Bleacher Report's 2016-17 College Basketball All-Americans
The NCAA tournament is almost at our doorstep, but we can't put a proper bow on college basketball's 2016-17 regular season without a debate over the best players in the nation.
Bleacher Report's CBB All-Americans were selected by C.J. Moore, Brian Pedersen and myself. Each voter submitted his five-man first, second and third teams, from which a consensus ranking was created. If our ballots are any indication of what to expect from other outlets around the country, this could be the closest thing to a unanimous group of first-team All-Americans ever.
Frank Mason and Josh Hart have been jockeying for National Player of the Year honors for the past four months, so it can't possibly be a surprise to see them at the top of the list. Joining those senior studs on our first team are Caleb Swanigan, Lonzo Ball and Nigel Williams-Goss.
Not surprisingly, both the ACC and Big 12 are well represented. Factoring in our honorable mentions, each of the nation's two best conferences accounts for five of the 25 players. The top-heavy Pac-12 also has five representatives, while the Big East ended up with just Josh Hart.
Read on for the full list of this year's college basketball All-Americans.
Markelle Fultz, Washington
Despite playing for one of the worst major-conference teams in the country, Fultz gave us a reason to keep checking Washington's box scores. He won't be in the NCAA tournament, but it's not the fault of the likely No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft that the rest of this team was a train wreck.
De'Aaron Fox, Kentucky
Overshadowed by the combination of teammate Malik Monk and the plethora of other stud freshman point guards around the country, Fox quietly had a remarkable season. Advertised in high school as Kentucky's next John Wall, Fox delivered on expectations.
Donovan Mitchell, Louisville
As a freshman, Mitchell was a disappointing shooter (25.0 3P%) who committed too many silly fouls. As a sophomore, he became one of the best three-point threats in the ACC (37.1 3P%; 2.5 made triples per game) and one of the best defenders in the country. If there's a junior year in his future, Mitchell might be a front-runner for the 2018 Wooden Award.
Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina
The KenPom.com MVP in 14 of his 25 games, there's a case to be made that Thornwell was more important to his team than any player in the nation. But the combination of missing six games in December and South Carolina's collapse in February limited him to an honorable mention.
Semi Ojeleye, SMU
After two years of barely touching the court for Duke, Ojeleye has been a godsend for the Mustangs. They only really play six guys, but his combination of range and rebounding makes it feel like they have six guys on the floor at all times.
Alec Peters, Valparaiso
A stress fracture in his right foot has robbed Peters of the chance to return to the NCAA tournament, but in his 29 games he became the first person since Notre Dame's Luke Harangody in 2008-09 to average at least 22.9 points and 9.9 rebounds per game for an entire season.
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona
Save for a pair of nice games against lowly Washington and Washington State, Markkanen hit the freshman wall in February, prior to which he almost certainly would have been a second- or third-team player. Still, the 7-foot Finnish phenom is shooting 42.8 percent from three-point range on the year and was the primary reason Arizona was able to thrive for its first 19 games without Allonzo Trier.
TJ Leaf, UCLA
Lost in all the deserved fuss over Lonzo Ball, TJ Leaf put up Kevin Love numbers for the Bruins. The 6'10" power forward averaged 16.3 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists while shooting 46.2 percent from three-point range.
Jock Landale, Saint Mary's
Landale didn't start a game in his first two seasons at Saint Mary's and probably wouldn't have been a starter this year were it not for a minor injury that senior big man Dane Pineau suffered before the season. But he has risen to the occasion, averaging 24.5 points and 13.7 rebounds per 40 minutes in leading Saint Mary's to its best season in school history.
John Collins, Wake Forest
Two years ago, Duke's Jahlil Okafor averaged 23.0 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per 40 minutes as one of the more dominant true big men in recent memory. Playing against an even better ACC than the one Okafor had to face, Collins is averaging 29.6, 15.1 and 2.5, respectively. If the Demon Deacons had six losses instead of 12, he'd be neck-and-neck with Frank Mason and Josh Hart for National Player of the Year.
Monte Morris, Iowa State
16.2 PPG, 6.2 APG, 4.6 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 39.1 3P%
Morris has been criminally under-appreciated for his entire career. His freshman year, DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim were the stars. Over the next two years, Georges Niang stole the show. But now that all those guys are gone and it's finally his team, the Cyclones are just as great.
In each season, the point guard has recorded more steals than turnovers. This year, his assist-to-turnover ratio is a ludicrous 6.2.
In a November game against The Citadel, he had 17 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds with no turnovers. Last week against Oklahoma State, he went for 12, 11, nine and one, respectively, with three steals and two blocks for good measure. It's incredible how efficiently he has been while playing more than 35 minutes per game.
Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State
18.7 PPG, 6.3 APG, 3.3 RPG, 1.9 SPG, 37.1 3P%
Evans isn't nearly as turnover-averse as Morris is, but that's largely because A) no one is, and B) Evans is a more aggressive driver. If he coughs up the ball from time to time, it's a small price to pay for all his trips to the free-throw line (6.1 attempts per game) and the defenders he sucks in before hitting Phil Forte or Jeffrey Carroll for wide-open threes.
When Oklahoma State got out to an 0-6 start in Big 12 play, it was because Evans wasn't quite right. He was committing a ton of fouls and turnovers and wasn't getting many free throws or steals. When he got back on the right track, though, so did the Cowboys.
Josh Jackson, Kansas
16.4 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.6 SPG, 1.1 BPG, 37.7 3P%
For the first two months of the season, the big knock on Jackson was that he couldn't shoot. After 18 games, he was 9-of-38 (23.7 percent) from three-point range. But over the last 13 games, he's 20-of-39 (51.3 percent) from beyond the arc while averaging better than 18 points. During that stretch, he has also recorded seven double-doubles.
Factor in Jackson's impact on the defensive end of the floor, and he's right up there with Villanova's Josh Hart as the best total package in the country. Turnovers have been a problem lately, and he's still an awful free-throw shooter (55.9 percent), but Jackson has been every bit as important to the success of Kansas as Frank Mason.
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
17.0 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.4 BPG, 1.1 SPG, 39.6 3P%
Heading into this season, the biggest concern for Notre Dame was frontcourt play. Replacing Zach Auguste (14.0 PPG, 10.7 RPG) seemed like an impossible task for a team that didn't have any established big men or potential freshman phenoms.
But 6'5" Bonzie Colson has blossomed into an undersized-but-unstoppable power forward. The Fighting Irish are still a slightly below average rebounding team, but it's not nearly the issue it could have been. When Colson went for 23 points and 10 rebounds against Purdue's front line in December, it became clear this team would be a factor in the ACC race.
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
13.9 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 2.9 APG, 2.0 SPG, 1.2 BPG
One month ago, there would have a heated debate between Nigel Willams-Goss, Caleb Swanigan and Ethan Happ for the last two spots on the first team. But between Wisconsin's losing games left and right and Happ's struggles to both avoid fouls and put the ball in the hoop, he barely made it onto our third team.
Of course, those two factors aren't mutually exclusive. When the Badgers were 21-3 and looking like a second-tier candidate for the national championship, it was because Happ was stuffing the stat sheet night in and night out. But now he hasn't had a double-double since January and has become a massive liability in the foul department. Over his last 11 games, Happ has averaged 3.8 personal fouls while shooting a horrendous 27-of-63 (42.9 percent) from the free-throw line.
If that was just a February funk, though, and he's about to turn things around for the NCAA tournament, Wisconsin could be a dangerous team from the No. 7-10 seed range.
Luke Kennard, Duke
20.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.5 APG, 45.0 3P%
In an injury-riddled season for the Blue Devils, Kennard has been the one consistent source of production for what was supposed to be a powerhouse. The No. 2 all-time leading scorer in Ohio high school hoops had a shaky freshman year, shooting 31.8 percent from three-point range. As a sophomore, however, he seems to be on fire every single night.
Whereas most players who stroke it as well as Kennard tend to shoot as often as possible, the one possible complaint about his game is that he isn't selfish enough. Even the three times he scored at least 34 points in a game this season, he did so while taking fewer than 20 shots. On nights where Grayson Allen either isn't playing or isn't shooting well, Kennard ought to be shooting on at least 40 percent of Duke's possessions.
Malik Monk, Kentucky
21.2 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.1 SPG, 40.9 3P%
If only Kennard could be more like Monk. When this man is feeling it, get out of his way. Monk dropped 47 points on North Carolina in December and has scored at least 26 eight times—each resulting in a win for the Wildcats.
Among Kentucky's regulars, he has the worst rebounding rate and the worst defensive box plus/minus. And for a guard who has the ball in his hands a ton, his assist rate isn't much to brag about. Monk isn't much of an asset when he's not shooting well. But considering Saturday was the first time he failed to score at least 10 points in a game this season, that doesn't happen often.
Justin Jackson, North Carolina
18.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.6 APG, 38.5 3P%
For much of the season, it seemed like Joel Berry was destined to be North Carolina's representative on the All-American teams. But save for a dud in the recent loss to Virginia, Justin Jackson has been the undisputed leader of the Tar Heels.
From Dec. 17 through Feb. 25, Jackson scored at least a dozen points in 19 straight games, averaging 20.7. Though he was a 29.7 percent three-point shooter through his first two seasons, he drained 61 of 146 (41.8 percent) during that stretch, including a streak of 15 games with at least two made triples.
