It’s Pro Bowl Week in the NFL and full NBA All-Star teams are about to be announced, so we at 3MW wanted to take a stab at creating some All-Star teams of our own. Debating who belongs in the sport's charade of an exhibition game is a glorious annual tradition, so why not spark the same debate in college hoops?
The rules are pretty simple. Two teams, same roster rules as the NBA:
1. Two backcourt players, three frontcourt players in the starting lineup (players who spend most of their time at the 3 count as frontcourt)
2. Two backcourt, three frontcourt, and two wildcards on the bench for a total roster of 12
3. For the purposes of making an East vs. West, I’ll use the Mississippi River as a dividing line (man, how key was the Louisiana Purchase?)
Everyone’s criteria will probably be different, but here’s mine: I pored over stats from KenPom, sports-reference.com, and Synergy Sports, along with film and my faithful eye test, trying mightily to put together the most worthy group of 12 guys I could. Also – team success matters. I want these guys to be in, or right on the fringe of, the NCAA field – no, I’m not sorry, Markelle Fultz. I placed premiums on efficiency and high usage, and I’m also setting a fairly arbitrary cutoff that players must have played 60% or more of their team’s minutes so far this year. As Zach Lowe says, “availability is a skill,” whether it be due to injury, fouls, or accidental steroids.
Quick aside - how many four-time college all-stars would there have been in the last fifteen years (awesome right away, never went pro)? Maybe just Tyler Hansbrough and JJ Redick? Although Hansbrough might get disqualified for his horrendous celebrating, and Redick wrote terrible poetry...
Let’s start out west, shall we? #noeastcoastbias
Lonzo Ball, Fr., UCLA – 14.9ppg, 5.6rpg, 8.2apg, 1.8spg – 133.1 O-rating, 19.9% usage (possessions)
Frank Mason, Sr., Kansas – 19.9ppg, 4.4rpg, 5.2apg, 1.3spg – 125.7 O-rtg, 24.6% usage
Fun way to start! Here we have a nice dichotomy between the absolutely electric freshman and the constantly-improving senior, both of whom have been vital pieces on Top 10 teams. Ball has been the maestro of the country’s most efficient offense, ranking 8th in the country in offensive win shares per sports-reference.com and racking up an impressive 32.9% assist rate while distributing to perhaps the country’s most dangerous collection of shooters (and hitting 44% of his own high volume of attempts from deep). The biggest argument for Ball, though, is the intangible “makes his teammates better” factor. He’s an outstanding creator and an elite deliverer of the ball (constantly right in the shooting pocket), and allowing Bryce Alford to set up a picnic on the wing has made him deadlier than ever (46% from 3 – his first college season over 40%). He’s a top-3 freshman in the land and a likely top-3 pick in June, as well.
Mason, on the other hand, was a sixth man as a freshman who has glided up the development curve every year to the point that he is now jostling with Villanova’s Josh Hart (plus a few others) for National Player of the Year. His usage rate has gone up every season, and yet bafflingly, so has his offensive rating. It’s all come together for him this year as the senior captain of Kansas’s likely 13th-straight Big 12 championship team – he’s shooting a completely absurd 54% from three-point range, leading the Jayhawks in assist rate, getting to the line frequently, and seemingly leading the country in driving and-1’s:
The advanced stats go to bat for Frank, as well: he’s 9th in offensive win shares and 8th in offensive plus/minus, indicating his huge value to the country’s 5th-most efficient offense.
Lauri Markkanen, Fr., Arizona – 17.1ppg, 7.4apg, 1.1apg, 0.5bpg – 136.7 O-rtg, 21.1% usage
Jonathan Motley, Jr., Baylor – 15.7ppg, 9.6rpg, 2.2apg, 1.2bpg – 108.6 O-rtg, 29.4% usage
Jock Landale, Jr., St. Mary’s – 16.8ppg, 9.5apg, 2.2apg, 1.2bpg – 123.8 O-rtg, 30.1% usage
When I had the idea for this team, I was pretty sure I’d end up with all wings in the frontcourt, similar to the East’s combo of Giannis Antentokounmpo, Jimmy Butler, and LeBron James – boy was I wrong! Markkanen, Motley, and Landale have each been the best player for a top 20 team so far this year, and only one reserve really even challenged for a spot here.
