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Postseason Awards: 2018-19 All-American teams, Player of the Year, Coach of the Year

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NBC SPORTS PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Zion Williamson, Duke

The 2018-19 season was The Year of Zion.

Zion Williamson, the 6-foot-7, 280 pound behemoth that took the college basketball world by storm, wasn’t considered to be the best player in college basketball heading into the season — his teammate R.J. Barrett was — but it didn’t take long for us all to realize the mistake that we made.

It’s impossible to overstate the impact that Williamson had on the sport this season. He dictated the way every media outlet in the country covered college basketball. His presence on the floor completely and totally changes the way that this Duke team operates. Duke is 23-2 when Williamson plays more than 35 seconds this season — one loss came to the current No. 1 team in the country on a neutral floor by two points, and the other came without two other starters — and 3-3 when he sits. He is a game-changing presence on the defensive end and an unstoppable force when he gets the rim in his sights.

He also became the biggest story in college basketball for not playing.

Williamson has not seen the floor since he blew out a shoe on February 20th, spraining his right knee and setting off a firestorm of takes on whether or not he should suit up and finish out the season. He is, mercifully, expected back for the ACC and NCAA tournaments, which means that this Duke team — which is the best team in the country when Williamson plays — will have a chance to cut down the nets in Minneapolis.

And college basketball is better for it.

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NBC SPORTS CO-COACHES OF THE YEAR: Chris Beard, Texas Tech, and Matt Painter, Purdue

It’s hard for me to differentiate these two because they more or less did the exact same thing.

Let’s start with Beard. He took a Texas Tech team that lost six of their top eight players from last year’s team and was picked seventh in the Big 12 to a share of the Big 12 title. He helped turned Jarrett Culver into a top ten pick and a roster of guys that weren’t really chased by the bluebloods into conference champs. He is responsible, along with Kansas State’s Bruce Weber, for ending the 14 year Kansas run at the top of the conference.

On paper, Painter had a little more coming back this season. We all knew how good Carsen Edwards was going to be, but he was surrounded by a lot of whatever. No one knew what to expect of a team that lost four senior starters, especially playing in a league as tough as the Big Ten with two national title contenders at the top. But Painter found a way to get the job done, winning a share of the regular season title along with Michigan State.

Both of these coaches deserve all the credit in the world for the job they did with their teams this season.

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

FIRST TEAM ALL-AMERICA

ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke (21.6 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 2.2 apg, 2.2 spg, 1.8 bpg, 68.3% FG)

He was a shoe-in for National Player of the Year. The only concern was whether or not he had played enough games to qualify.

CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State (19.0 ppg, 7.6 apg, 47.1/41.3/82.6)

Winston was sensational this season. Despite playing the point on a team that lost Josh Langford for the season and Nick Ward for the stretch run, Winston posted the best season of his career while leading the Spartans to a share of Big Ten title that also happened to include a sweep of in-state rival Michigan.

JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech (18.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.3 spg)

I’m not sure there was a more improved player in the country this season than Culver, who took over the lead guard from for a Red Raider team that won a share of the Big 12 title. If it wasn’t for a three week swoon in the middle of January, there wouldn’t even be a conversation here. This would be the consensus.

R.J. BARRETT, Duke (23.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 4.2 apg)

Barrett entered the season as the guy thought to be the favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, and he’s lived up to expectations. Since 1992, only five players have averaged 23-7-4 and only one of them — Anfernee Hardaway — did it for a “high-major”. Memphis, at the time, was playing in the Great Midwest Conference. Barrett did this in the ACC.

DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia (15.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.2 apg, 47.3% 3PT)

His numbers are somewhat diluted by the fact that he plays on a slow-paced Virginia team that prides themselves on sharing the wealth, but I’d make the argument that he is the second-best player in the country this season behind Zion. He can defend all five positions — and he has in different games this year — and he knocks down 47.3 percent of his threes while being borderline unguardable off the bounce.

