“The Associated Press College Basketball Player of the Year award was established in 1961 to recognize the best men’s college basketball player of the year, as voted upon by the Associated Press (AP).”
That’s what Wikipedia has to say on the AP player of the year award. To recognize the best men’s college basketball player of the year. Why then, did the AP vote yesterday to give the award to Dayton’s Obi Toppin this season? Was he the best college basketball player this year? No. Not close.
Statistically speaking, Luka Garza was far superior to Obi Toppin. Garza finished the season averaging 23.9 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game for the Hawkeyes. Toppin, meanwhile, averaged just 20.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. If the two played on opposite teams, you might make the case for the player with lesser stats based on facing stiffer competition night in and night out. Not the case here. Just the opposite.
In fact, Garza’s numbers look even better when factoring in level of competition. Garza finished the year averaging 26.7 points and 11.1 rebounds per game in 12 matchups against ranked opponents. Dayton faced just one such opponent (and lost) with Toppin scoring 18 points and grabbing 9 rebounds. More impressive, Garza faced some of the nation’s best big men night in and night out in the Big Ten. A slew of them will be joining Toppin in entering the NBA draft this offseason. And Garza outscored them by an average of 15.9 points per game. Let that sink in. Obi Toppin scored an average of 20 points per game all year in the A-10. Garza averaged 15.9 points per game MORE than opposing centers - the best centers in the country.
Sent in my Naismith vote. I leave you with this.— Scott Dochterman (@ScottDochterman) March 21, 2020
In 20 B1G games, Luka Garza outscored the opposing center by 319 points this year. That’s 15.9 points PER GAME. He also outrebounded centers by 74, 3.7 per game.
Only Oturu scored more than 18 vs. Garza, who hit 20+ 19x in B1G.
If a player had worse stats against worse competition, the only real argument you could make in favor of that player is perhaps they played fewer minutes given their team was winning in the vast majority of games. Not the case here. Luka Garza average 32.0 minutes per game this season - 80% of Iowa’s available minutes. Obi Toppin averaged 31.6 minutes per game - 78.2% of Dayton’s available minutes. Garza didn’t put up better numbers because he played more minutes.
The simple answer is Obi Toppin was not a better college basketball player than Luka Garza this season. He was an electric player. He had numerous high-flying dunks and exciting plays. He played on a tremendous team that managed to go an entire season with only 2 losses. He will surely have a career in the NBA. None of those are criteria for winnin player of the year.
There are several players who will have better NBA careers than Toppin and they weren’t voted as player of the year. There were incredible players on teams better than Dayton (Udoka Azubuike anyone?) and they weren’t voted as player of the year. There were players with better advanced stats than Toppin (Garza finished first in KenPom’s player of the year metrics, Toppin 4th) and they weren’t voted as player of the year. There were players who were better college basketball players than Obi Toppin who weren’t voted as national player of the year.
If the argument against Garza is that Iowa lost more games than Dayton, why proclaim the award for the best PLAYER in the country? Give it to the best player on the best team. And Fran McCaffery and Gary Barta can get into a room and talk about never scheduling a difficult non-conference opponent again and potentially dropping out of a Power 5 conference because competition is no longer a factor.
The AP flat out got it wrong. There’s no excuse for it. All we can do now is do our part to ensure the Naismith and Wooden Award get it right. Fan voting started two days ago for the Naismith. You can vote by “liking” the tweet below. You can vote for the Wooden Award here.
.@LukaG_55 was a scoring machine this season !— The Naismith Trophy (@NaismithTrophy) March 24, 2020
Do you want to see Luka Garza of @IowaHoops to take home the @CitizenWatchUS Naismith Men’s POY? LIKE ❤️ this post to cast an extra fan vote. #Hawkeyes pic.twitter.com/LGAtmjkR2W
We must wright this wrong. Vote and vote often.