Let’s start with Markkanen the Markksman (did I just coin that?), an absolute deadeye shooter as a 7-footer who has NBA scouts drooling over his offensive potential (he’s definitely the current “Next Dirk”). Working as the perfect complement to interior presence “Tucson” Dusan Ristic, the Markksman stretches the floor both spotting up and in pick-and-pop situations, and his developing off-the-dribble game is making him even more dangerous. Sports-reference.com has him 11th in offensive win shares and 3rd in offensive plus/minus (+9.7); a lot of that is due to the lanky 19-year old hitting a boiling-lava-hot 50% of his bombs while also flashing the ability to do this:
Motley has the lowest offensive rating on this team, but I still couldn't keep him out of the starting lineup. He’s a massive-usage player for the #7 team in KenPom (and Baylor might have the best overall resume in the country), he’s one of the best two-way rebounders in the Power 6, and he has the versatility to play next to shot-blocker extraordinaire Jo Lual-Acuil or shift over to center and anchor the paint himself as a rim protector. He’s become adept at getting opposing bigs into foul trouble early, and he’s actually a surprisingly good passer as well (an underrated attribute of the whole Bears team, really). It’s also worth noting he’s #3 in KenPom’s kPOY race.
That #3 ranking is followed closely by Landale, who resides at #4 on that list. Big Jock is an even better rebounder (by rate) on both ends than Motley, and his mobility has made the Gaels’ spread pick-and-roll attack with two ball-handlers laughably potent. Landale is constantly dashing out to the perimeter, screening, and rolling hard – rinse and repeat – causing nightmares for plodding bigs who can’t keep up with him. He also is devastating in the post, and like Motley, he’s an excellent passer (currently 13th in the WCC in assist rate!), showing outstanding vision out of the post both for cutters and skip passes to open shooters. I continue to be baffled and impressed by his emergence as a bona fide star.
Nigel Williams-Goss, R Jr., Gonzaga – 14.5ppg, 5.6rpg, 4.7apg, 1.7spg – 118.8 O-rtg, 23.0% usage
Monte Morris, Sr., Iowa St. – 15.9ppg, 5.0rpg, 5.9apg, 1.5spg – 124.1 O-rtg, 22.5% usage
Gonzaga is a tough team to represent here – they’re so balanced and have murdered such a vast majority of their competition that they don’t have any massive statistical studs. But Washington transfer Williams-Goss has actually been outstanding in his first year in Spokane; he’s the linchpin of their high-octane transition attack (39th-shortest average possession in the country), a solid shooter and distributor. He’s also been a pest defensively, whether it’s harassing the point in man-to-man or using his massive length at the top of the Zags’ zone, which Mark Few is using more frequently this year (16% of defensive possessions per Synergy). He’s been good in the pick-and-roll and elite in isolation, and he hits enough shots to be yet another weapon for the Bulldogs’ offensive arsenal. Because Mount Poland (Przemek Karnowski) doesn’t play enough minutes to qualify, we’ll go with NWG as the Zags’ representative.
Morris (along with backcourt mate Naz Mitrou-Long) is the patron saint of the 3MW, and he’s done nothing to dissuade me from putting him on this team. Long a champion of the assist-to-turnover ratio, he is somehow trumping even his insane 4.79:1 ratio from his freshman year:
Unsurprisingly, that leads the whole damn country (in fact, he's finished 3rd, 1st, and 1st in his previous three years). This is despite using the highest chunk of possessions of his career and leading the Big 12 in percentage of minutes played in conference games. He’s also (shockingly) second on the Cyclones in rebounds per game, showing his commitment to helping on the glass for a team that is massively undersized on the interior every single night. He’s been a rock in Ames, and we all need to cherish his final months in collegiate hoops before we lose him.
Semi Ojeleye, R Jr., SMU – 17.8ppg, 7.0rpg, 1.5apg, 0.5bpg – 123.5 O-rtg, 24.3% usage
Ivan Rabb, So., California – 15.1ppg, 10.6rpg, 1.8apg, 1.0bpg – 109.5 O-rtg, 25.0% usage
Jordan Bell, Jr., Oregon – 11.0ppg, 7.7rpg, 1.6apg, 1.3spg, 2.2bpg – 111.7 O-rtg, 20.0% usage
Do you think Duke could use a versatile, chiseled forward who can shoot the lights out? Oh, they could use just about anything right now in their current tailspin? Well, Coach K(ing Rat) sure didn’t think so, as he couldn’t find minutes for a scoring machine like Ojeleye, leading to his transfer to SMU. And boy, what a blessing for the Ponies – Ojeleye is a matchup nightmare with his bulk, shooting ability, and ball-handling ability at his size, constantly abusing slower defenders who can’t match that combination of skill. He’s currently in the 99th percentile in the country in isolation efficiency per Synergy (1.46 points per possession), showing off an array of jab steps, crossovers, and pull-ups that make him nearly unguardable. He’s also been a useful defender in the Mustangs’ lanky matchup zone, as evidenced by his #5 rank nationally in total win shares.
