Way-Too-Early List of the Top 2015-16 CBB Player of the Year Candidates

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystJuly 17, 2015

Way-Too-Early List of the Top 2015-16 CBB Player of the Year Candidates

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    College basketball's 2015-16 National Player of the Year voting season is still quite a few months away, but that couldn't possibly stop us from putting together a list of the 20 best candidates to earn those honors.

    Compared to the lists that every sports site will be posting in November, 20 is on the short side. Most go with at least 50. Many venture to 100 or more. Thus, there were a lot of difficult exclusions.

    However, we're only looking for the very best of the very best.

    We don't want the 50 players who will probably show up on the preseason Wooden Award watch list in November.

    We want the 20 players who might actually win the darn thing.

    As tends to be the case for national POY awards, the criteria pretty much boiled down to searching for the most valuable players on what should be the best teams in the country. After all, the past 10 Wooden Award winners each played on a team that earned a No. 4 seed or better in the NCAA tournament.

    Because the list of 20 players will inevitably induce more than enough argument as it is, we refrained from actually ranking the candidates and rather listed them in alphabetical order.

Honorable Mentions

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    Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    Players with teammates in top 20

    Though the Wooden Watch committee will gladly put several players from the same team in its preseason top 50, we self-imposed a maximum of one player per school. The rationale: It's kind of hard to be the best player in the country if you aren't clearly the best player on your own team.

    Literally dozens of potential candidates were omitted for this reason, but the following 10 players were particularly painful to leave off the list: Tyrone Wallace (California), Grayson Allen (Duke), Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga), Troy Williams (Indiana), Monte Morris (Iowa State), Frank Mason (Kansas), Tyler Ulis and Alex Poythress (Kentucky), Brice Johnson (North Carolina) and Fred VanVleet (Wichita State).

    Kyle Collinsworth, BYU

    The man had six triple-doubles last season yet never even appeared on one of the Wooden Watches. Sure, that's partially because Tyler Haws kept getting BYU's love, but still, six triple-doubles! If he wasn't good enough for voters last year, it's tough to see him stepping up his game any further to get their attention this year.

    Damion Lee, Louisville

    If he scores like he did at Drexel (21.4 PPG last year), he'll obviously be a high-ranking candidate for National POY. However, we've got so many fabulous freshmen and collegiate veterans who actually have scored a ton of points with high-major programs that we can afford to take a wait and see approach with Lee before placing him among the nation's elite.

    Malik Newman, Mississippi State

    If the Bulldogs sneak into the tournament, Newman could receive some D'Angelo Russell-like praise as the dominant freshman shooting guard who puts a team on his back. We're not entirely convinced this is a tournament team, though, and it's tough to get national recognition while losing half of one's games.

    Malik Pope, San Diego State

    Most everyone expects Pope to have a monstrous sophomore season. As was the case with Lee, though, let's make sure he actually gets off to a hot start before we go removing a certified stud like Perry Ellis or Damian Jones to make room for him.

    Danuel House, Texas A&M

    The dark horse who didn't quite make the cut, House might lead the SEC in scoring while carrying his team to the tournament, a la John Jenkins with Vanderbilt in 2011-12. At least this year he won't be sitting around all summer waiting to find out whether he'll be eligible to play, so he should be ready to hit the ground running.

    Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona

    He's clearly the best returning player on the roster. He was a 5-star recruit way back in 2012. It's just a question of whether he finally discovers anything resembling a killer instinct.

    Denzel Valentine, Michigan State

    Definitely the most difficult omission, but like Collinsworth, Valentine was already pretty incredible last year without getting anything close to the recognition he deserved. Maybe now that he's unarguably the leader of the Spartans, he'll get more attention, but it's hard to imagine him putting up even better numbers than he did as a junior.

    The Virginia Cavaliers

    Anthony Gill, Malcolm Brogdon, Mike Tobey and London Perrantes all have legitimate cases for consideration here, but unless/until one of them steps up to fill Justin Anderson's alpha male role, the Cavaliers will likely get the "whole is greater than the sum of its parts" treatment. Slow pace of play doesn't help their case, either.

Ron Baker, Wichita State

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    Gary Rohman-USA TODAY Sports

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

    What's perhaps most crazy about Ron Baker's junior season is that it almost felt like a letdown, because it was a carbon copy of his sophomore year.

