Big 3s That Will Turn Heads in the 2014-15 College Basketball Season
Five players make a basketball team. But all it takes is three really good ones to form an ominous lineup.
Call them what you want: trios, big threes, three-headed monsters. Any of those labels apply to these 10 threesomes that will be the talk of the 2014-15 college basketball season.
This isn't to say they're the only good players in Division I, nor are their teams the only ones featuring quality lineups. Rather, the combination of each of their different skills to go with their size and position on the court make them worthy of being singled (er, tripled) out and praised.
One note on how these triumvirates were selected: none features more than one "newcomer" to the team, whether that be a high school or junior college recruit or a player who transferred from another program. Chemistry is a key ingredient to a successful grouping of talent, so in order to make this list, a team's big three has to have been at least two-thirds intact prior to this season.
The trio: Stanley Johnson, Fr., SF; T.J. McConnell, Sr., PG; Kaleb Tarczewski, Jr., C
While Arizona lost two-thirds of a big trio from last season in guard Nick Johnson and forward Aaron Gordon, the trio that will lead the Wildcats in 2014-15 might be even better, based on their diverse abilities.
T.J. McConnell is a pure point guard who was a godsend for Arizona's halfcourt game last season, averaging 5.3 assists and a nearly 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Though not much of a scorer, late in the year he began to find his own shot more and became more of a threat.
Kaleb Tarczewski is still developing as an offensive threat, but the 7-footer has long been a nuisance on the defensive end. He was a big reason Arizona was among the top teams in field goal and scoring defense last year and with another offseason to improve his scoring presence, he's set to become a dominant big man.
And in Stanley Johnson, the 5-star wing who was No. 4 in the 2014 recruiting class, Arizona gets a 6'7" wing who can replace both the offensive and defensive voids left by Gordon and Nick Johnson.
Georgia State Panthers
The trio: Ryan Harrow, Sr., PG; R.J. Hunter, Jr., SG; Curtis Washington, Sr., PF
One of the hottest teams in the country heading into conference tournament play last season was Georgia State, which went 17-1 in the better-than-you'd-think Sun Belt Conference, and had won 22 of 23 before falling in its tourney title game. The Panthers would have been dangerous in the NCAA tourney, and the same players who made that so last season are back for more.
Ryan Harrow, a former Kentucky recruit who transferred to GSU after the 2012-13, was the engine that made the Panthers go. The 6'2" guard was second on the team in scoring at 17.8 points per game, while leading in assists at 4.2 per contest.
R.J. Hunter, son of coach Ron Hunter, led the way with an 18.3 scoring average that included making 39.5 percent of his three-pointers. A 6'5" shooting guard who can beat defenders off the dribble or shoot over them, he could play for many major programs.
And Curtis Washington, a former USC player who sat out 2011-12 with an injury and then 2012-13 as a transfer, provides GSU with size and strength inside at 6'9" and 240 pounds. He led GSU in shooting at 65.6 percent and was second in rebounding, despite just 22 minutes played per game.
The trio: Gary Bell Jr., Sr., G; Przemek Karnowski, Jr., C; Kevin Pangos, Sr., PG
There's a reason that Gonzaga has managed to maintain its presence among the nation's top basketball programs for more than 15 years, despite an out-of-the-way locale and a lower-end conference. It's because of Mark Few's ability to constantly grab underrated players and turn them into stars, including this trio of guys who didn't get much consideration from major programs.
Gary Bell Jr. had offers from a handful of Pac-12 programs, but none were as interested in him as the Bulldogs, and he made the right choice. In Spokane, he's been able to flourish as a small two-guard who has averaged nearly 43 percent on his three-pointers for his career.
Kevin Pangos, plucked by Few out of Ontario, has been a double-digit scorer and a slashing point guard each of his three seasons with the Bulldogs. Without David Stockton alongside him to help dish out dimes, Pangos may become even more of a facilitator as a senior.
