College Basketball Players Not Living Up to Their Preseason Hype
Michigan State's Miles Bridges was the men's college basketball preseason National Player of the Year on just about every sports outlet under the sun, but after nearly six weeks of action, he is nowhere near the conversation for the Wooden Award.
That isn't to say Bridges has been terrible. The man endured multiple early injuries and is still averaging better than 15 points per game. But that's a far cry from the preseason hype as the best player in the country.
All eight of these players appeared in the Wooden Award's Preseason Top 50. That list was then cross-referenced with the preseason player rankings compiled by Matt Norlander, Gary Parrish, Reid Forgrave and Kyle Boone for CBSSports.com, as well as ESPN.com's preseason rankings from Jeff Borzello, John Gasaway, Jeff Goodman, Myron Medcalf and Dan Murphy.
The gap between best player and 50th-best player is massive, so it was crucial to include both of those ranked lists to get a sense of where in the top 50 everyone is supposed to be. For instance, Wisconsin's Ethan Happ has probably been a top-50 player but isn't anywhere close to the No. 9 ranking he received from CBS Sports, let alone the No. 2 ranking from ESPN.
There's plenty of season left for these guys to turn things around, but they had better hurry up if they want to appear on the Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 in January.
The following players are listed in ascending order of their combined preseason rank from CBS and ESPN.
One final note: We are not including players who have missed most of the season. That only applies to Michael Porter Jr. (back) and Rawle Alkins (foot), but it would literally be adding insult to injury to say they haven't lived up to the hype, since they physically have not been able to do so.
Statistics are current through the start of play Dec. 19.
Jeffrey Carroll, Oklahoma State
2017-18 Stats: 14.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 28.9% 3PT
Preseason CBS Sports Rank: 64
Preseason ESPN Rank: N/R
The first two guys on this list were not considered top-50 players by either CBSSports.com or ESPN.com. And, thus far, those college basketball experts look smarter than the Wooden Award's committee, because neither player has been all that impressive.
Jeffrey Carroll should probably get a bit of a pass, since he was held out of Oklahoma State's first three games as part of the school's internal review surrounding the FBI investigation. Had he played those early contests against Pepperdine, Charlotte and Oral Roberts, there's a good chance his numbers would be more impressive than they are.
Carroll also wasn't added to the starting lineup until this past Saturday, and he only averaged 21 minutes in his first six games. On a per-minute basis, some of his numbers are a little better than when he was named second-team All-Big 12 last year.
However, his shooting percentages are abysmal, but that hasn't stopped him from jacking up shots like there's no tomorrow.
Carroll shot 44.4 percent from distance and 58.9 percent from inside the arc last year, finishing with an excellent true shooting percentage of 65.4. This year, those numbers are 28.9, 40.8 and 48.2, respectively. And instead of 15.4 field-goal attempts per 40 minutes, he has increased his rate of shots by nearly 40 percent to 21.5 per 40 minutes.
Worst of all, when the Cowboys have needed him the most, Carroll has been a ghost. He had four points on 12 shots in the loss to Texas A&M. He followed that a couple of weeks later with three points on nine shots against Wichita State. Maybe Oklahoma State would have won one or both of those games if he had a remotely respectable showing, but those duds would keep Carroll far from any top-50 player rankings.
Bryant McIntosh, Northwestern
2017-18 Stats: 12.5 PPG, 5.8 APG, 3.1 RPG, 30.0% 3PT
Preseason CBS Sports Rank: 53
Preseason ESPN Rank: N/R
Considering Bryant McIntosh was the leader of Northwestern's first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament, it was no big surprise to find him on the Wooden Award's Preseason Top 50. At any rate, when the media came up with a preseason All-Big Ten team, McIntosh was the obvious third candidate after Miles Bridges and Ethan Happ. With most of last year's roster returning, he was a strong candidate to be a guy we spent a lot of time talking about as the best piece of an AP Top 25 squad.
Early on, McIntosh fulfilled that destiny. He put up 19.5 points and 6.5 assists in his first four games, shooting 50 percent from three-point range and averaging 2.8 assists per turnover. Those numbers didn't stand out against some of the absurd stats posted around the country, but if maintained for the entire year for a ranked team, that's Wooden Award finalist material.
His next eight games were, uh, not as impressive. Starting with the blowout loss to Texas Tech on Nov. 19 (and not including Tuesday night's game against Lewis), McIntosh averaged 9.0 points and 5.5 assists and shot 7-of-34 (20.6 percent) from distance.
He had a sub-90 O-rating in five of those eight games, per KenPom.com, including a disastrous four points on 17 shots in a near loss to DePaul. Had he not tallied seven assists without a single turnover in that game, it likely would have been the worst performance of the year by one of the preseason Wooden Award candidates.
Maybe McIntosh and Northwestern can eventually right the ship, but he is the fourth-most valuable starter on a four-loss team. Even another four-game stretch similar to his start to the season might not be enough to get back into the top 50.
