Editor's note: The NCAA on March 12 called off its men's and women's basketball tournaments as part of a complete cancellation of all remaining spring and winter championships.
March Madness might have a very different feel to it this season as NCAA tournaments will be played without fans. But mid-March also means it's time to take a look at the coaches and players who have most left their mark on what has already been an unforgettable season. Is anyone surprised that begins with Oregon senior Sabrina Ionescu?
So before Selection Monday arrives and the bracket takes shape, our panel of experts -- Mechelle Voepel, Graham Hays and Charlie Creme -- voted for the ESPN.com 2019-20 women's basketball award winners.
Jump to each award:
Player of the Year: Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon
Sabrina Ionescu came to Oregon with the highest of hopes -- and she'll be leaving with the highest of praise. Ionescu led the Ducks to their second Pac-12 tournament title last weekend, and was named the event's MVP after totaling 70 points, 27 assists and 28 rebounds in three games.
"She's like that conductor of the orchestra," Oregon coach Kelly Graves said.
Indeed, the Ducks looked as if every instrument were perfectly in tune Sunday when they beat Stanford 89-56 in the Pac-12 title game in Las Vegas. Everyone for Oregon played well, and Ionescu was a big key to that. She was a very effective scorer the entire tournament while still being Oregon's top playmaker. And she worked the boards hard, too, as usual, despite being a 5-foot-11 guard.
"She's definitely an amazing player. She's very smart," Utah's Brynna Maxwell said after the Utes fell 79-59 to the Ducks in the quarterfinals. "She can make reads that, I mean, are insane. And it is almost impossible to guard her in the pick-and-roll because they're so good at making those reads."
Ionescu, Oregon rout Stanford to win Pac-12 championship
Sabrina Ionescu dominates with 20 points and 12 assists in Oregon's Pac-12 championship win over Stanford.
It's all part of why Ionescu is the espnW national player of the year. The expectations for her this season were sky-high, and she hasn't disappointed. There was her 30-point performance as Oregon upset the U.S. national team in November. A season-high 37 points against Stanford in January. Getting her NCAA-leading 26th career triple-double and hitting the 2,000-point, 1,000-rebound, 1,000-assist mark against the Cardinal on Feb. 24, the same day she eulogized her friends Kobe and Gianna Bryant.
And there was another statement victory in there, too, when Oregon went to UConn on Feb. 3 and handed the Huskies their worst loss ever at Gampel Pavilion, 74-56. That was a pretty average game for Ionescu -- 10 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists -- but nonetheless she impressed UConn coach Geno Auriemma. He complimented how quickly Oregon had climbed the ladder of national success under Graves, and how much Ionescu has had to do with that.
"You get a generational-type player like Sabrina, that kind of accelerates the process," Auriemma said. "She's just smart; she waits for you to make a mistake. A lot of guards, they go so fast, they don't give you a chance to make a mistake. She goes at a pace where she waits and waits and waits ... and when you screw up, she takes advantage of it."
Ionescu, who is expected to be the first pick in April's WNBA draft, said she thinks what she has improved the most on in her time at Oregon is not just making reads on court, but being able to read her teammates.
"I understand when we need to get someone going, and why we need to," Ionescu said. "Really just trying to figure out what makes them go, and the confidence that they need scoring-wise in order for us to succeed.
"Every player has a different level of motivation that they need in order to continue to produce. I'm trying to be the best leader I can."
Ionescu leads the Ducks at 17.5 points per game, with fellow senior Ruthy Hebard at 17.3 and junior Satou Sabally at 16.2. Oregon leads the nation in offensive efficiency, as Ionescu also averages 9.1 assists.
"I would say she does everything that she expects of others," Sabally said of Ionesu's leadership skills. "She wouldn't ask anything of you that she wouldn't do herself. She always pushes other people and gets them to evolve. People look up to her." -- ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel
Coach of the Year: Dawn Staley, South Carolina
When South Carolina beat UConn in mid-February, Dawn Staley called it a win for the Gamecocks' culture. Despite a national championship in 2017, this team had done something no other South Carolina team had by beating the Huskies. A huge weight that not even a title could lift was now gone.
Something had changed. This team was different. It was special. Staley had put together perhaps the best team she has had in her 12 seasons in Columbia and the players were just figuring that out.
Staley should be given credit as a constructor as much as she should as a coach.
It began when she and her staff landed 2019's No. 1 recruiting class. That was step one, but perhaps the easiest.
Incorporating that young talent with her remaining veterans and defining roles for a group of players that had all been stars at the high school level could have proven problematic. Staley saw to it that it never was.
Staley 'never' had a team like these Gamecocks
South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley says this year's team is unlike any other, thanks in part to the leadership and maturity of senior Tyasha Harris.
