The list of 20 players for the 2021 edition of John R. Wooden’s lineup was announced Monday in what promises to be a contest between Iowa’s top scorer Luka Garza and Wooden’s top scorer from last season. About a month before the start of the regular season, ESPN.com panelists picked up Garza to try to find someone else to challenge him.
What do your three best wood balls look like right now? If you had to put someone other than Iowa’s Luke Garza at the top, could you make a reasonable argument?
Myron Medcalf, college basketball writer: At the top of my list are Luca Garza, Jared Butler and Corey Kispert. Ayo Dosunmu is right there. Other Gonzaga guys – Jalen Suggs, Drew Timme too – but I think Garza broke away from the group a long time ago.
The biggest difference is that the rest of the guys on the list have a stronger supporting cast. Gonzaga is well stocked. So is Baylor. Butler won six of 18 against Auburn on Saturday, and Baylor still won by double digits. Last month, he won 2-11 over Texas Tech, and Baylor still found a way to win.
Illinois has four players besides Dosunmu averaging at least eight points, including Kofi Cockburn, who has a double-double average. But Garza carries Iowa. He doesn’t have the depth to help his team beat good opponents when he’s struggling. His worst night of the season was the night he won 6 out of 18 (16 points) over UNC. Four days later against Central North Carolina, UNC fell behind early in the game by a score of 5-4. They had 30 points against Gonzaga, and Iowa lost by double digits again. Imagine what would have happened if he had been cold that day?
He shoots 46% from the three-point line. If the Wooden Award is the MVP of the sport, then Garza has a Teflon holster on six feet. The most interesting discussion is, “Who will be on the first All-America team, other than Garza, but National Player of the Year? The strong collection of talent behind him is in a tight race for second place.
Wrong: The film is not specified.Jeffrey Becker-USA Sports Today.
Jeff Borzello, College Basketball Insider: Garza is clearly in the lead, so I will follow Butler and Dosunmu. There should have been a Gonzaga player, but Drew Timme, Corey Kispert and to a lesser extent Jalen Suggs split the votes.
I don’t know if there is a legitimate argument for voting….then he had 21 against Texas on Monday night. Butler was an All-American player last season, and his numbers are even higher this season: he scored, passed, shot, plus a few steals. He’s also very difficult to deal with at the end of the game.
Baylor has yet to reach the finals this season – zero games in eight points – but Butler’s effort in the second half was the main reason. He turned on late in the game against Texas Tech, came out of halftime against Oklahoma State and seemed to score three or four in a row in every game to give the Bears a chance.
John Gasaway, college basketball writer: On one hand, I could really support the campaign to replace Garza with Butler as national player of the year. The next fun fact may change from day to day, but there have been times this season when Butler had the highest attendance and theft percentage in the Big 12. And that’s coming from a guy who is hitting the same (ridiculous) percentage of his 3 as Garza, and at a higher volume. Let’s just say that I have no doubt that Butler was the best all-around player in the country this season. When you go to war, you want him on your side.
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Matt Coleman III misses a jump for Texas, and Jared Butler makes a 3 for Baylor at the other end.
But I think about it some more and what I will call the “Medcalf test” brings my choice of POY back to Garza. If Baylor loses to Butler, the Bears can still finish the regular season undefeated. If Illinois loses to Dosunm, my #3 pick, Coach Brad Underwood, will give Andre Curbelo more minutes (and lose a few perimeter points, of course). If Gonzaga loses to Timma, Kispert, or Suggs, the Bulldogs will probably still enter the NCAA tournament as division leaders. But, as Myron rightly points out, if Iowa were to lose to Garza, the entire Hawkeyes structure would collapse in an instant.
Fran McCaffery has, on paper, the best offense in the country, and he can make that statement because Luca Garza is on the field. Jordan Bohannon and Joe Wiskamp have had 75 threes this season because defenders are drawn to Garza like a magnet. The Hawkeyes generate more shots than any other Big Ten because Garza is a star with an incredibly low turnover rate. If you take him off the team, the whole powerful machine collapses. Garza is my favorite for the POY.
Wrong!!! specified.Butler’s film, which is not a James Butler film, seems like child’s play for the first U.S. honorary team, but does it have a reason to exist as a national MVP? Trevor Raskowski-USA Sports Today.
Joe Lunardi, ESPN Bracketologist: It’s going to be Garza, if only because Iowa – without his offense – wouldn’t be in the top 10. The rest of the top 10 have an average defensive effectiveness of 17.9; Iowa is 117th. The problem is dead in the water, but there will surely be a night in March when even Garza won’t be able to score enough points to save the Hawkeyes. In the meantime, he and Iowa are incredibly fun to watch. My vote goes to the Big Bow, with the Wendy’s franchise as a bonus for sponsorship.
That said, Butler is having an uncharacteristic season. On offense, he is effective and deadly with a firing line of .536 FG/.446 3PT/.756 FT. These are almost video game numbers for a goalie (and if you really want to roll your eyes, look at Garza). They are by far the two best players in the country, with the added bonus for Butler that his defense is essential for the Baylor team to punish its opponents on both ends. Garza’s overwhelming numbers will earn him a trophy, but Butler’s absolute superiority will allow him to lead an undefeated season.
For third place, I choose the easy way out by calling out the trio of Gonzaga’s, Kispert, Timme and Suggs, for a three-fight battle. A member of the Zags should be on the list, and each is crucial for Gonzaga to continue to dominate. Honorable mention to Cameron Krutwig of Loyola Chicago. The best midfielder in the country competed in the Final Four as a freshman and returns to the NCAA Tournament as a senior. Kofi Cockburn rightfully deserves recognition, but he’s not even the best center in his state.