Now that all schools have wrapped up the non-conference portion of the season, we get into league play. For many diehard fans, this is when the season really starts. League play separates the men from the boys, and we will start to see individual players separate themselves from the pack in the race for the John R Wooden national player of the year award.
But what if I told you the right time to make a bet on the national player of the year would be right now? Books everywhere are already taking action on the Wooden Award winner, and the odds will never be as good as they are right now, to back your favorite player.
In this article, we are going to give a brief history of the award and what type of player tends to win it and give you the sharp betting advice you need to profitably make a bet now, while the price is right. Let’s get started!
John R Wooden Award
The John R Wooden Award, named for the Hall of Fame coach of the same name, is the most prestigious award handed out in college basketball. It is the Heisman of college hoops. They started handing out the award in 1977, and the list of winners reads like a who’s who of basketball royalty. Former winners include Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Kevin Durant, and Anthony Davis.
Who Wins The Award?
When you are looking to handicap an award like this, the first thing you need to look at is who historically wins the award. In its history, the Wooden Award has predominantly been given to seniors. Twenty-six times in the award’s forty-three-year history the award has been given to players in their final year of eligibility. That is nearly 60% of the time.
Even in our recent era of one and done superstars, where many of the best players in the nation are freshmen, they still don’t win the award often. Kevin Durant of Texas was the first-ever freshman to win the award back in 2007, and since then, only two other freshmen have been selected as winners, Anthony Davis of Kentucky in 2012, and Zion Williamson of Duke last year. All three of those players were exceptional, so if you want to win the award as a freshman, you need to be on that level to be considered.
The Team Matters
Winners also tend to be from blue blood programs, or at the minimum on teams that were from smaller schools that had breakout seasons the year they won. Duke has had six winners, North Carolina has had four, Kansas, Virginia, and UCLA all have had two winners apiece.
When Andrew Bogut of Utah won in 2005, his Utes team won twenty-nine games and made the Sweet 16. Doug McDermott’s Creighton team won twenty-seven games, including an NCAA tournament game, in 2014. And Jimmer Fredette led his BYU Cougars to thirty-two wins and a trip to the second weekend of March Madness when he won in 2011. You aren’t going to be considered to win if you play on a bad team.
The Favorites To Win In 2020
In this first section, we are going to take a look at the favorites to win the award and break down what I think their chances are of taking it home and if they are worth a play at the current price.
- Jordan Nwora – Louisville +650
- Markus Howard – Marquette +650
- Cassius Winston – Michigan State +750
- Obi Toppin – Dayton +900
- Vernon Carey Jr. – Duke +900
- Devon Dotson – Kansas +1200
- Kaleb Wesson – Ohio State +1800
This is a nice varied group of favorites with a mix of senior leaders in Cassius Winston and Markus Howard as well as a couple of breakout non-senior players in Wesson, Toppin, Dotson, and Nwora. Vernon Carey Jr of Duke serves as our lone freshman sensation currently in the favorite’s conversation.
Markus Howard – Marquette
- Senior – Guard
- 25.6 PPG
- 2.7 RPG
- 3.3 APG
- 1.0 SPG
More than any other player on this list, Howard fits the mold perfectly of the type of guy that wins the player of the year award. His team should be good enough that it won’t hurt him, he is a senior that has a long history of greatness, and he leads the nation in scoring.
This feels a lot like Jimmer Fredette, Doug McDermott, or Buddy Hield, all recent winners from lower-profile schools that could score the ball at a high rate. Howard already has multiple signature moments on his resume this season.
— Marquette Basketball (@MarquetteMBB) January 4, 2020
He dropped fifty on USC, forty on Davidson, and has scored at least thirty points in a game five times this year. I love Howard to win it this year, and in my opinion, he is the prohibitive favorite to take home the prize. Get your action in now, as this number is only going to drop.
Cassius Winston – Michigan State
- Senior – Guard
- 17.8 PPG
- 2.2 RPG
- 6.1 APG
- 1.2 SPG
Very similar to Howard, Winston very much fits the mold of a player of the year winner. The only reason that I don’t think he can win it, though, is because he has seemingly regressed somewhat this season. While his stats are still very good, he has seen his scoring, rebounds, assists, shooting percentage, and 3-point shooting percentage all drop from last year.
— Michigan State Basketball (@MSU_Basketball) January 3, 2020
He wasn’t good enough to win it last year, and it is hard to blow the committee away when you didn’t get any better from your previous years, let alone get worse. Occasionally the committee likes to give this award out as a kind of lifetime achievement award. We saw this when guys like Shane Battier, Jameer Nelson, and Frank Mason won the award. And while they could do this for Winston, who has had a great career as a Spartan, I wouldn’t bet on it. Stay away from a play on Winston.
Jordan Nwora – Louisville
- Junior – Forward
- 20.2 PPG
- 7.2 RPG
- 1.3 APG
- 1.0 SPG
Jordan Nwora is a really good player on a really good team. He deserves to be one of the betting favorites. But I just don’t think he is going to win, for two main reasons. The first, and most important reason I don’t think he is going to win the award, is that he has had a tendency to struggle in big games this year.
