The Top 10 Seniors in College Basketball for 2017-18
Duke Blue Devils guard Grayson Allen was supposed to be the best player in the nation as a junior, but can he get there this year as a senior after all the drama of the 2016-17 season?
One-and-done players are the flash in the pan everyone gets excited about, but the guys who stick around for their senior seasons are the slow burns that become ingrained in college basketball lore. We remember the fourth-year stars such as Buddy Hield and Doug McDermott more than the likes of Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker because we had the chance to get to know and appreciate them.
Or, in some cases, we remember guys like JJ Redick, Tyler Hansbrough and Aaron Craft because those four years gave us more than enough time to grow to love or hate them passionately.
Truly, it's the seniors who make college basketball great. They lead players on the court, and they become the most familiar names and faces. And these are the 10 guys who will top that list in 2017-18, ranked in ascending order of national importance in terms of both individual and team success.
Ben Lammers, Georgia Tech
Lammers was a monster last season, averaging 14.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game, and he could be headed for even more points and rebounds with frontcourt running mate Quinton Stephens out of the picture. There are going to be quite a few great seniors in the ACC this year, but this dude is top-five.
Yante Maten, Georgia
Maten averaged 18.2 points per game last season, is a career 49.2 percent three-point shooter and is headed for a bigger piece of the pie after J.J. Frazier graduated. We'll see if Georgia's new backcourt starters can get Maten the ball as well and as often as Frazier did, but he could lead the SEC in scoring if they do.
Isaiah Wilkins, Virginia
Wilkins is one of those two-way stars who doesn't put up big numbers but whose presence is dearly missed when he isn't on the floor. Case in point, he suffered an injury early in the first round of the NCAA tournament against the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and didn't play in the second round because of it. The Cavaliers barely beat UNC-W, and the Florida Gators slaughtered them 65-39. If this team is going to remain in the upper tier of the ACC for another season, it needs Wilkins to stay healthy.
Kelan Martin, Butler
The Butler Bulldogs should have taken a step backward after losing Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones. Instead, Martin led them to the No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament, their highest in school history. If he can perform a little more consistently and efficiently as a senior, he'll be in the running for National Player of the Year.
Rob Gray Jr., Houston
Gray put up an efficient 20.6 points per game last season, and he should become even more of a do-it-all phenom for a Cougars team that lost Damyean Dotson, Danrad Knowles, Kyle Meyer and Bertrand Nkali.
Vladimir Brodziansky, TCU
Brodziansky averaged 14.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game last season, and he did so while only playing 23.9 minutes per contest. His per-40 numbers were kind of ridiculous, and the TCU Horned Frogs should finally break their nearly 20-year NCAA tournament drought as he becomes an even bigger contributor as a senior.
Brandon Goodwin, Florida Gulf Coast
The lone representative from outside the traditional multi-bid conferences, Brandon Goodwin transferred from the University of Central Florida to FGCU and became a sensation. Even though his minutes decreased, his scoring average nearly doubled to 18.5 per game to go with his 4.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists. And this came after a relatively slow start. He averaged 22.9 points and 5.7 rebounds over his final 11 games for the Eagles and might put up some of the most impressive numbers in the nation this year.
10. Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure
2016-17 Stats: 20.6 PPG, 6.5 APG, 3.7 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 35.6 3P%
Players from schools like St. Bonaventure rarely (if ever) get attention on national lists like these, but Jaylen Adams has made too much of an impact to be overlooked.
First, he has the Bonnies winning games, which might be the most impressive achievement of any player on this list. In 2015-16, they won 22 games in a season for the first time since the 1970s, tying for the A-10 regular-season title. Despite losing the other two parts of that team's terrific trio (Marcus Posley and Dion Wright), Adams shouldered even more of the load as a junior en route to another 20 wins.
And he simply refuses to come out of games. In the past two seasons, he has played all 40 minutes (or 45 in overtime affairs) 25 times. Over the final 14 games of last year, Adams was on the floor for 549 of a possible 565 minutes (97.2 percent).
Thanks to all that playing time, Adams joined Northwestern State's Jalan West as the only two players in the past eight seasons to average at least 20 points, six assists and two steals per game. And Adams did so on a team that plays at an average tempo, whereas that Northwestern State team took a breakneck-pace, who-needs-defense approach built to produce ridiculous per-game numbers.
Yet, despite ranking fifth in the nation in minutes played per game with 37.4, Adams was the Bonnies team leader in just about every efficiency metric you can find.
