Ranking the Top Seniors for the 2015-16 College Basketball Season

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystApril 30, 2015

Ranking the Top Seniors for the 2015-16 College Basketball Season

0 of 21

    Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

    We annually latch onto the one-and-done freshmen in college basketball, but the seniors are the players that the true fans of the game love (and hate) the most. They're the ones billed as team leaders, the ones whose experience we buy into come tournament time and the ones we have fond memories of from seasons past.

    People will try to tell you that early entrants into the NBA draft are killing the college game, but how can anyone look at the bevy of talented seniors this season and possibly make that argument?

    It wasn't hard to come up with 20 outstanding soon-to-be graduates. Rather, it was hard to limit ourselves to only 20.

    Ranking these seniors was based primarily on a combination of two alliterative elements: personal production and postseason promise. Putting up big numbers is a must, but doing so for a team that figures to be in the running for a No. 1 seed in the 2016 NCAA tournament is a great way to earn a spot in the top 10.

    One other factor taken into consideration was indispensability.

    For instance, North Carolina's Brice Johnson is great. He puts up strong stats, and the Tar Heels might be the best team in the country. But they also have Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Joel James in the mix in the frontcourt. That kept Johnson out of the top 10. But Oregon State's Gary Payton II might be the most indispensable senior in the country, earning him a high spot on the list.

Honorable Mentions

1 of 21

    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    Let's make one thing perfectly clear: This could have easily been 50 slides and there still would have been players robbed from inclusion. Evansville's D.J. Balentine may well lead the nation in scoring, and he was barely even considered for a spot in the top 20. Same goes for double-double machines like Buffalo's Justin Moss and Colorado's Josh Scott.

    But rather than listing a ton of players who were painfully removed early in the trimming process, here are a few quick words on 12 players exceptionally difficult to leave on the cutting room floor.

    Tyrone Wallace, California

    A triple-double threat who averaged 17.1 points per game as a junior, Wallace was ultimately omitted because he simply isn't an efficient scorer, averaging 1.15 points per field-goal attempt last year.

    Damion Lee, Louisville

    Lee is probably going to be the most important transfer in the country, but how exactly does 21.4 points per game at 11-19 Drexel translate to life in the ACC?

    Shawn Long, Louisiana-Lafayette

    The Ragin' Cajuns made the tournament two years ago with Elfrid Payton, but they were just as good without the 2014 NBA lottery pick because Long averaged a double-double for a third straight year.

    Jameel Warney, Stony Brook

    Warney led the nation in double-doubles with 24 of them, but you could really make a case that Carson Puriefoy is every bit as important to Stony Brook's cause.

    Chris Fowler, Central Michigan

    Fowler averaged 16.2 PPG, 6.1 APG, 3.1 RPG and 1.5 SPG last season. Notre Dame's Jerian Grant averaged 16.5 PPG, 6.7 APG, 3.0 RPG and 1.7 SPG. Just saying.

    A.J. Hammons, Purdue

    Hammons has the talent to be one of the best players in the country, but he simply hasn't been very consistent to this point in his career.

    D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown

    Smith-Rivera initially declared for the draft but changed his mind a week later and should be the front-runner for Big East Player of the Year.

    Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida

    No Michael Frazier. No Chris Walker. No Eli Carter. Someone has to score for this team, right?

    Fred VanVleet, Wichita State
    Taurean Prince, Baylor
    Nic Moore, SMU
    Anthony Gill, Virginia

    With one exception in Chapel Hill, we made it a point to only include one senior per school. These four players were omitted because of a teammate in the top 20.

20. Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia

2 of 21

    Rich Barnes/Getty Images

    2014-15 Stats: 14.0 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.4 APG

    A much higher spot on the list would have been reserved for Justin Anderson if he had come back for his senior season, but it'll be up to a different senior to shoulder the load for the Wahoos this season.

    Maybe it'll be Anthony Gill. Perhaps it'll be Mike Tobey. But the smart money is on Malcolm Brogdon serving as the face of Virginiaif only because that's what the majority of us were expecting this past season before Anderson exploded out of nowhere.

    Even with Anderson's significantly increased role in the offense, Brogdon still had a very solid season reminiscent of his sophomore campaign. He took a slight step backward in the three-point department and wasn't nearly as present on the glass, but 14 points per game in that molasses-paced offense is nothing to shake a stick at.

