National player of the year is a one-man race

So, after all the chatter and the discussion and the analyzing, there actually was no race at all for national player of the year.

Kevin Durant will make Ronald Reagan's 1984 victory over Walter Mondale look close.

Sure, the hardware hasn't begun to be doled out just yet. The voting for the Oscar Robertson, Wooden, Naismith, AP and Rupp awards still is not finalized. Yet there doesn't seem to be even a chase, let alone a race.

Texas coach Rick Barnes was right from the beginning of the season, when he boldly showed up at Big 12 media day with a freshman -- something Big 12 publicists said at the time never had happened before in a major conference. The Texas coach proudly proclaimed that he had the best player in the country.

You know what? He was right.

The Adam Morrison-J.J. Redick daily debate of a year ago was a great story, especially as they tussled for the national scoring lead. And, for a spell this season, there appeared to be some sort of competition between Durant and Wisconsin's Alando Tucker. But in the past month, that turned into the tortoise and the hare, and you can guess which one is which.

"Ask any college coach in the country, 'Who would you want, of any player?' and I promise you that 100 percent of them would say Kevin Durant," Barnes said. "Last year, it was clear-cut [with Morrison and Redick] and maybe it shouldn't have been so early in the season.

"But I'm telling you that no one, no one has had the year that Kevin Durant has had. I don't think it's a race. I really don't. I don't want to take away anything from those other guys, but the kid has had a great season."

Let's deal with the stats first: Durant is fifth in the country in scoring at 25.1 points a game and tied for third in rebounding at 11.4. He's had nine 30-plus point games -- all in the Big 12. He has blocked 55 shots, picked up 54 steals, shot 48.5 percent from the field, 80.1 percent at the free-throw line and 42.9 percent on 3s. Oh, he also averaged 35.2 minutes a game and played 40-plus six times, including 52 minutes in a triple-overtime loss at Oklahoma State. You can argue about his defensive aggressiveness if you like, but Durant never fouled out of a game in the regular season, and committed four fouls only three times.

Those are the hard numbers. Barnes, though, makes a pretty strong argument about Durant's overall importance to the rest of his team.

Tucker has veteran help. So, too, do UCLA's Arron Afflalo, Nevada's Nick Fazekas and Texas A&M's Acie Law IV. Durant had A.J. Abrams, a sophomore guard. That's not to minimize the impact of fellow freshmen D.J. Augustin, Damion James and Justin Mason, but Abrams was about it for quality, experienced help as Durant carried Texas to the verge of the Big 12 title before falling at Kansas by four Saturday and finishing third.

"We lost everybody, and now we're going to our eighth [actually ninth] straight NCAA Tournament," Barnes said. "Kevin did it with inexperience all around him. There was no one for him to rely on."

Let's be honest here: Just like Morrison and Redick, Durant is entertainment. He has market value in college basketball. Of all the quality players listed above, all of whom had stellar seasons, Durant is probably the one person the mainstream fan would pay to see. He is a phenomenon this season because of his freakish ability to score and make it seem so easy -- in the post, on the drive, or from the 3-point line and beyond. And, if a rebound is needed, Durant always seems to be in position despite his slight frame.

This also isn't a case where he's just a scoring fiend on a bad team. Texas played for the Big 12 title and has a real shot to go deep in the NCAA Tournament, let alone in the Big 12 tourney this week.

Any debate within the league was erased Monday when Durant beat out Law for conference player of the year. If he can handle Law in the league, there shouldn't be anyone else who can stop him nationally.

Few things this season have been this predictable, yet for the longest time, no one wanted to project Durant as a lock to win both the freshman and national player of the year awards. Now, here we are, the regular season is over, and there isn't even a peep out of any other camps. Durant might as well be running unopposed.

Some coaches don't like to pump their players too much. Others overhype them and set them up for a fall. Barnes should get credit for reading this one. He was wired in on Durant from day one. He knew the kid was the best player he would coach. He was convinced that Durant would be the top player in the country.

"Kevin Durant walked on this campus with no experience here, no one to teach him the work ethic," Barnes said. "He had seven new guys, and they did it against a schedule where we would play anybody, anywhere. He's done it night in and night out and seen every imaginable defense.

"Everyone talks about his scoring, rebounds and blocking shots, but no one talks about the way he carries himself and how it rubs off on everybody else," Barnes said. "Great players make those around them better. And he does that."

Sure, there have been games when Durant might have forced a few shots. Seriously, though, which guy would you want to have the ball if you needed a bucket? You can squawk all you want about Tucker's leadership or Law's late-game heroics or Greg Oden and the need for a true center, but the reality is that Durant was a game changer this season. He stuffed seats at home and on the road, performed at an extraordinary level, and was an asset too valuable to diminish with anything less than the sport's top honor -- player of the year.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.