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Updated Naismith Player of the Year Odds – Luka Garza the Favorite After Returning to Iowa

Blair Johnson

by Blair Johnson in College Basketball

Updated Dec 20, 2022 · 10:08 AM PST

Luka Garza pressured by defender, looking to pass
Iowa center Luka Garza looks to pass around Nebraska forward Derrick Walker, right, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, March 4, 2021, in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa won 102-64. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
  • Iowa post Luka Garza has emerged as the favorite (+275) to win the Naismith Player of the Year award after announcing his return to the Hawkeyes in
  • The updated odds see Illinois’ Ayo Dosunmu (+450) and Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham (+550) as the other top contenders
  • Does Garza deserve to be the chalk?

Iowa Hawkeyes senior center Luka Garza has risen to the top of the odds board and is now the favorite to win the 2020-21 Naismith Player of the Year award after announcing his return to Iowa City.

Ilinois junior point guard Ayo Dosunmu and Oklahoma State’s freshman phenom Cade Cunningham round out the top-three contenders.

The board has evolved quite a bit over the last four months, with a number of key players announcing their return.

2021 Naismith Player of the Year Odds

Player Odds
Luka Garza (Iowa) +275
Ayo Dosunmu (Illinois) +450
Cade Cunningham (Oklahoma State) +550
Jared Butler (Baylor) +1200
Remy Martin (Arizona State) +1200
BJ Boston (Kentucky) +1500
Marcus Zegarowski (Creighton) +1600
Collin Gillespie (Villanova) +1600
Sam Hauser (Virginia) +2500
Evan Mobley (USC) +2500
Trayce Jackson-Davis (Indiana) +2500
Jalen Johnson (Duke) +2800
Jalen Suggs (Gonzaga) +2500
Scottie Barnes (Florida State) +3300
Terrence Clarke (Kentucky) +3300
Ziaire Williams (Stanford) +3300
Greg Brown (Texas) +4000
Keon Johnson (Tennessee) +4000
Caleb Love (UNC) +4000
Jaden Springer (Tennessee) +4000
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (Villanova) +4000
Josh Christopher (Arizona State) +5000
Moses Moody (Arkansas) +5000
Terrance Shannon (Kentucky) +5000
Wendell Moore (Duke) +5000

Odds taken Oct. 9

Once Garza announced his return, it was academic that he would enter the Naismith fray as the favorite. As a junior, Garza won multiple Player of the Year honors, including ESPN’s POY award.

Before the Washington, DC-area native announced his intention to return to Fran McCaffery’s program in early August, Cunningham was the early favorite. But as noted in mid-June, the Atlanta Tipoff Club (the group that presents the award) has been reticent to bestow the honor to true freshmen.

Now, with Garza and fellow Big Ten star Dosunmu opting out of the NBA Draft process due to various unknowns brought on by the coronavirus, it’s no surprise the pair are the top favorites in the Naismith POY odds.

Should “Garzilla” be the favorite? What about Dosunmu? Is there a sleeper contender with longer odds that bettors should be focusing on? Let’s handicap the field.

Garza Ready to Dominate

Garza’s has increased his scoring average in each of this first three seasons — going from 12.1 PPG as a freshman to 13.1 PPG as a sophomore to nearly doubling his output to 23.9 PPG last season, when he earned Big Ten Player of the Year and First Team All-American honors.

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Team success has always been a big factor in Naismith history. With Garza back in the mix for the Hawkeyes, this will be the fifth time over the last 15 years a Power Five player returned to school after being a Naismith finalist (Duke’s JJ Redick, North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough twice and Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger). Those teams earned either No. 1 or No. 2 seeds in the following NCAA Tournament, appeared in three Final Fours, and earned one title (Hansbrough’s 2009 Tar Heels).

If Iowa follows suit, this is Garza’s award.

Fight in Illini

However, let’s not forget it was Illinois that knocked off Garza’s Hawkeyes in last game of the 2019-20 season (before COVID shut everything down) as the Illini earned a share of the regular-season conference title.

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The Chicago-area point guard’s return to Champaign (along with post Kofi Cockburn) has made Illinois a top-five title contender. If it comes down to more head-to-head battles for team titles, you would think individual awards might follow suit. Of course, Cockburn may take some of the attention away from Dosunmu and split the vote, too.

Young Prospects

What about the freshman on the board?

Underclassmen will likely be eve more behind the eight-ball than normal this season due to pandemic-related issues (fewer preseason tournaments and limited practice time with teammates). Only three freshman — Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis and Zion Williamson — have won the Naismith in the 52-year history of the award.

If any are to emerge, expect it to be Kentucky’s BJ Boston — not Cunningham — due to team success.

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Also, Boston hails from a basketball prep factory in Sierra Canyon, a program that has a history of producing elite basketball prospects.

At the end of the day, though, Garza is set up to win the 2021 Naismith. At +275, getting nearly 3/1 odds is reasonable value.

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