Closing out a trifecta of postseason awards I have a vote in this year is the USBWA postseason honors. I have been a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association for over a dozen years, and every member has a vote for these postseason awards. Members also vote for the women’s postseason honors if they choose, but as I do not follow the women’s game nearly enough to make an educated vote, I have consistently abstained from doing so as it would not make sense.
This year’s USBWA vote involved 10 All-District selections, a district Player of the Year and Coach of the Year, along with 10 All-Americans and three national postseason awards. The first is the Oscar Robertson Trophy for national Player of the Year, the second is the Wayman Tisdale for national Freshman of the Year and the last is the Henry Iba Award for national Coach of the Year. This year, for the national awards, writers were to rank up to three candidates.
Only one of the national awards was even close to an easy vote. As I am in New England, District I – consisting of the six New England states – is my district, and there, one of the two awards was relatively easy while the other was not. All of that and more is about to be explained. The All-District teams have already been released by the USBWA as of this writing.
With that, here is how I voted and some thoughts to go with each. The All-District and All-America listings are alphabetical, while the listings for the three national awards is in the order in which I ranked the players. That means the first player or coach listed is my choice for the award in all three cases.
Jalen Adams, UConn
Evan Boudreaux, Dartmouth
Ky Bowman, Boston College
Rodney Bullock, Providence
Kyron Cartwright, Providence
Hassan Martin, Rhode Island
Tyler Nelson, Fairfield
Jerome Robinson, Boston College
T.J. Williams, Northeastern
Nisre Zouzoua, Bryant
Adams broke out as one of the few bright spots in a real down year at UConn, leading the American Athletic Conference in assists in addition to leading the Huskies in scoring. Boudreaux led the Ivy League in rebounding by a mile and was second in scoring. Bowman quickly made an impact for the Eagles as an ACC All-Rookie selection. With a bigger role, Bullock broke out after showing promise in a reduced role a year ago, and the same went for Cartwright after he was quietly a solid backup for Kris Dunn last year. Martin had a fine season at both ends of the floor to close out a great career in South Kingston, leading the Rams to have a chance at the NCAA Tournament. Nelson led the MAAC in scoring and was a first team All-MAAC selection to lead the way for Fairfield. Robinson showed promise a year ago and made a nice jump as a sophomore this season, although BC didn’t improve in the win-loss column by as much as they had hoped. Williams did it all for Northeastern as the CAA Player of the Year, becoming more of a scorer after primarily setting up teammates for three years. Zouzoua had a stellar season after a strong freshman campaign, and became the fastest player in Bryant’s young Division I history to reach 1,000 career points.
District I Player of the Year: Rodney Bullock, Providence
Bullock had a bigger role this year with the personnel departures, and he took advantage by building on the promise he showed as a role player last year. He was the Friars’ best player, and they got better as Big East play wore on. His teammate, Cartwright, won it, and I debated voting for him, but gave Bullock the edge. As both should return next season, they could once again battle it out for that award, and much more.
District I Coach of the Year: Ed Cooley, Providence
This came down to Cooley and Vermont head coach John Becker after the Catamounts became the first team in America East history to go undefeated in the conference. Becker won it, and I can’t quibble with that selection. If Providence doesn’t make the late run they have, which gives them a good shot at the NCAA Tournament, there’s no way Cooley is even in the discussion. Providence had a good, not great, non-conference, as they didn’t pick up a resume-building win there, and there were some growing pains as Big East play got going for this team without a senior that plays significant minutes. But the Friars enter the Big East Tournament playing their best basketball of the year, and Cooley gets the very slight nod here.
