There is no universally accepted way to approach preseason awards. But I’ve always personally believed they should be like preseason rankings — which is to say predictions of what’s to come with no regard for what happened in the previous college basketball season. And, yes, that’s how we do them here at CBS Sports.
It has never mattered to us if a person, as so many love to scream on Twitter, “has never even played in a college game!” because, I mean, why should it? Only a fool needed to wait to see Kevin Durant finish with 20 points and six rebounds in a season-opening victory over Alcorn State back in November 2006 to know the one-and-done freshman was going to be awesome. Beyond that, truth is, before the elite prospects even get to college annually, most of us who cover the sport on a national level have seen them many times in many settings. So when we believe college basketball’s best player is going to be a freshman, we don’t hesitate to proclaim it.
This year’s CBS Sports Preseason POY is proof.
2018-19 CBS Sports Preseason Player and Freshman of the Year: R.J. Barrett (Duke)
Player of the Year awards rarely go to a sport’s “best” player with little regard for anything else. More often, they’re reserved for great players from very good or great teams — evidence being how each of the past 11 Naismith Award winners have been from a team that finished the season ranked in the top 20 at KenPom. So any conversation about Player of the Year has to start there.
Will the player’s team be good enough? That’s always a good question to ask.
This season that could be an issue for, say, Carsen Edwards — whose Purdue Boilermakers are replacing four starters and ranked 44th in Matt Norlander’s preseason 1-to-353. But, either way, my point is that, on paper at least, Duke’s RJ Barrett isn’t expected to have this problem. His team should be good enough.
And he’s probably going to be great.
The 6-foot-7 guard was the consensus No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2018 and is projected by most to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. He’s an amazing talent — one who led Canada to a gold medal in the FIBA Under-19 Basketball World Cup two summers ago and someone who should have no trouble transitioning to high-major basketball. Simply put, we think he’s going to be a terrific player on a terrific team. And, again, that’s usually the recipe for individual awards.
If you’re looking for reasons Barrett won’t eventually be the National Player of the Year, the most obvious one is because, well, only one player receives such an honor, and there will be other serious candidates — like the aforementioned Edwards and Kansas’ Dedric Lawson, Nevada’s Caleb Martin, North Carolina’s Luke Maye, LSU’s Tremont Waters and Barrett’s teammate Zion Williamson, just to name a few. Additionally, it should be noted that only two of the past 12 Naismith Award winners — Texas’ Kevin Durant in 2007 and Kentucky’s Anthony Davis in 2012 — have been freshmen whereas four of the past five have been seniors. That’s not a great track record for first-year players, admittedly. But we’re still trusting Barrett to buck that trend. And if we believe the Player of the Year should be him, then, obviously, he has to be our Freshman of the Year too. Anything else would be nonsensical. So Barrett should invest in a big trophy case.
2018-19 CBS Sports Preseason Coach of the Year: Eric Musselman (Nevada)
The interesting thing about Coach of the Year awards is that they don’t always go to a person who coached one of the sport’s very best teams. Sometimes, they instead go to people who drastically overachieved relative to preseason expectations. The reigning SEC Coach of the Year (Rick Barnes) and reigning Big Ten Coach of the Year (Chris Holtmann) are good examples of such. Both had very good teams last season — but also failed to make the Sweet 16 or finish in the top 10 at KenPom. Regardless, they deserved their awards based on the jobs they did given the jobs most expected them to do.
But Preseason Coach of the Year is a different deal.
No over-achieving coach is really under consideration in the preseason because what’s the point in trying to predict which coach picked 11th in his league might finish first? Total waste of time. So, for the most part, we’re reduced to choosing between coaches expected to have great seasons — and Musselman received the most votes from our panel.
Full disclosure: He got my first-place vote — and for two reasons. One, because building Nevada into a preseason top-10 team is incredible in and of itself. And two, because there’s little chance of Musselman’s team being anything but great from a win-loss perspective considering Nevada is so much better than everybody else in its league. On that point, understand that KenPom projects the Wolf Pack to finish the regular season with more victories than anybody else in the country. And if that happens, I’d assume, Musselman will secure just as many postseason awards as preseason awards.