Three-Point Play: Zion's the one; All-Americans, Coach of the Year
Today in the Three-Point-Play, national basketball analyst Eric Bossi discusses his choices for individual awards from the 2018-19 college basketball season. It should come as no surprise that Zion Williamson wins Player of the Year but who joins him on the All-American team and is there a surprise for Coach of the Year?
1. Zion is the easy call
If there were any questions or doubts about Duke freshman Zion Williamson’s candidacy for National Player of the Year after he missed a stretch of games due to injury, he answered them during the ACC Tournament.
Williamson did more than answer any questions about the status of his injured knee or if there would be any rust. He put on a performance for the ages racking up 81 points -- on a ridiculous 33-43 from the field – and 30 rebounds to lead the Blue Devils to an ACC Tournament win and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Each time it seems like Williamson can’t possibly match the hype he’s generated, the freshman manchild takes his game to another level and anybody who watched Duke play over the weekend saw how different a team they were with him on both ends of the floor. If Mike Krzyzewski is going to win his sixth National Championship, Williamson is going to have to continue his incredible play. National title or not, Williamson’s freshman year is one of the best ever and it’s hard to imagine anybody else being picked for National Player of the Year.
2. A six-pack of All-Americans
Obviously, Williamson makes my All-American team. So, who joins him? I’ve got five other first-teamers to go along with him.
I’ll start with Murray State sophomore Ja Morant. If anybody in America can match Williamson when it comes to entertainment value it’s the explosive 6-foot-3 point guard who also hails from the state of South Carolina. While leading his team to the NCAA Tournament, Morant has put up a monster line of 24.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 10 assists per game. He’s likely going to be a top three pick in this June’s NBA Draft.
Next I’ll go with the Big 12’s Player of the Year, Jarrett Culver. Texas Tech – along with Kansas State – ended Kansas’ incredible run of 14 straight conference championships and the play of the former three-star prospect and hometown hero is a huge reason why. One of the nation’s best two-way players, Culver averaged 18.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game on the season. He has developed into a potential lottery pick in just two seasons in Lubbock and is helping coach Chris Beard cement his status as a rising star.
Were it not for his teammate Williamson, Duke’s R.J. Barrett would have easily been the country’s top freshman and might have even won some player of the year awards. One of the most complete high school players that I’ve ever scouted when it comes to winning and producing at a high level, Barrett had a monster first (and only) season in Durham averaging 22.9 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game. Some people may not like his shot selection at times, but Barrett competes each and every time he’s on the floor and it’s tough to bet against him.
Tennessee has had a memorable season and junior forward Grant Williams has been their most important player. Another relatively unheralded player coming out of high school, he’s worked hard to become one of college basketball’s top players and a potential NBA Draft pick. He averaged 19 pints, 7.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game on the season and seemed to have a knack for coming up big when his teammates needed him the most.
Rounding out my All-American team and serving as a sixth man of sorts is Michigan State point guard Cassius Winston. This guy is a born leader and winner who helped the Spartans survive a rash of injuries to win the Big Ten’s regular season and conference tournament championships. He’s a dangerous outside shooter who makes big shots, he raises the level of play of those around him and he’s in the midst of great career in East Lansing.
3. And the coach of the year is ...
I thought long and hard about this one and there were so many great candidates. I wouldn’t argue with Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Tennessee’s Rick Barnes, Texas Tech’s Chris Beard, Virginia’s Tony Bennett or a handful of others if they were somebody else’s choice for Coach of the Year. But for my money, Utah State’s Craig Smith is the deserving winner.
In his first year in Logan, Smith led the Aggies to a Mountain West regular season title, a Mountain West Tournament Championship and a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Nobody could have possibly seen this coming considering Utah State hadn’t won a Mountain West title since 2011 and had finished seventh or worse in the conference during each of the five seasons prior to Smith’s arrival.
He helped turn Sam Merrill into an All-American level player, he has found off the radar talent like star freshman big man Neemias Queta and he has far exceeded even the most lofty of expectations. To rebuild a team, coach a team and achieve the success he has during his first season at the helm of a program is something special and for that reason Smith gets my vote as Coach of the Year.