    Granted, he was outstanding in 2013-14 as one of the key components of Wichita State's undefeated regular season. But it was his potential for even greater things that made him such a highly touted player heading into last season. CBSSports.com had Baker at No. 19 on its ranking of the nation's top players. USA Today's Jason McIntyre had him at No. 14. Our own C.J. Moore put Baker at No. 6 on his list.

    Considering he was named one of the 15 finalists for the Wooden Award, it's not hard to argue that he lived up to expectations. However, according to Sports-Reference.com, junior year Baker posted the exact same D-Rating and win shares per 40 minutes numbers as sophomore year Baker, and he was actually a little worse in box score plus/minus and O-Rating.

    Keeping the status quo was good enough to be one of the 15 best players in the country, but he could get up to No. 1 with just the slightest bit of improvement.

    A 37.7 percent shooter from three-point range in his career, if Baker can go out with a 40 percent season while the Shockers win all but one or two of their regular-season games, he'll be a lock for the Wooden Award's Final Five when it is announced near the end of March.

Jaylen Brown, California

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    2014-15 Stats: N/A (Freshman)

    Abruptly shifting gears from a senior shooting guard for a mid-major juggernaut to a freshman small forward for a major conference team on the rise, Jaylen Brown is already one of the primary candidates to be selected with the No. 1 overall pick next June.

    Even if he isn't actually the best player for the Golden Bears, he'll be viewed as such because of his incessant spot near the top of all the mock drafts.

    Chances are, though, that he'll live up to that hype.

    People who insist on making pro comparisons for guys who have yet to play a single collegiate game have likened Brown to (among others) Luol Deng, Jason Richardson and Andre Iguodala. As a college fan with a recency bias, though, I see a lot of Justise Winslow and Stanley Johnson in Brown's game.

    A slashing wing with more than enough strength and athleticism to finish in the paint, Brown is an improved three-point stroke away from becoming the most unguardable freshman in the nation. He also has defensive potential in spades as a guy who can frustrate guards and forwards alike.

Kris Dunn, Providence

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    Stew Milne/Associated Press

    2014-15 Stats: 15.6 PPG, 7.5 APG, 5.5 RPG, 2.7 SPG

    Kris Dunn is the only player in our top 20 who doesn't also play for a team in our latest projection of the 2016 NCAA tournament field, but that's just how insanely talented he is.

    A lot of people have been complaining that we're giving Dunn way too much credit in our 2015-16 projections, but that leads me to believe that a lot of people watched Providence play a maximum of two games last season: at Kentucky in late November and at Dayton in the tournament.

    Without question, those were his two worst games of the year. He had six points and 10 turnovers against Kentucky just two days after missing the game against Yale with an ankle injury. He had 11 points and seven turnovers while playing the entire game against Dayton in controversial foul trouble.

    Aside from those two games, he was phenomenal. Fouls and turnovers plagued him on a regular basis, but that will happen when you're the primary attacker in a two-man offense, and the Friars got a whole lot of good with that bad. Dunn only recorded one triple-double, but he was a constant threat for them all season long.

    As long as he stays healthy, a nightly average of 20.0 points, 7.0 assists and 7.0 rebounds is absolutely in play.

Perry Ellis, Kansas

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    2014-15 Stats: 13.8 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.2 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.7 BPG 

    Take your pick from Kansas' roster, really.

    Frank Mason had a breakout sophomore season and could be headed for an even better year at the point. Wayne Selden and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk both disappointed in 2014-15 but are expected to have monster seasons this year. Cheick Diallo is arguably the best power forward in this year's freshman classwhich hopefully leads to better results for him than it did for Cliff Alexander last year.

    When in doubt, though, go with the senior, because the elder statesman almost always gets the bulk of the team's love if there's any debate to be had.

    For the Jayhawks, that veteran leader is Perry Ellis. Despite becoming a bit more of an outside shooter as a junior, the big man has put up nearly identical numbers over the past two seasons. He had 472 points and 234 rebounds in 973 minutes as a sophomore and proceeded to tally 469 points and 234 rebounds in 978 minutes last year.

    Eerily similar, but a testament to the fact that Kansas can count on him for roughly 14 points and seven rebounds in every single game.

    But before suffering a knee injury in the first game of March against West Virginia, he was really starting to explode. Over the prior five games, he had averaged 22.4 points and 8.0 rebounds.

    If late-February Ellis shows up for the entire 2015-16 season, it will be one heck of a yearlong show.

