Player of the Year Rankings for 2021-22 Men's College Basketball Season

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystJanuary 4, 2022

Player of the Year Rankings for 2021-22 Men's College Basketball Season

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    Wisconsin's Johnny Davis
    Wisconsin's Johnny DavisAndy Manis/Associated Press

    It's the year of the big man in men's college basketball, but it's a guard from Wisconsin who's starting to run away with the National Player of the Year awards.

    Most of our updated top 10 consists of frontcourt phenoms such as Kentucky's Oscar Tshiebwe, Gonzaga's Drew Timme, Illinois' Kofi Cockburn and Purdue's tandem of Trevion Williams and Zach Edey, but the Badgers' 6'5" Johnny Davis at least temporarily ended the debate for the top spot with his Monday night performance against Purdue.

    We aren't just ranking the top 10 stars, though. We've got a full top 25 plus several honorable mentions in advance of the Wooden Watch Midseason Top 25, which is typically released somewhere in the January 6-14 range.

    Nos. 25-21 are reserved (at least for now) for mid-major stars. And, just to be clear, those aren't participation trophies.

    There's usually at least one mid-major star who makes it into the top 15 of the Wooden Watch in early March. It happened with Western Kentucky's Charles Bassey last year; Dayton's Obi Toppin and San Diego State's Malachi Flynn the year before that; Murray State's Ja Morant and South Dakota State's Mike Daum in 2018-19; etc.

    Beyond that, players are ranked based on a combination of individual stats/highlights and team success. The former is the larger piece of the puzzle, but the latter is an undeniable factor, as the NPOY and the top candidates for it just about always play for teams that earn a No. 4 seed or better in the Big Dance.  

Honorable Mentions

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    SMU's Kendric Davis
    SMU's Kendric DavisTony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Armando Bacot, North Carolina: Caleb Love was arguably UNC's top candidate until a couple of tough performances in the second half of December, but Bacot is quite the Plan B. The Tar Heels' primary big man already has nine double-doubles, including big games against Tennessee, Michigan and Kentucky.

           

    Kendric Davis, SMU: As things stand, SMU doesn't look like an NCAA tournament team, which makes it difficult to make a case for Davis as NPOY. But the Mustangs point guard has been on fire since Thanksgiving, reeling off eight consecutive KenPom game MVPs while improving his season averages to 21.5 points, 5.4 assists and 4.9 rebounds.

            

    Hunter Dickinson, Michigan: The Wolverines have gotten out to an atrocious 7-5 start, but I can't bring myself to throw in the towel on Dickinson for NPOY. With the exception of free-throw percentage, he has been better than he was last season in just about every facet of the game, even adding a semi-reliable three-point stroke (5-of-15).

             

    Tari Eason, LSU: Eason is averaging 27.0 points and 12.6 rebounds per 40 minutes while also thriving on defense for Will Wade's 12-1 Tigers. However, he was just OK (11 points, seven rebounds) in LSU's only game against a marquee opponent (Auburn), so let's see how he fares this coming week against Kentucky and Tennessee.

            

    Christian Koloko, Arizona: Koloko had a foul-filled dud in Arizona's loss to Tennessee a few days before Christmas, but the big man is still putting up impressive numbersmost notably his 5.6 blocks per 40 minutes. He bounced back from that dud with 22 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks in Monday's win over Washington.

             

    Isaiah Mobley, USC: Got to at least give a shout out to the top scorer and top rebounder for the still-undefeated Trojans. Mobley had at least 21 points and 12 rebounds in four of USC's six December games, and he should continue to thrive in what we'll generously call a lackluster Pac-12 beyond the top three (Arizona, UCLA and USC).

             

    Taz Sherman, West Virginia: Sherman is averaging 20.9 points per game, and without him (COVID-19 protocol), West Virginia looked hopelessly lost in Saturday's game against Texas. He is for the Mountaineers what Johnny Davis has been for Wisconsin, only WVU hasn't played enough noteworthy games for people to have noticed.

