10 Men’s and 10 Women’s player of the year candidates

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February 10, 2021 0 Comments

Whether talking about The Associated Press College Basketball Player of the Year, Naismith, Wooden, or any other such awards, it’s not too early to showcase those in the hunt to be called the best in American — men or women.Here are 10 men and 10 women on our radar for the ultimate individual college basketball honor. Listed in alphabetical order.


1 of 20
Paige Bueckers, Connecticut, Freshman

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A freshman is leading the Huskies in scoring (17.1 points per game, as of Jan. 25)? That’s right. She’s also shooting almost 47 percent from 3-point range. Bueckers is something special. And, while she might not end up taking home any of the numerous player of the year awards this season, Bueckers obviously has a bright future. It won’t be long before she’s considered the top player in women’s college basketball.


2 of 20
Jared Butler, Baylor, Junior

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Butler has long been in the conversation for the various national player of the year awards. And, he’s certainly worthy of the praise and should be considered among the frontrunners. As of the final week of January, Butler averaged just over 17.0 points, 5.0 assists and was shooting better than 50 percent. It also helps when you play on one of the best teams in America. Here’s one guy who has had no trouble handling the pressure put on one to succeed.


3 of 20
Caitlin Clark, Iowa, Freshman

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It’s been quite the rookie season for the Hawkeyes guard. As of Jan. 25, Clark sat among the country’s top scorers at 25.8 points per contest. A prized recruit for Iowa, Clark has had an immediate impact and is one of the frontrunners for Big Ten Player of the Year. Through the first 12 games of her collegiate career, Clark scored at least 30 points four times and posted a triple-double against Western Illinois on Dec. 22.


4 of 20
Charli Collier, Texas, Junior

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Collier might be the biggest surprise in women’s college basketball this season. She’s progressed in each season at Texas and now ranks among the national scoring leaders averaging 21.6 points — as of Jan. 26. She’s also shooting better than 50.5 percent and is pulling down nearly 12 rebounds per contest. It will be interesting to see where her game can go from here.


5 of 20
Elissa Cunane, North Carolina State, Junior

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The Wolfpack are amid what could be a special season and the 6-foot-5 Cunane is there to lead the way this season. She’s averaging more than 16 points and seven rebounds per game and might be the best pure post player in the nation. Cunane does not draw a lot of attention to herself, other than through her play, but is as dependable and valuable as they come. 


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Cunningham is still likely to go No. 1 in the 2021 NBA Draft after his one season with the Cowboys. While some critics of Cunningham might feel he should be more dominant than shown, there’s no doubt Cunningham has the physical tools to excel at the NBA level. Though Cunningham (18.0 points per game, 6.2 rebounds per game, 3.7 assists, as of Jan. 26) was stuck in COVID-19 protocol during the last week of January, we look forward to seeing how he performs during the home stretch of the 2020-21 season. 


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One of the nation’s top scorers (21.7 points per game, as of Jan. 26) has certainly set himself up for a potentially long and successful NBA career. Coming back for his junior season, Dosunmu has upped his pro stock and helped Illinois contend for a Big Ten title and a serious NCAA Tournament run. He’s also improved his overall game by averaging career highs in rebounds (6.3) and assists (4.9).


8 of 20
Dana Evans, Louisville, Senior

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It might be easy for some women’s hoops fans to compare Evans to recent Louisville great Asia Durr. That’s not necessarily fair to Evans, who leads the nation’s No. 1 team averaging 19.9 points (as of Jan. 26) and is shooting better than 46 percent on the season. At the moment, Evans has a serious shot at winning at least one of the national player of the year awards. More importantly, she has a good chance to lead Louisville to a national title.


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As of Jan. 26, the 6-foot-11 Garza leads the nation averaging 26.9 points while shooting 61 percent from the field. He’s also pulling down nearly nine rebounds per contest. Many college hoops pundits across the country considered Garza the frontrunner when it comes to winning any of the various national player of the year awards. With good reason, obviously, he’s arguably the most dominant player in the country and the most complete big man in the college game.