It was always clear Jackson had talent, but he had trouble harnessing it for more than a couple of games in a row. Now that he has shown an ability to stay hot for multiple months at a time, he's one of the most valuable players in the nation.
Dillon Brooks, Oregon
16.0 PPG, 2.9 APG, 2.7 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 41.6 3P%
Brooks' season averages are a little worse than last year, but much of that is due to injury. When he has been healthy, though, he has been great and has drained a couple of last-second, game-winning shots.
In eight games in February, Brooks averaged 20.5 points in just 28.3 minutes while shooting 24-of-45 (53.3 percent) from three-point range. Once the Ducks turn him loose for close to 40 minutes per night in the NCAA tournament, he could put up ridiculous numbers.
Johnathan Motley, Baylor
17.5 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.0 BPG
Newcomers Manu Lecomte and Jo Lual-Acuil have been crucial to Baylor's success, but there's no debating who the star has been for the most surprising team in the running for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
In Baylor's quality nonconference wins over Oregon, VCU, Michigan State, Louisville and Xavier, Motley averaged 18.8 points and 7.4 rebounds in the process of catapulting onto the Wooden Watch. Subsequent ridiculous performances like the 32-point, 20-rebound game against Texas cemented his elite status.
Though the Bears have struggled a bit lately, Motley is showing no signs of stopping. He has scored at least 15 points in 13 of his last 14 games, averaging 20.6 points and 11.0 rebounds since mid-January.
First-Team All-American: Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga
Stats: 16.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 4.7 APG, 1.6 SPG, 37.0 3P%
MVP Performance: 36 points, 11 rebounds, six assists at San Francisco (Jan. 5)
Gonzaga has been quite the second home for major-conference transfers in recent years. Last year's squad was fueled by Kyle Wiltjer (Kentucky) and Eric McClellan (Vanderbilt). In 2014-15, those two played alongside Byron Wesley (USC) en route to the Elite Eight. This year, the Zags have gotten a ton of production out of Jordan Mathews (California) and Johnathan Williams III (Missouri).
But Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington) has been the best of the bunch and could be the reason this program finally reaches a Final Four.
Williams-Goss is leading the Bulldogs in points, assists and steals, and the 6'3" point guard is less than one rebound per game off the pace to lead in that category as well.
More impressive than the raw numbers is the consistency with which he gets them. NWG demonstrated on several occasions that he could pop off for 30 points or more if he wanted to, but it seemed like he was more interested in making sure to do a little bit of everything and putting the team ahead of himself. Case in point: Williams-Goss had at least three assists in all but one game, and he made up for it with 19 points and 11 rebounds in that outlier.
With seven guys who average at least 7.7 points per game, this is the deepest and most well-rounded rotation Gonzaga has ever had. But of the five leading scorers, three are transfers, one is a freshman and one missed all but five games last season due to back surgery. Things easily could have gone awry while trying to mesh all those new pieces together. But with Williams-Goss running the show, these guys look like they've been thriving together forever.
First-Team All-American: Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
Stats: 18.7 PPG, 12.6 RPG, 2.8 APG, 44.9 3P%
MVP Performance: 24 points, 15 rebounds, five assists vs. Michigan State (Feb. 18)
The colossal double-doubles are what draw most people to Caleb Swanigan. He has a total of 25 double-doubles in 31 games. In 14 of those games, he had at least a dozen points and rebounds. Four times, Swanigan had at least 20 of each.
If that's all it was, though, Seton Hall's Angel Delgado would be an All-American, too, as he has 23 double-doubles in his last 24 games and is tied with Swanigan for the national lead in that category. But Swanigan is so much more than just a rebounding machine—and also plays on a more successful team than Delgado does.
What sets Swanigan apart as one of the most valuable players in the country is his improved versatility.
As Sam Vecenie recently wrote for Sporting News, Swanigan is drastically better than he was last year in all play types, from post-ups to pick-and-rolls. He has also become a much more accurate three-point shooter (44.9 percent vs. 29.2 percent) and is getting to the free-throw line more than twice as often as he did as a freshman. All told, he has gone from averaging 1.23 points per field-goal attempt to a Tyler Hansbrough-like 1.59.
In addition to that ability to put the ball in the hoop from all over the floor, Swanigan is one of the best passing big men in the nation. In fact, he's one of just nine players in the last nine years to average at least 10.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists, joining former CBB studs Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green and Ben Simmons.
First-Team All-American: Lonzo Ball, UCLA
Stats: 14.9 PPG, 7.8 APG, 6.2 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 42.4 3P%
MVP Performance: 17 points, eight assists, six rebounds, five steals, one turnover at Utah (Jan. 14)
One year removed from going 15-17 and not even sniffing the NCAA tournament field, UCLA is 28-3 and one of the favorites to cut down the nets in Glendale. TJ Leaf has been a big part of that turnaround, but none of it would have been possible without Lonzo Ball.