             

    TBD, Michigan State: It might be Marcus Bingham, Gabe Brown, Malik Hall or Tyson Walker, but eventually, someone from the Spartans is going to emerge as a serious NPOY candidate if they remain a Top 10 team. It might not be until the back-to-back games against Purdue and Ohio State late in the season that this "TBD" is actually determined, though.

Nos. 25-21

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    Oral Roberts' Max Abmas
    Oral Roberts' Max AbmasIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

    No. 25: Justin Bean, Utah State (Previous Rank: 21)
    19.8 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.6 SPG

    Since our last NPOY ranking, Bean had a two-point dud against Weber State, was held in check in a loss to Iowa and wasn't able to lead Utah State to a win over Air Forcearguably the worst team in the MWC. His year-to-date averages are still mighty impressive, but the previous runaway favorite for mid-major POY now faces an uphill battle for that throne.

            

    No. 24: Max Abmas, Oral Roberts (Previous Rank: NR)
    21.2 PPG, 3.5 APG, 3.1 RPG, 42.9 3P%

    Remember this overnight superstar from the 2021 NCAA tournament? Everyone gave Abmas some love in the preseason player rankings and then quickly forgot about him as Oral Roberts suffered loss after loss. But he's still in the running to lead the nation in scoring, even after losing his running mate (Kevin Obanor) as a transfer to Texas Tech.

             

    No. 23: Orlando Robinson, Fresno State (Previous Rank: NR)
    18.7 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.6 BPG, 1.1 SPG

    "Big O" has scored at least 15 points in all but one game this season, and he still racked up eight rebounds, four steals and a pair of assists in a win over UC Irvine in the exception to that rule. Unfortunately, his individual heroics weren't enough to score wins over San Francisco, Boise State or Utah, so he's still hovering below the national radar. The Jan. 18 game against Bean and Utah State could change that.

             

    No. 22: Fardaws Aimaq, Utah Valley (Previous Rank: 24)
    19.6 PPG, 13.6 RPG, 1.8 BPG, 1.3 APG

    The double-double king just keeps doing his thing. Aimaq has put up points-rebounds stat lines of  20-16, 15-15, 21-10 and 21-16 in his past four games, bringing his year-to-date count to 12 double-doubles in 14 contests. Aimaq also matched a career high with five blocks in the New Year's Day win over Tarleton State.

            

    No. 21: David Roddy, Colorado State (Previous Rank: 22)
    20.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.3 BPG, 1.1 SPG, 46.9 3P%

    Colorado State has not played since Dec. 11, but Roddy moves up a spot in light of Bean's tumble. The Rams are one of three remaining undefeated teams along with Baylor and USC. If they're able to come out of this lengthy COVID-19 pause and maintain that undefeated status for a few more weeks, their darn-near-unstoppable stretch 4 might emerge as a serious threat for NPOY.

Nos. 20-16

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    Auburn's Walker Kessler
    Auburn's Walker KesslerButch Dill/Associated Press

    No. 20: Johnny Juzang, UCLA (Previous Rank: 13)
    16.6 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 2.1 APG, 36.7 3P%

    Out of sight, out of mind and almost out of our top 20. UCLA has not played since Dec. 11, and Juzang's mediocre advanced metrics (.152 WS/40, 17.3 PER, etc.) continue to stick out like a sore thumb in a crowd of remarkable individual performers. But once the Bruins start playing again, Juzang should surge back up the rankings. After all, their next game against a KenPom top 50 opponent isn't until Feb. 3, so he should have plenty of opportunity to shine.

             

    No. 19: Collin Gillespie, Villanova (Previous Rank: 19)
    16.5 PPG, 3.2 APG, 3.3 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 40.4 3P%

    Our last rankings update ran a couple days after Villanova's hideous 57-36 loss to Baylor, in which Gillespie finished with an uncharacteristic six points and three turnovers. Quite a few people were enraged that Gillespie still landed in our top 20, but perhaps his recent performances in quality wins over Xavier and Seton Hall (combined 36 points on 23 field-goal attempts) will win back the favor of the masses. He has scored at least 13 points and recorded an O-rating north of 100 in every game this season except for that dud against Baylor.

