Welcome to March. Here are our college basketball Coach of the Year and Player of the Year awards for the top conferences.
Coach: Chris Mack, Louisville
Expectations were measured for Mack’s first season. Louisville was picked to finish 11th in the conference. Mack has fast-tracked the rebuild. Louisville surprised early with a 17-6 start, including victories at home versus Michigan State, at North Carolina, and at Virginia Tech. The Cardinals slumped down the stretch due largely to a tougher schedule. They snapped a thre-game slide by winning Notre Dame, so the regular-season finale at Virginia won’t be as impactful for their NCAA at-large chances. Mack was the obvious choice last spring to guide Louisville out of the mess it was in, in the post-Rick Pitino scandal. Future looks bright.
Player: Zion Williamson, Duke
The biggest attraction in college basketball both literally and figuratively. Williamson, 6-foot-7, 284 pounds, has become the rare freshman superstar that everyone knows and wants to watch. Williamson (21.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, while shooting 68.3 percent) has made an impact on the sport, especially in box-office. Williamson leads the nation in player efficiency rating. The only thing that has slowed him down is injury. Williamson has missed the past four games after spraining his knee early against North Carolina. The injury has prompted questions. Will he be back in time for the NCAA Tournament? Can Duke hang on as a potential No.1 seed without him?
Coach: Steve Wojciechowski, Marquette
No. 16 Marquette (23-6, 12-4) has been even better than advertised. The Golden Eagles were picked to finish second in the Big East to heavily favored Villanova. Now they have a chance to win conference championship outright for the first time since joining the Big East in 2005-06 (They shared the title in 2012-13 with Louisville and Georgetown). They were ranked as high as No. 10 until being upset at home last weekend by Creighton. Marquette has quality victories against Louisville, Kansas State, Wisconsin, Buffalo, and swept Villanova. Wojciechowski, a Duke alum, has put himself in position to be mentioned as a possible successor to Mike Krzyzewski someday.
Player: Markus Howard, Marquette
Howard (25.5) is among the most lethal scorers in college basketball. His scoring average is the fifth highest in scoring history, and he’s scored 30-or-more points on nine occasions, the most of any player on a major conference team. Earlier this season, he erupted for a Marquette-record 53 points in a road victory at Creighton. The junior guard is the only player in NCAA in the last 20 years with two career 50-point games. Howard has been held under double-digits just once this season (eight points against St. John’s in an 89-69 loss).
Coach: Matt Painter, Purdue
Purdue was in sole possession of first place in the Big Ten until stumbling at Minnesota. The 11th-ranked Boilermakers (22-8, 15-4) are now tied with Michigan State and Michigan. Painter might be somewhat underappreciated. He’s three wins shy over at least 25 victories for the fourth-straight season. Purdue entered this year with one returning starter and was picked to finish fifth in the league. After some early-season struggles, the Boilermakers have won 16 of 19 with wins over four ranked opponents. The only losses during that span are to road defeats to Michigan State, Maryland and Minnesota.
Player: Cassius Winston, Michigan State
Where would the Spartans be without Winston (19.2 ppg, 7.6 asp)? Preseason Big Ten favorite Michigan State has been plagued by injury problems with Joshua Langford, Nick Ward, and Kyle Ahrens currently on the shelf. Winston has been doing his best to hold the team together. He’s third in the Big Ten in scoring and fourth in the nation in assists. Winston has already been named Big Ten Player of the Week five times, and is the only player in the country averaging at least 19 points and seven assists while shooting 30 percent from three-point range.
Coach: Chris Beard, Texas Tech
Beard has come a long way in a short time. Just four years ago he was an anonymous coach at Division II Angelo State. Now, he might be the National Coach of the Year. Kansas’ run of 14 consecutive conference championships is over. No. 8 Texas Tech (25-5, 13-4) or Kansas State will win or share the title. While Kansas State was picked to finish second in the Big 12, Texas Tech was seventh. Many thoughts there would be some retooling after Texas Tech’s first Elite Eight appearance and 27 victories. But the Red Raiders have been even better than last year so far. They have won eight straight, and could win their first-ever Big 12 championship and first regular-season conference title since 1996.
Player: Dedric Lawson, Kansas
Kansas hasn’t been typical Kansas, but don’t blame the Memphis transfer. He tops the conference in player efficiency ratings. Lawson leads the Big 12 in scoring (19.0), rebounding (10.3), and double-doubles (17), which ranks tied for ninth nationally. The last Big 12 player to lead the league in scoring and rebounding in the same season was Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin in 2008-09. Lawson leads KU with 30 blocked shots, and his 1.1 blocks per game are fifth in the conference.
The Pac-12 has only itself to blame. Only one team cracks the KenPom top-50 (Washington is No. 41) and the Huskies (23-6, 14-2) were the preseason favorites. Their best non-conference result is an 81-79 loss to then-top-ranked Gonzaga. Mike Hopkins is a good coach, but you can’t make an argument that he’s done anything special to merit this award. If you absolutely, positively had to give Coach of the Year to someone, you could nominate Oregon State’s Wayne Tinkle. The Beavers (17-11, 9-7) could finish with their most conference victories since 1989-90 when it went 15-3 in the league (Remember Gary Payton!). But considering how watered down the Pac-12, it’s hard to give Tinkle much credit.
Player: Tres Tinkle, Oregon State
The son of coach Wayne Tinkle has put together another fabulous season. The junior forward is the lone player in the country averaging at least 20.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game. Tinkle is the only Pac-12 player in the top-10 of the league in points, rebounds, assists, and steals (1.6). The junior forward is on pace to do something no other Oregon State player has done- lead his team in points, rebounds, and assists in back-to-back years. The New York Times once called Tinkles the most talented family in the country.
Coach: Kermit Davis, Ole Miss
There wasn’t a lot of fanfare when Ole Miss hired Davis, formerly of Middle Tennessee. Sure, Davis turned the Blue Raiders into a mid-major threat (NCAA tournament victories over Michigan State and Minnesota), but he was 58 years old. Few saw him as a hot coaching candidate, and Ole Miss was picked to be the worst team in the SEC. Guess what? The Rebels have been the biggest surprise (19-11, 9-8). They’re contending for an at-large bid, which is noteworthy for a program that has only been to the tournament eight times in school history. And give Davis credit for standing behind his players during their anthem protest.
Player: Grant Williams, Tennessee
This is close, but give Williams the nod over Kentucky’s PJ Washington. The 2018 SEC Player of the Year is the conference’s leading scorer (19.3) and also tops the league in player efficiency rating. Williams is vying to become the first person to win consecutive SEC MVP awards since Arkansas’ Corliss Williamson in 1994 and 1995. What makes Williams so efficient is his ability to draw fouls. Thirty-two percent of his points this season have come from the free-throw line. He’s tied for 13th in the nation in freebies (218).