Dick Vitale picks Oscar Tshiebwe among top candidates

Dick Vitale picks Oscar Tshiebwe among top candidates

Long-time ESPN analyst Dick Vitale said four players stood out in the National Player of the Year race in college basketball for 2022-23. Vitale said the leader in that race would be the returning Naismith and Wooden award winner, Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe.

But his biggest competition could come from other centers across the college basketball landscape. Vitale tapped Gonzaga’s Drew TimmeNorth Carolina’s Armando Bacot and Indiana’s Trayce Jackson Davis as his preseason favorites to throw their hats in the ring.

Three of the four — Tshiebwe, Timme and Jackson-Davis — have previously received All-America mention, while Bacot finished last year with first-team All-ACC honors, and as runner-up for ACC Player of the Year.

Tshiebwe earned a five-star ranking as the No. 5 center and No. 23 overall player in the 2019 class. And after starting his career at West Virginia, Tshiebwe transferred to Kentucky before putting together one of the best rebounding seasons in recent memory. His 15.2 rebounds per game were the most of any player since Tennessee State’s Monti Davis grabbed 16.2 in 1978-79. He almost averaged a double-double when counting his defensive rebounds alone, with Tshiebwe grabbing 9.9 of those per game to go with his 17.4 points, 1.8 steals and 1.6 blocks per game. He actually ramped up his performance in SEC play, where he put up 18.1 points, 15.7 rebounds, 2.1 steals and 1.6 blocks per game.

But he should have plenty of competition for the award this year, perhaps particularly from Timme, a two-time consensus second-team All-American. With Chet Holmgren moving on to the NBA, the Bulldogs are likely to lean heavily on their efficient low-post scorer, who has averaged 18.7 points per game over the last two seasons, leading the Bulldogs to a 59-5 record. With three returning starters from last year’s squad, Gonzaga should once again be one of the nation’s best teams, and Timme has been among the most deadly NCAA Tournament players the last couple years as well.

Bacot is one of the few rebounders within arm’s reach of Tshiebwe. Bacot averaged 16.3 points, 13.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game last year, guiding the Tar Heels to a surprising run to the national championship game. In that contest, a three-point loss to Kansas, Bacot battled injuries to put up 15 points and 15 rebounds; he averaged 15.3 points and 16.5 rebounds in UNC’s six NCAA Tournament games. North Carolina will likely compete with Gonzaga to be the preseason No. 1 team.

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Jackson-Davis surprised many by returning to school after earning a third-team All-America nod as a sophomore and All-Big Ten honors in all three of his seasons, with an All-Defensive Team nod last year. His return is one of the biggest reasons many favor Indiana to win the Big Ten this season, after Jackson-Davis averaged 18.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and blocked a career-high 2.3 shots per game last year.

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