And Przemek Karnowski, from Poland, is a 7'1", 296-pound mass of still-developing talent that showed a lot of promise last season. He averaged 10.4 points and 7.1 rebounds, while shooting 59 percent and playing solid interior defense.
The trio: Siyani Chambers, Jr., PG; Steve Moundou-Missi, Sr., F; Wesley Saunders, Sr., G
How has Harvard managed to go from maybe the most antiquated conference in Division I—the Ivy League, with its academics-driven Friday/Saturday league schedule—and not only made three straight NCAA tournaments but also won a game in the past two? By keeping a core of talented players together for a long time.
Siyani Chambers has been the Crimson's leading assist man the past two years, averaging 4.6 assists per game last season while adding 11.1 points. Though his shooting touch was off last season, he remained Harvard's floor leader.
Steve Moundou-Missi, a 6'7" native of Cameroon, has moved past the "raw" label that he came to school with and is developing into a solid, if not undersized post player. Last year, he shot 54 percent and averaged more than 10 points a game while also leading Harvard in rebounding at 6.0 per contest.
And Wesley Saunders, a Los Angeles product, has led the Crimson in scoring the past two seasons and was a helpful contributor off the bench on the 2011-12 team that started the NCAA tourney streak. At 6'5", he can play the two or three, and did both effectively last season.
Iowa State Cyclones
The trio: Bryce Dejean-Jones, Sr., G; Dustin Hogue, Sr., F; Georges Niang, Jr., F
Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg's "island of misfit toys" approach to recruiting has once again given the Cyclones a powerful trio of standouts for 2014-15, a group that came to Ames from a prep school, a junior college and another Division I program.
Dustin Hogue, a 6'6" swingman, who was ISU's leading rebounder at 8.4 per game, was an instant impact in his first season, after arriving from Indian Hills Community College. At 57 percent he was ISU's best shooting, a rate that went up to 64.6 percent on two-point shots.
Georges Niang, a prep school recruit who averaged 16.7 points per game last season, was the Cyclones' most versatile player with his ability to score inside and out and be a solid defender. His broken foot during ISU's second-round win over North Carolina Central completely changed how the team operated, and contributed to the Sweet 16 exit to Connecticut.
The trio: Willie Cauley-Stein, Jr., C; Aaron Harrison, So., SG; Andrew Harrison, So., PG
With nine former McDonald's All-Americans set to be on Kentucky's roster in 2014-15, there is enough talent to make up a trio of...well, trios. But based on past contributions and expectations for what they will provide this season, one group stands out above the others.
Willie Cauley-Stein, the grizzled veteran of the Wildcats, as one of two upperclassmen to see regular playing time, has carved himself a pretty well-defined niche as a defensive specialist among Kentucky's many offensive talents. The 7-footer blocked as many shots (106) as he made last season but also was second on the team in rebounding and, at 59.6 percent, was the top shooter among main rotation players.
Aaron Harrison, the hero of Kentucky's late-game rallies against Michigan and Wisconsin, showed in those and other games his ability to drain a huge shot no matter what the situation. His 35.6 percent efficiency led the Wildcats from three-point range, while at 13.7 points per game, he's the team's leading returning scorer.
And Andrew Harrison, the other end of the Wildcats' twin tandem, was the top assist man last year at 4.0 per game, but that number should rise this year with a more diverse array of options to pass to. At 6'6", he's huge for a point, but he runs it well and should be a great facilitator for Kentucky's latest roster of overabundant talent.
The trio: Markus Kennedy, Jr., PF; Nic Moore, Jr., PG; Emmanuel Mudiay, Fr., SG
SMU was one of the biggest surprises in the 2013-14 season, both for how well they played for most of the year and for how their late skid kept a ranked team out of the NCAA tournament. But a key addition to the Mustangs this fall should negate chances of another slide while also giving us one of the most exciting trios in the country.
Markus Kennedy, a 6'9" bruiser who began his career at Villanova, was the Mustangs' most consistent player last season. He was second in scoring at 12.4 points per game, led in rebounding (7.1) and made 53 percent of his shots while also providing solid defense via 1.2 blocks per game.
