There are but 20 names on the most recent Watch List for the 2020-21 John R. Wooden Award. There are, of course, more than 20 great players in college basketball, including several who have emerged in recent weeks. With that in mind, ESPN.com’s panelists identified a player worthy of Wooden consideration as the regular season enters its final weeks:
Not that you’ll find any filler on the current 20-player Wooden Watch list, but if you had to make a case for one unrepresented player you thought belonged on the list, who would it be?
Jeff Borzello, college basketball insider: So maybe this isn’t the ideal week to demand his inclusion, but I was most surprised to see Virginia’s Jay Huff not on the list. He’s coming off a four-point, two-rebound effort against Florida State, but prior to that he was arguably the best player in the ACC this season. His counting numbers aren’t as impressive as those for Justin Champagnie or Ron Harper Jr. or someone like that, but when accounting for Virginia’s pace of play, he has been terrific.
In his first 12 ACC games this season, Huff averaged 14.6 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.3 blocks — while shooting 46.7% from 3-point range. He ranks in the top five in ACC play in 2-point percentage, defensive rebounding percentage and block percentage, while ranking 10th in 3-point percentage. And remember, Huff is 7-foot-1. And he was doing all of that for a top-10 team and the favorite to win the ACC.
Myron Medcalf, senior college basketball writer: I think I’d go the non-Power 5 route and add VCU’s Nah’Shon Hyland to the list. I think the finalists are all special and they all have a valid case for inclusion, but Hyland has the raw numbers — 19.3 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.1 SPG and 39 percent clip from the 3-point line — to warrant consideration and VCU is also 33rd in the NET rankings after winning seven of its last eight games.
The sophomore has also turned VCU into a defensive juggernaut. Mike Rhoades’ squad forces turnovers on 25 percent of its opponents’ possessions with Hyland on the floor, per hooplens.com. He’s also an 87 percent shooter from the charity stripe. With Hyland, VCU has lost just two games since Dec. 2. The Rams could enter the NCAA tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country, and Hyland could emerge as a star in the early rounds.
John Gasaway, college basketball writer: I would humbly suggest to the Wooden voters that they should make room on the list for Utah State’s Neemias Queta. He’s the leading scorer for the Aggies, but in Craig Smith’s rotation there are five guys averaging between 9.5 and 12.5 points. So never mind the counting stats and just look at what Queta does.
If USU does make the tournament (right now it’s close) he’ll be possibly the best rim defender in the field of 68. His block percentage has ballooned since last year, but he’s making those swats while mostly staying out of foul trouble and logging 70% of the available minutes. Plus he’s neck-and-neck with Rollie Worster for posting the highest assist rate among the starters. Queta’s a versatile and not infrequently dominant 7-footer who does a little bit of everything (well, except 3s).
Joe Lunardi, ESPN bracketologist: Am I the only one on the Cameron Krutwig bandwagon? The 6-9, 255-pound senior is the same player who helped Loyola Chicago to the Final Four three years ago, only better. Krutwig is an old-school college center — think Villanova’s John Pinone in the early 1980s — who does the same two things exceptionally well: fill up a box score and win.
Krutwig is efficient (.582 FG percentage, .594 career), he keeps possessions alive (12.5 percent offensive rebounding rate), he’s among the best passing big men in the country (26.2 percent assist rate) and he’s durable (125 appearances and 121 starts in 126 possible games). And the Ramblers are a tidy 91-35 in his tenure (.722), including the aforementioned Final Four and an almost certain NCAA appearance next month. If postseason honors are about college achievement and not pro potential, Krutwig belongs on the list.