2013-14 All-Americans by the (Jersey) NumbersPosted by Andrew Murawa on April 2nd, 2014
When it comes to wrapping up a college basketball season, I have a hard time doing an All-American team, because, for one, it just seems hard to narrow down four and a half months of basketball to just five names (or even 10 or 15 if you add a second or third team). Instead, in the interests of recognizing more of the players that filled up my brain this season, what I’ll do here today is take all 37 possible uniform numbers (only the digits zero through five are possible uniform numbers in NCAA basketball, to aid referees in calling fouls), and pick one player for each number. Note that I am not always going to pick just the best player here. My own prejudices and likes/dislikes will factor in, plus I want to be able to pick a guy that I will remember most from this season. In the case of a tie, a senior will get the nod. Here is my list of Players of the Year by jersey numbers.
0 – Ryan Watkins, Sr, Boise – His team didn’t even make the NCAA Tournament, but Watkins’ senior season was one to remember. The nation’s best offensive rebounder for the second year in a row, Watkins’ efficient offense and tough defense was a constant for a Broncos team that underachieved elsewhere.
00 – Royce O’Neale, Jr, Baylor – As far as the scorekeeper is concerned, a single zero and a double zero are the same number, but what fun is that? The transfer from Denver was anything but a big zero for the Bears this season, playing a big role for Scott Drew as an inside-outside threat and another big body in the Baylor zone.
1 – Jabari Parker, Fr, Duke – After a quick nod to George Washington’s guard Maurice Creek, who bounced back from a career severely hampered by numerous injuries to turn in an inspiring senior season, we’ll acknowledge the fact that when we look back on 2013-14, Parker will be the guy who wore a #1 that we’ll remember most vividly. In what will likely be his lone season in Durham, he put his vast array of skills on display, leading his team in points, rebounds, blocks and sheer number of spectacular plays.
2 – Russ Smith, Sr, Louisville – A deep number with candidates ranging from big guys Sim Bhullar and Khem Birch to guards like Xavier Thames and Briante Weber, the nod here is a no-brainer. Smith’s career under Rick Pitino has been a whirlwind. After barely playing his freshman year, he earned big minutes as a sophomore only to show himself as a inveterate gunner who never saw a shot he didn’t like. But in his junior and senior seasons, he actually turned into a – gasp! – highly efficient offensive player. His three-point shooting improved every year and his game off the bounce was always explosive. And defensively? For the past two years, he’s been the best perimeter defender in America.3 – Doug McDermott, Sr, Creighton – Likewise, sorry Juwan Staten, Melvin Ejim, Chaz Williams and Jordan Adams, but you never had a chance. Not only is McDermott the pick at #3, he’s the pick of the whole dang litter. The numbers for this year are impressive enough – 26.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 44.9% 3FG – but it is the career accomplishments we’ll remember. Though he never wound up playing in a Sweet Sixteen, McDermott goes down as the fifth-leading scorer in college basketball history.
4 – Aaron Craft, Sr, Ohio State – We could spend a lot of time talking about all the things on a basketball court that Craft could not do consistently. But his leadership, hustle and defensive intensity are unparalleled. He may have suffered from the backlash of so much love from certain segments of the media, but it will be hard to forget his style of play. Really, who is ever going to forget that all-out dive for the loose ball against Michigan State this season in a great comeback to force overtime?
5 – Scottie Wilbekin, Sr, Florida – Guys like Kyle Anderson, Adreian Payne, Rodney Hood, Marcus Paige, C.J. Fair and Jordair Jett get left on the outside looking in with the deepest jersey number of the year, but Wilbekin was spectacular all year long for the Gators. You can pick apart his numbers, but his senior leadership makes him the catalyst for Billy Donovan’s team and an extension of the coach onto the court.
10 – Langston Galloway, Sr, Saint Joseph’s – The senior from Baton Rouge led the charge all year for the Hawks, knocking in better than 44 percent of his threes on the year en route to scoring in double figures in 29 out of his team’s 34 games, edging out fellow seniors like Grant Gibbs and Kendall Williams.
11 – Cleanthony Early, Sr, Wichita State – Not only was he great all season for the Shockers, but his final collegiate game – 31 points in a loss to Kentucky in arguably the best game of the 2014 NCAA Tournament – gives him the edge over other deserving players like Nik Stauskas, Tyler Ennis, Bryce Cotton, Aaron Gordon and Luke Hancock.
12 – Billy Baron, Sr, Canisius – It’s a good bet you didn’t see him play this season for the Golden Griffins, but maybe you remember him from Rhode Island, or even briefly at Virginia. Baron goes out as the most efficient high-usage player in the nation this season. Stroking 41.8 percent of his threes, 88.3 percent from the line and 50.5 percent from two, along with a top-100 assist rate in the country (and even a good defensive rebound rate for a 6’2” point guard), the coach’s son did a little bit of everything this year.
13 – Shabazz Napier, Sr, Connecticut – Napier’s trip to the Final Four nudges him past Arizona’s Nick Johnson at this line, and rightfully so. While Johnson was a versatile threat for the ‘Cats, Napier was nearly everything for the Huskies, leading the team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and threes, all while being the heart and soul of Kevin Ollie’s team.