She made the decision to start three of the freshmen -- Aliyah Boston, Zia Cooke, Brea Beal -- and it worked instantly. South Carolina became the No. 1 team in the country in mid-January and just kept getting better. The Gamecocks are 32-1, swept through the SEC regular season and tournament undefeated, and will undoubtedly head into the NCAA tournament as the top overall seed.
Starting the freshmen was hardly Staley's only good decision. A three-time All-American point guard herself at Virginia, Staley made the call to turn this Gamecocks' team over to her senior point guard Ty Harris, to really trust her. Harris proved to be the glue that bonded this talented team into a unified juggernaut.
Staley also convinced another senior, Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, who had decided she was unhappy at South Carolina and was going to transfer, to ultimately stay in Columbia. Herbert Harrigan became the foundation of this team's toughness, the Gamecocks' second-leading scorer, the SEC tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
Staley didn't even think this roster of youth and veterans would come together as quickly as it did, but she helped make the pieces fit perfectly. Now Staley is presiding over a team that some experts consider to be the most complete group in the country, not a weakness to be found, and a favorite to win another national championship. -- ESPN.com's Charlie Creme
Rookie of the Year: Aliyah Boston, South Carolina
Records are all about context. The wettest day in Death Valley is not really all that damp. And at a lot of schools, the freshman blocked shots record might not be much of a measure of success.
South Carolina is not most schools. And Aliyah Boston didn't break just any record when she surpassed previous record holder Alaina Coates with games to spare in the regular season.
"Honestly, we didn't think that would ever get done," South Carolina coach Dawn Staley told The State. "I mean, we didn't say that out loud, but to have a freshman that's that imposing, (someone like that) doesn't come ... along every day, every year."
The 6-foot-5 Boston introduced herself to college basketball with a triple-double in her debut, complementing double-digit points and rebounds with double-digit blocks. She hasn't looked back, with many left in her wake as the nation's most impressive freshman.
Her opening triple-double came against overmatched Alabama State, but Boston has often saved her best for some of South Carolina's most challenging games. She controlled the paint with 20 points and 13 rebounds in a win against Baylor over Thanksgiving. She put up 19 points and 25 rebounds against Arkansas, and 21 points and 12 rebounds against Mississippi State.
She enters the NCAA tournament averaging 12.5 points, and as South Carolina's leading rebounder (9.4 RPG) and shot blocker (2.5 BPG), while shooting better than 60% from the field. And, remarkably for a freshman post player, she totals almost as many assists and turnovers.
More than the numbers, Boston held up her end of the bargain in providing South Carolina with a presence. The Gamecocks have leadership and production from seniors Tyasha Harris and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, but any championship aspirations this season were always going to turn on how well a heralded incoming class adjusted to college basketball. They had to give those few veterans something with which to work. They had to be special.
No freshman in the country has been more special than Boston. -- ESPN.com's Graham Hays
Mid-major Player of the Year: Ciara Duffy, South Dakota
Ciara Duffy has been playing college basketball longer than just about anyone. Or perhaps more accurately, when it comes to someone with three sisters who either are playing in college or played in the past, she has competed against college talent longer than most of her peers.
So while a lot of players will say they don't deal particularly well with losing, South Dakota's senior star is well-versed in what is required to avoid it whenever possible.
"She's someone who wants to win in every drill in practice -- who prepares herself to win drills by getting up extra shots and putting in time on her own," South Dakota coach Dawn Plitzuweit said. "We do a lot of competitive drills in practice, but even when we're not, she's counting and competing at the same time."
And if a lot of athletes are competitive, few are as good at it as Duffy. As proof, South Dakota entered the Summit League tournament with a 108-24 record in Duffy's reign, her masterpiece-in-progress an unbeaten conference record and No. 17 ranking in the AP poll this season.
Blending that single-minded focus with a multidimensional game makes her the best player in the mid-major ranks and among the more underrated across all ranks. A 6-foot guard, Duffy leads the Coyotes in scoring at better than 17 points per game, but few No. 1 options are more efficient than one shooting better than 50% from the field, 45% from the 3-point line and 80% from the free throw line.
She's efficient because even in a season when so much is on her shoulders, she has never been more willing to set up others. After averaging 2.7 assists her first three seasons, Duffy leads her team and the Summit League at 5.3 assists per game this season. And just for good measure, she's averaging a career-best 5.6 rebounds.
It's easy to try and do too much. Doing exactly as much as it's possible for you to do is special.
"She's got size, length, the ability to shoot it, she passes it really well, she can post up and score, she can score in the midrange game," Plitzuweit said. "She can do everything. On the defensive end she can guard on the perimeter, she can guard inside. She truly is what we would call a prototype because she can play anywhere on the floor for us at any given time." -- ESPN.com's Graham Hays