It's awards season, Grammys, Oscars, and so here is our addition to the crowded landscape. Except we keep it simple, no red carpet, no little statues, not much of anything.
Carmelo Anthony is the best freshman the Big East's seen in awhile. (AP)
Below are five basic categories. National player of the year, freshman of the year, coach of the year and rookie coach of the year (first season as a college coach on any level). We also name a five-man All-America team.
The race for POY was tough, it all really depended on what you liked. Some of the others were easy. The All-America team could have been extended 10 or 15 deep, but we like the old-school approach. These are the five best players in the nation and only the five best.
So without further ado, the envelope says ...
SportsLine.com national player of the year
It was the season opener, Madison Square Garden, big-name opponent, national television. This is the fun stuff in college basketball and in the middle of the bright lights, big city was Texas guard T.J. Ford. As the game entered its final minute, he had 22 points and eight assists, and Texas on the verge of a victory over Georgia.
And when Bulldogs coach Jim Harrick got T'd up with the game basically over, Ford was sent to the line by Longhorns coach Rick Barnes to take the free throw. Ford nodded, walked out onto the court and promptly instructed teammate Brandon Mouton to go shoot it instead. (Mouton made it).
"I asked him what he was doing?" Barnes said. "He said, 'I wanted Brandon to hit it and get his confidence up. It might help us down the line.'
"That's a pretty mature thing for a kid to think."
In a season when the candidates for national player of the year are so evenly matched -- when you could just as easily like Xavier's David West's nightly 20-10-and-teamwork, or the brilliant all-around game of Marquette's Dwyane Wade, or the open-court genius of Wake Forest's Josh Howard, or the clutch play and mental and physical toughness of Oklahoma's Hollis Price -- it's the little things that come up big.
And no one does more little things or big things than the Longhorns' little point guard, which is why T.J. Ford is the SportsLine.com national player of the year.
Opening night in New York is just one of a 1,000 such moments that set Ford apart from your run-of-the-mill, lightning fast, skilled-passing, clutch-shooting All-America point guard. No one in the country has a greater impact on an elite team -- both in the obvious and most subtle of ways -- than Ford has on the No. 3 Longhorns.
"I wouldn't trade him for any player in America," Barnes said.
You can't blame him. His impact on the game -- from the passing (7.2 assists) to the scoring (14.8) to the improved jumper (.416) -- is undeniable. His flair for the dramatic and proven worth during the game's loneliest moments (think of the fall-away jumper at Oklahoma on Saturday) make him the go-to guy even though Texas has a roster deep in potent scorers.
His feel for the game and ability to recognize weaknesses in opponents and then immediately exploit it for his team furthers his impact.
But it's that leadership and awareness of his teammates' needs that set him above and beyond the rest. Texas has been a long slumbering giant that seemed to awaken the day Ford showed up two years ago. He has done everything to get the Longhorns better, from improving the program's media exposure and recruiting buzz to making every single player better, every single day. Texas has had talent for years; it just never had a difference-maker like Ford.
The will to win for this two-time Texas high school state champion is considerable. As good as the 'Horns have become the past two years, it isn't enough for Ford.
"We are not satisfied being No. 3," Ford said. "We want to be No. 1."
How many other players are so dedicated to making that happen that in the thrill of the final seconds of a huge victory in MSG, they give up the chance for a 23rd point so a teammate can get his 13th?
Only Ford. In a season with so many great players and so many correct choices, it's the little leadership of this big-hearted guard that sets him above the rest.
Freshman of the year
If picking a national player of the year is difficult, then picking a national freshman of the year is simple. There can be only one choice, Syracuse small forward Carmelo Anthony. From his 27-point outburst in the season opener to his 30-point, 14-rebound effort Sunday in front of an NCAA on-campus record crowd of 33,071, Anthony has been a dominating force and major attraction this season.
Averaging a ridiculous 22.5 points and 10.1 rebounds a game, Anthony recorded 18 double-doubles and was named Big East rookie of the week nine times.
His ability to score from nearly any spot on the court and do it in any manner he sees fit makes him an unguardable presence. He is perhaps the best freshman basketball player since Chris Jackson was at Louisiana State.
Anthony is a major reason why the Orange are 23-4. Jim Boeheim calls him the Big East player of the year. He will deservedly appear on a number of All-America teams. The day he decides to enter the NBA Draft, he will be the first college player selected.
"He just knows how to play," Boeheim said of Anthony, a 6-foot-8 Baltimore native. "He has abilities that you can't teach. Yet, he is very interested in getting better."
Better is scary. Anthony is already one of the best.
