Sasser vs. Davis, Tshiebwe vs. Smith and more 2022-23 conference player of the year battles

ByMyron Medcalf ESPN logo
Friday, October 21, 2022

It's not easy to track all of the moving pieces in men's college basketball in the transfer portal era. This offseason saw over 1,800 players entering and exiting the transfer portal. Others made last-minute decisions about leaving college or staying -- some of it based on NIL (name, image and likeness) opportunities. Some top recruits decommitted from their original choices and recommitted to other programs, and others reclassified.

One of the biggest consequences of this movement: some of the mid-major leagues lost nearly every player on their 2021-22 all-conference teams to other leagues. But the transformation of the sport's landscape has created more intriguing player of the year races in each conference.

After focusing on the top coaches of every conference, and with the rosters more or less set as we approach the 2022-23 season, we predict the preseason player of the year in every Division I league -- with the knowledge that, come March, this list might look different. We also pick each player's strongest competition for the honor.

Navigate to each league:

American | America East | ACC | ASUN| A-10| Big 12 | Big East | Big Sky | Big South | Big Ten | Big West | CAA | C-USA | Horizon | Ivy| MAAC | MAC | MEAC | MVC | MW | NEC | OVC | Pac-12 | Patriot | SEC | SoCon | Southland | SWAC | Summit | Sun Belt | WCC | WAC

American Athletic Conference

Marcus Sasser | 6-2| G | Houston Cougars

Before suffering a season-ending foot injury midway through last season, Sasser (17.7 PPG, 44% from 3) led a Houston squad that averaged 116 points per 100 possessions and held opponents to just 79 points per 100 possessions when he was on the court, according to data.

Top competition: Kendric Davis | 6-0 | G | Memphis Tigers

Last season'sAAC player of the year averaged 19.4 PPG and shot 40% from 3 in SMU's half-court offense, per Synergy Sports data.

America East Conference

Dylan Penn | 6-foot-3 | G | Vermont Catamounts

Penn (16.6 PPG, 5.0 APG at Bellarmine last season) arrives in Burlington after making 60% of his shots in transition in 2021-22, per Synergy Sports data -- and being named MVP of the ASUN tournament.

Top competition: Charles Pride | 6-4 | G | Bryant Bulldogs

Pride averaged 20.3 PPG during Bryant's run to the NEC tournament championship last season, and now the All-NEC first-teamer will help his squad compete for the America East crown in its first season in the league.

Atlantic Coast Conference

Armando Bacot | 6-11 | F | North Carolina Tar Heels

Bacot (16.3 PPG, 13.1 RPG, 1.7 BPG) is a candidate for every national player of the year award after leading the Tar Heels on an incredible turnaround and to the national title game last season.

Top competition: Isaiah Wong | 6-4 | G | Miami Hurricanes

After averaging 16.2 PPG during Miami's surprising Elite Eight run last season, Wong is one of America's top returnees -- and one of the ACC's top players.

ASUN Conference

Darius McGhee | 5-9 | G | Liberty Flames

That McGhee (24.6 PPG, 39% from 3) is seeking his third consecutive ASUN Conference Player of the Year award this season should tell you everything you need to know.

Top competition: Ahsan Asadullah | 6-10 | C | Lipscomb Bisons

It's never a good idea to give Asadullah (15.2 PPG, 9.0 RPG), an All-ASUN first-teamer last season, too much space, as the big man made 67% of his shots against zone in 2021-22, per Synergy Sports data.

Atlantic 10 Conference

Yuri Collins | 6-0 | G | Saint Louis Billikens

After securing All-Atlantic 10 first-team honors last season, Collins (11.1 PPG, 7.9 APG, 1.9 SPG) will once again lead a Saint Louis squad aiming for the NCAA tournament.

Top competition: DaRon Holmes II | 6-10 | F | Dayton Flyers

If his finish last season is an indication of what's to come -- Holmes connected on 67% of his shots inside the arc in Dayton's final nine games -- then the reigning A-10 Rookie of the Year could become a star this season for Anthony Grant's squad.

Big East Conference

Adama Sanogo | 6-9 | F | UConn Huskies

Sanogo (14.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 1.9 BPG) is one of college basketball's most imposing forces, as proved by the 41.5% clip opposing teams were limited to last season when he was on the floor, per data.

Top competition: Jack Nunge | 7-0 | C | Xavier Musketeers

Sean Miller's history of helping big men reach their ceiling should bode well for Nunge (13.4 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.4 BPG), who played a key role in his team's run to the NIT championship last season.

