2014-15 RTC Preseason O26 All-America Teams

Posted by Tommy Lemoine and Adam Stillman on November 12th, 2014

Considering the sheer number of teams competing in O26 conferences, reaching a consensus on the top 15 players – much less the top five – is an incredibly difficult task. Alas, here are our Preseason O26 All-Americans, along with the Player of the Year, Coach of the Year and Newcomer of the Year for the upcoming season. Where did we go wrong?

Player of the Year

Fred VanVleet is our O26 Preseason Player of the Year. (Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports)

Fred VanVleet is our O26 Preseason Player of the Year. (Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports)

Fred VanVleet – G – Wichita State. Evaluating players based on their “leadership” and “composure” and ability to “play within themselves” can be a slippery slope, prone to subjectivity and flaws in perception. But when the numbers seem to back those claims up – a sparkling offensive rating, an eye-popping assist-to-turnover ratio – the intangible qualities quickly seem much more tangible. Which brings us to VanVleet. The 5’11’’ junior possesses nearly all the skills and qualities you could want in a point guard: He is a floor general, who posted the best assist rate in the Missouri Valley last season and fourth-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the entire country; he is an efficient scorer who shot 41 percent from behind the arc and 83 percent from the stripe; he is a good defender who recorded four-plus steals on six different occasions. And by all accounts he is a true leader on and off the court, the steady hand guiding the steadiest bunch in mid-major hoops. Considering all those attributes, VanVleet is our Preseason O26 Player of the Year.

First Team

  • Fred VanVleet – G – Wichita State. See our Player of the Year writeup above. VanVleet is one of the best point guards in the entire country, regardless of league.
  • Ron Baker – G – Wichita State. If VanVleet is the best non-power conference guard in the country, then Baker, his backcourt running mate, is not far behind. The 6’3’’ junior punctuated an impressive 2013-14 campaign (13.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.1 APG) by scoring 20 points on 4-for-6 three- point shooting against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament last March and squashing any doubt about whether he could compete at the highest level. Baker now enters this season as the offensive cornerstone for a top 15 team, whose versatility and perimeter shooting is only expected to shine brighter for the Shockers.

  • R.J. Hunter – G – Georgia State. With Doug McDermott off to the NBA, Hunter is now the premier coach’s son in college basketball. Oh, and he happens be one of the sport’s premier wings, too. The 6’6’’ junior is an awesome scorer whose lethal perimeter stroke (39.5% 3FG) and ability to shoot over smaller defenders makes him near-impossible to shut down. After averaging 18.3 PPG last season, Hunter was picked as the Preseason Sun Belt Player of the Year – an impressive honor, considering he’s in the same league as fellow First Team O26 performer Shawn Long. If Ron Hunter’s group plays Cinderella come March, his son will have a lot to do with it.
Georgia State's R.J. Hunter is one of the best mid-major players in the country.  (Photo Courtesy of Michael Wade)

Georgia State’s R.J. Hunter is one of the best mid-major players in the country. (Photo Courtesy of Michael Wade)=

  • Shawn Long – F – Louisiana-Lafayette. Long averaged 18.6 points and 10.4 rebounds per game last season and racked up 18 double-doubles, which should alone be enough to indicate his excellence. But when you consider that the 6’9’’ forward also shot 42 percent from behind the arc and blocked 2.7 shots per contest – his 9.1 percent block rate good for second in the Sun Belt – it is clear that Long is one of the most dominant and dynamic big men in mid-major hoops.
  • Alan Williams – F – UC Santa Barbara. Williams is a monster by any metric – tempo-free, traditional or otherwise. He averaged 21.3 PPG, 11.5 RPG and 2.4 BPG last season while ranking in the top 20 nationally in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, drawing more fouls per 40 minutes than anyone else in the Big West, and trailing only UC Irvine’s Mamadou Ndiaye (who’s 7’6’’) in block rate. With loads of skill and a 6’8’’, 270-pound frame, Williams should be a terror yet again in 2014-15.