Yogi Ferrell, Indiana

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    Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

    2014-15 Stats: 16.3 PPG, 4.9 APG, 3.2 RPG, 0.7 SPG

    One of the last players to decide whether or not he would return for another college season, Yogi Ferrell spurned a draft spot on the fringe of the first round in favor of a spot near the top of everyone's list of the nation's best seniors/players.

    Along with Kris Dunn, Demetrius Jackson, Marcus Paige and Melo Trimble, Ferrell is one of the best and most efficient scoring point guards in the game today. With a 2.6 assist-to-turnover ratio and a 41.6 percent three-point stroke, pretty much the only thing he can't do is block shots.

    He will be the captain and commander of one of the most lethal three-point assaults for a second consecutive season, only this time he'll actually have a talented big man in the paint, too, with the addition of Thomas Bryant.

    Indiana will likely be an offensive juggernaut. The points and assists that Ferrell will rack up as a result will just about guarantee he remains in the discussion for National POY. Whether the Hoosiers are actually one of the 10 or 15 best teams in the country should determine how well Ferrell does in the final vote.

Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin

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    Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    2014-15 Stats: 12.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.9 SPG

    Let's put it this way: If Nigel Hayes isn't one of the 20 best players in the country this season, it's going to be a very long one for Wisconsin fans who refuse to accept that sometimes regression happens when you lose 66 percent of your scoring in one offseason.

    The good news is that Hayes really should be firmly in the running for National POY.

    Hayes shot 49.7 percent from the field and 39.6 percent from three-point range last seasonthe latter of which no one saw coming after he attempted (count them) zero triples in 2013-14. Once he unleashed that aspect of his game upon the world, it became abundantly clear that the Badgers were going to have one of the best offensive attacks ever.

    But he "only" scored 12.4 points per game because he attempted just 19.3 percent of the team's shots while he was on the court, according to KenPom.com. Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker weren't ball hogs by any means, but they were responsible for 28.3 percent and 24.9 percent, respectively.

    It would be one thing if Hayes was already shooting a ton before losing some of his sidekicks, but he was the sidekick. Now that he's the breadwinner for Wisconsin's offense, look for him to average close to 20 points per game.

Buddy Hield, Oklahoma

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

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

    Like Yogi Ferrell, Buddy Hield was one of the last early-entry dominoes to fall, as he waited until just two days before the deadline before deciding to defend his crown as the Big 12 Player of the Year.

    In one man's humble opinion, it was a great decision. Despite winning that award, Hield wasn't nearly as efficient on offense in his junior season as was the year prior. Last year, he shot a respectable 46.9 percent from inside the arc and 35.9 percent beyond it. As a sophomore, though, his marks were 51.2 percent and 38.6 percent, respectively.

    Aside from an increase of one rebound per game, all of his peripheral numbers remained almost exactly the same.

    In a nutshell, he has already proven he can be better than he was last year.

    Will he actually rediscover some of that sophomore year efficiency after shooting a Marshall Henderson-like 9-of-40 from three-point range over his final four games of last season? Might that poor finish be partially to blame/thank for his decision to give the Sooners one more year?

    Regardless of why Hield came back, Oklahoma has to be considered a serious contender to win the national championship because of him.

Brandon Ingram, Duke

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    2014-15 Stats: N/A (Freshman)

    Face it. Someone from Duke is going to be one of the 15 finalists for the Wooden Award.

    Jahlil Okafor was named to the Final Five this past season. Jabari Parker received the same honor in 2014. In 2013, Mason Plumlee was one of the 15 finalists. The year before that, Austin Rivers was on that list. Oh, and Nolan Smith was named to 2011's Final Five.

    You get the idea.

    Really, it's just a matter of deciding which Dukie will claim the spot being reserved for the program. Grayson Allen is a strong candidate, but our money is on Brandon Ingram.

    He's 6'9" with a 7'3" wingspan, three-point range and plenty of ability to finish in the paint, making him the ultimate matchup nightmare.

    Do you guard Ingram with a power forward and hope he doesn't blow right past his defender time and againsomething that should be even easier this year with the renewed emphasis on freedom of movementor do you put a wing on Ingram and just hope he doesn't get hot while towering over his defender?

    As a tall, slender "small" forward who can stroke it from deep, the Kevin Durant comparisons will be both asinine and unavoidable. If he can live up to them, though, it might mean a second straight title for the Blue Devils.

Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    2014-15 Stats: 12.4 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.6 SPG

    Pretty much identical to Nigel Hayes' situation, Demetrius Jackson averaged 12.4 points per game while taking 18.7 percent of Notre Dame's shots while on the court last season, and now he becomes the star of the show with Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton out of the picture.

    Jackson, however, was an even more efficient scorer than Hayes. He led the Fighting Irish in three-point percentage at 42.9 and also shot 55.7 percent inside the arc. He's also an excellent defender, as evidenced by his steals average listed above.

    The big unknown is what he will do now that he's the primary ball-handler.

    Even when Grant was out of the lineup two years ago, Mike Brey still had Eric Atkins averaging nearly 38 minutes per game. And with Grant averaging more than 37 minutes per game last year, Jackson has yet to really have much of an opportunity to run the offense.

    Though it's an unknown, it isn't a concern. It's much more of a golden opportunity and potentially a springboard into the 2016 lottery.

Damian Jones, Vanderbilt

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    2014-15 Stats: 14.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 2.0 BPG, 0.7 APG

    Damian Jones is not a household name across the nation, but it should be by the end of this season.

    Sort of a lite version of Mason Plumlee or Montrezl Harrell, Jones is an explosive player who could be an elite big man with some more polish on his post moves, a little more touch on his jumper and a lot more work on his free throws.

    Basically, he has been destroying opponents with his raw athleticism, and we're still waiting for more to click. As DraftExpress' Mike Schmitz wrote from the Nike Academy earlier this month, "Jones still looked like an athlete transitioning into a basketball player at times. His natural basketball instincts aren't great, and he had issues creating on the block consistently and making the right play versus pressure."

    Yet that transitioning player put up solid numbers last season, including 11 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in his only game against Kentucky's world-beating frontcourt.

    Vanderbilt is one of the strongest candidates to make the transition from NIT to single-digit seed in the NCAA that several teams make every year. If and when the Commodores pull it off, look for Jones to be championed as a primary reason why.

    As a reminder, Delon Wright (Utah) and Bobby Portis (Arkansas) were both among last year's 15 Wooden Award finalists for fitting that description.

Skal Labissiere, Kentucky

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    Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

    2014-15 Stats: N/A (Freshman)

    Despite all that mumbo jumbo from last November about his eligibility after deciding to play for Reach Your Dreams Prepwhich subsequently kept him from participating in the 2015 McDonald's All-American Gameit sounds like Skal Labissiere will be eligible to play a collegiate season before going in the top three at the NBA draft next June.

    Good news for Kentucky.

    Bad news for the rest of the nation.

    Though Labissiere checked in at 7'0" and 216 pounds at the Nike Hoop Summit this past April, he isn't a prototypical center. He's a great shot-blocker who can play in the paint on both ends, but his offensive game is similar to that of Tim Duncan or Chris Bosh, full of mid-range jumpers and hook shots rather than drop steps and power moves.

    That said, he should put up prototypical big-man numbers, as he will pretty clearly be Kentucky's primary rebounder and interior scorer unless Marcus Lee or Derek Willis suddenly explodes after multiple years of not doing so.

    Defense will probably be his biggest asset, though. He might have the type of season that Nerlens Noel had three years ago. Hopefully Labissiere can avoid the torn ACL.

Caris LeVert, Michigan

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    Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    2014-15 Stats: 14.9 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.8 SPG

    Everyone under the sun had Caris LeVert somewhere in their top 15 heading into last season. With Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary, Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan all leaving, it was a near-foregone conclusion that the best remaining player would develop into the bright and shining star for a team that remained on the fringe of the Top 25.

    But it wasn't meant to be. His offensive efficiency took a hit as the Wolverines struggled to get anything right before losing him for the season to a broken foot in mid-January.

    Try not to be surprised when everyone has him in their top 15 once again this November. LeVert is an exceptional talent who can score at every level. Beyond that, junior year LeVert was a better distributor and a better defender than we had witnessed in his first two years.

    At this point, it's not crazy to suggest that LeVert will be a more assertive version of Delon Wright for his final season. If he stays healthy this year, he should be one of the nation's most versatile weapons on both ends of the court.

Georges Niang, Iowa State

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    Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

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

    Iowa State is expected to be one of the top contenders for this year's national championship because of Georges Niang's decision to stay in school for one more season. So, yeah, he's a pretty solid contender for National POY.

    Considering all of the "best shape of his life" stuff from last summer, though, Niang didn't have nearly the monster campaign we were expecting.