At the beginning of the year, Rabb seemed like a lock to start on a team like this, poised for a gigantic breakout as a sophomore with high-usage teammates Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, and Jordan Matthews gone from Berkeley. Instead, his year started slowly, missing the first two games with an injury, and Cal’s relatively weak non-conference schedule didn’t give him many chances to make a major statement. He’s played well in the Pac-12 thus far though, earning the “KenPom MVP” in all five of the team’s conference wins (they’re 14-6, 5-3 in the league), and while he may not win Pac-12 POY (Lonzo and the Markksman have the inside track there), he’s the fulcrum in all phases for a team that hopes to navigate to the right side of the bubble come Selection Sunday.
Jordan Bell is probably the most unexpected name on this list, so I’ll go into some detail here. For an Oregon team that has had to rely on its defense with Dillon Brooks struggling to find his groove (much less stay on the floor), Bell is the perfect representation of what’s made them 18-2, 7-0 in the Pac-12. Oregon is #1 in the country in block rate by a Pacific Ocean-sized gap, and Bell (along with similarly superb teammate Chris Boucher) is a major reason why. That’s not all he can do defensively, though – he has quick hands (see his steal numbers) and can lock down even elite players. His poor All-Star teammate Jonathan Motley has no chance:
Bell is 5th nationally in defensive plus/minus, 5th in defensive rating, and 8th in defensive win shares, per sports-reference.com (only he and Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ are in the top 10 for both, hint for the East team) – he’s an elite defender. Plus, he’s actually been useful offensively, an authoritative finisher as a screener in the pick-and-roll who’s 35th in the entire country in true shooting percentage (he dunks a lot). If he cuts down on turnovers and develops more of a half-hook/any semblance of a post move, he’ll be a two-way monster.
Jordan McLaughlin, Jr., USC – 14.1ppg, 3.3rpg, 5.1apg, 1.3spg – 117.3 O-rtg, 20.8% usage
Mo Watson, R Sr., Creighton (injured) – 12.9ppg, 2.6rpg, 8.5apg, 1.5spg – 110.0 O-rtg, 28.0% usage
Injury Replacement: Jawun Evans, So., Oklahoma St. – 18.2ppg, 2.5rpg, 5.4apg, 2.1spg – 113.6 O-rtg, 32.8% usage
For those who don’t end their weekends battling the Sunday Scaries by watching late night Pac-12 basketball, you may not have seen much of McLaughlin. The numbers may not jump out at you, but trust me – he belongs. With stretch forward Bennie Boatwright out for an extended period of time, McLaughlin’s creativity with the rock in his hands and his potent outside range have helped the Trojans to their 18-4 start. He’s also been great taking over full-time ball-handling duties this year after the surprising departure of Julian Jacobs to the NBA (the D-League, to be precise).
Finally, I couldn’t go this whole article and not mention Mo Watson, our beloved Blue Jay mighty-mite who recently saw his college career abruptly end. His speed and vision would have had him on this team for sure. Instead, I went with Jawun Evans of Oklahoma State. He started poorly in the Big 12 season, finishing with four or more fouls in five of the first seven games coupled with some dismal shooting, but his excellent run in Maui to start the year and his importance to the Cowboys on both sides of the ball have him barely edging other contenders for the last slot. He’s using a Herculean amount of possessions, is hitting 42% from deep, and is 8th in the entire country in assist rate. If he can avoid the foul problems and play more like he did against TCU on Monday, he’ll be a lock for a postseason version of this squad.
Toughest exclusions: Marcus Foster, R Jr., Creighton (needs to do more than score with Watson out now); Peter Jok, Sr., Iowa (Hawkeyes aren’t quite good enough); Bryce Alford, Sr., UCLA (close, but his role is too much standstill shooting this year); TJ Leaf, Fr., UCLA (probably my toughest cut – you could replace one of the other Pac 12 reserve bigs with him and I wouldn’t fight you); Josh Jackson, Fr., Kansas (not efficient enough offensively in a secondary role); Eric Mika, R So., BYU (the losses to Utah Valley and San Diego have them too far away from the field for me); Marcus Marshall, R Sr., Nevada (not quite close enough to the tournament cut-line either)
I considered others, but feel free to yell at me about your favorite player, I’d enjoy the discussion…part 2,the East All-Stars, will be coming soon!