The Midseason 2015-16 All-America Teams for College Basketball
When it comes to examining the top college basketball players of 2015-16, the first thing you’ve got to love is the familiarity.
Sure, we like fresh faces and upstarts. But the sport has been in such a swing where we rarely get to know guys before they go to the NBA and collect paychecks, not to mention callouses on their rumps from so much bench time.
This year’s midseason All-America teams are heavy with older players that are rising to the occasion. It almost feels like we’re proud parents, seeing kids grow up into juniors and seniors, both of which are heavily represented among the top 15 players at the college basketball season’s midway point.
More than half (eight) are seniors, which compares to only two freshmen who made our cut. One newcomer is someone you are quite aware of (clues: Australia. SEC). The other happens to be Marquette's Henry Ellenson, who has helped to quickly turn the Golden Eagles into a force.
For these picks, we looked at season statistics, how each fared against upper-crust competition and his value to his team. There’s also the “buzz factor.” Which teams and players are getting talked about more among college basketball experts?
And yes, winning matters. Successful players rule the roost, though sometimes we have cases where it's obvious how valuable a player is because of how his team struggles without him.
Best of all—these guys know this isn't the finish line. But here's where we stand at the midway point, breaking down our selections into three five-player squads.
G Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia: (16.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.9 APG) If we were going to base it on just the last two games, Brogdon might not be here. The Cavaliers have lost twice, and he was 2-of-14 from three-point range in the road defeats to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. The 6’5” senior’s impact, however, is felt all over the court. His rebound, assist and point averages are all up from last year, and he’s typically (outside of this recent two-game window) a better shooter, despite having to hoist it more than 2014-15.
G Nic Moore, SMU: (16.1 PPG, 4.7 APG) We called the senior the second-best leader in the country early in the season. Moore’s making us look good, leading the Mustangs to a 15-0 record in spite of their fate as a penalized team that can’t go to the NCAA tournament. We’re not sure how many veterans could stomach this challenge, but Moore is thriving in it, shooting 44 percent from three-point range and impressing against postseason-bound teams like Michigan, Colorado and Cincinnati.
G Frank Mason III, Kansas: (13.5 PPG, 4.6 APG, 5.5 RPG) Mason is chosen for his overall value on the country’s top team. He may have shot 5-of-20 in that classic against Oklahoma, but he played some fanatical defense on Buddy Hield, “limiting” him to 46 when it could’ve easily been a number north of 60. Mason’s development has been a key in KU climbing to No. 1, as his assist and steal rates are both markedly improved. He had a double-double (10 rebounds) as a 5’1” guard in the follow-up game versus Texas Tech, too.
F Daniel Ochefu, Villanova: (10.7 PPG, 8.4 RPG) The 6’11” senior is a pick-your-spots type of shooter. We just wish (and Wildcats fans probably do, too) he would pick more spots. He’s a force on a top-10 team who is also highly regarded by KenPom and makes 62 percent of his shots. Ochefu also gets his points by ruining other teams’ possessions, employing a blocked-shot percentage that hovers around the top 50 in the nation. He's blossomed since a benching last season for missing class.
F Henry Ellenson, Marquette: (15.9 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 2.3 APG) Ellenson had 13 points and 10 rebounds on the road against Providence while also being astute enough to roam the perimeter and block star Friar guard Kris Dunn’s shot to seal that win. The 6’10” freshman—the only newbie on this list besides LSU’s Ben Simmons—followed that performance with 15 points and 10 boards in a six-point win over St. John's. Ellenson's talent and relative consistency has catapulted the Golden Eagles into the NCAA bubble picture, no small feat considering the inexperience within this group under a second-year head coach.
Second-Team All-American: G Melo Trimble, Maryland
Season Stats: 14.8 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 5.7 APG
Why He's Here: The catalyst of a potential Final Four team, Trimble's looked like a better leader and melded with the new talent around him almost flawlessly. The sophomore’s recent game-winning three-pointer at Wisconsin was just another sign that he’s ready to take the Terrapins to the next level. Yeah, he's a heartbreaker.
