- Freshman point guard Trae Young is posting historic numbers at Oklahoma.
- But he’s cooled off lately, and so has his team.
- Who else is in the running for Player of the Year and what are their odds to win?
Even people who are only moderately tuned into college basketball right now have heard the name Trae Young. Oklahoma’s freshman point guard burst onto the national scene with a series of 40-point games and is still leading the country in both points and assists. He had the Sooners looking like a Final Four team early on, but now he and Oklahoma have come crashing back to earth, setting up a thrilling race to the finish for 2018 National Player of the Year.*
While Young is still the favorite for the award, the odds are far closer than anyone would have expected midway through the season. None of our top-rated sportsbooks have their Player of the Year props posted at the moment, so we’ve done the leg-work and set the odds, ourselves. While that means you can’t actually bet on this right now, at least there’s no vig!
Trae Young (G, Oklahoma Sooners)
Player of the Year odds: 3/4
No one has ever led the country in both scoring and assists in the same season. Currently posting over 28 points and nine assists per game, that’s exactly what Trae is on pace to do. Shouldn’t that make him a shoo-in?
Remember that these awards are somewhat driven by narratives. While Young came out en fuego, his recent cooling-off period will make some voters forget his early heroics. He only has one 30-point game since January, recently went on an 0-19 stretch from three, and has recorded at least five turnovers in 12 of his last 13 games.
Oklahoma’s record is also working against him. Once poised to grab a #4 seed (or better) in March Madness, the Sooners are now a lot closer to bubble territory than a top-four slot. Joe Lunardi has them as a #8 seed in his latest bracket. In the last 30 years, every single player of the year-winner has come from a team that was a #6 seed or higher. David Robinson (Navy, #8 seed in 1986) is the last winner to break that trend.
Jalen Brunson (G, Villanova Wildcats)
Player of the Year odds: 6/1
Jalen Brunson has the best chance to scoop the award from Young. He gets a lot more help from his teammates, including future lottery pick Mikal Bridges, but he’s still the engine behind the nation’s most-efficient offense. He averages nearly 20 points and five assists per game, and turns the ball over sparingly (1.7 TO). He also hits at a much higher percentage from three than Young (41.3% vs 37.4%), though he takes half as many attempts and isn’t guarded nearly so closely.
His POY stock is boosted by Nova’s status as a likely #1 seed, and will be all the higher if they manage to snag a fifth straight Big East title from Xavier.
Devonte Graham (G, Kansas Jayhawks)
Player of the Year odds: 9/1
Someone has to get credit for Kansas’ 14th straight Big 12 title, and given the state of the Jayhawks’ frontcourt, that someone is Devonte Graham.
Graham, and Kansas as a team, are peaking at just the right time for him to swoop in and steal POY. After falling to Baylor in early February, they rattled off five straight to catch Texas Tech and clinch the Big 12 crown, outright. Graham has averaged 19.1 PPG in his last seven while shooting nearly 44% from beyond the arc.
Kansas’ early-season struggles — which saw them lose three de facto home games, including one to Washington — are far enough in the rearview that it won’t impact Graham’s POY application. All voters will remember is that they won another conference championship and are positioned for another #1 seed.
Keita Bates-Diop (F, Ohio State Buckeyes)
Player of the Year odds: 15/1
The Buckeyes were the surprise team of the Big Ten this year, challenging Michigan State and Purdue for the title, though ultimately falling a little short. Bates-Diop was the go-to guy for first-year coach Chris Holtmann, leading the team in points (19.2 PPG), rebounds (8.9 RPG), and blocks (1.7 BPG). He came up huge in the team’s biggest games, too, including a 32-point outburst in a 80-64 rout of the Spartans, plus an 18-point, 11-rebound performance in OSU’s 64-63 upset at Purdue.
Trevon Bluiett (G, Xavier Musketeers)
Player of the Year odds: 15/1
If Trevon Bluiett had led Xavier to a win over Villanova in front of a national audience in late February, he would likely be second on this list. But Xavier lost and had to rely on Nova faltering thereafter to retake the lead in the Big East. He’s nonetheless been the best player on one of the best teams in the country (19.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.7 APG) and has Xavier in position to secure its first #1 seed in school history. Shooting nearly 44% from three on over seven attempts per game won’t hurt your case, either.
Marvin Bagley (F, Duke Blue Devils)
Player of the Year odds: 33/1
On most nights, watching Marvin Bagley play against the best the ACC has to offer is kind of like watching those sneaky 14-year-old Cubans who sneak into the Little League World Series. He’s just a little bit bigger, a little bit faster, and a little more developed than everyone else on the court. That’s translated into nearly 21 points, over 11 rebounds, and one block per game. He should be a better defender than he is, given the innate athleticism he has to work with, but he’s shooting over 60% from the field while taking nearly two three-pointers a night. That atones for any defensive issues.
Bagley’s case is hurt by a couple issues. First, he missed four games with a knee injury. Second, the Blue Devils were, statistically, better when he was out. They won all four games by at least nine points, and then promptly lost at Virginia Tech in his second game back. That doesn’t make for an easily digestible POY story.
Deandre Ayton (C, Arizona Wildcats)
Player of the Year odds: 33/1
Speaking of POY stories that are hard on the stomach, look no further than Deandre Ayton, whose Arizona Wildcats are all over the news for all the wrong reasons. ESPN recently reported that head coach Sean Miller was caught on a wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment to an agent to secure the commitment of Ayton, a former five-star recruit. Miller hasn’t coached since and his job is in peril.
The school is clearly satisfied that Ayton didn’t do anything wrong, though, and he didn’t miss a game. Indeed, he was a man possessed late in the year, averaging 24 points and 15.3 rebounds over a three-game stretch at the end of February. For the season, as a whole, his stats are basically identical to Bagley’s: 19.9 PPG, 11.2 RPG, and 61% from the field.
Don’t expect voters to reward Arizona with anything this season, not with the stench that’s currently on the program.
*Unlike college football, college basketball doesn’t have one authoritative player of the year award. Instead of the Heisman Trophy, basketball hands out the Naismith Award, the Wooden Award, and a few others. But the Naismith and Wooden have gone to the same player every year since Ed O’Bannon and Joe Smith split the honors in 1995, so it’s reasonable to assume that 22-year trend will continue, and that the 2018 season will witness a consensus player of the year.