-15 to the highest season average by a Blue Devil since Redick went for 26.8 per game en route to the Wooden in 2006.
The only thing that could work against Allen's chances is the loaded nature of the 2016-17 Duke roster. His numbers last year benefited from a thin lineup, but new additions could cause his numbers to drop.
Odds to win: 5-1
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.