O26 Midseason Awards: Jeff Jones, Kyle Collinsworth, 10 All-Americans…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 8th, 2015

With conference play having begun in most leagues across the country, it‘s time now to pass out some midseason superlatives to deserving players and coaches across the O26 world. A few of these guys will probably do enough to earn national honors by season’s end, but all of them are worth keeping an eye on over the next couple months.

O26 Midseason Coach of the Year

Jeff Jones has done a masterful job at Old Dominion. (Courtesy: Rick Voight)

Jeff Jones has done a masterful job at Old Dominion. (Courtesy: Rick Voight)

Jeff Jones – Old Dominion. The Old Dominion basketball program took a sharp turn in 2013 when – after more than a decade of sustained success – the school fired its longtime coach, Blaine Taylor, during a 5-25 campaign in which the coach’s behavior had become increasingly erratic. In came Jones after spending 13 seasons at American, and immediately things turned around as the Monarchs went 18-18 last season and reached the CBI semifinals. But perhaps even the most optimistic Old Dominion fan couldn’t have envisioned how quickly the team would go from the dregs of the CAA to the cream of Conference USA; at 12-1 with wins over LSU, VCU, Georgia State and Richmond, the Monarchs have cracked the Top 25 and should be in the at-large discussion by season’s end. How has Jones orchestrated such a sharp turnaround? Campbell transfer Trey Freeman has helped. The 6’2’’ point guard paces the team with 16.4 points and 3.5 assists per contest, with Jones calling him “one of the hardest workers I’ve ever coached” after the team’s victory over LSU in November. The success has been the result of more than just Freeman, though, as the Monarchs have thoroughly bought into Jones’ system, predicated on patient offense and tough man-to-man defense – the latter of which has held opponents to 0.91 points per possession so far, the best mark in C-USA. Likewise, Jones deserves credit for his ability to seamlessly integrate both Freeman and George Mason transfer Jonathan Arledge into a deep cohort of returnees. The head man said in an interview recently (regarding his first year at the program), “We just needed to make people understand it would take some hard work [and] it would take some time, but we were going to just try to be as patient as we could moving forward.” “Time” and “patience,” sure, but it’s taken not even two full seasons for Jones to completely revamp and re-energize things in Norfolk; and for that, he earns our Midseason Coach of the Year honors.

Honorable Mentions: Ben Jacobson – Northern Iowa; Bob McKillop – Davidson; Porter Moser – Loyola (IL); Keno Davis – Central Michigan; Mark Few – Gonzaga; Eddie Payne – USC Upstate

O26 Midseason Player of the Year

BYU's versatile point guard is our O26 Mid-Season POY. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

BYU’s versatile point guard is our O26 Mid-Season POY. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Kyle Collinsworth – BYU. It feels a little weird deeming Collinsworth O26 Midseason Player of the Year when his teammate, Tyler Haws, is college basketball’s third-leading scorer. But remember how BYU looked last March without Collinsworth after he went down with a torn ACL? The Cougars were crushed by Oregon in what should have been a competitive #7/#10 NCAA Tournament match-up. The point guard’s versatility, defense and toughness – not to mention eye-popping numbers, which we’ll get to in a moment – make Collinsworth the glue that holds BYU together and the player worthy of our midseason honor. “He is a really effective player in so many different areas of the game,” head coach Dave Rose said recently. At 6’6’’, there are few players (perhaps no player) who do what Collinsworth does: Not only is he the facilitator for the nation’s ninth-most efficient offense, but he also serves as BYU’s best rebounder and defender, leading the team in assists, rebounds and steals. At this point, the junior’s impressive across-the-board averages (13.2 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 5.9 APG, 2.2 SPG) are overshadowed only by his record-setting triple-double pace. With three already under his belt, Collinsworth needs just one to tie and two more to break the single-season NCAA mark. That all-around ability has allowed Rose to utilize a four-guard lineup in recent weeks, a move that’s enabled BYU to hit its stride just as WCC play heats up – evidenced by the team’s 99-68 drubbing of San Francisco on Saturday. “Kyle’s a big reason because he can rebound as well as any guard in the country. To have him on the floor, you have a guard that’s a great rebounder,” Rose noted. With Collinsworth healthy and playing at an incredibly high level, the Cougars should return to the Big Dance this March.

O26 Mid-Season First-Team All-Americans

Vince Hunter is having a monster season in El Paso. (Tom Gonzales-MinerRush)

Vince Hunter is having a monster season in El Paso. (Tom Gonzales-MinerRush)

