To find the last time a sophomore won the Wooden or Naismith Award, you’d have to go back to 2013 when Trey Burke took home the hardware for Michigan. But spotting one in the list of Final Four Most Outstanding Players is comparable to finding a needle in a haystack. Florida’s Joakim Noah (2006) is the only sophomore to earn that achievement this century.
Could the 2019-20 season end differently for second-year players?
“This is a great class. So often we talk about the freshmen, the seniors,” Andy Katz said on the Jan. 21 episode of the March Madness 365 podcast. “But, the improvement a lot of these players have made from freshman to sophomore year, this is what’s going to be a difference for them.”
While it might still be too early to identify a clear-cut national player-of-the-year candidate or even a Final Four contender, these are Katz’s top 10 sophomores so far.
Note: All statistics are through Jan. 21.
10. Isaiah Joe, Arkansas — If you’re looking for a reason why Arkansas is contending for a NCAA tournament bid in coach Eric Musselman’s first season, look no further than Joe. He’s second on the team in points per game and leads the SEC in made 3-pointers. His shooting percentage has gone down but his confidence to keep firing continues.
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9. Ashton Hagans, Kentucky — Hagans became a permanent fixture in Kentucky’s starting lineup midway into his freshman season. As a sophomore, he’s become a leader for the Wildcats. He leads the SEC in assists per game and added to his offensive game by getting to the rim and free-throw line more, ranking top five in both attempts and makes at the stripe.
8. Mac McClung, Georgetown — McClung has started every game he’s played in for Georgetown. In Year 2, he’s become the Hoyas’ anchor on the perimeter. McClung doesn’t need to be the team’s go-to scorer with Omer Yurtseven in the post, but it helps Georgetown’s NCAA tournament hopes that he’s statistically improved in points per game, field goal percentage and 3-point percentage.
7. Timmy Allen, Utah — Of Allen’s eight games with 20 or more points, none might be more impressive than his 25-point, nine-rebound showing in a win over Kentucky. He’s kept a young Utes team competitive most nights and he leads the Pac-12 in scoring.
6. Tre Jones, Duke — Jones returned to Duke to guide a young group of Blue Devils. He’s continued his freshman year role as a defensive stopper on the perimeter while also leading the ACC in assists per game with 6.8, including three games with double-digit assists. His scoring can be up and down but his points per game are up 5.5 from last year and he’s shooting over nine percentage points better from three.
5. Tyrese Haliburton, Iowa State — The Cyclones have struggled to meet some of their preseason expectations, but Haliburton remains a bright spot. He continues to be one of the top distributors in the Big 12 (first) and Division I (sixth) at 7.4 assists per game, in addition to being the conference’s fifth-leading scorer and trailing only Kansas’ Udoka Azubuike in field-goal percentage.
4. Devon Dotson, Kansas — Dotson returned to Kansas with a potential opportunity to lead the Jayhawks back to the Final Four. If he does, he might be able to earn Big 12 Player of the Year honors along the way. Dotson’s leading the Big 12 in scoring at a touch above 18 points per game and he’s fifth in assists per game.
3. Jared Butler, Baylor — If someone were to oppose Dotson for Big 12 Player of the Year, however, Butler could be a viable candidate as he has helped Baylor climb to No. 1 in the rankings. His scoring has jumped nearly seven points per game as a sophomore, in addition to a 3-point shot that’s falling close to 40 percent of the time. Butler’s defense has also fit well in Baylor’s man-to-man game plan.
2. Daniel Oturu, Minnesota — Oturu is receiving 10 more minutes per game as a sophomore than he did last season. The production improvement in that time is staggering. His points per game have nearly doubled to over 20 points per game and he leads the Big Ten in rebounding at 11.9 per game. His numbers will likely warrant All-Big Ten honors. If the Gophers get into the NCAA tournament, the buzz will likely only grow around Oturu.
1. Obi Toppin, Dayton — Toppin was well known in the Atlantic 10 coming into the season. He was the first freshman to receive first-team all-conference honors since 1999. By the end of the Maui Invitational, Dayton’s high-flying sophomore had received a formal introduction to rest of the college basketball world. The Flyers are ranked seventh, their highest mark since 1967. Toppin’s 19-plus points and nearly eight rebounds per game are a big reason why.
Katz also sat down with Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard, Kentucky guard Immanuel Quickley and Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News this week. The full episode is available here.