College basketball preview: 7 Naismith Award hopefuls

This year’s Naismith Award watch is going to be interesting, as always. There is a crop of freshmen who will likely factor into the award and Duke is at the forefront of that discussion with RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson all sharing the same court.

However, as talented as the freshmen are, there are several good players coming back, as well, starting with Carsen Edwards at Purdue and Caleb Martin at Nevada. These players will look to fight off the diaper dandies for the award this season.

It should be noted, though, while the first-year players will be at the forefront of the discussion for the Naismith, no freshmen has won the award since Anthony Davis in 2012. Only two have won it since 2007.

Here are seven Naismith Award hopefuls:

Carsen Edwards, Purdue G

Edwards averaged 18.5 points on 45.6 percent shooting for the Boilermakers last season while shooting better than 40 percent from 3 and 80 percent from the free-throw line. The Texas native will lead a team that lost a productive guard in Vince Edwards and a big man in Isaac Haas, so he’ll have plenty of opportunities to pile on the numbers.

Eric Paschall, Villanova F

The 6-6 forward is Villanova’s most productive returning player and he can do a little bit of everything. Paschall shot 35.6 percent from 3-point range as a junior while scoring 10.6 points and adding 5.3 rebounds per game. With the departures of Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Omari Spellman and Donte DiVincenzo, someone will have to step up and help the Wildcats transition into this season. Paschall will likely be that guy.

Caleb Martin, Nevada F

The NC State transfer burst onto the scene with Nevada last season scoring 18.9 points while making nearly three 3-pointers (2.8) per contest in his first season with the Wolf Pack. He did all of this while shooting 45.4 percent from the field and 40.3 percent from the 3-point line. Martin returns with a slew of other players for Nevada and a deep run in the NCAA Tournament is a possibility again. Martin will be at the forefront of that run and will likely get more national attention this season after his March success.

Tyus Battle, Syracuse G

A somewhat surprising returner for the Orange, Battle comes back to Syracuse after averaging 19.2 points per game as a sophomore. The Orange have had a couple of rough regular seasons of late, although they advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2017-18. But this season it looks like Syracuse will be in a good position to compete in the stacked ACC. If it excels and Battle follows up on his production from last season, he could be in the Naismith conversation.

Luke Maye, North Carolina F

Maye was first in the public eye when he hit the big shot in the Final Four as a sophomore two seasons ago. He followed that up by averaging 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds as a junior last season. He’s already pretty well known, and with a lot of freshmen talent around him on the Tar Heels, he could be the rock in the lineup that Roy Williams looks to feed early and often.

Grant Williams, Tennessee F

Tennessee returns almost everyone this season, but no one is more notable than Williams, who led the team in scoring last season at 15.2 points per game. He has averaged double-digits in each of his first two years with the program. Tennessee is ranked No. 6 to start the season and if the team can maintain that ranking the Volunteers will likely place someone in the Naismith conversation. Williams will likely be that player.

Zion Williamson, Duke F

Someone will be in the Naismith discussion from this year’s Duke team. It could be Cam Reddish or RJ Barrett, but Williamson comes in with arguably the most hype ever for a high school prospect. Williamson is a physical specimen who can push around people all over the court. He has the ability to dominate the college level despite not being a fantastic shooter. Averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds is not out of the question.

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