College Hoops Superlatives
April 15, 2018
By Bruce Marshall
Carsen Edwards, Purdue (SO)
Jalen Brunson, Villanova (JR)
Jevon Carter, West Virginia (SR)
Devonte Graham, Kansas (SR)
Rob Gray, Houston (JR)
Trae Young, Oklahoma (FR)
Tony Carr, Penn State (SO)
Deandre Ayton, Arizona (FR)
Mo Wagner, Michigan (JR)
Marvin Bagley III, Duke (FR)
Angel Delgado, Seton Hall (SR)
Yante Maten, Georgia (SR)
Due to popular demand, for the third straight year our A-A team has expanded to a “full roster” of twelve players!
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jalen Brunson, Villanova...Brunson did not begin the season in the lead for Player of the Year honors, and thru the holidays this looked like an award that would instead go to Oklahoma frosh Trae Young by acclamation. But once the campaign passed its halfway point, it was apparent that Brunson was providing the fuel for the Villanova engine that would eventually motor through the Big Dance and win all of its games by 12 points or more as the Wildcats recorded their second NCAA title in three seasons. Brunson did a little of everything, scoring 18.9 ppg, recording 4.6 apg, shooting 52.1% from the floor and almost 41% beyond the arc. And he even rebounded a little (3.1 pg) and played solid defense. But it was in the clutch when Brunson really rose to the occasion, and not only in the last minutes of games, triggering a late rally in what would turn out to be Nova’s most-harrowing test of the Big Dance in the Sweet 16 vs. West Virginia, with Brunson, en route to a game-high 27 points, almost single-handedly fueling a Wildcat surge when his team needed him the most as Nova turned a 6-point deficit almost midway thru the second half into an eventual 90-78 win.
COACH OF THE YEAR: Porter Moser, Loyola-Chicago...Every once in a while we get reminded why college basketball does it better than football, with the likes of George Mason, Butler (twice), Virginia Commonwealth, Wichita State, and Gonzaga emerging from the mid-major ranks to make it to the Final Four since 2006. But we’re not sure any of those were more unexpected than Loyola’s surprise run to San Antonio in what was not only the Ramblers’ first Final Four visit since winning it all in Louisville back in 1963, but first Big Dance visit of any kind since 1985. Credit goes to Moser, who authored the storyline of the season after having patiently rebuilt the Chicagoland Jesuits in the previous six years (winning a CBI title en route in 2015) while stewarding a move up the college food chain from the Horizon League to the Missouri Valley. Using a collection of several previous transfers along with rugged 6-9 frosh Cameron Krutwig, who provided a welcomed inside-scoring presence, Loyola was a poster child for unselfish, team basketball, connecting on better than 50% from the floor and hitting 40% beyond the arc while relying on one of the nation’s stingiest defenses (62.9 ppg allowed ranked fifth) to roll thru the Valley and then a wild bobsled ride into the Dance. Which included three wins by four points total, including last-second shots to beat Miami-Fla. and Tennessee in the sub-regionals, before yet another 1-point win over Nevada in the Sweet 16 and a near-flawless domination of Kansas State in the Elite 8. The Ramblers would eventually run out of gas in the last ten minutes of their Final Four game vs. Michigan, but Moser developed a whole legion of admirers with his team that reminded more than a bit of the Rick Majerus teams at Saint Louis. This was no surprise as Moser, earlier dismissed as Illinois State’s HC, assisted the “big man” with the Billikens before getting the Rambler job. Along the way, Loyola endeared itself to the masses with its own 98-year-old super fan, Sister Jean, who became a refreshing national celebrity as the Ramblers continued to advance in March. Though now a hot commodity, Moser, with Chicago roots, appears quite comfy at Loyola, and appears set to become the flagship program of a reconfigured Missouri Valley which had lost bellwether Creighton and Wichita State members in recent years.
HONORABLE MENTION: Jay Wright, Villanova...We couldn’t let the superlatives pass without some special mention of Wright, who has now ascended to the pantheon of modern coaches with his second national title in three years. More than that, Wright’s ‘Nova appears a transcendent side, a sort of Golden State Warriors of college hoops, taking advantage of the modern rules (read a too-short three-point shot) with devastating effect, as no team ever fired in triples at a higher rate in March than did the Wildcats. Wright’s latest title winner was also completely unselfish, a neat trick in this day and age, as Nova, yet to be hindered by the constant turnover caused by so many one-and-done players at other high-profile locales, is building a model program in the process.
