Bleacher Report's 2017-18 College Basketball Awards

C.J. Moore@@CJMooreHoopsCollege Basketball National Lead WriterMarch 5, 2018

Bleacher Report's 2017-18 College Basketball Awards

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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    The 2017-18 men's college basketball season has been a great year for freshmen, and we'll likely see three frosh (Oklahoma's Trae Young, Arizona's Deandre Ayton and Duke's Marvin Bagley III) honored as first-team All-Americans. 

    But let these selections be a reminder that age matters. 

    Young looked like the favorite to win National Player of the Year a few months ago, but he was passed by a guy who seemingly has been in college basketball forever—and is only a junior. 

    Virginia's Tony Bennett gave us a lesson in underestimating him and his program this year, and Ohio State's Keita Bates-Diop showed us the Buckeyes' talent was better than anyone expected, including the school's athletic director. 

    It has certainly been a year where most preseason rankings and picks belong in the fire.

    These selections were made by myself and Kerry Miller. If you don't like them, let Kerry know on Twitter. Everything you're agreeing with was my call.

         

    Editor's note: All advanced stats, unless otherwise noted, come from KenPom.com

National Player of the Year: Jalen Brunson, Villanova

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Villanova's Jalen Brunson is like the old guy who shows up to the rec center and is smarter and stronger than everyone else. He doesn't have elite speed, but he gets where he wants on the floor and is a great finisher.

    Brunson is one of the most efficient scorers in the country. Among players who use at least 24 percent of their team's possessions, he has the highest offensive rating (129.5). Of the last 15 Wooden Award winners, only Kentucky's Anthony Davis in 2012 had a higher offensive rating (133.5), and he was a low-usage player who had the luxury of taking most his shots around the rim.

    Brunson is also the point guard on the most efficient offense in college basketball. He makes big shots and smart plays and sets up his teammates. He's also won 94 games (and counting) in three years as the point guard at Villanova. Brunson beat out Arizona's Deandre Ayton, Oklahoma's Trae Young and Duke's Marvin Bagley III. 

Coach of the Year: Tony Bennett, Virginia

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    Virginia was unranked in the preseason and picked to finish sixth in the ACC. Note to everyone who makes such selections for future reference: Always inflate what you think of Virginia based on the fact that Tony Bennett is the coach.

    Bennett is making his claim as one of the best coaches in college basketball. At the very least, he's the best defensive coach in college hoops. Virginia has the lowest adjusted defensive efficiency (83.9) of any team in the KenPom.com era, which dates back to 2002. This fact is all the more impressive considering, during that time, 2017-18 has been the easiest year to score the basketball.

    The Cavaliers also won the ACC by four games and are a lock to receive the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament. Other coaches who were in consideration include Ohio State's Chris Holtmann and Auburn's Bruce Pearl. Both would have been fine selections who have also surpassed expectations, but taking a preseason unranked team to No. 1 wins the award.

Freshman of the Year: Trae Young, Oklahoma

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    Oklahoma's Trae Young has put up one of the greatest statistical seasons in the history of college basketball. The OU freshman leads the country in scoring (27.5 points per game) and assists (8.9 per game), and he also has the Sooners positioned to make the NCAA tournament after going 11-20 last season.

    Arizona's Deandre Ayton and Duke's Marvin Bagley III would be worthy of winning this award in almost every other year.

    But Young is our pick as he's done the most for his team with the most attention and criticism. Young plays the game unlike any freshman we've ever seen, bombing threes from the logos and whipping passes all over the court. Whether he's on fire or having an off night, he's been must-watch TV.

Transfer of the Year: Caleb Martin

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    Nevada has become a destination for transfers, and former N.C. State guard Caleb Martin is the best one to roll through Reno.

    Martin has the Wolf Pack ranked No. 21 in America and makes Nevada a team no one wants to see in the bracket. Martin, a do-everything 6'7" guard, is averaging 19.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists while knocking down 43.1 percent of his three-point attempts. He also led Nevada to a Mountain West title, winning the league by two games. 

    Other transfers in consideration were Oakland's Kendrick Nunn and Middle Tennessee's Nick King. 

Defensive Player of the Year: Isaiah Wilkins, Virginia

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    When you have the best defense in the modern era of college hoops, your best defender probably deserves to win Defensive Player of the Year.

    Isaiah Wilkins has been far more valuable to the Cavaliers in recent years than a box score will show. His versatility and size (6'7") make him a weapon for Tony Bennett as a switchable defender who can guard all five positions.

    Wilkins is the rare defender who blocks shots (1.5 per game) and gets steals (1.2 per game). The best stat to show Wilkins' value is comparing Virginia's defense when he's off the floor to when he's on; according to lineup data from HoopLens.com, Virginia allows 94.0 points per 100 possessions when Wilkins leaves the floor and just 82.8 points per 100 possessions when he's on.

    Wilkins beat out West Virginia's Jevon Carter and Michigan State's Jaren Jackson Jr. 

Sixth Man of the Year: Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga

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    Gonzaga has the best big man off the bench in college basketball for the second straight season. Last season, it was lottery pick Zach Collins, and this year it's Rui Hachimura.

    The Japanese forward is a matchup nightmare at 6'8" with the quickness of a wing. He was a big reason why the Zags were able to hold off Saint Mary's for the WCC regular-season title. Hachimura averaged 22 points against the Gaels and went for 21 points on 10-of-14 shooting in Gonzaga's win at Saint Mary's that turned out to be the difference for the league crown.

    For the season, Hachimura averages 11.3 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. This award also nearly went to Villanova's Donte DiVincenzo, on whom we went back and forth whether to consider. But he ended up starting 10 games. Had he come off the bench all season, he would be the winner.

Most Improved: Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State

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    Keita Bates-Diop was the fifth-leading scorer for Ohio State last season (9.7 points per game) and played only nine games because of a stress fracture in his left leg. Ohio State's roster was looking so blah after several players left the program, that it played a part in OSU athletic director Gene Smith deciding to part ways with Thad Matta.

    No one expected the Buckeyes to compete for a Big Ten title. And no one had any idea Bates-Diop was this good.

    The junior forward has averaged 19.4 points and 8.8 rebounds for a team that will make the NCAA tournament after finishing tied for 10th in the Big Ten last year. With a high release on his jumper and wing-like skills, he's one of the toughest stretch 4s to match up with in college hoops. He just beats out North Carolina's Luke Maye for this award.

Most Underrated: Jemerrio Jones, New Mexico State

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    New Mexico State's Jemerrio Jones is the nation's second-leading rebounder, grabbing 12.7 boards per game, and he's just 6'5".

    The senior forward is a junkyard dog for the Aggies, who are one of the top mid-major teams in the country. They own wins over Illinois and Miami, and they won the WAC by two games. Jones is an opportunistic scorer (10.9 points per game) and does the dirty work while leading scorer Zach Lofton (19.3) gets buckets. That duo could make it at any level and will make the Aggies a dangerous draw in the bracket.

    Other players considered for this award were Houston's Rob Gray and Saint Mary's Jock Landale.     

          

    C.J. Moore covers college basketball at the national level for Bleacher Report. You can find him on Twitter, @CJMooreHoops.