As hard as it is to believe, we're already surpassed the halfway point of the college basketball season.
That's right, while much of the focus in sports remains on college football and the NFL, the bottom-line is that college hoops is thriving, with a bunch of teams and players emerging out of nowhere, for what should be a compelling second half. It isn't an exaggeration to say that the National Player of the Year race is wide open, and one of a dozen or more teams could take home the title.
And as such, we here at Aaron Torres Media decided, what better time to honor everyone having success in college hoops this year, by naming our mid-season All-American awards and conference players and coaches of the year.
This list was compiled our writers, Zac Krull (who does his weekly power rankings) and Aaron Torres.
We're sure you'll agree with every single selection. Here is our list:
First Team Mid-Season All-Americans:
Johnny Davis, G, Wisconsin: Davis has been nothing short of a revelation in Madison, going from a bench player who averaged seven points and four rebounds last year, to a potential Top 5 pick in next spring's NBA Draft. The Wisconsin native is averaging a blistering 22 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, and has had some of the most iconic games of the college basketball season. Included was 37-point, 14-rebound effort in an upset win at Purdue just a few weeks ago. If you want to see his importance, just know this: Wisconsin is 15-2 overall, and tied for first in the Big Ten after being picked 10th in the Big Ten preseason poll. They've lost just one game with him in the lineup.
Ben Mathurin, G, Arizona: Mathurin is one of the great success stories of college basketball, a player who could have left for the NBA after one year and been drafted, but instead, decided to return to school and has blossomed into a star. The Montreal native is averaging 18 points and 6.5 rebounds, all while shooting 36 percent from three, and has been a bonafide star in Arizona's biggest games, dropping 30 in a win against Illinois (in a victory that gets better every week) and 29 in the Wildcats' lone loss to Tennessee.
Ochai Agbaji, F, Kansas: Agbaji is another great college basketball success story. He arrived in Lawrence as the No. 132 ranked player in the class of 2018, was unexpectedly forced to play as a freshman (when he was expected to redshirt) and has only gotten better every single year since. This year it has all come together as Agbaji is averaging just under 20 points, while shooting over 43 percent from three-point land. In the process, the former fringe four-star recruit is projected to be a Top 20 pick this spring.
Oscar Tshiebwe, F, Kentucky: In the preseason, Tshiebwe famously said his goal was to average 20 rebounds per game, something that seemed impossible. Yet here we are in mid-January and he is averaging just under 17 points and an NCAA best 14.8 rebounds per game, including a staggering 28-rebound performance against Western Kentucky earlier this season. After a dreadful 2020 season in Lexington, Tshiebwe's infectious personality and tenaciousness on the glass has put Kentucky right back to where they usually are this time of year: In the hunt for an SEC title and Final Four berth. He's not a machine. He's Oscar.
Kofi Cockburn, F/C, Illinois: Cockburn is another player who easily could've chosen the professional route last spring, and almost did, before coming back at the 11th hour to Illinois. After a brief dabble in the transfer portal, he smartly elected to return to Illinois, where his numbers are even better than they were a year ago, when he was a second-team All-American. Cockburn is averaging 21 points and just under 12 boards per game, as the Illini are once again in the hunt for a Big Ten title and Final Four berth.
Second Team Mid-Season All-American Team:
James Akinjo, G, Baylor: Akinjo is the biggest reason why there has essentially been no drop-off following a national title run last season in Waco. As a plug-and-play transfer who spent last year at Arizona (where he was All-Pac 12 first team) Akinjo hasn't missed a beat, averaging just under 14 points, 5.5 assists and two steals for the Bears, which up until last week hadn't lost a game all season.
Keegan Murray, F, Iowa: While Johnny Davis' incredible rise has stolen the headlines in Big Ten country, Murray's run in Iowa City is nearly as impressive. A role playing big who played in the shadow of National Player of the Year Luka Garza last year, Murray has blossomed into one of the most unstoppable forces in all of college basketball. He is currently second in scoring nationally at 23.3 points per game (he was the nation's leader through Wednesday night), after averaging just seven last season, to go along with eight rebounds and two blocks per game, all while shooting 36 percent from the field.
Paolo Banchero, F, Duke: When you're one of the top high school players in America, it's hard to meet expectations when you go to a place like Duke - yet Banchero hasn't just matched those expectations, he's exceeded them. Banchero is averaging 18 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, all while shooting 34 percent from behind the arc, and here's the thing: Despite being only a freshman, has played his best in Duke's biggest games. Banchero went for 22 and seven in Duke's season-opening win over Kentucky, and had 21 points in a November victory against Gonzaga.
Drew Timme, F, Gonzaga: It shows you just how good the top of college basketball has been this year that Timme was just about everyone's preseason National Player of the Year, he has largely lived up to expectations, and yet is still only a second team mid-season All-American. Timme is currently averaging 18 and six for a Zags team, that despite a quiet December, is right where they spent most of last year: Atop the polls.
Jabari Smith, F/C, Auburn: Auburn's ascent up the rankings is a credit to a number of different people in the program, yet no player deserves more credit for the Tigers' success than Smith. It's not like the 6'10 freshman came out of nowhere; he was after all a Top 10 recruit and McDonald's All-American. But at the same time, no one expected him to be *this good* averaging 16 points and six boards, while shooting a blistering 44 percent from three. In the process, he has played himself into consideration for the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.
