College football has finally ended, which means it’s time for fans of amateur sports to turn their attention to basketball. And given that there are plenty of fans who tend not to fully tune into college hoops until football ends, that means it’s the perfect time to give you an update on where the game stands midway through the season.
That’s where the CBS Sports Top-100 (and One) comes in.
This is our monthly ranking of the best college hoops players in America. How do I come to these conclusions? This tends to be the criteria I use:
- Pure production versus competition level. If you’re scoring 20 points per game and doing it against a pretty tough schedule, you probably deserve to be ranked. If you’re piling stats against only average competition, I’ll take that into account. James Daniel at Howard is an example here. He’s currently leading the nation in scoring, but is no longer ranked after struggling with efficiency against better competition over the last month.
- Talent matters as well. If you’re a freshman that’s still figuring things out, that’s something that I take into account. However, you need to have shown something, and you need to at least be someone who will continue to have a role moving forward. Skal Labissiere is an example of someone who is not ranked for the first part of that sentence, and Cheick Diallo at Kansas is an example of someone not ranked for the latter part.
- Value matters to me. If you’re playing on a good team and acting as one of the most important pieces, that’s something that’s worth taking into account. If your team crumples without you in the lineup, that’s also pretty important to note. Hi, Fred VanVleet.
- Offensive production is important obviously, but so is defense. It’s 50 percent of the game, in fact, and it’s why guys like Kris Dunn, Gary Payton II, Malcolm Brogdon, and Frank Mason rank highly here.
So with that, let’s get started. Here is a list of the players who have fallen off of this ranking in the last month, along with where they rated at the time.
Skal Labissiere (40), Kellen Dunham (43), Patrick McCaw (46), Cheick Diallo (54), Gary Clark (75), Jordan Price (77), Dwayne Bacon (78), Jalen Brunson (81), James Blackmon Jr. (85), Bronson Koenig (87), Justin Robinson (92), D.J. Balentine (93), Angel Rodriguez (95), Markus Kennedy (97), Isaiah Briscoe (98), Stephen Zimmerman (99), Isaiah Cousins (100), Rasheed Sulaimon (101), James Daniel (102)
With apologies to Robinson, Luke Kornet, Bacon, Price, Isaiah Cousins, Kennedy Meeks, Yante Maten, Edmond Sumner, Shavon Shields, Isaiah Miles, Elijah Brown, Robert Gray, Kevin Hervey, Caleb Swanigan, Emmett Naar, Evan Bradds, Luke Fischer, Balentine, Rodriguez, Ja’Quan Newton, McCaw, Clark, Ben Moore, Jaron Blossomgame, Gavin Ware, Mo Watson, Josh Hawkinson, Bryant McIntosh, Rodney Purvis, Andrew White, Joel Bolomboy, Ryan Spangler, Charles Mitchell, Nathan Boothe, Myles Davis, James Farr, Thomas Bryant, Nathan Boothe, Marcus Lee, Shevon Thompson, Marvelle Harris, Melvin Johnson, Jordan McLaughlin and Tim Quarterman, here is the full list of 100 (and one).
101. Sindarius Thornwell | G | South Carolina (previous ranking: NR): The South Carolina Gamecocks are one of two teams remaining that are unbeaten in the country, so it would be awfully difficult to have a list representative of college basketball in 2015-16 without a player from their team. You could honestly make an argument for five guys on this team, from Thornwell to Mindaugas Kacinas to Duane Notice to Miguel Carrera to Laimonas Chatkevicius. All of those guys, along with freshman P.J. Dozier, could fit right in within a 102nd to 200th best player ranking, giving Frank Martin one heck of a deep roster to play with.
I’ve gone with Thornwell, as he tends to be the straw that stirs the drink for the Gamecocks offensively. Yeah, he’s shooting under 40 percent, but he’s averaging 12.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game, makes things happen for everyone around him, defends well just like everyone else does and has the high-flying athleticism to throw down dunks like this:
100. Jamel Artis | F | Pittsburgh (PR: NR)
99. Tonye Jekiri | C | Miami (Fla.) (PR: 66)
98. Xavier Rathan-Mayes | G | Florida State (PR: 61)
97. London Perrantes | G | Virginia (PR: NR): I won’t lie to you. Coming into the season, I felt that Perrantes was among the more over-hyped players in the country. Coming off of a season where he only averaged 6.4 points and 4.6 assists along with a low usage rate and high turnover rate, I just felt that he wasn’t quite worthy of the accolades that he often received.
I’m sure that the Los Angeles product doesn’t quite care, but he’s certainly won me over this season.