Eric Musselman, Nevada...From where the Wolf Pack sat near the bottom of the Mountain West when Musselman decided to take the Reno job three years ago (instead of alma mater San Diego) to a one-point loss from advancing to the Elite 8, it has been a dizzying ascent at the foot of the Rockies for “Muss”, whose team set new standards for March thrills by authoring hard-to-believe second-half fightbacks in the sub-regionals vs. Texas (which led by as much as 14) and Cincinnati (which once led by 23!). That would propel Nevada to its first Sweet 16 since Trent Johnson’s last Wolf Pack team in 2004 and endear it to the masses with a full-throttle style that rarely failed to entertain. Musselman has mostly done it with transfers and has four more (plus any possible grad transfers) to add to the Lawlor Center mix for next season, though we’ll have to see if the 6-7 Martin twins (Caleb and Cody from NC State), and nonstop 6-7 F Jordan Caroline (formerly Southern Illinois) stick around for 2018-19 after all declaring for the NBA Draft last week. The trio, however, has not hired agents, so can opt back in by the end of May for one more college season, which would likely prompt Nevada to be ranked in the top ten of many preseason polls. Some heady stuff forMusselman, whom sources say is very comfy for the time being in Reno, though a move back to the NBA (where Musselman once coached the Warriors and Kings) cannot be ruled out down the road.
Other honorable mentions (in no particular order): Grant McCasland, North Texas; Rick Barnes, Tennessee; Earl Grant, Charleston; Dan Hurley, Rhode Island; John Beilein, Michigan; Bruce Pearl, Auburn; Tony Bennett, Virginia; Scott Nagy, Wright State; Wes Miller, UNC-Greensboro; Bobby Hurley, Arizona State; Kelvin Sampson, Houston; Tim Miles, Nebraska; Brad Brownell, Clemson; Nate Oats, Buffalo; Kevin Willard, Seton Hall; Steve Donahue, Penn; Paul Weir, New Mexico; Mick Cronin, Cincinnati; Patrick Chambers, Penn State; Chris Beard, Texas Tech; Bob McKillop, Davidson; Casey Alexander, Lipscomb; Ben Howland, Mississippi State; Nathan Davis, Bucknell; Ryan Odom, UMBC; LaVall Jordan, Butler; Jeff Linder, Northern Colorado; Brian Dutcher, San Diego State; Kyle Keller, SF Austin; Chris Holtmann, Ohio State;Dedrique Taylor, Cal State Fullerton; Dan D’Antoni, Marshall; Ed Cooley, Providence; Kevin Keatts, NC State; Rick Stansbury, Western Kentucky; Mike Brey, Notre Dame; Mark Schmidt, St. Bonaventure; Matt McMahon, Murray State; Jim Hayford, Seattle; Damon Stoudamire, Pacific; Bill Self, Kansas; Steve McClain, Illinois-Chicago; T.J. Otzelberger, South Dakota State; Chris Jans, New Mexico State; Ron Hunter, Georgia State; Bruce Weber, Kansas State; Mike Davis, Texas Southern; Kermit Davis, Middle Tennessee; Mark Few, Gonzaga; Mike Hopkins, Washington; Kyle Smith, San Francisco; Bob Huggins, West Virginia; Chris Mack, Xavier; Jim Boeheim, Syracuse; Jamie Dixon, TCU.
MID-MAJOR ALL-AMERICAN TEAM
Another overlooked collection that we also believe warrants some extra attention, hence another expanded grouping... two teams worth, a full 24 honorees!
