Here's some tasty irony. This 2020-21 college basketball season has been, in the minds of those who've lived it, the most challenging experience for the sport in its history. COVID-19 and everything that comes with fighting off that virus has forced this reality.
And with this reality, we've had plenty of anticipated-but-unpredictable stoppages over the past four-plus months. Teams' seasons went on halt for weeks at a time. Some teams had multiple pauses. Some teams were removed from postseason play because of COVID.
Point is, we had every reason to expect that this college basketball campaign would be impossible to predict other than to predict with 100% certainty there would be disruption.
Despite everything college basketball's players, coaches, trainers, support staff, officials -- you name it -- despite everything that's happened since the start of the season on Nov. 25, it turns out this was among the most predictable seasons ever with regard to the best players and the best teams. Below we have our three major awards: Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, Freshman of the Year. Amazingly, our preseason predictions were all correct.
Who's to say whether the pandemic strengthened the best of the best, but this doesn't feel coincidental. This is the 10th season in which we've been documenting/preserving our preseason awards. It's the first time the postseason awards have been a clean sweep and matched who won the preseason. And in terms of the CBS Sports National Player of the Year, it's only the second time the preseason pick went on to win National Player of the Year. (The other instance came four years ago, when Villanova's Jalen Brunson did it.)
Strangely enough, the top vote-getters for our All-America teams also turned out to fulfill our prophecies. This is to say zero about our forecast game, but instead, champion and credit the people who entered the season with lofty expectations and then managed to match or exceed them.
As we always do right before the Final Four, it's time to reveal CBS Sports' national recipients for Player, Coach and Freshman of the Year.
CBS Sports 2020-21 Player of the Year
Accurately predicting in the preseason who will win the CBS Sports National Player of the Year has over the years been something of a dart throw, but Luka Garza made us look smart as the no-brainer preseason and postseason selection. The 6-foot-11 Iowa legend led the country in total points scored, Player Efficiency Rating, offensive win shares and total win shares in one of the most statistically stunning seasons of the modern era. Garza averaged 24.1 points and 8.7 rebounds per game while making 44% from 3-point range, all career-highs. It wasn't just individual production, either: Garza made Iowa better. The Hawkeyes won their largest percentage of games since the 2005-2006 season and earned their highest NCAA Tournament seed (No. 2) since the 1986-1987 season. -- Kyle Boone
CBS Sports 2020-21 Coach of the Year
Mark Few, Gonzaga
Our preseason Coach of the Year pick winning the award doesn't come as a surprise but it certainly comes with more fanfare as we approach a Final Four where Gonzaga is not only an overwhelming favorite to win but stands on the precipice of history with the potential to be the first undefeated NCAA Tournament champion since 1976. In a pandemic-influenced season where non-conference schedules were gutted, the Zags found ways to test themselves outside of the WCC against Kansas, West Virginia, Iowa and Virginia and cleared every hurdle. Few wanted to see this group, which always had the potential to be a national championship contender, challenged and they've answered the call at every turn. He'll credit the players but guiding a team that plays at such a high level through this kind of season is worth celebrating the coaching job too, which is why he's our Coach of the Year. -- Chip Patterson
CBS Sports 2020-21 Freshman of the Year
Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State
Cade Cunningham could have reneged on his pledge to play for Oklahoma State when the Cowboys were hit with a postseason ban. Instead, the top-rated player in the 2020 recruiting class honored his commitment, and it paid off. With the program's appeal of the ban still pending, Cunningham invested fully in the task at hand and carried the Cowboys to a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The versatile 6-foot-8 wing averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and made 40% of his 3-pointers while elevating the status of the Oklahoma State program and solidifying his status as the.. -- David Cobb