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HomeSportsSizing up the men's player of the year races in all 32...

Sizing up the men’s player of the year races in all 32 conferences

Over the past six months, the men’s college basketball landscape has dramatically changed. Zach Edey and other elite big men decided against turning pro and returned for another year. Some of the top stars changed locations (see: Hunter Dickinson to Kansas). Coaches, too. Ed Cooley is at Georgetown now. Micah Shrewsberry is at Notre Dame.

All of that and we haven’t even discussed the nearly 2,000 players who entered the transfer portal.

The change and volatility have made it even more difficult to project who will win conference player of the year honors in each of the 32 Division I men’s leagues. But we’ll give it a shot.

Some of the candidates were easy to pick. (The Big South could probably give Drew Pember his second consecutive player of the year honor today if it wanted to.) Others were more difficult to identify.

But we’re excited to see how it all plays out and how accurate we are at the end of the season.

Here are our preseason predictions for player of the year in each league — and the top competition they’ll have to beat.

Jump to each conference:

American | America East | ACC | ASUN | A-10| Big 12 | Big East | Big Sky | Big South | Big Ten | Big West | CAA | C-USA | Horizon | Ivy | MAAC | MAC | MEAC | MVC | MW | NEC | OVC | Pac-12 | Patriot | SEC | SoCon | Southland | SWAC | Summit | Sun Belt | WCC | WAC

American Athletic Conference

Alijah Martin | 6-2 | G | Florida Atlantic Owls

After averaging 15.2 PPG during FAU’s run to the Final Four last season, Martin is back to lead the Owls in their first season in the AAC.

Top competition: Jordan Brown, Memphis Tigers (19.3 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 1.2 BPG at Louisiana)

America East Conference

Clarence O. Daniels II | 6-foot-6 | F | New Hampshire Wildcats

Although he had multiple suitors after entering the transfer portal this summer, Daniels (15.3 PPG, 10.7 RPG) decided to return to New Hampshire. The 2022-23 America East all-conference first-teamer will play under new coach Nathan Davis this season.

Top competition: Earl Timberlake, Bryant Bulldogs (13.8 PPG, 8.4 RPG)

Atlantic Coast Conference

Armando Bacot | 6-11 | F | North Carolina Tar Heels

Although the Heels failed to make the NCAA tournament despite entering the 2022-23 season as the No. 1 team in America, Bacot (15.9 PPG, 10.4 RPG) undeniably is one of the top returning players in the country.

Top competition: Kyle Filipowski, Duke Blue Devils (15.1 PPG, 9.0 RPG)

ASUN Conference

Demarcus Sharp | 6-3 | G | Austin Peay Governors

Last season’s Southland Player of the Year (19.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 5.0 APG at Northwestern State now bring his talents to Austin Peay, where he’ll try to reenergize a program that finished 9-22 in 2022-23.

Top competition: Devontae Blanton, Eastern Kentucky Colonels (16.9 PPG, 37% from the 3-point line)

Atlantic 10 Conference

DaRon Holmes II | 6-10 | F | Dayton Flyers

A year after securing all-Atlantic 10 first-team honors, Holmes (18.4 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.9 BPG) hopes to lead Dayton to its first NCAA tournament since 2017.

Top competition: James Bishop IV, George Washington Revolutionaries (21.6 PPG, 5.2 APG)

Big East Conference

Tyler Kolek | 6-3 | G | Marquette Golden Eagles

A thumb injury hindered the reigning Big East player of the year in the 2023 NCAA tournament, but Kolek (12.9 PPG, 7.5 APG, 40% from 3) is back to help Marquette chase its first Final Four appearance since 2003.

Top competition: Ryan Kalkbrenner, Creighton Bluejays (15.9 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.1 BPG)

Big Sky Conference

Dillon Jones | 6-6 | G | Weber State Wildcats

The all-Big Sky first-teamer last season (16.7 PPG, 10.9 RPG) tested the NBA draft waters and even had a strong showing at the G League Elite Camp and NBA draft combine — but ultimately chose to return to Weber State, where he aims to lead the program to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2016.

Top competition: Aanen Moody, Montana Grizzlies (16.1 PPG, 41% from beyond the arc)

Big South Conference

Drew Pember | 6-11 | C | UNC Asheville Bulldogs

The reigning Big South Player of the Year (21.0 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 38% from 3) returns to anchor a team that hopes to hit the trifecta again with another league championship, conference tournament title and NCAA tournament appearance.

Top competition: DaQuan Smith, Radford Highlanders (13.9 PPG, 40% from 3)

Big 12 Conference

Hunter Dickinson | 7-1 | C | Kansas Jayhawks

Kansas will follow Dickinson (18.5 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.8 BPG), an all-Big Ten second-teamer in 2022-23 and the most coveted prospect in the transfer portal this offseason, as it attempts to win its second national championship in three seasons.

