College/Prep Sports Reporter

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

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Illinois center Kofi Cockburn (21) and the Orange Krush react during the Big Ten opening game at the State Farm Center in Champaign on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021.

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Welcome to “Good Morning, Illini Nation,” your daily dose of college basketball news from Illini beat writer and AP Top 25 voter Scott Richey. He’ll offer up insights every morning on Brad Underwood’s team:

Episode 181: Back in action

Some Illinois fans got big mad online this week. Stadium's Jeff Goodman polled approximately 20 college basketball media to find out who they would vote for — right this minute — for national player of the year.

Kofi Cockburn? He wasn't first, which apparently drew the ire of Illini fans near and far. Forget for a minute that it's early January. Or that, to my best recollection, the people Goodman polled don't vote for national player of the year awards. Or that Cockburn was second in the balloting only behind Wisconsin sophomore Johnny Davis. 

Not first? Whole thing's a sham apparently.

Plenty of umbrage was directed at NBC Sports Edge's Aaron Robinson, who left Cockburn off his list entirely. It's certainly a take. Why people were surprised by a, let's face it, not great opinion on Twitter, though, was something. 

Because Cockburn has a case — right this minute — as national player of the year. He's the only player in the country in the top 10 in scoring and rebounding and has a PER of 38 where he only trails Iowa's Keegan Murray, who himself is a national player of the year contender. Cockburn's also the focal point of a team that is favored by all the advanced metrics and should be ranked in the Associated Top 25 come Monday. 

But here's the kicker. Every player mentioned on the aforementioned balloting — and plenty more — still have two-plus months to craft a national player of the year résumé. Cockburn will be in that race if the season continues as expected. Take solace in that.

Scott Richey covers college basketball for The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

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