Without knowing how much the varsity basketball schedule will be affected by the rising COVID cases across the country, we can still say we’re almost a third of the way through the season. With that in mind, why not take a look at the National Player of the Year race? I have identified 10 strong candidates, but I also recognize the obvious: There is a chance that the eventual NPOY winner may not come from this list.
Here’s who’s been the most statistically impressive and most valuable for some of the country’s top teams in the first six weeks of the season.
Statistics row: 22.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 61.9 2-pt%, 48.4 3-pt%
The Jayhawks wouldn’t have reasonable expectations as a potential national champion if Agbaji wasn’t on the roster. The senior shooting goaltender has improved noticeably with each season in college; 2021-22 is the reward. He’s a smart shooter, an efficient shooter, an alert passer and an improving defender. Everything Kansas does on offense has to do with what Agbaji can produce or help distract the defense. He’s on track to become a U.S. first all-team all-star in March.
Statistics row: 20.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 3.0 bpg, 56.0 FG%
Almost all of the players on this list have MVP-like value to their teams, but I think Liddell is the most vital for his team. I mentioned above that Kansas wouldn’t be a title contender without Agbaji. You take Liddell out of Ohio State and I think the Buckeyes are a borderline NCAA tournament team. Liddell easily ranks # 1 in KenPom.com’s KPOY metric, which allowed me to place it # 2.
Statistics row: 13.8 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 2.9 apg, 61.2 FG%
I still can’t believe it. One of the best players in the country comes off the bench and averages 21.2 minutes. Look at those Williams divisions despite barely more than half the game. If you go by 40, Williams’ numbers are ridiculously good: 26.9 points, 17.6 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 2.5 steals and 7.6 foul attempts. Without Williams Purdue, he would have lost two straight games to Rutgers and NC State; his near triple-double (22 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists) saved the Boilermakers last week against the Wolfpack.
Statistics row: 19.1 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 3.4 bpg, 60.2 FG%
Indiana is yet to secure a victory against a likely NCAA tournament team, but that has little to do with Jackson-Davis’ consistency in what was to be a huge junior season for the great man of the Hoosiers. An important factor in this regard: Jackson-Davis is not fault-prone (he commits 1.2 per game) and is good at making contact (he ranked 43rd for foul rate, according to KenPom.com). ). The Hoosiers have a chance to return to the NCAA this season because they have a reliable, traditional veteran who never takes a game.
Statistics row: 16.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 5.1 apg, 58.1 FG%
Are you waiting for the first year? While Paolo Banchero is also firmly in the mix, the truth is Moore has been the most consistent and reliable player. Moore’s efficiency also jumped. He was eclipsed by his teammate – Banchero could be the No.1 pick next year – but the real reason Duke was in the Top 10 can be attributed to Moore’s significant leap as a junior first guard.
Statistics row: 21.4 ppg, 11.9 RPG, 62.5% FG
No surprise to see Cockburn’s name on the list. He ranked this high even after missing Illinois’ first three games with a suspension related to the sale of team equipment before deciding he was returning to college. No matter. Cockburn has become the dominant, modern mini-Shaq that so many people expected him to be as a junior. The big man also had 7.7 fouls every 40 minutes, seventh in the nation.
Statistics line: 20.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 37.8% 3pt
Wisconsin was better than advertised and it’s obvious Davis is the reason. Davis did not play in UW’s home game against Providence at the start of the season; the badgers lost. He did not play in the UW home game against Nicholls State this week; the Badgers won only three. He changes everything for them and has become the go-to player in college hoops. If his effectiveness can increase slightly, the Badgers will have an All-American on their roster for the first time since Ethan Happ.
Statistics row: 17.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 62.8 FG%
The pre-season National Player of the Year pick hasn’t been so statistically impressive yet, but if you’ve seen GU play against his great opponents, you’ve seen he’s still the most crucial piece. His talent around the rim remains one of a kind in college hoops; he’ll put a lot of fat in a mixer and leave two like it’s an afternoon race at the Y. Timme is also improved defensively, which he should get more credit for.
Statistics row: 16.5 ppm, 6.9 rpg, 45.6 3-pt%
Smith is CBS Sports’ No.1 Frosh Watch player, currently ahead of Gonzaga’s Banchero and Chet Holmgren. It is deserved. Auburn is 10-1 and the handsome Smith isn’t forcing anything. He can score on all three levels, has good instincts around the rim and has put the Tigers in position to play a part in a fascinating SEC race. If for some reason you haven’t seen Smith play yet, change it ASAP. He will likely be one of the NBA’s top five picks.
Statistics row: 16.3 ppg, 14.2 rpg, 66.7 FG%
Rare is the player these days who can end a season averaging better than 15 points and 15 rebounds. Tshiebwe is going to try his luck. The player who told me he remains determined to get, at least 20 rebounds a night, is Kentucky’s most imposing force. John Calipari has improved his team’s shooting skills this season, but ironically, it’s that traditional grand that holds the key to bringing the UK back to the top echelon of the SEC and into the NCAA tournament.