  • Kyle Collinsworth – G – 6’6’’ – Junior – BYU. See above—Collinsworth has been excellent in 2014-15.
  • A.J. English – G – 6’4’’ – Junior – Iona. Teammate David Laury garnered preseason MAAC Player of the Year honors, but English – son of  former NBAer, Alex – has been the conference’s best player to this point. The 6’4’’ guard is averaging 21.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game through Iona’s first 15, helping the Gaels to a 3-1 start in league play and pacing the nation’s 11th-most efficient offense. If you’re inclined to think his traditional numbers are inflated by Tim Cluess’ fast-paced offense, you might be right; but English’s tempo-free statistics – his offensive rating (114.1), assist rate (26.0) and true shooting percentage (62%) – are also excellent. With English leading the way and Laury down low, Iona may well run away with the MAAC.
  • Larry Nance Jr. – F – 6’8’’ – Senior – Wyoming. The springy Nance has come back stronger than ever after tearing his ACL last February, posting outstanding per-possession numbers (which you have to use when evaluating Nance, considering Larry Shyatt’s slow-paced system) and leading the Pokes to a 14-2 (3-0 MW) start. His 120.6 offensive rating is tops in the Mountain West for players using at least 24 percent of possessions, and he ranks in the top-150 nationally in effective field goal percentage, defensive rebounding rate and fouls drawn per 40 minutes. He logged 29 points in Wyoming’s New Year’s Eve triumph over UNLV, 18 points and 13 rebounds against San Jose State and 15 points in a huge road victory at Colorado State on Wednesday night. Nance looks well on his way to earning MW Player of the Year honors.
  • Vince Hunter – F – 6’8’’ – Sophomore – UTEP. Last season’s Conference USA Freshman of the Year is having a Player of the Year-type season… and then some. Hunter – an aggressive, highly-athletic forward from Detroit – has already racked up nine double-doubles, ranks among college basketball’s top 50 players in offensive and defensive rebounding rate, and currently sits top-three in C-USA in both points (16.7 PPG) and rebounds (10.3) per contest. Arizona coach Sean Miller said if Hunter hadn’t fouled out against the Wildcats on December 19, then “I don’t know if we would have won, because he was a one-man wrecking crew.” The coach also deemed Hunter the best player his team had faced up to that point – which at the time included Gonzaga, San Diego State and Michigan. Not bad praise.
  • Brad Waldow – C – 6’9’’ – Senior – Saint Mary’s. Waldow is the only player in America averaging over 20 points and 10 rebounds per game and boasts the sixth-best offensive rating in the country for players who use more than 28 percent of their team’s possessions. Which is to say, the Gaels rely on the senior a lot – and he delivers. Though Waldow has been the mark of productivity and consistency in his accomplished career, the majority of his numbers are up across the board in 2014-15. Most impressive among them? Minutes. The 6’9’’ big man is playing five more minutes per game (33.9 MPG) this season, which – while it might seem trivial – is a lot for a guy weighing 260 pounds. Waldow is a major reason – no, the reason – why Saint Mary’s will again finish near the top of the WCC.

O26 Midseason Second-Team All-Americans

Stony Brook's Jameel Warney has been dominant in 2014-15. (Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports)

Stony Brook’s Jameel Warney has been dominant in 2014-15. (Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Ron Baker – G – 6’3’’ – Junior – Wichita State. No Shockers on the First Team? Baker was strongly considered. The junior has relished his new role as Wichita State’s top offensive weapon in lieu of Cleanthony Early, upping his scoring (16.6 PPG) and rebounding numbers (4.5 RPG) and leading the team in points nine different times. Baker’s defense has also been excellent.
  • Tyler Harvey – G – 6’4’’ – Junior – Eastern Washington. Harvey could just as easily be a first-teamer, and even a Midseason Player of the Year candidate. The junior leads the country in scoring at 23.4 PPG and is on a potentially-record-breaking pace from behind the arc (currently 69-for-138; 50% 3FG). He’s also hit some really big shots for the Big Sky’s top unit.
  • Wesley Saunders – G – 6’5’’ – Senior – Harvard. After entering the year with high expectations, Harvard lost to Holy Cross early and was drubbed by Virginia, 76-27, in mid-December, which may have shifted attention away from the fact that Saunders – last season’s Ivy League Player of the Year – has been even better. The 6’5’’ guard-forward is the Crimson’s most relied-upon scorer (16.7 PPG), second leading rebounder (5.8 RPG) and assist man (4.0 APG), and its best perimeter defender (2.3 SPG).
  • Kyle Wiltjer – F – 6’10’’ – Junior – Gonzaga. The Kentucky transfer has been even better than expected this season, leading the nation’s best O26 unit in scoring (16.2 PPG) and posting superlative efficiency numbers. In fact, Wiltjer currently ranks sixth in KenPom’s kPOY (Player of the Year) rankings.
  • Jameel Warney – F – 6’8’’ – Junior – Stony Brook. Warney has been an absolute beast this season, averaging 16.0 points, 12.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.5 blocks per contest, and ranking 18th and 14th in the country, respectively, in offensive and defensive rebounding rate. Think he hasn’t done it against elite competition? The junior logged 15 points, eight boards and six assists in the Seawolves’ upset of Washington on December 28.

O26 Midseason Honorable Mentions

  • D.J. Balentine – G – 6’2’’ – Junior – Evansville.
  • Ty Greene – G – 6’3’’ – Senior – USC-Upstate.
  • Ryan Harrow – G – 6’2’’ – Senior – Georgia State.
  • Corey Hawkins – G – 6’3’’ – Senior – UC Davis.
  • Kevin Pangos – G – 6’2’’ – Senior – Gonzaga.
  • Keifer Sykes – G – 6’0’’ – Senior – Green Bay.
  • Fred VanVleet – G – 6’0’’ – Junior – Wichita State.
  • Kyle Wilson – G – 6’4’’ – Junior – Army.
  • Treveon Graham – G/F – 6’6’’ – Senior – VCU.
  • Tyler Haws – G/F – 6’5’’ – Senior – BYU.
  • Jerome Hill – F – 6’5’’ – Junior – Gardner Webb .
  • Venky Jois – F – 6’8’’ – Junior – Eastern Washington.
  • David Laury – F – 6’9’’ – Senior – Iona.
  • Justin Moss – F – 6’7’’ – Junior – Buffalo.
  • Alec Peters – F – 6’9’’ – Sophomore – Valparaiso.
  • Justin Sears – F – 6’8’’ – Senior – Yale.
  • Alan Williams – F – 6’8’’ – Senior – UC Santa Barbara.

O26 Midseason All-Freshman Team

  • Cane Broom – G – 6’0’’ – Sacred Heart.
  • Schadrac Casimir – G – 5’10’’ – Iona.
  • Isaac Fleming – G – 6’3’’ – Hawaii.
  • Domantis Sabonis – F – 6’10’’ – Gonzaga.
  • Shevon Thompson – C – 6’1’’ – George Mason.
Tommy Lemoine (250 Posts)

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