College Basketball 2021-22 Wooden Award Watch: 3 Players to Bet on & Long Shots to Watch
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images. Pictured: Jaden Ivey (Purdue)
When evaluating the chances for an end of season individual award — like the Wooden Award in college basketball — there are a few tentpole qualities that a player needs to check in order to be considered.
Namely, any player with a chance to earn votes at the season’s end needs to have some mix of production on the stat sheet, opportunity to succeed on the big stage and a certain level of team success.
Production is the obvious first criteria, yet it’s rarely the thing that separates a player from the field. The nation’s leading scorer or the player with the most double-doubles is not always among the top names for the Wooden Award.
It’s the other criteria that builds a narrative for that player and ultimately can be the deciding factor.
In the last 10 years, only one player outside the traditional power conferences has won the Wooden Award (Dayton’s Obi Toppin in 2020). In that same time frame, all but two Wooden winners played for a team that earned a top two seed in the NCAA Tournament, with no seed lower than the four earned by Trey Burke’s Michigan team.
Any player with a real chance to be considered will come from a squad in the top 15 or so in the nation, or a program with a chance to earn its way there.
With these notes in mind, the current field begins to take shape.
All odds via DraftKings
|Drew Timme (Gonzaga)||+600|
|Paolo Banchero (Duke)||+600|
|E.J. Liddell (Ohio State)||+700|
Of the trio at the top, Timme is likely the most overpriced. He’ll battle for eyes and votes with freshman phenom Chet Holmgren on a Zags team that was getting buzz about going undefeated, yet now has two losses.
The West Coast Conference is stronger this year than previous seasons, but if Timme was going to win this award, he needed to jump out early in the season and be the clear best player. He also needed real growth on his game from last year.
Banchero and Liddell offer an intriguing set of options. Banchero should dominate an ACC that is as shallow as ever. That could mean Duke is highly-ranked and Banchero’s numbers pop, but it could prove to be less favorable than other players in more competitive conferences.
That would lead to Liddell, who has been the best of the Big Ten’s many bigs this season. He will have nearly a dozen chances to claim his case in big games against high-quality opposing teams and some of the best big men in the nation.
If he’s up to that challenge every time he gets the chance, Liddell likely wins the award.
The Next Layer
|Ochai Agbaji (Kansas)||+1000|
|Jaden Ivey (Purdue)||+1200|
|Oscar Tshiebwe (Kentucky)||+1600|
|Kofi Cockburn (Illinois)||+1800|
|Johnny Juzang (UCLA)||+2000|
Agbaji is a very interesting name in this race. He’s a senior who made a significant leap this season. He’s scoring 22 points per game, which is good for third-most in the country.
The case against him likely comes from within his own team. Christian Braun, Remy Martin and David McCormack are big-name players who will all spend some time in the spotlight for the Jayhawks this year. That makes Agbaji’s chances of continuing his scoring bursts, unlikely.
Ivey is also interesting, especially if Purdue asserts itself as the class of the Big Ten. If the Boilermakers recover from the upset loss at Rutgers to win the conference title, Ivey is certainly on the short list for the Wooden Award.
The Intriguing Longshots
|Keegan Murray (Iowa)||+4000|
|Adam Flagler (Baylor)||+4500|
Further down the board, there aren’t many names that stand out as having a real chance to take home the trophy, yet these two might be worth a flier.
Murray leads the nation in scoring while grabbing eight rebounds per game. Playing against the gauntlet of Big Ten big men, he will have every opportunity to shine. If Murray can consistently win those duels, his name will stay on the watch lists for the major awards.
His issue? Iowa isn’t a great team. The Hawkeyes have dropped all three games they have played against top-50 competition. If Iowa can win some big games, check back on Murray’s odds here. Those odds could rocket up if Iowa is a top-three seed come March.
Lastly, Flager is unlikely to win this award. He’s barely cracking double digits in scoring. And yet, it is odd that the reigning champion Bears — who are undefeated and ranked atop the polls — don’t have a player being offered at better than 45-to-1.
If that trend continues and Flagler pops in big games (like Kansas and Texas), he could emerge as a player more conservative voters consider. The best player on the best team always stays in the mix late in the season.
Picks As of Today: Liddell +700 | Ivey +1200 | Murray +4000