Predicting Awards and All-Americans for the 2017-18 College Basketball Season

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistNovember 10, 2017

Predicting Awards and All-Americans for the 2017-18 College Basketball Season

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    College basketball is back! It seems like forever since North Carolina beat Gonzaga in a foul-filled national championship game, but it's only been a little more than seven months. In that time, the sport has gone through another massive turnover of talent.       

    But as is the case every year, no matter how many great players graduate or turn pro early, there's never a shortage of returning stars or new guys to be wowed by.

    And if you haven't been closely following along during the offseason, we've got you covered. Bleacher Report college basketball experts Kerry Miller and Brian Pedersen have put their heads together to predict who will end up being college basketball's All-Americans as well as the winners of several major national awards.

First-Team All-American: Grayson Allen, Duke

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    The annual "He's Still in College?" award goes to Grayson Allen, who has played 105 games for Duke since arriving in 2014. And nearly every one of those appearances has been closely scrutinized, particularly the past two seasons, when his propensity for tripping opponents and other unsavory actions labeled him as one of college basketball's dirtiest players.

    He's also one of the best when all the noise gets pushed aside and he can just play with reckless abandon. It's enabled him to score more than 1,400 points with 17 games of 25 or more and five of 30-plus. Four of those were as a sophomore, when the 6'4" guard averaged 21.6 per game, but last season he dropped to 14.5, with Duke having many more scoring options.

    The same scenario exists this year with the Blue Devils bringing in the nation's No. 1 recruiting class, per 247Sports. But Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski loves his seniors, and few have had as many ups and downs as Allen.

First-Team All-American: Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame

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    Only 17 players averaged a double-double in Division I last season, and just six were from power-conference programs. Most are out of school, but Bonzie Colson is still around and ready to play much bigger than his 6'5" 226-pound frame.

    Colson was the top scorer and rebounder on a Notre Dame team that won 26 games and finished second in the ACC. Doing just as well, if not better, will be dependent on the senior forward continuing to be a beast on the boards and making his shots.

    Notre Dame should be a senior-dominated team, with Colson at the center of it all even if he's the size of a wing.

First-Team All-American: Devonte' Graham, Kansas

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    The understudy to Frank Mason the previous two seasons, Devonte' Graham is now the man in Kansas' backcourt. And if he can play as well as Mason did in 2016-17, the Jayhawks could end up with back-to-back national players of the year.

    The last team to do that: Kansas, with Drew Gooden and Nick Collison winning the award courtesy of the National Association of Basketball Coaches in 2002 and 2003, respectively.

    Graham, a 6'2" senior guard, failed to make a field goal in Kansas' Elite Eight loss to Oregon. Don't expect that to happen again this season.

First-Team All-American: Miles Bridges, Michigan State

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    Getting Miles Bridges back for a second season figures to be the gift that keeps on giving for college basketball, not to mention the Michigan State team that relied so heavily on him as a freshman. The 6'7" wing averaged 16.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists while battling injury.

    Now he figures to be a matchup nightmare who floats between the 3 and 4 depending on the matchup, using his size and speed to stifle opponents.

    Bridges went through a rough season last year, with the Spartans losing 15 games and barely making the NCAA tournament. With him back for more, though, MSU could make another push for the Final Four.

First-Team All-American: Marvin Bagley III, Duke

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    We can't go without having at least one freshman on our first team—it's become an unofficial rule in college basketball. There are several great options, but it's never a bad choice to go with a first-year player from Duke.

    And Marvin Bagley III could be one of the best frosh the program has ever had, which is saying something since the school has recently been the (brief) home to Jayson Tatum, Brandon Ingram, Jahlil Okafor and Jabari Parker.

    Bagley, a 6'11" forward, technically should still be in high school. Instead, he graduated early and reclassified to the 2017 class, where he was the No. 1 overall player, and now he'll be the latest big man for Mike Krzyzewski to build his offense around.

Second-Team All-Americans

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    Arizona G Allonzo Trier
    Arizona G Allonzo TrierAlex Caparros/Getty Images

    G Jalen Brunson, Villanova: Brunson's third year in coach Jay Wright's system will see him continue to be the primary ball-handler but also take on more scoring responsibilities.

    G Allonzo Trier, Arizona: Held out half of last season after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug, Trier is poised to finally show his full arsenal of skills as a junior.

    F Angel Delgado, Seton Hall: Delgado's 27 double-doubles last season as a junior were second only to Caleb Swanigan, who's now in the NBA.

    F Michael Porter Jr., Missouri: A freshman who flipped from Washington during the spring, he could be the answer to reversing Missouri's recent woes.

    C DeAndre Ayton, Arizona: A 7-footer with great hands and even better vision, is he the piece the Wildcats have been missing in their quest for the Final Four? 

Third-Team All-Americans

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    Wisconsin F Ethan Happ
    Wisconsin F Ethan HappMaddie Meyer/Getty Images

    G Joel Berry II, North Carolina: A broken hand will keep the senior out for the first month of the season; once he returns, look for him to pick up where he left off in leading UNC to a national title.

    G Bruce Brown, Miami (Florida): A stat-stuffing sophomore who could be a triple-double threat on a nightly basis.

    G/F Trevon Bluiett, Xavier: Bluiett averaged 18.5 PPG last season. With Edmond Sumner gone, his scoring as a senior should go up a bunch.

    F Ethan Happ, Wisconsin: One of the most efficient players in the country, Happ makes his shots and gets his hands on copious rebounds. Should average a double-double as a junior.

