College Basketball Seniors Most Likely to Lead Their Team to a Title in 2014-15
Shabazz Napier capped off a phenomenal UConn career with a national title as a senior, and a similar story could be on the way in 2014-15. Many of the nation’s top contenders feature fourth-year stars who could carry their teams on a postseason run to match the one that saw the Huskies cut down the nets in Arlington.
Fittingly enough, one such team is the Huskies themselves, thanks to Napier’s former backcourt partner. Ryan Boatright will be the headliner for next year’s UConn squad, and the quick-handed point guard has already shown a knack for coming up big in postseason play.
Herein, a closer look at Boatright’s many talents, along with nine more seniors in a position to grab the spotlight for championship contenders in 2014-15. Note that the team’s chance at a title plays a bigger role in these rankings than the player’s individual brilliance.
10. Treveon Graham, Virginia Commonwealth
Shaka Smart has had his share of talent (and then some) since taking over the reins at VCU, but Treveon Graham is the best offensive player he’s ever coached.
The 6’6” swingman has scored 15 points a night for each of the past two seasons, and he’s only getting better heading into his final year.
Graham, who grabbed a career-high 7.0 rebounds per game last season, is strong enough (at 220 pounds) to do a fair impersonation of Jamie Skeen, the inside-outside hero of the Rams’ 2011 Final Four squad.
With ball-hawk extraordinaire Briante Weber in his second year starting at the point, VCU’s always-potent defense should get a championship-worthy offense to go with it in 2014-15.
9. Joseph Young, Oregon
Even if Nick Johnson does stay for his senior year at Arizona, the mighty Wildcats won’t have the top backcourt in the Pac-12. That honor goes to Oregon, which brings back a pair of stellar juniors to join senior-to-be Joseph Young.
Young, the Ducks’ leading point producer after transferring from Houston, will make a serious run at the conference scoring title with point guard Dominic Artis setting him up.
Add in Damyean Dotson, a potent scorer in his own right, and Oregon’s offense will have the firepower to contend on the national stage even after graduation has stripped the frontcourt of its biggest bodies.
8. Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
With agile Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer expected to replace the slower Sam Dower in the frontcourt, Gonzaga’s offense is set to open up the throttle next season.
The key to the Zags’ attack, and their hopes of winning more than "just" another WCC crown, is combo guard Kevin Pangos.
The 6’2” Canadian ran the point for his first two seasons, but the development of David Stockton has freed him up to play off the ball more.
That opportunity helped him score a career-high 14.4 points per game as a junior, and with his dazzling shooting (.412 from long range, .873 from the foul line), he’s in line for even more points in his final season in Spokane.
7. Jonathan Holmes, Texas
Texas’ 2011 recruiting class looked like a group that could redefine the Longhorns’ program, but Jonathan Holmes is the only player remaining from that Myck Kabongo-led group.
Fortunately for Rick Barnes, Holmes may yet reinvigorate basketball in Austin by anchoring what should be the program’s first serious title contender in a decade.
There are plenty of bigger bodies in Texas’ frontcourt, but Holmes had the experience and the attacking mindset to lead the Longhorns in scoring last season.
Holmes, a tireless worker on both ends of the floor, will also have plenty of help around him, from towering center Cameron Ridley to rising young point guard Isaiah Taylor.
6. Ryan Boatright, UConn
Even if DeAndre Daniels stays in Storrs rather than jumping to the NBA, the Huskies will be Ryan Boatright’s team.
The tough-minded point guard will finally get his chance to be the main man after playing in Shabazz Napier’s considerable shadow for three seasons.
Boatright has already shown more than enough talent to take over the starring role, averaging as many as 15.4 points and 4.4 assists per game alongside Napier during his years as a sidekick.
He’s also an even more productive defender than Napier was, not an insignificant factor for a UConn squad that won its title primarily by holding all of its last three opponents—Michigan State, Florida and Kentucky—under 55 points.
5. JayVaughn Pinkston, Villanova
If it hadn’t been for Doug McDermott, Villanova would’ve gone 18-0 in the Big East last season. Four starters return from that Wildcats team, and the one who will have the most to say about writing a happier ending to 2014-15 will be JayVaughn Pinkston.
Jay Wright’s lineup sends waves of three-point shooting guards at opposing defenses, but it’s Pinkston (at 6’7”, 260 pounds) who has to anchor the middle.
The Brooklyn native got the job done in spades last year, shooting a career-best .521 from the field, and his rebounding muscle (6.1 boards per game) will be vital in helping ‘Nova handle bigger opponents.
4. Tekele Cotton, Wichita State
As Aaron Craft spent the past four years proving at Ohio State, not every game-changer has to be an elite scorer. The heir to Craft’s mantle as the most valuable defender in college hoops is Tekele Cotton, Wichita State’s multi-position stopper.
At a tough-as-nails 6’2” and 209 pounds, Cotton gets thrown at everyone from point guards to small forwards depending on what coach Gregg Marshall needs.
He’s improved as an offensive player (including career bests of 10.3 points and 2.4 assists per game last year), but it’s his ability to disrupt the other team’s offense that puts him at the center of the Shockers’ backcourt-driven bid for another Final Four run.
3. Naadir Tharpe, Kansas
The spotlight in Lawrence, as it often is, is firmly on the incoming freshmen, with future stars Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre Jr. hoping to be joined by sensational center Myles Turner.
The job of blending those youngsters with Kansas’ returning talent and turning the whole concoction into a title team, however, will fall on Naadir Tharpe.
The only senior who will be in Bill Self’s rotation, Tharpe established himself as a first-rate facilitator while handing out 5.0 assists per game to Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid.
The targets will be new, but look for Tharpe (who also shattered his career highs with .436 field-goal shooting and .377 long-range accuracy) to continue his steep ascent from unused freshman to star-caliber senior.
2. T.J. McConnell, Arizona
Whether or not Nick Johnson jumps to the NBA, high-powered Arizona is guaranteed to have one outstanding senior leader in its backcourt.
T.J. McConnell arrived from Duquesne last season and established himself as the best playmaker in Tucson since point guard guru Lute Olson retired.
Although McConnell didn’t have much of a year as a scorer in the deep Wildcats attack, his passing (5.3 assists per game) is set to make that offense shine for the second season in a row.
His ability to pressure the ball also plays a central role on the defense that ranked sixth nationally in points allowed per game last season.
1. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
It was hard to miss Frank Kaminsky during the 2014 NCAA tournament, and not just because he’s a long-armed 7’0”. Kaminsky was the breakout star of the postseason, most impressively in an overtime thriller against Arizona in which he scored 28 of his team’s 64 points.
In addition to his inside-outside offensive game (which featured a career-best .378 shooting performance from beyond the arc), Kaminsky is also Wisconsin’s most dangerous defender.
It’s his ability to protect the rim (1.7 blocks a night) that lets him edge out clutch specialist Traevon Jackson for the loaded Badgers’ headline role here.