Lonzo Ball, UCLA
Dillon Brooks, Oregon
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
Josh Hart, Villanova
Luke Kennard, Duke
Frank Mason III, Kansas
Jonathan Motley, Baylor
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
Melo Trimble, Maryland
Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga
Ball was a game-changer for UCLA, running the show wonderfully to turn the Bruins around from the 11th-place Pac-12 team a year ago. Brooks wasn’t himself at first upon returning from off-season surgery, but as the season wore on he played more like the All-American we expected him to and was Mr. Clutch for the Ducks. Colson averaged a double-double in the ACC and led Notre Dame to a tie for second in the standings. Hart led Villanova to another outstanding season that includes another Big East regular season title and another in-season tournament championship. Kennard was terrific for Duke all year long, as reliable as he was good in a season where the Blue Devils had a ton of adversity that included injuries. Mason III closed out a career where he was the heart and soul of Kansas, and arguably the toughest player in college basketball in leading the short-handed Jayhawks to yet another Big 12 regular season title. Motley became the latest at Baylor to become a star after waiting his turn, leading a great run for the Bears for much of the season. Swanigan was a double-double machine, while also a threat to go 20-20 on any given night, and he led the Boilermakers to the Big Ten regular season title. Trimble had a terrific junior year in which he was not only a good player, but a leader who understood that he had to be their clutch player and made his share of big shots to help the Terrapins be a little better than many probably expected. Williams-Goss was the key to a great Gonzaga team that has a lot of pieces, all of which he makes better.
Oscar Robertson Trophy
Frank Mason III, Kansas
Josh Hart, Villanova
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
Mason was the heart and soul of a Kansas team that has been perhaps the most consistent in the country all year long. They aren’t loaded with ten future first round picks, and in fact, they have basically been no more than six or seven deep all year, but Mason has been at the center of it all. He has been their go-to guy, their leader, their toughest player, and he symbolizes what this team has been all about, which is winning any way they can do it.
Hart has had a tremendous senior year for another consistent team, capping off a great career of growth. He entered college as no one’s choice to be an All-American, yet will exit as one. Swanigan has been a man among boys all year for the Big Ten regular season champions, and is a very worthy candidate for this award as well.
Wayman Tisdale Award
Lonzo Ball, UCLA
Malik Monk, Kentucky
Markelle Fultz, Washington
Ball gets a fairly clear nod here, which is saying something because Monk was very good. Ball was a game-changer for UCLA, giving them the floor leadership they sorely lacked a year ago as well as someone who just knows how to win. He also allowed the Bruins to move Bryce Alford off the ball, which has been as big a development as anything. Alford could always shoot, and now he’s been able to focus on that; the proof is in the results. The Bruins finished 11th in the Pac-12 last year and are a solid NCAA Tournament team capable of making a run this year, and Ball is the biggest difference, though classmate T.J. Leaf has played a pretty good role in that as well.
Monk had a great freshman campaign at Kentucky, highlighted by his 47 points against North Carolina, though that wasn’t all. Fultz has been mentioned dubiously alongside Ben Simmons as the Huskies have struggled, but there has been plenty to like about him and this campaign from him. While he has been out with an injury of late, he has been a great teammate on the bench as well.
Henry Iba Award
Sean Miller, Arizona
Mark Few, Gonzaga
Matt Painter, Purdue
As is often the case, many coaches have a case to be made here. Among the ones not listed here that I gave plenty of consideration to are Chris Collins (Northwestern), Ed Cooley (Providence), Scott Drew (Baylor), Larry Eustachy (Colorado State), Leonard Hamilton (Florida State), Chris Holtmann (Butler), Tim Jankovic (SMU), Bill Self (Kansas), Mark Turgeon (Maryland) and Jay Wright (Villanova). Ultimately, I could only rank three.
With Allonzo Trier, Arizona’s best player, suspended for a majority of the season and with a mystery surrounding it, along with some injuries, no one would have been surprised if the Wildcats dropped down a notch in the Pac-12 standings and dropped a tougher game or two in non-conference play as well. But none of that happened, as Miller kept them together and focused and got the most out of guys, while Lauri Markkanen has been a big revelation. It has been pretty much a business-as-usual season of winning in Tucson, and Miller and his staff deserve a lot of credit for that.
Few led Gonzaga to their finest regular season run yet, nearly going undefeated. He has plenty of talent, but teams don’t win games by merely rolling out the basketballs, and Gonzaga turned back all challengers but one. Purdue had talent returning, but also questions about their backcourt regarding just how good they would be. Winning a Big Ten regular season title by two games, in a conference with a lot of even-ness, tells you just how good a job he did with this team.