Taking a larger role in the offense, Perrantes is currently averaging 11.3 points and 4.4 assists with a true-shooting percentage of 67 and a diminished turnover rate. But even beyond that, has there been another player to make more big shots this season? The pair of late daggers from 3 against Villanova. The 13 second-half points to get Virginia a win over West Virginia. Thirteen more second-half points to push the Wahoos to a win over Miami. Then, of course, this winner against California.
Perrantes has been one of the most clutch players in college hoops this season, and is deserving of a lot of recognition.
96. G Tyler Dorsey (PR: 89), 95. F Chris Boucher (PR: 90), 94. F Dillon Brooks (PR: 88) of Oregon: Look, I haven’t been able to separate these guys all season. They’re all terrific, all worthy of spots. But if you ask three different people who the most important player to Oregon’s success is this season, my guess is you’d get three different answers in the form of these three players.
93. Terry Allen | F | Richmond (PR: NR)
92. Julian Jacobs | G | USC (PR: NR)
91. Devin Thomas | F | Wake Forest (PR: NR): The first of two undersized bigs who do get the job done in different ways, Thomas is the focal point of Wake’s offense. He often gets post touches and is asked to create for himself. He does that to the tune of nearly 17 points and 10.3 rebounds per game to go with a 29.3 PER that places him fourth in the ACC.
90. Ryan Anderson | F | Arizona (PR: 83): Anderson is more your traditional junkyard dog. He battles on the glass, does a great job of creating extra possessions for his team, and rarely seems to have plays run for him. That doesn’t stop him from averaging 14.4 points and 10.4 rebounds though, as he’s the linchpin and leader that keeps Arizona trucking along at a 13-3 mark halfway through the year.
89. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera | G | Georgetown (PR: 51)
88. Bryn Forbes | G | Michigan State (PR: NR): He was one of the last players I left off of December’s top-100 ranking, and I heard from a lot of Michigan State fans who were incredulous that their team — then No. 1 in the nation — could only have one player in the top-100 nationally. Consider this my mea culpa, as Forbes has proven himself more than deserving since Denzel Valentine went down with an injury back in December.
To keep Michigan State afloat, Forbes upped his production to 18.4 points per game without losing really any of the efficiency that has made him such a value weapon beyond the arc. Yeah, there was a bit of a stinker against Iowa, but given that the Spartans played three on the road and a neutral site game in the last five since Valentine went out (and subsequently returned against Penn State off the bench), it’s remarkable that the Spartans were able to steady the ship and only drop one contest.
Forbes doesn’t deserve all of the credit for that, but he certainly deserves a big piece of it.
87. David Walker | G | Northeastern (PR: 86)
86. Jameel McKay | F | Iowa State (PR: 69)
85. Allonzo Trier | G | Arizona (PR: NR): Trier is going to miss the next month or so with a broken hand. First, let’s just note the tear he was on prior to his injury. Once the calendar turned to December, Trier had been averaging 17.8 points per game with a pretty ridiculous 67.2 true-shooting percentage, largely utilizing an absolutely superb, polished mid-range game. He’s become a genuinely solid player as a freshman.
Next, let’s also note that Trier broke his hand at some point in the first overtime of Arizona’s four-overtime loss against USC, proceeded to play 15-plus consecutive minutes, scored eight points during that time, and also defended the entire way against one of USC’s two terrific perimeter options in the aforementioned Jacobs or McLaughlin.
That’s pretty tough, and quite deserving of recognition. Get well soon, Allonzo.
84. Kevin Punter | G | Tennessee (PR: NR)
83. Egidijus Mockevicius | F | Evansville (PR: NR): A third player that barely missed the list last time around, all Mockevicius has done this season in Marty Simmons’ motion offense is lead the nation both in rebounding per game and in total rebounding rate. Oh, and he’s also 10th nationally with an effective-field goal percentage of 66.2. Those are completely and totally outrageous rate-based numbers for the big man from Vilinius, Lithuania. Throw in the per-game numbers of 17 points and 14 rebounds? Yeah, he’s completely deserving of a place on this list.
82. Ryan Arcidiacono | G | Villanova (PR: 82)
81. Alec Peters | F | Valparaiso (PR: NR): Peters was another one of the final players I left off of last month’s list. Since then, he’s been nothing short of remarkable. On the season, the Crusaders’ stretch-four is averaging 17.9 points and 7.9 rebounds while shooting 50 percent from the field, 43 percent from beyond the 3-point line, and 88.5 percent from the free-throw line. If that seems pretty outrageous, that’s because it is.
In the previous 20 seasons preceding this one, there have only been seven players to average 17 points with a shooting slash-line of 50/40/88. This year, Peters is one of four players along with Buddy Hield, Isaiah Miles and Zeek Woodley to be on pace to do this. It’s also worth noting that Peters is only the second player listed at 6-foot-9 or taller in those 20 years to have either accomplished this or be on pace to do so.