14 – Gary Harris, So, Michigan State – The Spartans’ best perimeter defender and scoring guard, his time in East Lansing will end early and without a Final Four, but we’ll be able to remember plays like this.
15 – Davion Berry, Sr, Weber State – Another guy you may have only seen once, but Berry was an explosive offensive performer who seemed to do everything right. Even as Arizona was focused on turning off his water in their round of 64 match-up, Berry found a way to still manufacture 24 points against the nation’s best defense and keep his underdog squad involved in a close game.
20 – Jerelle Benimon, Sr, Towson – The sharpshooting Michael Frazier gets left on the outside looking in here, but Benimon is very deserving. A workhorse for the overachieving Tigers, Benimon was a monster on the glass, an efficient scorer inside, and an underrated playmaker.
21 – Treveon Graham, Jr, Virginia Commonwealth – Joel Embiid (not to mention Isaiah Austin, Lamar Patterson and Cameron Clark) is left behind, but Graham was a terrific scorer for the entertaining Rams this year, averaging 15.8 points and seven boards per game while being Shaka Smart’s go-to player in close games.
22 – Andrew Wiggins, Fr, Kansas – Maybe the most controversial player of the year (quite a statement, considering a fellow #22 – Marshall Henderson – completed his college eligibility this season), but in a year that was supposed to be the season of the freshman, Wiggins may not have lived up to his considerable hype, but he was still an excellent player. He averaged 17.1 points and 5.9 boards per game while being a high-usage, high-efficiency guy for a team that wound up with a #2 seed. And while he went through stretches this season where his resolve was questioned, a late-season outburst (41 in a loss at West Virginia, followed by 30 in a Big 12 tourney win over Oklahoma State) reminded people of his vast upside.
23 – Sean Kilpatrick, Sr, Cincinnati – Kilpatrick’s season has been done long enough at this point that maybe people are starting to forget just how good it was. But it was very good. On a team without many other scary offensive threats in a decidedly down-tempo style, Kilpatrick caught the eyes of the opponents on every possession and yet still managed to lead the Bearcats in shots, possessions used, and points, all while scoring at a highly efficient rate: 34.8% 3FG, 50.6% 2FG, 84.5% FT. Caris LeVert, Fred Van Vleet and Wesley Saunders also deserve mention here.
24 – T.J. Warren, Soph, North Carolina State – Third in the nation in percentage of his team’s shots, Warren was a hyper-active and highly efficient offensive threat. Sure, he could get a little crazy at times and shoot his team out of games, but there is no way the Wolfpack even have a chance to collapse so badly against Saint Louis in the round of 64 without Warren’s brilliant offense.
25 – Desmond Haymon, Sr, Stephen F. Austin – Not just this. But after that, after VCU called a timeout, he sat in his huddle for the next two or three minutes and had to think about the fact that he needed to make a single free throw in order to send his team – for a school that have never won an NCAA Tournament game – to overtime with a chance to do just that. Haymon, of course, hit that free throw and the Lumberjacks went on to win the game.
30 – Julius Randle, Fr, Kentucky – While classmates like Wiggins and Parker and Gordon got more regular attention, Randle – and his teammates James Young and Andrew and Aaron Harrison – are the ones still standing. There were plenty of ups and seemingly a lot more downs between November and March for the Wildcats, but the 6’9” mountain of a freshman has been stunningly consistent throughout and is a major reason while John Calipari’s team is still alive.
31 – Ron Baker, So, Wichita State – With apologies to Iowa State’s Georges Niang, Ron Baker, the Big Shot Maker, gets the nod here. Baker is well-known for his ability to knock down shots at sparkling rates, but he does a little bit of everything well. He’s an underrated defender, a deft passer and just a brilliant playmaker who, with classmate Fred Van Vleet, should have the Shockers shocking for two more seasons.
32 – Tekele Cotton, Jr, Wichita State – We may be a little Shocker-heavy here, but they’ve earned it and Cotton is a big reason why. A versatile defender, who at 6’2” is known to successfully check opposing forwards on the regular, Cotton’s offensive game may still be a work in progress but he’s got an elite basketball IQ.
33 – Marcus Smart, So, Oklahoma State – Without a doubt, it was a disappointing season for the surprise sophomore. Expectations last year around this time were that Smart would leave after one season in Stillwater and wind up as an NBA lottery pick. Instead, he returned to college and, while his numbers improved almost across the board, his Cowboys started the season as a top-10 team and wound up a #9 seed in the Tournament. Throw in a suspension for shoving a fan, a newfound reputation as a flopper, and some immaturity, and it was a rough year for Smart. Still, just look at the numbers: usage up, shooting percentages up, assists up, turnovers down. Smart’s year may not have been what we expected, but he’s still an insanely talented ballplayer.
