Predicting the Top 20 Seniors in College Basketball for the 2014-15 Season

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystMay 9, 2014

Predicting the Top 20 Seniors in College Basketball for the 2014-15 Season

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    College basketball seniors don't have quite the curb appeal of their one-year-wonder counterparts, but that didn't stop us from ranking what we expect to be the top 20 seniors for the 2014-15 season.

    "Top" is a very subjective term, but the thought process behind the rankings really boiled down to trying to decide which team would be most negatively impacted if that player was suddenly no longer on the roster.

    It's a more arbitrary version of MLB's WAR statistic, but the general principle remains the samewhich senior is worth the most wins to his team?

    There isn't a clear-cut upper echelon like there was last season with Russ Smith and Doug McDermott, but just about every coach in the country would kill for Juwan Staten, Frank Kaminsky, Alan Williams or anyone else ranked in the top 10.

Honorable Mentions

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    Larry Nance Jr., Wyoming

    When Nance tore his ACL in mid-February, he was averaging 15.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game for the Cowboys. You never know how quickly any individual player will bounce back from that surgery, but expecting him to be at full strength by early November is pushing it.

    Tashawn Thomas, TBD

    Among AAC players, Thomas ranked second in blocks per game (2.7), third in rebounds per game (8.1) and ninth in points per game (15.4). However, Houston's do-it-all power forward is transferring to parts still unknown, and whether he will be immediately eligible to play is still up in the air.

    Antoine Mason, Niagara

    Mason ranked second in the nation in points per game last season (25.6), but he did so for a team that went 7-26. He may well be the nation's leading scorer this year, but it's hard to justify bestowing a "top senior" honor on a player from a last-place team in a minor conference.

    Will Cummings, Temple

    Similar to Mason, Cummings could be in the running for top scorer in the country while playing for a team that failed to reach double digits in the win column last season. It's on the record that I'm expecting a breakout season for Temple, but I'm not convinced enough to put Cummings on this list.

    Stephen Maxwell and Stephan Hicks, Cal State Northridge

    The duo combined to averaged 34.7 points and 15.6 rebounds per game last year, and they should only get better with the graduation of Josh Greene (16.0 PPG). However, it's virtually impossible to distinguish which is more productive or more important to his teama team that has failed to post a .500 record in any of its three seasons together.

20. Chasson Randle, Stanford

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    2013-14 stats: 18.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.0 SPG

    Chasson Randle is unquestionably the cream of Stanford's minuscule returning crop. Anthony Brown (12.3 PPG) will play a nice second fiddle, but Stefan Nastic is the only other returning player who averaged as much as two points per game last seasonand Nastic could barely stay on the court while averaging 6.7 fouls per 40 minutes.

    On the one hand, losing Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis should mean even more scoring opportunities for Randle. On the other, shutting down Randle will be the singular focus of every opposing coach.

    Though Stanford does have a strong recruiting class headlined by Reid Travis and Michael Humphrey, the success of both Randle and the Cardinal is too heavily tied to the ability of those freshmen to make an immediate impact.

    Randle will probably average 20 points per game, but doing so for a team that fails to make the NCAA tournament won't earn him many accolades.

19. Norman Powell, UCLA

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    2013-14 stats: 11.4 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.4 SPG

    Everything we just said about Chasson Randle also applies to Norman Powell.

    UCLA lost just about everyone this offseason. Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams and Zach LaVine left early for the NBA, and the Wear brothers graduated. That leaves Powell, Bryce Alford and Tony Parker as the only returning players who played more than 60 minutes during the 2013-14 season.

    However, if there's a player out there who can replicate what T.J. Warren did for North Carolina State this past season, it's Powell. Warren averaged just 12.1 points per game during the 2012-13 season, but his scoring output more than doubled in the season after everyone else left town.

    Powell has improved drastically in each of the past two seasons and could be ready to make the leap to becoming an all-star.

    Like Randle, Powell will need to rely on some highly touted incoming freshmenmost notably Kevon Looney and Thomas Welsh—but he should be able to rise to the occasion.

18. DeAndre Mathieu, Minnesota

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    2013-14 stats: 12.0 PPG, 4.2 APG, 2.7 RPG, 1.6 SPG

    This one was a tossup between DeAndre Mathieu and Andre Hollins, but the moral of the story is that Minnesota is going to have some fantastic veteran leadership in the backcourt.

    (If you thought Richard Pitino's name was thrown around a lot during this year's coaching carousel, just wait until the summer after Minnesota advances to the Sweet 16 for the first time in nearly two decades.)

