2016-17 Rush the Court All-America TeamsPosted by Walker Carey on March 30th, 2017
Compiling preseason All-America teams is a difficult task because nobody knows what will come during the upcoming season. There will always be several players who fall short of expectations and there will always be several relatively unknown types who will unexpectedly emerge to stardom. When our outfit of seven RTC pollsters selected their preseason All-America teams in November; nobody could have guessed that only five of the 15 players chosen would live up to their hype; Villanova’s Josh Hart, Oregon’s Dillon Brooks, Iowa State’s Monte’ Morris, Washington’s Markelle Fultz, and Kansas’ Josh Jackson. Hart was the only player projected to be a first-teamer who ended up there. The 10 other players who did not make our postseason team are Duke’s Grayson Allen and Jayson Tatum, California’s Ivan Rabb, Maryland’s Melo Trimble, Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes, Indiana’s Thomas Bryant, NC State’s Dennis Smith, Xavier’s Edmond Sumner and Trevon Bluiett, and Kentucky’s Bam Adebayo. All turned in varying degrees of productive seasons but were surpassed in achievements by the names that moved ahead of them on our list. Here are the 2016-17 RTC All-America Teams.
First Team All-America
- Frank Mason, Senior, Kansas (consensus) (20.9 PPG, 5.2 APG, 49% FG, 47.1% 3FG). After being little more than a complementary contributor during his first three seasons in Lawrence, Mason wrapped up his collegiate career this season in spectacular fashion. What the point guard lack lacks in stature (he is listed at just 5’11”), he made up for it in big time performances. Kansas earned its 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season title and advanced to the Elite Eight this season, and neither of those would have been possible without Mason elevating his game to a superstar level. One of the coolest things about college basketball is when a relatively unheralded recruit develops into one of the country’s most accomplished players – and Mason certainly personified that in his senior season. Kansas fields a great team every year, but it is certain the Jayhawks will miss Mason’s services when they hit the hardwood again next fall.
- Josh Hart, Senior, Villanova (consensus) (18.7 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 51% FG, 40.4% 3FG). Hart starred on last season’s National Championship team, but he took his game to another level during his senior season. The Big East Player of the Year joined Villanova legend Kerry Kittles as the only players in program history to amass 1,800 points, 700 rebounds, 250 assists, and 150 steals. Villanova’s season ended with a surprising Second Round loss to Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament, but that defeat should not cloud anyone’s perception of Hart’s season, as he was phenomenal from the opening tip of the first game to the final buzzer of the last one.
- Lonzo Ball, Freshman, UCLA (consensus) (14.6 PPG, 7.6 APG, 6.0 RPG, 55.1% FG). Last year at this time, UCLA was coming off a very disappointing 15-17 season that suggested the 2016-17 campaign would be a make-or-break year for Steve Alford in Westwood. Luckily for the Bruins’ head coach, the arrival of Ball as the gem of a star-studded recruiting class aided significantly in morphing UCLA from a losing team to a Sweet Sixteen squad. A dynamic point guard known for his incredible court vision and ability to make his teammates better, Ball also helped had a knack for making key plays in big games – most notably in a December win at Kentucky and in a February home win over Oregon. Unfortunately for Bruins fans, they will not get to experience more of those star performances, as Ball quickly made his intention to enter the NBA Draft known following UCLA’s Sweet Sixteen loss to Kentucky.
- Justin Jackson, Junior, North Carolina (18.2 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.8 APG). Following North Carolina’s heartbreaking defeat to Villanova in last year’s title game, Jackson chose to test the NBA Draft waters before ultimately returning to Chapel Hill for his junior season. At the time, Jackson stated, “The best choice for my basketball future is to return to school and play for the Tar Heels next season.” His statement turned out to be prophetic, as he became North Carolina’s go-to guy on his way to leading the team in scoring and earning the ACC Player of the Year award. The Tar Heels are a balanced unit with talent littering the roster, but Jackson’s emergence to stardom is the most important reason why Roy Williams’ team has another chance to play for the title this weekend in Phoenix.
- Caleb Swanigan, Sophomore, Purdue (18.5 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 52.7% FG, 44.7% 3FG). The sophomore big man was a double-double machine for the regular season Big Ten champion — finishing a stellar year with 28 double-doubles and having four games where he grabbed 20 or more rebounds. A big reason for Swanigan’s increased productivity in his sophomore campaign was improved conditioning, as his minutes per game rose from 25.7 to 32.5. He also added a reliable three-point shot to his arsenal, improving his percentage in that are of the game to a robust 44.7 percent. As a result, the Boilermakers advanced to their first Sweet Sixteen since 2010, and that charge was led by a monster season from the All-American.
Second Team All-America
- Nigel Williams-Goss, Junior, Gonzaga (16.7 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 4.6 APG, 49% FG). The Washington transfer has been the straw that has stirred the drink for Gonzaga all season long. The junior point guard is an essential component to the Bulldogs’ efforts on both ends of the court, culminating in an appearance at this weekend’s Final Four. Williams-Goss turned in a vintage performance in the Bulldogs’ Elite Eight victory over Xavier, finishing the triumph with 23 points, eight rebounds, four assists and zero turnovers. If Gonzaga is fortunate enough to cut down the nets on Monday night, it is fair to assume Williams-Goss will have a big hand in making it a reality.