Big Sky Conference

Jubrile Belo | 6-9 | F | Montana State Bobcats

The Big Sky's reigning Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year (12.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.8 BPG) is back to defend his crown.

Top competition: Daylen Kountz | 6-4 | G | Northern Colorado Bears

Kountz (21.2 PPG, 42% from 3) entered the NBA draft after a stellar 2021-22 season but decided to return to Northern Colorado -- which has conference championship ambitions with him back in the mix.

Big South Conference

Isaiah Wilkins | 6-4 | G/F | Longwood Lancers

Wilkins (12.7 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 39% from 3) led Longwood to its first Division I NCAA tournament appearance last season, and he returns as the leader of a team that should be the favorite to win the league's automatic bid again.

Top competition: Zack Austin | 6-5 | F | High Point Panthers

With Austin (14.4 PPG, 2.2 BPG, 1.3 SPG) on the floor last season, High Point connected on 52% of its shots inside the arc, per data.

Big 12 Conference

Mike Miles Jr.| 6-2 | G | TCU Horned Frogs

The Big 12 knew what Miles (15.4 PPG) was all about before March, but the whole country really got to know his potential when he scored 21 points in TCU's 69-42 win against Seton Hall in the first round of the NCAA tournament -- and followed it up with 20 points in a hard-fought 85-80 overtime loss to top seed Arizona in the second round.

Top competition: Jalen Wilson | 6-8 | F | Kansas Jayhawks

You could make the case that Wilson (15 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 block) was the best and most important player for Kansas in its 72-69 come-from-behind victory over North Carolina in the national title game. But now he has to prove he can be a consistent presence for Bill Self and evolve into the leader of the defending champs.

Big Ten Conference

Trayce Jackson-Davis | 6-9 | F | Indiana Hoosiers

If Indiana can get the best version of Jackson-Davis (18.3 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 2.3 BPG) -- a star who made 70% of his shots at the rim last season, per data -- then the Hoosiers will have the potential to chase the Big Ten title and make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

Top competition: Zach Edey | 7-4 | C | Purdue Boilermakers

You could put Hunter Dickinson in this spot too, but Edey (14.4 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 1.2 BPG) did a lot last season with just 19.0 MPG. Those minutes will climb significantly this season, along with his production.

Big West Conference

Joel Murray | 6-0 | G | Long Beach State Beach

Murray (16.7 PPG, 37% from 3), a 2021-22 All-Big West first-teamer, returns after scoring 24 points or more in nine games last season for Dan Monson's squad.

Top competition: Noel Coleman 6-1 | G | Hawai'i Rainbow Warriors

Coleman (14.8 PPG, 44.1% from 3, 81.3% from the free throw line) lost a chunk of last season to injury, but he returns healthy to put Hawai'i back in the hunt for the Big West championship.

Colonial Athletic Association

Aaron Estrada | 6-3 | G | Hofstra Pride

The reigning CAA Player of the Year is back to pursue another POY honor. If he can mirror last season's impressive numbers -- 18.5 PPG, 93.5% from the charity stripe -- it shouldn't be difficult.

Top competition: Jameer Nelson Jr.| 6-1 | G | Delaware Blue Hens

The son of Saint Joseph's legend Jameer Nelson made 40% of his shots from beyond the arc in league play and led Delaware to the CAA tournament championship after averaging 13.6 PPG.

Conference USA

Jordan Walker | 5-11 | G | UAB Blazers

The reigning C-USA Player of the Year had an incredible 2021-22 season: 20.3 PPG, 4.9 APG, 40% from 3. He'll be difficult to dethrone.

Top competition: Dayvion McKnight | 6-1 | G | Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

With Jamarion Sharp, last season's C-USA Defensive Player of the Year, and Boise State transfer Emmanuel Akot next to him, McKnight (16.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 5.5 APG) should have another strong season.

Horizon League

Antoine Davis | 6-1 | G | Detroit Mercy Titans

The 2021-22 co-Player of the Year, Davis (23.9 PPG, 38% from 3) has finished top four in scoring nationally for the past four seasons and now, in his fifth year, is 933 points shy of Pete Maravich's Division I career scoring record of 3,667 points.

Top competition: Jarred Godfrey | 6-5 | G | Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons

After earning a spot on the all-Horizon League first team a year ago, Godfrey (15.2 PPG, 38% from 3) has the skills to battle Davis for the league's Player of the Year honors.

Ivy League

Tosan Evbuomwan | 6-8 | F | Princeton Tigers

After leading Princeton to the 2021-22 Ivy League regular-season championship, the unanimously named reigning conference Player of the Year (16.0 PPG, 6.7 RPG) hopes to take the Tigers to their first NCAA tournament since 2017.