    As the presumed leading scorer for a presumed contender for a third-straight regular-season title, Brogdon should be a lock for the preseason All-ACC first or second team when those press releases start surfacing in a few months.

19. Markus Kennedy, SMU

3 of 21

    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    2014-15 Stats (24 games): 11.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 1.1 APG, 0.8 BPG

    Hopefully, we will finally get a full season out of Markus Kennedy, and it will be glorious.

    Over the final three-plus months of the 2013-14 season after being fully inserted into the rotation, Kennedy averaged 13.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. Similarly in 2014-15, he was very strong over the final two-plus months of the season after missing 10 games due to academic ineligibility and needing a few games to get back into the swing of things.

    If Kennedy is actually in the starting lineup for all 34 regular-season games in 2015-16, he just might be the best power forward in the country.

    On the other hand, we have yet to see him play starter minutes for an entire season, so we're a little leery about his ability to do so in his fourth and final season. If he can pull it off, look for SMU to win the AAC for a second consecutive year.

18. Zach Auguste, Notre Dame

4 of 21

    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    2014-15 Stats: 12.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG

    Those look like pretty modest numbers until you take two other things into consideration.

    First off, Zach Auguste only averaged 24.4 minutes per game. Per 100 possessions, he accounted for 33.1 points and 16.6 rebounds, according to Sports-Reference.com. For the sake of comparison, Jahlil Okafor's per-100 numbers were 34.9 points and 17.1 rebounds. Give Auguste 30-32 minutes per game as a senior and he's going to be a monster.

    Secondly, he's bound to play a much bigger role for this team with Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton out of the picture. Those two did the bulk of the team's scoring, and Connaughton led the team in rebounding, meaning there's plenty of slack to be picked up by Auguste.

    Maybe he benefited from those two guys more than we realize and he'll actually take a step backward in 2015-16, but we think increased playing time and increased importance for Auguste will result in a very strong senior season as he leads the Fighting Irish back to the tournament.

17. Jake Layman, Maryland

5 of 21

    Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

    2014-15 Stats: 12.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.4 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.7 BPG

    Outside of College Park, Jake Layman was an afterthought for pretty much the entire 2014-15 season. Melo Trimble was the fresh meat everyone loved to discuss, Dez Wells and Evan Smotrycz were the veteran leaders and Layman was just kind of there, consistently pouring in 10-15 points per game.

    When all was said and done, though, he had a solid enough junior season to necessitate an announcement that he would come back for a fourth year rather than jumping to the NBA.

    And good thing, too, because the Terrapins wouldn't be a title contender this year without him. In the above story by The Baltimore Sun's Don Markus, head coach Mark Turgeon was quoted as saying, "This is monstrous for us. We needed to have Jake back."

    In his first two collegiate seasons, Layman was a stretch 4 and little more. He attempted more three-pointers than two-pointers, didn't rebound particularly well for his size and rarely got to the free-throw line. But he was much more assertive as a junior and actually embraced his role as the team's primary power forward.

    However, with Diamond Stone and Robert Carter Jr. now in the picture to handle the frontcourt duties, Layman will likely play a Sam Dekker type of role as a 6'9" "small forward" with plenty of range and a now-proven ability to do some damage in the paint.

    Layman probably won't be in the running for Big Ten Player of the Year, but he could largely be the reason that Maryland earns a No. 1 seed in the 2016 NCAA tournament.

16. Venky Jois, Eastern Washington

6 of 21

    Godofredo Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    2014-15 Stats: 16.7 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 2.2 BPG, 2.0 APG, 1.2 SPG

    We went easy on the Alan Williams All-StarsA.K.A. seniors who will put up monster numbers in complete anonymity to 99 percent of casual fansbut Venky Jois is just too good to ignore.

    Even with Tyler Harvey doing the bulk of the scoring for Eastern Washington, Jois managed to record eight double-doublesincluding five in a row as February spilled into March. He is also an excellent shot-blocker who draws fouls at nearly twice the rate he commits them.

    In the November win over Indiana, he had 20 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks. In the tournament against Georgetown, he had 19 points, eight rebounds and two blocks.

