Another week, another Wooden Watch debate. This week's question centers on whether there is a difference between player of the year and MVP in college basketball this season.
The John R. Wooden Award is "presented annually to the outstanding collegiate basketball Player of the Year," which is an important distinction from "most valuable player." With that in mind, tell us why your current Wooden pick is college basketball's player of the year, and just for fun, tell us who you think the most valuable player is in college basketball this season.
Myron Medcalf, senior college basketball writer: Dating back to the 2001-02 season, every Wooden Award winner has led a team that finished with a top-three record in conference play. Excellent players on excellent teams win this award. That's why I think we have to consider Obi Toppin's candidacy versus Luka Garza's. And I give Toppin the edge right now.
Iowa is still in the top tier of the Big Ten, but upcoming road games against Minnesota, Michigan State and Illinois (along with home contests against Penn State and Purdue) could change that. Meanwhile, Toppin is the king of a Dayton program that could become the first to finish Atlantic 10 play with an undefeated record since 2006. The Flyers have two losses, both overtime losses to top-25 KenPom teams (Kansas, Colorado). Plus, Toppin has made 37% of his 3-point attempts since the start of conference play. And he has made 71% -- SEVENTY-ONE PERCENT -- of his shots inside the arc. I think Garza has a strong case and making him the front-runner makes sense. But I give Toppin the slight edge right now.
MVP? Could be Toppin or Garza. But I'll give you another name: Udoka Azubuike. With the big man on the floor, Kansas has made nearly 60% of its shots inside the arc. Baylor is a great defensive team, but Azubuike and the Jayhawks are currently playing the best defense in America, per KenPom. Azubuike changes that team. And I think he's the most valuable player for one of the best teams in the country.
Jeff Borzello, college basketball insider: I said last week I thought Iowa's Garza was the pick, and I'll stick with that for now -- although I think Kansas' Devon Dotson and a few others have picked up some momentum. But here's why I like Garza: He has been outrageously efficient despite a massive increase in usage on the offensive end; he's an excellent rebounder at both ends of the floor (despite the bizarre one-rebound effort against Purdue); he's a top-10 shot-blocker in the Big Ten; and he draws fouls at a high rate. He also shoots 38% from 3-point range. There aren't many (any?) better offensive big men in the country.
I think it's hard to argue against Toppin being the most valuable player in college basketball. If you take Toppin off Dayton, are the Flyers even a top-third team in the Atlantic 10? Anthony Grant certainly has other talented players with which to surround Toppin, but the do-it-all sophomore makes everything go.
I do think a sneaky pick for most valuable player could be Azubuike. Here's the perfect stat to exemplify that: Since Azubuike arrived on campus in 2016, Kansas has lost 26 games. Fourteen of those losses have come in the 55 games Azubuike has missed through injury; Kansas is 66-12 with Azubuike on the floor, 41-14 without. Over the past two seasons, the difference is even more striking: 28-3 with him, 17-10 without.
Toppin throws down and-1 windmill dunk
Obi Toppin leaks out in transition and finishes with a windmill dunk for Dayton.
John Gasaway, college basketball writer: That's an interesting distinction, one that makes you wonder in retrospect whether Zion Williamson could truly be a national MVP on a team full of lottery picks in addition to being (duh) the nation's outstanding player. But back to the present tense: Surely you can be both. Take, well, my pick for the Wooden Award, Obi Toppin. The MVP piece is the easy part: Dayton, one year after going to the NIT, may earn a No. 2 seed. The offense drives this team, and Toppin is the heart and soul of that offense.
You can also make the case that the sophomore Flyer is indeed the nation's outstanding player. In a season in which Division I as a whole is less accurate on its 2-point shooting than it was just a season ago, Toppin is bucking that trend and connecting 71% of the time on his attempts inside the arc. He's doing so at a higher volume than the even more accurate Azubuike, and Toppin additionally distributes the ball, drains one 3-pointer per game and shoots 72% at the line. From my chair, Toppin is both MVP and MOP.