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.
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.
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.
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.
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.