Top competition: Jordan Dingle | 6-3 | G | Pennsylvania Quakers

The Penn star, who averaged 20.9 PPG last season, led a squad that shot 53.1% from inside the arc when he was on the floor, per

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

Nelly Junior Joseph | 6-9 | F | Iona Gaels

With Joseph (13.0 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 1.9 BPG) on the floor last season, Rick Pitino's squad not only made 51% of its shots inside the 3-point line but also held opponents to just 91 points per 100 possessions, according to data.

Top competition: Jose Perez | 6-5 | F | Manhattan Jaspers

Perez (18.9 PPG, 4.5 APG), an All-MAAC first-teamer, scored an impressive 25 points or more in eight games last season for Manhattan.

Mid-American Conference

Sincere Carry | 6-1 | G | Kent State Golden Flashes

Although Carry (17.9 PPG, 4.8 APG) participated in pro tryouts after last season, he ultimately decided to return to college basketball and help his team compete for the MAC championship.

Top competition: Emoni Bates | 6-9 | G/F | Eastern Michigan Eagles

Assuming Bates (9.9 PPG, 3.3 RPG) gets past his legal challenges stemming from an offseason arrest, the player who was once hailed as "the next Kevin Durant" will be one of the most talented prospects in the history of the MAC.

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

Joe Bryant Jr.| 6-1 | G | Norfolk State Spartans

The reigning MEAC Player of the Year, Bryant (16.7 PPG, 92% clip from the free throw line) is the front-runner to win the award again, plus lead Norfolk State to its third MEAC championship in four years.

Top competition: Nendah Tarke | 6-4 | G | Coppin State Eagles

Few leagues in the country suffered a greater offseason exodus of talent via the transfer portal than the MEAC. But Coppin State coach Juan Dixon held on to Tarke (13.3 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 2.9 SPG), who can help his team compete for the MEAC crown.

Missouri Valley Conference

Ben Sheppard | 6-6 | G | Belmont Bruins

Belmont enters its first year in the MVC with Sheppard -- who made 37% of his 3-point attempts against man-to-man defense last season per Synergy Sports data -- starring for a program with a multitude of new faces.

Top competition: Marcus Domask | 6-6 | F | Southern Illinois Salukis

Every member of last season's All-MVC first team transferred out of the league, which opens the door for Domask (15.1 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 3.9 APG) to compete for Player of the Year honors.

Mountain West Conference

Matt Bradley | 6-4 | G | San Diego State Aztecs

Bradley (16.9 PPG, 40% from 3) was last season's Mountain West Newcomer of the Year after he transferred from Cal. With him on the court last season, San Diego State held its opponents to just 82 points per 100 possessions, according to data. Promising for his Player of the Year candidacy.

Top competition: Hunter Maldonado | 6-7 | G | Wyoming Cowboys

Maldonado (18.5 PPG, 6.3 APG, 5.7 RPG, 56% inside the 3-point line) is back for a sixth yearand has a real chance to capture the award.

Northeast Conference

Jordan Minor | 6-8 | F | Merrimack Warriors

Minor (15.1 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 2.4 BPG) made 78% of his shots in transition, per Synergy Sports data, and is the veteran who can lead Merrimack to another league title in the final year of its four-year transition to Division I athletics.

Top competition: Josh Cohen | 6-10 | F | St. Francis (Pa.) Red Flash

Cohen (12.9 PPG, 7.0 RPG), a talented junior and the anchor of a team that returns most of last season's starters, could have a breakout campaign.

Ohio Valley Conference

Ray'Sean Taylor | 6-1 | G | SIU Edwardsville Cougars

By the end of this season, Taylor (17.6 PPG) could be the best player on the best team in the OVC.

Top competition: Parker Stewart | 6-5 | G | UT Martin Skyhawks

Stewart (19.2 PPG in 2020-21) is easy to root for as he returns to Tennessee-Martin two years after the death of his father, former UT Martin coach Anthony Stewart.

Pac-12 Conference

Jaime Jaquez Jr.| 6-7 | F | UCLA Bruins

After battling various injuries throughout 2021-22, Jaquez (13.9 PPG, 5.7 RPG) is healthy and ready to put together a complete 2022-23 season that could end with Wooden Award contention, along with a lengthy stay for the Bruins in the NCAA tournament.

Top competition: Will Richardson | 6-5 | G | Oregon Ducks

An undisclosed injury cost Richardson (14.1 PPG) the last five games of the 2021-22 regular season. But he's ready to build on a campaign that included marks of 40% from 3 and 78% from the charity stripe last season.