Rest-of-Season Outlook: The beauty of Trimble is that many of us wondered what he’d be like without leader Dez Wells to fall back on. Trimble is regarded as quiet, but his ability to take over a game late isn’t exactly shy. And he's meshing well with a veteran transfer (Rasheed Sulaimon) and a freshman center (Diamond Stone). Trimble is taking on more of an auxiliary role in the offense but is becoming lethal on pick-and-roll opportunities.
Second-Team All-American: G Grayson Allen, Duke
Season Stats: 20.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 3.6 APG
Why He's Here: There were many expectations of Allen to start his sophomore year, especially after his performance in last season's title game against Wisconsin. You’ve got to give credit to a guy whose role has expanded greatly while all the parts around him have changed so much, and he’s still kept Duke a contender.
Rest-of-Season Outlook: We know this much: Duke needs Allen to play well. The only two games he’s been a dud (versus Utah, Kentucky), the Blue Devils lost badly. And we know Allen will throw down a few more nasty dunks, as he's made the Twitter rounds a few times this year for jams. Deservedly so.
Second-Team All-American: F Brice Johnson, North Carolina
Season Stats: 16.7 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 1.6 APG
Why He's Here: As if 39 points and 23 rebounds at Florida State weren’t enough on Jan. 4, Johnson is proving old dogs can still dominate a blue-blood league. He became the first Tar Heel in 24 seasons to win multiple ACC Player of the Week awards as a senior. Mind you, this is a guy who didn’t win the weekly honor once in his first three seasons.
Rest-of-Season Outlook: Johnson could use some healthy Tar Heels around him, but the country’s No. 6 most valuable player (according to KenPom) is shooting about eight percentage points better than last year (64 percent) and is also a top-10 defensive rebounder in the country.
Second-Team All-American: F Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa
Season Stats: 18.6 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.3 APG
Why He's Here: The Hawkeyes have become a big-time Big Ten threat, and Uthoff is the catalyst. He’s a top-20 shot-blocker who is also shooting 45 percent from three-point range. Wild stuff for a 6’9” senior who is channeling some Frank Kaminsky after once being a Wisconsin Badger.
Rest-of-Season Outlook: The Hawkeyes have become one of the darling teams this year, and Uthoff will continue to play a massive role. He knows how to pick his spots and has scored 25 in each of the past two games (wins against Purdue and Nebraska) on a total of 32 shots. Throw in a win against Michigan State, and now he'll finally get some major attention outside of his own fanbase.
Second-Team All-American: C Jakob Poeltl, Utah
Season Stats: 17.0 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 1.8 APG
Why He's Here: The overall landscape of the game may have drifted away from true centers, but the sophomore has certainly kept his impact at Utah after coach Larry Krystkowiak convinced him not to leave for the NBA following a surprisingly valuable (he was so unheralded coming from Austria) freshman season. Poeltl’s stamina and maturity are elevated, and he’s done a fine job becoming the go-to guy since Delon Wright graduated.
Rest-of-Season Outlook: Utah’s slipped a little after some higher expectations early in the season. This team simply doesn't have much perimeter scoring, which makes its big fella's job that much tougher.
But Poeltl is still shooting 65 percent (only three points off last year’s pace), and he’s nearly approached last year’s shot total. The biggest nod to his improvement is at the foul line. He’s at 67 percent compared to 43 last year. So the Utes can do a lot more with him late in games. That’s great news for a team that wants to take advantage of his final year in the NCAA tournament. As Bleacher Report's C.J. Moore said in mid-December, Poeltl's decision to return continues to look like the right one.
First-Team All-American: G Kris Dunn, Providence
Season Stats: 17.7 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 7.3 APG
Why He's Here: Dunn is not only one of the most talented in the country, he’s also one of the best when it comes to making his teammates better, similar to Michigan State's Denzel Valentine. The Friars have good wins against Arizona, Butler and Rhode Island and (before the upset defeat to Marquette, a game during which Dunn was sick) a close loss against Michigan State. Dunn’s steal and assist levels make the Friars better at both ends of the floor.
