Selection Sunday for the 2023 NCAA Tournament is just two months away as college basketball season hits the midway point with the national scene starting to take shape. While the meat of conference play still lies ahead, we've seen enough action to learn who the contenders are for some of the sport's individual awards, including national player of the year.
Much like the Heisman Trophy in college football, national player of the year in college basketball often winds up as something of a team award. It's uncommon to see a winner come from a program that was not among the nation's best during the season. While that may be unfair to some of the game's supreme scorers such as Antoine Davis of Detroit or Jordan "Jelly" Walker of UAB, it's the reality.
The realities of the team-oriented nature of the award also has some high-profile candidates from power conference programs floundering in the race. Oscar Tshiebwe of Kentucky, Armando Bacot of North Carolina, Trayce Jackson-Davis of Indiana and Hunter Dickinson of Michigan each ranked among the very best in our preseason ranking of college basketball's Top 100 And 1 best players. However, each of their teams has been underwhelming, and that may need to change before any of them can sniff the player of the year conversation.
So who are the front-runners for the award? Let's take a look at the five most obvious candidates.
1. Zach Edey, Purdue
PPG: 21.9 | RPG: 13.2 | FG PCT: 63.1%
Purdue's 7-foot-4 center is towering over the competition for Big Ten Player of the Year and has the No. 3 Boilermakers off to a surprising 15-1 start after they were unranked to begin the season. After playing just 19 minutes per game last season while splitting time with Trevion Williams, the junior has seamlessly translated his efficiency to a much greater workload. Now logging 31.3 minutes per game, Edey ranks first in the Big Ten in scoring and rebounding and is second in blocks.
Edey is shooting 63.1% from the field and making a career-best 74.5% of his free throws, which makes defending him a nightmare. He's also fouling less -- despite playing significantly more minutes -- than he did during his first two seasons of college basketball. What's scary for the Big Ten and college basketball is that Edey can play at least one more season of college basketball after this one. Given his lack of an outside shot and defensive limitations on the perimeter, it's easy to imagine Edey steering clear of the pro game for a return to Purdue. For now, he's in excellent position to be the sport's player of the year.
Zach Edey is like if Yao Ming hooped in central Indiana pic.twitter.com/ykTJb0o0DO— Ricky O'Donnell (@SBN_Ricky) January 6, 2023
2. Azuolas Tubelis, Arizona
PPG: 20.6 | RPG: 9.1 | FG PCT: 57.4%
Arizona lost three NBA Draft picks from last season's squad, which earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But the No. 9 Wildcats have barely missed a beat because of Tubelis' excellent offensive play. The 6-11 junior leads the Pac-12 in scoring at 20.6 points per game and in rebounding with 9.1 boards per game. He's playing more minutes than at any point in his career but is shooting a career-best 57.4% from the field and a career-best 79.3% from the free-throw line. He's even demonstrated some touch from the outside by making 8 of 18 attempts from 3-point range.
With the Wildcats often playing a second big man alongside Tubelis in Oumar Ballo, Tubelis' ability to stretch the floor and draw defenders away from the basket with a perimeter shot has been a nice touch. He's reached double figures in every game and is turning the basketball over less than in his first two seasons, despite the increased workload. Perhaps most remarkable about Tubelis' season to date is the fact that he's made at least six shots from the field in every game. No matter the opposition, Tubelis finds a way to get buckets for one of the nation's top squads.
Azuolas Tubelis blocked this shot from behind with FORCE 😨— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) January 6, 2023
(via @CBBonFOX) pic.twitter.com/KkF86zXM2I
3. Jalen Wilson, Kansas
PPG: 20.0 | RPG: 8.8 | FG PCT: 40.7%
How has No. 2 Kansas managed to maintain a championship-level trajectory after losing stars such as Remy Martin, Ochai Agbaji, Christian Braun and David McCormack from last year's squad? There are several answers, but none stand out more than Wilson. The redshirt junior is leading the Big 12 in scoring at 20 points per game and is second in rebounding with 8.8 boards per game.
He's shooting a career-best 34% from 3-point range and has reached double figures in every game this season. Wilson is averaging a career-best 2.7 assists per game and shooting a career-best 76.4% from the free-throw line. He is also getting to the charity stripe for 5.6 attempts per game. In an oft-undersized Kansas rotation, Wilson's versatility at 6-8 makes him a perfect marquee player for coach Bill Self's squad.
Let him work. #jalenwilson #ncaa #basketball #collegebasketball #kansas #jayhawks #mbb #prospect #firstroundpick #nba #nbadraft #nbamockdraft pic.twitter.com/55eYaHTgOP— DEE BLACK (@deeblackmma3) January 11, 2023
4. Drew Timme, Gonzaga
PPG: 21.8 | RPG: 7.9 | FG PCT: 61.5%
Much to the chagrin of Gonzaga's competition in the West Coast Conference, Timme is back and better than ever. The senior forward isn't sharing the spotlight with Chet Holmgren in the front court this season and is feasting to the tune of 21.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. He's also dishing out a career-best 3.5 assists per game and blocking a career-best 1.1 shots per game now that he's logging more minutes at center following Holmgren's departure. The most statistically impressive element of Timme's game this season has been his offensive efficiency, though. He's shooting 61.5% from the floor on 14.1 shots per game.
No. 8 Gonzaga isn't quite as dominant as it has been for much of his career, and Timme still hasn't developed much of an outside shot, but there's no doubt he remains one of the nation's best players. The Zags have quietly made their way back into the top-10 with nine straight wins following a relatively disappointing 5-3 start. Timme and the Zags are feasting on their conference opposition, as usual, and you can bet we'll be hearing from them in March.
#BYU’s Mark Pope previewing #Gonzaga: “Freaking Drew Timme, I mean how many years does he have left? Just go be a pro already. He’s been the face of that program for a decade it seems. … He does it his own way and he does it in a way that nobody has successfully figured out.” pic.twitter.com/aS2HYmcYFl— Theo Lawson (@TheoLawson_SR) January 11, 2023
5. Brandon Miller, Alabama
PPG: 18.8 | RPG: 8.2 | FG PCT: 43.9%
The last freshman to win Naismith Player of the Year was Zion Williamson in the 2018-19 season. Williamson averaged 22.6 points on a ridiculous 68% shooting and was taken No. 1 overall in the 2019 NBA Draft. Miller isn't quite that productive, but he's been elite for a No. 4 Alabama team that appears to be the class of the SEC. A lanky 6-9 forward, Miller is drilling 44.5% of his 3-point attempts and proving to be a versatile all-around weapon who can help the Tide even on the rare days when his shot isn't falling.
He leads the SEC in scoring at 19.1 points and is fourth in rebounding at 8.2 boards per contest. He's also second on the Crimson Tide in defensive rating behind only shot-swatting seven-footer Charles Bediako, per evanmiya.com. Of the players on this list, Miller is the best professional prospect, and his dark horse candidacy for national player of the year will only pick up steam if the Crimson Tide continue dismantling everyone in their path.
Question: What is better?!— Alabama Men’s Basketball (@AlabamaMBB) January 7, 2023
Brandon Miller's Dunk?
Brandon Miller's stare at the camera?
You decide Alabama 🤔 pic.twitter.com/nbsjYH0zKH