Depending on your favorite team and conference, you likely have a strong opinion on who should be named NCAA Men’s Basketball Player of the Year. Of the top three (in my opinion), one is from the SEC, one from the Big 12, and one is from the Big 10.
However, in the top ten, five of them are from the Big Ten, arguably the best conference in college basketball. This might also affect March Madness Odds. Let’s take a look at a few of the top candidates for Player of the Year, and their case for the award.
Oscar Tshiebwe – Center – Kentucky
Much to the chagrin of West Virginia fans, Tshiebwe transferred to Kentucky after last year. In Kentucky, he has blossomed. For one thing, he averages 17.3 points per game, and he does so in probably the third toughest conference in college basketball. He is also relied on heavily to rebound the ball, and he does so in spectacular fashion.
Tshiebwe pulls down 15.3 rebounds each game, which is tops in the NCAA. This is more than one and a half more than the second most. Rebounding that well helps the team win games, as a defensive rebound can start a fast break and end in points, especially if the big man can run the floor.
Johnny Davis – Guard – Wisconsin
Davis came seemingly out of nowhere this season, only having averaged 7 points per game on just over 24 minutes during his freshman season last year. This season, he has nearly tripled his scoring, getting it all the way up to 20 points per game. He also averages 8.3 rebounds per game which is exceptional for a guard.
One big reason that Davis is an appealing candidate is the conference that he plays in. The Big Ten is widely regarded as one of the best, if not the best, conference in college basketball. Davis is putting these numbers up against teams like Illinois, Purdue, and Rutgers. That is no easy task.
Ochai Agbaji – Guard – Kansas
Kansas has a long history of great college players, from Danny Manning to Andrew Wiggins to Joel Embiid. Agbaji has been passed the torch as the next Kansas great. THE neat thing about his development is that the stats tell the story.
You can see that, from his freshman year until now, he has improved little by little each year. Agbaji is leading Kansas with just under 20 points per game. He is also averaging 5.2 rebounds per game. Guards that can rebound are invaluable, as they take some of the burden and foul risk off of the frontcourt.
The drawback to Agbaji is his lack of assists. When he gets the ball, he is already thinking about how to score. The problem is, however, when he isn’t able to get to the basket, he settles for difficult shots or gets the ball stolen. In the tournament, Agbaji will have to improve his discipline if he wants to win.
Kofi Cockburn – Center – Illinois
Cockburn is Mr. Consistent. Coach Brad Underwood knows exactly what he is going to get from him, a mountain of a man who is impossible to back down in the paint. Cockburn gets the position he wants consistently, which leads to easy points and a nightmare for opposing centers looking to score. In fact, only Zach Edey has had much luck scoring against Cockburn, since he is so tall.
Cockburn is averaging a double-double, scoring 21 points each game, along with 10.6 rebounds per game. He is certainly the most valuable player on the Illini, despite all the talent on that roster.
When Illinois needs a basket to end a run or to keep their momentum, they thread the ball inside for Cockburn to make something happen. Does this make him player of the year material? Not necessarily, but he will certainly be in the conversation.
The biggest problem for Cockburn is his lack of a jump shot. If he could turn around and shoot a 15 footer consistently, he would likely average in the high twenties in terms of points per game. He would also get fouled more often, opening up a whole different can of worms for opponents.