College Basketball Wooden Award Watch: Johnny Davis, Paolo Banchero Among Players With Betting Value
John Fisher/Getty Images. Pictured: Johnny Davis.
The heart of conference play in January and February provides some crucial opportunities for players in the race for this season’s individual awards.
This stretch mirrors those autumn Saturdays when college football’s biggest names use nationally-televised rivalry games and big wins to state their claim for the Heisman Trophy.
With a wider crop of contenders and more games to parse, the race for college basketball’s National Player of the Year honors is often murkier than football’s Heisman chase.
There will always be focus on the best players in the biggest games between the best teams, but there are so many players putting up notable numbers and performances that it can be difficult to see through the forest and predict a winner before March rolls around.
Thankfully, we’ve reached a point in the calendar when more information is becoming available and the candidates are separating themselves from the pack.
These four names stand out as players with a real path to winning the trophy, some with particularly attractive odds to do so.
The New Favorite
If you haven’t already grabbed Davis, his odds have plummeted since his nationwide coming out party in Wisconsin’s win over Purdue.
Just a few weeks ago, Davis was being offered in the +2500 to +3000 range. Now every sportsbook has him as the favorite for the award, with some books offering him as low as +400 (BetRivers). At that price, he’s not worth the wager. But anywhere above +600, there’s still value on Davis.
He will have tons of opportunities to shine during Big Ten play. Upcoming battles with Illinois, Michigan State, Indiana, and Purdue will attract tons of eyeballs.
If his play stays as strong as it’s been, he’ll become the consensus pick for all of this season’s awards.
After Duke’s pivotal win over Gonzaga, Banchero foisted himself into the top spot for Wooden Award and the top spot in this spring’s NBA Draft. As Duke’s schedule dipped into a softer portion of the season, he lost some steam but remained among the betting favorites.
Now that Duke finds itself in the teeth of the ACC slate, Banchero’s candidacy is in an interesting spot. Duke has now lost two of its last four and does not look like the world-beaters many began to expect this season.
That’s especially troubling against an incredibly down ACC, which ranks as the fifth-best conference, per KenPom, with no team but Duke in the top 30.
That is indeed troubling, but Banchero’s production hasn’t quivered. He’s posting 21 points, eight rebounds, and four assists per game in his last six. More importantly, he plays for Duke. No matter the state of the ACC, national eyes will be on the Blue Devils.
There’s no marquee opponent on the schedule for Duke, but that doesn’t matter when you’re Duke. Every game is a big deal. If Banchero can carry the Blue Devils to an ACC title, he’ll remain a strong candidate for the Wooden Award.
Still in the Mix
In the last 10 years, no player won the Wooden Award on a team seeded lower than four in the NCAA Tournament, with eight of those 10 winners coming from a top two seed.
Realistically, it doesn’t make sense to bet on anyone outside the top 10 teams in college basketball, with an extra eye on who will remain among the top teams when March rolls around.
Kansas is as good a bet as anyone to earn a high seed. The Jayhawks are too talented not to, even playing in a terrifying Big 12.
Ochai Agbaji is also so much more than a default choice from a good team. He’s been excellent this season, averaging 20 points per game to fuel a dangerous Jayhawk offense.
With upcoming dates with Kentucky, Texas Tech, Texas (twice), and Baylor (twice), he’ll have plenty of chances to earn the spotlight.
Don’t Forget About…
This is easily the best number further down the board.
Looking for a player on a high-seeded team? Villanova is once again on track to win the Big East and earn a top seed. Looking for production? Gillespie’s 17 points and three assists, for a slow-playing Villanova team, have been very note-worthy.
If your definition of the award relies on “most valuable,” it’s hard to match what Gillespie does for the Wildcats.
Maybe best of all, Gillespie has the narrative on his side. His season ended early last year with an injury that kept him out of what could have been his final NCAA Tournament. The rules that gave a fifth season allowed him to return, and he’s made the most of it.
If Villanova rips off a long winning streak against its Big East foes, Gillespie will be all over the national media. Do not count out his chances to win this award.