Silverberg: Who will win the Wooden Award?

By Joel Silverberg / @JoelSilverberg

College basketball national championship game was supposed to be played Monday night. Instead, there hasn’t been any college basketball for three and a half weeks after the remaining conference tournaments that hadn’t been completed yet were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. There was never a selection Sunday, a bracket, a First Four, nothing.

However, a regular season was still played. That’s 30-plus games of watching the nation’s elite throughout the course of the year to determine the best of the best. On Tuesday, the John R. Wooden Award will be presented to one of five finalists to crown the most outstanding player in college basketball.

Who will take home the hardware? Here’s a somewhat-kinda-but-not-really educated guess to that question about the best player in an unfortunately abbreviated college basketball season.

The five finalists:

Udoka Azubuike, Sr., Kansas. 13.7 pts, 10.5 reb, 2.6 blk, 74.8 FG%.

Luka Garza, Jr., Iowa. 23.9 pts, 9.8 reb, 1.8 blk, 35.8 3P%.

Markus Howard, Sr., Marquette. 27.8 pts, 3.5 reb, 3.3 ast, 41.2 3P%.

Myles Powell, Sr., Seton Hall. 21.0 pts, 4.3 reb, 2.9 ast, 1.2 stl.

Obi Toppin, So., Dayton. 20.0 pts, 7.5 reb, 1.2 blk, 63.3 FG%.

Most notable snub:

Payton Pritchard, Sr., Oregon. 20.5 pts, 5.5 ast, 4.3 reb, 41.5 3P%.

The senior set career highs this past season for points, assists, rebounds, field goal percentage and 3-point percentage. Arguably no player in the country singlehandedly won more games for his team than Pritchard. He averaged more than 25 points in Oregon’s last five games, including a 38-point output in the Ducks overtime win over Arizona on Feb. 22. Averaging more than 36 minutes per game, Pritchard led Oregon to the Pac 12 regular season crown and had the Ducks sitting at No. 13 in the final AP poll.

The upset pick:

Garza

The only unanimous first team All-Big Ten selection and the runaway conference player of the year, Iowa’s 6’11” stud nearly averaged a double-double through the entire season. Garza improved as an outside shooter, nearly doubled his scoring from his sophomore year and saw an increased role after Tyler Cook departed for the NBA. He’s also tough as nails, constantly playing through physical games and left the Texas Tech game in November after getting a bloody lip, only to return later after receiving four stitches. The best part for Iowa fans is there’s a fairly solid chance Garza is returning to the Hawkeyes for his senior season.

The winner:

Toppin

How in the ever-lovin’ crap did Obi Toppin not receive a single Division 1 offer coming out of high school? He had a handful of offers after a year at Mt. Zion Prep in Baltimore, but still. It’s a real shame to think of what could’ve been for the Flyers this season had the NCAA Tournament not been cancelled. Dayton was looking at a No. 1 seed and would’ve been a strong competitor to make the program’s first Final Four since 1967.

The numbers speak for themselves. Toppin’s been a model of consistency all year, failing to score double figures just once—an 8-point night against Grambling in December where he only took five shots. Toppin averaged 22.3 points per game in the Maui Invitational against Georgia, Virginia Tech and Kansas. He began the season as a projected late-first round pick in this summer’s NBA Draft. Now he’s projected as a top ten pick after Dayton lost just twice all year (to Kansas and Colorado), didn’t lose in regulation and ran roughshod over the Atlantic 10.

Toppin was a unanimous All-American selection and has already won the Naismith Player of the Year, AP National Player of the Year, NABC Player of the Year and the Oscar Robertson Trophy.

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