The 2018-19 college basketball season was dominated by Zion Williamson. Even though he missed five games due to a fluke shoe blowout, he still brought home a lot of hardware. Williamson swept the ACC accolades, being named the 2019 conference Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and Tournament MVP. He capped it off by being presented with the Wooden Award, given to the nation’s top college basketball player. The upcoming season gives us a handful of players who are looking to follow in Williamson’s footsteps.
2019-20 Wooden Award Watch
Cassius Winston, Michigan State
It could be argued that Cassius Winston singlehandedly led Michigan State to the Final Four a year ago. He was the undisputed leader of the Spartans and put the team on his shoulders as other key players went down with injury throughout the season. Now, last year’s Big Ten Most Valuable Player is the popular pick to take home this year’s Wooden Award. Winston averaged 18.8 points and 7.5 assists per game a year ago. He led the Big Ten in minutes (1,308) and set the league record for assists in a season (291). Tom Izzo called Winston a “selfless player,” and believes that he can increase his assists total from last year. If Winston does increase his assists this year, then it is within reason to expect that he could average a double-double on his way to being named the nation’s top player.
Markus Howard, Marquette
When Markus Howard is on, he can look unconscious shooting from anywhere on the court. After testing the NBA waters, Howard decided to return to Marquette, citing “unfinished business” in his Twitter announcement back in April. Last season, Howard averaged 25 points per game while being named Big East Player of the Year. Entering this year, he needs 31 points to become the school’s all-time scoring leader. That total is nothing for a player who scored 53 points against Creighton last year as well as two 45-point outbursts against Buffalo and Kansas State. Howard will be expected to take on even more scoring responsibility with the loss of Joey Hauser and Sam Hauser. However, expectations will be high for Markus as he looks to lead Marquette back to the tournament.
Myles Powell, Seton Hall
Not to be outdone by his Big East counterpart, Myles Powell was just recently named this year’s Big East preseason Player of the Year. A year removed from averaging 23.1 points per game, Powell is ready to improve even more, as he’s done each of his first three seasons in South Orange, New Jersey. Coach Kevin Willard complimented Powell’s work ethic, as he took on a bulk of the scoring load for the Pirates last year. He scored a career-high 40 points against Grand Canyon last year. That was the pinnacle of a season that saw him score 20 or more points 23 times, and 30 or more eight times. Powell will be the reason Seton Hall will compete for a Big East title and more this year. He’ll also be in the thick of the Wooden Award race all year.
Cole Anthony, North Carolina
Roy Williams described Cole Anthony as “one of the most complete point guards I’ve ever recruited.” That praise seems well deserved for a player who’s recruiting profile describes him as a two-way player. Cole can score from anywhere on the court while playing lockdown defense on the other end. Anthony averaged a triple-double during his senior season in high school. He also reeled in Most Valuable Player honors at the McDonald’s All-American Game. As a projected lottery pick, Coach Williams hopes to get the most out of his star freshman. He’s expected to lead a Tar Heels team that has more questions than usual heading into the season. Anthony should have a small adjustment period filling Coby White’s shoes while fighting to be the nation’s best player.
James Wiseman, Memphis
There was a bit of shock when James Wiseman chose Memphis over Kentucky last fall. However, the picture clears up a bit when you realize that Penny Hardaway was Wiseman’s AAU coach. Wiseman is expected to help Memphis compete for a national title this year. The seven-foot center averaged 25.8 points and 14.8 rebounds per game during his senior year in high school. The McDonald’s All-American also averaged 5.5 blocks per game. He provides an inside presence for Memphis that should make scorers wary of entering the paint. The expectation is that he will average a double-double in what is expected to be his only season at the college level. If Wiseman helps Memphis reach their expectations, he should be near the top of the Wooden Award voting.
Anthony Edwards, Georgia
Tom Crean wants to change the basketball culture at Georgia, and that began with getting Anthony Edwards. Edwards, an Atlanta native, averaged 25.7 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in high school. He is the highest-rated recruit to ever commit in program history. 247 Sports compared him to Houston Rockets superstar James Harden, a high compliment. That seems fair considering Edwards’ ability to make plays when he has the ball. Crean is expected to let Edwards work the floor in multiple areas given his skill set. His goal is to turn Edwards’ potential into reality on his way to being a lottery pick. Georgia won’t compete with the top dogs in the SEC, but they could push for an NCAA Tournament berth. Edwards will be the one spearheading that campaign while attracting national attention for his talent.
Isaiah Stewart, Washington
Isaiah Stewart comes in with expectations to help the Washington Huskies defend their Pac-12 crown. Described as someone who can dominate at the rim by head coach Mike Hopkins, Stewart is best when crashing the boards. He is not afraid to chase a rebound down on either end of the court. During the Huskies’ trip to Italy over the summer, Stewart averaged 19.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game over their four-game schedule. His ability to rebound should create plenty of second chances for himself and his team. It would not be surprising for Stewart to average a double-double while trying to get Washington back to the tournament. If he dominates the way he did in Italy, he could be a Wooden Award winner.
The Next In Line
Jordan Nwora, Louisville
The Louisville Cardinals arrived a year early to many, in part because of the emergence of Jordan Nwora. The ACC’s Most Improved Player last season went from 5.7 points per game in 2017-18 to 17 points per game in 2018-19. That was the biggest jump in scoring in the league. According to head coach Chris Mack, to take the next step, Nwora needs to show consistency. This includes cutting down turnovers and improving his ability to share the ball. If Nwora can build his numbers and cut down on the mistakes, he will make Louisville a legitimate Final Four contender. That should also keep in the player of the year conversation.
Kerry Blackshear Jr., Florida
Kerry Blackshear Jr. was the most coveted player to enter the transfer portal this offseason. In the end, the Orlando native chose to play his final year close to home in Gainesville. He comes from Virginia Tech, where he put the Hokies on his back when Justin Robinson went down with an injury. Blackshear averaged 14.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game while helping guide Virginia Tech to the Sweet 16 last season. He is expected to be a senior leader and provide an inside presence the Gators have been missing the last few seasons. Blackshear may be asked to shoulder Florida all season, but we’ve seen that he’s capable of doing that. If he plays at that level all season, he’s a candidate to build on his numbers from last season and be named the nation’s best player.
Udoka Azubuike, Kansas
Udoka Azubuike makes this list based on the potential that he has. However, in order to be here at the end of the year, Azubuike has to stay healthy. In the nine games he played last year, Azubuike was looking dominant and potentially was on his way to a career year. Instead, he suffered a torn ligament in his right hand and underwent surgery in January. Entering this year, he’s already been named the Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year. His career average of 11.5 points and 6.4 rebounds per game shows just how much of an impact he can have. If he can play a full season of basketball at his highest potential, he will be on the final Wooden Award list.
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