Sunday, July 21, 2024

Candid Coaches: Will Zach Edey win national player of the year in back-to-back seasons?

CBS Sports college basketball insiders Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander spent a month surveying 100-plus Division I men’s basketball coaches for our annual Candid Coaches series. They polled across the sport’s landscape: some of the biggest names in college basketball, but also small-school assistants in low-major leagues. Coaches agreed to share unfiltered opinions in exchange for anonymity. We asked them 10 questions and are wrapping up our results this week.

In 1958, The Sporting News was the first organization to hand out a national player of the year award in college basketball. In the ensuing years, five more voting houses emerged that gave college basketball six traditionally recognized national player of the year awards: The Naismith Award, The Associated Press, The Wooden Award, The National Association of Basketball Coaches, The Oscar Robertson Award and Sporting News. 

In the six-plus decades since, 12 men’s basketball players have repeated as national player of the year by winning the honor from one of the six NPOY outfits in back-to-back years. In some years, there is overlap because one player took home some NPOY awards, while another snagged one from a different organization that same season.

Here’s the list:

• Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati (’57-58, ’58-59, ’59-60)
• Jerry Lucas, Ohio State (’60-61, ’61-62)
• Bill Bradley, Princeton (’63-64, ’64-65)
• Lew Alcindor, UCLA (’66-67, ’67-68, ’68-69)
• Pete Maravich, LSU (’68-69, ’69-70)
• Bill Walton, UCLA (’71-72, ’72-73, ’73-74)
• David Thompson, NC State (’73-74, ’74-75)
• Mark Aguirre, DePaul (’79-80, ’80-81)
• Ralph Sampson, Virginia (’80-81, ’81-82, ’82-83)
• Michael Jordan, UNC (’82-83, ’83-84)
• Jay Williams, Duke (’00-01, ’01-02)
• Luke Garza, Iowa (’19-20, ’20-21)

Because college basketball has no Heisman Trophy analogue, the player of the year situation in hoops can sometimes get sticky. Shane Battier won five of the six NPOY awards in 2001 … but his teammate, Jay Williams, won the NABC’s version of it that season, preventing the sweep and allowing Williams to technically go back-to-back after he won all six in 2002. Obi Toppin won five of the six in 2020, but Sporting News opted for Garza, which then gave the Iowa big man back-to-back allowance in 2021 after he swept all six. 

If you’re looking for the last person to win NPOY in back-to-back seasons in at least two of the big six awards — and specifically, the most acclaimed ones: Naismith, Wooden and Robertson — you have to go back more than 40 years. Sampson’s three-peat at Virginia was the last time men’s college basketball truly had a no-doubt-about-it repeat national player of the year winner. 

So, we asked 100-plus coaches:

Will Zach Edey repeat as national player of the year?  

For coaches who voted no, here are players who received multiple votes: Hunter Dickinson, Kyle Filipowski, Armando Bacot, Donovan Clingan, Ryan Kalkbrenner.

Quotes that stood out

Why Edey’s gonna do it

• “Zach Edey is the most dominant force. He continues to improve and elevate his game and he should not be penalized this season for FDU’s miraculous game. If not for that, we would all be in the Zach Edey camp for player of the year.” 

• “I know it’s always smarter to take the field, but Edey just ran away with it last season. Purdue is going to be really, really good again. I just don’t see how he falls off. So I’ll go with Edey. But I won’t be shocked if it’s another big. Keep an eye on Filipowski.”

• “Guy puts up video game numbers.”

• “Zach Edey will win National Player of the Year for a second straight season unless there is voter fatigue from watching him dominate. The high-end star power at the guard spot just isn’t there and he’s the best of the bigs.”

• “Edey is the most dominant force in the college game and the college rules allow him to remain dominant as a true low-post center. There is not a player in America that impacts the college game like he does night in and night out. He forces a double team on offense, is nearly impossible to blockout and completely takes away the paint defensively.”

• “I think his level of production is at such a high level that, even when he doesn’t play well, his numbers are still extremely impressive and the impact he makes on winning is still very high. And they are going to have a very good year.” 

• “It’s hard to think of someone else winning [player of the year] over Edey. He’s the most dominant player in college basketball. Last year we played at Purdue, and everything they run goes through him. The underrated reason why I believe he has a chance to repeat is he is playing with great guards in Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer. As freshmen they did a hell of a job playing with Edey. You’d have to imagine with another year of chemistry, Edey may be even more dominant, if that’s possible.”

Why he’ll fall short

• “History tells us no, so I’ll say no. Who wins the award? That I have no idea, but history just tells us that it won’t be Zach, so I’d take the field.”

• “It’s not just having a good year. (Oscar) Tshiebwe, Kentucky had a down year. The injuries they go through and the game-planning for him will be totally different. It’s like saying Tiger Woods vs. the field. Even though you know there’s a good chance, it’s tough to go against the field.” 

• “Just like Edey last year, somebody not being discussed and off the radar will win it.”

• “(Donovan) Clingan because he had a very high O-rating and usage on the best team in the country. He just needs to maintain that level of efficiency with more minutes and his counting stats (points and rebounds) will be player-of-the-year level. He also really impacts the game defensively. He is a very versatile player, meaning you don’t have to be married to one style with him. He makes you great in transition because of his ability to rim-run, but also he is an elite half-court player who makes others better by putting pressure on the rim in the pick-and-roll.” 

• “No, only because it’s very hard to win back-to-back. You have to be that much better than you were the year before.” 

The takeaway 

In the past two years, Luke Garza and Oscar Tshiebwe were the first reigning NPOYs to return to D-I men’s college basketball since Tyler Hansbrough in 2008-09. None of them could rise above the rest of the sport for a second straight season. This is really hard to do, even when you’re already a dominant player.

But, barring injury, I’m here to tell you Edey’s going to do it in 2024. One major reason why, as I detailed in a takeout piece on the 7-foot-4 Canadian colossus earlier this year: He’s still pretty new at this basketball thing. Edey rejected basketball until midway through his high school career. And yet, here he stands as a unique powerhouse. His ascent is uncommon. Edey’s skills are still being honed. Because he’s so dedicated, so huge and still growing as a player — and because he’s doing this for one of the best coaches in the sport in Matt Painter — it’s setting up for Edey to again be the most valuable and irreplaceable player in college basketball. 

His averages last season: 22.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.5 assists to pair with 60.7% shooting. Edey was the first player in NCAA history since blocks became an official stat to log at least 750 points, 400 rebounds, 70 blocks and 50 assists in a season. Even if his role slightly decreases (hard to see that happening), Purdue is poised to again be one of the best teams in the country. 

The table is set for Edey to repeat. 

The story of Purdue’s push for March redemption will be one of the biggest in college hoops in ’23-24. How Edey handles new defensive tactics tossed his way will be another. He could have gone to the NBA and, in my opinion, would have been drafted. It’s better that he decided to return. In coming back, he’s chasing college basketball immortality. I think he gets there and edges out the likes of Dickinson (who comfortably had the most write-in votes among the coaches who said Edey wouldn’t do it), Clingan, Bacot, Filipowski, Kalkbrenner, Justin Moore, Tyler Kolek or whomever you want to project as a First Team All-American. 

It’s a wonderful thing for men’s college basketball to have someone like Edey opt back in. For him, last season was special. This season could be legendary. 

His size makes him an attraction. 

His potential makes him, and his team, arguably the biggest story heading into the season. And when we get to the end of it, even if Purdue doesn’t win a national championship or get Painter to his first Final Four, I believe Edey will again be holding up his hardware, adding to his crowded trophy case and solidifying his name amongst the all-time legends of the game.

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