No season in college basketball is created equal. Last year’s unpredictable nature in which top-ranked teams fell from grace at a higher clip than ever before, was certainly not expected to be duplicated one year thereafter.
While that narrative proved to be true, storylines and plot twists alike were in abundance once again as we now find ourselves on a crash course for what many believe to be the greatest tournament in all of sports.
With conference tournaments set to get juicy in the coming 48 hours, we look back on who stood out amongst the rest en route to my college basketball regular season awards for the 2018-2019 season.
Player of the Year: Zion Williamson – Duke
Pegged by nearly every media outlet as the top pick in June’s NBA Draft, Zion Williamson took the collegiate ranks by storm this past season in the same fashion that he did on the recruiting trail at Spartanburg Day School. There hasn’t been a freshman commodity as hyped as Zion in quite some time, some believe since LeBron James entered the NBA Draft straight out of high school in 2003. The hype is rightfully deserved as well, with the future pro franchise cornerstone lighting up rims across the country and dazzling with an unparalleled display of athleticism.
The South Carolina Native averaged 21.5 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.8 blocks on a per game basis this season for the Blue Devils. His absence in pivotal games also proved to be catastrophic for Duke, as Coach K’s bunch lost to Syracuse and twice to archrival North Carolina in his absence. Given the nature of how dominant Williamson was, in addition to the significant dip in production his team faced without him on the floor, Zion Williamson is the clear pick as player of the year in college basketball this season.
Most Improved Player: Ja Morant – Murray State
The hottest name in college basketball not named Zion Williamson has to be the one of his former AAU teammate, and fellow South Carolina native, Ja Morant. Morant burst on to the scene in college hoops by nearing doubling his output in scoring from 12.7 to 24.6 points per game from his freshman to sophomore campaign.
Morant has gone from virtually unknown to a surefire top-five pick in the upcoming NBA draft and has done it while oozing style points. A dynamic playmaker and elite level athlete, Morant has garnished comparisons to Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook along the way. His outside shot is going to need some more work in order to reach peak level in the NBA, but given the most improved tagline that has been placed upon him, that shouldn’t be all that difficult. Morant and company at Murray State took out Belmont 77-65 on Saturday to win the Ohio Valley Conference tournament. so he will get his opportunity for a true coming out party in the NCAA tournament.
Defensive Player of The Year: Matisse Thybulle – Washington
As the Pac-12 conference has fallen upon hard times on the hardwood, it’s understandable that Senior guard Matisse Thybulle flew under the radar this season. It’s also understandable why Thybulle was Pac-12 player of the year and defensive player of the year for the second time this season, as his overall season box score is an absolutely staggering one.
Thybulle averaged only 9.5 points per game but managed to average 3.5 steals and 2.2 blocks per game as a player out of the backcourt. Those numbers total up to 4.6 steals and 3 blocks per 40 minutes. Thybulle finishes out the final regular season of his Washington Husky tenure as one of the more decorated players in school history and will look to help his team complete the Pac-12 championship sweep for the first time since 2005 this weekend in Las Vegas.
Coach of The Year: Chris Beard – Texas Tech
There are multiple deserving suitors for this award, including the likes of Tennessee’s Rick Barnes and Kansas State’s Bruce Weber. However, the job that Chris Beard has done in the past two seasons in Lubbock is the best stretch a Big 12 coach can boast in the past decade and change. As one of the most illustrious programs in college basketball Kansas came into this season having won at least a share of the Big 12 title for the past fourteen seasons in a row. That record can be extended no longer, as Texas Tech shared this year’s crown with Kansas State.
What separates Chris Beard’s job at Texas Tech and Bruce Weber’s at Kansas State has to be what Beard has been able to do given the assets he’s lost. Texas Tech came into this season having lost five seniors, in addition to lottery pick Zhaire Smith. Texas Tech also came into this season picked to finish seventh in the Big 12, in comparison to Kansas State’s preseason billing to finish second. The job Beard has done has certainly not gone unnoticed, and he should claim the award.
Cassius Winston – Michigan State
Cassius Winston and Ja Morant could be interchangeable in this position, but Winston was the choice here given his ability to implement his game as a true floor general through overall efficiency. He turned the ball over nearly 2.5 times a game, which is nearly three less per game than the Murray State guard. Winston’s overall competition is also taken into effect, as he was tasked with dealing with Big 10 point guards such as Zavier Simpson and D’Mitrik Trice night in and night out.
R.J. Barrett – Duke
All the credit to Zion Williamson aside, it’s hard to believe the consensus top pick come June was not the leading scorer on his own team. That distinction belonged to R.J. Barrett, who really came into his own by taking over games when necessary during Zion’s absence. Barrett averaged 23.4 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 4.2 assists this season for the Blue Devils.
Jarrett Culver – Texas Tech
One player that NBA General Managers and scouts alike must avoid taking lightly heading into the draft is Texas Tech wing, Jarrett Culver. Outside of Ja Morant, Jarrett Culver is considered the highest riser on draft boards because of the work he has done this season for the Red Raiders. Culver is athletic and skilled enough to operate on the wing offensively and is big enough to defend power forwards on the low block. Culver averaged 18,3 points. 6.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists for Texas Tech this season.
Zion Williamson – Duke
As the consensus player of the year for the 2018-2019 season, Zion Williamson’s resume, as well as his highlight reel, speaks for himself. The excerpt in which he has been pegged as the player of the year for this season can be read above as if anybody had a reason to believe otherwise in the first place.
Ethan Happ – Wisconsin
Ethan Happ may be the most underrated player in college basketball period. Happ is an all-around utility man of the finest pedigree, setting career highs this season in rebounds, assists, and blocks. Happ goes down as one of the greatest players to ever hit the hardwood in the Kohl Center, finishing in the top 3 in school history in points, rebounds, assists, and blocks.