Obviously, shooting percentages tend to go down as seasons progress because of team familiarity in league play. But that’s the kind of air that we’re in with Peters right now. And that’s what makes him so incredibly valuable even in the Horizon League.
80. Bryce Alford | G | UCLA (PR: NR): The coach’s son gets a lot of crap, but there’s just no other way to say this: the kid has been absolutely cold-blooded this season in leading UCLA to an 11-6 start. Where do we start? How about the two shots he hit against Washington to send the game into both overtime and double-overtime? The late 3-point dagger against Arizona State? No, let’s go with this one against Arizona that sent even a courtside Russell Westbrook into a stir.
It’s not just the late-game theatrics, though. Alford is one of seven major-conference players nationally to average 17 points, five assists and four rebounds per game. And that’s not just a random assortment of players. Rather, it’s basically a murderer’s row of this year’s college hoops elite. Simmons. Dunn. Valentine. LeVert. Barber. Payton. Alford comes in behind those guys just due to lower efficiency marks, but his play is absolutely worth noting in this list.
79. Jake Layman | F | Maryland (PR: 74)
78. Dedric Lawson | F | Memphis (PR: 63): Lawson’s still one of only three non-mid-major freshmen to be averaging 14 points and eight rebounds this season. He takes a bit of a tumble though as his efficiency has been a bit off the mark due to an abdominal strain that he’s been mostly playing through.
77. Dorian Finney-Smith | F | Florida (PR: 59)
76. Malik Beasley | G | Florida State (PR: 62): Just because I know I’m going to be asked this, I’m going to answer it straight away. Why do I have Beasley on the list but not Dwayne Bacon when their box score stats are basically identical (both at 16.7 points per, both shooting right around 48 percent, both averaging slightly over five rebounds per, 1.3 assists per)?
The devil is in the way that they get their points and the way they affect the game. Beasley is scoring a much higher percentage of his points (34 percent vs. 46 percent for Bacon) in the halfcourt, which has been a much more difficult place to score this season for the Seminoles. And despite all of the run-outs that Bacon is getting by leaking out early on defense, Beasley still has a much higher true-shooting percentage (59.9 percent vs. 54.9 percent).
Simply put, what Beasley is doing for Florida State is much more valuable and has a higher degree of difficulty than what Bacon’s doing. And that’s why I’ve got him about 30 spots higher in this set of rankings.
75. Andrew Andrews | G | Washington (PR: NR): Quick: who is the leading scorer in the Pac-12 right now? If you correctly assumed that because this question came in the Andrews section that it’s Andrews, you’re right! He’s currently averaging 21.2 points on the back of terrific 3-point shooting that pushes his true-shooting rate up to around 58 percent. That’s important, because he’s only making about 37 percent of his 2-point attempts, a remarkably low number.
Still though, if you’re leading a power conference in scoring, you’re doing something right.
74. Roosevelt Jones | G | Butler (PR: 94)
73. Jordan Woodard | G | Oklahoma (PR: NR): There are very few players in America that are as improved as Woodard. His scoring is up nearly six points per game to 15.2, his assists and rebounds are slightly up, and he’s doing all of it while knocking down more shots from distance and also turning the ball over considerably less.
Now, it’s unlikely his 3-point percentage is going to hold at 55 percent for the full season. Still though, he’s turned into a terrific No. 2 option in the backcourt for Oklahoma behind Hield.
72. Damian Jones | C | Vanderbilt (PR: 49)
71. James Webb | F | Boise State (PR: NR)
70. Troy Williams | F | Indiana (PR: 60)
69. Justin Jackson | G/F | North Carolina (PR: 39)
68. G Danuel House (PR: 72), 67. F Jalen Jones PR: NR) of Texas A&M: As these two go, so go the Aggies. Jones, particularly, has been absolutely terrific recently. He’s a true inside-out threat who can dominate a game with a well-rounded performance, as he did against both Tennessee and Florida already in SEC play. House can be a bit more of a wild-card because of his shooting, but it’s been much more on recently than it was early in the year. He scored 22 against Florida to help Jones lead the team to victory.
They, along with fellow seniors Anthony Collins and Alex Caruso, are leading the Aggies to the point where they might end up becoming the SEC champions when things are all said and done at the end of the year.
