The Naismith College Player of the Year is given annually to the top men’s and women’s collegiate basketball players. When the award was first given out in 1969, four of the first six men’s recipients were centers. The sport of basketball has changed mightily to a guard’s game, as the last center to win the award was Tim Duncan in 1997.
When predicting who will win this year’s Player of the Year Award, it is important to look at trends of past winners. Since the year 2000, the breakdown of the winner by year in school is as follows: Freshmen – 3 winners, Sophomores – 4 winners, Juniors – 4 winners, Seniors – 9 winners. This is a fascinating trend, given how much of the NBA Draft boards are dominated by underclassmen each year. The fact that nine seniors have won the award in the past 20 seasons shows you how beneficial it can be in some cases to stay in school and develop your game.
There are many variables one must factor in when predicting who will win the Player of the Year Award. Things like the player’s supporting cast, team success, and national exposure are all important in determining a player’s candidacy. Here is a look at the players with the 10 best odds to be the Player of the Year in college basketball (odds courtesy of DraftKings).
|Cassius Winston||Michigan State||+500|
|Kerry Blackshear Jr.||Florida||+700|
|Cole Anthony||North Carolina||+1000|
Cassius Winston (+500)
Since a senior has won nearly half of the Naismith Awards over the last 20 years, it makes sense to have a senior with the best odds at the top of this list. Cassius Winston averaged 18.8 points, 7.5 assists, and three rebounds last season. He is the floor general and catalyst for the preseason’s top-ranked team in the country. Winston is the defending Big Ten Player of the Year and was named to the Consensus All-America Second-Team last season. Winston was also a Wooden Award Finalist and Naismith Award Semifinalist in 2018-19.
It will be interesting to see where Cassius Winston ends up on the all-time NCAA career assists list. He enters the season 363 assists shy of breaking Bobby Hurley’s NCAA record of 1,076. Given the losses of backcourt mates Matt McQuaid (graduation) and Joshua Langford (out until at least January with a foot injury), Winston will be called upon to shoulder a heavy load. Head coach Tom Izzo will not be afraid to play Winston 35+ minutes a game (he averaged 33.5 last year). Winston plays in arguably the deepest conference in the country and will have plenty of opportunities to impress voters in high-profile games. Michigan State opens the season against Kentucky, travels to Seton Hall, and may even face Kansas in an early-season tournament.
Perhaps the only thing working against Cassius Winston is the fact that no Michigan State player has ever won the Naismith Award. Winston is in a prime position to buck that trend this year. He is every bit worth the short odds to be named Player of the Year.
Cole Anthony (+1000)
After the early departure of Coby White to the NBA, true freshman Cole Anthony will be handed the keys to the North Carolina offense right away. Anthony is a one-and-done talent who many project to be a top-three pick in 2020 NBA mock drafts. Anthony is the son of former NBA star and UNLV legend, Greg Anthony. When we last saw Anthony playing high school basketball, he was averaging a triple-double for Oak Hill Academy and took home the MVP Award at the McDonald’s All-American game. More recently, Anthony scored 28 points in a scrimmage against Villanova earlier this month. He is lightning quick, can score in bunches, has great handles, and an extremely high basketball IQ.
Cole Anthony enters into a great situation at North Carolina. His head coach, Roy Williams, has always stressed an up-tempo offensive attack that pushes the pace. Williams’ teams have consistently ranked high at season’s end in terms of offensive efficiency and points per game. Williams has coached 11 consensus All-Americans in his coaching career, including two point guards (Jacque Vaughn, Ty Lawson). Anthony will get a ton of national exposure playing in the ACC with such a high-profile university. If Anthony wins the Naismith Award, that would make two straight seasons that a freshman won the honor, after Zion Williamson won last year. At +1000 odds, Cole Anthony is a great bet to make it back-to-back.
Jordan Nwora (+2000)
Jordan Nwora of Louisville was one of five people named to the Associated Press preseason All-America men’s basketball team. Thus, Nwora represents great value at +2000. The Louisville swingman is a versatile player who can play inside and outside. Louisville is the preseason’s fifth-ranked team in the country. They return three starters and six of their top seven scorers from a year ago. If the Cardinals can beat out historical “bluebloods” like Duke and North Carolina and even defending national champion Virginia for the ACC crown, it would go a long way in helping Nwora’s candidacy for Player of the Year.
Betting on Nwora to win this award feels like a bet on the success of Louisville’s team as a whole. Media members at 2019 Operation Basketball awarded Louisville the second-most first-place votes to win the ACC. Following this confidence, +2000 odds on Nwora to win the Naismith Award is a smart hedge.