2015-16 Rush the Court All-America TeamsPosted by Walker Carey on March 31st, 2016
Compiling preseason All-America teams is a difficult task because nobody knows what’s to come during the season. There will always be players who will fail to live up to expectations and there will always be relatively unknown types who will unexpectedly emerge to stardom. When our outfit of seven RTC pollsters selected their preseason All-America teams back in November; nobody could have guessed that only eight of the 15 players chosen would live up to the hype: Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon, LSU’s Ben Simmons, Providence’s Kris Dunn, Utah’s Jakob Poeltl, Kentucky’s Jamal Murray, and Iowa State’s Georges Niang. Hield and Simmons were the only two players projected to be first-teamers and ended up there. The seven other players who did not make our postseason team are Maryland’s Melo Trimble, Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer, Wichita State’s Ron Baker, Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere, Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet, North Carolina’s Marcus Paige and Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes. All turned in varying degrees of productive seasons but were surpassed in achievements by the names that rose to the top of our list. Here are the 2015-16 RTC All-America Teams.
First Team All-America
- Buddy Hield, Senior, Oklahoma (consensus) (25.4 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 50.4% FG, 46.5% 3FG). Hield has wrapped up his collegiate career in dynamite fashion. After bypassing the NBA Draft last spring, Hield noted, “I just can’t wait to see what Coach Kruger has in mind for next year. I know we’re going to be a really good team.” Suffice it to say Hield was correct, as the Sooners are headed to their first Final Four since 2002. The explosive senior scorer has led the way all season with possibly no performance greater than the one he turned in during Oklahoma’s Elite Eight victory over Oregon. Hield finished the night with 37 points on a blistering 13-of-20 shooting from the field and an extremely impressive 8-of-13 outing from behind the three-point line. This college basketball season has been marked by uncertainty, but with Hield in tow, it is probably smart not to doubt Oklahoma’s chances in Houston this weekend.
- Denzel Valentine, Senior, Michigan State (consensus) (19.2 PPG, 7.8 APG, 7.5 RPG, 46.2% FG). There was likely not a more complete player in college basketball this season. Valentine did it all for the Spartans and it seemed like the senior really stepped his game up in big spots throughout the regular season. He turned in an iconic triple-double in Michigan State’s early comeback victory over Kansas and came through with a 30-point performance in a February home victory over eventual Big Ten champion Indiana. While the Spartans saw their season end in a shocking upset to Middle Tennessee State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Valentine’s incredible campaign should not be discounted in any way.
- Brice Johnson, Senior, North Carolina (consensus) (17.1 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 61.6% FG). Given North Carolina’s lofty postseason expectations, it is not entirely unexpected that the Tar Heels are headed to the Final Four as the favorite to cut down the nets on Monday night. What has been a bit unexpected, though, is the rise of Johnson from a good player as a junior to a bona fide star as a senior. Johnson’s improvement over the course of his career has been so great that Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams has referred to his senior as the most improved player he has ever coached. To provide a glimpse of just how important Johnson has been to North Carolina’s run to Houston, consider the fact that he has recorded at least 20 points and grabbed at least 10 rebounds in each of his team’s last three games.
- Malcolm Brogdon, Senior, Virginia (18.2 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.1 APG, 45.7% FG). Virginia has been one of the most successful programs in the country over the last three seasons. It took home the ACC crown in both 2014 and 2015, and it earned a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament this year. A major reason behind this success has been Brogdon’s ascension into stardom. Brogdon’s fantastic senior campaign led him to being named both the ACC’s Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year – becoming the first player to win both awards since the defensive honor was introduced in 2005.
- Ben Simmons, Freshman, LSU (19.2 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 4.8 APG, 56.0% FG). It is not often you see a player turn in a first team All-America season on a team that finished 19-14 and did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament, but this is that situation. The freshman entered the season with an unbelievable amount of hype, but somehow amid the hoopla, he handled it quite well. Simmons led LSU in points, rebounds and assists, and was clearly the team’s best player all season long. Simmons has already made it known that he is headed to the NBA Draft, but his lone season in Baton Rouge should be remembered for his consistently great on-court performances.
Second Team All-America
- Tyler Ulis, Sophomore, Kentucky (17.3 PPG, 7.0 APG, 1.5 STL, 43.4% FG). The diminutive sophomore made a significant leap from a role player as a freshman to being the lead Wildcat during his second season. Ulis handled the transition outstandingly well, as he developed into both the SEC’s Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. The Wildcats were a bit inconsistent throughout the season, but Ulis was a standout performer for John Calipari’s squad from the first game onward.