66. Isaiah Taylor | G | Texas (PR: 96)
65. Shawn Long | F | Louisiana-Lafayette (PR: NR)
64. Moses Kingsley | C | Arkansas (PR: NR): Among the most improved players in the country, Kingsley went from being something of an afterthought behind Bobby Portis to stepping into the starting lineup and doing his best Portis impression. He’s upped his scoring average by 13.2 points to 16.8, his rebounding average by 7.3 to 9.8, and his blocks average by 1.5 up to 2.6. Basically, he’s in the top-10 in the SEC in scoring, the top-three in rebounding, and leading the conference in blocks now after only playing a total of 757 minutes in two seasons. It’s a totally remarkable growth curve, and unlike any other that we’ve seen in college hoops this year.
63. Michael Young | F | Pittsburgh (PR: NR): Like Kingsley, Young also among the country’s most improved, albeit in a different manner. Often, making the leap from good to great is among the more difficult ones you can make. But Young undoubtedly has become the best player on a top 20 team. And in fact, it would probably be fair to call him one of the better all-around players in America. He finishes around the rim, knocks down free throws, rebounds, can really pass, and he also defends. It’s an impressive package of skills. As long as Pitt has him and Artis around, they’ll likely be in the running to make the NCAA Tournament.
62. Diamond Stone | C | Maryland (PR: NR): Man, has Stone really come on strong for Maryland. He’s currently averaging 13.6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, but since the calendar turned to December, those numbers are up to 16.1 and seven. Basically, he’s become exactly what the Terps thought they’d be getting when they recruited the likely one-and-done. He’s perfect at filling lanes and making himself available for dump-offs from Melo Trimble, and he is really active and insatiable on the boards.
Just look at what he did to Penn State earlier in conference play.
If he doesn’t tear a rim down this season, it’s going to be relatively disappointing. And yet, I’m not sure I can call him Maryland’s second-best player…
61. Robert Carter | F | Maryland (PR: 73): Because Carter still exists. Man, does Carter just plug every little hole the Terps need him to. He can post a little bit, he can step back and shoot a 3, he’s able to slash from the mid-post area, crash the offensive glass. And that’s all before you get to the defensive side of the ball, where I’d say he’s been more important than anyone on Mark Turgeon’s team. He’s capable of stepping out and defending most players for a few seconds on the perimeter, and yet also protecting the rim in the paint.
Carter’s going to be the key for Maryland if they’re going to make a run at the Final Four simply because he does so much on both ends in a way that some of their other players don’t.
60. Ron Baker | G | Wichita State (PR: 20)
59. Daniel Hamilton | G/F | Connecticut (PR: 36)
58. Josh Adams | G | Wyoming (PR: 84): Ho-hum. Another month, another set of totally outrageous athletic plays from Adams. Here are a pair of hilarious blocks against Nebraska-Omaha from earlier this month. In the first one, Adams basically lets the player go past him so that he could swat it into oblivion.
And then here’s a pretty sweet dunk against Air Force where you get the full experience of Adams’ elevation.
Adams is still averaging nearly 24 points, six rebounds and four assists on a 60.6 true-shooting percentage. And scarily, the counting numbers somehow actually undersell what he does for Wyoming, given that they play at a bottom-10 percentile pace nationally.
57. Jameel Warney | F | Stony Brook (PR: 76): Warney is third nationally in PER, and a traditional undersized post player. He’s this year’s Alan Williams — the UCSB standout who dominated the NBA’s Summer League and then turned it into an extremely lucrative opportunity in China. I wouldn’t be a total surprise if Warney followed a similar path, although he seems slightly less athletic and not quite the rebounder Williams is.
56. John Brown | F | High Point (PR: 79): Brown is first in the country in PER, and is a hyper-athletic finisher who is about as fun to watch as anyone in college hoops. He dunks everything within seven feet of the basket, and averages a complete 18.9-point, 7.2-rebound, 2.4-assist, 1.7-steal, 2.3-block line. Have fun watching him play this season if you can find High Point on your television.
55. Devin Williams | F | West Virginia (PR: 58)
54. Pascal Siakam | F | New Mexico State (PR: 53)
53. Stefan Moody | G | Mississippi (PR: 71): All Moody is doing this season is leading the SEC in scoring with nearly 24 points per game and trying to drag what isn’t exactly the most talented team Andy Kennedy has had in Oxford to the NCAA Tournament. At 12-3 and 2-1 in the SEC, he’s doing a pretty good job of putting them in position to have a chance thus far.
Here’s what Moody did to Georgia this weekend, where he scored 29 points, dished out seven assists, and made a layup with five seconds left to give the Rebs a 72-71 win.
Not only can he really get up, but he’s got terrific handles and a real sense of the moment. I don’t know if Moody can make the NBA, but at 5-10, I’m truly going to enjoy watching him try this summer in Las Vegas.
