By Tyler Devine
Awards season in college basketball is upon us.
In the coming weeks, several national organizations and media outlets will be handing out hardware.
The semifinalists for the Naismith Trophy, presented annually by the Atlanta Tipoff Club to the best player in college basketball, were announced March 4 and senior Iowa center Luka Garza is considered by many to be the favorite to win the award.
The list includes:
- C Luka Garza, Iowa
- G Jared Butler, Baylor
- G Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State
- C Hunter Dickinson, Michigan
- G Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois
- G Quentin Grimes, Houston
- G/F Herbert Jones, Alabama
- F Corey Kispert, Gonzaga
- F Drew Timme, Gonzaga
- F Evan Mobley, USC
Currently, the winner of the award is decided by a combination the Naismith board of selectors and a fan vote and is presented to the most outstanding player who achieves tremendous on-court success.
Tremendous on-court success could include a number of intangible factors, but what if the Naismith Trophy was decided strictly by the numbers, or more specifically, efficiency rating?
EFF was created by Kansas City sports writer and statistician Martin Manley and is calculated by adding points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals, and subtracting missed field goals, missed free throws and turnovers. Divide that number by games played and you get a player’s efficiency rating.
(Points + Rebounds + Assists + Blocks + Steals – Missed field goals – Missed free throws – Turnovers)/Games played
The results heavily favor players like Garza that spend most of their time in the post taking high percentage shots and aren’t handling the ball as much as a guard like Dosunmu. Four of the top five players on this list are either a forward or a center.
Included are thoughts on Garza and Dosunmu from Champaign News-Gazette beat reporter Bob Asmussen and who he would pick to win the Naismith Trophy.
- Luka Garza, C, Iowa – 25.7 EFF
Iowa’s all-time leading scorer is widely considered to be the favorite for both the Big Ten and National Player of the Year, and his efficiency rating backs it up. Garza leads the nation with 642 total points, nearly 200 more than the next closest on this list.
The 6-foot-11 Garza is shooting 55% on a nation-leading 436 field goal attempts this season. The next closest is Moses Wright of Georgia Tech with 307 attempts. Garza’s 41 turnovers is tied for second fewest among the Naismith semifinalists.
“Garza does great stuff,” Asmussen said. “He’s really good, he does everything right, but he’s not flashy. He’s really skilled. He’s one of the greatest college basketball players of all time, but he doesn’t have that single moment that maybe Ayo has several of.”
- Evan Mobley, F, USC – 22.2 EFF
The freshman 7-footer has missed the third-fewest shots of anyone on the list and is third in the nation with 77 blocks.
The Murrieta, California, native is shooting 58.2% from the field and ranks in the top 20 nationally with 231 total rebounds.
- Drew Timme, F, Gonzaga – 21.9 EFF
Timme isn’t even first in scoring on his own team but is shooting a staggering 65.1% from the field, good for fourth nationally.
The sophomore Richardson, Texas, native leads the Zags with 170 total rebounds and 19 blocks and has only committed 42 turnovers in 24 games.
- Ayo Dosunmu, G, Illinois – 21.4 EFF
It is possible that the 6-5 sophomore wins Big Ten Player of the Year and Garza wins National Player of the year, but Dosunmu’s case is hurt a little by missing three of Illinois’ final four games due to a broken nose.
Regardless, Dosunmu has been one of the most electrifying players in college basketball this season and scored two triple-doubles during a four-game stretch in February.
Dosunmu is averaging 20.9 points per game, second only to Garza in the Big Ten.
If Dosunmu’s numbers hold up the rest of the way, he will be the first player in 11 years to average at least 20 points, six rebounds and five assists in a season, according to a story by Matt Norlander of CBS Sports.
Asmussen said that Dosunmu’s style of play may give him an advantage in the fan voting over a player like Garza who is less flashy.
“The fact that he was able to come back and not only come back but play so well, they don’t win without him,” Asmussen said. “I think it maybe alleviates some of the concern about three missed games, but if he didn’t play (against Ohio State) and misses four games, I think that would be more trouble.”
- Corey Kispert, F, Gonzaga – 20.4 EFF
The 6-7 Kispert ranks third on this list in scoring behind Garza and Dosunmu with 468 total points.
Kispert has committed 31 turnovers, the fewest on the list, and only missed nine free throws.
- Cade Cunningham, G, Oklahoma State – 19.1 EFF
Cunningham’s efficiency rating is hurt significantly by his 94 turnovers compared to 78 assists, but he makes up for it a bit with his scoring and rebounding numbers.
- Jared Butler, G, Baylor – 18 EFF
The 6-3 native of Reserve, Louisiana, has the most steals (47) and the second-most assists on the list behind Dosunmu.
Were 3-point shooting separate from overall field goals in the efficiency rating, Butler’s 44.4% shooting from outside would likely put him higher on the list.
- Hunter Dickinson, C, Michigan – 17.7 EFF
The 7-1 freshman’s rebounding numbers aren’t quite as good as the other big men on the list, but it is worth noting that the Alexandria, Virginia, native has only played more than 30 minutes three times this season and has not started in all of Michigan’s games.
Dickinson also fewer blocks, steals and assists than Garza or Mobley.
- Quentin Grimes, G, Houston – 16 EFF
Simply put, the 6-5 junior doesn’t have many assists and has missed 190 shots, second only to Garza’s 196. Granted, Grimes takes far more low percentage shots than Garza does, mostly because of his position.
- Herbert Jones, G/F, Alabama – 14.5 EFF
The 6-8 Jones is the only player on the list to have fewer than 300 points and has committed the second-most turnovers of all of the semifinalists.
Jones’ efficiency rating is also hurt by the fact that blocks and steals are the only defensive statistics considered in the equation. The Greensboro, Alabama, native was selected to the All-Defensive Team in the Southeastern Conference in 2020 and holds the school record for charges taken in a career, according to his profile on the team’s website.
Asmussen’s pick: “You put me on the spot, I would pick Garza. I would pick Garza because I think (Garza and Dosunmu) are both All-Americans. I think they’re both equally important to their teams, I think they’re both great players. They’ve both had great careers. In the NBA, I think they’ll have a chance. But I would pick Garza in a really close call and hope no one in Champaign sees that. (Garza is) just so efficient, does everything right.”
Devine’s pick: Efficiency rating aside, there may not be a player in the country that is more important to his team than Garza, though Dosunmu is a close second. Not to take anything away from Mobley or Timme, but Timme also has the luxury of playing on the best team in the country with Kispert and freshman phenom Jalen Suggs who will likely be a lottery pick in the NBA Draft someday. Before Dosunmu’s injury, there could have been a serious argument for Dosunmu to win Big Ten Player of the Year and Garza win the National Player of the Year. Call it Big Ten bias, but Garza is the pick for Big Ten and National Player of the Year.