Chris Clemons, Campbell (JR)
Shavar Newkirk, St. Joseph’s (SR)
Clayton Custer, Loyola-Chicago (JR)
Jerick Harding, Weber State (SO)
Reed Timmer, Drake (SR)
Max Heidegger, UCSB (SO)
Jairus Lyles, UMBC (SR)
Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure (SR)
C.J. Massinburg, Buffalo (JR)
Matt Mobley, St. Bonaventure (SR)
Kendrick Nunn, Oakland (SR)
Andre Spight, Northern Colorado (SR)
Joe Chealey, Charleston (SR)
Kellan Grady, Davidson (FR)
Caleb Martin, Nevada (JR)
Cody Martin, Nevada (JR)
Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s (SR)
Peyton Aldridge, Davidson (SR)
Mike Daum, 6-9 South Dakota State (JR)
Kevin Hervey, UT-Arlington (SR)
Jordan Caroline, Nevada (JR)
Zach Thomas, Bucknell (SR)
Drew McDonald, Northern Kentucky (JR)
Bogdan Bliznyuk, Eastern Washington (SR)
MID-MAJOR PLAYERS OF THE YEAR: Mike Daum, South Dakota State and Clayton Custer, Loyola-Chicago...The “Daum-inator” has proven the best draw in remote Brookings, where NBA scouts flocked over the past few months to get a glimpse pof the SDSU star in action. Meanwhile, befuddled Summit League coaches continue to experiment with all sorts of gimmick defenses to slow the prolific Daum, who still scored nearly 24 ppg. for the Jackrabbits, who made it back to the Big Dance for the second year running and came close to upsetting Ohio State. With almost unlimited range, the 6-9 Daum also shot 42.5% beyond the arc as he canned nearly three triples pg, and to prove he isn’t a one-trick pony, also ranked among the nation’s leading rebounders (10.3 caroms pg). As for Custer, he was simply the ultimate “glue piece” for the Ramblers in their Final Four run, pulling the strings for one of the nation’s most efficient passing games that would shoot better than 50% from the floor. Custer was clutch, too, as his off-balance jumper, with a kind of roll-on-the-rim, would prove the winning bucket in a thrilling second-round Big Dance game vs. Tennessee in Dallas.
An often-overlooked category, these workhorses are deserving of their own special honors.
Xavier Simpson, 6-0 Michigan (FR)
Barry Brown, Kansas State (JR)
Jevon Carter, West Virginia (SR)
Khyri Thomas, Creighton (JR)
Amir Bell, Princeton (SR)
Matisse Thybulle, Washington (JR)
Cody Martin, Nevada (JR)
Namdi Okonkwo, Pacific (SR)
Mo Bamba, Texas (FR)
Jaren Jackson, Michigan State (FR)
Chris Silva, South Carolina (JR)
Yuta Watanabe, George Washington (SR)
Oshae Brissett, Syracuse (FR)
Gary Clark, Cincinnati (SR)
Isaiah Wilkins, Virginia (SR)
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Isaiah Wilkins, Virginia...Things didn’t work too well at the Big Dance for Virginia, which became the first No. 1 seed to be KO’d by a 16 seed when run off the court by UMBC, 74-54. But the Cavs did a lot right for the rest of the season and entered the Dance as the top-ranked team in the country largely because of an airtight defense that allowed a nation’s-low 53 ppg. And Wilkins was the best defender on the nation’s best defending team, routinely shutting down the top scorers in the explosive ACC, which named Wilkins its Defensive Player of the Year. So we don’t have much problem advancing that honor nationwide.
DISAPPOINTING TEAMS OF THE SEASON: Northwestern, UConn, Minnesota, Arizona...Look back at most preseason Top 25s and somewhere in the teens will likely sit Northwestern, which was expecting bigger and better things after qualifying for its first-ever NCAA Tourney a year ago and returning its top four scorers. But the Wildcats apparently missed the leadership of graduated wing Sanjay Lumpkin, and HC Chris Collins could not prevent many of the returnees from developing their own agendas. In a down year for the Big Ten, the Cats still slumped to a 6-12 league mark after 10-8 last season, and 15-17 overall, not coming close to a Big Dance repeat.
