For Dayton and its fans, here is the silver lining on a season cut short: The Flyers were set to get their first No. 1 seed in school history, they were coached by the Naismith National Coach of the Year and they boasted the best player in the sport. That third part became official on Friday, when it was announced live on CBS Sports HQ that Obi Toppin earned the 2020 Citizen Naismith Trophy, given to the most outstanding men's college basketball player.
The Flyers junior joins his coach, Anthony Grant, in receiving year-end honors from the Atlanta Tipoff Club, which organizes the Naismith Awards. Toppin won out over his closest contenders, Iowa's Luka Garza and Kansas' Udoka Azubuike, but also two other finalists in Oregon's Payton Pritchard and Seton Hall's Myles Powell.
Oregon's Sabrina Ionescu was recognized as the most outstanding women's college basketball player of the year and won the Women's Citizen Naismith Trophy.
Dayton went 29-2 thanks in no small order to Toppin leading the way with averages of 20.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and a 69.8 2-point shooting percentage. Toppin was also a solid 3-point option; he averaged 39% from beyond the arc, shooting 82 triples in 2019-20.
"Obi plays with joy," Grant told CBS Sports earlier in the year. "He really enjoys playing the game and enjoys playing with his teammates. At 6-9 he's athletic, has speed and skill and is really, really unselfish."
His breakout campaign should also give him a healthy shot at being a top-five NBA pick.
Toppin's 107 dunks were the second most in a season in college basketball the past decade, and the fact he was so good around the rim also helped Dayton shoot 62.3% from 2-point range, which is the third most accurate shooting performance by a team in side the 3-point line in the history of men's basketball.
CBS Sports spoke with Oklahoma City Thunder coach Billy Donovan, who had Grant on his staff during the championship years at Florida in the 2000s, and asked him if Toppin's utilization this season reminded him of any of Florida's really good players during that era. Grant was a primary coach for Florida's bigs from 1996-2006.
"What he did with Toppin was probably very, very similar -- Anthony is a great tactician -- he probably did a lot of similar things that we tried to do with (Al) Hoford and (Joakim) Noah," Donovan said. "Toppin used more of as a stretch guy than those guys, and he took more 3s. So maybe he put him in some different actions. But I don't think there's any question that in terms of the things we were doing, in what I saw, he was similar to those guys."
Donovan praised Grant, and Toppin and his teammates, for how they were able to not just run the table in league play but to upgrade their offensive identity so impressively. Dayton ranked first in effective field goal percentage this season and was the second-best points-per-possession team in college hoops to Gonzaga. It was also top-15 in assist rate.
"I almost liken offense to music, and what I mean by that, when you talk about different styles offensively, it almost becomes like music because there's not a lot of communication on offense," Donovan said. "You're not really talking on offense. You're playing off of each other -- you're playing with each other -- playing off each other's strengths and trying to create music together as a group. When you hear a group playing music, they're doing that. So we try to make music inside ourselves as a team."
Dayton not only made great music, it blasted its best stuff all season long. Toppin of course was the lead singer, if you will, in that outfit. His statistics were not record-setting, but to watch Dayton this past season and to watch Toppin was to see a team that was dominant, had a click to it and tapped into a killer instinct that manifested itself over and over. Though this isn't technically an award based on value, it's hard to make the case for anyone other than Toppin as the most valuable player men's college hoops had in 2019-20.
|2017||Frank Mason III||Kansas|
|2015||Frank Kaminsky III||Wisconsin|
|2010||Evan Turner||Ohio State|
|2008||Tyler Hansbrough||North Carolina|
|2004||Jameer Nelson||Saint Joseph's|
|1998||Antawn Jamison||North Carolina|
|1997||Tim Duncan||Wake Forest|
|1984||Michael Jordan||North Carolina|
|1979||Larry Bird||Indiana State|
|1975||David Thompson||NC State|
|1971||Austin Carr||Notre Dame|