52. F Jaylen Brown (PR: 37), 51. F Ivan Rabb (PR: NR) of California: I’m as surprised as anybody to see Rabb ahead of Brown. I wasn’t particularly high on Rabb’s chances to make an immediate impact, simply because he was pretty undersized weight-wise when I saw him at Nike Hoop Summit last year. However, he spent this summer putting on some weight, and really becoming a force inside. Check out what he did against Utah and fellow potential lottery pick Jakob Poeltl.
Not only is Rabb balanced, fluid and athletic, but he’s really polished and has a terrific feel for the game. Also, the way he’s almost ambidextrously able to finish around the rim with either hand has been terrific, and that also goes toward the way he gets off the ground to challenge shots. If you wanted to make the argument that he’s been Cal’s best player thus far, I wouldn’t blame you. There’s still one more player upcoming on this particular list though.
50. Nigel Hayes | F | Wisconsin (PR: 27): I think that if you put Hayes in a different spot than he’s in right now — where he’s basically forced to create any and all offense for a pretty bereft Wisconsin team — he’d be a much better player than he’s shown. And after all, it’s not like he’s been bad, just not quite what people thought he could be this year. He’s still averaging nearly 16 points, six rebounds and four assists. It’s just taking a lot of shots to get there.
Look for him to be either a better pro or a better college player next season when he has some help around him.
49. Trevon Bluiett | F | Xavier (PR: 52)
48. Malcolm Hill | F | Illinois (PR: 91)
47. G Frank Mason (PR: 42), 46. G Wayne Selden Kansas (PR: 47) of Kansas: Selden’s been terrific statistically, knocking down shot after shot and taking advantage of every opportunity. But he’s also benefiting a lot from a simpler role than in the past. A lot of that has to do with how good guys like Mason, Devonte Graham and Perry Ellis have played around him.
For now, I think Selden deserves his due as the second-best player on the Jayhawks. However, Mason is close, and is arguably more important because of his ability to defend and create for himself. Sometimes — as we saw on Tuesday against West Virginia — Kansas can get a little bogged down offensively and needs a little kick. That’s what Mason is capable of with his athleticism and playmaking ability.
45. Michael Gbinije | G | Syracuse (PR: 28)
44. Daniel Ochefu | C | Villanova (PR: 67): The first of two hyper-efficient big men who are among the country’s best defenders, Ochefu is No. 7 in KenPom’s player of the year voting. He’s a terrific rebounder who has the ability to protect and finish around the rim.
43. Anthony Gill | F | Virginia (PR: 50): Last year, Gill finished seventh in KenPom POY voting, and is hovering right around the top-10 again. Gill (nor Ochefu, for that matter) doesn’t get a ton of attention because of the player next to him on the wing, but absolutely deserves a lot of credit for his team’s success.
42. DeAndre Bembry | G/F | St. Joseph’s (PR: 44)
41. Jack Gibbs | G | Davidson (PR: 41)
40. Wade Baldwin | G | Vanderbilt (PR: 45): Last time around, I wrote about the steps forward that Baldwin has taken offensively. How about we also note how good he’s become defensively. A lot gets made of the fact that he has a 6-10 wingspan as a guard, but it also takes a special kind of player to utilize that wingspan to its full potential. Baldwin’s probably not there yet, but he’s become a pretty awesome defender who is not only tough to get around, but who can also make the spectacular play. Check out this rather insane block on Tim Quarterman from LSU:
He just…kind of robbed the ball as he went up? There are very few point guards who can do that.
39. Tyrone Wallace | G | California (PR: 11)
38. F Taurean Prince (PR: 23), 37. Rico Gathers (PR: 35) of Baylor: Another twosome on the same team who it’s impossible for me to choose between, really. Do I take the hyper activity level of Gathers on the glass, or the slightly more polished and skilled 3-and-D guy in Prince? Tough call, but both are pretty terrific players on the college level.
36. Josh Scott | F | Colorado (PR: 33)
35. Jamal Murray | G | Kentucky (PR: 19): I’m still a pretty firm believer in Murray. He doesn’t really have the space he needs to operate at Kentucky in order to use his shiftiness and change of direction to create for others, so he’s often just creating for himself in tight spaces. That’s why the shooting percentages and turnover rates are a bit higher than you’d like to see. Having said that, the flashes are there with Murray. The skill is absolutely there.
34. Kyle Collinsworth | G | BYU (PR: 32): Collinsworth is a monster that’s put up three triple-doubles already as he averages 15 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists. If he ended up leading BYU to an NCAA Tournament berth out in the WCC Tournament, it wouldn’t surprise me. It is worth noting though that his numbers may be slightly inflated by BYU’s high pace of play, which is currently in the top-20 nationally.
Still though, that doesn’t take away fully from his accomplishment as the player in NCAA history with the most triple-doubles.
