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you think the race for the 2020 Wooden Award is a toss-up, wait until you see the competition for conference Player of the Year honors in each league.
It’s early February, so all of this could change, but we made an attempt to handicap the Player of the Year races in all 32 Division I conferences.
Here’s the criteria we tried to emphasize:
- With at least a month of data to evaluate in most cases, we thought emphasizing individual impact in league play made sense.
- In most cases, good players on good teams are the top candidates for these awards. So please save the tweets about our exclusion of the volume shooter from the bottom-feeder in your favorite conference.
- In most cases, there were more than two top candidates for the award. But we picked two because … that’s what we decided to do.
- Some leagues lack an obvious front-runner and top contender, but we did our best. Sorry, SEC. Things are weird right now. (And yes, we think Kansas has the top two candidates for Big 12 Player of the Year. Deal with it.)
Without further ado:
American Athletic Conference
Cincinnati’s veteran has averaged 20.0 PPG during his team’s current four-game win streak. He has also made 44 percent of his 3-point attempts, hit 52 percent of his shots inside the arc and anchored the No. 2 defense in the American.
Memphis has gone from top-10 program to potentially sliding off the bubble and missing the NCAA tournament. But the only reason the Tigers — who benefited from the contributions of projected lottery pick James Wiseman for just three games — remain in contention for a postseason slot is because Achiuwa (16.1 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 2.3 BPG in AAC play) has been a dominant athlete.
Atlantic Coast Conference
At one point in Duke’s 97-88 win at Syracuse on Saturday night, Jim Boeheim smirked at Mike Krzyzewski after Carey finished an easy bucket, as if to say, “How the hell are we supposed to stop this?” Carey’s performance (26 points and 17 rebounds) extended the streak of dominance we’ve witnessed all year from the freshman (Duke has averaged 109 points per 100 possessions with Carey on the floor this season, according to hooplens.com).
America East Conference
The reigning America East Player of the Year isn’t competing with the same efficiency he enjoyed a year ago. But he has made 45 percent of his 3-point attempts in league play and 87 percent of his free throw attempts while also averaging 17.3 PPG for a Vermont team that entered the week atop the league at 7-1.
Stony Brook’s star led the program to a 6-2 start in league play by averaging 19.6 PPG and connecting on 55 percent of his shots inside the arc. He has earned three America East player of the week honors.
Atlantic 10 Conference
Toppin, a projected first-round pick in the NBA draft who commands the most efficient offense in America, is not only the favorite in this Player of the Year race, he might be the front-runner in the Wooden Award chase, too. He has put together eye-popping numbers for a Dayton team that’s undefeated in the Atlantic 10, but his 71 percent clip inside the 3-point line in A-10 play, along with 19.7 PPG and 8.0 RPG, top the list.
He has steered Rhode Island’s eight-game winning streak (its last loss was Jan. 5). Russell entered the week averaging 20.0 PPG, an assist every five possessions and a 42 percent success rate from the 3-point line in A-10 action.
Atlantic Sun Conference
In the nonconference season, Sams scored 20 points in North Florida’s loss to Florida State. The 6-foot-7 wing has put together impressive efforts (17.3 PPG, 53 percent clip from beyond the arc) comparable to that outing against Leonard Hamilton’s program for a North Florida team that boasts the best offense in the league and shares a slice of the top spot in the standings.
Stetson’s 6-3 star is a talented guard who is listed as a “very good” offensive player in half-court sets and defensive player in man-to-man schemes, per Synergy Sports data. His 17.2 PPG and 47 percent clip from beyond the arc have helped Stetson remain in the hunt for the conference crown.
Big East Conference
The Marquette star is somewhat a victim of his own success from a year ago. He hasn’t enjoyed the same national buzz, yet he’s averaging 29.7 PPG in Big East play, although his 33 percent clip from the 3-point line is a drop from his 2018-19 numbers.
His 3-for-14 outing in his team’s 74-62 home loss to Xavier on Saturday was a surprising and rare stumble for a stellar competitor and national Player of the Year contender. He has scored 23 points or more in six of his nine Big East games and registered a top-10 steals percentage in league play.
Big Sky Conference
The league leader in assists (7.1 APG) is also averaging 16.2 PPG. The 6-3 guard has made 39 percent of his 3-pointers in Big Sky play while leading a Northern Colorado squad that’s 7-2 since New Year’s Day.