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Gillespie is half of Villanova’s 1-2 punch of elite talent, and obviously, a big reason it’s among the top five teams in the country. The guard has progressed each season at Villanova and, this season he’s averaging almost 16 points per game. Now, he’s not a great overall shooter, but he’s blossomed into a leader and someone who offers plenty of value on and off the court.


11 of 20
Naz Hillmon, Michigan, Junior

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Perhaps the Big Ten’s best player, Hillmon made a national name for herself with a 50-point effort against Ohio State on Jan. 21. Entering the final week of January, Hillmon ranked among the national scoring leaders at 26.1 points per game. She’s also among the country’s best at 12.1 rebounds per game. Hillmon has brought plenty of excitement to a 2020-21 season that has been pretty rough for the women’s game due to COVID-19.


12 of 20
Rhyne Howard, Kentucky, Junior

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It hasn’t been an easy season for Howard, ESPN’s preseason player of the year who was suspended for the first two games. The talented guard has also endured some offensive inconsistency this season, but there’s no doubt when it comes to the skills of the game, Howard is the best in the country. As of Jan. 26, Howard averaged 19.3 points and 6.6 rebounds.


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Big Ten fans saw the potential Jackson-Davis possessed as a freshman when he averaged 13.5 points and 8.4 boards. Entering the final week of January as a sophomore. TJD is scoring a little better than 20 points per game while averaging almost nine rebounds. Perhaps more impressive, Jackson-Davis averaged 23.7 points and 12 boards against Florida State, Wisconsin, and Iowa — three of the nation’s top teams.


14 of 20
Haley Jones, Stanford, Sophomore

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Jones might be a year away from establishing herself as the top player in women’s college basketball. Still, she’s obviously among the best at this point in 2021. Jones’ best days are ahead of her, so the potential for even more greatness is there. She’s not a dominant scorer (15.2 ppg as of Jan. 26) yet, but the 6-foot-1 guard is shooting 57 percent. Her 9.0-rebounds per game average isn’t too shabby, either.


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The first of three Gonzaga players on our list. The Zags have been college basketball’s best men’s team through the first two months of the season, and Kispert is obviously a major reason. Averaging a team-high 20.6 points (as of Jan. 26), Kispert might be the best pure shooter in the country. At the start of the last week of January, Kispert was shooting 58.2 percent from the field and 49 percent from 3-point range (47 of 96).


16 of 20
Aari McDonald, Arizona, Senior

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While McDonald has endured some offensive inconsistency during the 2020-21 season (though still averaging nearly 19 points as of Jan. 26), she might be the best defensive player in the country. The latter is at least the case in the Pac-12. The 5-6 McDonald is a menace as a defender, but her overall play this season is obviously a big reason Arizona is a top-10 team and aiming for a league title.


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While teammate Collin Gillespie is one of the country’s top players, Roberson-Earl is arguably the best player on the Villanova roster. The second-year sophomore is averaging almost 15 points and seven rebounds this season. However, the biggest improvement we’ve seen in Robinson-Earl’s game has come as a shooter, where’s he’s hitting more than 50 percent of his shots after making 45.4 percent as a freshman.


18 of 20
NaLyssa Smith, Baylor, Junior

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While COVID-19 has hampered the Baylor program, Smith’s gone about her business as the team’s best player. Despite drawing much of the attention from opposing defenses, Smith is averaging more than 17 points per game and nearly 10 rebounds. If Baylor is to have a chance at seriously contending for a fourth national championship, Smith will be the one leading the way. 


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Suggs’ numbers (13.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.9 assists, as of Jan. 26) don’t necessarily stand out, but when it comes to his overall game, there aren’t many freshmen with his overall talent. Suggs has been able to keep control of Gonzaga’s offense and continues to improve defensively. He’s expected to be a one-and-done talent and lottery pick, but Suggs’ one collegiate season might be enough to bring the Zags their first national championship.


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There is not a deeper or more complete team in the country than Gonzaga. The 6-foot-10 Timme provides a strong inside presence, averaging more than 18 points and almost seven rebounds. His consistency has also been impressive, considering many critics felt he can be a little soft in the paint. Timme has more than held his own to this point in the season and is being rewarded for his efforts while considered one of the best players in the nation.

Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.


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