33. A.J. English | G | Iona (PR: 31)
32. Henry Ellenson | F | Marquette (PR: 26): Down to the final three freshman. Ellenson has been really good this season, but the fact that he’s the clear third-best freshman in college hoops and he’s down at No. 32 says a lot about where the freshman class is this season. There are also only 11 freshmen on the list right now, which is a tremendously low figure.
31. Damion Lee | G | Louisville (PR: 24)
30. Anthony “Cat” Barber | G | NC State (PR: 80): Barber deserves a ton of credit despite playing on a rough Wolfpack team that needs to turn it around. He’s averaging 23 points, five rebounds and five assists and basically doing it all for a team that genuinely needs him to do it all every night. He’s leading the ACC in scoring, and that seems likely to hold throughout the rest of the season.
29. Caris LeVert | G | Michigan (PR: 12): LaVert takes just a bit of a tumble due to injury. He’s missed the Wolverines’ last five games with a leg injury. The players at the top here are just so close that even the slightest knock can push you down a bit.
28. Tyler Ulis | G | Kentucky (PR: 9): I never would have guessed coming into the season that the highest-ranked Kentucky player would be all the way down at No. 28, but here we are. Ulis is the leader of the group, and he’s averaging 13 points and six assists per game. He’s doing about as well as he can to get everyone involved in the offense and he really cares defensively. But he is still shooting under 40 percent from the field, and his defense probably is slightly overrated due to how much energy he expends there.
Still though, the sum of his game is much better than the flaws. He’s deserving of a near-top-25 ranking.
27. Demetrius Jackson | G | Notre Dame (PR: 25)
26. Yogi Ferrell | G | Indiana (PR: 21): I’m not sure I’ll ever get the dislike that some people have for Ferrell. He’s averaging 17 points, six assists and four rebounds per game while finishing efficiently at all three levels. He’s also turned up his defensive game a little bit since James Blackmon went out with an injury. Overall, Ferrell’s a really nice player who is leading Indiana to a solid start in the Big Ten.
He comes in just slightly ahead of Jackson, who is doing similar things but just on a worse team at Notre Dame.
25. A.J. Hammons | C | Purdue (PR: 57)
24. Sheldon McClellan | G | Miami (Fla.) (PR: 70): We’re just at the point where McClellan’s terrific shooting numbers are what they are, and deserve to be recognized. He’s the only power conference player shooting 55 percent from the field, making 40 percent of his 3s, making 87 percent of his free throws, and scoring at least 16 per game. Plus, defensively he’s been pretty good this season, taking on a lot of the toughest assignments each night. Also, he can really sky jumping off of two feet.
The Hurricanes would not be a top-10 team in the country without McClellan this season.
23. Ben Bentil | F | Providence (PR: 55): I wrote about Bentil’s story and his improvement. He’s been one of the biggest and best surprises in college hoops this season.
22. Monte Morris | G | Iowa State (PR: 16)
21. Kay Felder | G | Oakland (PR: 64): Our own Gary Parrish wrote about Felder’s story, recruitment, and improvement. He’s genuinely put himself on the map with NBA scouts this season, which is one heck of an accomplishment given his 5-9 frame.
20. Josh Hart | G | Villanova (PR: 29)
19. Perry Ellis | F | Kansas (PR: 30): He’s the most consistent player on a nightly basis for the top team in college hoops. It’s pretty hard to argue with that, right?
18. Kyle Wiltjer | F | Gonzaga (PR: 7): I said coming into the season that if Wiltjer could have 24 or so points with around the same efficiency as last year, he’d be in the running for the National Player of the Year award. Well, he’s up around 22 points per game with nearly the same incredible shooting efficiency as last year, but he’s not quite in the running the National Player of the Year award. What happened?
Well, for one, he’s being outplayed by his teammate, Domantas Sabonis (who we’ll get to in a second). Also, the Zags just haven’t been as good as expected this season having already taken on three losses. Yeah, they’ll probably only end up taking on five or so for the season given the way the WCC is shaking out. But that has more to do with a weak conference.
Maybe he’ll continue to flourish late in the year, but right now it looks like Wiltjer will have to settle more for being in the All-American hunt for the second straight year as opposed to the POY hunt.
17. Nic Moore | G | SMU (PR: 34): Just an absolutely terrific basketball player who is doing a great job in leading a team in a bad situation to an undefeated mark thus far. Maybe he can make the All-American team as a consolation prize for his team being ineligible for the NCAA Tournament.
16. Fred VanVleet | G | Wichita State (PR: 14): VanVleet’s still getting his sea legs under him a bit at the moment after missing some time with an injury. But due to his presence in the lineup, the Shockers are just much better than they were without him. The team was 3-4 while he was hurt early in the year, and is now 7-1 with him in the lineup.
