The finalists for the 2020 Naismith Men’s and Women’s Defensive Player of The Year Awards will soon learn who will win the prestigious awards given annually by the Atlanta Tipoff Club. The winners will be announced live Wednesday at noon ET on CBS Sports HQ.
Each of the finalists posted impressive individual defensive statistics and helped their teams to stellar seasons. While the coronavirus pandemic cut the college basketball season short before champions could be crowned, it doesn’t take much imagination to envision how any of the eight teams represented here could have advanced deep into the NCAA Tournament.
That’s largely because of the defensive contributions the finalists made through steals, blocks and the heart-and-soul plays that cannot be quantified in a box score but contribute to the winning fabric of a top team.
Here’s the breakdown on those in the running for the awards given to the best defender in men’s and women’s college basketball.
Naismith Men’s Defensive Player of the Year finalists
Marcus Garrett, Kansas: The junior wing won Big 12 Defensive Player of The Year after averaging 1.8 steals per game as a versatile, lockdown defender for the nation’s No. 1 team. Kansas allowed just 59.2 points per game in Big 12 play, which was best in the league.
Ashton Hagans, Kentucky: Among a trio of Kentucky guards that led the Wildcats to a dominant 15-3 campaign in the SEC, Hagans stood out for his defense. The 6-foot-3 sophomore averaged 1.9 steals per game on his way to earning a spot on the league’s All-Defensive team a year after he won the league’s Defensive Player of The Year award.
Tre Jones, Duke: The ACC Defensive Player of The Year averaged 1.8 steals per game while also facilitating the Blue Devils’ offense. Duke finished the year ranked eighth in the ACC in points allowed. But that was largely a product of the team’s up-tempo style. With Jones leading the way, the Blue Devils were second in the ACC in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.
Mark Vital, Baylor: The multi-positional redshirt junior averaged 1.7 steals per game for a Baylor team that finished 26-4 and just behind Kansas for fewest points per game allowed in Big 12 play. Vital made the league’s All-Defensive team and was the heart and soul for one of the Bears’ best seasons in program history.
Naismith Women’s Defensive Player of the Year finalists
Aliyah Boston, South Carolina: Boston amassed 86 blocks and 42 steals to anchor a South Carolina defense that dominated opponents on the way to a 32-1 record and final No. 1 ranking. Oh by the way, she was only a freshman. The SEC’s Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of The Year is on early pace to be one of the game’s all-time greats.
Aari McDonald, Arizona: McDonald averaged an astounding 2.3 steals per game while also scoring 20.6 points per game to lead an Arizona team that finished 24-7. The Pac-12 Defensive Player of The Year had the Wildcats in position to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2005 until the event was cancelled.
DiDi, Richards, Baylor: The Bears’ junior wing is already the Big 12 Defensive Player of The Year and Women’s Basketball Coaches Association’s National Defensive Player of the Year after averaging 1.7 steals and 0.8 blocks per game. Now she could be in line for even more hardware after helping the Bears to a 28-2 record.
Kylee Shook, Louisville: The ACC Defensive Player of The Year finished her career as Louisville’s all-time leader in blocks with 223 after adding a career-high 80 in just 28 games as a senior. Shook also averaged a steal per game while helping lead the Cardinals to a 28-4 record as she transitioned to a full-time starting role for the first time in her career.