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The Undrafted's College Basketball Preview: Top Contenders for Player of the Year

As we enter the upcoming college basketball season, fans and analysts alike eagerly await the return of one of the sport's most dominant forces, Purdue center Zach Edey.

As we enter the upcoming college basketball season, fans and analysts alike eagerly await the return of one of the sport's most dominant forces, Purdue center Zach Edey. Last season, Edey was already a formidable presence, ranking No. 8 on our list of the sport's Top 101 And 1 players and receiving third-team preseason All-American honors. With the departure of fellow star big man Trevion Williams, Edey was expected to assume a larger role for the Boilermakers in the 2022-23 campaign.

However, what unfolded on the court exceeded even the loftiest expectations. Edey's performance was nothing short of spectacular. The towering 7-foot-4 center led the nation in double-doubles, tallying an impressive 27 throughout the season. He also claimed the second spot in rebounds per game, sixth in points per game, and a commendable 21st in field goal percentage. In a historic achievement, Edey became the first Division I player on record to rank in the top 25 for points, rebounds, blocks, and field goal percentage, a testament to his all-around excellence.

Under Edey's leadership, the Boilermakers clinched both the Big Ten regular season and Tournament titles, securing a coveted No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Although the season concluded with a shocking upset loss to No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson in the first round, Edey's individual brilliance left an indelible mark on Purdue's campaign, creating lasting memories for Boilermakers fans. When he made the decision to return for a fourth year of college basketball, Edey instantly emerged as the favorite to repeat as National Player of the Year. However, the competition for this prestigious honor is fierce, with numerous players capable of challenging Edey's reign as the most dominant player in college basketball.

Kyle Filipowski, Duke: A Worthy Challenger

First and foremost, let it be known that we believe Zach Edey will indeed repeat as Player of the Year, and Purdue will continue to shine. Barring unforeseen surprises or injuries, the 7-foot-4 center appears poised to sweep the awards once more.

However, what if Edey faces a challenge for the throne? Enter Duke's Kyle Filipowski, a 7-foot forward who stands as one of the top NBA prospects to return to college after the previous season. In a season of ups and downs for the Blue Devils, Filipowski consistently impressed, averaging 15.1 points and 8.9 rebounds in 29.2 minutes per game and earning ACC Rookie of the Year honors. Initially expected to enter the 2023 NBA Draft as a likely first-round pick, Filipowski's surprising decision to return to Duke has bolstered the Blue Devils' status as contenders for the 2024 NCAA Tournament.

History has shown that returning legitimate NBA prospects often transform into statistical juggernauts during their sophomore years, with examples like Blake Griffin at Oklahoma coming to mind. As such, it's reasonable to expect Filipowski to take a significant leap this season, solidifying his status as an All-American and, just maybe, posing a challenge to Edey's Player of the Year reign. - Gary Parrish

Justin Edwards, Kentucky: The Freshman Phenom

While my colleagues have presented strong cases for well-known players, I'd like to shine a spotlight on the unknown. Meet Justin Edwards, the lone freshman on our list. While it's true that established stars like Hunter Dickinson and Kyle Filipowski are expected to shine, there's something captivating about the potential of the unknown.

Edwards, a former five-star recruit, ranked as the No. 3 overall prospect in the 2023 class. Standing at 6-foot-7, he has already exhibited his scoring and playmaking prowess for Kentucky, far surpassing his years in skill and maturity. Insider rumblings suggest he's primed to contend for All-American status right from the outset.

Kentucky boasts a roster filled with five-star talent, but none may be as ready as Edwards to emerge as a star from day one. If anyone has the potential to unexpectedly challenge Edey in the Player of the Year race this season, my bet is on this freshman phenom, who could lead one of college basketball's premier teams to greatness. - Kyle Boone

Donovan Clingan, UConn: A Rising Star in the Making

The parallels between Zach Edey and Donovan Clingan extend beyond their towering heights. Like Edey, Clingan shared the center position with Adama Sanogo during UConn's national title run last season. With Sanogo's departure, Clingan now has a clear path to assert his dominance on the college basketball stage.

In just 13.1 minutes per game last season, Clingan displayed his potential, averaging 6.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks while shooting an impressive 65.5% from the field. With an expected increase in playing time and a more prominent role in UConn's offense, Clingan is well-positioned to lead the nation in shot-blocking. If he can replicate Edey's discipline in avoiding fouls and maintain his conditioning, Clingan will undoubtedly be in the running for a slew of postseason honors, including the coveted National Player of the Year award. - David Cobb

Hunter Dickinson, Kansas: Best Player on the Best Team

The cliché of the "best player on the best team" might find its embodiment in Hunter Dickinson this season. Kansas, already one of the most experienced squads in the country, added the No. 1 overall player from the transfer portal, a player boasting an impressive 94 career games.

Dickinson, a perfect fit for Kansas under the guidance of head coach Bill Self, is a traditional center with a diverse scoring arsenal, strong rebounding abilities, and shot-blocking prowess. While his scoring output may decrease due to playing on a well-rounded team, Dickinson is poised to be the standout player for the Jayhawks, potentially securing their position as the No. 1 team throughout the season.

Kansas has a history of molding exceptional big men, and Dickinson's improved ability to stretch the floor and hit perimeter shots will bolster his candidacy for college basketball's most prestigious individual award. - Cameron Salerno

Austyn McFadden


Friday, September 22, 2023

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