    In fact, his scoring decreased from the previous year, as he somehow managed to become less assertive after losing teammates DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim. His three-point stroke and rebounding rate bounced back to where they were his freshman year, but his two-point efficiency dropped considerably. By season's end, he was worth just .144 win shares per 40 minutesDustin Hogue was the only Cyclones starter who posted a lower number.

    Between that and the horrible season-ending loss to UAB, it's not much of a surprise that Niang came back for one more rodeo rather than limping off into the sunset.

    Needless to say, we're expecting a bounce-back year.

    Niang's role on the team abruptly changed last season when Jameel McKay became eligible, but there will be no such midseason adjustments this year. He'll be Iowa State's power forward from day one and should settle in nicely to his job as one of the most dominant forces in the Big 12.

Marcus Paige, North Carolina

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    Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

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

    Does anyone else feel like we've been talking about Marcus Paige as one of the best players in the country for the better part of a decade? Granted, he hasn't been around for nearly as long as Kevin Pangos or Aaron Craft seemed to be, but there's got to be some sort of voodoo at work that's enabling him to keep getting years of eligibility.

    Until someone can prove that, though, let's go ahead and keep penciling in Paige as a preseason first-team All-American until further notice.

    As was the case for most of the seniors on this list, last year was comparatively a disappointing one for Paige. Thanks in large part to plantar fasciitis and several ankle sprains, his game slippedparticularly his ability to drive and score. He averaged 6.3 two-point attempts per game as a sophomore, converting on 49.3 percent of them. Last year, those numbers were 4.7 and 43.8, respectively.

    If he can spend less time with the team doctor this year, we think he'll have an outstanding (supposedly) final season.

    Plantar fasciitis is no joke, though. It's not a broken finger or a pulled hamstring that you just kind of recover from and then forget about it. It could rear its ugly head at any given time, so don't be surprised if many people shy away from putting Paige near the top of their player list this preseasonparticularly the ones who were burned by Mitch McGary two years ago.

    Someone from the Tar Heels is bound to be a strong POY candidate, though, so perhaps Justin Jackson or Brice Johnson will take Paige's spot on those ballots.

Gary Payton II, Oregon State

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    Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

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

    The parallels between Gary Payton II and Delon Wright are uncanny.

    Both guys played two years of JUCO ball before transferring to a Pac-12 program without much recruitment from anyone else. Both played a ton of minutes and put up slightly ridiculous numbers in their first D-I season.

    Wright's junior year: 36.4 MPG, 14.5 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 5.1 APG, 2.1 SPG, 1.0 BPG

    Payton averaged 36.3 minutes per game last season, and the rest of his numbers listed above aren't extraordinarily different from Wright's. Moreover, both guys did most of their damage from two-point range while shooting worse than 30 percent from beyond the arc.

    Now, what put Wright squarely on the map for Wooden Award consideration as a senior weren't his numbers so much as the fact that the whole analytics world fell in love with him over the summer before Utah became a breakout team en route to a No. 5 seed.

    We haven't yet seen that type of love affair with Payton, but there are still four months left until the season begins. (It's OK. We'll get through them together.) There's still time for him to become a sexy preseason sleeper, and there's obviously ample time for Oregon State to blossom into one of this year's biggest turnarounds.

    If nothing else, Payton has name recognition on his side as the son of The Glove. Considering The Mitten averaged 3.1 steals per game last season, it's apparent the apple didn't fall far from the tree.

Jakob Poeltl, Utah

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    2014-15 Stats: 9.1 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.9 BPG, 0.7 APG

    The per-game numbers weren't particularly astounding, but keep in mind Jakob Poeltl averaged just 23.3 minutes per game and played much of last season with an ankle injury.

    He couldn't shoot free throws to save his life (44.4 percent), but the 7-foot Austrian freshman made an absurd 68.4 percent of his two-point attempts and was a shot-blocking connoisseur, when healthy.

    What will he do for an encore?

    Poeltl will demand more attention on defense now that Delon Wright is out of the picture, but it would be a colossal mistake for opponents to focus so heavily on stopping the big man that they forget about Jordan Loveridge, Brandon Taylor, Dakarai Tucker or Brekkott Chapmaneach of whom shoots great from beyond the arc.

    If he develops into a better outlet passer this offseasonthus nullifying the potential effect of double-teaming him in the postlook for Poeltl to get and dominate a lot of one-on-one situations en route to 19 points and 11 rebounds per game.

