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Postseason awards: Obi Toppin is the Mid-Major Madness Player of the Year

The redshirt sophomore dunked, dazzled and drove Dayton to one of the most memorable seasons in program history.

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North Florida v Dayton Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

As we enter the offseason, we’re honoring the best players, coaches, teams, and games from the 2019-20 season, continuing today with the Mid-Major Madness Player of the Year.

Could it be anyone else? Led by the Mid-Major Madness Coach of the Year and playing for one of the best teams in the country, Dayton sophomore Obi Toppin is the 2020 Mid-Major Madness Player of the Year.

Every college basketball fan remembers at least one Obi Toppin moment.

Pick an Obi Toppin moment — don’t worry, there’s no wrong answer. Any one of Toppin’s nation-leading 107 dunks is fair game. Perhaps the time he scored Dayton’s first 14 points against a Georgia team led by future lottery pick Anthony Edwards is a standout moment — especially for NBA heads. Or the time he stared down the Kansas bench after launching a three. Or the time he said he’d put his younger brother Jacob on SportsCenter and he did so with a jaw-dropping windmill.

Although one could make a strong argument that Toppin should be the player of the year for making the simplest plays look extraordinary, his sophomore season checked all of the boxes. His statistics were superb, his NBA Draft stock soared and he played for a team that had legitimate Final Four and national title hopes.

Simply put, he’s so damn good.

While picturing a Toppin-led Dayton team in 2020 NCAA Tournament will always be a what if, his impact on the regular season is a no-brainer. Toppin’s national emergence was the centerpiece of a historic season that saw several school records fall, Dayton fly to third in the AP Poll and finish a perfect 18-0 in Atlantic 10 play. Individually, despite the accolades like the Naismith and Associated Press Player of the Year awards he already won, Toppin’s basketball could be ahead of him. The redshirt sophomore is projected to be a surefire lottery pick — and potentially the highest-picked Flyer in NBA Draft history.

From now until the NBA Draft, the following statistics will be on most GM, draftnik and fan’s minds. Toppin averaged 20.0 PPG on 67.4 eFG%, the third best in the nation. He led the A-10 in a myriad of statistical categories, including points (621), field goals (245) and field goal percentage (63.3%). Lest anyone labels him as just a scorer, Toppin averaged 7.5 RPG, 1.2 blocks and had eight double-doubles. Off-nights were nonexistent: he shot at least 50% in all but three games, and shot over 70% in 11 — chief among those was a 23 point, 12 rebound outing against Davidson, in which he finished 10-11 from the field.

All told, he was the most efficient volume scorer in the nation’s best offense (in terms of effective field goal percentage). And without Toppin, the latter wouldn’t have happened.

But his stats only tell half the story. Everyone remembers Toppin’s dunks.

Tune into any Dayton game, and it was evident that Toppin is the son of a New York City streetball legend. His dunking prowess — ranging from acrobatic windmills to thunderous tomahawk jams, to all of the damn-near unguardable alley-oops Anthony Grant drew up — made him college basketball’s heir apparent to viral sensation Zion Williamson. Unsurprisingly, Toppin was a staple on SportsCenter’s Top 10; a spot in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest is inevitable.

Yet Toppin was far from a one-trick pony. Toppin coupled all of emphatic dunks and uncanny speed in transition with skillful passing and nimble footwork in Grant’s ball-screen continuity offense. The former might be his most important pro skill: ESPN’s Jeff Borzello asked several coaches about what sets Dayton apart, and one Atlantic 10 coach mentioned Toppin’s unselfish play.

“He doesn’t force shots, he accepts double teams and then passes out of it,” one Atlantic 10 coach said. “And he can get up over you and score anytime he wants. Whether he’s on the perimeter or in the low post, it puts you in a predicament in terms of how to guard them.

Opposing defenses faced a conundrum while playing Dayton: Should they give more attention to Toppin and let his teammates — who were quite good, mind you — beat him, or play him straight-up and risk Toppin shredding them himself? That dilemma was often put to rest quickly. Regardless of what opposing defenses did, Toppin put opponents on the wrong end of a highlight reel in virtually every scoring situation.

Although he gave the Flyers two unforgettable seasons, his best years of basketball are ahead of him.

Toppin declared for the NBA Draft on March 25, and for good reason: He’s 6th in SB Nation’s latest mock draft, 8th on CBS Sports’ Big Board and 9th on both Sports Illustrated and ESPN’s latest projections — the latter of whom lists him as the best power forward available. He will undoubtedly be the first Flyer to be picked in the first round of the NBA Draft since Jim Paxson was picked 12th in 1979, however he also has an outside shot of being the highest-drafted Flyer ever. Right now Johnny Horan, the 6th pick in the 1955 NBA Draft, has that honor. It would be all-too fitting for Toppin to break another Dayton record on his way out.

Of course, there’s substantial hype surrounding Toppin’s offensive skillset, but his improved range and passing ability will help him carve out a role as a stretch-four at the next level. Lost amongst the windmills, posterizing dunks and consistent post play, Toppin connected on 32 of 82 attempts from beyond the arc after taking only 21 total threes as a freshman.

Nevertheless, Toppin’s brief time as a Flyer was one of the most electrifying and dominant careers in recent memory. In an age when one-and-done players usually take center stage and player development is a term reserved for four-year players, Toppin’s emergence from a 6’2 junior in high school to a bonafide NBA talent is an anomaly. And although the 2020 college basketball season will forever have an asterisk, there’s no caveat to Toppin’s sophomore campaign. Just don’t tell Iowa fans.