MIDSEASON NATIONAL PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Trae Young, Oklahoma
This one is pretty obvious, isn’t it?
Young is leading the nation in scoring and in assists. He’s averaging damn near 30 and 10 per night, and he’s doing so for a team that is currently ranked in the top ten nationally. He’s scored at least 28 points or finished with at least 10 assists in every game this year. His “off nights” came against pressing teams – Arkansas and West Virginia – and he still ended up averaging 28.5 points and 5.0 assists in those two losses.
But perhaps the most impressive thing that Young has done this season is transform an Oklahoma team that finished last season with an 11-20 record and a 5-13 mark in Big 12 play into Final Four contention. He’s the star that has turned a roster full of role players into a team that will be in the mix for a Big 12 title.
It’s not often that you find a point guard that is as talented and as ball-dominant as Young is that also finds a way to make every single player on the floor with him markedly better.
This isn’t even a conversation. Trae Young. Player of the Year. Lock it in.
MIDSEASON NATIONAL COACH OF THE YEAR: Chris Beard, Texas Tech
It was generally believed that Tubby Smith had done a really nice job by in turning two sub-.500 and one NCAA tournament appearance for Texas Tech in his three years there before bouncing to Memphis. It’s hard to win in Lubbock, after all.
Unless you’re Chris Beard, apparently.
The second-year Red Raiders coach has Texas Tech at 14-1 overall and 3-0 in the Big 12 with a win at Kansas already tucked away on the resume. They’re flirting with a level of success not seen since the Bob Knight era.
It’s a passion project for Beard, who went from being the coach at Arkansas-Little Rock to UNLV to Texas Tech in the span of less than three weeks as the pull of the place he spent a decade at as an assistant was enough for him to leave the Runnin’ Rebels without ever coaching a game – or even really holding anything other than a press conference. Now he’s given Texas Tech an identity – the Red Raiders are tough as nails and elite defensively.
In a Big 12 outpost like Texas Tech, having a coach that wants to be there and has a defined vision of what will work is absolutely critical. Look at what Fred Hoiberg did at Iowa State or Scott Drew at Baylor or Kansas State with Bob Huggins and Frank Martin (both of whom wanted to be there until, well, they didn’t). Beard fits that model perfectly, and it’s paying off immediately in west Texas.
MIDSEASON ALL-AMERICAN TEAMS
TRAE YOUNG, Oklahoma
JALEN BRUNSON, Villanova: Brunson has been better than we could have imagined this season. He’s averaging 19.4 points and 5.2 assists with a level of efficiency that we rarely see out of anyone, let alone a point guard that always has the ball in his hands. He’s shooting 59 percent from the floor and 49 percent from three with a 4-to-1 assist to turnover ratio. Should I mention that Villanova is the No. 1 team in the country?
JEVON CARTER, West Virginia: Carter is the nation’s best on-ball defender playing in a system that needs all the on-ball defenders that Bobby Huggins can scrounge up. He’s also averaging 16.7 points, 6.9 assists, 5.7 boards and 3.7 steals for a team that is currently sitting in the top five of the AP poll. He has been absolutely superb.
MARVIN BAGLEY III, Duke: Bagley’s numbers are through the roof. He’s averaging 22.5 points and 11.5 boards while grabbing four offensive boards every game and thoroughly dominating any big man that gets in his way. If he could find a way to be an above-average defender, then Duke might actually have a chance to do what the 2015 Duke team did: Go from being a talented team that cannot get a stop to winning a national title.
DEANDRE AYTON, Arizona: Like Bagley, Ayton has been thoroughly dominant on the offensive end of the floor, averaging 20.6 points and 11.4 boards. He’s been slightly better on the defensive end than Bagley has, but it hasn’t exactly shown in Arizona’s numbers. Perhaps the most impressive part of what Ayton is doing is that Sean Miller has been playing him somewhat out of position and it hasn’t even mattered.
TRA HOLDER, Arizona State: Holder is the biggest reason why Arizona State has turned into a top 15 team this season. He may be the most entertaining point guard in the country to watch this side of Trae Young.
MIKAL BRIDGES, Villanova: Brunson gets all of the attention, but Bridges may actually be the best NBA player on the Villanova roster. This season, we are finally seeing what we all thought we would see out of him since Villanova won the 2016 NCAA tournament.
TREVON BLUIETT, Xavier: I’m not sure there is a more complete shooter in college basketball this year. Bluiett is, quite simply, a bucket-getter, and the biggest reason that the Musketeers look to be a top ten team this season.
BONZIE COLSON, Notre Dame: Colson is not long for this list as he’s currently dealing with a broken bone in his foot. But he was sensational for the first two months of the season for Notre Dame, as he was for the majority of his career.
KEITA BATES-DIOP, Ohio State: It’s hard to believe, but KBD has been the best player in the Big Ten this season. He’s averaging 20 points and 8.8 boards for a team that suddenly looks like they are going to be heading to the NCAA tournament.
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM, Kansas: The Jayhawks have been struggling, but it’s not because Graham hasn’t been doing what he can: 18.6 points, 7.4 assists, 19 steals, 44.1% 3PT. He’s been as good as advertised.
KEENAN EVANS, Texas Tech: Evans is the best player on Chris Beard’s Texas Tech team, playing the role of alpha and closer for a Red Raiders team that is going to make a run at the Big 12 title.
DESI RODRIGUEZ, Seton Hall: Desi Rodriguez has been Seton Hall’s best player this season. Khadeen Carrington and Angel Delgado have been Seton Hall’s best players for the last two weeks, and Desi has been just as good. Keep an eye on this team.
JORDAN MURPHY, Minnesota: Murphy would be getting a lot more attention if Minnesota’s season wasn’t crumbling at the foundations. He’s averaging 19 points and 12 boards and has notched a double-double in every game this year.
JOCK LANDALE, Saint Mary’s: Landale has been a name that’s floated around for a few years, but he’s having his best season to date this year. The big question with this group is whether or not it will be enough for the Gaels to get to the NCAA tournament.