Mar 16, 2023 - Sports

The year of the big man

Photo illustration of Zach Edey, Trayce Jackson-Davis and Jalen Wilson.

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photos: Ed Zurga, Michael Reaves/Getty Images

When March Madness tips off today, many top teams will have something in common: an elite big man.

State of play: Six of the 10 semifinalists for the Naismith Trophy, awarded to the year's best player, are at least 6-foot-8, and all six will play over the next two days for a top-four-seeded team.

  • Zach Edey (7-foot-4): No. 1 Purdue vs. No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson (Fri. 6:50pm, TNT)
  • Azuolas Tubelis (6-foot-11): No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 15 Princeton (Thu. 4:10pm, TNT)
  • Drew Timme (6-foot-10): No. 3 Gonzaga vs. No. 14 Grand Canyon (Fri. 7:35pm, truTV)
  • Trayce Jackson-Davis (6-foot-9): No. 4 Indiana vs. No. 13 Kent State (Fri. 9:55pm, TBS)
  • Brandon Miller (6-foot-9): No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 16 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Thu. 2:45pm, CBS)
  • Jalen Wilson (6-foot-8): No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 Howard (Thu. 2pm, TBS)

Plus: Numerous other bigs could play starring roles in the coming days, including Duke's Kyle Filipowski (7 foot), Arizona's Oumar Ballo (7 foot) and Kentucky's Oscar Tshiebwe (6-foot-9).

The big picture: This big man revolution is not a coincidence.

  • When the NCAA moved the 3-point line back in 2019, it gave dominant bigs more room to operate, and teams have responded by feeding the ball inside.
  • That has put increased value on post play and led to the highest 2-point field goal percentage in history this season (50.5%), per KenPom.
  • And with traditional big men becoming less valuable in the modern NBA, more are staying in school and dominating. Take Edey: It's unclear if the Player of the Year favorite will even get drafted.

By the numbers: There aren't just more star big men than usual right now — college basketball as a whole is bigger. The average player height was 77 inches this season, the most in the 17 years of KenPom data.

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