B/R's 2019-20 Men's College Basketball Awards
The final buzzer has sounded on the 2019-20 regular season, and the college basketball world is quickly shifting its attention to the madness that March indeed brings.
Before getting completely immersed in that excitement, however, B/R is looking back at the regular season on the men's side of the sport. The awards highlight our national player, coach and freshman of the year, among others.
Yes, a national championship is always the ultimate goal. But that championship-or-bust mentality should not overshadow the excellence of these players for 30-plus games.
Bleacher Report's national writers, Kerry Miller and David Kenyon, selected the winners of this season's awards.
Player of the Year: Luka Garza, Iowa
Dayton star Obi Toppin fully deserves his place in the conversation, but Luka Garza has emerged as the clear choice. His blend of elite production and versatility on offense is spectacular.
"He's constantly on the move, creating action, using screens, ball-screening, picking and popping, floating to the three," Indiana coach Archie Miller said, per Dave Eickholt of Hawkeye Insider. "He catches the ball 12 feet off the lane as much as he does in the lane and he just shoots over the top of you."
And since the Hawkeyes lost Jordan Bohannon to a season-ending hip injury in December, they've needed every bit of Garza's contributions. He's amassed 23.9 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game, hitting 35.8 percent of his threes.
Freshman of the Year: Vernon Carey Jr., Duke
Whether his style will translate to a leading role in the NBA is a reasonable question, but Vernon Carey Jr.'s production and value at the college level are undeniable.
The 6'10" center has contributed 17.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game, all of which lead the Blue Devils this season. According to Sports Reference, he's only the 10th freshman since 1992-93 to record such averages.
It's all the more impressive when you consider Carey is averaging only 24.9 minutes per game.
"He's really, really a gifted player," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said of Carey, per WRAL.
Coach of the Year: Scott Drew, Baylor
Good coaches have a reliable and proven system. When players best fit a different style, however, great coaches adapt.
Throughout his Baylor tenure, Scott Drew has mixed in plenty of zone defense. But in 2019-20, the Bears have basically scrapped it and focused on man-to-man. The result—the nation's No. 4 defense, per KenPom.com—speaks for itself.
Most impressively, the team has accomplished this without many contributions from expected star Tristan Clark. The shot-blocking center has struggled in his return from a left knee injury.
Baylor finished the regular season 15-3 in the Big 12, smashing its previous high of 12 conference wins. Overall, the Bears are 26-4 and likely bound for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney.
Transfer of the Year: Malachi Flynn, San Diego State
Largely thanks to Malachi Flynn, San Diego State cruised to a Mountain West regular-season title.
Last year, he watched from the sideline after transferring from Washington State. This year, he merely won both Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors in the Mountain West to put San Diego State in the discussion for a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance.
Flynn will enter March Madness with 17.6 points, 5.1 assists and 1.8 steals per game and a 37.3 three-point clip. He leads the nation with 7.4 win shares.
While the Aztecs twice reached the Sweet 16 in the 2010s, they've never appeared in the Elite Eight. Behind their star transfer, that might soon change.
Defensive Player of the Year: Udoka Azubuike, Kansas
Udoka Azubuike's dominance on defense is evident in the box score, but that's merely part of the story.
"I just think he's probably more alert defensively and certainly seems to be going after the ball more," Kansas coach Bill Self said in early January, according to Scott Chasen of 247Sports. "His activity level is higher. I think conditioning plays a big role in that. He seems more explosive to me."
That praise held true through the regular season. While grabbing 10.5 rebounds and swatting 2.6 shots per game, Azubuike has immensely improved his ability to defend away from the rim. He boasts the third-best defensive rating in the country.
Throw in his 13.7 points per game on 74.8 percent shooting, and Azubuike is a front-runner for All-American recognition.
Sixth Man of the Year: Admon Gilder, Gonzaga
After opening the season in the starting lineup, Admon Gilder shifted into a bench role and has provided a steady impact.
Entering the West Coast Conference tourney, the Texas A&M transfer has averaged 11.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.2 steals when coming off the bench. He's also shot 40 percent from three-point range as a reserve.
Gilder's all-around production is valuable, but 29-2 Gonzaga is even tougher to beat when he's locked in defensively. If that part of his skill set consistently appears in March, the Bulldogs will have a great chance to reach the second Final Four in program history.
Most Improved: Payton Pritchard, Oregon
Payton Pritchard's career has been quite the roller coaster.
A four-year starter for Oregon, he was a complementary piece for a Final Four team as a freshman. The next season, he ascended to an All-Pac-12 performer. Then, he struggled through an inefficient junior campaign yet thrived in the Pac-12 tournament and propelled an unexpected Sweet 16 appearance.
It's safe to say Pritchard is ending on a high note. The senior has racked up career-best marks of 20.5 points, 5.5 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game, regaining his three-point stroke with a 41.5 percent clip while averaging 6.8 attempts. He ranks second nationally in offensive box plus/minus at 10.0.
"He's an exceptional player," Washington coach Mike Hopkins said, per Anne M. Peterson of the Associated Press.
Largely thanks to Pritchard's improvement, the Ducks are a potential top-four seed in the NCAA tournament.
Most Underrated: Grant Riller, Charleston
Now that Charleston is eliminated from the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, Grant Riller's college career is over.
What a run he put together, though.
In his final season with the Cougars, Riller registered 21.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.6 steals per game. He's also shooting 36.3 percent from beyond the arc. Riller ended his career as the program's No. 2 all-time scorer with 2,474 total points.
"Grant Riller isn't only one of the best mid-major players in the country, he's one of the best guards at any level, period," Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton said, per Andrew Miller of the Post & Courier. "He could start for any team in the Big 12."
Don't be surprised when Riller appears on an NBA roster.