Basketball

Issuing 2019-20 postseason awards

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With the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament, the 2019-20 men’s college basketball season is over. Shaka Smart’s Texas Longhorns were set to duel Texas Tech in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament in what would likely have served as a de facto play-in game to make the field of 68 until the Big 12 pulled them off the floor, and sports as a whole came to a halt.

There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world right now, but what is certain is Texas played 31 games. That’s more than enough data to hand out postseason superlatives.

MVP – Matt Coleman – 12.7 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 3.4 APG

It could be argued that Jericho Sims’ was on track to receive this award until his back injury, but that fact coupled with how the team seemingly elevated its play without the junior forward in the lineup makes Matt Coleman the obvious choice.

Coleman was the only Longhorn to play over 1000 minutes this season. He missed his first game in three seasons this year, and battled through an injured heel down the stretch. He also joined the 1000-point club at UT, just the 38th player in program history to do so.

Though the offense appeared limited throughout the season, Coleman was the driving force. He averaged almost 10 field goals per game and hit 44 percent of them. He led the team in three-point percentage (39 percent) and was microscopically short of being first in free throw percentage at 80 percent.

Coleman served not only as the on-court leader but off-court leader. With as many games as he’s played, that’s to be expected. The team often went as Coleman went.

His highlight of the year, and potentially his career so far, was his game-winning three-point shot versus Oklahoma in Norman to keep Texas in the hunt for a NCAA Tournament bid. Everything Coleman was able to do landed him on the All-Big 12 third team, which does speak to the season Texas had. Its best player was not thought of as one of the top six guards in the conference.

Next season, Coleman will give Texas one of the most valuable roster pieces in college basketball as a senior point guard. What that team will look like, and even who is coaching the team, may not be immediately clear. What is clear is that through all the ups and downs of 2019-20, Coleman was the steadiest player on a team that struggled to find consistency all year.

Also considered: Andrew Jones (11.5 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.9 APG), Jericho Sims (9.7 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 0.8 APG)

Defensive player of the year – Matt Coleman

Luke Yaklich’s defense emphasized cutting off dribble drives to the basket and closing out three-point shooters and tried to force opponents into inefficient two-point field goals.

Last season, Kerwin Roach flashed athleticism while often taking on opponents’ best offensive players, but Coleman also showed a level of athleticism that indicated he too could keep up with some of the conference’s best.

Coleman isn’t quite the defender Roach was, but that’s nothing to be ashamed of. In the Yaklich system, Coleman’s athleticism taking on guards like Devon Dotson, MaCio Teague, and Davion Mitchell proved necessary, even though Texas never beat out the teams those players represented (Kansas, Baylor). In addition, Coleman did this while placing fifth in the conference in minutes per game (33.6).

Even while not at full strength, Coleman took on many defensive responsibilities. His leadership on defense helped the Longhorns to a top 25 ranking in adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom.com.

The junior point guard edges out Royce Hamm and Jericho Sims. Hamm was energetic early and became established as the season went on, offering more than just “energy” and a few fouls. However, his height was a limiting factor and did have an adverse effect in several games. Once again, Sims is docked for missing the last portion of the season.

Also considered: Royce Hamm, Jericho Sims

Most Improved – Jericho Sims – 9.7 PPG, 8.2 RPG

During the 2017-18 season, Sims was behind eventual lottery pick Mohamed Bamba. During the 2018-19 season, Sims was behind eventual lottery pick Jaxson Hayes. In 2019-20, the post position belonged to Sims, and he showed off a much more diverse offensive skillset than in those previous two seasons. Texas’ season might look different if Sims wasn’t held out due to a back injury.

Prior to 19-20, Sims best offensive skill was his athletic ability. There were flashes in his previous two seasons, but he saw all his statistics, minutes most importantly, trend downward from his freshman to sophomore season.

When the center position became his and his alone, he took over. He averaged 27.3 minutes before his season ended, almost 10 minutes more than his career high set during his freshman season. He doubled the amount of shots he took and made per game, finishing the season with a 66 percent shooting percentage. His blocks numbers went up, as did his rebound numbers.

Sims was the focal point of the offense before his injury, and though he wasn’t playing himself into the lottery like his predecessors, he was likely playing his way toward a NBA paycheck.

Also considered: Kai Jones, Andrew Jones

Newcomer of the year – Kai Jones – 3.6 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.1 BPG

Jones gets the nod here because he played in 27 games this season, compared to Brock Cunningham’s 16.

Amid all the job speculation, win streaks, and other events surrounding Texas basketball in 2019-20, Jones’ improvement throughout the season flew under the radar. Of course, necessity and injury made more minutes available to him, but throughout the course of the season there was evidence Jones was more than just a 6-foot-11 dunker.

He offered a credible threat from distance opponents needed to respect. He averaged just less than one block per game. He finished the year strong with a 20-point, 7-rebound performance against Oklahoma State.

As he received more minutes, he was able to stay in the game, too. Jones started the year as a sloppy defender. However, when he started playing meaningful minutes, he was always available. He never fouled out.

His offensive game will grow, as will Jones physically. He’s another example of a high-potential player usually Smart only gets one year with. Jones has nowhere near the basketball acumen or the physical attributes of Bamba or Hayes, but he never was going to be a one-and-done. Considering his growth during the season, he’s worthy of recognition.

Also considered: Brock Cunningham

Comeback player of the year – Andrew Jones (11.5 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.9 APG)

Might as well name the award after him.

Jones set his career high with 20 points in the first game of the year versus Northern Colorado. That not only served to signify that Jones had taken another huge step in his return from leukemia. It set the tone for the rest of his remarkable season.

Jones and Courtney Ramey were the only two Longhorns to appear in all 31 games. That season opener wasn’t a flash in the pan. Jones averaged double figures in scoring across the entire season, and set a new career high in points during Texas five-game winning streak in matchups with West Virginia and Texas Tech.

He wasn’t eased back into things, either. He played over 25 minutes in 19 games, and over 30 minutes in 10 games. But over and over, he served as one of the reliable scoring options during the 2019-20 season.

If he had scored 20 points in the first night and then played limited minutes throughout the season, Jones’ story still would have been remarkable. The fact that he seemed to return to the Andrew Jones that was one of the most electric players in the Big 12 makes his return one of the best sports stories of the past decade for Longhorn athletics.