We are 19 days away from the start of the 2019-20 season, but we can't wait any longer to give up the goods. It's time to announce the biggest preseason proverbial hardware we've got. As you likely know, there are three major individual awards doled out in college basketball every pre- and postseason.
Player of the Year.
Freshman of the Year.
Coach of the Year.
There's no Heisman Trophy-type award. (Maybe that's for the best.) As we sit here now, two-plus weeks before the season starts in earnest, it seems obvious who the choices have to be. Maybe we'll look back in five months and scratch our heads, as opposed to nodding them. If so, that adds to the fun. Unpredictability, etc. So, now's the time to reveal and explain why we've chosen who we've chosen in this, the 81st season of NCAA Tournament-driven men's Division I college basketball.
Note: The CBS Sports Preseason Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year and Coach of the Year were voted on by college basketball writers at CBSSports.com and 247Sports as well as broadcasters and analysts from CBS and CBS Sports Network.
2019-20 CBS Sports Preseason Player of the Year
Cassius Winston | G | Michigan State | Sr.
The obvious and only choice. Winston is the only player returning to college basketball who was an All-American at the end of last season. He's the guiding force for the No. 1 team heading into the season and has grown into one of the best Michigan State players of all time. It's refreshing to see a college player who isn't so obviously physically dominating -- or a lottery lock -- be in this position. Winston wins on instinct and smarts more than sheer athleticism -- and more power to him for that.
"Look back at all my Final Four teams, we've had a high-IQ guy," Tom Izzo told me in April. "Jason Richardson, Draymond Green, Denzel Valentine. Cassius doesn't take a backseat to any of them."
Winston is among the smartest college players I've seen in the past decade. And he's going to become one of a kind if he stays healthy the entire season. That's because he could do the unprecedented. There has never been a Division I player to finish with at least 2,000 points and 1,000 assists. (Syracuse's Sherman Douglas' 2,060 points and 960 assists is closest.) Winston enters this season at 1,411 points and 714 dimes in 109 games. He averaged career-bests of 18.8 points and 7.5 assists last season. If Winston averages 19.0 points and 9.0 assists (tough, but achievable), he'll break the 2,000/1,000 barrier in 32 games -- at the Big Ten Tournament.
It's not something he'll explicitly chase, of course, but if Michigan State is in play for a No. 1 seed and Winston maintains his All-American status from November through March, expect that to be one of the bigger statistical storylines in the sport. For what it's worth, if Winston gets to 2,000 points, he'll be top-five in program history alongside Shawn Respert, Steve Smith, Scott Skiles and Greg Kelser. He'll have the program mark for assists probably in late December or early January: he's 102 behind Mateen Cleaves' mark of 816. His 219 dishes in 2018-19 were the most in Big Ten history.
Beyond that, he's an outstanding 3-point shooter, which is something he somehow still doesn't receive enough credit for. Winston's a 43% 3-point shooter in his career. With an extended 3-point line this season, it might dip his average, but if anything it will only enhance his game given there will be more space to work with and so much talent around him to facilitate.
The stats and potential landmark accomplishments that lie ahead present a no-brainer case for Winston as preseason player of the year. He's the best player on what sets up as the best team. Remember that MSU had a national player of the year not so long ago. Denzel Valentine, 2015-16, the final season before Winston arrived. Valentine's senior year was stellar. If everything clicks and MSU is elite on offense again, Winston's can be better.
2019-20 CBS Sports Preseason Freshman of the Year
Cole Anthony | G | North Carolina
Only three times has a freshman won a national player of the year award. Off the top of your head, can you name all three? Stop here and allow yourself to think and quiz yourself, if you'd like, before reading on. Guessing correctly might not be so difficult, because freshmen being acknowledged by the voting media for their transcendence is a relatively new thing. For decades, college basketball was a four-year sport, and so upperclassmen, by nature of how rosters were built and aged, had a significant advantage.
When the NBA's age limit rose from 18 to 19 years old in 2006, that changed. Since then, the three freshmen who've been the only ones to share national player of the year and freshman of the year are Texas' Kevin Durant (2006-07), Kentucky's Anthony Davis (2011-12) and, duh, Duke's Zion Williamson (2018-19).
Cole Anthony, I believe, has a solid chance to become the fourth. Anthony was the fourth overall recruit in 247Sports' 2019 Composite rankings, coming in behind James Wiseman (Memphis), Anthony Edwards (Georgia) and Isaiah Stewart (Washington). While those three received serious consideration for preseason freshman of the year, Anthony won out because his team will need his skill set and talent more -- we believe -- than the other three. Wiseman is surrounded by the No. 1 overall recruiting class of 2019. Edwards is on a Georgia team that will fight to make the NCAA Tournament, so predicting his production this season is foggier than a lot of other projected lottery picks. And Stewart? We could come to find out his fellow freshman teammate, Jaden McDaniels, is more valuable to UW.
But UNC will need Anthony to maximize his potential. He's the team's only real 3-point threat at this stage. UNC lost its top five scorers from a season ago, and on the heels of watching freshman Coby White do things no other freshman had ever done under Roy Williams, it's easy to envision Anthony taking that to another level. He's hyper-competitive, has a high basketball IQ and could be Trae Young-like in how he flirts with triple-doubles and scores 24 or 28 or 33 points in a game to go along with 10 assists and seven rebounds.
It's a lot of pressure to put on Anthony, but as the son of a great college player and longtime NBAer, Greg Anthony, he's prepared for this for essentially the past five or six years. UNC would not have a case as a preseason top 25 team without Anthony on the roster. With him, Tar Heel fans can reasonably hope to fight for an ACC title.
2019-20 CBS Sports Preseason Coach of the Year
Tom Izzo | Michigan State
Our voting panel opted to give the coach of the consensus (and it is a consensus; you will not find one major media outlet picking anyone other than MSU atop its preseason rankings) preseason No. 1 team this award. There are two ways of looking at this. Either pick the coach of the top team, or pick the coach of a team in the top 10 that has made an unexpected surge or normally isn't in that position. So, for this year, going off Gary Parrish's Top 25 (And 1), candidates would be Louisville's Chris Mack, Maryland's Mark Turgeon, Memphis' Penny Hardaway and Florida's Mike White.
Chances are good that one of the five aforementioned names wind up winning coach of the year come March. But Izzo is the pick here in part because MSU is on the precipice of making program history. The Spartans have never been the No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 heading into a season. That will officially be no more once the AP releases its rankings later this month.
Izzo will have so much more than Winston. Xavier Tillman, Josh Langford and Aaron Henry are all top-100 players in the sport. Sparty will rely on experience much more than freshman NBA talent. It's how Izzo prefers it -- always.
It will be fascinating to see how Michigan State handles all this pressure. Izzo is known for scheduling tough out of conference. He prefers it to being forced to play 20 league games, but that's the new reality. Nevertheless, Izzo loaded up again, opening up against Kentucky in the Champions Classic, then playing at Seton Hall, going to Maui for that always-challenging tournament, then returning home to host Duke.
Michigan State has won nine regular-season Big Ten titles and made eight Final Fours under Izzo. Expectations are clear for 2019-20. Those numbers need to rise by one, as does the national title count. Izzo's Final Four record is 3-7. MSU was pinned by Texas Tech in Minneapolis last April. It's hard to get a team assembled like the one Izzo's managed to cultivate for the season ahead. That's why he's the COY in October. His players will determine if he wins the award come April. He's done it three times before: 1998, 2001, 2005.