    What happens now that he's the team's primary weapon? Was he benefiting from the opposition's focus on Harvey and headed for a bit of a drop in production, or is he going to explode into a 20-point, 10-rebound machine?

    We're betting on the latter. And if it leads to another dance for the Eagles, Jois will be more of a household name before he graduates.

15. Danuel House, Texas A&M

7 of 21

    Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    2014-15 Stats: 14.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 2.1 APG

    The full season numbers don't quite do justice to how good Danuel House was for the Aggies for the majority of the SEC schedule.

    From January 10 through the end of February, House averaged 18.0 points per game. He shot 45.0 percent from beyond the arc in those 15 games, hitting at least two triples in 14 of them. Only once during that stretch did he fail to score at least 13 points in a game. He tallied at least 20 points six times.

    House missed the first three games of the season while waiting to find out if he would be eligible to play after transferring from Houston, but once he got into a groove, he was pretty unstoppable.

    With House back, South Florida transfer Anthony Collins on the way and the sixth-best recruiting class in the country, as graded by 247Sports, the Aggies could be in 2015-16 what Utah was in 2014-15transforming from a 21-12 team that missed the tournament after failing to win a marquee game into a team that opens the season on the back end of the AP Top 25 before making a Sweet 16 appearance.

    Should that happen, House will inevitably (and rightfully) be viewed as one of the better seniors the country has to offer.

14. Alex Poythress, Kentucky

8 of 21

    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    2014-15 Stats (8 games): 5.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 1.5 BPG

    Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the biggest X-factor of the 2015-16 season.

    If Alex Poythress struggles in his return from a torn ACL, that puts an awful lot of pressure on a very young and inexperienced frontcourt. Skal Labissiere should be a remarkable freshman center, but as things currently stand, the only forwards on Kentucky's roster are Poythress, Marcus Lee and Derek Willis. With all due respect to those players, that's a pretty massive dropoff from the 2014-15 frontcourt.

    But if Poythress comes back stronger than ever and once again becomes the stud we saw three years ago, well, that changes everything.

    As a freshman, Poythress averaged 11.2 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. But then Julius Randle and James Young came in and relegated him to a backup role as a sophomore. And then Karl-Anthony Towns and Trey Lyles showed up and left Poythress in a platoon situation at small forward before his injury.

    Really, this is his first chance to shine in several years, and we're pretty excited to see what he does with this opportunity, if he gets it. He could be the reason Kentucky contends for another title, or he could be the reason the Wildcats stumble through the season, and we won't know which until play resumes in November.

13. Rico Gathers, Baylor

9 of 21

    Cooper Neill/Getty Images

    2014-15 Stats: 11.6 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 1.0 BPG

    Rico Gathers is a man playing among boys.

    Gathers averaged 11.6 rebounds per game while playing less than 30 minutes per night. He averaged 11.6 points per game while rarely having a play drawn up for him.

    He had 164 offensive rebounds and made just 134 field goals.

    Many of those were directly connected.

    In short, he is a one-man wrecking crew. He had 17 double-doubles and another six games in which he fell short by just one bucket or one rebound. And he only seemed to get stronger as the season progressed.

    Gathers doesn't even need to get any better to rank this high on the list. With a repeat performance of last year, he'll easily be one of the best seniors in the country.

    Imagine if he does continue to improve, though.

12. Brice Johnson, North Carolina

10 of 21

    Harry How/Getty Images

    2014-15 Stats: 12.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 0.9 APG

    When he is able to stay out of foul trouble, Brice Johnson is an extremely talented power forward. He had eight double-doubles last season and 18 games with at least 15 points. He's also a quality source of blocks and steals when he's able to defend without fear of a whistle that sends him to the bench.

    Unfortunately, those whistles have come far too often in his career, and they are arguably what has kept him from reaching his full potential. While playing just 24.7 minutes per game, Johnson "led" the Tar Heels with 112 fouls committed14 more than any other player on the roster. He was hit with at least four fouls in 14 games, including all three of North Carolina's NCAA tournament games.

    Yet, he was less foul-prone in 2014-15 than he was in his first two seasons in Chapel Hill, and he could continue to improve in that department as a senior. If he does, it would be a huge plus for the Tar Heels and a nice addition to his individual value.

