Given the NBA’s proclivity for drafting underclassmen, one would think that the best players in college basketball are normally freshmen, sophomores, and juniors. Taking a look at the annual Naismith Award winners since 2000 would crush that thought. A total of nine seniors have won the award given each year to the nation’s top player.
Last year’s winner, Duke’s Zion Williamson, was just the third freshman to ever win the award. In the early days of the award, centers dominated. These days, it’s a guard’s game and it makes sense that this year both guards and seniors are among the favorites to win it. Most college basketball betting previews pick Michigan State as the national champion. It would make sense then that the Spartans would have a player of the year candidate. They do.
The Favorite America’s Bookie gives head coach Tom Izzo’s Spartans +700 odds to win this year’s national title. One of the big reasons is senior point guard Cassius Winston. As a junior, Winston averaged 18.8 points and 7.5 assists per game in winning the Big Ten Player of the Year award and leading MSU to the Final Four.
Winston entered the 2019-20 season 363 assists shy of breaking Bobby Hurley’s NCAA record of 1,076. If Winston would somehow manage to surpass Hurley and then lead Michigan State to a repeat trip to the Final Four, winning the player of the year honor seems like a no-brainer.
The Young Buck While seniors have the edge in winning Naismith Awards, a freshman did win it last year. Another freshman could do it again this year. North Carolina’s Cole Anthony is a one-and-done talent who will inherit the keys to the Tar Heels offense from Coby White. Anthony, whose father is former NBA star Greg Anthony, is the complete package. He is a tremendous athlete, can score, and has a sky-high basketball IQ.
Through four games, Anthony is North Carolina’s leading scorer (22.8 ppg) and the Tar Heels are 4-0. Head coach Roy Williams lost plenty of talent from last year’s squad, but North Carolina is given +1350 odds (America’s Bookie) to win this year’s national title. A championship run would further enhance Anthony’s case.
The Underdog Louisville’s Jordan Nwora is not a household name…yet. The 6-7 junior was named to the AP preseason All-America team and rightfully so. Through five games this season, Nwora is averaging 22 points and seven rebounds for the 5-0 Cardinals who happen to be ranked No. 2 in the nation. Like Winston and Anthony, should Louisville make a run toward the ACC and national titles, Nwora’s chances of winning the Naismith Award will be much greater.
The Guards Two of the most exciting players in the nation are Seton Hall’s Myles Powell and Marquette’s Markus Howard. Both are guards and seniors. Powell is a 6-2 scorer who averaged 23.1 points per game last season. Seton Hall is a favorite to win the Big East and is ranked No. 13 in the country. The Pirates are 3-1 thus far with a three-point loss to Winston’s Spartans. Powell is averaging 22.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.
Howard is even smaller at 5-11, but one of the most dynamic players in the nation. Like last season, Howard will be among the nation’s leading scorers. He shot 42 percent from the field and 40 percent from behind the 3-point arc last season. Howard is averaging 24.7 points a game so far this season. His Golden Eagles (2-1) will have to contend with Powell’s Pirates in the Big East.