    In the end, Mathieu was the choice based on his incredible shooting percentages (51.1 percent from the field, 48.9 percent from three-point range, 75.4 percent from the free-throw line) and the fact that he was playing his best basketball at the end of the season.

    Over Minnesota's final five games before the NIT, Mathieu averaged 15.0 points, 5.6 assists, 2.0 steals and just two turnovers per game.

    If he can carry that momentum over to next season, first-team All-Big Ten honors might not be far behind.

17. Dustin Hogue, Iowa State

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    2013-14 stats: 11.6 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.6 BPG

    It was the 34-point game in the Sweet 16 loss to Connecticut that put Dustin Hogue on our radar, but that certainly wasn't the only quality game for a player who was nationally taken for granted behind Iowa State's trio of Melvin Ejim, DeAndre Kane and Georges Niang.

    Hogue had seven double-doubles last season and an additional 11 games in which he had at least eight points and eight rebounds. He shot 57.3 percent from the field and was the most effective rebounder on the team.

    But because he attempted at least 169 fewer field goals than every member of the aforementioned trio, he never seemed to get the praise he deserved.

    With Ejim and Kane both graduating, perhaps the 2014-15 season will be Hogue's time to shine.

16. Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga

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    2013-14 stats: 14.4 PPG, 3.6 APG, 3.3 RPG, 1.0 SPG

    Taking the throne from Aaron Craft, Kevin Pangos is this year's senior point guard who has seemingly been in school for more than a decade.

    In his second collegiate game on Nov. 15, 2011, Pangos made nine three-pointers and scored 33 points in a win over Eastern Washington. He has popped up on the national radar at least once a month since then.

    In his last stand, he's looking to finally get his Bulldogs over the round-of-32 hump and into the Sweet 16. Though Gonzaga has been in 16 consecutive NCAA tournaments, the Zags haven't been to the Sweet 16 since 2009 and have been eliminated in the third round in four consecutive years.

    Kentucky-transfer Kyle Wiltjer might lead the team in scoring, but there's no mistaking that this is Pangos' squad. If Gonzaga loses seven or fewer games for a fourth straight season, look for its floor general to be one of the primary "mid-major" guys vying for Player of the Year honors.

15. Jarvis Summers, Ole Miss

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    2013-14 stats: 17.3 PPG, 3.8 APG, 2.4 RPG, 0.9 SPG

    It takes a special kind of player to average 17.3 points per game while sharing a court with Marshall Hendersonwho attempted more than 16 field goals per game.

    However, Summers somehow pulled it off, and he could be in line for a huge season now that this is his team to lead.

    Back in the days before Henderson, Summers was a budding prospect. He averaged 10.4 points per game and shot 43.6 percent from three-point range as a freshman. His numbers took a bit of a hit as a sophomore when Henderson transferred in, but he was a much more aggressive, efficient scorer as a junior.

    If he can maintain that assertiveness through this new batch of transfers—head coach Andy Kennedy could legitimately start Summers and his four transfers (M.J. Rhett, Terence Smith, Stefan Moody and Roderick Lawrence) and win 25 games—he'll certainly be in the running for SEC Player of the Year.

14. Wesley Saunders, Harvard

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    2013-14 stats: 14.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.7 BPG

    Harvard has been a fun success story over the past two seasons, pulling off a tournament upset in back-to-back campaigns.

    The Crimson just might have another trick up their sleeve in Wesley Saunders' senior season.

    Saunders has led the team in points and steals in each of the past two years. He has been successful despite being stuck between traditional positions. At 6'5", he's a tad too short to be a conventional small forward, but his poor three-point shooting (29.4 percent on 34 attempts last season) keeps him from embracing the shooting guard spot.

    Though he's kind of a 2.5 in the game-day program, he makes up for it with impeccable on-ball defense, court vision and ability to finish inside the arc.

    You probably won't hear much about them while they spend half the season in the Ivy League, but Saunders and junior point guard Siyani Chambers will be this season's version of Connecticut's Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright.

    Now if only Harvard could find its DeAndre Daniels...

13. JayVaughn Pinkston, Villanova

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    2013-14 stats: 14.1 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.4 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.6 BPG

    After three seasons of sharing rebounds and field-goal attempts with James Bell, it's finally JayVaughn Pinkston's time to shine.

    He certainly won't be the singular focal point in Villanova's offense. He'll combine with Ryan Arcidiacono and Darrun Hilliard II to make one of the most potent inside-outside offensive attacks in the Big Eastan offense that will only grow stronger if Josh Hart can successfully make the leap from sixth man to starting small forward.