KeVaughn Allen, Florida
2017-18 Stats: 11.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.2 SPG, 28.6% 3PT
Preseason CBS Sports Rank: 39
Preseason ESPN Rank: 34
Most of the players on this list are either returning players who didn't make quite the jump in production we were expecting, or—in one case—a freshman who was perhaps a bit oversold by people who fell in love with him on the AAU circuit.
But KeVaughn Allen has been undeniably worse than he was last season and is arguably the No. 1 reason Florida has been so disappointing for the past few weeks.
Allen shot 37.0 percent from three-point range as a sophomore, leading the team with 14.0 points per game. He had some stellar performances late in the season, most notably his 35-point effort against Wisconsin in that Sweet 16 overtime victory. With Devin Robinson, Canyon Barry, Justin Leon, Kasey Hill and (temporarily due to a torn ACL) John Egbunu out of the picture, all signs pointed toward his becoming a star.
The SEC media voted Allen as a preseason first-team all-conference player. He was the only Gator among the 12 players selected for first team or second team.
But as you can see above, his numbers for this season have not been as good as they were a year ago.
Allen did have a solid 23-point showing in the double-overtime win over Gonzaga in the PK80 semifinal, but that was an outlier. He has failed to score in double figures in 50 percent of games this season, including a two-point showing against Cincinnati. (Somehow, the Gators still won that game 66-60.) In each of his last three contests, Allen has tallied more field-goal attempts than points.
In addition to the scoring, he has struggled in virtually every area during Florida's recent 1-4 stretch. His shooting provides the primary value he adds, but Allen had 20 rebounds, 15 assists and just two turnovers in Florida first five games. Those numbers are eight, seven and six, respectively in the last five games.
The Gators are not good enough in the paint to survive while getting that type of production from their star shooting guard. Never mind a top-50 player, if he doesn't figure things out soon, Florida won't be a top-50 team.
Malik Newman, Kansas
2017-18 Stats: 10.7 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.1 SPG, 37.3% 3PT
Preseason CBS Sports Rank: 42
Preseason ESPN Rank: 28
In addition to Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman's appearance on CBS, ESPN and the Wooden Awards' top-50 lists, I had him at No. 17 in my preseason player rankings. He was a highly touted high school player who never seemed to be a good fit with the Bulldogs. Surely, after a year of training under Bill Self and alongside Frank Mason III, Devonte' Graham and Josh Jackson, he should become a star at Kansas, right?
Not so much. Newman hasn't been bad, but he also hasn't been any better than he was in Starkville.
He has clearly improved as both a defender and rebounder. On a per-40-minutes basis, his steal rate has tripled, and his rebounding rate is up by more than 50 percent. (That latter spike can be attributed to Kansas' strategy of playing four guards and needing rebounds to come from somewhere, but it's still noteworthy.) Newman is also a more efficient scorer in the paint, improving his percentage on two-point attempts from 40.7 to 52.1.
However, his assist, turnover and three-point marks are almost indiscernible from what they were as a freshman two seasons ago. And now that Sam Cunliffe is eligible after transferring from Arizona State and Billy Preston and/or Silvio de Sousa might not be far behind, it's clear Newman will be the starter whose minutes evaporate to make room for those players.
Though he isn't as important to Kansas as KeVaughn Allen is to Florida, it is similarly easy to tie this team's recent struggles to the poor play of this individual guard.
Newman scored at least a dozen points in every game in November, shooting 12-of-24 (50.0 percent) from downtown. He also averaged 1.5 steals per game and was generally a key asset for a Jayhawks team that looked like a surefire No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
But in the first four games of December, Newman averaged 5.8 points and shot 5-of-21 (23.8 percent) from three while recording just three total steals. Kansas was able to win the games against Nebraska and Syracuse, but Newman shot a combined 1 of 14 from the field in those contests.
Trevon Duval, Duke
2017-18 Stats: 12.3 PPG, 6.7 APG, 1.9 SPG, 2.9 Assist-to-Turnover ratio, 15.2% 3PT
Preseason CBS Sports Rank: 16
Preseason ESPN Rank: 44
If we're strictly going by ESPN's rankings, Trevon Duval has been about as good as advertised.
His assist rate has been outstanding, and save for committing 11 turnovers in Duke's first two games of the PK80, he has done a fine job of running this offense without coughing up the ball. Take out those two games and he has a 4.2 assist-to-turnover ratio. Duval has also been a good source of steals, though that has tapered off considerably after he had 12 in the first three games. (He has just 11 in the past nine contests.)
But if we instead strictly go by the CBS Sports rankings—where Duval was one spot ahead of Collin Sexton and was the highest-ranked freshman not named Marvin Bagley III, Michael Porter Jr. or Deandre Ayton—he has been rather disappointing.
We knew from his high school days that Duval's shooting stroke wasn't anything to write home about, but no one was expecting him to be "feel free to leave him wide open on the perimeter" bad.
