Kentucky junior forward Oscar Tshiebwe, who leads the country in rebounding, was named a Naismith Trophy Player of the Year semifinalist on Thursday.
Tshiebwe is not only averaging a double-double but doing so with a considerable margin — averaging a team-best 17.3 points and a nation-leading 15.3 rebounds per game. He is looking to become the first Division I player to average at least 15.0 points and at least 15.0 rebounds per game since Drake’s Lewis Lloyd and Alcorn State’s Larry Smith each did during the 1979-80 season, and the first major-conference player to average at least 16.0 points and at least 15.0 rebounds for a season since Bill Walton at UCLA in 1972-73. He would be the first Wildcat to do it since Bob Burrow tallied 19.1 points and 17.7 rebounds per game in 1954-55.
In addition to his offensive and rebounding prowess, on the defensive end Tshiebwe is the only major conference player averaging at least 1.5 blocked shots and 1.5 steals per game. He has also snared 56 more rebounds than the next closest player this season, through games on March 5.
Tshiebwe has corralled at least 10 boards in all but two games this season, and is in the midst of a stretch of 18 straight games with double-digit rebounds. That’s a record for the Wildcats dating back to the 1967-68 season with complete game-by-game rebounding records. Dan Issel had two stretches of 12 such games. It’s also the longest stretch by any SEC player since at least 1996- 97. It’s also the longest streak in one season by a major-conference player since Nico Carvacho of Colorado State had 18 straight in 2018.
Tshiebwe has been elite on the glass from the very beginning of the season. He set new records for the Champions Classic and UK debut with 20 boards vs. Duke in the season opener, nearly tied the Rupp Arena record with 20 rebounds in his first home game, and then shattered that Rupp record with 28 boards vs. Western Kentucky. That easily surpassed Shaquille O’Neal’s previous mark of 21. It’s worth noting Tshiebwe did that primarily against the tallest player in college basketball, Jamarion Sharp, who stands at 7-foot-5. With 20 boards the following game against Missouri, his 48 boards tied for the most over a two-game span by any Division I player over the last 25 seasons (according to ESPN Stats & Info).
With 474 rebounds on the season, Tshiebwe has the third-most in one season in UK history, and the most since Cliff Hagan in 1952. Two players have corralled more than 500 in a season (Bill Spivey — 567 in 1951 and Hagan — 528 in 1952). If Tshiebwe continues to average 15 rebounds per game, he should need to play in just two more games to become the third player to reach the 500-rebound plateau.
Tshiebwe is in the midst of notching 13 straight double-doubles, the longest streak since complete game-by-game rebounding records were kept dating back to 1969. He has totaled 25 double-doubles this season and trails only Dan Issel who has the record with 26 in 1969-70. He trails Navy’s David Robinson’s single-season record of 31 by just six which was set in 1985-86.
He is currently leading the Wildcats in points per game (17.3), rebounds per game (15.3), steals per game (1.9), blocks per game (1.5) and field-goal percentage with a minimum of 100 attempts (60.6%). Since the 1978-79 season, only one Wildcat has led the team in those five categories (minimum 130 field-goal attempts) in a single season – Davis in 2011-12.
Furthermore, Tshiebwe is responsible for 38.0% of all of UK’s rebounds thus far. Taking away team rebounds, that number jumps to 41.4%.
Tshiebwe is racking up postseason honors by the day. The major honors he’s won so far include:
- Sporting News National Player of the Year
- Sporting News First-Team All-America
- Southeastern Conference Player of the Year (coaches/media)
- All-SEC First Team (coaches/media)
- All-SEC Defensive Team (coaches)
- Sports Illustrated First-Team All-American
- The Field of 68 National Player of the Year
- The Field of 68 First-Team All-America
- College Hoops Today National Player of the Year
- USA Today SEC Player of the Year
- USA Today First-Team All-SEC unanimous selection
- Naismith Trophy Player of the Year semifinalist
- John R. Wooden Award finalist
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award Final Five
- Naismith Defensive Player of the Year semifinalist