    However, this Villanova team goes as Pinkston does. The Wildcats have a few other interior options in Daniel Ochefu, Kris Jenkins and incoming forward Mikal Bridges, but Pinkston is Diana Ross and those guys are the Supremes.

    The big question for Pinkston is whether he'll be able to play enough minutes to make a dent in those national "per game" statistics. Per 40 minutes, Pinkston averaged 20.8 points and 9.0 rebounds per game last season, but he only played 27.1 minutes per gamethis after playing 25.9 minutes per game as a freshman and 26.1 as a sophomore.

    If he can handle 32-35 minutes per game as a senior, he could blossom into one of the better power forwards in the country.

12. Dez Wells, Maryland

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    2013-14 stats: 14.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.8 BPG

    The Terrapins are going through quite the transition this offseason.

    Not only are they making the move from the ACC to the Big Ten, but Nick Faust, Seth Allen, Shaquille Cleare and Roddy Peters are transferring away from College Park while Romelo Trimble, Dion Wiley and Trayvon Reed headline a stellar incoming recruiting class.

    Amid all that upheaval, Dez Wells is the team's constant and unquestionably its leader.

    Wells does a little bit of everything for Maryland. He led the team in points, assists and blocked shots, nearly led the team in steals and had grabbed 138 rebounds by season's end. He took twice as many free throws as the next-closest Terrapin and did it all while averaging just 10 field-goal attempts per game.

    If he can cut down on his turnovers (2.5 per game last season) while leading Maryland to its first NCAA tournament appearance in five seasons, he could play his way into late first-round draft pick status in 2015. (Wells is currently projected as a late second-rounder by

11. Tekele Cotton, Wichita State

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    2013-14 stats: 10.3 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.4 SPG

    Lest you think the Shockers are a two-hit wonder, they'll be back for another successful season under the senior leadership of Tekele Cotton.

    Behind Cleanthony Early, Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, Cotton was a bit of an afterthought in Wichita State's rotation. However, he made a significant leap in playing time and production for a second straight seasonand really turned on the afterburners at the end of the campaign.

    Over his final 12 games before the NCAA tournament, Cotton averaged 13.5 points, 2.6 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.2 turnovers per game. VanVleet (rightfully) received all of the accolades for being the turnover-free team leader, but Cotton was hardly chopped liver.

    Early's graduation shouldn't impact Cotton's playing time, but the absence of his 385 field-goal attempts ought to open the door for a further leap in Cotton's scoring numbers.

    I'm going to go out on a limb and say Wichita State won't go undefeated again in 2014-15, but Cotton could be the leading scorer for a 28-win team poised for a deep tournament run.

10. Ryan Boatright, Connecticut

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    2013-14 stats: 12.1 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.6 SPG

    And now we get to find out whether Ryan Boatright is a leader or a rider of coattails.

    With five graduating seniors and one early departure to the NBA, Connecticut is barely even a shell of the team that won it all last month. Boatright is the only returning player who averaged more than four field-goal attempts per game last season.

    Yet, the Huskies are expected to compete again this year with a stable of younger players like Omar Calhoun, Terrence Samuel, Amida Brimah, NC State-transfer Rodney Purvis and incoming recruits Sam Cassell Jr. and Daniel Hamilton.

    Boatright will need to be the catalyst that ties it all together.

    In just about every way, he was the lite version of his backcourt mate last season. Boatright finished second on the team to Napier in assists, steals and free-throw attempts.

    Is he a great player who was held back by a brighter star or an average player who benefited from teams focusing their defensive schemes elsewhere?

    I'm leaning toward the former, but uncovering his ability to lead a team will be one of the primary stories to watch in November.

9. Keifer Sykes, Green Bay

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    2013-14 stats: 20.3 PPG, 4.9 APG, 4.4 RPG, 1.2 SPG

    It's a shame that Green Bay failed to make the NCAA tournament last season, because Keifer Sykes is a name that more people should know.

    In the first month of the 2013-14 season, Green Bay played against four teams that eventually made the NCAA tournamentVirginia (No. 1 seed), Wisconsin (No. 2 seed), Harvard (No. 12 seed) and Tulsa (No. 13 seed). In those four games, he averaged 26.0 points and 6.3 assists per game.

    The big question is whether he can continue that production without big man Alec Brown. Sykes and Brown (15.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 3.1 BPG) were one of the five best inside-outside duos in the nation last seasonwith the irony being that Sykes was better at finishing at the rim while Brown was a 42 percent three-point shooter.

    Sykes won't be alone in his endeavors to get the Phoenix back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1996. Carrington Love, Greg Mays and Jordan Fouse will be key cogs in the machine, but Sykes will be the one running the show and averaging upward of 25 points per game.

