Today is the day that we unveil the NBC Sports college basketball All-American teams.
Picking this year’s National Player of the Year was actually pretty easy to do based on the way that the season played out down the stretch, but the first team was a bit more difficult. It really came down to seven or eight guys for the five spots, and they were not easy to pick between.
You can read all about it below.
Here are the definitive college basketball first, second and third team all-americans.
Pritchard has carried this Oregon team for long stretches this season, and he has hit so many big shots throughout the year. So the numbers themselves are incredible and deserving of this honor before you consider how many times he’s made plays late in games that won games. I think he is the most likely player to put a team on his back and will them to a national title a la Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier.
I can already hear the criticism from people. “How can you make a player that shoots 30.6 percent from three a first-team All-American? He shot 26 percent from deep during Big East play!” Yes, those numbers are accurate. But what Powell brings this Seton Hall program goes so much deeper than that. It’s the intangibles, the leadership, setting the tone, all the cliche things that are so hard to measure with stats. Think about it this way: The Pirates won the Big East regular season title and have a chance to be a No. 2 seed if they win the Big East tournament. Markus Howard returned to school and the Hauser brothers immediately decided to transfer out.
Toppin is the NBC Sports National Player of the Year. Of course he is going to be a first-team All-American.
Garza has been absolutely unstoppable this season. He’s averaging nearly 24 points and 10 boards on the season, and his numbers only improved during Big Ten play, a league that is stacked with talented big men. There is no one in college basketball that plays as hard or is as relentless on the glass or in the post as the Hawkeye center. If there is a knock on Garza, it is his ability to defend. The reason he is, for me, “only” a first-team All-American and not the National Player of the Year is because he is the reason the Hawkeyes have been forced to play zone so much this year.
Azubuike has turned himself into one of the most dominant frontcourt pieces in college basketball this season. He’s an animal on the block, one of the strongest players in the sport, and the fact that he plays for a coach that is elite at creating ways to get him a post seal makes him that much more dangerous. He’s also a terrific lob target, and Self has schemed ways to get him rolling to the rim more often this year. But what makes him a first-team All-American is his work on the defensive side of the ball. Azubuike is the best defensive center in the sport and, for my money, the Defensive Player of the Year. He anchors a defense for Kansas that is going to be what carries them through the tournament.
Deciding between Azubuike and Dotson for first-team off of Kansas was tough, but I think that Azubuike’s value as a lob-catching, rim-defending pterodactyl makes him the choice. Dotson, however, was still terrific this season. He’s terrific in transition and is near-unstoppable when Self can space the floor and get Dotson to turn a corner. I’m not sure he has the kind of pro potential that Devonte’ Graham or Frank Mason had, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is a damn good college point guard.
Teammate Ty-Shon Alexander beat him out for all-Big East first team, but I think Zegarowski is the quarterback of this Creighton team. He’s the guy that makes them tick. The way I think about it is pretty simple: We know how good Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill are, but would the Chiefs have won the Super Bowl is they had Jimmy Garappolo instead of Patrick Mahomes? Zegarowski is their heartbeat. Here’s to hoping that he is healthy for March.
Flynn is the engine for one of the nation’s most surprising teams in San Diego State. Brian Dutcher has built his offense around Flynn’s ability to be a playmaker in ball-screens, and it should come as no surprise that the Aztecs have thrived as a result.
Howard is having a stupid-good season. He’s shooting 10 threes per game, many of which are absurdly difficult, and he’s hitting better than 41 percent of them. He is the guy that every defense is game-planning ways to slow down, and he still manages to be as efficient as this while leading the nation in scoring at 27.8 points. If Marquette hadn’t completely fallen off a cliff down the stretch, if they truly were good enough to make a run to a Final Four, Howard would have been a contender to win the national title.
Winston’s senior season has been one of the biggest talking points in college basketball. He has, unquestionably, underwhelmed based on what was expected of him entering the season. That said, he finished the season averaging 18.3 points and 5.9 assists while shooting 42.6 percent from three for the Big Ten tri-champs, a team that will likely enter the NCAA tournament as a top three seed and one of the five most trustworthy teams in the sport. He might not have been as dominant as we expected as early as we wanted him to be, but he still had a damn good season.
Butler is the one guy on this Baylor team that can go out and create a shot for himself, which is something that cannot and should not be undervalued. The Bears can go through stretches where they look like they forgot how to play offensively. Butler is the one guy that can get them out of that funk on his own.
Jones is another guy that is on this list in large part due to things that can’t necessarily be found in a box score. He’s a terrific on-ball defenders, perhaps the best leader in college basketball and the guy that has been the veteran voice on the floor for a team that is starting three freshmen.
In a year where nothing for Kentucky was consistent, Quickley was the guy that they could always rely on. He was a steadying force, and he just so happened to be one of the best shooters in America in the final five minutes of a game. Nick Richards got the hype early, and deservedly so, but Quickley was Kentucky’s best player this season.
Bey is the next great Villanova wing. He’s a terrific shooter, he’s the best defender in the program and he’s a guy that can play on the ball as well as off of it. I personally think he will be a lottery pick that spends a decade playing in the NBA, and we saw it throughout Big East play. If Villanova is going to make a run in March, Bey is going to be the guy that carries them.
The most underrated player in college basketball. The stats speak for themselves. What doesn’t necessarily show up in these stats is just how good of a defender he is. He can take away any five in the country. He’s also just a terrific passer and decision-maker when forced into 4-on-3 situations after teams double Cassius Winston in ball-screens. He’s one of those guys that makes things just run more smoothly whenever he is on the floor, and he will get the proper credit for that here.