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Great Odds for Three Sleeper Candidates to Win 2022 Wooden Award

Why bet the favorites when you can grab great odds on sleeper picks to take home the Wooden Award?

Correctly picking the winner for the the Wooden Award, given annually to the nation’s most outstanding player, one week into the college basketball season can feel almost as likely as winning the lottery. In truth, however, you have at least a 1-in-50 chance even this early in the year.

That’s because the 50 possible winners have essentially already been given to you in the form of the preseason watch list. Out of the past 12 winners, only Dayton’s Obi Toppin was not on the award’s initial top 50 list (Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis was not on the list before he won in 2012, but only because at that time freshmen were ineligible).

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Speaking of freshmen, you can cross all of them off your bet slip. Nine out of the last 12 winners had been on their respective campuses for at least three years. So while college basketball as a whole has been defined by generational talents in the form of one-and-done freshmen, the Wooden Award generally favors upperclassmen who have performed at a high level for multiple seasons.

Since the award is given to the most “outstanding” player, the athletes who win it typically are prolific scorers. In fact, eight of the past 12 winners have scored over 20 points per game. So when looking at the possible candidates, the most important factor is if they can score at a high volume.

Even though these are my sleeper picks, there are no mid-major darlings on here. While mid-major standouts often provide the best storylines, nine of the past 12 winners have come from high-major schools.

With all that in mind, here are my three sleeper picks to win the 2022 Wooden Award:

Indiana's Trayce Jackson-Davis_

Indiana Forward Trayce Jackson-Davis (+2000)

Of the 20 athletes named to the Wooden Award late season list last year, only seven are still playing Division I college basketball this season. One of them is Trayce Jackson-Davis, and with former NBA coach Mike Woodson taking over at Indiana and leading a senior-heavy roster, Jackson-Davis has a chance to blossom into a superstar.

A First-Team All Big Ten selection, the 6’9” forward was the only high-major player last season to average 19 points and nine rebounds per game. Jackson-Davis has ranked in the Kenpom top 30 for offensive rating in both his freshman and sophomore seasons, a mark that 11 of the past 12 Wooden Award winners have hit. He is extremely efficient on the offensive end, hitting over 50% of his shots from the field over the two-year span, and he piles on points at the charity stripe. Last year he ranked No. 10 in the nation on Kenpom with 7.2 fouls drawn per 40 minutes and No. 21 with a 64.7% free throw rate.

While Indiana is currently picked to finish seventh in the Big Ten this season and is a projected 7-seed in Joe Lunardi's preseason bracketology, the Hoosiers have a few things on their side to make a surprising run. For starters, they have the 63rd-hardest strength of schedule in college basketball, fourth-easiest in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers also bring in several exciting new pieces, namely senior guard Xavier Johnson, who averaged 14.2 points and 5.7 assists per game last year at Pittsburgh. While Woodson’s hiring on March 29 was met with mixed reviews, he has spent 24 seasons in the NBA as both a head and assistant coach—and can use that experience to fine tune Jackson-Davis in what will most likely be his last season in Bloomington.

Jackson-Davis will do his part individually to earn substantial recognition, but the success of Indiana as a whole in Woodson’s first season will likely determine if he’s a Wooden Award finalist. Considering the talent Jackson-Davis is, +2000 is great odds.

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Kansas Guard Ochai Agbaji (+2500)

Agbaji, a former four-star prospect in the Class of 2018, has compiled a whopping 77 consecutive starts in three seasons as a Kansas Jayhawk, the last of which saw him lead the team in scoring with 14.1 points per game and earn All-Big 12 Honorable Mention honors.

Now, in what will certainly be his last season in Lawrence, Agbaji is one of three teammates on a Kansas roster that returns four of five starters to be named to the Wooden Award preseason top 50 watch list. While much of the preseason hype has surrounded Arizona State transfer point guard Remy Martin and senior center David McCormack, Agbaji’s scoring skill set makes him the best bet to take home the trophy out of the three players.

The senior has improved upon his three-point shooting percentage each year he’s been on campus, topping out at 37.7% last season. That three-point prowess powered him to a 52.8% effective field goal percentage last season, good for fourth-best among Big 12 returning players, and a 54.5% true shooting percentage, seventh-best among Big 12 returners. 

With Martin now set to handle the majority of ball handling and McCormack still occupying opposing teams’ attention in the post, Agbaji’s exemplary off-ball movement on offense to skyrocket both those percentages in 2021. While Martin himself averaged 19.1 points per game in each of his last two seasons with Arizona State, I expect Ogbaji’s extensive experience with coach Bill Self’s offense to translate into him being the primary scoring option.

Kansas is the Preseason No. 1-pick in the Big 12 conference, not to mention a 1-seed in Joe Lunardi’s preseason bracket. Therefore, I love the value of grabbing him at +2500. But acting quick before the secret is totally out is imperative, as Agbaji already announced his presence with a 29-point performance in a season opening marquee win against Michigan State.

SMU guard Kendric Davis

SMU Guard Kendric Davis (+4000)

As a general rule of thumb, it wouldn’t be wise to place a Player of the Year bet on an athlete who’s team isn’t projected to make the NCAA tournament. But SMU has one of the most electric players in Division I on its roster, and if the Mustangs do make the postseason—it will almost solely be due to Kendric Davis.

In the 2020-21 season, Davis was tied for eighth in the nation for Kenpom game MVP leaders. Every player ranked above him, with the exception of Gonzaga’s Drew Timme, is no longer playing college basketball. That stat is even more impressive considering SMU played only 17 games due to COVID-19 cancellations and postponements.

Davis led the American Athletic Conference in scoring (19.0 ppg) and assists (7.6 apg) and played in 86.5% of the team’s total minutes last season. He also led the nation with a 46.4% assist rate and was fourth in the nation in offensive rating.

After entering his name into the 2021 NBA Draft before ultimately deciding to return to school, Davis is back with the Mustangs to build upon the 43 consecutive starts in two illustrious seasons he has compiled in Dallas. 

Let’s be clear, SMU must make the NCAA tournament for Davis to have a chance at this award. But a relatively soft schedule (124th in the nation), and multiple impact transfers such as Southland Conference Player of the Year Zach Nutall and All-SWAC First Teamer Michael Weathers give the Mustangs a veteran roster hungry to compete after a disappointing 2020-21 campaign.

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