34 – Ethan Wragge, Sr, Creighton – Great stat: Wragge made 110 three-point shots this season, 14 more than Doug McDermott. On the other hand, Wragge made two (yup, count ‘em – two) two-point field goals this year, also known as 232 less than McDermott. Still, it seems like every one of those 110 three-pointers was from closer to the halfcourt line than they were to the three-point line.
35 – Sam Dower, Sr, Gonzaga – Dower’s season – and Gonzaga career for that matter – ended in tears with the feeling that he let his teammates down in the NCAA Tournament. But Dower helped carry this team all year long. He averaged 14.4 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, and posted solid efficiency numbers across the board to lead the Zags to their 16th consecutive NCAA appearance.
40 – Matt Stainbrook, Jr, Xavier – The transfer from Western Michigan made a big impact in his first season in Cincinnati, showing a clever passing touch alongside his grinding toughness in the lane.
41 – Cameron Bairstow, Sr, New Mexico – A strong contender for the title of most improved player in the nation, Bairstow was once merely a below-the-rim grinder, lacking particular skill or athleticism. In his time in Albuquerque, he turned himself into an explosive player with a variety of offensive abilities, alongside that initial toughness and grit that first earned him a spot with the Lobos. While another early NCAA Tournament flameout damages the Lobo brand, it shouldn’t reflect poorly on Bairstow’s accomplishments.
42 – Talib Zanna, Jr, Pittsburgh – Sure, you’re not going to ask Zanna to be a play-maker in the high post or step outside and knock down jumpers. But what Zanna does – namely rebound, score efficiently in and around the paint, and provide an imposing interior defensive presence – he does very well.
43 – James Michael McAdoo, Jr, North Carolina – McAdoo is not a guy who has the skills of a wing, but for much of this season, he was asked to play that role simply because the Tar Heels had few other guys to fill that spot. And he did so without complaint and with as much effectiveness as he could pull off. All told, he was very consistent, scoring in double figures in 28 out of 34 UNC games.
44 – Frank Kaminsky, Jr, Wisconsin – In Kaminsky’s first two seasons at Wisconsin, he averaged fewer than nine minutes per game. This year, he exploded and is right there in that conversation with Bairstow for the most improved player in the land. Put it this way: This dude scored 43 points in the Badgers’ fourth game this season, and that was nowhere near his most impressive performance this year. In the Elite Eight against Arizona – the number one defensive team in the nation – Kaminsky went for 28 points on 20 field goal attempts.
45 – Denzel Valentine, So, Michigan State – Valentine is a 6’5” player for whom I have yet to figure out a position to describe him. A point forward? A power wing? Maybe just a ballplayer. He knocked in 43 threes this season at a 37.7 percent clip, was the team’s third-leading rebounder, and is a talented and willing (if, at times too daring) passer.
50 – DeAndre Kane, Sr, Iowa State – His lone season in Ames was an unmitigated success. Big Daddy Kane averaged 17.1 points, 6.8 boards and 5.9 assists per game, while leading the Cyclones to their first Sweet Sixteen since 2000.
51 – Rob Loe, Sr, Saint Louis – The 6’11” stretch-four has been a given in the Billikens’ lineup for the last four years, and his senior year was his best, with a 10.3 points, 5.7 boards, a couple assists and more than a block per game.
52 – Jordan McRae, Sr, Tennessee – McRae’s role and production topped out as a senior as he cut down on his turnovers, got to the foul line more often, and bumped up his scoring average by three points (to 18.7 PPG), while dialing in the efficiency as well.
53 – Alex Kirk, Jr, New Mexico – Along with Bairstow and Kendall Williams, Kirk was the third member of the big three for the Lobos, providing an inside presence to team with Bairstow and taking some of the attention away from Williams on the perimeter. While his outside game is still in progress, Kirk was a rugged interior defender for Craig Neal this year, averaging 8.7 boards and 2.7 blocks to go with his 13.3 points per game.
54 – Davante Gardner, Sr, Marquette – We’ve known Gardner was a talented player since back in his freshman year when he earned spot minutes at the end of the Golden Eagles’ bench and displayed a soft touch and excellent footwork for a 6’8” guy somewhere north of 300 pounds. But as his weight and his conditioning rounded into better shape, his minutes went up and we were treated to the full package. Sure, he never turned into a great defender, but he was an offensive force off the bench for Buzz Williams, earning the Big East Sixth Man of the Year in each of his last two seasons.
55 – Ryan Harrow, Jr, Georgia State – Lastly, we had quite a bit of good competition for the final jersey number on our team, with guys like Roberto Nelson, Delon Wright and Cameron Ridley in the running here. But the nod goes to a college basketball nomad. Harrow has played at three different schools in his career so far, most notoriously last year at Kentucky, where he struggled mightily trying to run the point for an otherwise very talented Wildcat team. But after transferring to Georgia State to be closer to his ailing father, Harrow turned it around this season, turning into a solid basketball player and a story of redemption, averaging 17.8 points and 4.2 assists per game for a 17-1 Sun Belt team. Yeah, Nelson, Wright and Ridley may have bigger careers in basketball ahead of them, but Harrow’s bounceback from last year’s very public failure is the kind of story that adds a human element to college basketball.