The unpredictability of the college basketball season has led to uncertainty as to which team is truly the nation’s best, and that has made for a murky race for national player of the year honors.
There’s no one like last year with Zion Williamson, a runaway choice for The Associated Press national player of the year during his lone star-making season at Duke before becoming the No. 1 overall NBA draft pick. Most of the expected top overall picks in this year’s draft are not in the running for national player of the year.
Instead, there’s a top tier of worthy candidates (presented alphabetically):
DEVON DOTSON, KANSAS
Stat line: 18.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.1 steals.
Best performances: 31 points in overtime win against now-No. 3 Dayton in Maui Invitational; 18 points, 11 assists and six rebounds in win at TCU; 25 points in win at Kansas State.
Intangibles: The 6-foot-2 sophomore provides experience far beyond his two seasons as the team’s only true point guard. His ability to lead the break, get to the rim and make things happen when the shot-clock dwindles are as important as how he sets up big men Udoka Azubuike and David McCormack.
Why he’ll win: He’s the best player on the top-ranked team, following in the footsteps of national player of the year Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham as Kansas’ unquestioned leader.
Why he won’t win: Dotson has standout players around him. His path to the rim is often cleared out because of the 7-foot, 270-pound Azubuike making a lane. Are his assists numbers up because Azubuike can turn and dunk on anyone?
LUKA GARZA, IOWA
Stat line: 23.9 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.8 blocks
Best performances: 44 points on 17-of-32 shooting in loss at then-No. 4 Michigan; 25 points and 17 rebounds in win against Penn State; 21 points and 18 rebounds in win at Wisconsin.
Intangibles: Garza brings a winning attitude to a program that has struggled to climb above mediocrity for years. Even in losses, he has largely willed the 25th-ranked Hawkeyes to stay in games with toughness that often had him leaving games with a bloodied nose or lip.
Why he’ll win: Garza is fifth nationally in scoring and his 15 double-doubles stack up well with anyone. The 6-11 junior has fluidity to his game to go with range that excites NBA scouts.
Why he won’t win: Iowa simply hasn’t won enough. The Hawkeyes lost by 38 points against unranked Purdue and by 12 a week later at Indiana, and defeats like those have prevented Garza from getting as much national hype afforded players on elite teams.
MARKUS HOWARD, MARQUETTE
Stat line: 27.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 41.2% from 3-point range.
Best performances: Had 51 points with nine 3-pointers against USC; had 42 points against Georgetown and 40 against Davidson; had big outputs against Providence (38) and then-No. 13 Seton Hall (37) among five straight 30-point games to close the regular season.
Intangibles: The 5-11 senior point guard commands defensive attention by scoring from anywhere via stepback, pullup or floater. He gets to the line, where he is third nationally in attempts (249) while converting 84.7% of them.
Why he’ll win: Nobody scores the ball better. He is the only Division I player with at least three 40-point games as of Monday, while he has a national-best 15 games with 30-plus points, according to Sportradar.
Why he won’t win: Marquette’s lack of top-tier team success could work against him. The Golden Eagles (18-12) have been unranked most of the year and have lost six of seven entering the Big East Tournament.
MYLES POWELL, SETON HALL
Stat line: 21.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 79.5% at the foul line.
Best performances: Had 37 points and six rebounds with six 3-pointers in a loss to Michigan State in November; had 32 points and seven 3s against Oregon in loss in the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Intangibles: The 6-2 senior is a tough-minded competitor who can go on team-carrying tears. And he’s capable of coming up with tough shots in big moments.
Why he’ll win: When Powell gets rolling, it’s difficult to slow him, even while routinely facing an opponent’s top defender or gimmick defenses. The preseason All-American is the driving force for the 16th-ranked Pirates, who claimed a share of the Big East regular-season title.
Why he won’t win: Powell is on the short list of guys you’d want to take a big shot, but he hasn’t been particularly efficient. He wrestled with his outside shot for stretches and is shooting career-worsts of 39.8% overall and 30.6% on 3s.
PAYTON PRITCHARD, OREGON
Stat line: 20.5 points and 5.5 assists (both lead the Pac-12), 4.3 rebounds, 46.8% shooting.
Best performances: The 6-2 senior may have locked up Pac-12 player of the year honors in a Feb. 22 overtime win at Arizona, scoring 38 points with six 3-pointers while playing all 45 minutes. He also had 29 points, six rebounds and five assists Saturday against Stanford in his final home game to help the 13th-ranked Ducks clinch the Pac-12 regular-season title outright.
Intangibles: He’s smart, gritty and always seems to be at his best with the game on the line.
Why he’ll win: Pritchard has been the best player on what may be the Pac-12’s best team and has been consistently good, eclipsing 1,000 points, 400 rebounds and 400 assists during his career.
Why he won’t win: The West Coast bias is real. BYU’s Jimmer Fredette (2011) and Utah’s Andrew Bogut (2005) are the only players in the last 30 years to win AP player of the year from the western half of the country.
OBI TOPPIN, DAYTON
Stat line: 20.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 63.3% shooting, 38 blocked shots.
Best performances: The 6-9 sophomore opened the season with 29 points and 12 rebounds against Indiana State and was dominant during the Maui Invitational. He also shot 10 of 11 with 23 points and 12 rebounds in the third-ranked Flyers’ Atlantic 10-clinching win over Davidson.
Intangibles: He can dominate both ends, soaring for high-flying dunks and swooping in for blocked shots. He’s also a threat in the post or from the 3-point arc.
Why he’ll win: Toppin proved he can hold his own with the nation’s best players with a strong performance against Kansas in Maui and seems to make the highlight shows every game with acrobatic dunks.
Why he won’t win: Playing in the A-10 could hurt Toppin’s chances. The Flyers were barely pushed during their run to the conference title and voters have tended to go with players from major conferences through the years.
AP Basketball Writers John Marshall in Phoenix; and Dave Skretta in Kansas City, Kansas; contributed to this report.
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