            

    No. 18: Chet Holmgren, Gonzaga (Previous Rank: 7)
    13.0 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 3.3 BPG, 2.3 APG, 35.1 3P%

    Holmgren may well be the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA draft, but as far as KenPom is concerned, he wasn't the MVP in any of Gonzaga's five Tier A games thus far. He only had five points and four field-goal attempts in the Dec. 18 game against Texas Tech, not much unlike his two points on three shots against Texas back in mid-November. Even though he has multiple blocks in all but one game, that lack of assertiveness on offense is likely going to keep him from landing anywhere close to the Wooden Award and Naismith Trophy.

            

    No. 17: Walker Kessler, Auburn (Previous Rank: NR)
    10.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 4.2 BPG, 1.1 SPG

    The North Carolina transfer and soon-to-be first-round draft pick has at least 13 points, seven rebounds and four blocks in each of his past four games, putting together a combined line of 62 points, 34 rebounds and 27 blocks during that stretch. That includes a 16-point, 11-block, 10-rebound triple-double against previously unbeaten LSU on Dec. 29. That's certainly one way to go from "not even an afterthought" to "serious candidate" in an NPOY conversation in less than three weeks.

               

    No. 16: Wendell Moore Jr., Duke (Previous Rank: 18)
    17.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 5.0 APG, 1.4 SPG

    After two seasons of only occasionally tapping into his potential, Moore has emerged as Duke's reliable veteran, scoring in double figures in every game to date and chipping in at least three assists and three rebounds in all but one contest. Unless Paolo Banchero fades considerably, though, it's going to take something extra special the rest of the way for Moore to become the lead Blue Devil in the national discourse.

Nos. 15-11

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    Iowa's Keegan Murray
    Iowa's Keegan MurrayCharlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    No. 15: Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana (Previous Rank: 10)
    19.3 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 3.1 BPG, 1.9 APG

    If Kendric Davis is only an honorable mention for playing on an SMU team that might not make the NCAA tournament, we're kind of obligated to drop Jackson-Davis a few spots considering Indiana is 10-3 with nothing close to a quality win on its resume. That said, early returns have been great for TJD, who led all players with 17 points and 12 rebounds in a recent closer-than-it-should-have-been win over Notre Dame. Thursday's game against Ohio State looms large as a golden opportunity for Jackson-Davis and the Hoosiers.

            

    No. 14: Jabari Smith, Auburn (Previous Rank: 12)
    16.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.7 SPG, 42.9 3P%

    Teammate Walker Kessler has stolen the spotlight in recent weeks, but Smith is still thriving as Auburn's one-and-done stretch 4. He has scored at least a dozen points and made multiple three-pointers in each of his past eight games while also putting in quality defensive work. In the recent win over Murray State, Smith had 10 defensive rebounds, three blocks and two steals.

            

    No. 13: Keegan Murray, Iowa (Previous Rank: 15)
    24.5 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 2.1 BPG, 1.5 SPG, 1.4 APG

    Murray hit a bit of a rough patch early in December, missing the game against Purdue with an ankle injury and still not looking quite right in the subsequent losses to Illinois and Iowa State. But Iowa's breakout sensation was back with a vengeance in the latter half of the month with an average of 28.0 points and 9.0 rebounds in blowouts of Utah State, Southeastern Louisiana and Western Illinois. The nation's leader scorer also went for 35 points, eight rebounds and three blocks in Monday's win over Maryland. At some point, though, they'll need him to dominate against a quality opponent.