    C Jock Landale, Saint Mary's: No longer a hidden gem, the 6'11" Aussie heads into his senior year as the Gaels' go-to scorer.

National Player of the Year: Miles Bridges, Michigan State

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    As much as college basketball has morphed into a freshman-dominated sport, when it comes to national player of the year awards, it's the upperclassmen who end up on top. We're predicting the same for 2017-18, even if that player is just a sophomore.

    While the previous four Naismith winners were seniors, prior to that it was Michigan's Trey Burke, who passed up a chance to turn pro after a strong freshman season and ended up being the best player around during his sophomore year in 2012-13. Now it's another player from the Great Lakes State in that position.

    Miles Bridges would have probably been a lottery pick had he entered the draft last spring, but instead he's the "first power-conference player in more than two decades to average at least 16 points, eight rebounds and two assists and then return for his sophomore season," according to CBS Sports. The only thing that managed to slow him down last year was injuries, one in the middle of the season and another in Michigan State's NCAA tournament loss to Kansas.

    Who (or what) is going to stop him this year? Don't expect a long list.

Freshman of the Year: Michael Porter Jr., Missouri

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    When one player has the ability to alter the path of three different college basketball teams, he must be pretty good. Michael Porter Jr. was all set to play at Washington, where his godfather was the head coach, but after Lorenzo Romar was fired in March, it wasn't long before the dominoes started falling.

    Eventually, Porter ended up at Missouri along with new coach Cuonzo Martin, who came over from California after three seasons. And that signaled the start of a wave of recruits heading to Columbia, leading to the Tigers signing the No. 4 overall class, per 247Sports.

    Porter appears to be the real deal, a 6'10" forward who is projected by NBADraft.net and other sites as the No. 1 pick in 2018. If Missouri is going to bounce back from a three-year stretch in which it went 27-68 with an 8-46 record in SEC play, it will be due to Porter's all-around performance. 

Defensive Player of the Year: Reggie Lynch, Minnesota

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    How did Minnesota go from eight wins in 2015-16 to 24 the following year? Richard Pitino's coaching had something to do with it, but so did having a much better defensive approach to the game. And Reggie Lynch was front and center in that effort.

    In just 23.1 minutes per game last season, the 6'10" Lynch averaged 3.5 blocks and 6.1 rebounds. Stretch that over 40 minutes and he grabs 10.5 rebounds and swats 6.0 shots per game, contributing to a defensive rating of 90.7 that was second-best in the Big Ten behind Wisconsin's Ethan Happ.

    Lynch, a senior who spent two seasons at Illinois State before coming to Minneapolis, doesn't bother with trying to be a hero on the offensive end since his teammates are more than capable of doing that. He's the basketball equivalent of a sweeper in soccer, that guy who serves as the last line of defense before the goal.

Sixth Man of the Year: Derryck Thornton, USC

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    Leaving Duke has proven to be a springboard to success in recent years, with Michael Gbinije (Syracuse), Rasheed Sulaimon (Maryland) and Semi Ojeleye (SMU) all thriving for their new programs after being unable to stand out with the Blue Devils. Will the same thing happen with Derryck Thornton? If so, it won't be as a starter, at least not out of the gate.

    USC returns its top eight scorers from a 26-win team, including guards Jordan McLaughlin and De'Anthony Melton, who combined to average 9.0 assists per game in 2016-17. That duo is usually on the court together, but they'll need to be spelled from time to time, and that's where Thornton can tap into his experience with Duke to make his mark.

    As a freshman in 2015-16, he averaged 7.1 points and 2.5 assists for the Blue Devils, starting 20 games but ending up the odd man out down the stretch despite a short rotation. USC will go much deeper on the bench, meaning the 6'2" Thornton will have ample opportunities.

Most Improved: Temple Gibbs, Notre Dame

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    Mike Brey's success at Notre Dame has come from a proven formula that sees younger players brought along slowly so that by the time they are juniors or seniors, they're ready to be stars. The Fighting Irish are again going to be an upperclassmen-dominated team in 2017-18, but just as integral will be how sophomore Temple Gibbs develops.

    Gibbs averaged 4.7 points, 1.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists as a freshman in 15.0 minutes of action per game, starting once but otherwise learning under the guidance of Steve Vasturia. With Vasturia graduating, Gibbs moves into the starting lineup and will be expected to be up to speed right away.

    There's been at least one Irish player who has broken out each of the past few years, with guard Matt Farrell taking that big step forward in 2016-17 and V.J. Beachem the season before. If Gibbs keeps that trend going, Notre Dame should challenge for the ACC title.

Transfer of the Year: Malik Newman, Kansas

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    Malik Newman was a highly touted prospect who, in picking Mississippi State, was meant to signal how quickly Ben Howland could turn the program around. He averaged 11.3 points per game as a freshman in 2015-16 but shot just 39.1 percent, starting only 22 games and rarely showing the explosive scoring ability he was known for at the prep level.

    Kansas' uptempo system doesn't figure to hold him back nearly as much. After sitting out last year, per transfer rules, the 6'3" Newman is in line to be part of a high-scoring backcourt with senior guard Devonte' Graham.

    What will matter most is his shot selection and care with the ball. With MSU, he had a 14.6 percent turnover rate and made fewer than 38 percent of his three-point shots. He could end up being one of those players who ends up in coach Bill Self's doghouse one night and goes off for 30 the next.

             

    Statistics are provided by Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.