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Andy Wittry | NCAA.com | November 4, 2020

What it takes to win the Bob Cousy Award as college basketball's best point guard

Top 15 point guards in contention for the Bob Cousy Award

The 2021 Bob Cousy Award watch list was just released and some of the biggest names in the sport were included, including Baylor's Jared Butler, Illinois's Ayo Dosunmu, Kansas's Marcus Garrett, Villanova's Collin Gillespie and more.

The 2020-21 men's basketball season will mark the 18th season in which the Bob Cousy Award is given to the country's top point guard. I analyzed the statistical production and team success of past recipients to help identify the kind of players who win this award and who has the best chance of winning it in 2021.

Here are some of our main takeaways:

  • While not always, the Bob Cousy Award winner is often the leading scorer on his team. Traditionally, assists might be the first statistic associated with a point guard and, yes, that's important, but the modern, elite point guard often orchestrates his team's offense, while carrying the heaviest scoring load, too.
  • The Bob Cousy Award winner is almost guaranteed to come from an NCAA tournament that finishes the season ranked in the top 20 of the AP Top 25. Excluding Oregon's Payton Pritchard, whose Ducks team was on pace to make the 2020 NCAA Tournament before it was canceled, every other Bob Cousy Award winner's team has made the tournament. Former Murray State point guard Ja Morant, who won the award in 2019, is the only exception to the top-20 finish rule, but his Racers had the last laugh with a big win over No. 5 seed Marquette in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
  • Bob Cousy Award winners are typically very good, if not elite, shooters. Similar to the first bullet point about Bob Cousy Award winners often leading their team in scoring, we might not always associate strong point guard play with lights-out 3-point shooting or above-average finishing inside the arc. But that's the reality.

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Here are past Bob Cousy Award winners

These players have won the Bob Cousy Award since it was first awarded in the 2003-04 season.

season player school
2019-20 Payton Pritchard Oregon
2018-19 Ja Morant Murray State
2017-18 Jalen Brunson Villanova
2016-17 Frank Mason III Kansas
2015-16 Tyler Ulis Kentucky
2014-15 Delon Wright Utah
2013-14 Shabazz Napier UConn
2012-13 Trey Burke Michigan
2011-12 Kendall Marshall North Carolina
2010-11 Kemba Walker UConn
2009-10 Greivis Vasquez Maryland
2008-09 Ty Lawson North Carolina
2007-08 D.J. Augustin Texas
2006-07 Acie Law Texas A&M
2005-06 Dee Brown Illinois
2004-05 Raymond Felton North Carolina
2003-04 Jameer Nelson Saint Joseph's

Here's the team success for past winners

The baseline requirements for winning the Bob Cousy Award have historically been to play for a team that makes the NCAA tournament and enters the tournament ranked in the top 20 of the AP poll. But, really, the bar is even higher.

On average, past Bob Cousy Award winners' teams have won 29.7 games, received an NCAA tournament seed of 3.4 and had a final AP poll ranking of 9.1.

In a typical men's basketball season, there are somewhere around 10 teams that win 30 games — sometimes more — and the Bob Cousy Award winner's team is either in that exclusive club, or within shouting distance of it. Ten of the 17 winners of the award have played for a 30-game winner, including eight of the first 11.

Ja Morant's Murray State team changed the parameters as the No. 12-seeded Racers marked the worst NCAA tournament seed for a Bob Cousy Award winner, which was five seeds worse than the previous low-water mark of Shabazz Napier's No. 7-seeded UConn Huskies in 2014.

Thirteen of the first 16 Bob Cousy Award winners played for a team that earned a protected seed in the NCAA tournament (meaning a No. 1 seed through a No. 4 seed), including six players whose team earned a No. 1 seed.

Five of the 17 Bob Cousy Award winners won the national championship in their award-winning season — North Carolina's Raymond Felton (2005) and Ty Lawson (2009), UConn's Kemba Walker (2011) and Shabazz Napier (2014), and Villanova's Jalen Brunson.

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Points, production and prosperous percentages

A Bob Cousy Award winner averages 18.0 points, 6.2 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game, based on the production of the last 17 winners. Really, it's rare for a player to win the award after averaging less than 15 points per game, as North Carolina's Ty Lawson and Kendall Marshall, Illinois's Dee Brown, and Utah's Delon Wright are the only exceptions. The two Tar Heels played on teams that were No. 1 seeds, loaded with talent, and Lawson and Marshall ran the show offensively.

Brown's Illinois team lost in the national championship to Felton's North Carolina team the year before Brown won the Bob Cousy Award, so even though most of his team and individual metrics were lower than the averages of Bob Cousy Award winners — Illinois won 26 games and earned a No. 4 seed, while Brown averaged 14.2 points, 5.8 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game — he was absolutely a standout player returning from a great college team.

Brown's shooting percentages (40.7 2-point percentage, 32 3-point percentage) and offensive rating (103.6) also serve as the low-marks for past Bob Cousy Award winners, who have averaged 50.4-percent shooting inside the arc, 39-percent shooting from behind the arc and an offensive rating of 118.4.

The last four winners have made at least half of their 2-point shots, including Brunson's ridiculous 59.9-percent 2-point shooting. Even if you expect a top point guard to spend a lot of his time on offense outside of the arc, history says a Bob Cousy Award winner better be able to score inside, and score efficiently.

There's also been a bit of a resurgence in elite 3-point shooting among Bob Cousy Award winners. Three of the last four and four of the last seven have shot at least 30 percent from three, including Kansas's Frank Mason III making 47.1 percent of his threes.

For all these reasons, Bob Cousy Award winners are typically among the most efficient scorers in the country. When consulting the offensive rating of these players, courtesy of kenpom.com, they typically post a rating of at least 110. You can think of offensive rating as the number of points a player's team averages when the player makes the decisive action that ends an offensive possession, such as a made shot, a missed shot rebounded by the defense or a turnover. An offensive rating of 110 translates to an average of 1.10 points per possession and last season, the national average for offensive rating was 102.4, so 110 is well-above average.

The gold standard for offensive rating for a Bob Cousy Award winner is North Carolina's Ty Lawson, who led the country in offensive rating in 2005 with a rating of 134.3. That's a mark that may never be broken for the nation's top point guard.

In five of the last six seasons and in six of the last eight, the Bob Cousy Award winner has finished the season with an offensive rating of at least 120, including Jalen Brunson's 128.5 rating, and offensive ratings north of 120 will typically ranking in the top 50 to 70 nationally.

If you're trying to identify who the next Bob Cousy Award winner will be, your best bet is to find an efficient, 3-point shooting point guard who will average more than 15 points per game for a top-20 team.

Here's the complete data set used for this story. Scroll to the right to view the complete spreadsheet.

Here are the players on the 2020-21 Bob Cousy Award preseason watch list:

Player Name School
Remy Martin Arizona State
Jared Butler Baylor
McKinley Wright IV Colorado
Marcus Zegarowski Creighton
Jalen Crutcher Dayton
Scottie Barnes Florida State
Jalen Suggs Gonzaga
Ayo Dosunmu Illinois
Marcus Garrett Kansas
Javonte Smart LSU
Cade Cunningham Oklahoma State
Colbey Ross Pepperdine
Fats Russell Rhode Island
Jacob Gilyard Richmond
Geo Baker Rutgers
Bryce Aiken Seton Hall
Matt Coleman III Texas
Collin Gillespie Villinova
Kihei Clark Virginia
D'Mitrik Trice Wisconsin

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