One thing about my household is that we think college basketball rules. Over the winter break, college basketball season finally started to amp up with teams playing aggressively, hoping to get a bid in the March Madness tournament — the epitome of Division I basketball. For those who are unfamiliar, the tournament is huge in terms of collegiate sports. The teams who go to the Final Four have massive television spots, potential money-making brand deals, NBA draft prospects and national popularity.
There are 31 National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball conferences, the most notable ones being the Big 12, Big Ten, Big East (obviously, there’s a trend), American Athletic and Atlantic Coast. These conferences hold many passionate and excellent players who know the game like the back of their hands — but only one can be named 2023’s National Player of the Year (NPOY).
The Naismith College Player of the Year Trophy (NPOY) is an annual award given to the most outstanding male and female players during the season. Most winners of this award have been drafted to the NBA and WNBA. For instance, NBA star Kevin Durant won the Naismith in 2007 when he was a first-year at the University of Texas. Other honored collegiate athletes who became NBA stars include Celtics legend Larry Bird, Chicago Bulls phenom Michael Jordan and 2022 Slam Dunk Contest winner Obi Toppin.
Last year’s winners were Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe and South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston. Both teams were 2022 NCAA March Madness Champions. According to Atlanta Tipoff Club board members, the selection is decided through a series of eliminations and rankings. In November, a “watchlist” was constructed of 50 players across the 68 teams, and by February, it was cut down to 30. As March Madness turns up, four will be selected as finalists and placed on a final ballot. The results will be announced sometime in April after the Championship game.
As Bleacher Report explains, “team success plays a huge role in NPOY discussions.” Players are also ranked based on overall individual production and efficiency.
The Big Ten conference is the oldest league and is considered one of the most difficult in Division I collegiate basketball. It is one of the first conference-owned television networks since 2007, having a 20-year agreement with FOX Sports. For many years it hosted only ten teams (hence the name). Still, the number has since increased to 14: Purdue, Maryland, Northwestern, Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan State, Rutgers, Penn State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Ohio State and Minnesota.
One Big Man in the running has been unanimously praised by announcers and feared among opposing teams – his name is Zach Edey. Standing at 7’4”, this 20-year-old Canadian giant has been the Purdue Boilermakers’ power move. The Big Ten team currently stands at No. 1 with a 13-5 conference record and a 24-5 overall, with Edey leading the scoreboard with an average of 22.3 points and 12.9 rebounds per game. He is shooting 61.2% in the paint and 74.2% on free throws.
Purdue’s record when Edey plays is 71-22 in 93 games, and they made it to the Sweet 16 in 2021-2022. This 2022-23 season, the Boilermakers have lost only five times with Edey, losing to Indiana twice. Unranked Northwestern clamped down on the notorious Big Man, double-teaming and playing clean, dominant defense; the Wildcats ultimately won 64-58. No. 21 University of Maryland also overcame the supposed best in the conference, 58-54.
Defensively, the third-year is a solid shot blocker with a wingspan of 7’7”. He may dominate the court but lacks agility and speed. “As a center 20 years ago, he’d be the perfect prospect,” according to Sports Illustrated. “However, in the modern NBA, he feels like more of a situational bit off the bench.”
People are considering many other options for NPOY, as Edey might not be all that.
The University of Kansas (25-5) player and reigning national champion Jalen Wilson is a beast on the floorboards, averaging 19.6 points and 8.3 rebounds. The fourth-year athlete has recorded five double-doubles in wins over Duke, Wisconsin, NC State, Seton Hall and Missouri.
The 2021 NCAA Championship runner-up Gonzaga’s Drew Timme is a recognizable face in the West Coast Conference. The fourth-year averages 27.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and four assists as the team currently has a six-game winning streak. On Wednesday, March 1, Timme was named his conference’s Player of the Year, so it’s only necessary to get another.