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#pounditMonday, October 3, 2022

Top 10 candidates for college basketball Player of the Year

Jalen Brunson

With college basketball’s season coming closer to a conclusion, major awards will soon follow. Players like Trae Young have electrified the sport on the court all season long, but the race for Player of the Year has definitely narrowed in recent weeks, and there are a number of strong candidates.

Here’s a look at 10 players who deserve to be in the discussion when it comes to the sport’s Player of the Year award.

1. Jalen Brunson, Villanova

Villanova’s play of late certainly works in Brunson’s favor as far as Player of the Year consideration goes. The big part, though, is that Brunson can consistently do anything on a basketball court. He put up 22 points, five assists, and five rebounds in the team’s loss to Creighton, but that’s just demonstrative of what he can do. If you need Brunson to score, he can do it. If a teammate has the hotter hand, he’ll get out of the way and serve as the facilitator. He’s the best player on one of the nation’s best teams, and his play recently has begun to separate him. If you believe winning matters, Brunson is probably atop your list for the honor.

2. Trae Young, Oklahoma

This looked like Young’s award for the bulk of the season, and the fact that he’s lost some of his luster isn’t completely his fault. After all, he is still averaging 28.3 points per game and 9.1 assists. With numbers like that, shouldn’t he be at the top of these rankings?

Maybe. But opponents have focused totally on Young, and the Sooners have struggled recently. Even Young himself has seen his numbers drop a little bit. Many voters will feel that winning matters for an award like this, and Young’s Sooners haven’t been doing a ton of that lately. The momentum is against him, fairly or not.

3. Marvin Bagley III, Duke

A preseason favorite for the award, Bagley hasn’t really disappointed. He’s averaging a double-double with 20.7 points and 11.1 rebounds per game, and he’s a matchup nightmare for pretty much every opponent. Working against him? He’s not an elite defender, and he’s struggled at times to fit into Duke’s defensive system. He also missed four games in February, and the Blue Devils were able to succeed without him. Bagley’s going to be a one-and-done, and he’s going to be drafted very highly for good reason.

4. Deandre Ayton, Arizona

It remains to be seen if Ayton’s link to the scandal that is enveloping college basketball will have a major effect on his awards consideration. Before those revelations came out, he was certainly a frontrunner for player of the year, and he may still be. The talented freshman is averaging 19.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game, and he responded to the recent controversy with a 28 point, 18 rebound performance against Oregon in an overtime loss. No matter what the deal with him is, he’s a monster.

5. Trevon Bluiett, Xavier

Bluiett has been around for a while, and he’s always been a quality player for Xavier, but he’s taken a big step forward this year. The senior is averaging a career-best 19.2 points per game, and he adds 5.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists to the mix. A 43-percent shooter from three, he’s also become a very capable defender. He’s done it against quality opposition as well, putting up 26 points in a loss to Villanova. He’s not the flashy type, but he just does everything well.

6. Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State

Ohio State’s massive turnaround in 2017-18 is mostly down to the return of Bates-Diop, who missed almost all of 2016-17 owing to a stress fracture in his leg. It’s no coincidence that the team became a national player once he got healthy. The junior forward has averaged 19.2 points per game and 8.9 rebounds, with the ability to play down low and hit the occasional three-pointer. He’s been one of the best stories of the year, just as his team has been.

7. Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s

Possibly the best player in college basketball you’ve never heard of. A monster on the low block, Landale averages 21.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, pacing a Saint Mary’s team that has a chance to cause some big headaches in the NCAA Tournament. The Aussie probably won’t win the award, as he’s run into trouble when quality opponents double-team him — he managed just four points against Gonzaga, for instance. Still, he’s had a huge season, and he deserves at least a look here.

8. Keenan Evans, Texas Tech

Another quality scorer, Evans is the undisputed leader of Texas Tech’s basketball team. He was a stronger candidate for the award before a recent toe injury that has severely limited his output, and he simply didn’t bring his best to big games against Oklahoma State, Kansas and Baylor. This is still a guy who’s put up 30 points or more three times so far this season, including a 38-point outburst against Texas. He’s a very good player.

9. Jevon Carter, West Virginia

Carter does it all for West Virginia. He scores to the tune of 17.2 points per game, and he’s averaged 6.5 assists per game this season as well, making him a gifted facilitator. However, there’s more to him — he grabs rebounds and has 88 steals through 30 games this season. Given how he fills the stat sheet, it’s almost a surprise that he only has two double-doubles to his credit this year. He doesn’t quite compare to the top of the list, but he’s a do-everything player who could take West Virginia far in March.

10. Miles Bridges, Michigan State

One of the preseason favorites for the gamut of player of the year awards, Bridges has been something of a disappointment relative to expectations. He’s averaging 16.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, but both of those numbers are lower than what he did as a freshman. He’s also occasionally gone quiet in Michigan State’s bigger games. Still, he’s immensely talented, and a strong Big Ten tournament could certainly earn him a few glances — he just has to show that ability to take over a game.


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