8. Briante Weber and Treveon Graham, VCU

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    Graham's 2013-14 stats: 15.8 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.9 SPG

    Weber's 2013-14 stats: 9.4 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.9 APG, 3.6 SPG

    Treveon Graham and Briante Weber are the only duo on the list, but trying to pick just one member of this gruesome twosome wouldn't be fair to the other.

    Even with Juvonte Reddic in the mix, Graham led the Rams in scoring last season by more than 100 points. His offensive efficiency decreased marginally from the 2012-13 season, but he became a better rebounder and passer as a junior.

    Meanwhile, Weber led the nation in steal percentage for a third consecutive season, according to (subscription required). He also led the team in assists and became a more effective and assertive scorerthough his career three-point shooting percentage of 23.9 will keep head coach Shaka Smart hoping he sticks to stealing and distributing the ball.

    Though the Rams earned a No. 5 seed, the 2013-14 season could really be considered a disappointing one. They were ranked No. 14 in the preseason AP Top 25 yet struggled over the first six weeks of the season and failed to win a single tournament game.

    These two seniors will be expected to get VCU back to being an annual threat to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

7. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame

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    2013-14 stats (12 games): 19.0 PPG, 6.2 APG, 2.5 RPG, 2.0 SPG

    Despite the home loss to Indiana State in mid-November, Notre Dame got out to a fine start last season. After the surprising win over Duke on Jan. 4, the Irish were 10-4 and well on their way to a seamless transition into the ACC.

    Unfortunately, the loss of their leading scorer caught up with them in a hurry. They won their first two games after Jerian Grant became academically ineligible but lost 13 of the next 17. They rarely got blown out but just didn't have the necessary firepower to get by without Grant.

    His second attempt at a senior season will hopefully go better than the first.

    Garrick Sherman and Eric Atkins graduate this summer, but the team should still be in good shape with Grant, Pat Connaughton, Zach Auguste and Demetrius Jackson. Finishing above .500 in ACC play next season will be a tall order, but it's totally plausible that Grant puts the team on his back and propels it to a tournament bid.

6. Branden Dawson, Michigan State

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    2013-14 stats: 11.2 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.9 BPG

    Branden Dawson has the skill to finish the season at No. 1 on this list, but is he assertive enough to pull it off?

    Dawson shot 61.3 percent from the field last season but took fewer than 20 percent of Michigan State's shots while he was on the court. In addition to good shooting, he led the team in rebounding and O-rating and was very good at creating blocks and steals.

    But now that Gary Harris, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling are out of the picture, head coach Tom Izzo will need Dawson to become the primary scoring threat. Those three departing players are taking 52.3 percent of the team's field-goal attempts with them, so there is plenty of room for Dawson to increase his role.

    Dawson missed nine games last season with a broken hand, but he was healthy for four of the team's losses. In those games, he shot a combined 6-of-17 from the fieldincluding the five-point effort in the season-ending loss to Connecticut.

    When the going got tough, Dawson was not the Spartan who attempted to make things better. If he can discover that killer instinct this season, though, he has the potential to average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, and would be one of the most exciting seniors to watch.

5. Joseph Young, Oregon

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    2013-14 stats: 18.9 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.3 SPG

    Joseph Young is one of the most underrated scorers in the country, but he just might make a big splash on the national radar as a senior.

    Last year was hardly a breakout one for the extremely efficient shooting guard. Young averaged 18.0 points per game and shot 42 percent from three-point range as a sophomore at Houston.

    The 2013-14 season was his second consecutive campaign with an O-rating ranked in the top 30 nationally. He had the third-highest O-rating among players used on at least 24 percent of the team's possessionsranking slightly ahead of both Doug McDermott and Frank Kaminsky, according to (subscription required).

    And with Oregon losing six seniors and a transfer this offseason, Young may do what McDermott did for Creighton this past season and take 38.6 percent of the team's shots when he is on the court. His shooting percentages would likely decrease with the higher volume, but his points per game should shoot through the roof to potentially lead the nation in scoring.

4. Alan Williams, UC Santa Barbara

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    2013-14 stats: 21.3 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 2.4 BPG, 1.2 APG, 1.2 SPG

    Alan Williams is the best player in the country that roughly 90 percent of college basketball fans have never had the pleasure of watching play a single game.

    Despite standing just 6'7" tall, Williams plays center for the Gauchos, and he plays it better than the vast majority of seven-footers. Not only did Williams average a double-double, but he had seven games with at least 20 points and 15 rebounds.

    Williams missed two consecutive games in mid-November with back spasms. In UC Santa Barbara's next game, he had 39 points, nine rebounds, eight blocks and three steals.