            

    No. 12: Bennedict Mathurin, Arizona (Previous Rank: 17)
    18.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.1 SPG, 38.6 3P%

    Arizona's quest for an undefeated season came to an end at the hands of Tennessee on Dec. 22, but don't blame Mathurin for that. He put up 28 points (on 16 shots) with eight rebounds, five assists and two steals. He was equally dominant earlier this year against Wichita State, Oregon State and Illinois. It's a shame the games against UCLA and USC were postponed this past week, because Mathurin could have really climbed in these rankings by continuing to shine against those opponents. As is, he has scored at least 24 in five of his last seven games.

              

    No. 11: Ochai Agbaji, Kansas (Previous Rank: 8)
    20.6 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.1 SPG, 45.9 3P%

    Agbaji scored at least 21 points in seven of his first nine games, but has tapered off a bit for a more modest 15.0 points over his past three contests. He needed 14 shots to score 11 in the nine-point win over George Mason and had a rare four-turnover game in the eight-point win over Stephen F. Austin. But all will be forgiven if he can bounce back and open Big 12 play with a few gems, and he'll be right back in the thick of the NPOY race, too.

Nos. 10-6

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    Illinois' Kofi Cockburn
    Illinois' Kofi CockburnJeff Roberson/Associated Press

    No. 10: Kofi Cockburn, Illinois (Previous Rank: 14)
    21.8 PPG, 12.1 RPG

    Now that he's shooting a respectable 68.6 percent from the free-throw line (up from 55.3 percent last year), how are you supposed to slow down Cockburn? Arizona was able to limit him to 13 points and 13 rebounds with five turnovers, but not many teams have three talented big men at their disposal like the Wildcats do. Most teams are essentially at the mercy of how ravenous Cockburn is feeling that day.

           

    No. 9: Trevion Williams, Purdue (Previous Rank: 2)
    13.0 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 3.1 APG

    If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? Williams had been fantastic off the bench through Purdue's first 10 contests, averaging 14.2 points, 9.3 rebounds and a combined total of 2.2 blocks and steals per game as the sixth man extraordinaire. But for some reason, Matt Painter put him in the starting lineup, and now those numbers have dropped to 10.0, 7.5 and 1.0, respectively, over the past four games. And during crunch time of Monday's loss to Wisconsin, he was nowhere to be found with no points, one assist, one rebound and three fouls in the final 16 minutes. Maybe he can get back into our top five if he gets back out of Purdue's starting five.

            

    No. 8: Zach Edey, Purdue (Previous Rank: 16)
    15.6 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.4 BPG, 1.3 APG

    Edey entered Monday night's game against Wisconsin with a preposterous WS/40 ratio of 0.398, and then he went out and had one of the best games of his career with 24 points, 10 rebounds and two assists while fouling out basically Wisconsin's entire frontcourt. While the move into the starting lineup has messed with Williams' mojo, Edey has averaged 17.0 points and 8.8 rebounds over his last four games since coming off the bench. And I absolutely cannot wait to watch him and Cockburn square off multiple times.

            

    No. 7: Jaden Ivey, Purdue (Previous Rank: 6)
    16.5 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.2 SPG, 44.8 3P%

    Ivey's reputation for thunderous fast-break dunks has somewhat overshadowed his development into one of the better perimeter shooters in the country. He shot just 25.8 percent from beyond the arc last year, but he hit all six of his three-point attempts in a recent win over Butler. Purdue's leading scorer is also a willing passer, which is a big part of what makes this Boilermaker offense so difficult to slow down.

             

    No. 6: James Akinjo, Baylor (Previous Rank: 11)
    13.0 PPG, 6.1 APG, 2.3 RPG, 2.2 SPG, 38.8 3P%

    I said three weeks ago that we were probably underselling Akinjo at No. 11, and that still feels accurate at No. 6. Though most of the players in the top 20 are arguably statistically superior to Akinjo, he has consistently shown up in a big way in the biggest games for the No. 1 team in the country, scoring at least 15 points against each of Iowa State, Michigan State, Villanova and Oregon. You can almost take it to the bank that he'll be huge in upcoming showdowns with Oklahoma and Texas Tech.

