Grayson Allen enrolled at Duke in the summer of 2014 as the least-heralded prospect in a four-player class. He averaged 9.2 minutes per game as a freshman, shot worse from the field and from 3-point range than the Blue Devils did as a team and was the only first-year player on the roster who didn't enter the NBA Draft after winning the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
Now he's the CBS Sports Preseason Player of the Year.
And the fact that it wasn't even a surprise when the majority of our panel (consisting of writers from CBSSports.com and/or television analysts for CBS Sports and the CBS Sports Network) voted the 6-foot-5 guard POY speaks to two things: 1) The talent of the other prospects who enrolled at Duke alongside Allen -- namely Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones, and 2) Just how far Allen has come as a college player.
There were signs of brilliance in that freshman year -- most notably in the national championship game, when Allen got 16 points in 21 minutes against Wisconsin and played a huge role in helping Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski win the fifth NCAA Tournament of his career. But mostly Allen spent that season caught in a numbers game behind Jones, Winslow and senior Quinn Cook.
Those three all averaged more than 29 minutes per game; Cook and Winslow were at 35.8 minutes and 33.9 minutes. So there just wasn't much playing time available for Allen, which is why he only played more than 20 minutes in three of Duke's 39 games and was on the court just three minutes in the Elite Eight victory over Gonzaga.
Everything changed when that season ended, though.
The top four scorers exited campus, at which point Allen became the focal point of Duke's offense. He was good on the ball. He was good off the ball. He averaged 21.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.3 steals in 36.6 minutes per game last season while shooting 46.6 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from 3-point range. That makes him the leading returning scorer in the ACC and a worthy pick for this honor -- and it certainly doesn't hurt his POY chances that he'll play a central role for a Duke team that's ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll, coaches poll and CBS Sports Top 25 (and one).
Bottom line, Allen isn't college basketball's best NBA prospect. In truth, he's not even a top-three prospect on his own team. But if the question is about the nation's best college basketball player, the obvious answer, in November at least, is indeed Grayson Allen.
He's not the only reasonable choice.
But he is the right one.
Dillon Brooks | Oregon | Junior | Forward
Brooks has a lingering foot issue that could stunt the start of his season, but I picked him for POY because I don't expect a foot injury to slow him much. Truthfully, I think he'll be great regardless. Oregon is bringing almost everybody back to a team that earned a No. 1 seed last season.
Brooks is a do-it-all wing who averaged 16.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists last season while shooting 47 percent from the field. He's Oregon's best player. The Ducks should win the Pac-12. He'll be even better this season -- and so might his team.
I like his competitive streak, and it's time for a player out West to earn POY. Jimmer Fredette took it with BYU in 2011, and Andrew Bogut with Utah in 2005, but do you realize the last time a player from the Pacific time zone won a Player of the Year nod from any of the six major award committees (Naismith, AP, Rupp, Wooden, USBWA, NABC) was Gonzaga's Adam Morrison in 2006?
And for a Pac-12 player? Ed O'Bannon -- 21 years ago.
Brooks has the ability and the team around him to pull this off. If he seems like someone that's just a little too tough to picture winning it (which he clearly is among our panel of voters), just remember: I picked Buddy Hield last year in the preseason, when nobody else was aboard that train. Brooks should be playing like a man possessed after Hield and Oklahoma embarrassed Oregon in the Elite Eight. -- Matt Norlander
Josh Hart | Villanova | Senior | Guard
When Hart and Kris Jenkins elected to return to Villanova for their senior year, they knew the odds were against repeating the success of that incredible NCAA Tournament run last March. Hart led the team in scoring last season, shot 51 percent from the field and after going through the pre-NBA Draft evaluation process came back to school with a list of ways to get even better. That focus on improvement can make Hart, already a key figure on a national title contender, one of the most dynamic all-around threats in college basketball.
A year after the senior class dominated college basketball, Hart gets a chance to step into a role as the sport's most outstanding veteran. Though Hart's role on Villanova will have evolved (again), look for him and Jenkins to be the ones controlling possessions in the high-leverage moments come February and March. -- Chip Patterson