Player Of The Year: Jalen Brunson, Villanova
There is no right answer for National Player of the Year in 2018.
Trae Young became the first player to lead the nation in scoring and assists, but his efficiency went into the toilet during Big 12 play as Oklahoma struggled to find an answer when teams figured out how to slow him down. Young was not even named the Big 12’s Player of the Year this season -- Devonte’ Graham was -- and that might not have been the case if Keenan Evans didn’t spend the final three weeks of the season battling turf toe. Winning is the most important statistic when it comes to a Player of the Year candidate, and it’s hard to get behind a player for being the nation’s best when his team slowly slid into irrelevancy.
Marvin Bagley III and Deandre Ayton are both super-human talents that, essentially, averaged 20 points and 10 boards. But Duke’s biggest win and many of their best performances came when Bagley was injured while Ayton’s Arizona team struggled with off-the-court questions and consistency throughout the year.
That leaves us with Jalen Brunson, Villanova’s talisman and the centerpiece of a team that is college basketball’s best and most dangerous offense, and even his candidacy comes with flaws. The Wildcats, for the first time since the new Big East was formed, did not win the Big East regular season title and Brunson did not play his best basketball down the stretch.
But that had as much to do with some injury issues late in the year as anything.
What this decision came down to, for me, was simple: Brunson is the most important player on a national title contender, the most valuable piece on any team with a real shot of cutting down the nets on that final Monday of the season. His efficiency numbers are simply incredible as opposed to historically-unprecedented thanks to a late-season swoon, but he is still the one guy in the country that I want with the ball in his hands and the game on the line.
Villanova is not a perfect basketball team, and there’s a real chance that, for the fourth time in five season, the Wildcats could end up flaming out of the NCAA tournament after the first weekend.
But in a year where every first-team all-american has a real case for National Player of the Year -- and enough warts to make that candidacy seem silly -- Brunson is the pick.