Patriot League

Tucker Richardson | 6-5 | G | Colgate Raiders

Richardson (12.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG), a senior, was one of the Patriot League's most versatile threats last season. See his 37% success rate from 3 and 55% clip inside the arc for proof.

Top competition: Jalen Rucker | 5-10 | G | Army Black Knights

With Rucker (17.1 PPG, 37% from beyond the arc) returning, Army could participate in its first NCAA tournament 55 years after former coach Bob Knight rejected an invitation in favor of the NIT.

Southeastern Conference

Oscar Tshiebwe | 6-9 | F | Kentucky Wildcats

Tshiebwe (17.4 PPG, 15.1 RPG, 1.6 BPG) could become only the second player in history to win the Wooden Award twice -- Ralph Sampson achieved the feat in 1982 and 1983 -- and could lead the program to its first national championship since 2012.

Top competition: Nick Smith Jr., | 6-4 | G | Arkansas Razorbacks

The No. 3 recruit in the class of 2022 is also a projected top-four pick in ESPN's most recent mock draft.

Southern Conference

Ques Glover | 6-0 | G | Samford Bulldogs

Samford made 55% of its shots inside the arc and 37% of its 3-point attempts last season with Glover (19.2 PPG), a first-team all-conference guard, on the floor, per data.

Top competition: Mike Bothwell | 6-3 | G | Furman Paladins

After entering the NBA draft following last season, Bothwell (15.7 PPG) decided to withdraw and return to Furman, which will be looking to win a Southern Conference championship under his leadership.

Southland Conference

Isaac Mushila | 6-5 | F | Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders

After earning All-Southland Conference second-team honors last season, Mushila (13.2 PPG, 9.4 RPG) could be a double-double machine (he had 13 last season) again.

Top competition: Trevian Tennyson | 6-4 | G | Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders

Mushila will be challenged for the award by teammate Tennyson (12.0 PPG, 37% from 3) -- especially if this group sits atop the league standings at the end of the season.

Summit League

Max Abmas | 6-0 | G | Oral Roberts Golden Eagles

In his first three seasons in college basketball, Abmas averaged 14.5 PPG/37% from 3, 24.5 PPG/43% from 3 and 22.8 PPG/39% from 3. This season could be the best of his career, however; a scary thought for the rest of the Summit League.

Top competition: Mason Archambault | 6-0 | G | South Dakota Coyotes

A standout under Eric Peterson, Archambault (14.5 PPG, 39% from 3) hopes to improve on last season's performance, when he made 93% of his free throw attempts, the No. 6 mark in America in 2021-22.

Sun Belt Conference

Jordan Brown | 6-11 | F | Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns

Brown (15.3 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 1.1 BPG) has found a home at Louisiana -- his third school, after stints at Nevada and Arizona -- where he made 12 of 27 3-point attempts last season.

Top competition: Vado Morse | 6-0 | G | James Madison Dukes

In his program's first season in the Sun Belt, Morse (15.3 PPG) could lead JMU to a league championship.

Southwestern Athletic Conference

Tyrone Lyons | 6-7 | G/F | Southern Jaguars

Lyons (13.7 PPG, 5.0 RPG) made 47% of his 3-point attempts against man-to-man defense last season per Synergy Sports data. He's the best equipped to lead Southern to the SWAC championship.

Top competition: Joe French | 6-5 | G | Bethune-Cookman Wildcats

The sharpshooter (15.8 PPG, 91.2% from the charity stripe, 44.1% from 3) finished last season as one of the top 40 3-point shooters in America.

Western Athletic Conference

Jovan Blacksher Jr., | 5-11 | G | Grand Canyon Lopes

With Blacksher (15.8 PPG, 39% from 3) on the court last season, Grand Canyon's opponents averaged just 86 points per 100 possessions, according to data.

Top competition: Cameron Tyson | 6-3 | G | Seattle U Redhawks

After a surprising run that ended with a share of the WAC crown last season, Seattle might not sneak up on anyone this season, but Tyson, an All-WAC first-teamer, could anchor another conference title chase.

West Coast Conference

Drew Timme | 6-10 | F | Gonzaga Bulldogs

An Associated Press first-team All-American last season, Timme (18.4 PPG, 6.8 RPG) could be the reason Oscar Tshiebwe fails to win a second Wooden Award.

Top competition: Logan Johnson | 6-2 | G | Saint Mary's Gaels

The return of Johnson (11.9 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.0 SPG) should position Saint Mary's to reach its fourth tournament in six years.

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