Montana’s star is top 10 in the Big Sky in scoring (18.9 PPG), rebounding (6.7 RPG), field goal percentage (45.3) and assists (4.0 APG). The 6-5 combo forward has also made 71 percent of his free throws.
Big South Conference
The 6-4 standout has recorded 10 games with 20 points or more since Dec. 21. Fleming’s Big South stat line — 22.1 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 4.8 APG, 1.2 BPG — is nothing short of impressive.
Hampton’s star is an efficient performer who is ranked fifth in Ken Pomeroy’s conference Player of the Year rankings in the Big South. Stanley deserves that nod after averaging 23.9 PPG (55 percent clip overall), 8.0 RPG and 2.6 BPG through his first eight games in Big South games.
Big 12 Conference
The dynamic Kansas guard entered the weekend as the Big 12’s leader in scoring (16.6 PPG) and steals (2.1 SPG), just part of the case for a sophomore guard who has played with poise in some of the biggest moments in college basketball this season. Then he finished with 21 points (9-for-16) in 40 minutes in KU’s 78-75 win over Texas Tech on Saturday.
Top competition: Udoka Azubuike, Kansas Jayhawks
No disrespect to Freddie Gillespie, Jared Butler, Jahmi’us Ramsey or the other standouts in the league, but Dotson’s teammate is clearly his greatest threat in the Big 12 player of the year race. With the league leader in rebounding (10.1 RPG) and blocks (3.4 BPG) on the floor, opposing Big 12 teams have made fewer than 40 percent of their shots inside the arc, according to hooplen
Big Ten Conference
Iowa’s big man might be the favorite to win the Wooden Award right now after anchoring his team’s 7-4 start in the Big Ten and extending his campaign for postseason accolades with averages of 26.5 PPG and 10.5 PPG through his first 11 Big Ten games. He has made 55 percent of his attempts in post-up situations, according to Synergy Sports data.
Michigan State’s veteran leader (19.6 PPG in league play) is carrying the Spartans, who entered the week tied with Illinois for first place in the conference. With Winston on the floor, Michigan State is a different team in league play: 38.1 percent from the 3-point line versus 31.3 percent with Winston on the bench; 0.83 PPP allowed versus 1.06 PPP allowed with Winston on the bench.
Winston records career high in win vs. Michigan
Cassius Winston scores a career-high 32 points on 11-of-19 shooting as he leads the Spartans to an 87-69 win over the Wolverines.
Big West Conference
CSUN’s star has made more than 50 percent of his shots inside the arc for a program that leads the conference with a 40.4 percent mark from beyond the arc. He’s also the conference leader in scoring (26.0 PPG) and rebounding (9.5 RPG) to go along with 1.5 BPG and 1.6 SPG.
The UC Irvine standout is a rare 6-9 athlete who has been a threat everywhere on the floor in Big West play. Welp (13.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG) is 18-for-20 from the free throw line while also committing turnovers on just 9.5 percent of his possessions.
Colonial Athletic Association
With his strong performances, the Charleston star continues to support the idea that he has a future at the next level. He’s averaging 23.6 PPG and a ridiculous 49 percent clip from the 3-point line in CAA play, while also adding 4.5 APG.
Opposing teams can’t use the Hack-a-Shaq strategy against William & Mary’s 6-10 star, who has made 57 percent of his shots inside the arc and 89 percent of his free throw attempts. He’s also averaging 20.8 PPG and 11.5 RPG.
The UTSA star has won three of C-USA’s player of the week awards while averaging 26.4 PPG and 39 percent of his 3-point attempts in league play. His team’s 4-6 start in C-USA action could hurt his cause, but his numbers are definitively accolade-worthy.
Another star for a sub-.500 team in league play. Williams’ numbers (19.2 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 56 percent clip inside the arc) are solid and he’s ranked second behind Jackson in KenPom’s C-USA Player of the Year rankings.
Davis, the son of Detroit head coach Mike Davis, entered the week ranked third in the country in scoring (23.4 PPG) and is trying to pull his team to the top half of the league standings. He’s also averaging 1.6 SPG and connecting on 90 percent of his free throw attempts.
The 6-8 forward has fueled Wright State’s ascent to the top of the Horizon League’s standings after averaging 15.5 PPG, 10.1 RPG and 1.4 BPG (2.0 BPG in Horizon League play). He also leads the league in offensive rebounding percentage.
Yale is off to an undefeated start in league play and a top-50 spot in the NCAA’s NET rankings with Atkinson leading the way. The conference’s No. 1 scorer (18.5 PPG) is also averaging 10.0 RPG and connecting on 62 percent of his field goal attempts in league play.