We’re getting used to putting UConn in this group as the Huskies are honored (or is it dishonored?) for the second year running, falling to 14-18. That, on the heels of last year’s 16-17 mark, made a prophet of HC Kevin Ollie, whose warning before the season (“We have to win. I can’t keep going 16-17. We all know that”) proved quite prophetic, as he was canned at the conclusion of the campaign, with various in-house issues also contributing to his ouster. For the second year in a row, the Huskies couldn’t shoot (barely 41% from the floor and 32% beyond the arc) in what marks a dramatic fall from grace for Ollie, just four years removed from steering the Huskies to an unexpected national title in 2014. Dan Hurley from Rhode Island has been hired to clean up the mess in Storrs.
Like fellow Big Ten member Northwestern, Minnesota, also off of a Big Dance visit last March, was ranked in most preseason polls but fell far short of those early projections. Unlike the Wildcats, however, the Gophers had a bit of an excuse, sidetracked by injuries and suspensions after being ranked into the holidays. But an early-January suspension of 6-10 Reggie Lynch (one of the nation’s top shot-blockers) and subsequent shoulder injury to key 6-8 soph wing Amir Coffey (14 ppg) had Minny reeling by MLK Day, never to recover. Prior to the season, the Gophers had lost promising 6-9 soph F Eric Curry to an MCL tear. It all made for a desultory winter in the office of HC Richard Pitino, who also had to watch his dad Rick lose his job at Louisville in the run-up to the season.
As for Arizona, though it looked for a time as if the Wildcats had put their season together and prepping for a deep run in March, it all came crumbling down in a stunning first-round 89-68 blowout loss in Boise against MAC champ Buffalo. Which, in the end, seemed a fitting conclusion for a disjointed season marked by three losses in the November Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, various injuries, suspensions and controversies mostly involving the recruitment of touted 7-1 frosh Deandre Ayton, whose reported $100,000 “delivery fee” was not-so-convincingly denied by HC Sean Miller, and who continues to maintain his innocence. What appears to be left in Tucson, however, is a smoldering wreckage of a program, with former assistant and top recruiter Book Richardson charged (and eventually fired from his job) in the wide-spread FBI investigation last fall, Miller on an increasingly hot seat, and now most of the Cats’ early signees for 2018-19 having de-committed. Meanwhile, Ayton and G Allonzo Trier (who also missed time due to suspension early in the season) declared for the NBA draft almost before UA’s lopsided loss to Buffalo was complete, followed a few days after by soph G Rawle Alkins declaring as well. Miller’s future remains cloudy, and there is also the matter of what sort of team the Cats are going to put on the floor next season. We don’t expect to be talking about UA in the Big Dance next March.
DISAPPOINTING CONFERENCE OF THE SEASON: Pac-12...This could be a multi-sport honor, as combined with the 2017 football season, the only game won by Pac-12 teams in bowl games or the NCAA Tournament was Utah’s football win at the Dallas Bowl against a shorthanded West Virginia side forced to play little-used QB Chris Chugunov. With UCLA and Oregon dropping off noticeably after departures from successful 2016-17 seasons, and aforementioned Arizona dealing with myriad distractions as it mostly underachieved, the Pac-12 was a deserving afterthought on a national scale this season. Only three schools earned Big Dance bids from the Selection Committee, two of those (UCLA and Arizona State) forced into the “First Four” at-large play-in games at Dayton, where the Bruins (vs. St. Bonaventure) and Sun Devils (vs. Syracuse) both lost. When Arizona was blown out on Thursday by Buffalo, the Pac was out of the Dance after the first full day of competition! Not su>re things will get much better next season, either, especially with Arizona’s program apparently in a meltdown phase. In early Top 25 projections for next season, only Oregon has received mention at the edge of the list, though UCLA might be a candidate to re-emerge. Nonetheless, it’s the lowest ebb for the Pac-12 that we can ever recall.