Duval's inability to consistently hit jumpers is having an adverse effect on Duke's offense. The Blue Devils are still No. 1 adjusted offensive efficiency on KenPom, but that's primarily because Bagley, Wendell Carter Jr., Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier have been vacuums on the offensive glass.
I don't have numbers on how well Duke fares on its first shot on possessions in the half-court offense, but I have to assume they aren't anywhere near the best in the country, since opponents are basically daring Duval to shoot and just focusing on stopping the other four guys on the floor.
Shooting isn't everything. De'Aaron Fox shot just 5-of-37 from three-point range in his first 19 games last season, and he was still an incredible player who became the No. 5 pick in the 2017 NBA draft. But he was a relentless driver who relished contact and had the ability to take over a game at a moment's notice. We haven't yet seen that from Duval, and he might not be a top-50 player until we do.
Robert Williams, Texas A&M
2017-18 Stats: 8.0 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 2.6 BPG, 2.4 APG
Preseason CBS Rank: 13
Preseason ESPN Rank: 15
It's kind of amazing that Texas A&M is a top-10 team in KenPom, RPI and the AP Top 25 with Robert Williams sixth on the team in scoring average.
In just about every other regard, Williams is a better player than last year. His defensive rebounding rate is among the best in the country. He's passing much better. And he's averaging nearly six combined blocks and steals per 40 minutes. Despite limited scoring, he's making a legitimate impact.
But, seriously, what's up with the scoring?
After a two-game suspension to start the season, it looked like Williams was going to be a runaway freight train. He had 11 points, 11 rebounds, three steals and two blocks in his first game against Oklahoma State. The following night, he put up 21 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Penn State.
In five games since that hot start, though, he has averaged just 4.8 points per game. He made 10 field goals against Penn State and has a combined total of 11 made field goals since then.
It's as if the Aggies have forgotten they have a potential lottery pick at power forward.
The funny thing is he's making 72.2 percent of his two-point attempts and almost has the highest effective field-goal percentage on the roster at 66.7. And yet, the team is content with letting him just be a great defensive rebounder and rim protector.
Williams might still be a top-50 player, but he's nowhere close to the third-team All-American level at which he was ranked before the season.
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
2017-18 Stats: 16.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.2 SPG
Preseason CBS Rank: 9
Preseason ESPN Rank: 2
If we can, let's forget about the fact that Wisconsin is 5-7. Team success plays a huge part in the Wooden Award conversation, but let's pretend we're ranking players solely on what they have done as individuals.
Even from that perspective, Ethan Happ is nowhere close to a top-10 player.
He isn't even as good as he was last year.
Perhaps more than anything, what made Happ so valuable in his first two seasons with the Badgers was his defense. Per KenPom, Happ had a block rate of 3.5 as a freshman and 4.7 as a sophomore. Both years, his steal rate was 4.0 and ranked in the top 25 nationally. But as a junior, his block rate (2.6) and steal rate (2.4) are career lows by significant margins.
(As a result, Wisconsin's defense is worse than at any other point in the last 15 years.)
In addition to that defensive letdown, his shooting, rebounding and turnover numbers have gotten worse. Happ isn't drastically worse than last year in any of those categories, but slight regression in five or six areas ends up summing to a major overall decrease.
Of course, we're still talking about a guy averaging better than 16 points and eight rebounds per game—and one who is doing so as the only player opposing teams are worried about. Happ is receiving more opportunities than he did in 2016-17, but losing four starting seniors as teammates has impacted what he's able to do with those touches.
Nevertheless, the preseason hype was that Happ would be one of the top contenders for the Wooden Award. And that ship has already sailed.
Miles Bridges, Michigan State
2017-18 Stats: 16.7 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.4 BPG, 35.5% 3PT
Preseason CBS Rank: 1
Preseason ESPN Rank: 1
Miles Bridges did just have a great showing in a blowout win over Houston Baptist in East Lansing on Monday. He finished with 33 points on 14 shots with six rebounds and five assists. For at least one night, he played like arguably the best player in the country.
The problem is it came against Houston Baptist, and it was the first time all season that we saw him play anywhere near that well.
Prior to Monday night, Bridges was averaging just 15.1 points and 6.4 rebounds while shooting 32.7 percent from three-point range. In each of those three categories, he was well behind what he averaged as a freshman. And it should go without saying that it's rather difficult to make a case for best player in the country when you're playing worse than in a previous season in which you weren't even a Wooden Award finalist.
Part of Bridges' struggles can be written off to injury. He was banged up a bit in the preseason. He then rolled his ankle in the third game of the regular season, missed the fourth and didn't start to look like himself again until the ninth.
But even in the 11th game, he had just 11 points on 10 shots and three rebounds against the Oakland Golden Grizzlies. He was not named the KenPom MVP of any game until Monday night's 107-62 beatdown of the Huskies.
Will his early sophomore-year struggles dissuade interested NBA parties from drafting him in the 2018 lottery? Probably not. But they do keep him from having any realistic shot at winning the National Player of the Year honors we were all bestowing upon him before the season began.