The Swish Appeal staff is in unanimous agreement that Megan Gustafson of the Iowa Hawkeyes has earned the Player of the Year award. But Christine M. Hopkins, Albert Lee, Zackery Rogers, Jim Savell and Tamryn Spruill all had different picks for Freshman of the Year, with the Defensive Player of the Year award being somewhat of a split decision.
Here are their picks:
Freshman of the Year
Jim Savell: My choice for Freshman of the Year is Dre’Una Edwards from Utah. Edwards has been named PAC-12 Freshman of the Week six times. She may be not be a dominant scorer, with a per-game average of 12 points. But she has recorded seven double-doubles this season. Edwards also has proven to be reliable on the defensive end, recording at least one block or steal in 23 out of 25 games for the Utes.
Christine M. Hopkins: For a player who’s never started a collegiate game, forward Naz Hillmon is making magic for Michigan. She leads the Wolverines in scoring (and rebounding), which includes senior teammate Hallie Thome, who recently hit 2,000 career points. In the Big Ten, Hillmon has won five Freshman of the Week awards, tied for this season’s most. And, nationally, she’s fourth in field goal percentage, right up there in made field goals with fellow top-10 stars like Baylor’s Kalani Brown and Iowa State’s Kristin Scott. Hillmon has already done one of the toughest things a freshman can do — establish herself as one of the nation’s best while coming off the bench 100 percent of the time. The way she has made the most of the minutes she’s been given makes her a true standout.
Zackery Rogers: My pick for Freshman of the Year is Christyn Williams. Yes, the UConn Huskies have established a dynasty over the last few decades. But 2016 was the last time the the Huskies won a championship, erasing any lock on dominance. Williams is a solid pick, however, because she scored 28 points to defeat a stingy Notre Dame defense earlier in the season. In addition, Williams isn’t a primary scoring option for UConn, but steps up when needed. Like seniors Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson, the Huskies often struggle to find consistency from the rest of the roster, including Williams. But Williams is averaging 10.8 points, 3.2 assists and shooting 39 percent from three — off the bench, with limited playing time.
Albert Lee: Like Christine, I’m picking a sixth-woman as my Freshman of the Year. But my vote goes to Elissa Cunane of NC State. She is averaging 13 points and 5.6 rebounds per game this season, and also scored 20 or more points in three of her last four games. Cunane had plenty of strong performances throughout the season, but her “coming out” party was on Feb. 18, when the Wolfpack lost to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 95-72. In that game, Cunane received the start and scored a career-high 28 points on 10-of-19 shooting. Cunane doesn’t have a three-point shot just yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see her get that type of range before her college career is finished.
Tamryn: I love seeing Jim pick a six-time Freshman of the Week, Christine and Albert go with sixth-women as their picks and Zackery go with a player from a team I didn’t anticipate entering this part of the discussion. But none of these woman are Kentucky Wildcat Rhyne Howard — a seven-time Freshman of the Week averaging 16.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, both of which are team highs. What stands out about Howard, though, is her poise — she is utterly fearless and clutch in critical moments, leading her to hit game-winning shots or make game-winning defensive stops more than once this season. Congrats to all the women in the Freshman of the Year discussions! But it’s hard to argue for any other player than Rhyne Howard.
Defensive Player of the Year
Jim: Lamar University’s Chastadie Barrs is my Defensive Player of the Year. Barrs leads the nation in steals, averaging six per game. She has recorded five games with 10 or more steals. Repeat: 10 or more steals in five different games. On top of that, she leads her team with 6.8 rebounds per contest. Not relevant for an “of the year” award, but her career in thievery is impressive. Barr has led the NCAA in steals the last two years and is on track to do it again. Barrs finished second her freshman year. Lastly, she has recorded 608 career steals which is just 16 off the NCAA career record.
Christine: CSUN center Channon Fluker, the reigning Big West Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, is a dominant rebounder and high-volume shot blocker. Overall, she is someone you wouldn’t want to go up against anywhere near the basket. Fluker has led the Big West in rebounding and blocks for the past two seasons and, as the current leader in both areas by wide margins, is coasting toward a third consecutive year of dominance; she also happens to lead the nation in both total and per-game blocked shots. There’s something to be said for a player who can keep up that kind of consistency year after year, especially in a conference that knows her so well. But Fluker does it with ease. Plus, her main motivation is to get her number retired, and it’s safe to say it’s only a matter of time before she’s invited back for the ceremony.