GAME OF THE YEAR: St. Bonaventure 117 - Davidson 113 (3 OT) on February 27...This epic battle lasted until well after midnight Eastern Time and caused an almost complete pre-empting on the CBS Sports Network of the following Boise State-San Diego State game, which was joined in progress well into the second half. The A-10 clash didn’t hint at being a classic in the early going as the Bonnies surged to an early 19-4 lead, but the visiting Wildcats continued to chip away at the margin and had forged a 41-37 lead at the break. Things began to really heat up in a see-saw second half that featured 12 lead changes, with theBonnies utilizing LaDarien Griffin’s lay up with 5 seconds left to level the score at 78 and watched as Wildcat star frosh Kellan Grady rolled a 3-pointer in and out at the buzzer. The first OT was a shootout between Bona G Matt Mobley and Davidson F Peyton Aldridge, each canning a pair of triples, but it took two Grady FTs with 3 seconds left to force a second OT at 91-91. Fouls were mounting alarmingly each way by this stage with multiple disqualifications, including top Bonnies scorer G Jaylen Adams, but again, nothing was settled in the second OT, as another pair of Grady FTs forced a third five-minute period. The Wildcats finally seemed to gain the upper hand when taking a 104-100 lead in the third extra period but top scorer Aldridge, after a heroic 45-point effort, was whistled for his 5th foul on a questionable call and momentum would swing one last time back to Bona. Mobley would then proceed to take over the game and score 11 points, 9 of those on FTs, in the third OT, but even when the Bonnies extended their lead to 115-108 with 30 seconds left, Davidson had one more surge to cut the deficit to 2 in the final seconds before Mobley finally sealed the deal with a pair of FTs. The packed house at Olean was left limp and those waiting to watch Boise State and San Diego State on the same channel were almost out of luck, as that game had moved well into the second half before joined (by the way, the Aztecs won, 72-64). When the dust cleared, Aldridge had scored 45 and Grady 39 for the Wildcats, who had four players foul out. For the Bonnies, three players scored 30+ (Adams with 34, Mobley with 33, and F Courtney Stockard 31) while Bona also had four players DQ’d by fouls. (Note that Davidson got its revenge on the Bonnies in the A-10 Tourney semifinals before beating Rhode Island in the finale at Washington’s Cap One Arena to qualify for the NCAA Tourney, which along with Rhodyand Bona gave the loop three reps in the Dance).
WHO’S GIVING THE ADVICE AWARD? Advisors to Dikembe Dixson (Illinois-Chicago) and Chimezie Metu (Southern Cal)...Both Dixson and Metu decided to sit out respective postseason alphabet tourneys (Dixson the CIT, Metu the NIT) to ostensibly prevent injuries that might hurt their chances in the upcoming NBA draft. In the case of Metu, he at least projects to be drafted (most mock drafts have him going sometime in the 2nd round), but the sight of him on the Trojan bench in the NIT, watching his teammates struggle with UNC-Asheville and then losing to Western Kentucky, caused one of the strange optics of the season, and prompting some SC boosters to wonder why HC Andy Enfield so gladly allowed Metu to sit with the team. The case of Dixson (UIC’s top scorer) really puzzled because, at best, he might be rated as a fringe top 100 prospect by some scouting services, and no mock drafts that we have seen even project him as a selection. Perhaps Dixson was getting advice from family and friends? While players sitting out postseason to save themselves for the upcoming NFL Draft have recently become a chic thing in college football, with various projected high picks such as Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Bradley Chubb, and Josh Rosen (ostensibly an injury in the case of Rosen, though most don’t believe it) not risking injury in meaningless bowls, it’s mostly been limited to sure-fire first-round picks. And the football injury risk is a bit greater than basketball anyway. Interestingly, Dixson’s Flames teammates responded to his absence by binding together and making a run all of the way to the CIT final, losing a combative 76-71 decision at Northern Colorado.
POINTSPREAD CHAMP: Loyola-Chicago (24-10). Other spread champs...Nebraska 21-9, Villanova 28-12, William & Mary 18-8, San Diego State 21-10, Virginia 20-10, Michigan 25-13, UCSB 19-10, CS Fullerton 18-10, South Alabama 18-10, Tulsa 18-10, Air Force 16-9, Western Kentucky 23-13, Marshall 21-12.
POINTSPREAD CHUMP: Charlotte (5-19). Other spread chumps... Oakland 8-22, Cal Poly SLO 7-19, Vanderbilt 8-21, Fordham 8-19, Elon 9-20, Wake Forest 9-20, Colorado State 9-19, Santa Clara 9-19, Oklahoma 10-21, Dayton 10-20, La Salle 10-20, UConn 10-19, Minnesota 11-20, Ole Miss 11-20.
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