Top competition: Max Abmas, Texas Longhorns (21.9 PPG, 37% from beyond the arc at Oral Roberts)

Big Ten Conference

Zach Edey | 7-4 | C | Purdue Boilermakers

With another stellar performance, Edey (22.3 PPG, 12.9 RPG, 2.1 BPG) could become the first player to win the Wooden Award in consecutive years since Ralph Sampson pulled off the feat 40 years ago. He could also help erase the memory of that first-round loss to Fairleigh Dickinson with a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

Top competition: Terrence Shannon Jr., Illinois Fighting Illini (17.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG)

Big West Conference

Ajay Mitchell | 6-4 | G | UC Santa Barbara Gauchos

Mitchell (16.3 PPG, 5.1 APG), who led the Gauchos to a conference tournament crown and NCAA tournament appearance last season, will chase his second consecutive Big West Player of the Year award.

Top competition: Elijah Pepper, UC Davis Aggies (22.5 PPG, 5.9 RPG)

Coastal Athletic Association

Tyler Thomas | 6-3 | G | Hofstra Pride

The all-CAA second-teamer last season (16.5 PPG, 41% from 3) has one goal: to carry Hofstra to its first NCAA tournament appearance (the school won the CAA title in 2020 and would have played had the NCAA tournament not been canceled due to COVID-19) since 2001.

Top competition: Charles Thompson, Towson Tigers (12.2 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.7 BPG)

Conference USA

Dontaie Allen | 6-6 | G | Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

In February and March, the former Kentucky guard began to hit his stride, seeing four games with 17 points or more. That momentum could propel Allen (9.3 PPG, 38% from the 3-point line) to new heights under new head coach Steve Lutz.

Top competition: Kyle Rode, Liberty Flames (10.9 PPG, 40% from the 3-point line)

Horizon League

BJ Freeman | 6-6 | G | Milwaukee Panthers

Freeman showed his promise with a 43-point performance in a win over Stetson in last season’s CBI. The guard, who averaged 18.22 PPG, could now help lead a program that’s on an upward trajectory (22-12, 14-6 league) to its first NCAA tournament appearance in a decade.

Top competition: Marques Warrick, Northern Kentucky Norse (18.8 PPG, 38% from the 3-point line)

Ivy League

Matt Knowling | 6-5 | F | Yale Bulldogs

The all-Ivy League first-teamer (13.6 PPG) headlines a squad of key returners who were instrumental in winning the regular-season title. They missed out on the 2023 NCAA tournament following a nine-point loss to rival Princeton in the conference tournament championship.

Top competition: Matt Allocco, Princeton Tigers (10.7 PPG, 38.3% from beyond the arc)

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

Mervin James | 6-7 | F | Rider Broncs

The all-MAAC second-teamer led Rider to a 13-7 record last season (second place in the league). Couple that with the departure of Rick Pitino and the exodus of transfers out of Iona, and the door is open for James and the Broncs to win top MAAC honors.

Top competition: Dakota Leffew, Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers (13.1 PPG, 38% from beyond the arc)

Mid-American Conference

Enrique Freeman | 6-7 | C | Akron Zips

An all-MAC first-teamer last season, Freeman (16.8 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 1.2 BPG) anchors an Akron squad that could conquer the league and win the regular-season crown for the first time since 2020.

Top competition: Jaylin Hunter, Ohio Bobcats (13.2 PPG, 41% from 3)

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

Shy Odom | 6-6 | F | Howard Bison

The buzz around Odom’s MEAC Player of the Year potential in 2023-24 increased when he led notched 15 points (5-for-9) and eight rebounds in the 16-seed’s 96-68 loss to 1-seed Kansas in the first round of last year’s NCAA tournament.

Top competition: Martaz Robinson, Delaware State Hornets (11.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.5 SPG)

Missouri Valley Conference

Tucker DeVries | 6-7 | F | Drake Bulldogs

It would be difficult to topple the reigning MVC player of the year, who returns after averaging 18.6 PPG (37% from the 3-point line) and leading his team to the NCAA tournament.

Top competition: Bowen Born, Northern Iowa Panthers (17.9 PPG, 37% from 3)

Mountain West Conference

Jamal Mashburn Jr. | 6-2 | G | New Mexico Lobos

The son of former NBA and Kentucky star Jamal Mashburn Sr. is a potent scorer (19.1 PPG, 38% from 3) and hopes to position his team to compete for a Mountain West championship.

Top competition: Tyson Degenhart, Boise State Broncos (14.1 PPG)

Northeast Conference

Nico Galette | 6-6 | F | Sacred Heart Pioneers

The all-NEC first-teamer (15.4 PPG, 6.7 RPG) scored in double figures 30 times and recorded four double-doubles last seasons, making him one of the top returning mid-major stars in the country.

