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Embracing College Basketball’s Year of the Big Man

If this college basketball season has shown us anything so far, it’s that size matters, both on the court and in NIL.

If you’re following men’s college basketball in 2022-23, you may have heard that it’s the Year of the Big.

So far, Zach Edey (7’4) is the early favorite for national player of the year. Oscar Tshiebwe (6-9) was a popular pick in the preseason, and Drew Timme (6’10) and Armando Bacot (6’10) were also logical candidates. In the Big Ten, Hunter Dickinson (7’1) and Trayce Jackson-Davis (6’9) were seen as the two best players heading into the season. Adama Sanogo (6’9) and Kyle Filipowski (7’0) look like All-Americans now as well.

Don’t expect this to be an aberration.

Sure, there have been and will continue to be great guards that win national awards, but the national conversation will mostly be framed around post players, at least in the immediate future.

The cause is two-fold. One, the NBA has devalued the traditional center so much in recent years that stud posts in college are no longer as valuable on NBA Draft boards. Two, NIL now allows those players to stay in school and perhaps earn more money than they would have as a late first-round/early second-round pick.

College basketball is better for it.

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A Different Game

Over the first few weeks of the season, I’ve kept coming back to something Creighton coach Greg McDermott said to me in the preseason. We were talking specifically about moving toward a 24-second shot clock in college, but really there are a number of things this could apply to:

“Sometimes I think we move too close to the NBA rules and I just feel the NBA has a lot of situations where you get the ball in someone’s hand with six seconds on the shot clock and they go make a play,” he said. “They have the best players in the world. I just think in the college game if that’s the case, the product may suffer.”

Even the most ardent college basketball fan can admit that the talent level in college is significantly lower than in the NBA. So if you try and be too much like the NBA, the product is going to suffer. College is a different game, and that’s OK. There’s still room here for the lumbering center who can dominate inside but wouldn’t be caught dead with the ball outside the semi-circle.

Some of them will try to extend their games in hopes of making it to the next level, and that’s just fine too. Sanogo added a 3-point shot to his repertoire this season and has actually hit them at a decent clip (7-for-16). But he looks about as natural taking that shot as I would wearing No. 99 and batting second for the Yankees. He has the best hands and footwork of any big in college basketball and will serve his team better grabbing rebounds, blocking shots, and humiliating defenders using the most basic basketball camp low-post station drill drop step you could imagine.

The game is a little more rugged this way. A little more physical. But made baskets are fun. No one in college basketball is going to shoot with the consistency of Stephen Curry, so why try it? Teams will have their sharpshooters, but not everyone has to be one.

Cashing In

Take Tshiebwe and Sanogo out of the equation for a second. They’ve both found ways to benefit from their NIL rights, but as international students, the rules for them are a little different.

The other bigs in college basketball are cashing in — a lot. Earlier this week, Jackson-Davis joined the Adidas roster, taking advantage of the perks of playing at a school affiliated with the three stripes.

Timme, who could have jumped to the NBA last year after his second-straight All-American nod, has capitalized on being the (literal) big man on Gonzaga’s campus, signing with local chain Walker’s Furniture and doing national deals with brands like Dollar Shave Club and Goli Nutrition. While brands typically don’t disclose the dollar amounts behind NIL deals, Timme opted to take the sure-thing money (definitely six, maybe seven figures) rather than fight for potentially getting an NBA contract worth around the same amount or a little more.

Though these are just estimates, On3’s NIL valuations list Bacot, Tshiebwe, Timme, Dickinson, Jackson-Davis, Filipowski, and Edey all in the top 14 of men’s college basketball’s most valuable athletes. On3 pegs Bacot as a million-dollar athlete, while everyone else is worth north of $500,000.

For now. Keep in mind it’s still December. Conference play hasn’t started yet, let alone March Madness, where players can really raise their profiles, grow their followings, and ink more deals.

The NBA can do what it wants, but in the college game, size matters.

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