At least seven members of the Wooden Watch list will bid adieu after this season, with a large group of impactful seniors ready to take their final bows. With that in mind, we asked our panel to weigh in on which member of that group has carved out the most important legacy, and which member they expect to be heard from at the next level.
There are seven seniors on the most recent Wooden Watch update. Of Udoka Azubuike (Kansas), Anthony Cowan Jr. (Maryland), Markus Howard (Marquette), Myles Powell (Seton Hall), Payton Pritchard (Oregon), Lamar Stevens (Penn State) and Cassius Winston (Michigan State), who will we remember as having the biggest impact on college basketball? Which of these seven players will have the longest pro career?
John Gasaway, college basketball writer: Howard has had the largest impact on college basketball. He has scored 50 points or more in a game three times in his career, and he has been the focal point of a storied basketball program at a moment in time when it returned to regular NCAA tournament contention after a three-year absence. Yes, it's a curious twist on the story that Howard might turn out to be a tad more diminutive in stature than the next level would like, and we usually prefer that our high-impact college legends go on to illustrious pro careers. Maybe that will happen with Howard, maybe it won't. All we can say right now is that the senior has had a seismic effect on his college team, one that was recorded at the expense of opposing defenses.
Markus Howard drops 51 in win over USC
Markus Howard goes off for 51, a day after going for 40, in Marquette's dominant 101-79 win over USC.
For my second answer, I'll lean heavily on the "longest career" part of the question (as opposed to, say, splashiest rookie season) and go with Stevens. Let's not overthink this, right? Stevens is easily the tallest non-Azubuike player on this list, and, while he's a career 28% 3-point shooter, his volume of attempts from beyond the arc along with his accuracy at the line suggest he could become a serviceable perimeter option at the next level. No, I don't expect to see Team Lamar vs. Team Luka (Doncic) in the 2026 All-Star Game. It's just that, relative to the long odds all seniors face in making the jump to the pros, Stevens might align the best with the NBA's preferences in terms of size and skills.
Jeff Borzello, college basketball insider: I think Winston has had the biggest impact on college basketball during his four years in East Lansing. He has started all but one game over the past three seasons and won 79 games over that span entering the week. Winston was one of the best players in college basketball last season, helping carry the Spartans to the Final Four with a win over Duke -- a game in which Winston had 20 points, 10 assists and wouldn't let Michigan State lose. He entered this season as the favorite to win the Wooden Award, and while Michigan State has struggled at times this season, nobody wants to write them off because of Winston's ability to will them to a win.
I'll also take Winston for the second question. First, I think he'll be the first of the seven picked in June's NBA draft, which could give him some level of commitment and/or security from the team that drafts him. Winston's ability to run an offense is always needed in the NBA, regardless of how styles or systems change. He's a second-unit point guard right off the bat, given his playmaking and 3-point shooting ability. Winston is very good in ball-screen situations and he's adept at pulling up in transition for shots. I think a sneaky answer to this one could be Stevens due to his size and two-way ability; he just needs to become a better perimeter shooter -- something that has improved in Big Ten play.
Myron Medcalf, senior college basketball writer: I'll go with Azubuike, largely because I think he has the best chance to anchor a team that could win the national championship this season and if that happens, he'll have an advantage over the others in terms of how he's remembered. I also think Azubuike is a rare, four-year big man who has weathered college basketball's evolution. He's proof that consistent and reliable power forwards and centers can still make a significant impact at the collegiate level.
Kansas has been a different team without him. In 2016-2017, the Jayhawks lost to Oregon in the Elite Eight, as Azubuike was sidelined with an injury. A year later, he was a key contributor in KU's Final Four run. Last season, the second significant wrist injury of his career derailed his season. But this season, he's arguably the most important player in college basketball, the nucleus of the best defense in America. And I think he could lead the Jayhawks to a national title and pen the perfect ending to a challenging collegiate career.
Like Jeff, I think Winston will have the longest pro career. I don't think he'll ever evolve into a prominent starter at the next level. But he has the traits of a player you'd want on your roster for a long, long time. Winston will find a role in the NBA much like Fred VanVleet and Tyus Jones have in their careers. He has made 42 percent of his 3-point attempts in conference play. He's a leader. He has the qualities to play in the NBA for a long time.