One of the most exciting parts of the college-basketball preseason is anticipating which players will emerge as the best in America.
Last season, very few had Thomas Robinson pegged as one of the nation's five best players, but he hoisted Kansas on his back and helped the Jayhawks to the national-title game.
Likewise, Xavier's Tu Holloway was expected to reign as one of college basketball's biggest stars. But, like his team's season, Holloway's was never quite the same after the Musketeers and Cincinnati mistook the court for the Octagon.
Who are the players that will break out and the ones that will fall just short? Eleven of B/R's top college-hoops writers have cast their ballots, and here are the three teams they've selected, along with some comments from each.
Also, check out the All-Snub Team, some "notable omissions" who didn't quite get enough votes to make the cut. We include these so we can stir up the reader responses, and we'll certainly get a few comments from all of you telling us we're idiots. And just for Bob Smith, we'll keep the slideshow short.
Read on and sharpen the knives, folks.
(Participating columnists in alphabetical order: Jon Hancock, Scott Henry, Thad Novak, Matt Overing, Robert Pace, Scott Polacek, Ryan Satsky, Josh Schoch, Gene Siudut, James Sullivan and Dan Vasta)
The voting system is as follows:
- 10 points for a first-team vote
- Six points for a second-team vote
- Three points for a third-team vote
- One point if a writer gave a player an optional "honorable mention"
Our top point-getters who didn't quite make the top 15:
G Michael Dixon, Missouri (one first-team vote, 10 pts.)
G Kenny Boynton, Florida (one first, one honorable mention (HM), 11 pts.)
G Michael Snaer, Florida State (one second, four third, 18 pts.)
G Lorenzo Brown, NC State (one first, one second, one third, 19 pts.)
F Tony Mitchell, North Texas (one first, one second, one third, three HM, 22 pts.)
C Jeff Withey, Kansas (three second, four third, 30 pts.)
Others receiving votes:
- Otto Porter, Georgetown
- Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota
- Adonis Thomas, Memphis
- Mason Plumlee, Duke
- Pierre Jackson, Baylor
- Gary Harris, Michigan State
- Patric Young, Florida
- Gorgui Dieng, Louisville
- Alex Poythress, Kentucky
- Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan
- Kyle Anderson, UCLA
- Ryan Harrow, Kentucky
- Andre Roberson, Colorado
- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Georgia
- Ben McLemore, Kansas
- Archie Goodwin, Kentucky
- Nate Wolters, South Dakota State
- Ray McCallum, Detroit
- CJ Wilcox, Washington
- Steven Adams, Pittsburgh
- Alex Len, Maryland
- Isaiah Austin, Baylor
To examine the full vote totals and each writer's individual ballot, click here.
G Phil Pressey, Missouri (two first, three second, two third, 44 pts.)
Pressey led the Big 12 in assists and steals last season, and it should surprise no one if he repeats the feat in the SEC. Ryan Satsky called him "[a] magnificent distributor, explosive off the dribble and might be the quickest defender in the land."
Aaron Craft supporters may take umbrage at the last part of that statement, but we'll get to him shortly.
G Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State (one first, five second, one third, one HM, 44 pts.)
One of the nation's most versatile players, Franklin came out of virtually nowhere to lead the Aztecs in scoring and rebounding last season, carding 12 double-doubles. As Dan Vasta said, "Franklin has range for days and is active on defense thanks to harassing passing lanes."
Questions linger about how he reacts to being the No. 1 focus of opposing defenses, but he was surely that by the end of last season and there wasn't a tremendous drop-off in his performance.
G C.J. McCollum, Lehigh (two first, two second, three third, two HM, 43 pts.)
Let's be honest here. You had to be pretty hardcore to know who McCollum was before last March.
Who he is, aside from the engine of the team that ended Duke's season, is a 20-PPG man for his entire career, not just the one season. He's also good for six rebounds, three assists and two steals per night, so the only thing holding him back from a national following is playing in the Patriot League.
F Mike Moser, UNLV (one first, three second, three third, one HM, 38 pts.)
UNLV is loaded this season, particularly in the frontcourt, and our voters had differing thoughts on how the Rebels' new additions would affect Moser's chances of repeating his double-double averages.
Satsky said, "Khem Birch and Anthony Bennett should create more opportunities for him," while Josh Schoch wrote, "...it will be tough for him to average a double-double alongside two other premier bigs inside."
Moser may get a chance to expand his game further if he can play as a face-up small forward.
G Aaron Craft, Ohio State (one first, three second, one third, two HM, 33 pts.)
Craft was another player who split our voters. Matt Overing gave him a first-team nod, touting his unquestioned defensive credentials. Schoch wasn't so sure, writing, "He doesn't have the all-around game I want to see in All-Americans" and "barely cracks the top five on my list of point guards."
There's no doubt that the Buckeyes need him to average 8.8 PPG to make a serious run at another Final Four, but what would it take for him to reach this level individually? Ten points per game? 12? 15?
F James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina (three first, three second, three third, one HM, 58 pts.)
Several writers are banking on McAdoo being, as Thad Novak put it, "this year’s Thomas Robinson." He appeared on every ballot except mine because I didn't include any honorable mentions.
He did put up 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting in the pictured game against Jeff Withey and Kansas. After seeing what Withey did to Anthony Davis, McAdoo's showing is quite impressive, but can he sustain it all season?
G Peyton Siva, Louisville (three first, two second, two third, 48 pts.)