(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

SECOND TEAM ALL-AMERICA

MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette (25.0 ppg, 4.0 apg, 3.9 rpg, 41.6% 3PT)

Marquette’s late-season swoon is the reason that Howard is on the second team instead of the first team. The Golden Eagles lost four straight down the stretch of the season, and it was Howard’s propensity to turn the rock over that did the most damange.

JA MORANT, Murray State (24.6 ppg, 10.0 apg, 5.5 rpg)

Ja did the world a favor and qualified for the NCAA tournament, giving us all the gift of watching Morant try to put 50 on whatever power conference team the Racers draw.

CAM JOHNSON, North Carolina (16.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 46.9% 3PT)

As good as Coby White has been, Luke Maye was last year and Nassir Little will be in the future, I think that Johnson has been UNC’s best — and most consistent — player all year long. White is up and down, Little is down and up and Maye isn’t what he was last season. Johnson has been their rock.

GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee (19.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 3.3 apg)

Williams has been the rock that has held together a Tennessee team that, surprisingly enough, finished tied for second in the SEC despite spending much of the season ranked in the top three. He’s a throwback that old school basketball folks will love.

BRANDON CLARKE, Gonzaga (16.6 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 3.2 bpg)

Clarke is the best defensive player in college basketball this season. He also posted a PER (player efficiency rating) of 37.4. The only player since 2009 to ever post a number that his was … Zion Williamson at 42.3. That tells you the company that Clarke keeps.

(Zach Wajsgras/The Daily Progress via AP)

THIRD TEAM ALL-AMERICA

COBY WHITE, North Carolina (16.3 ppg, 4.1 apg, 3.2 rpg)

White can be streaky, but he was very good for much of the year playing the most important position in UNC’s offensive attack.

CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue (23.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.0 apg)

Edwards’ efficiency was down this season, but the attention that he drew made it easier for his teammates to do what they did. Let’s not overthink this: Edwards put up those numbers on the Big Ten regular season champ.

TY JEROME, Virginia (13.5 ppg, 5.3 apg, 4.1 rpg, 42.6% 3PT)

Call me biased, call me whatever: I love Ty Jerome’s game and I never want him to leave college. He’s a killer that looks like you can copy his notes in physics class.

RUI HACHIMURA, Gonzaga (20.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg)

Like Edwards, let’s not overthink this. Hachimura is the leading scorer on the No. 1 team in the country. He’s an all-american.

DEDRIC LAWSON, Kansas (19.1 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 1.8 ap)

The shame of the way this season played out is that we never got to see Lawson at his best, running Self’s high-low offense with Udoka Azubuike at the rim.

“I trust the SEC office will do the right thing,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes says after bump from official

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Tennessee 63-58 loss to Texas A&M wasn’t without some controversy.

In the final seconds of the game, official Mike Nance appeared to bump into Vols coach Rick Barnes, who was standing stationary on the sideline, and the two exchanged words.

“I really have a lot of confidence in the SEC office that they are going to look at that,” Barnes said after the game about the incident, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. “I believe they will look at this game and take it apart. I just think they will do that. That shouldn’t happen in any way shape or form. I would like to say what I want to say, but I won’t because I trust the SEC office will do the right thing.”

Nance was headed to the monitor to review a call when the bump occurred, and Nance appeared to ask Barnes if the coach initiated the contact.

“Coach (Bob) Knight told me a long time ago that in a game officials are going to miss seven to nine or 10, 11, 12 calls,” Barnes said. “He kept going up every year. He said, ‘You just hope things aren’t egregious at any point in time.'”

Coach K screams at Duke fans, defending Jeff Capel

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In one of the stranger things that we’ve seen in college basketball this season, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski went off on the Cameron Crazies for what he believed was a shot they were taking at former Duke player Jeff Capel.

