I’m happy to report that March is in full swing. At press time, several tournaments have ended but the major conferences will remain in play through Sunday afternoon. It’s worth noting that despite what happened to Murray State, most low and mid-majors rig their tournaments as heavily as possible to favor regular season champions. These conferences adopt ladder brackets to give top teams byes, and many host their tournaments on the home floors of the top seeds. This means many more teams in the 1-2 spots win conference tournaments, making what Furman did all the more impressive.
This week, I continue to look back at the regular season with the players most deserving of All-American recognition. Unlike Coach of the Year, which inspired a rant last week, we have sufficient data to determine player honors. Here’s my ballot:
Frank Kaminsky – Wisconsin (Player of the Year)
Karl-Anthony Towns – Kentucky
Delon Wright – Utah
D’Angelo Russell – Ohio State
Seth Tuttle – Northern Iowa
Analysts commonly argued this year that college basketball lacked the individual star power that dominated the sport in years past. Without an Andrew Wiggins, John Wall, or Kevin Durant-type, the sport seemed less exciting. I tend to agree in part. I don’t think this year’s crop of All-Americans necessarily spends the next decade making NBA All-Star Teams. But we shouldn’t judge college basketball players by unreliable predictions of professional success (or lack thereof). This group played some outstanding hoops. And for that, we should reward them.
My vote for player of the year goes to Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky. The versatile 7-footer shot 60% on his two-point field goals, 41% on threes, and 75% from the free throw line. He took more than a quarter of the shots for the nation’s best offense and led Wisconsin to the regular season Big Ten Championship. Couple that with tremendous rebounding numbers and strong interior defense, and you have the runaway winner for most efficient player in the country. Karl-Anthony Towns joins Kaminsky in the All-American Team front court. I wrote previously that no Kentucky player could win the Wooden Award due to limited minutes under Coach Cal’s platoon system. While I think that argument holds, KAT played the best basketball on a dominant, undefeated, historically good team. He might surpass Kaminsky to be the best rebounder in the college game, and he showed a rare offensive polish, making 57% of his two-point attempts and 79% of free throws. Not bad for a 6’ 11” freshman. Seth Tuttle, a senior small forward, had arguably the best season in Northern Iowa basketball history. He averaged 15 PPG for an offense that averaged fewer than 60 possessions, and his assist numbers nearly broke Kenpom’s position algorithm. The Panthers won the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament and project as high as a 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
D’ Angelo Russell is my favorite player this season. He certainly had some ups-and-downs, but he consistently impressed with unbelievable athleticism and passes that would make Chris Paul blush. It doesn’t hurt that he posted the basketball equivalent of a perfect game at Northwestern earlier this season.
Delon Wright rounds out the All-American team. While his scoring numbers actually dropped this season from last, his assist rate increased and turnover rate decreased. Credit the Utes’ resurgence this season to Wright’s impeccable decision-making, stingy man-to-man defense, and uncanny ability to draw fouls without ever really committing ones of his own.
Seth Tuttle – Northern Iowa (Mid-Major Player of the Year)
Kyle Wiltjer – Gonzaga
John Brown – High Point
Tyler Haws – BYU
Corey Hawkins – UC Davis
For clarification, I would call every conference outside the “Power 5” (Pac 12, Big 10, Big 12, ACC, and SEC), the Big East, and the AAC a mid- or low-major. Seth Tuttle leads the way for this group. As noted above, his historic year propelled the Panthers back into the national spotlight. Kyle Wiltjer rivaled Tuttle’s efficiency numbers all season and produced the best shot chart of any player in the country. Despite the weaker conference, I think Gonzaga could very well make a Final Four and their size might even cause Kentucky some problems in a single elimination game.
John Brown puts up ridiculous single game numbers seemingly every time he steps on the court. He’s long and lanky and jumps with authority. He took more than a third of High Point’s shots and made close to 55% of them this season. Tyler Haws ran point for BYU again and ranks in the top 5 nationally in scoring average. Like his Beehive State counterpart Wright, Haws’s scoring numbers fell this season while his efficiency increased, with his assist rate spiking from 8.7% last season to 15.8% in 2015. Finally, UC Davis leads the nation in 3-point shooting this season, with senior Corey Hawkins front and center. Hawkins sank 49% of his 3-point shots in regular season play. UC Davis improved from 9-22 a season ago to Big West favorites, and might earn their first ever NCAA Tournament bid.
This is it! We’re only a few short days from Selection Sunday. March has been fantastic so far and it promises to get better. Rather than wait another week to talk tournament, I’m excited to announce an Addison Recorder tweet chat this Monday, March 16 from 7:00-8:00pm CST. Join me to discuss first round match-ups, final four predictions, and the best strategies for winning your office bracket pool. I will ask and answer questions from the Addison Recorder Twitter account using #ARHoopsChat. You can submit questions in the comments section or on Twitter. Spread the word! We look forward to talking to you on Monday.