The Cardinals have two losses this year, and in both of those games, Nwora really struggled. In the two losses, he averaged just eleven points on atrocious 6-26 shooting from the field, including 2-13 from three. He did have a nice game in the win against Michigan, dropping twenty-two and twelve, but when it comes down to an award that is given to only the very best, you need to rise to the occasion, not run from it.
Jordan Nwora right now:
— Louisville Basketball (@LouisvilleMBB) January 4, 2020
The second reason that I don’t think Nwora can win, is his popularity. At the end of the day, this tends to be a bit of a popularity contest. I know it probably shouldn’t be, but it is. And Nwora just isn’t a household name right now. Nwora is going to have plenty of opportunities in ACC play to show he can be great when it matters and to get his name out there, but right now, he isn’t showing significant value at +650.
Obi Toppin – Dayton
- Sophomore – Forward
- 19.8 PPG
- 7.9 RPG
- 2.3 APG
- 1.3 SPG
- 1.3 BPG
I love Obi Toppin. This kid can do it all on a basketball court. He can score inside, outside, from the paint, in the block, post up, mid-range, this kid is very skilled at scoring the basketball. And he can guard all five guys on the floor on defense with his long range and quick feet. He is as complete of a player as we have in the college game right now.
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) January 3, 2020
The only real knock on Toppin is that he may have peaked a little early. Toppin came out of the gates on fire as he scored at least twenty-one points in each of his first five games of the year. Nobody knew this kid’s name coming into the season, but he changed all that with a huge performance at the Maui Invitational.
But since then, he has been a bit underwhelming. He failed to eclipse the twenty-point mark in seven straight games before finding his groove in his last two games, where he scored a combined fifty-one points. The Flyers play in a league, the A-10, that is down this year as they only have one team inside the top-50 right now outside of Dayton, and that is VCU at #42. That means Toppin won’t have many opportunities to test himself against elite competition, which is going to hurt him. Obi is the man, but he isn’t going to win player of the year, so pass on backing him.
Devon Dotson – Kansas
- Sophomore – Guard
- 18.8 PPG
- 4.0 RPG
- 4.6 APG
- 2.3 SPG
Dotson has the whole, best player on the best team thing going for him. The Jayhawks are nearly locks to win the Big 12 regular season title once again and snatch up a top-line seed in the tournament. Dotson is an elite defender and scorer and makes everyone else around him better. Kansas is at its best when they find creative ways to get good looks for Udoka Azubuike near the rim and they do that by playing an outside in game with Dotson facilitating.
— Kansas Basketball (@KUHoops) December 21, 2019
Outside of Zion Williamson last year, who was a generational level talent, the prior two winners were Frank Mason and Jalen Brunson. Devon Dotson looks a lot like both of those guys at point guard as he leads a very good team and fills up the stat sheet. Outside of Markus Howard, Dotson is my favorite play on the board right now and offers huge value at +1200.
Vernon Carey Jr – Duke
- Freshman – Center
- 17.9 PPG
- 9.0 RPG
- 2.2 BPG
Vernon Carey Jr is the top freshman in the country and is having a great season. He is in the running to be the number one overall pick and will likely enjoy a long NBA career. But he has two major things going against him to win this award, and neither is going to change by the end of the year.
First, he is a center. Centers are quickly disappearing from both the college and pro game as teams shift to more of a transition and perimeter-based game. Only twice this century has a center taken home the award, Andrew Bogut in 2004, and Anthony Davis in 2012.
Rollin into 2⃣0⃣2⃣0⃣ like pic.twitter.com/y1aQ8x2Ekd
— Duke Basketball (@DukeMBB) January 1, 2020
Second, he is a freshman. We already talked about how hard it is for a freshman to win the award, and each of the three guys that have done it were generational level talents. Carey is very good, but he isn’t on the same level as Durant, Davis, or Zion. He can’t win, so don’t back him.
Kaleb Wesson – Ohio State
- Junior – Forward
- 14.7 PPG
- 9.3 RPG
- 2.0 APG
- 1.4 BPG
Kaleb Wesson is a nice player on a nice team. He is a threat for a double-double every night out and is on the short list to take home the player of the year honors in a loaded Big 10 this season. But he shouldn’t be on this list of favorites for the national award. He just doesn’t score the ball well enough to really have a shot at winning it.
— Ohio State Hoops (@OhioStateHoops) January 4, 2020
In the last twenty years, only Anthony Davis finished with a lower scoring average than Wesson’s current 14.7 points per game. And Davis more than made up for it by being one of the best college defenders ever and leading the nation in blocks at nearly five a game. Needless to say, Wesson isn’t Anthony Davis, so you can safely save your money here.
We talked about the favorites, and more than likely, with half of the regular already season over, someone from that list is going to win. But in this final section, I will show you some guys that aren’t currently priced high, that could get hot in the second half of the year and play themselves into a shot at taking home player of the year. These are your high risk, high reward, plays.
Thank you for reading, and make sure to place your bets now before the numbers continue to shrink! Be on the lookout for my individual NCAA men’s college basketball game picks throughout the season as I deliver all of the sharp betting advice you can handle!