The crazies were chanting, “Jeff Capel sit with us.” Coach K thought he heard something else.

Check out the video:

After the game, Coach K acknowledged that he misheard what the fans said, adding that he will apologize for the mishap.

“I made a mistake,” he said. “But I’d rather make a mistake for the protection of my guy.

“I love Jeff. I erred on that side. I just hope the ACC doesn’t fine me like they did [Mike] Brey.”

He ended the back and forth with this: “Jeff can sit with me anytime.”

 

Tuesday’s Things to Know: Villanova gears up for big stretch, Auburn wins ugly in 2OT and Rutgers keeps rolling

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The headliner of Tuesday night was Virginia regaining an NCAA tournament pulse with a win over No. 5 Florida State, but there were plenty of other developments on the bubble across the country.  Here’s what else you need to know:

1. Villanova runs streak to seven ahead of grueling stretch

Jay Wright’s team had little trouble winning its seventh-straight Tuesday with a 79-59 victory at Madison Square Garden over St. John’s. Saddiq Bey was brilliant, scoring 23 points on 8 of 14 shooting, including 5 of 9 from deep. Collin Gillespie was equally great, going for 17 points, 13 boards and six assists while Jeremiah Robinson-Early had 13 points and 14 rebounds. Cole Swider and Justin Moore both had 11 to put all five Wildcat starters in double-figures to help offset the absence of the injured Jermaine Samuels.

The victory, while unremarkable given St. John’s mediocrity, keeps momentum for Villanova heading into a huge stretch that very well could decide the Big East. They’ve got Creighton at home Saturday before a trip to No. 16 Butler and then back-to-back home games against No. 10 Seton Hall and Marquette, which handed the ‘Cats their lone conference loss this season.

How Villanova emerges from this four-game stretch – and subsequently what the Big East landscape looks like – will likely be determined by a couple of things. If the ‘Cats are going to make it through in the conference driver’s seat, it’ll probably because Villanova’s defense proves for real. The Cats’ defense this season on the whole has been fine, ranking 60th nationally on KenPom, but it’s been the best in the Big East during conference play. They’ve been stingier both inside and outside the arc while improving on the glass. They’ve kept opponents from launching a lot of 3s and have mostly kept them off the line.

Wright’s team is going to be fine offensively, even if they haven’t been elite in Big East play yet. If the defense holds up, the ‘Cats are going to be sitting pretty come March.

2. No. 17 Auburn comes from behind to win in 2OT

Things were looking pretty dire for Auburn. The Tigers narrowly avoided a third loss in four games over the weekend when they blew a big lead to a sub-.500 Iowa State team, and then they fell behind by 19 in the second half Tuesday at Ole Miss.

It turned out to be nothing to be worried about, unless you were on your couch hoping to watch good overtime basketball.

The Tigers narrowly escaped, 83-82, against the Rebels, overcoming a huge deficit and mistakes of their own making that could have negated their comeback but instead will be footnotes.

Auburn shot 56 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from 3-point range in the second half to mount its comeback while Ole Miss shot just 33 percent. They nearly gave the game away, though, after taking a two-point lead in the final seconds of overtime. The Tigers missed a jumper that would have put them up four with 25 seconds left, but the shot missed and they inexplicably fouled on the rebound to allow Ole Miss to tie the game with 22 seconds left on free throws. After a missed 3 in a tie game by Danjel Purifoy, Ole Miss gave Auburn a gift it just wouldn’t accept. Devontae Shuler’s inbounds pass under the basket with 2 seconds left went astray and was headed out of bounds, which would have resulted in no time coming off the clock and Auburn getting the ball on the baseline, but Isaac Okoro, for some reason, grabbed the ball, waited a second and called timeout. Samir Doughty’s forthcoming 3 out of the huddle as time expired miss to send things to 2OT.

Ole Miss led by as many as four in overtime, but Auburn took the lead with 1:41 left. The two teams traded missed opportunities for the remainder of the game, leaving the Tigers with a win.