Taurean Prince, Baylor

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    Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

    2014-15 Stats: 13.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 1.3 APG, 0.9 BPG

    Dollars to donuts, Taurean Prince will be the guy whom the commenters use in their "How can you possibly include (insert Player A) instead of (insert Player B)!" rage fests, but that's only because most fans have no clue how good he is.

    In his first three collegiate seasons, Prince has shot 53.0 percent from inside the arc and 38.7 percent behind it while averaging 20.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.0 steals, 1.7 assists and 1.0 blocks per 40 minutes.

    However, getting playing time has been much more of a challenge than actually doing something with it.

    His freshman year, the Bears had a strong four-guard rotation with Cory Jefferson, Rico Gathers and Isaiah Austin down low, resulting in 6.4 minutes per game and not playing in 13 games for what was supposedly Baylor's fifth-best recruit in the 2012 class. His playing time more than doubled as a sophomore, but he still played fewer than 15 minutes per game while contending with Jefferson, Gathers and now Royce O'Neale on the depth chart.

    With Jefferson out of the picture this past season, Prince finally got more of a chance to shine, leading the team in scoring while still logging just 26.3 minutes per game.

    Now that O'Neale is also out of years of eligibility, the time has come for Prince to finally get a full-time starting job on a roster that desperately needs some more scoring after also losing Kenny Chery.

    He wouldn't be in our top 10 if we were actually ranking these 20 candidates, but he may surprise a lot of people by becoming this year's Justin Anderson.

Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga

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    2014-15 Stats: 9.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 0.9 APG

    Lithuania and Ukraine squared off in the FIBA Europe U20 on July 15, and Domantas Sabonis had himself an unbelievable box score.

    I admittedly have no idea what kind of level of competition that game was supposed to supply, but 18 points, 28 rebounds, six assists and four steals for one man is just plain silly. For a guy who played just 21.6 minutes per game as a freshman, Sabonis put up strong numbers in America, so it's not too surprising that he had a monstrous game overseas.

    The big question for his POY candidacy is whether that playing time will actually increase this year. He joined forces with Kyle Wiltjer and Przemek Karnowski to form one of the best frontcourts in the nation last year, but all three of those big men are back for another year.

    Might they all start and average 30 minutes per game this season?

    Though there aren't any new openings in the paint, the Zags did lose three starters in Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell and Byron Wesley. Is there any good reason that Wiltjer can't slide over to small forward and leave the two inside jobs to Sabonis and Karnowski for a primary rotation similar to the one that Wisconsin used for greatness last year?

    The talent is clearly there. Sabonis is destined to be selected in the first round next June. If he gets starter minutes this year, he could be on the Wooden Watch until the bitter end.

Ben Simmons, LSU

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    2014-15 Stats: N/A (Freshman)

    Our fourth and final freshman, Ben Simmons has been penciled in for a top-five pick in next year's NBA draft since the moment those projections started taking place. And with Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey both leaving LSU for the pros this summer, chances are Simmons will be an early top-five candidate for 2016 National POY.

    Simmons should be the second coming of UCLA's Kyle Andersona 6'9" point forward who is so smooth, talented and unselfish that it will look like he's seeing the game in slow motion as he fills up the box score night after night.

    But Simmons won't have anywhere near the supporting cast that Anderson had, with Jordan Adams, Shabazz Muhammad, Norman Powell, Tony Parker and the Wear brothers keeping him from needing to become a one-man phenom. Simmons will have fellow frosh Antonio Blakeney, and that's about it.

    Tim Quarterman and Keith Hornsby will be great role players, but there's little question that Simmons' potential star power is the one reason the Tigers have a legitimate hope of returning to the NCAA tournament.

    At some point in the first month of the season, expect Simmons to flirt with a triple-double and quickly become the most talked-about player in the country.

Melo Trimble, Maryland

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    Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

    2014-15 Stats: 16.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.3 SPG

    It's fitting that Melo Trimble comes last alphabetically, because he would probably be at No. 1 if we were ranking these 20 players.

    Trimble is an above-average defender, a solid passer, a great driver and an excellent shooter. Already this summer, we've favorably compared his freshman year to the entire collegiate career of Steve Nash.

    Maryland immediately became a title contender when Trimble announced he would return for a sophomore season, and when is the last time the best player on the best team wasn't one of the top candidates for the Wooden Award?

    Provided he can avoid a sophomore slump, get ready to hear about Trimble on a nightly basis as he leads the Terrapins to another season with at least 28 wins and presumably their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2003.

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