5. Drew Timme, Gonzaga

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    Gonzaga's Drew Timme
    Gonzaga's Drew TimmeYoung Kwak/Associated Press

    Season Stats: 16.7 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 2.2 APG, 0.264 WS/40

    Previous Rank: 1

    Even though there was a great case for putting Trevion Williams or E.J. Liddell in the top spot in our previous top 25, I decided to stick with preseason favorite Drew Timme. After all, he had a 37-point game against Texas, played well in games against Alabama, Duke and UCLA and had not provided any good reason for dropping him from No. 1.

    But Timme was a non-factor against Texas Techseven points, four rebounds, three assists, three turnoversas the Red Raiders clogged up the paint and dared the Bulldogs to beat them from three-point range. (Rasir Bolton and Andrew Nembhard did exactly that.)

    Timme could have at least somewhat made up for that mediocre showing by destroying Northern Arizona and North Alabama in Gonzaga's subsequent games. Instead, he had a combined 26 points, 11 rebounds and four turnovers between those blowouts, content to let everyone else share in the spotlight.

    As a result, it has now been almost an entire month since he did anything noteworthy, and three major holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's) have come and gone since the last time Timme performed admirably in a quality win.

    If he lights up San Francisco and BYU in the next two weeks, maybe he can surge back into the top spot. For now, though, it's looking like a frontcourt phenom from a major-conference program is going to win NPOY.

4. Paolo Banchero, Duke

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    Duke's Paolo Banchero
    Duke's Paolo BancheroGerry Broome/Associated Press

    Season Stats: 17.1 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.4 SPG, 33.3 3P%, 0.243 WS/40

    Previous Rank: 4

    Duke trailed 42-34 early in the second half of its most recent game against Virginia Tech, and the Blue Devils appeared to be in real danger of starting out 0-1 in what looks like the weakest ACC in decades.

    That's when Paolo Banchero went to work.

    He scored seven unanswered points, and then with an opportunity to take the lead, he found Trevor Keels on a backdoor cut for an easy layup. That was the start of what would be a 29-7 Duke run in the span of about 10 minutes, as Banchero went for 17 points, six rebounds and an assist in the second half alone.

    What was most impressive about that performance, though, was his ability to defend Keve Aluma as the small-ball 5. Virginia Tech's star forward had 19 points largely against the combination of Mark Williams and Theo John while building up that 42-34 lead, but Duke went with Banchero at the 5 and A.J. Griffin at the 4 for most of the second half and completely shut down the VT offense.

    Not bad for a guy who is going to spend way more time at wing than center at the next level, and a testament to the fact that Coach K's path to a sixth national championship runs through Banchero.

    He struggled in a loss to Ohio State and battled leg cramps in the second halves of wins over Kentucky and Gonzaga, but he has at least 10 points and five rebounds in every game while more than holding his own defensively. It feels like a safe bet that Banchero will at least be a first-team All-American, provided he stays healthy.

3. E.J. Liddell, Ohio State

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    Ohio State's E.J. Liddell
    Ohio State's E.J. LiddellPaul Vernon/Associated Press

    Season Stats: 19.6 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 3.0 BPG, 2.9 APG, 0.279 WS/40

    Previous Rank: 3

    Prior to a COVID-19 pause that forced Ohio State to go 22 days between games, E.J. Liddell was one of the most reliable scorers in the country. He put up at least 13 points in each of Ohio State's first 10 games, shooting 50 percent or better from inside the arc in each of those contests. Factor in a 35.3 percent stroke from three-point range and he was making 56.0 percent of his shots from the field.

    Sunday night against Nebraska, though, Liddell looked like a professional bricklayer. He shot just 2-of-14 from the field, and several of those misses barely even grazed the front of the iron.

