Before Championship Week began in earnest, ballots were due for USBWA postseason honors. We vote for ten All-Americans, ten All-District players in our district, a National Freshman of the Year (Wayman Tisdale Award), Player of the Year (Oscar Robertson Trophy) and Coach of the Year (Henry Iba Award).
Since I am based near Boston, my district is District 1, which covers the six New England states. As was the case last year, they did not have us vote for a district Player of the Year or Coach of the Year; if I had a vote for each, I would give Shabazz Napier of Connecticut the former (barely over Bryce Cotton of Providence) and Derek Kellogg of UMass the nod for the latter.
As is the case with my votes for the CAA postseason awards, I feel it is a worthwhile exercise to go over my votes for these postseason awards. In that vein, here is a look at who I voted for and what was behind each of them. If you’re curious, I also picked preseason All-Americans as well, and you can compare and contrast them with the end result.
Ike Azotam, Quinnipiac
Bryce Cotton, Providence
Scott Eatherton, Northeastern
Alex Francis, Bryant
Cady Lalanne, UMass
Xavier Munford, Rhode Island
Shabazz Napier, Connecticut
Wesley Saunders, Harvard
Justin Sears, Yale
Chaz Williams, UMass
Some might read this and immediately notice the absence of a pretty good player who ultimately made the All-District 1 team, Boston College sophomore guard Olivier Hanlan. To be perfectly honest, I gave him very little consideration. Chalk that up to the season BC had and the fact that I felt he left something on the floor in a lot of games, even though his numbers weren’t bad.
On to the players I did vote for. Azotam had a big year for Quinnipiac as they had a nice first season in the MAAC. Cotton was the best player in the Big East not named Doug McDermott, and was tremendous all season (and a very tough omission from the All-America squad) for the under-manned Friars. Eatherton made an immediate impact for Northeastern after sitting out as a transfer last season, as he was among the nation’s leaders in double-doubles. Francis closed out a great career by leading Bryant to a third-place finish in the Northeast Conference, although he didn’t have a game to remember in the Bulldogs’ heart-breaking loss to Saint Francis University in the NEC quarterfinals. Lalanne stayed healthy and on the court, and as a result UMass had one of the best post players in the Atlantic 10. Munford led Rhode Island through some growing pains this year and helped the young talent come along. Napier was in the running for AAC Player of the Year at the time of the vote, and was Mr. Clutch all season for the Huskies as their leader. Saunders was the best player in the Ivy League, although Sears gave him a run for his money as he made a big jump from a fine freshman season and they were on the two best teams in the Ivy League as well as part of why the league is on an upswing. Williams made UMass go and was the biggest part of the Minutemen getting back to the NCAA Tournament.
Melvin Ejim, Iowa State
C.J. Fair, Syracuse
Nick Johnson, Arizona
Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati
Doug McDermott, Creighton
Shabazz Napier, Connecticut
Marcus Paige, North Carolina
Jabari Parker, Duke
Russ Smith, Louisville,
Nik Stauskas, Michigan
Ejim flew under the radar much like Iowa State, in part because the Cyclones were actually a well-balanced team. Fair was the leader of a Syracuse team that started off with a great run before a slow finish, and he made his share of big shots. Johnson was the Pac-12’s best player and did it at both ends on another well-balanced team in the Wildcats. Kilpatrick had a big year and figured to be in the running for AAC Player of the Year at the time of the vote. McDermott was, simply put, the best player in the country while leading Creighton to contention in their inaugural Big East season. Napier was the best player in New England and a big part of Connecticut getting back to the NCAA Tournament now that their postseason ban is over. Paige emerged in a big way, making big shots and having big games seemingly every time North Carolina needed them, and they needed them often. Parker was the best freshman in a loaded class, and was Duke’s best player right away. Smith flew under the radar but was a big reason Louisville won the American Athletic Conference in its only season there. Stauskas made a big jump to become the Big Ten’s top player and lead Michigan to a regular season title despite losing a key player before conference play.
National Player of the Year: Doug McDermott, Creighton
While there are plenty of candidates, McDermott outshined them all. He was consistent, he did more than score (although he did plenty of that as the nation’s leading scorer), his team won games, and his team entered a new conference without missing a beat thanks largely to his efforts.
National Coach of the Year: Billy Donovan, Florida State
Before elaborating on Donovan as the selection, it’s worth mentioning the others that I narrowed this down to. In alphabetical order, I also considered Rick Barnes (Texas), John Beilein (Michigan), Tony Bennett (Virginia), Mick Cronin (Cincinnati), Steve Fisher (San Diego State), Gregg Marshall (Wichita State) and Jay Wright (Villanova). All had compelling cases for this award.
Donovan led Florida through the SEC without a loss during the regular season. At that time of the voting, that is all that was known, as this was done before the SEC Tournament. While the SEC isn’t what it used to be, anytime you go undefeated in a conference you have accomplished quite a feat. Florida did this without an All-America-caliber player on its roster, although a player or two might make such a team in part from the Gators’ success.
National Freshman of the Year: Jabari Parker, Duke
All year long, freshmen have been talked about a great deal, and understandably so given the potential so many of them have. But one of them turned that into production better than others this year, and that would be Parker – the first freshman ever to lead Duke in both scoring and rebounding. That’s quite an accomplishment, especially since some of the best players ever to wear a Duke uniform never led them in one of those categories, let alone both, as freshmen.