College Basketball 2021-22 Wooden Award Watch: Drew Timme, Paolo Banchero Lead Wide-Open Race
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images. Pictured: Paolo Banchero (Duke)
In the world of the Wooden Award, the 2020-21 season felt like one long Luka Garza coronation. The Iowa center had narrowly lost the award to Dayton’s Obi Toppin the year before, but he left no doubt as a senior.
This year, though, the field is wide open. That makes wagering on the award far more intriguing. The “favorites” are both +600 right now (per DraftKings), indicating there is an opportunity out there for bettors who can identify promising candidates.
To do that, one must be aware of two key considerations.
First: the player must be on a great team. Not just “top-25” good, but a real Final Four contender. Of the past 25 Wooden winners, 19 (or 76%) of them have been on a team that earned a 1- or a 2-seed.
Only three (Kevin Durant, Trey Burke and Andrew Bogut) were on a 4-seed or lower. So you are not just projecting the player — you need a team that rocks.
The other major factor is that like it or not, media attention matters. No one from the pacific time zone has won since Ed O’Bannon in 1995, and only Bogut (2005) and Jimmer Fredette (2011) have broken through west of central time.
Meanwhile, five different Duke players have taken home the award in that same time span.
Let’s take a look at this year’s race in three arbitrarily decided sub-categories. We’ll narrow this down in the future, but for now, we’ll paint with a broad brush.
Author’s Note: Odds come from DraftKings unless otherwise noted.
|Drew Timme (Gonzaga)||+600|
|Paolo Banchero (Duke)||+600|
As a returning All-American from the preseason No. 1 team, Drew Timme entered this year as the presumed favorite. He sizzled out of the gate, torching Texas for 37 points on the season’s first Saturday.
Underwhelming performances against Duke and Texas Tech have brought him back to the pack, though.
That has allowed Paolo Banchero to slither up the board, and his 21-point outing against Timme’s Zags stands as his signature performance right now.
Freshmen struggle to win the award, but the ones that have — Durant, Zion Williamson and Anthony Davis — are transcendent stars who become top NBA draft picks.
Oh, and again — Duke players have won this award 20% of the time in the past quarter century.
|Ochai Agbaji (Kansas)||+1000|
|Jaden Ivey (Purdue)||+1200|
|Johnny Juzang (UCLA)||+2000|
|Johnny Davis (Wisconsin)||+2500|
|Bennedict Mathurin (Arizona) (FanDuel)||+2400|
I love Jaden Ivey and Bennedict Mathurin, and they have serious NBA pedigree, but they may have issues with the “are they even the best players on their respective teams?” debates.
Johnny Juzang may also deal with that to a lesser extent, and he and Mathurin both fail the “are they Pac-12 players?” test.
Ochai Agbaji, on the other hand, has asserted himself as the star scorer on a top-five team. He currently ranks third nationally in scoring at 22.0 points per game, and gaudy stats on an elite team is a tremendous formula.
Johnny Davis is intriguing, as the Badgers have been quite poor in the two games he has missed, indicating his monumental value. Unfortunately, Wisconsin may not be good enough to earn a 1- or a 2-seed, crippling Davis’ chances.
The Big Ten Bigs
|E.J. Liddell (Ohio State)||+700|
|Kofi Cockburn (Illinois)||+1800|
|Trayce Jackson-Davis (Indiana)||+2000|
|Hunter Dickinson (Michigan)||+2500|
|Trevion Williams (Purdue)||+3000|
|Keegan Murray (Iowa)||+4000|
E.J. Liddell is actually the favorite at FanDuel right now at +500, and it’s justified. He’s stuffing the stat sheet like Santa filling his bag with toys and he’s the clear alpha on a legitimate Big Ten contender.
The Buckeyes currently lurk outside of the “clear 1- or 2-seed” range, but they are definitely a candidate. If they get there, Liddell could be hard to deny.
Kofi Cockburn checks all of the boxes: Illinois looks excellent, he has plenty of visibility in the general population and he’s a unique kind of beast. If the Illini can properly incorporate Andre Curbelo into the lineup while continuing to feature Cockburn, he may make a charge.
Trayce Jackson-Davis, Hunter Dickinson and Keegan Murray all probably get DQ’d by the “team quality” stipulation.
Dickinson’s Wolverines could eventually surge up the rankings after getting a ton of preseason love, but it’s an uphill climb right now as they sit at just 7-4 overall.
2021-22 Wooden Award Final Betting Notes
Chet Holmgren (Gonzaga) and Jabari Smith (Auburn) are the oddballs that do not fit my three arbitrarily determined groups.
Those two dynamic freshmen could certainly have some value, and Holmgren in particular (+8000 at FanDuel) is worth a sprinkle at tantalizing odds.
Picks As of Today: Liddell +700 (DraftKings) | Agbaji +1200 (DraftKings) | Holmgren +8000 (FanDuel)
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