The national leader in assists per game, Ball has turned UCLA into the most fun-to-watch team since the 2008-09 North Carolina Tar Heels that won a national championship while averaging just a shade under 90.0 points per game. Usually, the nation's most efficient offenses play at a below-average pace, but with Ball the Bruins are pushing the tempo and ranking top-three in the country in both two-point and three-point percentage.
On a team that has come under national scrutiny for a lack of effort on defense, Ball has been just as valuable on the other end of the court.
He has multiple steals in 13 of his past 16 games, averaging 2.5 per game since the beginning of January. Though he didn't have any steals in last month's win over Oregon, it was when he started guarding Dillon Brooks that the Bruins were able to come back from a 19-point deficit for a marquee win.
Aside from consistently making free throws and keeping his dad from making headlines, there's nothing Lonzo Ball can't do. He's outstanding by himself, and he makes everyone around him look like an all-star.
For as great as guys like Frank Mason, Nigel Williams-Goss, Monte Morris and Jawun Evans have been, if you're constructing a college basketball dream team and not starting with Ball as your point guard, you're doing it wrong.
First-Team All-American: Josh Hart, Villanova
Stats: 18.7 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.5 SPG, 40.4 3P%
MVP Performance: 37 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, two steals vs. Notre Dame (Dec. 10)
There is not a more reliable star player in the country than Villanova's Josh Hart.
Hart has scored at least 11 points in every game this season and shot at least 40 percent from the field in all but four games. He always makes at least one three-pointer, always records at least one assist and almost always (29 of 31 times) grabs at least four rebounds.
Though he does have a triple-double (16 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists vs. St. Joseph's) and a pair of games with at least 30 points, Hart isn't the type of POY candidate who's likely to flip a switch and completely dominate a game over the span of a couple of media timeouts. He's more of a box score ninja who gradually racks up stats until you look down midway through the second half and find his fingerprints all over the stat sheet.
But it's not even the numbers that have kept Hart at or near the top of the Wooden Award conversation since October.
If you'll permit some lazy analysis, this dude is a winner. Dating back to his freshman year when he was a linchpin of a sixth man and one of the most efficient players in the country, he has been a pivotal part of four consecutive outright Big East championships.
Villanova is 125-16 (88.7 percent) with Hart on the roster and is headed for a fourth straight year with five or fewer losses. The only other team during that time that didn't have at least one season with at least nine losses is Gonzaga—and we can all agree the Big East is a bit tougher than the West Coast Conference.
Granted, we're looking for the best players of the year, not the best players of the mid-2010s. But it's impossible to think about the impact Hart has made this season without also considering the great career he has had. It's because of his decision to return for a senior year that Villanova has a good chance of becoming the first back-to-back national champions since Florida did it in 2006-07.
First-Team All-American: Frank Mason, Kansas
Stats: 20.5 PPG, 5.1 APG, 4.2 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 49.3 3P%
MVP Performance: 29 points, nine assists, eight rebounds at Oklahoma State (March 4)
Four months ago, Frank Mason wasn't on any of the radars for National Player of the Year.
Both CBS Sports and NBC Sports omitted Mason from all three of their preseason All-American teams. USA Today went one step further by leaving him off all three teams and neglecting to mention him as one of the 12 players listed to "keep an eye on." Your omniscient B/R experts at least had him as a third-team All-American, but even we had no clue he'd be this incredible.
It took less than a week for everyone to realize the error of their ways. In the season opener against Indiana, Mason had 30 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, single-handedly willing that game to overtime. Four days later, he had 21 points and five assists against Duke, including the game-winning, cold-blooded jumper with 1.8 seconds to go.
That was back when he was struggling to make shots. Mason opened the season 2-of-10 from three-point range, but he's shooting 51.5 percent from beyond the arc since then.
It's one thing for a three-point specialist to be that lethal—like Bryn Forbes was last year for Michigan State—but that's not even Mason's go-to shot. In fact, there hasn't been a game yet this season where he attempted more threes than twos. It's just a luxury he breaks out every now and again to keep the opposition from ever knowing what he's going to do.
Mason has been a model of consistency for the Jayhawks for the past three years. The only difference from previous seasons is that he has significantly raised the bar for what he consistently does. According to Sports-Reference, the last player before Mason to average at least 20 points, four assists and four rebounds per game while shooting at least 45.0 percent from three-point range was Arizona's Damon Stoudamire in 1994-95.
Kansas hasn't been to the Final Four since 2012, but you've got to like the Jayhawks' chances of winning it all if this man is steering the ship.