With the college basketball regular season nearing its conclusion, it is time to start considering which players are deserving of the biggest awards in the game. Last week we broke down the players to watch for the Wooden Award, given annually to the best player in college basketball. Now, it is time to examine the favorites for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Award.

Among the 15 finalists is Houston guard Jamal Shead. The Cougars have consistently been among the best defenses in the country since Kelvin Sampson took over a decade ago, but no Houston player has won the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year since its inaugural season in 2017-18. Shead is the best defensive player on the best defensive team, making him the favorite in 2024.

Jamal Shead, Houston basketball

Jamal Shead (Houston)

As the national leader in defensive box plus-minus and defensive rating, Jamal Shead is the odds-on favorite to win the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Award. He is a physical guard with the quickness, toughness, and know-how to wreak havoc on opposing guards. Shead has at least one steal in every game this season and just forced a career-high six turnovers in Houston's recent win over Texas.

Even by Houston standards this Cougar defense is elite. Kelvin Sampson's team has a defensive efficiency of 86.2 — at least four points better per 100 possessions than any other team in the country. It is also the best defensive rating since Texas Tech in 2021-22. Use stats, use the eye test, use any formula you want, but the answer is clear: Jamal Shead is the best defender in the country.

Johni Broome (Auburn)

The best interior defender in the country is not Zach Edey and the best interior defense in the land does not belong to Houston. Those honors belong to Johni Broome and the Auburn defense that he anchors. Opponents make just 42.1% of their two-point attempts against the Tigers and are shooting only 47% on near-proximity attempts — both best all of college basketball. With a defensive box plus-minus of 5.6 (5th in NCAA) and a defensive rating of 86.9 (7th in NCAA), no forward is better in both statistical categories than Johni Broome.

Broome is averaging 2.4 blocks per game and is at 4.1 blocks+steals per game over his last 17 contests. This includes five blocks and two steals in a big home win over Alabama earlier in the month.

Tamin Lipsey (Iowa State)

While the Big 12 is typically known as an offensive-heavy conference, this year it boasts two of the best defenses in the country in Houston and Iowa State. The Cyclones have been a top-10 defensive team in each of T.J. Otzelberger's three seasons in Ames and currently come in as KenPom's #3 defense this year with the highest turnover rate in the country. The leader of this havoc-creating defense is point guard Tamin Lipsey.

The sophomore has the quickest hands of any player in the country and is tied for second in college basketball at 2.9 steals per game. He also ranks third in the game in defensive box plus-minus. ISU is one of the best defensive teams in the country, and Tamin Lipsey is its best defender — making him a Naismith Defensive Player of the Year contender.

Ryan Dunn (Virginia)

As with Houston, picking one Virginia player to single out for their defense is a difficult exercise on a team that ranks ninth in the country in defensive efficiency (per KenPom). While senior guard Reese Beekman is tied for the ACC lead with 2.3 steals per game, it is difficult to argue that any player in the league has been more impactful defensively than Cavaliers big man Ryan Dunn.

The sophomore big man has been nothing short of a dominant turnover machine this year for Tony Bennett's Virginia squad, as he has the quickness to jump passing lanes and the explosive jumping to be one of the most feared shot blockers in the nation. Dunn is averaging 2.4 blocks per game (best in the ACC) while also accounting for 1.4 steals per game. Dunn had five blocks against Pittsburgh on 2/13 then followed it up with seven swats against Wake Forest on February 17. He now has five games with five+ blocks on the year as well as a six-steal game against Florida earlier in the season.

The 6-8 Dunn is the prototype for the modern defender and he has been nothing short of spectacular for Virginia this year. He is a strong Naismith Defensive Player of the Year candidate.