He’s not flashy, but he’s possibly the most valuable player to his team in the entire country. He falls a couple of spots just because his numbers are slightly down from last year. But overall, it’s hard to complain about his play.
15. Marcus Paige | G | North Carolina (PR: 10): Another player who has proven himself incredibly important to his team, North Carolina has been really rolling since they got Paige back in the lineup. However, while he might be the most valuable player on the Tar Heels’ roster, it’s hard to call him the best at this point because of what Brice Johnson has done over the last month.
It might be a bit unfair to have him this low, given that he’s putting up 15 points and four assists per game on great shooting numbers. But overall, it just seems like some other players are just slightly better or more important right now.
14. Domantas Sabonis | F | Gonzaga (PR: 22): Sabonis is averaging a pretty outrageous 19 points and 11 rebounds on what is just a silly 70 true-shooting percentage given his high usage rate.
Watching the clip above, it’s not hard to see what makes Sabonis so terrific. On one hand, he’s feisty, embraces contact, and is physical as heck. On the other, he’s pretty much perfectly polished in his footwork, has terrific touch from out to 16 feet, can knock down shots with both hands, and knows how to get you off-balance with shoulder feints in the post. His feel for the game is just totally off the charts. His numbers will also likely continue to rise, as he and Wiltjer will be playing considerably more playing time than anticipated this season with Przemek Karnowski out for the year.
13. Jarrod Uthoff | F | Iowa (PR: 65): It’s pretty hard to argue with what Uthoff has been able to do this season, and he does it as one of the rarest, most valuable player-types in all of basketball.
The rim-protecting stretch-four is extremely tough to find, but is also incredibly useful because you can play that type of player next to literally anyone at the 3 and the 5. It makes building your team that much easier. In Iowa’s case, the package they’ve gotten in Uthoff is just too good to be true. He’s 18.6 points per game while shooting 50 percent from the field and 45 percent from beyond the 3-point line. Then, throw in the fact that he’s also playing strong defense and swatting away 3.3 shots per game, and it’s just remarkable.
How remarkable you may be asking? Well, in the last 20 years, no one has made at least 30 3s (the amount Uthoff has already made) at at least a 40 percent clip while also blocking over three shots per game. Not a single player. Iowa has something special in Uthoff, and it’s clear he could lead them to greater heights than they’ve reached yet under Fran McCaffery.
12. Malcolm Brogdon | G | Virginia (PR: 8): Brogdon falls just a little bit as some other players rise into the player of the year discussion. I do just want to point out that Brogdon often gets talked about mostly as a physical, tough player who relies more on his feel for the game than on his athleticism. You know, the patented “old-man” game stereotype.
Well, Brogdon went ahead on Tuesday and made sure everyone knows that he’s still a pretty good athlete beyond also having that great feel for the game.
Good to remember that Brogdon can also just throw down on people still too.
11. G Grayson Allen (PR: 13), 10. G Brandon Ingram (PR: 18) of Duke: Allen seems to be getting all of the publicity, but over the past month or so it’s clearly been Ingram who is the top player on this roster. Here’s a quick little thing worth pointing out. Since the calendar turned to December, here are Ingram’s per-game numbers versus Allen’s.
Ingram: 20.7 points, eight rebounds, two assists
Allen: 18.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists
Plus, let’s not forget how much more that Ingram does for this team defensively with his versatility and length. He’s equally adept in the college game at protecting the weak side of the rim as he is at switching out onto guards and defending them. Oh, and he can really shoot himself.
I’d guess that Ingram will be Duke’s best player for the rest of the season, which is why he gets the nod here over Allen. To send you away happy, here’s the big 6-9 forward throwing down on two Boston College defenders from this past weekend.
9. Georges Niang | F | Iowa State (PR: 15): Niang’s just been absolutely lights out offensively this season. Defensively, it’s another story. But Niang is keeping this thing together with his hands and a little ball of string right now given that there’s a new coach in town and that the team isn’t quite as deep as you’d hope it could be.
Niang’s 19.4 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 54 percent shooting from the field are all career bests. If the Cyclones can ever figure out their defensive issues, he’d be a welcome addition to the player of the year race.
8. Gary Payton II | G | Oregon State (PR: 17): The race for the Pac-12 Player of the year likely comes down to Nos. 8 and 7. And Payton had been heating up in getting Oregon State out to a nice start in Pac-12 play. He’s now averaging 17 points, eight rebounds and five assists, plus playing about as strongly defensively on the perimeter as any other player in the country. Sure, you’d like him to be a better shooter obviously. But man, the rest of his game is so sound that it’s hard to complain.
Also, let’s not forget that Payton likes to create highlights. And posterize people, particularly like he did to Kansas in December.