College basketball: Not always pretty, but rarely boring.

3. Rutgers continues to build its case

It’s been 29 years since Rutgers last made the NCAA tournament. It’s been 13 since the Scarlet Knights even finished above .500 in a season. Both those streaks seem incredibly likely to fall in just a handful of weeks.

Rutgers ran its overall record to 16-5 and its Big Ten mark to 7-3 with a 70-63 victory Tuesday at home against Purdue.

Steve Pikiell’s team is building a bulletproof resume after losses to St. Bonaventure and Pittsburgh in the first month of the season made it seem as the status quo would be very much in place in Piscataway this winter. Since then, the only three losses Rutgers have taken have all been on the road to high-quality opponents, with Michigan State, Illinois and Iowa the only teams able to get the best of them.

Rutgers is doing it o the strength of a top-10 defense that overcomes an offense that can be clunky at times, especially at the 3-point line. Defense as stout as the Scarlet Knights are playing, though, makes up for a lot of deficiencies on the other end.

Bubble Banter: Virginia, Mississippi State the biggest winners of the night

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It was a wild night on the bubble on Tuesday night, as 12 teams with their NCAA tournament hopes still up in the air were in action.

A full bubble watch breakdown can be found here. Here are tonight’s winners and losers:

WINNERS

VIRGINIA (NET: 58, NBC: Off the bubble): It is impossible to overstate just how big a win over Florida State (15) for a Virginia team that entered the night without a top 50 win to their name. They had one Quad 1 win on their resume — at Syracuse (64) — to go along with wins over Virginia Tech (50) at home and Arizona State (56) on a neutral floor. That’s it. When combined with a pair of Quad 3 losses — South Carolina (89) at home and at Boston College (153) — there’s a reason that the Wahoos were completely out of the NCAA tournament picture entering the day.

And to be honest, I’m not sure that a win over a top 20 team at home is really going to change all that much. But with just three more games against the top of the ACC left on their schedule, this was an opportunity that could not slip through their fingers.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (NET: 48, NBC: Off the bubble): The Bulldogs added a critical road win on Tuesday night, going into Gainesville and knocking off Florida (37). It’s the second Quad 1 win in six days for Mississippi State, who needs to add some pop to the top of a resume that includes a pair of Quad 3 losses. This will help.

MICHIGAN (NET: 35, NBC: 10): Michigan entered Tuesday night having lost four games in a row and five of their last six and were playing without Isaiah Livers and Zavier Simpson at Nebraska (158). They could not lost this game. They did not.

RHODE ISLAND (NET: 47, NBC: First four out): Rhode Island is in a spot where they probably cannot afford to take a loss to anyone other than Dayton (5), who they play twice, the rest of the season. On Tuesday night, the Rams beat George Mason. Next up: VCU (39) on Friday night.

LOSERS

TENNESSEE (NET: 55, NBC: Next four out): The Vols took a loss that they just could not afford to take on Tuesday, falling to a bad Texas A&M (149) at home. It’s their first Quad 3 loss, meaning that now half of their eight losses are outside the Quad 1 level. With just two Quad 1 wins, neither of which came against a top 35 opponent, Tennessee is backing themselves into a corner. The good news? They still play eight Quad 1 games, and that doesn’t include Florida at home. The Vols can survive this if they get hot.

SYRACUSE (NET: 64, NBC: Off the bubble): The Orange saw their five game winning streak come to an end on Tuesday as they fell at Clemson (81). This is not a terrible loss, but for a team that is already trying to make up ground on the field, these are the kind of losses that really hurt.

RICHMOND (NET: 54, NBC: First four out): Tuesday’s visit to the Siegel Center was Richmond’s last shot at getting a Quad 1 win dueing the regular season. They lost to VCU (39) by 17 points. For my money, the Spiders’ at-large hopes are more or less dead.