Zackery: Playing in the Ivy League for Penn, Eleah Parker is my pick for the Defensive Player of Year award because of her ability to clog the lane and protect the paint. Currently, Parker is number two in blocks, averaging 3.4 blocks per game and currently has 68 on the season. At 6-foot-4, Parker has generated 35 steals this season. Another underrated aspect of Parker’s game — as underrated as she happens to be in these at-large discussions — is her ability to stay in front of smaller defenders.
Albert: My pick is Mississippi State senior Teaira McCowan. She may be the defending Defensive Player of the Year for the 2017-18 season, but she has remained one of women’s college basketball’s strongest defensive performers, averaging 13.7 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. Thanks to her efforts, the Bulldogs are holding their opponents to just 55.9 points per game while scoring 87.6 points per game themselves.
Tamryn: It’s great to see Barrs, Fluker and Parker up for discussion. But Teaira McCowan is in a class by herself, making her my pick to repeat for the Defensive Player of the Year award for all of the reasons Albert said. Beyond defense, McCowan also is averaging 17 points per game and a double-double for the season. Last I checked, she was at 57 career double-doubles, so she must be at 60 or more by now. Although this award is for defensive production, a look at her offense is important because it is McCowan’s defense that leads to scoring opportunities for herself and others, in the form of second-chance points, fast-break scoring and the like. In Mississippi State’s 91-63 drubbing over Tennessee on Feb. 7, as one of many examples this season, McCowan:
- scored a team-high 24 points
- recorded a game-high 15 rebounds
- blocked a game-high 3 shots
- grabbed 2 steals
McCowan’s stalwart defense absolutely contributed to the Bulldogs’ 12 points scored off turnovers (to Tennessee’s 5), 18 second-chance points (to Tennessee’s 2) and 6 fast-break points (which Tennessee tied with 6 of their own) — for the win! And this isn’t a standout performance, but par for the course for McCowan’s game and the impact of her game on the Bulldogs’ success.
Player of the Year
Jim: Iowa’s Megan Gustafson is an easy pick for Player of the Year. She leads the nation in scoring and field-goal percentage, at 70.2%. Gustafson has 172 more attempts than Oregon’s Ruthy Hebard, who sits second in field-goal percentage. Gustafson’s 27.4 points per game account for a whopping 34% of her team’s points. And her 13.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game make Gustafson an all-around great player.
Christine: Megan Gustafson. That’s it. That’s the tweet.
But for real, the Iowa center is more than just the nation’s top shooter. She looks great on paper, there’s no doubt about that — she’s well into improving upon her scoring average, field goal percentage and field goals made from last season, all of which led the nation then and lead the nation now. But Gustafson is also the type of player other teams know is coming. So they prepare for her presence in the paint, try to limit her shots. But they end up so focused on her that they forget her basketball IQ is so high that even when she’s not on the ball, she’s helping her teammates get open — setting screens and drawing defenders away, just by existing, to get them open looks. Gustafson knows she’s the one her teammates will go to in dire situations and she’s happy to be that person. But she also knows her teammates’ strengths and can help bring those out. And after all that, yeah, she still manages to score 27 points per game. I can’t explain it.
Zackery: My Player of the Year pick is Megan Gustafson as well. It’s hard to go in another direction because of her dominance on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Gustafson impacts the game in so many ways, which elevates the play of her teammates. Not to mention the senior is a walking double-double, currently averaging 25.7 points and 12.8 rebounds per game. Gustafson does not force shots due to her high IQ and ability to pass out of the double team — leading to wins for her Iowa team and a wicked stat line for herself.
Albert: I wanted to find a reason to pick someone else, but I can’t. Iowa senior Megan Gustafson is my pick for Player of the Year. She had a double-double in all but two games this season and she is shooting 70.2 percent from the floor. When a player is averaging the types of numbers Gustafson is in each and every game, while also guiding the Hawkeyes to a top-10 ranking, you have to put her in the conversation for Player of the Year — at the top of the list.
Tamryn: Okay, fine. Megan Gustafson is my Player of the Year pick, too. But how could she not be? There are a lot of players doing amazing things for their teams — leading them to victories night in and night out. Triple-double queen Sabrina Ionescu comes to mind, as does double-double queen Teaira McCowan. But Gustafson is in a universe of her own in terms of accuracy, consistency and just making those around her better while also maintaining insane production herself. Superstars thrive under pressure (like Rhyne Howard), but they also make everyone around them better. Thankfully for the Hawkeyes, Gustafson does both.