Or like he did against Oregon:
Or the 360 dunk he did in the halfcourt against Cal-State Fullerton:
7. Jakob Poeltl | C | Utah (PR: 6): Poeltl has cooled down just a touch from his torrid start to the season. The Austrian big man is still averaging 17 points and over nine rebounds per game on terrific efficiency. And guess what, Payton and Poeltl face off Sunday.
6. Brice Johnson | F | North Carolina (PR: 38): Johnson’s done a great job of thrusting himself into the player of the year discussion by expanding his game and becoming a more reliable option on offense. No longer is he just a pick-and-roll weapon or an untrustworthy post-up option or solely a transition threat. He’s not capable of doing all of those things, as well as receiving dump offs, crashing the glass, and even occasionally knocking down a shot from 15 feet or so. Defensively, he’s also really improved just by being more attentive and aware of what’s going on around him.
Basically, Johnson’s become a more mature player. A more professional one in an amateur sport, basically. The polish on his game has been a fun thing to watch, especially given what he was when he got to North Carolina as a really skinny athlete. Here’s video of his 39-point, 23-rebound domination of Florida State, which was just a perfect encapsulation of everything he’s done to improve his game.
5. Melo Trimble | G | Maryland: Last time around, I wrote about Timble’s improvement as a playmaker. That continues to be true, as he’s averaging nearly six assists per game. Honestly, it might even go up as Diamond Stone continues to be integrated fully into the offense, as he and Trimble seem to have a perfect connection.
This time though, let’s chat about what makes Trimble such a good closer, and thus makes Maryland break the mold when it comes to close games. The Terps went 13-0 to start the season last year in two-score games. This year, they’re 3-1 following their loss to Michigan on Tuesday. First and foremost, it’s worth noting that he’s among the best free throw shooters in the country at 85 percent. Then, you also have to remember that he’s about as lethal as it gets when driving to the lane and looking for contact.
All of that ends up benefiting him in another way too though, and we saw it on Saturday against Wisconsin. Because teams have to respect against the drive and the potential to draw a foul, he gets a bit more space on his jumper than you’d expect a great shooter to. Look at how he gets to lock and load this one up before firing and beating Wisconsin nearly at the buzzer.
As long as Trimble’s around the Terps will likely continue to outplay close-game expectations.
4. Denzel Valentine | G/F | Michigan State (PR: 2): Look, this group is so tightly bunched at the top that even the smallest thing like missing four games in conference season can hurt you just ever so slightly. Valentine is still absolutely fantastic, and will likely return to the top three once he gets back up to full health. Hopefully, Valentine’s knee surgery went well and once he returns to the starting lineup he’ll be able to put things together. Until then though, here’s him roasting Kansas earlier this year to the tune of a triple-double for those who have been watching football.
3. Ben Simmons | F | LSU (PR: 3): The Tigers seem to be figuring things out, and Simmons is obviously at the forefront of the reason for that. He’s averaging 20.6 points, 13.1 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game. Now those might be somewhat inflated by LSU playing an extremely uptempo brand of basketball and by the fact that he ends up playing with a rather high usage rate. But it doesn’t quite matter.
Simmons is appointment television in a way that no one else is in college hoops this year, even the two players in front of him. He’s just such a unique blend of size and skill along with basketball IQ that you expect not just good, but great things from him. Enjoy him while you have him, college basketball. He’s not going to be around for long.
2. Kris Dunn | G | Providence (PR: 1): To be honest, I never expected to have to move him off of the No. 1 spot. Simply put, Dunn is the most complete player in college hoops. He scores at all three levels, but especially at the rim and from the midrange. He gets into the lane and the middle of the floor whenever he wants. He’s the best passer in the country. He rebounds well for a guard. He creates turnovers with his ability to not just get into passing lanes, but also block shots as a guard. He might be the best on-ball defender in the country. Oh, and he’s also pretty clutch given what he did to Creighton on Tuesday night.
It must have taken a pretty superhuman performance to knock that player off the top line.
1. Buddy Hield | G | Oklahoma (PR: 4): Yeah, I’d say 46 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in Phog Allen Fieldhouse suffices.
But it’s not just that game, it’s so much more. Hield has been absolutely tremendous all season for the No. 2 team in the country. He’s averaging nearly 27 points, over five rebounds, and over two assists per game. He’s knocking down 52 percent of his field goals as a whole, and also 52 percent of his 3s. He’s on pace to go for 26 points per while going with a shooting slash line of 50/50/90, which is basically something I can only imagine Stephen Curry doing.
Eventually, he’ll probably come back to earth a little bit as far as his shooting. But until that happens, Hield is the most prolific player in college hoops, and is worthy of the No. 1 spot.