Columbia’s standout guard is not only making an impact on offense (17.5 PPG, an Ivy League-high of 5.5 APG), but also on defense, where he leads the conference with 2.8 SPG. In conference play, opposing teams have made just 32 percent of their 3-point attempts with Smith on the floor for Columbia.
Quinnipiac’s lead guard has made 39 percent of his 3-pointers for a team that has taken a higher percentage of its shots from beyond the arc (50.4) than any team in America not named North Florida. He has also made a wild 96 percent of his free throw attempts in MAAC play, while averaging 17.1 PPG amid a 6-4 start in the league.
The Siena sophomore is listed as an “excellent” performer in half-court sets with a 45.2 percent clip in those situations, per Synergy Sports data. He’s also averaging 6.2 APG in league play.
Akron’s top player is the maestro of a team that’s ranked in the top 40 in adjusted offensive efficiency, per KenPom. He has averaged 23.5 PPG and 4.9 APG, while also connecting on 59 percent of his 58 attempts from beyond the arc in MAC play.
The Ball State standout is averaging 15.4 PPG, 9.0 RPG and 1.6 BPG. The success runs in the family for the 6-8 forward who is the cousin of NBA guard Jeff Teague (Atlanta Hawks) and former Kentucky star Marquis Teague, who won a title with Anthony Davis and the Wildcats in 2012.
Last week, Blount — the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Mel Blount — collected his fourth MEAC player of the week award. The 6-7 forward, who says he might make a run at a football career after basketball, led the conference with a 26.8 PPG average in league play entering the week.
The 6-7 center has recorded six double-doubles in MEAC games. His averages of 17.2 PPG and 12.2 RPG are unrivaled in league play for North Carolina A&T, which entered the week atop the MEAC standings.
Missouri Valley Conference
As the catalyst of the top offense in the Missouri Valley Conference, Northern Iowa’s star has led the league in scoring (22.7 PPG) and connected on 49 percent of his 3-point attempts. Northern Iowa has made 54.4 percent of its shots inside the arc with the 6-4 guard on the floor.
Two years ago, the Loyola Chicago star was a freshman who helped the program reach the Final Four. This season, he’s one of the best players in the Missouri Valley Conference, proven by marks of 14.2 PPG, 8.6 RPG and 1.7 SPG in league play.
Mountain West Conference
San Diego State, the last undefeated team in college basketball at 23-0, is led by the Wooden Award candidate who has 21 assists and two turnovers in his team’s past four games. He has made 48.2 percent of his shots as a pick-and-roll ball handler, per Synergy Sports data.
At this pace, the reigning Mountain West Conference Player of the Year will have a strong case to repeat. He’s averaging 18.1 PPG and 3.8 APG for a Utah State squad that has won three of its past four.
With Blackmon (21.6 PPG in NEC games, the top mark in the league) on the floor this season, St. Francis has connected on 51.1 percent of its shots inside the arc and 37.4 percent of its 3-pointers, according to hooplens.com. Blackmon has made 46 percent of his 3-point attempts in league play and he boasts the NEC’s top offensive rating, per KenPom.
The Northeast Conference leader in minutes per game (38.5) is also second in scoring through the first stages of the conference season at 20.7 PPG. Long Island’s forward has also made 57 percent of his shots inside the arc and averaged 23.6 PPG over his past three outings.
Ohio Valley Conference
The 6-5 forward is averaging 20.9 PPG and 10.8 RPG while connecting on 80 percent of his free throw attempts for an Austin Peay squad that has won its first 10 games in the OVC. Per OVC media relations, he’s one of six active Division I players who’ve registered at least 1,700 career points and 800 career rebounds.
A year ago, the Murray State star was Ja Morant‘s sidekick and he scored 19 points in the program’s 83-64 victory over Marquette in the first round of the NCAA tournament. This year, Brown has emerged as a leader for the undefeated Racers (10-0 in OVC play) by averaging 20.9 PPG in MVC games.
If anyone has sealed a conference Player of the Year award after the first month of his league’s slate, it’s Pritchard, who has made 40 percent of his 3-point attempts. He has also averaged one assist for every three possessions and made 86 percent of his free throw attempts for an Oregon team that entered the week in first place at 7-3.
In Stanford’s 70-60 win over Oregon on Saturday, the Cardinal star collected 27 points, 15 rebounds and three assists, enhancing his shot at securing multiple postseason accolades for a program that’s chasing its first NCAA tournament berth since 2014. The 6-9 junior has made 67 percent of his shots inside the arc since the start of Pac-12 play.