Nic Moore, a 5'9" speedster, a transfer from Illinois State, led SMU in scoring (13.6) and assists (4.9) and made a robust 43.6 percent of his three-pointers. Equally adept at scoring or facilitating, he was hard to guard in either respect.
But the big addition for 2014-15 will come from Emmanuel Mudiay, the No. 2 overall recruit in the 2015 class. At 6'5", he's made a name for himself as a point guard, but in Larry Brown's system, he'll be used at both the 1-2, creating as good a backcourt (with Moore) as any in the country.
The trio: Jonathan Holmes, Sr., F; Isaiah Taylor, So., PG; Myles Turner, Fr., C
Texas brings back every significant piece from a team that wasn't expected to do much in 2013-14, but instead contended in the Big 12, and reached the third round of the NCAA tournament. As if that wasn't good enough, an already solid returning group got that much better with a huge late pickup on the recruiting trail.
Jonathan Holmes was the Longhorns' leading scorer at 12.8 points per game, despite playing less than 25 minutes a night. The 6'8", 240-pound post has moves that work well as either a wing or in the paint, with him likely getting more looks away from the basket next season with Texas' projected lineup in mind.
Isaiah Taylor was one of the best freshmen in the country last season, but the 6'1" point guard didn't get nearly the amount of hype and attention as the frosh who mostly all have gone pro now. Taylor averaged 12.7 points, 4.0 assists and a healthy 3.3 rebounds per game.
Myles Turner, the jewel of the late signing period, joined Texas' recruiting class on May 1, after choosing the Longhorns over many major programs. The 6'10" Turner was the No. 6 player in the nation and, combined with Holmes and 6'9" power forward Cameron Ridley, will form one of the most imposing frontcourts in the country.
The trio: Dallin Bachynski, Sr., C; Jordan Loveridge, Jr., F; Delon Wright, Sr., G
Utah finished in a tie for eighth place in the Pac-12 Conference, a distant six games behind regular season champion Arizona. But thanks to mass departures from most of the teams between them and the Wildcats, as well as a trio of returners who should work well together, the Utes are poised to have a breakout season.
Dallin Bachynski has had limited involvement in Utah's game, averaging just 18 minutes last season as a junior. But the 7-footer maximized his opportunity with 6.8 points and 4.9 rebounds per game on 62 percent shooting.
Jordan Loveridge, one of the more underrated swingmen in the country at 6'6", was Utah's top rebounder (7.0 per game) while scoring just under 15 points. His ability to contribute on both ends of the court will be critical for the Utes' success in 2014-15.
Delon Wright, a flashy-yet-big point guard at 6'5", struggled with his outside shooting last season but still managed to light it up at times. He led the Utes with 15.5 points per game and was second in rebounding at 6.8, while also leading the team in blocked shots with 43.
The trio: Sam Dekker, Sr., F; Frank Kaminsky, Sr., C; Traevon Jackson, Sr., PG
The best Wisconsin team in 15 years returns mostly intact in 2014-15, which means we'll get to see a lot more of some of the best-shooting big men and one of the most clutch late-game guards in the country.
Sam Dekker is a silky-smooth 6'8" forward who shot 47 percent from the field and, like nearly everyone else on the Badgers, was solid from outside. His 42 threes were second-most among the returners and his ability to draw big defenders outside was fun to watch.
Traevon Jackson had a penchant for last-second heroics last season, making numerous game-tying, game-winning or game-clinching shots in the final moments. He made 38 percent of his threes and also led the team with 4.0 assists per game.
And in Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin brings back possibly the biggest surprise star of 2013-14. A little used 7-footer in his first two seasons, last year Kaminsky exploded onto the scene with an inside-outside game that became nearly unguardable, pushing him to 13.7 points per game and 53 percent shooting, which included 37.8 percent from outside.
All recruiting ratings and rankings courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.