Second Team

  • Kevin Pangos – G – Gonzaga. There are just so many good point guards in the O26 ranks that Pangos was bumped to the second team (and there was a debate about putting him on the third team). The senior guard is finally healthy, and Gonzaga will go as he goes. Pangos averaged 14.4 PPG and 3.6 APG a season ago, while hitting 42 percent of his three-point shots. Pangos could lead the Bulldogs to its first Final Four.
  • Wesley Saunders – G – Harvard. Harvard owns an NCAA Tournament win in both of the past two seasons, and Saunders is a big reason why. The reigning Ivy League Player of the Year should be the Crimson’s leading scorer again after a really strong season where he averaged 14.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG and 3.8 APG.
  • Tyler Haws – G/F – Brigham Young. The BYU guard is a scoring machine. While he’s not exactly Jimmer Fredette 2.0, taking and making shots from all over the court, Haws can fill up the stat sheet and shoot it from deep (40 percent from distance last year). Haws ranked sixth in the nation with 23.4 PPG last season. This year, he has a great chance to win the college basketball scoring title.
  • Treveon Graham – G/F – Virginia Commonwealth. Our “first guy out” from making the First Team. Not only one of the best wings in the Atlantic 10, but also the nation. The 6’6” senior led VCU in scoring with 15.5 PPG last season, while also pulling down 7.0 RPG. A solid outside shooter (34 percent), Graham looks to be the favorite for A-10 Player of the Year.
VCU's Treveon Graham just missed out on First Team O26 All-American. (Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

VCU’s Treveon Graham just missed out on First Team O26 All-American. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

  • John Brown – F – High Point. To be honest, Brown belongs on a high-major team. Trouble with academics led him to High Point, where he enters his third and likely final season with the Panthers. The 6’8” junior forward and reigning Big South Player of the Year will tear up the league again. He averaged 19.5 PPG and 7.7 RPG last season. The big question is: Can Brown lead High Point to the NCAA Tournament?

Third Team

  • Keifer Sykes – G – Green Bay. If Green Bay can break through and win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament, the diminutive point guard will be the reason why. The senior averaged 20.3 PPG and 4.9 APG last season. Generously listed at 6’0”, Sykes is one of the best dunkers in the O26 ranks.
  • Byron Wesley – G – Gonzaga. The graduate transfer from USC is eligible immediately for Gonzaga. He led the Trojans with 17.8 PPG last season, and will bring an added punch to the Zags’ offense. More on this transfer below.
  • Larry Nance Jr. – F – Wyoming. The Wyoming forward is recovering from a torn ACL that caused him to miss the last seven games of 2013-14. Expect big things from the junior after averaging 15.4 PPG and 8.6 RPG a year ago.
  • Seth Tuttle – F – Northern Iowa. If it wasn’t for Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, the Northern Iowa senior forward might be the Player of the Year favorite in the MVC.  He averaged 15.4 PPG and 8.0 RPG for the Panthers last season.
  • Jacob Parker – F – Stephen F. Austin. While he’s not a big-time scorer, the Stephen F. Austin senior does a little bit of everything. He averaged 14.2 PPG and 7.1 RPG last year and is a tenacious defender.

Newcomer of the Year

Byron Wesley – G/F – Gonzaga. Gonzaga was already in good shape for this season before Wesley committed in May, but now, with the USC transfer? Mark Few has one of his most talented teams ever. Wesley, a 6’5’’ wing, led the Trojans in scoring (17.8 PPG) and rebounding (6.4 RPG) last season and has the skill set to score both at the rim and from the perimeter. His insertion into the starting five, along with guards Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., stretch-four Kyle Wiltjer and 7’1’’ center Przemek Karnowski, makes the Bulldogs a top 15 unit.

Byron Wesley Should Instantly Help Gonzaga This Season

Byron Wesley Should Instantly Help Gonzaga This Season

Coach of the Year

Gregg Marshall – Wichita State. This might have been the easiest selection for any of the O26 preseason awards. Entering his eighth year at Wichita State, Marshall has transformed the Shockers’ program into a Missouri Valley powerhouse and national title contender. After winning a bevy of Coach of the Year awards last season — including the Associated Press, Naismith and NABC — it’s hard to not pick Marshall as the preseason favorite, considering he returns three starters from a team that finished the regular season undefeated before succumbing in a classic Round of 32 game to eventual Final Four participant Kentucky. After going 35-1 a year ago, what do Marshall and the Shockers have in store in 2014-15?

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