    Johnson logged at least 28 minutes in 13 games last season. He averaged 16.4 points and 8.1 rebounds in those contests. He scored at least 17 points in 10 of those games.

    Johnson has the skill and the stamina to be a stud. He just needs to keep cutting down on those fouls in order to become one of the most valuable players in the ACC.

11. Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga

11 of 21

    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    2014-15 Stats: 16.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.9 APG

    With Frank Kaminsky, Jahlil Okafor and D'Angelo Russell now out of the college picture, Kyle Wiltjer might be the most unguardable player in the country.

    Wiltjer shot 46.6 percent from three-point range and 57.6 percent from inside the arc in 2014-15. Among players to attempt at least 130 of each, he was the only one to shoot at least 45 percent from downtown and at least 55 percent from close range.

    It's not an exaggeration to say that he was putting up Doug McDermott numbers. Wiltjer didn't take as many shots as McDermott did, but he should have with those percentages. For his college career, McDermott shot 45.8 percent from three-point range and 58.7 percent inside the arc.

    If he plays about 80 percent of possible minutes and becomes a slightly more assertive shooter, Wiltjer could pretty easily lead the nation in scoring in 2015-16.

10. Perry Ellis, Kansas

12 of 21

    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    2014-15 Stats: 13.8 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.2 APG

    There are some excellent reasons to believe that Kansas' streak of Big 12 titles will come to an end this season.

    Iowa State is expected to be one of the best teams in the country. Oklahoma will continue to be very strong with Buddy Hield back for another year. Shaka Smart is looking to revitalize a Texas program that underachieved for years under Rick Barnes. Baylor will remain one of the most underappreciated, very good teams for at least one more season.

    Any one of those teams could win this conference. But a fourth and final year of Perry Ellis is a pretty good reason to buy stock in a 12th consecutive crown for Kansas.

    Sure, the Jayhawks have other great assets. Frank Mason, Devonte Graham, Wayne Selden, Brannen Greene and Svi Mykhailiuk all return for another season in the backcourt. Bill Self also adds frontcourt McDonald's All-Americans in Carlton Bragg and Cheick Daillo.

    Ellis is the leader, though, and arguably its heart and soul. At any rate, he has been their pacemaker, putting up 12-15 points and grabbing 5-8 rebounds like clockwork for the past two seasons.

9. Yogi Ferrell, Indiana

13 of 21

    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    2014-15 Stats: 16.3 PPG, 4.9 APG, 3.2 RPG

    On the next slide, there's a club of two players who reached a certain plateau in assists, three-point attempts and three-point percentage. When you get to it, just know that Yogi Ferrell was three attempts away from making that a three-player club.

    Ferrell has been such an absolutely pivotal piece of the puzzle for the Hoosiers over the past two seasons. He wasn't much of a shooter as a freshman, but out of both necessity and opportunity, he has become a volume shooter and an accurate one at that, making 40.8 percent of his 417 three-point attempts over the past two seasons.

    He's more than just a three-point assassin, though. Ferrell is an excellent point guard, plenty capable of scoring inside the arc and lethal from the free-throw line. He shot 86.1 percent from the charity stripe in 2014-15, good for the second-best percentage in the Big Ten.

    Ferrell is hardly the best on-ball defender on the planet, but everything he does on offense is plenty sufficient for him to be one of the 10 best seniors this season.

8. Denzel Valentine, Michigan State

14 of 21

    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    2014-15 Stats: 14.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 4.5 APG, 0.9 SPG

    Michigan State is going to have a phenomenal roster this season, but there's no question that Denzel Valentine will be the one ruling the roost.

    Valentine has yet to record a triple-double in his career, but it almost seems inevitable, as the point-forward is such a fantastic scorer, rebounder and distributor.

    He was one of just two players in the country to average at least 4.3 assists per game while making at least 40 percent of his more than 200 three-point attempts, and the other one (D'Angelo Russell) is almost certainly going to be a top-five draft pick in two months.

    And that doesn't even begin to account for Valentine's rebounding and defense. He's one of the most unique, multi-threat players in the country, so it's still hard to believe that it was Travis Trice who got all of the national love when Michigan State advanced to the 2015 Final Four.