Top competition: Ansley Almonor, Fairleigh Dickinson Knights (13.6 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 38% from the 3-point line)

Ohio Valley Conference

Mark Freeman | 5-10 | G | Morehead State Eagles

Head coach Preston Spradlin told this summer that Freeman (15.0 PPG, 3.7 APG) has continued to improve from last season. That’s significant for a player who easily won 2022-23 OVC Player of the Year honors.

Top competition: Ray’Sean Taylor, SIU Edwardsville Cougars (15.5 PPG, 4.1 RPG)

Pac-12 Conference

Oumar Ballo | 7-0 | C | Arizona Wildcats

Ballo (14.2 PPG, 8.6 RPG), an all-Pac-12 first-teamer last season, is a lock to win this award this year — especially if he connects on 65% of his shots inside the arc the way he did in 2022-23.

Top competition: Boogie Ellis, USC Trojans (17.7 PPG, 39% from the 3-point line)

Patriot League

Keegan Records | 6-10 | F | Colgate Raiders

A year after helping Colgate win the Patriot League’s regular-season and conference tournament crowns, Records (13.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.3 BPG) could very well orchestrate a repeat.

Top competition: Keith Higgins Jr., Lehigh Mountain Hawks (14.7 PPG, 41% from beyond the arc)

Southeastern Conference

Wade Taylor IV | 6-0 | G | Texas A&M Aggies

The all-SEC first-teamer (16.3 PPG, 3.9 APG) led Texas A&M to the NCAA tournament last season, finishing the 2022-23 campaign with 20 points or more in 12 games. It’s likely he can accomplish something similar this season.

Top competition: Santiago Vescovi, Tennessee Volunteers (12.5 PPG, 37% from the 3-point line)

Southern Conference

Tre Jackson | 6-1 | G | Western Carolina Catamounts

Jackson (15.8 PPG, 43% from beyond the arc) is the leader of a Western Carolina team that returns the bulk of its starting rotation. With Jackson, the Catamounts will chase the program’s first conference tournament championship and NCAA tournament appearance since 1996.

Top competition: Keyshaun Langley, UNC Greensboro Spartans (14.3 PPG, 42% from beyond the arc)

Southland Conference

Christian Shumate | 6-6 | G | McNeese Cowboys

Shumate (15.1 PPG, 9.7 RPG) is a key player for former LSU coach Will Wade’s new squad, which hopes to make an immediate turnaround from last season’s 6-12 finish in league play.

Top competition: Jordan Johnson, New Orleans Privateers (18.0 PPG, 48% from the 3-point line)

Summit League

Zeke Mayo | 6-3 | G | South Dakota State Jackrabbits

The departure of Max Abmas and other key players in the league has opened the door for Mayo to become the best player this season. But he was already a contender before they left, thanks to a sizzling February and March (20.4 PPG over the last nine games of the 2022-23 season).

Top competition: Parker Bjorklund, St. Thomas-Minnesota Tommies (22.8 PPG, 8.3 RPG)

Sun Belt Conference

Austin Crowley | 6-5 | G | Southern Miss Golden Eagles

The all-Sun Belt first-teamer returns to avenge a 4-for-13 performance in a first-round Sun Belt Conference tournament loss to South Alabama — the same loss that sent the league’s regular-season champs home much earlier than anticipated.

Top competition: Donovan Gregory, Appalachian State Mountaineers (12.5 PPG, 4.3 APG)

Southwestern Athletic Conference

PJ Henry | 5-10 | G | Texas Southern Tigers

For the last three years, Texas Southern has won the SWAC tournament, and therefore the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The return of Henry (12.4 PPG) could lead to a fourth consecutive berth for coach Johnny Jones’ squad.

Top competition: Jeremiah Kendall, Alcorn State Braves (11.1 PPG, 6.7 RPG)

Western Athletic Conference

Rayshon Harrison | 6-4 | G | Grand Canyon Lopes

He was an all-WAC first-teamer last season after averaging 17.8 PPG and 4.0 RPG, and leading his team to the NCAA tournament. With his return to college basketball, Harrison hopes to prove his 20-point effort in the Lopes’ 82-70 loss to Gonzaga in the first round wasn’t a fluke.

Top competition: Cameron Tyson, Seattle U Redhawks (18.6 PPG, 4.4 RPG)

West Coast Conference

Aidan Mahaney | 6-3 | G | Saint Mary’s Gaels

With Drew Timme gone, Mahaney (13.9 PPG, 40% from the 3-point line) could emerge as the face of West Coast Conference basketball — particularly if he can lead the Gaels to another conference title (they shared the crown with Gonzaga last season) and an NCAA tournament berth.

Top competition: Ryan Nembhard, Gonzaga Bulldogs (12.1 PPG, 4.8 APG at Creighton)

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