National coach of the year
When Kentucky was blitzed by Louisville in late December, it wasn't difficult to find a Tubby Smith critic out there. Just turn on the radio. The Wildcats had been embarrassed, and Smith was coming off of three consecutive seasons where UK recorded 10 losses and didn't advance past the Sweet 16. In Lexington, that's not good.
Couple it with a series of off-court troubles last year, roster moves, academic suspensions and the arrival of Rick Pitino at Louisville and it wasn't an easy time for Smith.
Not that anyone could tell.
"It's hard to tell what he is feeling," Wildcat Erik Daniels said. "It doesn't seem (anything) bothers him."
Except when his teams don't play defense. Or they act up off the court. Or they don't take pride in being a part of Kentucky Basketball.
These are things Smith communicates clearly to his players. That he has a team willing to listen and learn is the reason no one is discussing a 10-loss season in Lexington. The only time the Louisville game is brought up these days is to mention the Wildcats haven't lost since, a string of 20 consecutive victories that includes a remarkable 16-0 mark in the Southeastern Conference.
Kentucky will be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament because of Smith's ability to maximize the talent he has. The Wildcats play a relentless, suffocating defense and a selfless, pass-happy offense. The combination has allowed UK to not just beat teams but beat them into submission.
During the streak, the Wildcats have throttled Florida, Georgia and Alabama. Only one SEC team (Tennessee) managed to score more than 70 points. It has been beyond impressive, especially since NBA scouts say the Wildcats probably don't have a single first-round pick on the roster.
Those players give full credit to the season's success. The coach that got them to buy into a team-oriented system, getting rid of any player not willing to make the sacrifice.
"A 100 percent of (the credit) goes to Coach Smith," Gerald Fitch said.
A year ago, he coached Team Turmoil. This year, it is Team Togetherness. All eyes on New Orleans for Kentucky, just the way it is supposed to be.
Rookie coach of the year
Ray Lopes was an anonymous assistant from Oklahoma stepping into the shoes of a legend. Jerry Tarkanian had retired at his alma mater, Fresno State, leaving Lopes to come and try to impress a fan base that had grown comfortable with a guy who won about 80 percent of his games.
It is enough to make most rookie coaches very nervous.
"I welcomed it," Lopes said. "I wanted it. It was an opportunity. Jerry left me some good players and he's been great to me."
And Lopes has been great to Fresno. In his first season, he has coached like an old pro, leading the Bulldogs to a 20-8 record and the Western Athletic Conference regular-season title.
For the effort, he becomes the SportsLine.com rookie coach of the year, joining an elite group that includes Thad Matta (2000) and Stan Heath (2001).
Earlier this month, the school self-imposed sanctions stemming from academic fraud during the Tarkanian years. Those will keep Fresno State out of both the WAC and NCAA tournaments. But that shouldn't reflect on the job Lopes did.
Perhaps his best leadership effort might have been post sanctions. With his team still reeling from the news, Lopes rallied the troops. Instead of quitting, pouting or just going through the motions, the Bulldogs traveled to Tulsa and fought tooth and nail with the Golden Hurricane before falling 62-59. It was a great effort under tough circumstances.
Now, Lopes is looking to build the program. The Bulldogs move into the plush, 17,000-seat Save Mart Center next season. He has high hopes for Fresno despite the scandal.
"This is a great place to be and a great time to be a Bulldog, because we are on the elevator going up," Lopes said.
Fresno has the perfect coach to take them there.
- T.J. Ford, Soph., Texas: College basketball is overflowing with great point guards, but no one was better on a night in, night out than the Houston product. His averages -- 14.8 points and 7.2 assists -- barely describe his impact and leadership on the Final Four-contending Longhorns.
- Hollis Price, Sr., Oklahoma: One of the toughest players in the nation, both mentally and physically, Price seems to play his best when the big game is on the line. The New Orleans native averaged 19.4 points a game and epitomized the Sooners' intense defensive style.
- Dwyane Wade, Jr., Marquette: The dynamic wing player has always been an incredible athlete and productive player (21.9 points, 6.3 rebounds this year). But after getting married and having a child, he quickly matured and became an invaluable team leader and go-to winner that has keyed Marquette's return to the national elite.
- Josh Howard, Sr., Wake Forest: The 6-foot-6 small forward is the Atlantic Coast Conference's best player, leading Wake Forest to its first outright league title since 1963. Howard, a Winston-Salem resident, averaged 20.9 points and 8.0 rebounds in the Demon Deacons' explosive style of play.
- David West, Sr., Xavier: The 6-foot-8 Musketeer big man didn't just average 20.4 points and 11.9 rebounds a game, he epitomized Xavier's team-first approach that has delivered 15 consecutive victories. West, who hails from Garner, N.C., is one of the nation's best passing big men and has become a superior player by being so unselfish.