<
>

Wooden Watch: Who are the early favorites for the 2022 Wooden Award?

play
What's better than a Drew Timme dunk? The mustache celebration (0:24)

Gonzaga's Drew Timme flushes a two-handed jam and gets his mustache in on the celebration. (0:24)

The 2021 John R. Wooden Award will be announced next week, with two participants in Saturday's Final Four among the finalists. Gonzaga star Corey Kispert and Baylor's Jared Butler each made the final five, along with Oklahoma State's Cade Cunningham, Illinois' Ayo Dosunmu and Iowa's Luka Garza. Once the honor is announced, it will be time to assess the front-runners for the 2022 award. But ESPN's panel of college basketball experts -- Myron Medcalf, Jeff Borzello, John Gasaway and Joe Lunardi -- couldn't wait that long:

The John R. Wooden Award will be handed out next week, with Iowa's Luka Garza and Oklahoma State's Cade Cunningham considered the front-runners. Taking a peek at next season -- and understanding there are still NBA draft and recruiting decisions to be made -- name a couple of players that you expect us to be talking about at this time next year for the 2022 Wooden.

Medcalf: Any early momentum that a player can establish is always helpful in the push for the Wooden Award. And I think Chet Holmgren will immediately captivate the country. His size, his length and energy are a rare combination for a freshman. I won't be surprised if he's a strong candidate.

I also wonder what happens with a couple of players this weekend. Both Quentin Grimes and Johnny Juzang could elevate their NBA stock with a big performance or two in Indianapolis. But if the two return, they'll be high on the preseason watch lists. One of the most intriguing names, in my opinion, is Marcus Carr (19.4 PPG, 4.9 APG, 4.0 RPG). He announced his intent to transfer from Minnesota after Richard Pitino was fired last month. He's a great player who could put up major numbers if he finds the right landing spot -- assuming he doesn't enter the NBA draft and turn pro.

Borzello: Based on our NBA draft rankings and general early-entry buzz, I think there's a chance Drew Timme returns to college -- although after his domination of Evan Mobley in the Elite Eight, that might be less likely now. But if he returns to Spokane for another season, Timme will be the clear-cut Wooden Award favorite. He's been arguably the best frontcourt player not named Luka Garza in college basketball this season, and he's taken his game to a new level in the NCAA tournament.

play
0:37

Chet Holmgren goes coast-to-coast for layup

Chet Holmgren, the No. 1 recruit for the class of 2021 in the ESPN Top 100, shows off the handles on a coast-to-coast play vs. YPSI Prep.

If Timme's tourney performance vaults him into the draft discussion and he leaves after this season, a couple of other names I'd keep an eye on next season would be Michigan's Hunter Dickinson, Ohio State's E.J. Liddell -- and even potentially Villanova's Collin Gillespie. Of the incoming freshmen, Chet Holmgren is an easy choice, although Gonzaga is the favorite for him and it might be tough for both Timme and Holmgren to be Wooden Award front-runners. I think Duke signee Paolo Banchero is the most college-ready prospect in the class, and I think he should be super productive from day one in Durham.

Gasaway: This year is really the first time we can honestly preface this answer by saying we can't possibly know, right? Everyone's receiving an extra year of eligibility, the transfer portal is jam-packed and even the coaching carousel is more lively than it's been in a long while. Anything we forecast in early April may be overtaken by events, but here goes.

I'm restricting myself to players not ranked in the top 30 in the current ESPN NBA draft rankings. On that basis, we do have 2021 first-team All-American Jared Butler, who may or may not elect to return for his senior season. Moving down to the second team, say hello to Drew Timme, Hunter Dickinson and Kofi Cockburn. Moving past current All-Americans, one would venture to think this list of likely candidates might also include Quentin Grimes, Trevion Williams, Derek Culver, Scotty Pippen Jr., Keve Aluma or Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. Some of those guys will leave and, of course, these are all veterans. In April I take my counsel on incoming freshmen from Jeff Borzello.

Lunardi: Letting my esteemed colleagues cover the incoming class of newcomers, the following realistic returnees would be likely Wooden Award candidates for 2021-22 (in alphabetical order): Keve Aluma (Virginia Tech), Derek Culver (West Virginia), Kendric Davis (SMU), Hunter Dickinson (Michigan), David Duke (Providence), Nah'Shon Hyland (VCU), Osun Osunniyi (St. Bonaventure) and Scotty Pippen Jr. (Vanderbilt). Dickinson will receive, deservedly, enormous attention if he comes back, but you heard it here first that "Bones" Hyland will be the most explosive returnee in the country.