Not only was Kansas objectively the best team in college basketball across the length of the 2019-20 season, but it can now also claim it had the best defender in the sport.
The Naismith Men's and Women's Defensive Player of the Year were announced live on CBS Sports HQ on Wednesday. On the men's side, Jayhawks junior Marcus Garrett earned the honor. The agile shooting guard grew into Kansas' best all-around defender and along the way helped KU (28-3) finish second in college basketball in defensive efficiency.
On the women's side, another Big 12 stopper took home the honor: Baylor's DiDi Richards added to her trophy crowded trophy case. The Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year averaged 8.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and had 52 steals for Kim Mulkey's great-again program. With a 3.02 assist-to-turnover ratio, Richards ranked fourth in women's Division I in that category. Baylor finished its season 28-2 with a 17-1 Big 12 mark. It was expected to earn a No. 1 seed had the Women's NCAA Tournament gone off as scheduled.
Seldom is the case where the same conference provides the best defender in both men's and women's hoops.
"Marcus was a major-college, legitimate defender before he came to Kansas," Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. "He was well-drilled by his high school coach, Paul Graham, who I worked with at Oklahoma State."
Kansas, which finished the season ranked No. 1 and rated No. 1 in almost every mainstream metric, was not hurting for great defenders. Senior big man Udoka Azubuike and sophomore point guard Devon Dotson were also plenty formidable, but no player in the sport was as versatile on defense as Garrett. He is like a classic cover corner in football in that it's sometimes all the stats that don't show up that attest to his greatness. Garrett averaged 1.8 steals but was capable of guarding the opposing team's best player each night, and often handled multiple assignments guarding 1s, 2s, 3s and 4s.
Self has coached several players who were named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, including Joel Embiid, Jeff Withey, Cole Aldrich and Mario Chalmers, but Self said Garrett's the best defender he's ever had at Kansas. The only other comparable player he's coached was Eric Coley, who played for Self at Tulsa in the late 1990s. Self also told CBS Sports that although Garrett was Kansas' best defensive player, teams had to game-plan more significantly for Azubuike because of how much his size and strength changed dynamics near the rim.
"Marcus would be the best we've ever had and Doke would be the second best we've had," he said. "Very rare to have two guys of those capabilities that actually thrive and love playing defense like those two did."
In winning, Garrett beat out another stellar stalwart in the Big 12 -- Baylor's Mark Vital -- in addition to Kentucky's Ashton Hagans and Duke's Tre Jones. Garrett was a unanimous Big 12 all-defense selection in addition to earning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. He was a fine distributor, too: Garrett's 4.6 assists average was tops in Big 12 play. And he had 4.5 deflections per game.
"His role increased so much offensively, we couldn't take him out of games," Self said. "I think he was the best on-ball defender in the country, the best off-ball defender in the country and could guard any four-man for the most part. The best four-man defender around. Whether it be (Derek) Culver at West Virginia or (Jared) Butler at Baylor, I thought he was so good at understanding strengths, weaknesses, and when he studied opponents, he didn't study one position. He studied everyone he could guard because we switched so much. He was so good off the ball by helping everybody, but still yet, I think he was probably best on the ball and actually creating havoc there."
Self said Garrett's defining moment this season came in Kansas' Feb. 12 win at West Virginia. The Mountaineers controlled the game for about the first 33 minutes, Self said, and then Garrett took over and flipped the script. Kansas won 58-49 and extended a win streak that would eventually reach 16 games before the season ended.
"Marcus in the last seven minutes totally dominated the game on the defensive end and led us to a comeback win," Self said. "I think during that stretch WVU goes eight minutes without making a basket, and Marcus had four on-the-ball steals."
Garrett was particularly valuable because he avoided fouling. In league play Garrett committed only 2.6 fouls per 40 minutes and did so despite playing 85.8% of Kansas' minutes in Big 12 competition, which was third-highest in the conference. Garrett never fouled out and had three or more steals in nine games this season. He was the lynchpin for Kansas' defense, which was the stingiest statistically (85.5 defensive rating at KenPom) in Self's career with the Jayhawks.
|2018||Jevon Carter||West Virginia|
|2018||Teaira McCowan||Mississippi State|