    Do yourself a favor and find a way to watch him play a game before he graduates. If you're not sure what to expect, just imagine if Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes had become a better shot-blocker and an even more assertive scorer.

3. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin

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    2013-14 stats: 13.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 1.3 APG, 0.7 SPG

    At some point during the 2014 NCAA tournament, Frank Kaminsky made the transformation from "above-average center who can stretch the floor" to "Frank the Tank."

    Yet, I refuse to put him at No. 1 on this list for several reasons. And contrary to popular opinion, none of those reasons are that I hate Wisconsin.

    First off, Wisconsin has too many other great players for us to expect Bo Ryan to rely all that heavily on Kaminsky. From Nov. 26 through Feb. 10, Wisconsin played 18 games without Kaminsky once scoring more than 16 points. He outscored sixth man Nigel Hayes by just 1.8 points per game during that stretch.

    Frankly, we're expecting Sam Dekker to lead the team in scoring after presumably rediscovering the three-point stroke he displayed as a freshman.

    Second, Kaminsky doesn't get the kind of minutes the top two guys on this list play. Kaminsky played just 67.7 percent of Wisconsin's available minutes last season. Meanwhile, the player at No. 2 played 92.5 percent of his team's minutes, and No. 1 played in 91.7 percent.

    Though he played at least 32 minutes in each of Wisconsin's final four tournament games, he only reached that plateau three times during the regular season.

    Whether it's due to durability/conditioning or simply the plethora of other players on the roster who need playing time, Kaminsky doesn't get the necessary minutes to project as the most impactful senior in the country.

    There's a very real possibility that Kaminsky will be the most valuable player on the best team in the country, but the next two guys on the list will make some serious noise in the Player of the Year races by turning 2014 NIT teams into 2015 NCAA tournament teams.

2. Juwan Staten, West Virginia

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    2013-14 stats: 18.1 PPG, 5.8 APG, 5.6 RPG, 1.2 SPG

    You never quite know what to expect when a dominant backcourt duo gets separated, but it often leads to the remaining player getting even better.

    Louisville had Peyton Siva and Russ Smith two years ago, and the extra year at school without Siva helped Smith develop into a much more efficient all-around player.

    Lamont "MoMo" Jones and Sean Armand carried Iona during the 2012-13 season, but Armand was significantly more efficient after Jones graduatedthough, it certainly didn't hurt that A.J. English exploded as a sophomore to help fill the void.

    When Juan'ya Green elected to transfer away from Niagara, the Purple Eagles became a one-man show for Antoine Mason, and he nearly led the nation in scoring.

    So, yes, West Virginia is losing Eron Harris as he looks to transfer closer to home, but the Mountaineers still have Juwan Staten. And if the past is any indication of the future, he might put up even better numbers than the staggering statistics he posted this past season.

    The crazy thing is that Staten was a nobody as a sophomore. He shot 37.6 percent from the field, scored 7.1 points per game and lost his starting job midway through the season for a team that finished with a 13-19 record.

    Staten's transformation from Joe Schmo to Tu Holloway was one of the more unexpected things that happened last season.

    Now, we're looking for him to improve even further. He never quite pulled off a triple-double last season, but expecting Staten to average 22.0 points, 6.5 assists and 6.0 rebounds per game as a senior is hardly a stretch of the imagination.

1. Delon Wright, Utah

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    2013-14 stats: 15.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.5 SPG, 1.3 BPG

    What we loved most about players like Shabazz Napier and Russ Smith was their ability to do anything and everything. Whether you needed a clutch bucket, a perfect drive-and-dish, aggressive defense or someone to sell out for a loose ball, you always knew you could count on them to pull it off.

    With that in mind, it's about time the nation fell in love with Delon Wright—Utah's box-score-stuffing extraordinaire.

    Though he didn't record any triple-doubles last season, Wright had 11 games in which he had at least 10 points, six assists and six rebounds. Perhaps most notably among them was Utah's 23-point win over Arizona State in which Wright recorded 22 points, nine rebounds, six assists, three blocks and three steals.

    For good measure, he shot 100 percent from the field in that game.

    Between spending his first two years of college eligibility in junior college and his third year at Utah, Wright remains fairly unheralded on the national landscape.

    However, that could change in a big way with a good showing in the Sprint Center Showcase against Kansas on December 13 and/or if Utah can benefit from all of the turnover at Arizona State, California, Oregon and UCLA by legitimately competing for a Pac-12 title.

    One way or another, you'll know Wright by the end of the season, as he figures to be one of the most coveted seniors in the 2015 NBA draft class.

    Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.