- Yogi Ferrell, Senior, Indiana (17.3 PPG, 5.6 APG, 45.8% FG, 42.0% 3FG). Ferrell was Indiana’s starting point guard from the day he stepped foot on campus four years ago all the way up to the Hoosiers’ Sweet Sixteen loss to North Carolina last week. The senior was certainly solid over the course of his first three seasons in Bloomington, but he saved his best performance for his final season. Always a strong offensive player, Ferrell transformed into a tremendous leader and a strong defender this season. Polarizing ESPN analyst Dan Dakich — who knows the Indiana program quite well — summed up the senior’s last campaign perfectly when he stated, “This year is a 180 degree change. He’s been a terrific leader. It’s his team, everyone understands that and follows that and respects his every word.”
- Kris Dunn, Junior, Providence (16.4 PPG, 6.2 APG, 5.3 RPG, 2.5 STL). After spending his first two years at Providence mostly sidelined with shoulder injuries, the redshirt junior turned in his second straight outstanding season in the Big East. Dunn was a threat to light up the stat sheet each game. A game that highlighted Dunn’s dynamic skill set was in late January’s victory at Villanova where he scored 13 points and dished out a season-high 14 assists.
- Jarrod Uthoff, Senior, Iowa (18.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.6 BLK, 44.8% FG). Iowa needed a player to step up this season with last year’s star Aaron White exhausting his eligibility, and the Hawkeyes received that performance and then some from Uthoff. The senior developed into one of the best offensive players in the country and led the team to its third straight NCAA Tournament appearance. Uthoff’s determination to be great was never more evident than when in an interview before his Senior Night, he stated, “It’s not going to be emotional for me. I have a game to think about.”
- Jakob Poeltl, Sophomore, Utah (17.2 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 64.6% FG). Poeltl, who only ended up at Utah after assistant Andy Hill stumbled upon an Austria/Netherlands matchup in the 2013 U-18 European Championships, emerged as the Pac-12’s premier big man during his sophomore campaign. The Utes have made a tremendous turnaround under fifth-year coach Larry Krystkowiak and being able to secure the services of relative unknowns such as Poeltl have been a major asset toward earning consecutive NCAA Tournament bids.
Third Team All-America
- Grayson Allen, Sophomore, Duke (21.6 PPG, 3.5 APG, 46.6% FG, 41.7% 3FG). Allen was a bit player during much of his freshman season, but he emerged in Duke’s national title victory over Wisconsin, scoring 16 crucial points to aid tremendously to the winning effort. The sophomore guard parlayed that performance to a spectacular sophomore campaign where he led the Blue Devils to the Sweet Sixteen.
- Jamal Murray, Freshman, Kentucky (20.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 45.4% FG, 40.8% 3FG). Murray experienced a whirlwind freshman year, transitioning from a player slated to graduate high school in 2016 to reclassifying and becoming the obvious jewel of Kentucky’s freshman class. Murray was a dynamic scorer for the Wildcats all season. His best game came in a loss at Vanderbilt in late February where he lit up potential first round pick Wade Baldwin IV for 33 points on 12-of-20 shooting.
- Perry Ellis, Senior, Kansas (16.9 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 53.1% FG, 43.8% 3FG). Ellis was a rock for Kansas during his last three seasons in Lawrence. On a Jayhawks team that did not possess a verifiable superstar, the senior forward emerged as the team’s go-to performer. While Kansas will definitely miss Ellis, college basketball fans may miss him more, as they seemed to have quite a bit of fun making jokes about how it seemed like Ellis had been around forever.
- Georges Niang, Senior, Iowa State (20.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3.3 APG, 54.6% FG). Iowa State experienced a transition this season, as it went from Fred Hoiberg patrolling the sideline to Steve Prohm manning the ship. The senior Niang was a constant for the Cyclones, though, as he lifted the team to its second Sweet Sixteen appearance in three years. The forward turned in such a terrific season that he became the program’s first player to twice be named to the AP All-America team.
- Domantas Sabonis, Sophomore, Gonzaga (17.6 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 61.1% FG). The son of former NBA star Arvydas Sabonis became Gonzaga’s standout during the Bulldogs’ run to the Sweet Sixteen. Following the Bulldogs loss of center Przemek Karnowski to a season-ending back injury, Sabonis became the main man inside for Mark Few’s squad. Sabonis’ best performance of the season came in Gonzaga’s victory over Utah in the NCAA second round when he outdueled Utah big man Jakob Poeltl, finishing with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Honorable Mentions: Gary Payton II, Oregon State; Ben Bentil, Providence; Josh Hart, Villanova; Cat Barber, NC State; Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall; Brandon Ingram, Duke; Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame; Kay Felder, Oakland.