    Between A.J. Hammons, Jake Layman, Yogi Ferrell, Valentine and the player at No. 2 on our list, the Big Ten is positively loaded with outstanding seniors.

7. Kyle Collinsworth, Brigham Young

15 of 21

    James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

    2014-15 Stats: 13.8 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 6.0 APG, 1.8 SPG

    Denzel Valentine has flirted with a couple of triple-doubles in his career, but that pales in comparison to the six triple-doubles that Kyle Collinsworth actually recorded last year.

    Say what you will about BYU's high-scoring, up-tempo game plan, but there have been faster and more productive teams in years past that didn't result in the type of record-breaking season that Collinsworth just had.

    It was crazy enough when he got his first triple-double against Hawaiiless than nine months removed from surgery to repair a torn ACL—but that was only the beginning. In addition to the six that he got, he came within one or two assists of tallying two other triple-doubles.

    No matter how late it tipped off, if BYU was playing, we were watching. Collinsworth made that happen.

    Now we get to find out just how great he is as an individual, as Tyler Haws, Skyler Halford and Anson Winder are all out of years of eligibility. He'll get plenty of points-rebounds double-doubles, but will he be able to tally as many assists without that great supporting cast?

    Would it stop us from watching him anyway?

6. Ron Baker, Wichita State

16 of 21

    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    2014-15 Stats: 14.7 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.8 BPG

    Does anyone else feel like this is going to be Ron Baker's 12th year in college? It seems like so long ago that he burst onto the scene as a three-point assassin against Gonzaga in the 2013 NCAA tournament.

    Yet, we (and Gregg Marshall) have the luxury of watching Baker and Fred VanVleet in Wichita State's backcourt for one more season.

    Though he is definitely more of the shooting guard in that backcourt duo, Baker had a 2.3 assist-to-turnover ratio, recorded more steals than turnovers and even led the Shockers in blocked shots. There's almost nothing that he can't and doesn't do for this team.

    But now comes the biggest role of his life.

    In years past, he had Carl Hall, Malcolm Armstead, Cleanthony Early, Tekele Cotton and Darius Carter to help shoulder the load, but he and VanVleet are now undeniably the stars of the show.

    A repeat of Baker's junior season won't be enough. He'll need to somehow be even better than the player who made more than 38 percent of his 200-plus three-point attempts last season in order to keep Wichita State in contention for a fifth consecutive single-digit seed in the NCAA tournament.

5. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma

17 of 21

    Elsa/Getty Images

    2014-15 Stats: 17.4 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.3 SPG

    Like so many others on the list, Buddy Hield was actually better as a sophomore than he was as a junior.

    Yes, he was named the Big 12 Player of the Year last month. And yes, his 11th-hour decision to stay in school for one more year inflates Oklahoma from a Top 25 team to a Top 10 team. But both his two-point and three-point shooting percentages decreasedby 3.3 percent and 2.7 percent, respectivelyand he was easily the worst defender in Oklahoma's starting five, as graded by Sports-Reference's Defense Box Plus/Minus.

    The intent with that paragraph is not to drag Hield's name through the mudhe wouldn't be at No. 5 on the list if that was the case. Rather, it is meant to simultaneously temper expectations while fanning the flames of excitement.

    Hield can and should be better than he was last season, yet he was already judged to be the best player in the best (regular season) conference. He would have been a fringe first-round pick this June if he had jumped to the NBA, but if he can get his shooting percentages back to, or better than, they were two years ago while improving slightly on defense, he could be a lottery pick in June 2016.

4. Gary Payton II, Oregon State

18 of 21

    Godofredo Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    2014-15 Stats: 13.4 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 3.2 APG, 3.1 SPG, 1.2 BPG

    One year ago, we all started falling helplessly in love with a JUCO transfer who played the previous season in relative national anonymity at a floundering-but-improving Pac-12 school. At the end of the 2013-14 season, he was anything but a household name. By the start of the 2014-15 season, he was one of the favorites for national player of the year for a team expected to give Arizona a run for its money atop the conference standings.

    That man was Delon Wright, but it appears we're headed for a sequel to that career arc with Gary Payton II.

    Even their statistics are pretty similar. Payton's numbers are listed above, and Wright averaged 15.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.5 SPG and 1.0 BPG in his first season on the D-I circuit. They're stat-sheet stuffers who make a huge impact in multiple facets on each end of the court.

