As many of us are aware, Kyle Wiltjer is tabbed as a favorite to win the National Player of the Year. We already took a look at what Wiltjer needs to produce individually in order to be considered a legitimate candidate, but what about the other options? Often times, the National Player of the Year isn't necessarily the best player, but the most visible player in the national circle.
There are three main factors that will contribute to the national eye being turned on Wiltjer this year. We take a look at them.
There are countless players across DI basketball that are capable of producing the stats necessary for consideration as a National Player of the Year. However, only a handful are ever considered for the award. Why? Because many of those players are unable to couple their individual talent with team success.
Looking back again at the last 10 NPOY winners, they played on teams that averaged 31.6 wins in their award-winning season. Considering the average DI basketball program only plays an average of 30 games each year, it's important for a NPOY candidate to play on a team that can make an extended run in his conference tournament and reach the big dance.
Each of the last 10 winners reached the NCAA tournament. Interestingly, Anthony Davis was the only NPOY to win a championship (2011-2012 Kentucky Wildcats—not without Kyle Wiltjer's help, of course). Seven of the teams won, or finished as the runner-up, for their respective conference titles. And, of the 10 teams, only Doug McDermott's Creighton squad failed to land in the AP preseason Top 25 poll.
Gonzaga opens this season as #9 in the AP Preseason toll. Gonzaga has punched 17 (!!!!!) consecutive tickets to the Big Dance. Take a moment to appreciate that achievement. It's okay, go ahead, I'll wait. Barring a truly catastrophic season, this season should be #18 for the Zags. Coming off a 35-3 season, and despite the key losses of Kevin Pangos (his hair), and Gary Bell Jr., the Zags should once again claim the WCC crown.
Considering the talent on the roster and looking at the schedule, the Zags should be able to manage a 31-win season. There are 31 games on the calendar, not counting postseason play. I've pegged Arizona, at BYU, and the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament as the most troublesome on the schedule (I'm down on UCLA...but, don't sleep on Pepperdine).
Projecting three losses in the regular season with a WCC Tournament championship puts the Zags at 31-3 going into the NCAA tournament. Let me take this moment to say I'm not trying to jinx the season so please don't throw stones at me should the season go awry.
Individual production and team success are likely the most heavily weighed factors for voters when it comes time for award season. But, I think national exposure is something worth considering as well, especially since the national media make up the voting body.
There's no easy formula for determining how much national exposure is sufficient. The things I ended up looking for was preseason recognition, since that indicates the media is already conscious of a player's caliber; and, number of games played on national tv.
Of the last ten award winners, nine were placed on a preseason All-American team. The only absentee was Ohio State's Evan Turner in 2009-2010. Many of them had played multiple college seasons prior to their award-winning season and were already firmly established in the national consciousness.
Additionally, winners came from traditional blue blood programs in power conferences and mid-major programs (Creighton and BYU) alike, so I don't anticipate Kyle will get knocked for playing in the WCC.
Also working in Kyle's favor is the four prime time games Gonzaga will play on National television with the potential for more brought by the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, the WCC tournament, and the NCAA tournament (21-23 of the current games will be available on ESPN2 or watchESPN).
Kyle's candidacy should receive a big boost if he can produce big performances in those games.
While it's fun to consider Kyle's NPOY candidacy in a void, real life offers a myriad of viable candidates that will challenge him for postseason awards.
The biggest names to watch out for will be Oklahoma senior Buddy Hield; Melo Trimble of Maryland; Kris Dunn of Providence; Georges Niang at Iowa State; and UNC's Marcus Paige (if he can stay healthy—big if, considering his history and the fact he's already starting the season injured). Ben Simmons, LSU's freshman phenom, is also getting some preseason NPOY love.
All of the above are excellent players and any one of them could be taking home the NPOY award in April 2016. But, if the Zags can replicate last season's success and Kyle can build on his excellent 2014-15 campaign, I'd tab him as the favorite to bring hardware back to Spokane at the end of the season.