Now quickly, let's look at our midseason Player of the Year and Coach of the Year from each conference:
Player of the Year - Paolo Banchero, Duke: A bunch of these awards about to get repetitive so we'll be brief, but Banchero remains the best player on the ACC team best situated for a deep NCAA Tournament run come March. In Coach K's last season, Banchero is good enough to carry Duke to its first ACC regular season title since 2010, and the sixth title of the Coach K era.
Coach of the Year - Steve Forbes, Wake Forest: A strong argument could be made for Miami's Jim Larranaga, and if he's your choice, it's hard to argue against it. At the same time, what Forbes has done at Wake is incredible, taking a team which finished 14th, 13th and 13th in the three years before he arrived in Winston-Salem, and putting them in position to make the NCAA Tournament with a 15-4 record overall. Included in that run, is a victory at Virginia this past season weekend.
Player of the Year - Collin Gillispie, Villanova: The Big East is a league full of great teams - it's probably the best top-to-bottom in the country - but there are no obvious names for the league's Player of the Year. Despite it, we will give it to the ever-reliable Gillispie who decided to use his extra Covid year to return to school, and his having his best season yet. He leads the Wildcats in scoring, assists and steals, all while shooting 41 percent from three, all as the Wildcats have quietly won their last six games in Big East play.
Coach of the Year - Ed Cooley, Providence College: Because the Friars have been off for Covid pause, it's easy to forget everything they've accomplished this year. Providence has a slew of quality wins, including victories at Wisconsin (admittedly, without Davis), against Texas Tech and at UConn in their Big East opener. In five NCAA Tournament's at Providence, Cooley has never made it out of the first round - expect that to change this year.
Player of the Year - Johnny Davis, Wisconsin: This is the most hotly contested player of the year award, as Keegan Murray, Kofi Cockburn and Jaden Ivey (the first player off our All-American team) all have a say in this one. Still, it goes to Davis, who has not only elevated himself into an elite player, but Wisconsin into a program that's currently sitting tied for first place in the Big Ten.
Coach of the Year - Greg Gard, Wisconsin: Remember in the off-season, when reports of player discontent last season popped up? Well, maybe some of it was true, and maybe it led Gard to change some things behind the scenes. But regardless, it's hard to argue that anyone has done a better pure coaching job in America than he has. Remember, the Badgers lost four senior starters off last year's team. And while a great deal of Wisconsin's credit goes to Johnny Davis, some should go to Gard, for helping elevate a bunch of other players as well.
Player of the Year - Ochai Agbaji, F, Kansas: Kansas is quietly emerging as a true national title contender, with three to four guys who can beat you on any given night. But Agbaji is the one reliable, the guy you know will deliver every single time he arrives in the gym.
Coach of the Year - TJ Otzelberger, Iowa State: There are a couple of worthy candidates for this award including Scott Drew and definitely Texas Tech's Mark Adams, but in the end, it's hard not to give it to the man they call Coach Otz. After a 2020 season in which Iowa State went just 2-22 and 0-18 in the Big 12, the Cyclones are sitting at 14-4 this season. While they've struggled a bit since Big 12 play started, they have as good of an out of conference resume as anyone in the country with wins over Xavier, Creighton, Iowa and Memphis, and are comfortably in the tournament picture. Oh, and it's not like they've been "bad" in Big 12 player either, with wins over Texas Tech and Texas.
Player of the Year - Ben Mathurin, Arizona: Mathurin isn't just the best player on one of the best teams in college basketball, but has put up some of the sport's most iconic performances of the season, as mentioned up top. Of every award winner on this list, this might be the most obvious.
Coach of the Year - Tommy Lloyd, Arizona: When it comes to Arizona's success this season, two things can be true: One, Sean Miller absolutely left the cupboard full for Lloyd. It's also fair to say that Lloyd's Gonzaga style, fast-paced, ball-movement offense, brought out the best in this individual group of players as well. When Arizona officials decided to fire Miller and hire Lloyd, it's hard to imagine that they could have ever guessed the transition would go so seamlessly
Player of the Year - Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky: With no disrespect intended towards Auburn's Jabari Smith, it's hard not to give this award to Tshiebwe. Part of it is the raw stats, the 30 and 10 performance against Vanderbilt, the 27 and 13 he put up against Georgia, the 14 points and 28 rebounds - 28!!! - that he had in a game against Western Kentucky where John Calipari pulled him early. But part of it is the smile and carefree (at least off the court) attitude that has become infectious within this Kentucky program. The Wildcats have big games ahead (notably at Auburn and at Kansas in the next two weeks), where they will have a big stage to prove just how talented they are.
Coach of the Year - Bruce Pearl, Auburn: At this point Pearl isn't just probably the SEC Coach of the Year, but the National Coach of the Year as well. The Tigers were picked to finish sixth in the SEC preseason poll - a ranking Pearl didn't disagree with by the way - only the Tigers have instead exceeded expectations, starting 17-1 and ascending to No. 2 in the AP Poll. They probably should've been ranked No. 1 this week, but they can leave no doubt with a win over Kentucky on Saturday.
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