Scott Polacek led off his comment with, "Somehow Peyton Siva is still in college."
This may be a paraphrasing of the old chestnut, "He seems like he's been in school for 10 years," and if there was ever a player who fit the statement well, it's Siva.
He plays a veteran game, orchestrating the offense and playing "ferocious" defense, to use Jon Hancock's word, with little regard for getting his own shot. Hancock called Siva, not Pressey or Craft, "the quickest guard in the nation," so all you Tiger and Buckeye fans can take it up with him.
F C.J. Leslie, NC State (one first, six second, one HM, 47 pts.)
Leslie was the king of the second-teamers. Gene Siudut was blunt, calling him the "best player on the best team in the ACC." The Wolfpack's increased expectations are also drawing increased recognition for Leslie's elite athletic ability.
He finished the season hot, averaging 18.3 PPG over his final 11 games. That may be the expectation if he gets enough shots on a team with three other returning starters and three McDonald's All-Americans. As Schoch put it, "There are just too many other mouths to feed."
C Nerlens Noel, Kentucky (one first, four second, four third, one HM, 47 pts.)
I'll be blunt here. I don't give freshmen preseason honors. I was the only one to leave Noel off the ballot completely. If I'm proved wrong, good for Noel, and good for Kentucky.
Noel is a fearsome shot-blocker to be sure, but will he block them in the Bill Russell "outlet pass" manner or the Dwight Howard "send it into row six and give a mean glare so I can get on SportsCenter" style?
Satsky gave Noel an HM, describing him as "extremely one-dimensional on the offensive end...needs to prove himself before earning a spot."
G Trey Burke, Michigan (two first, three second, two third, one HM, 45 pts.)
If pulling an upset in the NCAA tournament is a great way to go out, being the victim of said upset would be a terrible way to end one's career. Rather than bow out with a 5-for-15 shooting night in a loss to 13th-seeded Ohio, Burke is back to send the Wolverines deep into this year's tournament.
He may not need to score as much for this year's Michigan squad, with Tim Hardaway Jr. still alongside and a talented group of freshmen climbing aboard. A Big Ten-assist title, though, shouldn't damage his All-American stock.
C Cody Zeller, Indiana (11 first, 110 pts.)
As Schoch put it, "Were you expecting anyone else?"
The only unanimous first-teamer, Zeller is a perfectly fine choice for National Player of the Year. He may or may not have won if we had voted on that award during this process, but you'd be hard-pressed to find an All-American team that doesn't have him on it.
Zeller scores, rebounds, plays strong defense and even has been working on a jump shot out to three-point range. If the deep balls start falling, opposing coaches would be forgiven for simply giving up. Even with the major influx of talent in Bloomington, the offense still works through Zeller, and an injury would seem to be the only thing to stop him this season.
F Doug McDermott, Creighton (nine first, one second, one third, 99 pts.)
The only other player to appear on every ballot, McDermott was a consensus Player of the Year finalist last season, so why should he miss the first team this year?
Polacek wrote, "I will be legitimately surprised if McDermott doesn’t lead the nation in scoring per game this year after finishing in the Top Three in 2011-12."
The loss of point guard Antoine Young may give opponents a bit more leeway to trap and double McDermott, but if he doesn't have the shot, he won't take it.
That basketball IQ will keep garnering him praise, even if he's only scoring 20 PPG instead of 22.
F Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State (five first, four second, one third, 77 pts.)
Where McDermott selects shots like a veteran sommelier selects wines, Thomas is a bit less discriminating. The look can be Dom Perignon or MD 20/20; he'll still take it. With no William Buford and Jared Sullinger, there will be more shots available than at spring break in Cancun. Look for Thomas to take enough that he'll struggle to walk afterwards.
Thomas averaged nearly 20 PPG in the Buckeyes' run to the Final Four, and that experience should give him a taste of what to expect this season. Personally, I'm expecting close to 25 points a night and certainly a Big Ten scoring title, if not the national crown.
G/F Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA (four first, three second, two third, 64 pts.)
Robert Pace said of Muhammad, "If cleared for eligibility with UCLA, Muhammad will be one of the most explosive players college basketball has seen in recent years. A one-and-done guy for sure."
The first part of that statement hangs like a cloud over the rest. The NCAA is in no hurry to give UCLA a definitive ruling on the eligibility of either Muhammad or classmate Kyle Anderson.
Satsky added, "...he's a poor man's Kobe. Explosive dunker, commendable shooter, unique physical specimen and extremely versatile."
He'll be fun to watch for those who stay up late enough to watch the Pac-12. Will the NCAA let us watch him this year, or do we have to wait to see him put on a cap at the NBA draft? Stay tuned.
G Isaiah Canaan, Murray State (4 1st, 3 2nd, 2 3rd, 64 pts.)
Canaan led Murray on a long undefeated run, branding himself on the national radar in the process. This season, he's lost two talented supporting pieces to graduation and one to a case of road rage in a Wal-Mart parking lot. He may have to average 20 or more to fulfill the hefty expectations this year.
Satsky called him an "elite outside shooter, just needs to gain more maturity as a ball-handler," while Vasta praised his "killer instinct that wants the ball to hit the final dagger in opposing teams' hearts."
All of that will be on full display as he tries to score Murray State a few more NCAA tournament wins.
For more on college basketball, including in-depth previews of (almost) every conference in America, check out The Back Iron.