Don't be surprised if Adams ends up becoming just the second St. Bonaventure player in the past three decades to get drafted by the NBA.
9. Gary Clark, Cincinnati
2016-17 Stats: 10.8 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.2 BPG, 1.0 SPG
There's nothing flashy about Gary Clark's game or his numbers, but he's the guy who makes the Cincinnati Bearcats' approach work.
In a nutshell, Clark is a plus-defender, a solid rebounder and a selfless scorer who rarely makes mistakes. His impact in an individual game often goes unnoticed compared to someone who puts up 20 points on a nightly basis, but at the end of the season/career, he's in some rarefied air in terms of efficiency and value added.
As evidence of that, let's talk win shares.
According to Sports Reference, win shares are "an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player due to his offense and defense." It's a lot like WAR in baseball, QBR in football or a person's credit score: Only a handful of people have any clue how it's calculated, but everyone knows that higher numbers are better than lower numbers.
Over the past three seasons, Clark is one of six players to accumulate at least 15.9 win shares. The others were Frank Mason III, Josh Hart, Monte Morris, Nigel Hayes and Alec Peters—all legitimate National Player of the Year candidates in one or both of the last two seasons and all guys who were seniors in 2016-17.
Or if you prefer box plus/minus as your go-to advanced metric for efficiency, Clark, Hart and Jordan Bell are the only players in the past three years to put up a combined total of 32.5 or higher.
People are going to spend more time talking about Jacob Evans, Kyle Washington and Cane Broome as the reason Cincinnati competes for a title this season because their numbers and impacts are easier to comprehend. Just know that Clark will be the silent metronome, steadily keeping the Bearcats on the right path.
8. Jock Landale, Saint Mary's
2016-17 Stats: 16.9 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.2 BPG
If you like Notre Dame's Matt Farrell for the unofficial title of national breakout player of 2016-17, that's fine. It only took 10 games for him to rack up more points and assists than he had in the previous two seasons combined, so it's a great choice.
But give me Jock Landale for that honor because he went from a minimally deployed reserve to a runaway freight train that only a referee's whistle could slow down.
He wasn't quite Caleb Swanigan or Angel Delgado on the glass, but Landale recorded a double-double in 50 percent of the Saint Mary's Gaels games last season—this despite only averaging 28.3 minutes per night. He showed no signs of wearing down late in the year either.
Even with a dud against Gonzaga in the WCC championship, Landale averaged 18.3 points and 10.1 rebounds over his final seven games, including 18.5 and 12.0, respectively, in two NCAA tournament games against VCU and Arizona.
Not too shabby for a guy who wasn't even expected to be a starter with everyone returning from the previous season.
The scary thing for any team facing Saint Mary's this season is that there is plenty of room for more from the KenPom.com Player of the Year runner-up. With both Dane Pineau and Joe Rahon graduating, there are more minutes and shots to be had. Granted, that duo ranked in the bottom three on the roster in percentage of shots taken while on the floor, but that bit of attrition could mean riding Landale more than last year.
It is well within the realm of possibility for Landale to average 20 and 10 for a 30-win team, which someone hasn't done since Tyler Hansbrough and Blake Griffin did so as back-to-back Wooden Award winners in 2008 and 2009.
7. Angel Delgado, Seton Hall
2016-17 Stats: 15.2 PPG, 13.1 RPG, 2.2 APG
It's hard to believe how underappreciated Angel Delgado was last season. While everyone was drooling over the numbers Caleb Swanigan was posting at Purdue, Delgado was every bit as incredible, if not more so.
From the start of December through the end of Seton Hall's (brief) NCAA tournament appearance, Delgado averaged 16.0 points and 13.7 rebounds per game. He recorded a double-double in 25 of 27 contests. A pair of matchups against Villanova was the only thing that kept him from putting together a three-and-a-half-month streak of games with at least 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Delgado had always been a double-double threat. He averaged 13.2 points and 14.0 rebounds per 40 minutes as a freshman. But he became more assertive because of a combination of opportunity and necessity once Isaiah Whitehead was out of the picture.
His rate of field-goal attempts per minute increased by 40 percent between his sophomore and junior seasons, and his assist rate more than doubled as he became an actual piece of the offensive game plan as opposed to just someone on the low blocks who could create his own scoring chances with offensive rebounds. More possessions with the ball in his hands also resulted in a 75 percent increase in free-throw attempts, which was a not-insignificant portion of his uptick in scoring.
Two negatives over the past two seasons have been a steep decline in block rate and a major increase in turnover rate. If he can improve in both of those areas as a senior—an improvement in free-throw accuracy (51.3 percent career) would be nice too—he'll have a rock-solid case for National Player of the Year.
6. Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
2016-17 Stats: 18.5 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.1 APG, 37.1% 3PT
It blows my mind that Dillon Brooks was regarded as a national player of the year candidate while Trevon Bluiett was barely even considered for Big East Player of the Year, because they are basically the same player.
While neither one has ever been a threat to lead the nation in scoring, both Brooks and Bluiett put up strong numbers in most categories. Both guys are undersized wing-forwards who spent a lot of time as the small-ball 4 and never had any problem mixing it up with bigger guys for rebounds and trips to the free-throw line. Brooks was a marginally better defender, but Bluiett has been a more frequent and reliable perimeter weapon who doesn't commit nearly as many turnovers or fouls.
No matter how you slice it, they're both indispensable players who have been team leaders for the better part of three consecutive successful seasons for their programs.
The only real difference is that Brooks left a year early for the NBA and Bluiett is back to finally get some of the national recognition that has been long-deserved.
There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about Xavier this season. The Musketeers lost Edmond Sumner, Malcolm Bernard and RaShid Gaston, and the guy who figures to start at point guard (Quentin Goodin) was one of the least efficient players in the country last season. Paul Scruggs is a fantastic freshman addition, and Kerem Kanter (Green Bay) could be a dynamite graduate transfer, but talent lost appears to be more than talent gained.
Yet, in the end, expectations for this team are pinned almost entirely to Bluiett, and they are still likely going to open the season in the AP Top 25. That says all you need to know about how good this senior should be.
5. Jevon Carter, West Virginia
2016-17 Stats: 13.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.7 APG, 2.5 SPG, 38.9% 3PT
Jevon Carter is the unofficial captain of this group of seniors, as it feels like he's been playing for West Virginia for the better part of a decade.
Maybe it's because his hairline makes him look much older than he actually is. Or maybe it's because he had 28 points and five steals in the sixth game of his collegiate career and has been half-nuisance, half-nightmare for opposing backcourts ever since. Regardless of the reason that it seems like he's been around forever, the fact of the matter is that Carter is a veteran star who just keeps getting better with age.
Before Carter arrived, Press Virginia wasn't even a thing. Per KenPom, WVU ranked 135th in adjusted defensive efficiency and 162nd in steal rate in 2013-14. But Carter helped facilitate the change in team philosophy, ranking ninth in the nation in steal rate as a freshman.
West Virginia's growth as a team can be tied directly to Carter's development. In that first season, he was a steal machine and little else. Factor in relentless offensive rebounding, and that pretty well describes the first year of Press Virginia. But as he transitioned to starting point guard, the Mountaineers became a little more competent on offense. And when he shot 38.9 percent from three-point range as a junior, WVU had a top-30 offense that was a far more polished national contender than the gimmicky system that it was three years ago.
Do Carter and the Mountaineers have one more year of growth up their sleeves? They lost five of their other eight leading scorers and will be without a sixth for the first half of the season because of Esa Ahmad's 17-game suspension. But the one staple in this system (aside from head coach Bob Huggins) has been Carter, and we'll continue to hoard stock in Press Virginia until he finally graduates.
4. Joel Berry II, North Carolina
2016-17 Stats: 14.7 PPG, 3.6 APG, 3.1 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 38.3% 3PT
It's rare for a player to be named the NCAA tournament's most outstanding player and then return for another season. In fact, it has only happened four times in the past two decades: Joakim Noah in 2006, Kyle Singler in 2010, Luke Hancock in 2013 and now Joel Berry II in 2017.
It's hard to understand what Berry thinks he still has left to prove. He led the Tar Heels to the national championship game in 2015-16 and had 22 points and six assists in the final game of the 2016-17 redemption tour. Even though he wasn't projected to be a first-round draft pick, not a single person would have been surprised if he had declared for the draft after leading the Tar Heels to the title.
Instead, he's back for what will be the toughest challenge yet—consistently winning games without an established frontcourt presence.
North Carolina is loaded with perimeter weapons, not the least of which is Berry, who has made 38.0 percent of his 416 three-point attempts over the past two seasons. But gone are the days of getting easy assists by dumping the ball inside to Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks or Tony Bradley. Basically, it'll be up to Berry to turn one or two of the big men on this roster into usable assets.
Perhaps that's why he's back. If he can get to another Final Four with the likes of Luke Maye, Garrison Brooks and Brandon Huffman as his primary post presences, it would be all but impossible to deny he at least deserves a shot at running an NBA offense. And maybe he wants to show he still has more tricks up his sleeve after suffering through multiple injuries as a junior.