    One could really make the argument that Payton was one of the most valuable players in the country last season. Oregon State lost five starters and a head coach from the 16-16 team in 2013-14, but the Beavers went 17-14 with an almost entirely new roster and Payton leading the way.

    They really stumbled to the finish line, losing nine of their final 12 gamesmostly in blowout fashion. But when they win 20 games and vie for a tournament bid this season, Paytonlike Wright a few months agowill be a mandatory mention in all player of the year discussions.

3. Georges Niang, Iowa State

19 of 21

    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    2014-15 Stats: 15.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 3.4 APG

    Georges Niang is back for one more chance to end his college career on a high note. He broke his foot in Iowa State's first game of the 2014 NCAA tournament and had a dreadful game in the 2015 round of 64 as the Cyclones were ousted by UAB.

    Who knows if he would already be in the NBA without those black marks at the end of his sophomore and junior seasons, but we're selfishly glad to have him back for one more yearthose of us who don't root for one of the other nine Big 12 teams, that is.

    Truth be told, though, just about his entire junior season was kind of disappointing. Niang was supposed to be this monster of a man, now in the best shape of his life, but his only double-double of the season came in mid-November. He failed to score more than 24 points in a game after doing so three times in his first six games.

    He still put up respectable numbers and was one of the more versatile forwards in the country, but aside from an improved three-point percentage, he was better as a sophomore than he was as a junior.

    A pessimist might look at that and expect further regression, but we see Niang becoming more of a force on the glass and in the paint with Dustin Hogue graduating. If he continues to hit threes and dole out a few assists per game in the process, Niang just might be the most valuable player in the country.

2. Caris LeVert, Michigan

20 of 21

    Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    2014-15 Stats (18 games): 14.9 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.8 SPG

    Caris LeVert was supposed to be one of the best players in the country last year.

    The Wolverines lost Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary, Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford from the 2013-14 roster, but they were still ranked in the preseason AP Top 25 almost entirely because of LeVert. He averaged 12.9 points per game as a sophomore, shot better than 40 percent from three-point range and contributed in nearly every aspect of the game.

    Before the 2014-15 season began, LeVert and Nebraska's Terran Petteway were supposed to be the two players who would give Frank Kaminsky the biggest fight for Big Ten Player of the Year.

    Had he not suffered a season-ending foot injuryand if Michigan hadn't been indefensibly terriblehe probably would have been in that conversation. At the time of his injury, he was leading the team in points, rebounds, assists and steals.

    It's probably because of that injury that he's coming back for a fourth year, but he's doing so with something to prove. Draft Express had LeVert ranked as the 24th-best prospect when he officially announced his decision to come back to Michigan. And let's just say he didn't turn down a spot near the end of the first round to earn another one in 2016. LeVert is trying to play his way into the lottery, and he should have little difficulty leading the Wolverines back to the tournament in the process. 

1. Marcus Paige, North Carolina

21 of 21

    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    2014-15 Stats: 14.1 PPG, 4.5 APG, 2.9 RPG, 1.7 SPG

    If at first you don't succeed...

    Marcus Paige was my preseason pick to win the 2015 Wooden Award, and I wasn't exactly alone on that bandwagon. Most everyone expected him to have a phenomenal season after averaging 17.5 points per game as a sophomore.

    He played well as a junior, but not nearly as well as expected. This was no doubt due in some part to the plantar fasciitis and sprained ankles he suffered through all season long. But if he's healthy in 2015-16and that permanently becomes a big "if" when dealing with plantar fasciitishe could absolutely be the most important player on the best team in the country.

    Keep in mind, Gonzaga's Kevin Pangos was in a similar boat one year ago. Pangos was well on his way to a massive 2013-14 season before a turf toe injury suffered in December left him a shell of his former self for the rest of the season. However, he came back in a huge way as a senior and was a strong early candidate for the Wooden Award before tapering off over the latter half of the season.

    Who's to say Paige couldn't follow a similar path before putting up his best numbers to date during the ACC portion of his senior year?

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

    Statistics courtesy of ESPN.com, KenPom.com, NCAA.com and Sports-Reference.com.

🚨 SPORTS NEWS ➡️ YOUR INBOX

The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.


X