ST. JOHN’S (NET: 67, NBC: 10): The Johnnies lost for the seventh time in their last nine games when Villanova (14) waltzed into MSG and beat the Red Storm by 20. That’s not ideal. St. John’s is still in the mix because of wins over West Virginia (7) and Arizona (10), the latter of which came on a neutral court. But with road games left against Villanova, Seton Hall (12) and Butler (9), Mike Anderson’s club has backed themselves into a corner.

PURDUE (NET: 36, NBC: Next four out): The Boilermakers dropped to 11-10 on the season with a 70-63 loss at Rutgers (23) on Tuesday night. That means Purdue has dropped five of their last seven games. They’re 2-7 against Quad 1 opponents with a 29 point win over Michigan State (8), but there are a lot of losses on their resume already and the Big Ten is a bear.

VIRGINIA TECH (NET: 50, NBC: First four out): The Hokies did themselves no favors by losing at Miami (106) on Tuesday night. In the last three days, they’ve suffered their two worst losses of the season. The Hokies also have a non-conference SOS that ranks 341st, which eliminates much of their margin for error. The good news? They still have pair of Quad 1 wins — including Michigan State (10) on a neutral — and four of their five Quad 1 and 2 wins came away from home. It’s not all bad.

GEORGETOWN (NET: 52, NBC: Next four out): The Hoyas lost their third straight game on Tuesday night and have now dropped six of their last eight. Making things worse is that they were up by 13 points on Butler (9) late in the first half. This was their best chance to land an elite win this season. They still get Villanova (14) and Seton Hall (12) at home, but the biggest issue with Georgetown’s tournament chances is that they are trending in the wrong direction with just seven scholarship players.

UTAH STATE (NET: 62, NBC: Off the bubble)

Virginia upends No. 5 Florida State, 61-56

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Remember back to the season’s opening night? Nearly three months ago? That was when Virginia embarrassed Syracuse in a 48-34 win. That game foretold a lot of the season up to this point for the Cavaliers. Their title-defending team would have the defense that’s defined Tony Bennett’s program while the offense, well, that would be a bit of a struggle. What it did not predict was more Quad 1 wins, as the Cavaliers, despite a dominating defense, failed to rack up another such victory after that season-opener.

Until Tuesday.

Virginia injected some life into its NCAA tournament hopes with a 61-56 win over fifth-ranked Florida State in Charlottesville to pick up a critical victory in an ACC that offers far fewer marquee opportunities than in years past.

The victory was exactly what Bennett’s team needed to help buoy that resume before the start of February. January was extremely rough on them with a 3-4 mark before the win over the Seminoles put them at .500 for the month. With only four chances left against the ACC’s best of FSU, Duke and Louisville, beating the Seminoles at home may not have been an absolute-must for the Cavs, but it sure makes it a lot easier to chart a path to the tournament now, even if it’s still a rocky road, than if they had dropped the game.

Point guard Kihei Clark scored 11 of his 15 points after halftime, changing the game offensively for the Cavaliers with his dribble penetration into the middle of the Florida State defense. He wasn’t wildly efficient, but his ability to get into the teeth of the defense – creating some buckets and free throws for himself and chances for his teammates – provided just enough lift for the offensively-challenged team. His beautiful reverse layup with a minute left gave Virginia a lead it would not relinquish as it closed the game on an 8-0 run.

Mamadi Diakite had 19 points and nine boards for Virginia while Braxton Key had 13 points and nine rebounds.

The loss stops a 10-game winning streak for the ‘Noles, who led for most of the game but could not ever find any meaningful separation. Devin Vassell had 17 points to lead Florida State, which had two shots to tie the game in the final seconds but missed both 3-point attempts horribly. If Virginia can surge a little in the season’s final month, this win won’t be much more than a missed opportunity for the Seminoles, but if it proves to just be a blip on the radar for Virginia, Florida State may have done some damage to its seed line Tuesday.