Regardless of the motive for his return, there aren't many seniors in the country more noteworthy than Berry.
3. Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
2016-17 Stats: 17.8 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.4 BPG, 1.1 SPG, 43.3% 3PT
Has there ever been a more unique, versatile college basketball player than Bonzie Colson?
We tend to think of versatile players as guys with the body of a center functioning as a guard, but Colson is more of a guard who serves as a center. He's only 6'5", but he averaged a double-double last season while stretching the floor with a 43.3 percent three-point stroke. He was also Notre Dame's most valuable defender and was a solid passer to boot.
Colson's junior-year numbers are similar to what David West did in his career at Xavier more than a decade ago (16.9 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.8 BPG, 1.4 SPG), and West was the AP Player of the Year as a senior in 2002-03 before becoming a 14-year veteran in the NBA.
Except West was a 6'9", 240-pound behemoth who had his way against the physically inferior competition in the Atlantic 10. Colson is more of a bowling ball who somehow put up comparable numbers while playing 21 games against the ACC.
The big question for his final season is whether he'll become even more of a perimeter weapon. Of his made three-pointers, 46.1 percent came in the final 22.2 percent of Notre Dame's season, including a 4-of-5 performance in the NCAA tournament loss to West Virginia. If he was just getting warmed up as a long-range assassin, best of luck trying to slow him down this year.
2. Devonte' Graham, Kansas
2016-17 Stats: 13.4 PPG, 4.1 APG, 3.1 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 38.8% 3PT
Every other guy on this list was regarded as either the best or second-best player on his respective team last season. For most of them, that has been the case for multiple years.
But Devonte' Graham is just now finally getting his chance to shine. After years of being overshadowed by Frank Mason III, Wayne Selden, Josh Jackson, Kelly Oubre and Perry Ellis, this is Graham's team. And when he decided to put off the NBA to come back for one final season, he instantly became one of the top candidates for preseason National Player of the Year.
What's incredible about Graham's numbers from last season is that he accomplished them with such a low usage rating. Averaging 4.1 assists per game while only being used on 17.9 percent of possessions is impressive, but to do so while also averaging 13.4 points per game is almost unheard of. In fact, the last person to put up numbers like these was Mickey McConnell for Saint Mary's in 2009-10, and let's just say the competition for those Gaels was nothing compared to what the Jayhawks went through last year.
But how will Graham handle the transition from No. 3 to No. 1 in the pecking order? Does he become more of a scoring machine, a facilitating aficionado or a combination of both?
The answer to those questions lies in Malik Newman. The Mississippi State transfer gives Kansas yet another elite dual combo-guard starting backcourt. If Newman defers to the elder Graham, the latter has more than enough talent to average 20 points and six assists per night. If Newman is more of an alpha dog, though, Graham may end up more in the vicinity of 13 points and eight assists.
Either way, we're expecting huge things from the former Appalachian State commit.
1. Grayson Allen, Duke
2016-17 Stats: 14.5 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.5 APG, 36.5% 3PT
Hate on the guy all that you want, but there is not a more noteworthy senior in college basketball. Frankly, it's hard to remember the last time there was one. It's probably Tyler Hansbrough coming back after winning the Wooden Award to win a national championship, right? And that was almost an entire decade ago.
The Athletic's Seth Davis wrote about Allen earlier this month—how he used to be so introverted that he couldn't even find the words to order meals at dinner, how dunking the ball over and over again became his way to release frustration, how he battled depression following the most recent tripping controversy and how Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski instructed him to take a few months off this summer to get physically and emotionally healthy.
But no matter how much we try to humanize the 22-year-old, he's going to remain the most polarizing player in the country.
If he can get back to playing as well as he did as a sophomore, though, he would be the MVP of arguably the best team in the country, possibly culminating in his second (Krzyzewski's sixth) national championship. (Winning doesn't cure all ills, but it sure does help.)
Between injuries and distractions, Allen struggled his way to the numbers listed above, but he was unstoppable as a sophomore, averaging 21.6 points per game and shooting 41.7 percent from three-point range. And Trevon Duval should be a much better option at lead guard than anyone the Blue Devils have had in the past two seasons, which should put Allen in a position to thrive as a pure shooting guard. It could be the ultimate redemption story.
Conversely, if things go south and he crashes and burns (and trips) for a second straight year, that would likely get even more national attention. So, one way or the other, you're going to hear a lot about Allen for the next six months.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.