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E.J. Liddell an early favorite for the Wooden Award

Liddell is averaging 22.5 points per game this season.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Seton Hall Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

While the Buckeyes (4-2) have not started the season exactly like they’d hoped, their leader sure has. E.J. Liddell averaged 16.2 points and 6.7 rebounds per game last season, and went through the NBA Draft Process this past summer. After receiving feedback from professional coaches and scouts, Liddell chose to return to Columbus for his junior season.

He’s stepped up this season, averaging 22.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.8 blocks, and 2.2 assists per game thus far. He’s also shooting 56% from the floor (8th-best amongst non-centers in the Big Ten) and 40.9% from 3-point range (19th-best in the Big Ten). With Duane Washington now playing in the Indiana Pacers organization, Liddell has assumed the role of go-to scorer and drought-stopper for Ohio State.

He’s averaging a team-high 14 shot attempts per game, and set a career-high in points when he scored 29 in Ohio State’s 84-74 win over Niagara on November 12. He has led the Buckeyes in scoring in all six of their games thus far.

The national media and oddsmakers are taking notice as well. As of Sunday morning, Liddell had the third-best odds to win the John R. Wooden Award according to Draftkings Sportsbook. The Wooden Award is given annually to the most outstanding player in men’s basketball, and the last Buckeye to take home the prestigious hardware was Evan Turner in 2010.

Duke’s Paolo Banchero — who Ohio State will see Tuesday night — has the best odds at +400. Gonzaga’s Drew Timme is second at +550. There is a substantial gap before Liddell at +1000, Purdue’s Jaden Ivey at +1200, and Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson at +1500.

While team success isn’t a requirement to win the award, it’s rare for a player to win the individual award while their team struggles as a unit. Dating back to 1989, no Wooden Award winner’s team has missed the NCAA Tournament (I haven’t looked beyond 1989, but that is quite the sample size).

If Ohio State wants to turn their shaky start around, it will need Liddell to continue preforming at the same level he has been thus far, if not at an even higher level. The Buckeyes take on No. 5 Duke — who just defeated No. 1 Gonzaga — Tuesday night in Columbus.