The player with the best name in the Patriot League is also one of its top players, signaled by the 22.1 PPG average he has amassed during Army’s current six-game winning streak. He’s also the Patriot League leader in assists (7.2 APG).
Mahoney is the ace for a Boston University squad that has made 53.8 percent of its shots inside the arc, a top-30 mark nationally. In the Patriot League, he’s top 10 in scoring (15.4 PPG), rebounding (8.1 RPG), assists (3.7 APG), field goal percentage (64 percent) and steals (1.4 SPG).
Yes, Georgia has been one of the worst teams in the SEC, which goes against the norm for creating candidates for postseason accolades, but the conference doesn’t exactly have its typical amount of elite players. That should elevate the candidacy of Edwards, a projected top-five pick in June’s NBA draft. He’s averaging 20.8 PPG in league play, which includes a 19.0 PPG clip in three losses to Kentucky (two games) and Auburn.
Edwards throws down big windmill jam
Anthony Edwards steals and breaks away to throw down a thunderous windmill dunk.
He has averaged 25.7 PPG in the Razorbacks’ last four contests. He has also recorded assists on more than one-quarter of his team’s possessions, which is why it’s about time folks start talking about Jones, the reigning SEC Player of the Week, as an SEC Player of the Year candidate.
The UNC Greensboro star made noise in November when he registered 19 points in 24 minutes in a 74-62 loss at Kansas. He has averaged 22.4 PPG and 3.7 SPG, both top marks in the SoCon.
The Western Carolina junior has scored 18 points or more in seven SoCon games. The Northern Kentucky transfer also is averaging 18.9 PPG and 6.0 APG, the top mark in the conference.
In an upset win at Duke, Harris finished with 26 points and four assists. He has taken that momentum into the Southland, where he’s averaging 18.5 PPG and connecting on 45 percent of his 3-point attempts.
McNeese State has surged into contention in the Southland with Kennedy as its leader. The 6-8 forward is averaging 18.6 PPG and 11.3 RPG in conference play, while connecting on 69 percent of his attempts inside the arc.
The 6-10 force is set to replace Mike Daum, the former South Dakota State star who won three Summit League player of the year awards, as the biggest star in the conference. Hagedorn is the nation’s best 3-point shooter (57 percent on 101 attempts) and one of its top free throw shooters (91 percent), and he’s averaging 19.4 PPG for a team chasing a Summit League title.
The best player for the top team in the Summit League has connected on 61 percent of his field goal attempts while averaging 19.1 PPG in conference play. South Dakota State’s standout has added 1.2 BPG for the conference’s No. 2 defense.
Sun Belt Conference
After an 0-3 start in league play, Texas State has won seven of nine. Pearson (20.0 PPG, 38 percent from the 3-point line, 84 percent from the free throw line) has carried this team to the top tier of Sun Belt Conference.
He’s No. 1 in assists (5.6 APG) in league play as Little Rock continues to separate from the pack in the Sun Belt Conference race (it entered the week 11-2 in league play). He has also made 41 percent of his 3-point attempts since the start of conference action.
The Alcorn State standout is averaging 15.9 PPG and 4.6 APG, the top mark in the SWAC. Per Synergy Sports data, he has also been an “excellent” defender whose opponents have made just 30.8 percent of their shot attempts in isolation situations.
Jackson State’s top performer finished with 16 points and seven rebounds in a loss to Baylor in December. The 6-6 forward has averaged 15.8 PPG and 7.3 RPG in SWAC play.
Seattle University’s top player leads the WAC in scoring at 18.1 PPG. In league play, opponents have registered a subpar 93 points per 100 possessions with Brown on the floor.
With teammate Trevelin Queen set to miss up to six weeks with a knee injury, the standout guard has helped his team preserve its unblemished record (8-0) in league play. Rice (46 percent from the 3-point line in league play) has averaged 19.0 PPG over the last two contests.
West Coast Conference
With Petrusev acting as one of the most efficient players in the country, Gonzaga has defeated WCC opponents by an average of 23.6 points per game. He’s averaging 16.9 PPG and 7.6 RPG while finishing 68 percent of his shots at the rim, per hoop-math.com.
The spark for a team that’s ranked top 10 in adjusted offensive efficiency, Ford is leading the West Coast Conference with a 21.2 PPG average. He has also made 42 percent of his 3-point attempts in WCC play.