Top 4 college basketball Wooden Award favorites for 2022-23
With the first week of college basketball practice underway, we take a look at who we think will be the top four favorites to win the Wooden Award in 2022-23. The Wooden Award is earned by the best player in college basketball each season. In 2021-22, Oscar Tshiebwe of Kentucky ran away with the award with his 20-point and 20-rebound performances all season and his power in the SEC.
The last player to win consecutive Wooden Award's was Ralph Sampson of Virginia in 1982 and 1983. Yes, players don't typically stay for another season after winning the Wooden Award, which makes this upcoming season quite interesting. I believe most teams will figure out a way to limit Tshiebwe this season and other players will out-play him as well.
Though I ruled him out for my top 4 to win the Wooden Award, Oscar Tshiebwe is worth an honorable mention in this article, along with Hunter Dickinson from Michigan and, if I must put him in here, Drew Timme from Gonzaga. That would be my top six at the current moment, but once the season starts, who knows what will happen?
Top 4 college basketball Wooden Award favorites
#1. Marcus Sasser
2021-22 Stats: 12 GP, 17.7 PPG, 2.8 REB, 2.6 AST, 2.2 STL, 3.8 3PM, 43.7 3P%
In my opinion, I believe that Marcus Sasser, if fully healthy, could have been drafted in the lottery last season based on the small sample size we saw from him in the 12 games he played last season. Sasser has the defensive energy and talent to hang with top talented guards, and that's not even his biggest strength on the court.
From his junior season before injuring his toe, there were two standout games that I watched that made me so sure about Marcus Sasser as a top college player. Those two games were a home game against Virginia where Sasser had 19 points, four assists, and three steals in a win; and an away game against Alabama, where he showcased his scoring ability with 25 points and four made threes. Another offseason under his belt and becoming fully healed gives Sasser a huge leg up, especially leading a Houston squad that will be competing for a title this season.
Sasser would be the first player to win the Wooden Award playing for a Texas-based college since Kevin Durant won the award playing for the Texas Longhorns in 2007. Sasser has NBA-ready talent written all over him and I expect him to average 20+ points, 4.0+ three-pointers made, and 2.0+ steals this season. The senior guard is my front runner to win the 2022-23 Wooden Award.
#2. Armando Bacot Jr.
2021-22 Stats: 39 GP, 16.3 PPG, 13.1 REB, 1.7 BLK, 56.9 FG%
When looking back at the 2022 NCAA Tournament, you cannot relive it without mentioning the outstanding play of Armando Bacot. Bacot averaged 15.3 points, 16.5 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks, including a 20-point and 22-rebound performance in the Elite Eight against 15-seeded, St. Peter's. Bacot was surely on his way to becoming a first round draft pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, but decided that he wanted one more go at a national title alongside Caleb Love and second-year head coach, Hubert Davis.
Bacot is going to be relied on this whole season, despite the Tar Heels returning four of five starters, but the missing piece of Brady Manek will make Bacot more utilized. If Bacot was able to add any sort of jump shot to his game, he will become a threat from the midrange, which gives him a huge advantage against oversized big men that guard him.
The last Wooden Award winner, Oscar Tshiebwe, dominated the boards and finished the season averaging 17.4 points and 15.2 rebounds. If any player could duplicate or improve those numbers in 2022-23, it's Armando Bacot or Trayce Jackson-Davis from Indiana. The last four Wooden Award winners have been big men and that is a definite possibility for 2022-23, with Armando Bacot landing second on my list of favorites for the Wooden Award.
#3. Trayce Jackson-Davis
2021-22 Stats: 35 GP, 18.3 PPG, 8.1 REB, 2.3 BLK, 59.3 FG%
Trayce Jackson-Davis would be just the second Indiana basketball player to win the Wooden Award since it became an award starting in 1977, joining Calbert Cheaney, who won the award in 1993 by averaging 22.4 points and 6.4 rebounds. Jackson-Davis returned for his fourth and final season in Bloomington to hopefully compete for a Big Ten title and, hopefully, a national championship.
Like Armando Bacot, the one thing holding Jackson-Davis back from flourishing and dominating the college game, along with advancing to the NBA, is his jump shot. At Indiana basketball media day last weekend, Mike Woodson and Jackson-Davis addressed that situation and mentioned that he will have the opportunities to shoot those mid range jump shots in the offense; he will just have to prove that he can make them in games.
I am an Indiana University alum and a huge Hoosier fan, but I can guarantee you that I would not put an IU player on this list if I didn't think he had a realistic shot to pull it off. The last time I thought a Hoosier could compete for the Wooden Award was Cody Zeller in 2012-13, and I wasn't even an IU fan at that time. I know this will come with a lot of backlash, but it's time to prove the doubters wrong, TJD!
#4. Nick Smith Jr.
5-star, 6'4" 185lbs, Ranked #3 nationally in 2022 class
The last freshman to win the Wooden Award was Zion Williams in 2019, and to think about the performances of freshmen, Paolo Banchero and Jabari Smith last season, it could have happened in 2021-22 if neither of those players hit that freshman slump. Nick Smith Jr. is a different breed. Smith Jr. will be playing under Eric Musselman at Arkansas and leading a Razorback squad that should be competing for an Elite Eight run or better come March.
Smith Jr. can score at all three levels, and based on what was seen from the Razorbacks playing internationally in early August, he seems like he's ready for the spotlight as an incoming freshman this season. He will absolutely win SEC Freshman of the Year and don't be surprised to see his name thrown around in the Wooden Award, especially if Arkansas has as strong of a season as they did last season.