Who are the top players in the league? Which players stand out the most? With conference play heating up, let’s take a deep dive looking at some of the best players on the best teams to see who will win the Naismith player of the year award, which was named after the father of basketball, James Naismith.
The last players to win this award were Oscar Tshiebwe of Kentucky and Aliyah Boston of South Carolina. Who will win it this year? Let’s break down the top contenders for the award this season.
There’s the obvious current leaders in Zach Edey, Brandon Miller, and Tshiebwe, but there are some stars going under the radar for the award this season.
The current favorite is Purdue’s big man Zach Edey. The 7’4 center has been giving defenses nightmares all season long and led Purdue to a 17-1 record. This is by far the best season of his career as he his averaging 21.9 points on 62% shooting from the field. His scoring is not the only aspect of the game he dominates in, he also grabs rebounds like no other. His 13.4 rebound per game average is second in the country. Without Edey, Purdue would be nowhere as good as their 17-1 record and this why he his the current leader for the POTY race. In his January 16th performance against Michigan State, Edey scored 32 points with 17 rebounds to compliment it. Zach will have another chance to hit the court January 19th against Minnesota.
My personal favorite to win the Naismith is Alabama’s freshman power forward Brandon Miller. Miller is without a doubt the best player on the Crimson Tide and is arguably the best player in the SEC. Alabama has needed every single one of his performances to win their biggest games this season. Miller averages 20.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game along with leading Alabama to a 16-2 record. In the last two games combined against LSU and Vanderbilt, Miller scored 61 points and grabbed 19 rebounds. Miller’s only disadvantage is his shooting percentage. The 6’9 forward only shoots 42% from the field but has a high three point percentage of 45%. To improve his odds, Miller needs to find a better shooting rhythm inside the arch. SEC defenses have been put on notice with the power of Brandon Miller, but the gauntlet of the best SEC defenses awaits with Tennessee and Auburn still on the schedule.
Drew Timme has been in college for what seems like forever and has had championship hype almost every single season, but this year he has flown under the radar. His performances for Gonzaga have been exactly the same as the past couple seasons, but the Bulldogs are not as good of a team collectively this season and have lost that preseason hype. The Senior forward averages 21.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Timme has one of the most lethal step back turn around jumpers in the league. He has come to develop this as his signature move and defenses have game planned to not let him get to his dominant hand, but their plans have always been foiled by the athleticism of Timme. With the weak conference schedule of Gonzaga, I think Timme’s odds fall even further down the list as the season progresses.
A star that I believe should get more recognition despite being at a smaller school is Jordan “Jelly” Walker, a point guard at UAB. Walker’s 23.8 points per game average is second in the nation. His freak athleticism and speed combined have given defenses a fit. The small guard has thrived under the Blazers leadership after transferring from Tulane two seasons ago. Walker led the Blazers to March Madness last season as a 12 seed and almost upset the 5 seed Houston Cougars in the first round. Walker has the Blazers on the path towards the tournament once again as UAB currently has a 13-6 record. An automatic bid is awarded to the C-USA champion at the end of the season. Walker will never be considered for the player of the year award because of the size of the school he attends, but I think he should at least be noticed by the voters despite this.
Now that I have explained the top three odds in Men’s basketball, let’s take a look at the other side of basketball, the women’s league. Last season Boston won the award on the star studded Gamecocks team that won the national championship. Boston is still the current favorite to repeat as POTY with Caitlin Clark, and Haley Jones falling right behind her.
Aliyah Boston dominated the college basketball world last season in route to a National Championship and has not let her foot off the gas. Despite this being a down season for her stats, The Gamecocks still sit at 18-0. Boston hasn’t had to carry the team as much, as most of her teammates have improved around her. Boston is averaging 12.5 points and 9.4 rebounds per game this season, which is nothing compared to her 16.8 points and 12.5 rebounds last season. Despite this fall in production, she still currently leads the POTY race.
Caitlin Clark has caught the attention of many NBA stars in the past for her sharpshooting ability, but can she finally capture the attention of the Naismith voters? The point guard from Iowa averages a staggering 26.8 points per game which is currently third in the nation. Along with that point average, she also averages 7.5 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game. That stat line is one of the most complete stat lines in the league and definitely worthy of a Naismith nomination. Her three point percentage has gone up from last season as she is connecting on 38% from beyond the arch for the Hawkeyes. Can Clark finally get over the mountain that is winning the POTY award?
Haley Jones is third in the odds for the POTY award in NCAAW basketball. The senior guard has led Stanford to a number 4 national ranking and 17-2 record. The history of the Cardinal is enough to put pressure on any player, but Jones seems to live in this pressure. She averages 13.1 points 3.8 assists and 8.3 rebounds per game this season for the Cardinal. Her 44.8% field goal percentage leads the entire team. Despite some tough losses this season, under Jones’ leadership the Cardinal remain one of the top teams in the league, which is why she has the third best odds to win the POTY.