By Brian Hamilton
May 07, 2014

Nick JohnsonNick Johnson averaged 16.3 points and led the Wildcats to the Elite Eight in his junior season. (Jeff Gross/Getty)

Most of the college basketball postseason award balloting takes place before the actual postseason. Success in the regular season defines the choice for player of the year, for example, and that's why Creighton star Doug McDermott hauled in a barge-load of trophies and plaques for his prolific 2013-14 season.

But taking into consideration the NCAA tournament as well, was McDermott's senior year the best senior year? Here's a class-by-class look at the top seasons in college basketball:

Best senior season: Shabazz Napier, Connecticut

The difference between what Napier meant to his team and what McDermott meant to his team is actually fractional, by one measure. No player in the country was worth more wins to his team than Connecticut's senior guard, going by Napier's Win Shares total of 7.9. (The statistic measures how many victories are attributable to a player's offensive and defensive contributions). McDermott was second with 7.7. But the Creighton star was at the Final Four to collect a couple player of the year awards while Napier was there ultimately to win a national championship. The Huskies guard led his team in scoring (18.0), assists (4.9) and steals (1.8) while finishing a very close second in rebounding (5.9 per game to DeAndre Daniels' 6.0). His 3.1 defensive Win Shares tied for seventh nationally. Napier was more involved in every aspect of Connecticut's success, and he hoisted the national title trophy at the end.

Best junior season: Nick Johnson, Arizona

It's a close call between Arizona's star guard and Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky, who enjoyed a breakout season that earned him All-Big Ten honors and helped the Badgers reach the Final Four – with Wisconsin downing Arizona in overtime of the West Region final to get there. But advancing one game further via a one-point overtime win isn't quite enough to push past Johnson, who won the Pac-12 player of the year award and who earned a spot as a second-team AP All-American. He averaged 16.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game while positioned at the top of a defense that finished No. 1 nationally in adjusted efficiency, per Johnson's defensive win shares total of 3.0 trailed teammates Aaron Gordon (3.3) and T.J. McConnell (3.2) but still tied for 11th nationally. He was all over the floor all year for one of the best teams all season, even if the run ended before a trip to North Texas.

Best sophomore season: Fred VanVleet, Wichita State

The end was undeniably glum: A 35-0 team with a No. 1 seed losing in the round of 32 to No. 8 seed Kentucky, and on VanVleet's missed three-pointer at the buzzer to boot. But the Shockers' season, and the sophomore point guard's part in it, can't be overshadowed by the disappointing final scene. Wichita State's 35 straight wins to start a season represented an NCAA record. VanVleet, meanwhile, averaged 14.7 points, 6.8 assists and 2.4 steals per game as the floor general for it all. His Win Shares total of 7.2 tied for sixth in the country, making him one of the most valuable players in the country for one of the most remarkable teams of the year.

Best freshman season: Julius Randle, Kentucky

The 6-foot-9 double-double machine did not achieve the level of individual recognition enjoyed by classmates Jabari Parker of Duke and Andrew Wiggins of Kansas. Parker was a first-team All-American and Wiggins found a spot on the second team. But Randle was arguably as valuable or even more so for a team that reached the SEC tournament final (where it fell to Florida) and then surged unexpectedly to the national championship game (where it lost to Connecticut). Randle averaged 15.0 points and 10.4 rebounds per game while shooting 50 percent from the floor, recording 27 double-doubles and earning first-team All-SEC honors. And his Win Shares total of 5.9 actually eclipsed that of Parker (5.5) and Wiggins (4.9).

Best graduate student season: DeAndre Kane, Iowa State


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