Why didn't KU have a 1st-team AP All-American? It's complicated
Some years in college basketball, picking All-America teams can be uncomplicated, even obvious. This bizarre, postseason-less 2019-20 campaign was not one of those years.
Sure, Dayton’s Obi Toppin fell into the clear-cut category, but as Friday’s release of the Associated Press All-America teams reminded everyone, it got a little trickier for the 65-member voting panel after that.
The complex nature of filling out the rest of the first team ultimately cost Kansas stars Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson from securing a spot. Instead, the two best players on the unambiguous No. 1 team in the country landed on the second team.
Both Azubuike, a 7-foot senior center, and Dotson, a 6-2 sophomore point guard, were legitimate first-team candidates. But neither was so clearly better than the other that voters could separate them. In tandem, Azubuike and Dotson made KU great. Still, neither had otherworldly statistical production to back up his case.
KU, in Bill Self’s 17 seasons as head coach, has landed one player on the AP’s first team four times — and has never had two first-teamers in the same year. So getting both Azubuike (13.7 points per game, 10.5 rebounds, 2.6 blocks and 74.8% shooting) and Dotson (18.1 points, 4.0 assists, 2.1 steals, 46.8% shooting) on the first team this year was never going to happen.
What would it have taken for one of KU’s stars to represent college basketball’s best team on the first tier? For one, voters valuing winning over individual numbers.
Along with college basketball’s breakout star, Toppin (20.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 63.3% shooting), every other member of the AP first team averaged at least 20 points per game. Iowa junior big man Luka Garza (23.9 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 54.2% field goals), Marquette senior guard Markus Howard (27.8 points, 3.3 assists, 41.2% 3-point shooting), Seton Hall senior guard Myles Powell (21.0 points, 2.9 assists) and Oregon senior guard Payton Pritchard (20.5 points, 5.5 assists, 41.5% 3-point shooting) all had gaudier statistics than KU’s two standouts.
Azubuike and Dotson had them all beat in the win-loss column, though. When the season ended abruptly because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Jayhawks were 28-3 and a near lock to be the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. Toppin was the only first-teamer who could claim anything close to that, as he helped Dayton go 29-2 and be in position for a coveted No. 1 seed.
Seton Hall went 21-9 overall (13-5 Big East), and in ESPN’s most recent version of bracketology was a No. 3 seed. Oregon went 24-7 (13-5 Pac-12) and had a spot on the No. 4 line. Iowa was 20-11 (11-9 Big Ten) and a No. 6 seed. Marquette went 18-12 (8-10 Big East) and could’ve met KU in the second round as a No. 9 seed.
Did Garza, Powell, Howard and Pritchard all have more impactful seasons than Azubuike, whose defensive dominance and force of nature offensive presence inside helped KU become the favorite to win it all in 2020?
Were all four of them really more effective than Dotson, who was a blur on both ends of the floor and got to the paint for layups and drawn fouls more than many bigs, helping KU enter the canceled postseason on a 16-game winning streak?
It’s complicated, and there are nuances, and that’s why KU went without an AP first-teamer, even though, for instance, ESPN.com’s All-America lists from Jeff Borzello had both Azubuike and Dotson on the first team.
Some AP voters clearly recognized how great KU became because of its two stars. Dotson picked up 30 first-team votes and Azubuike had 22. Compare that to the first-team votes for the other three AP second-teamers and the respect is obvious. San Diego State’s Malachi Flynn had 12, Michigan State’s Cassius Winston picked up nine and Duke’s Vernon Carey Jr. garnered three.
The voting process gave Dotson 237 points and Azubuike 235, so they weren’t too far behind the final two members of the first team, Powell (37 first-team votes, 261 points) and Pritchard (37 first-team votes, 259 points). Toppin (325 points) was a unanimous selection. Garza (321 points) showed up on the first team on 63 ballots. Howard (279 points) received 43 first-team votes.
While there are far greater issues to worry about these days than college basketball honors, the relatively worst part of these second-team results for Azubuike and Dotson is they don’t have the chance to go out and prove themselves as first-team talents with most of America watching. Not that even that would’ve mattered much to those two. They were more invested in winning a national championship than individual numbers.