Rest-of-Season Outlook: Dunn appears to be a surefire first-team All-American and a future NBA lottery pick. Remind us again why we all were so skeptical about him coming back? The only question is whether everything can hold up around him. Providence lost three of its top four scorers last year, and he's banking on the continued improvement and steadiness of sophomores around him.
First-Team All-American: G Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
Season Stats: 26.6 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.4 APG
Why He's Here: Hield has been a near-certain first-teamer since the preseason. But he’s in the Player of the Year talk now after his big-time performance at Kansas. It wasn’t just the 46 points on 23 shots. He may have become more legendary in the triple-overtime loss for how he handled the postgame—managing to smile and accept congratulations while also graciously dishing it out. There aren’t many of us who could’ve handled such an emotional and exhausting defeat with such class.
Rest-of-Season Outlook: The Sooners may not be No. 1 in the country—Kansas has maintained that edge—but there’s reason to think they have the best player, best coach this year (Lon Kruger) and plenty of room to end KU’s Big 12 title streak. If you can force a vaunted home team like Kansas into triple OT, you’re pretty dang tough.
First-Team All-American: G-F Denzel Valentine, Michigan State
Season Stats: 17.8 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 6.8 APG
Why He's Here: The guy out in front for the POY, after his triple-double against Kansas, may have helped his own case (sad for the Spartans but true) by missing some time. MSU went 3-1 without him, losing at Iowa badly and needing OT to defeat Oakland at home. He returned to play just 23 minutes last Sunday at Penn State, scoring 10 points. We all know his value is far greater than that.
Rest-of-Season Outlook: Regarded as KenPom’s No. 2 POY, Valentine’s value will be interesting to note as Sparty gets a quickly created rematch with Iowa at Breslin Center on Thursday night. A different result with Valentine's anticipated impact against a good opponent puts him back in front of Hield as the top player in the country.
First-Team All-American: F Georges Niang, Iowa State
Season Stats: 19.4 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 3.5 APG
Why He's Here: While Buddy Hield of Oklahoma is getting rave reviews for his performance at Kansas, Niang should be getting more praise for his Big 12-opening stat line at Oklahoma (Jan. 2). Niang had 29 points, needing just 18 shots (making 13) off a bevy of moves that started at the three-point line and ended at the rim. The Cyclones should've won that game, really. Niang has rebuilt his body and his conditioning, and it shows in his shooting efficiency and concentration levels. Niang’s turning over the ball a lot less than past years, even as he possesses it a lot more.
Rest-of-Season Outlook: His teams are snakebitten against Baylor, and new coach Steve Prohm’s recent games have been rife with lost chances after producing leads (often because of Niang). At this point, Niang is the most vulnerable to drop from the first-team line, and the jury's still out on these Cyclones and Prohm in the loaded Big 12. But Niang's been a force, no doubt about it, and his trimmed-down self will be better able to withstand the rigors of the next two months.
First-Team All-American: F Ben Simmons, LSU
Season Stats: 20.6 PPG, 13.1 RPG, 5.1 APG
Why He's Here: Simmons could be the top player ever to never make an NCAA tournament, that of course being an interesting note as the 6’10” phenom is most likely a one-and-done. Simmons may get knocked by some because he doesn’t take over games more. And he’s not the best outside shooter yet. But how many other guys on this list could still individually thrive in such maddening circumstances of being around teammates and coaches that are (sorry to be so blunt here) inferior?
Rest-of-Season Outlook: The missed chance against Florida (Jan. 9) would’ve been big for the Tigers. Simmons had a smooth 28 and 17. He’s highly regarded—and rightfully so—for not taking on too much. He may have to press a little for the greater good of the Tigers. But remember, guys like former Kansas one-and-done Andrew Wiggins struggled with this concept, too.
All statistics courtesy of KenPom.com, unless otherwise noted