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JWS NCAA awards: Our picks for Player of the Year, All-Americans, more

South Carolina's Aliyah Boston (Gerry Melendez/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

The 2021-22 college basketball season is almost over. The Final Four is days away, and soon we will crown an NCAA Tournament champion.

But before anyone cuts down the nets in Minneapolis, there are individual awards to hand out. Here are my picks for the top players and coach in college basketball this season:

Player of the Year

Aliyah Boston, Junior, F, South Carolina

A few weeks ago, I broke down the cases for Caitlin Clark and Aliyah Boston in the Player of the Year race. I settled on Boston as my POY, and that hasn’t changed. I won’t rehash the entire argument, but I will say this: If you aren’t sure why Boston should win the award, turn on a replay of South Carolina’s Elite Eight win over North Carolina and settle into your spot on the couch. Her performance in that game tells you everything you need to know.

Boston’s 28-point and 22-rebound performance epitomizes exactly what she has brought to the court all season. The junior’s ability to block and alter shots, and altogether change the way South Carolina’s opponents play by making them avoid the paint, make her the clear choice for this award.

Defensive Player of the Year

Aliyah Boston, Junior, F, South Carolina

A big part of Boston’s POY campaign has been her defense, so my gut was telling me all season that she should win Defensive Player of the Year as well. Stanford’s Cameron Brink is also a solid contender, so here is a statistical breakdown of the two.

Per Her Hoop Stats, Boston averages 11.7 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes compared to Brink’s 10, and 1.8 steals to Brink’s 1.6. The Stanford sophomore ranks better in blocked shots, with 4.8 per 40 minutes, compared to Boston’s 3.5, but the category that truly tips this race in Boston’s favor is fouls. She averages just two fouls in 40 minutes of action, while Brink averages 5.1. In order to make a defensive impact, you have to stay on the floor, and South Carolina’s star is able to do that.

Coach of the Year

Wes Moore, NC State

In his ninth season as NC State head coach, Wes Moore put together his best performance. The Wolfpack recorded their best record during his tenure (32-4) and won the ACC regular season in 32 years. And after three straight Sweet 16s, Moore — who was named ACC Coach of the Year — led his team to the Elite Eight for just the second time in program history. The first came in 1998. NC State was consistent all season, losing just four games and finishing the year on a 13-game win streak that ended with a thrilling double-overtime loss to UConn on Monday.

Freshman of the Year

Olivia Miles, G, Notre Dame

Every play for Notre Dame can be traced back to freshman point guard Olivia Miles. Her passing, decision-making and ability to dictate the flow of a game are all reasons why she’s my Freshman of the Year. Miles averaged 13.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game, the latter of which ranks second in the country behind Iowa’s Caitlin Clark. She also led Notre Dame to the Sweet 16, the program’s first under second-year coach Niele Ivey.

All-American First Team

Aliyah Boston, Junior, F, South Carolina

16.8 points, 12.2 rebounds, 2.5 blocks

Based on my previous choice for POY and DPOY, Boston heading up the All-American team doesn’t need any more of an explanation.

Caitlin Clark, Sophomore, G, Iowa

27.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 8.0 assists

Clark led the country in both assists and points per game this year, and her scoring prowess is unmatched. She can shoot logo 3-pointers, finish off balance at the rim and score in the mid range.

Haley Jones, Junior, G, Stanford

12.9 points, 3.7 assists, 7.8 rebounds

Jones has been the anchor for a Stanford team that is playing in the Final Four for the second year in a row. She does a little bit of everything for the Cardinal, while also posing a serious mismatch for opponents thanks to her versatility as a scorer.

Rhyne Howard, Senior, G, Kentucky

20.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists

Throughout the season, Howard showcased her basketball IQ and offensive skill while leading Kentucky in scoring. The senior creates her own shot better than almost anyone else in the country.

NaLyssa Smith, Senior, F, Baylor

22.1 points, 11.5 rebounds, 1.1 blocks

Smith led Baylor offensively with her ability to face up and create from the free-throw line. The Bears played through Smith and counted on her to rebound and score in every contest.

All-American Second Team

Elissa Cunane, Senior, C, NC State
Cameron Brink, Sophomore, F, Stanford
Ashley Joens, Senior, G/F, Iowa State
Maddy Siegrist, Junior, F, Villanova
Ayoka Lee, Senior, C, Kansas State

All-American Third Team

Aneesah Morrow, Freshman, F, DePaul
Kierstan Bell, Junior, G, Florida Gulf Coast
Khayla Pointer, Grad Student, G, LSU
Angel Reese, Sophomore, F/G, Maryland
Elizabeth Kitley, Senior, C, Virginia Tech

Eden Laase is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. She previously ran her own high school sports website in Michigan after covering college hockey and interning at Sports Illustrated. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.