    However, he didn't let that off night keep him from making an impact. The stat-sheet stuffer still had eight rebounds, five assists and three blocks. He also drained two clutch free throws in the final 10 seconds of regulation, forcing overtime where the Buckeyes managed to avoid what would have been an atrocious loss.

    Even though he struggled mightily, the Cornhuskers always seemed to have five sets of eyes on Liddell, paving the way for Malaki Branham and Jamari Wheeler to shoot a combined 10-of-15 from three-point range. He had five official assists, but he deserves some partial credit for all the open looks Ohio State's guards were able to get.

    Because the (clearly rusty) Buckeyes won and because he contributed in so many other ways, Liddell gets a mulligan as far as we're concerned. But if he struggles again this Thursday against Trayce Jackson-Davis and the Indiana Hoosiers, that will merit a drop in these rankings.

2. Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky

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    Kentucky's Oscar Tshiebwe
    Kentucky's Oscar TshiebweAndy Lyons/Getty Images

    Season Stats: 15.8 PPG, 15.2 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 1.3 SPG, 1.0 APG, 0.363 WS/40

    Previous Rank: 5

    Three weeks ago, Kentucky was hovering around 20th, both in the AP poll and in the KenPom rankings. The Wildcats were 7-2 with a not-great loss to Notre Dame and nothing better than a home win over Ohio to their credit.

    Just about the only thing they had going for them was this transfer from West Virginia who's trying to set the NCAA record for single-season rebounds per game.

    Then, on Dec. 18, Oscar Tshiebwe racked up 16 points and 12 rebounds in a blowout win over North Carolina, and everyone suddenly realized that this force of nature in the paint is easily one of the 10 best candidates for national player of the year.

    Four days later, Tshiebwe out-rebounded Western Kentucky by his damn self. He finished with 14 points and 28 rebounds while the Hilltoppers managed just 27 rebounds as an entire team.

    By the way, Western Kentucky ranks 14th in the nation in average height, per KenPom, thanks to a 7'5" center (Jamarion Sharp) who blocked seven shots in that game. It's not like Tshiebwe was imposing his will against a bunch of point guards.

    And in Kentucky's SEC opener against Missouri, Tshiebwe shot just 2-of-10 from the field, yet still finished with 13 points and 20 boards in a rout of the Tigers.

    Tshiebwe already has four games with at least 20 rebounds. The rest of the country has combined for seven such performances. If he keeps this up and Kentucky wins the SEC, he might run away with the Wooden Award.

1. Johnny Davis, Wisconsin

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    Wisconsin's Johnny Davis
    Wisconsin's Johnny DavisHakim Wright Sr./Associated Press

    Season Stats: 22.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.5 SPG, 34.8 3P%, 0.222 WS/40

    Previous Rank: 9

    For a while, the best argument for Johnny Davis for National Player of the Year was how mediocre Wisconsin looked without him.

    The 63-58 home loss to Providence on Nov. 15 doesn't look so bad anymore now that the Friars are 13-1, but the offense was a hot mess in that one. Similar story a month later against Nicholls State, when the Davis-less Badgers had to claw back from a 42-30 deficit early in the second half to narrowly escape with a win.

    But 37 points, 14 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals in a road win over AP No. 3 Purdue?

    Yeah, pretty sure that is the best argument for Davis for NPOY.

    It was hardly the first time he went off against a quality opponent. Davis' 30-point game against Houston in the Maui Invitational semifinal was easily one of the best individual performances of the 2021 portion of the season. He also scored at least 20 in each of Wisconsin's games against Ohio State, Indiana, Saint Mary's, Texas A&M and Marquette.

    However, he was just plain magical in the second half at Mackey Arena, scoring 27 of Wisconsin's 45 points after the intermission. Purdue's Zach Edey scored 19 points in the game's final 14 minutes, yet all anyone could talk about down the stretch was Davis' heroics.

    I can't be the only one getting 2010 Wooden Award winner Evan Turner or 2013 Wooden Award winner Trey Burke vibes from this unguardable Big Ten star.

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