- Luke Kennard, Sophomore, Duke (19.5 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 48.9% FG, 43.8% 3FG). Duke’s turbulent season was well-documented from its first game until the final buzzer sounded in an NCAA Tournament upset loss to South Carolina. Kennard, however, was the one Blue Devil who never seemed impacted by all the surrounding chaos. The guard came into his own during his second season in Durham, becoming the team’s go-to scorer as well as a trusted distributor. Even with all the preseason hype surrounding junior guard Grayson Allen and Duke’s sterling freshman class, Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski noted that he was not surprised Kennard emerged as the team’s star.
- Malik Monk, Freshman, Kentucky (19.8 PPG, 45% FG, 39.7% 3FG). There may not have been a more fun player to watch this season than the Kentucky freshman guard. When Monk got going, there was hardly any defense that could stop him. This was never more evident than in his 47-point performance in a December win against North Carolina and 30-point second half explosion in a February home win over Florida. While Kentucky lost in the Elite Eight when North Carolina forward Luke Maye hit a jumper with under a second remaining, you should not forget that shot was only necessary because Monk had tied the contest with a difficult three-pointer just seconds earlier.
- Dillon Brooks, Junior, Oregon (16.3 PPG, 49.6% FG, 41% 3FG). Oregon is headed to its first Final Four since the inaugural event way back in 1939. A major reason why the Ducks were able to advance to Phoenix was because Brooks developed into the Pac-12 Player of the Year. The junior’s scoring and the necessity for opponents to account for him on every offensive possession has created issues all season. It also should be noted how clutch Brooks has been, as he hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer to knock off previously undefeated UCLA to open conference play — will Brooks hit a game-changing shot in Phoenix? You should definitely tune in to find out.
- Johnathan Motley, Junior, Baylor (17.3 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 52.1% FG). Every season a player emerges from relative obscurity to become one of the top players in the country, and this year’s honor goes to the Baylor big man. Motley’s numbers soared from 11.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game as a sophomore to 17.3 points and 9.9 rebounds per contest as a junior. He had always owned the tools necessary to be a very productive player, but it was just a matter of consistency. As Baylor head coach Scott Drew noted, “At the beginning of his career he’d have some really good games, and he’d have some games where you’re like, ‘What happened?”
Third Team All-America
- Monte’ Morris, Senior, Iowa State (16.4 PPG, 6.2 APG, 46.5% FG). Morris was the main event for an Iowa State squad that surpassed preseason expectations on its way to a second place regular season finish in the Big 12 and a conference tournament title. While Morris upped his scoring from 13.8 to 16.4 points per game, his most impressive accomplishment was that he led the country in assist-to-turnover ratio (5.2) for the third consecutive season.
- Sindarius Thornwell, Senior, South Carolina (21.6 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 2.2 SPG, 44.7% FG). South Carolina has become the Cinderella story of this March as it has improbably advanced from a curious #7 seed to the Final Four. The Gamecock leading that charge has been Thornwell, as the SEC Player of the Year is averaging 25.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game during the run. Thornwell has also been a major component of the suffocating South Carolina defense, frustrating opponents on the perimeter during all four victories.
- Markelle Fultz, Freshman, Washington (23.2 PPG, 5.9 APG, 5.7 RPG, 47.6% FG). Much like Ben Simmons last season at LSU, Fultz turned in a great freshman season for a team that had no chance of making the NCAA Tournament. Even with Washington’s copious struggles on the floor, Fultz showed why he is considered one of the top prospects in this summer’s NBA Draft. His lone season at Washington did not turn out the way he wanted, but Fultz expressed no regrets when declaring for the NBA, by acknowledging, “I’m always going to be a Husky for life.”
- Josh Jackson, Freshman, Kansas (16.3 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 51.3% FG). There was good reason for some to take pause regarding Jackson in the preseason, as Kansas has had mixed results with its high-level one-and-done players. Jackson showed early, however, that there was no reason for that pause. He quickly developed into a reliable right-hand man for Frank Mason on the offensive end of the court and became a scary defensive experience for his opponents. Jackson’s 5.1 percent block rate and 3.1 percent steal rate ranks far above the nine wing players taken in the top 10 of the NBA Draft over the last five years.
- Bonzie Colson, Junior, Notre Dame (17.8 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 52.6% FG). Colson excelled this season as one of the most unique players in the country, standing at just 6’5″ but leading the ACC in rebounding and 19 double-doubles. The junior forward was more than just a rugged force, however, as he shot 40 percent from three-point range and recorded the third-lowest turnover percentage in the conference. Irish head coach Mike Brey believed Colson’s energy helped his teammates contribute to another successful season in South Bend, noting, “The nose for the ball and the edge that he plays with gives the rest of our group a lot of confidence.”
Honorable Mention: Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State; Ethan Happ, Wisconsin; John Collins, Wake Forest; Derrick Walton Jr., Michigan; Lauri Markkanen, Arizona; Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s.