The 2011-12 college basketball season tipped off on Monday night. And I recommend you enjoy the season because the way the NBA owners and players are going, this might be our only basketball action of the year.
With that said, let’s take a look at Bodog’s odds for the National Player of the Year this season. There are several player of the year awards out there, but I presume the site refers to the Associated Press Player of the Year as that’s generally the case in every other sport.
For example, there is also the Naismith College Player of the Year in college hoops. Usually the AP winner and Naismith winner are one and the same, but not always. The last time they differed was in 2002-03 when Texas guard T.J. Ford won the Naismith and Xavier forward David West won the AP award.
And that’s what I like about the college basketball award over the Heisman Trophy: a player at a non-BCS school can certainly win the basketball honor. For example, BYU’s Jimmer Fredette did so last year and Utah’s Andrew Bogut did in 2004-05. A non-BCS player is unlikely to win the Heisman any time soon.
Bodog’s favorite at 7/4 is North Carolina sophomore Harrison Barnes. He might have been the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft had he come out. Barnes was the first freshman preseason All-American in the history of that AP team last year. He started a bit slowly, but he came on in a big way as the season went on – as did the Heels as a group in winning the ACC’s regular-season title.
The Heels are the consensus No. 1 team in the land and Barnes will be on national television almost all season, which can only help his Player of the Year cause. Barnes, last season’s ACC Freshman of the Year, averaged 15.7 points overall, but he averaged 21 points in the NCAA Tournament and delivered a signature 40-point performance in a comeback victory over Clemson in the ACC Tournament. My concern with betting on Barnes is that UNC is so deep that Barnes won’t likely put up huge numbers, that 40-point game aside.
Next up is another sophomore who would have been in the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft if he had come out: Ohio State big man Jared Sullinger. He averaged 17.1 points and 10 rebounds last year in being named Big Ten Freshman of the Year and leading the Buckeyes to the conference regular-season and tournament title. Sullinger had a monster game to end last year with 21 points and 16 rebounds when OSU was knocked off in the Big Dance by Kentucky. Sullinger is the only member of the AP preseason All-America team to be a unanimous choice. The last unanimous pick to the preseason All-America team was North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough before the 2008-09 season.
UConn’s Jeremy Lamb is next on the list at 19/4 – he will be counted on to fill the very big shoes of departed Kemba Walker, last year’s Final Four Most Outstanding Player in leading Connecticut to the national title. Lamb really grew up in the Big Dance, averaging 16.2 points and 4.8 rebounds while shooting 58 percent from the field in six NCAA games. And Lamb shined this season as probably the best player on the United States’ under-19 team. He had 35 points in a 107-105 win over a Lithuania squad that had more than a few future NBA players. That total ranks second for a U.S. under-19 or Junior World Championship team member since the event began in 1979.
I think Lamb is probably the best value of the top-three favorites. But I’d also put some money down on long-shot Duke freshman Austin Rivers at 40/1. The Dukies are, of course, the media darlings of college basketball – might as well change ESPN’s network moniker to DUKE during hoops season, and don’t even get me started on Dick Vitale’s love affair with the Blue Devils – so Rivers will get plenty of publicity. With Duke losing both Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith, Rivers, the choice as preseason ACC Rookie of the Year, will have a chance to be the main scoring option from Day 1 in Durham. And he has looked good during Duke’s exhibition games. The one concern would be that only one freshman has won AP Player of the Year: Texas’ Kevin Durant in the 2006-07 season.
Here are your other betting options not listed above: Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins (8/1), Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor (17/2), Baylor’s Perry Jones (12/1), Pittsburgh’s Ashton Gibbs (18/1), Purdue’s Robbie Hummel (18/1), Xavier’s Tu Holloway (20/1), Syracuse’s Kris Joseph (25/1), Kentucky’s Terrence Jones (25/1), North Carolina’s Tyler Zeller (25/1), Michigan State’s Draymond Green (50/1) and Louisville’s Peyton Siva (50/1).