As we approach NBA All-Star Weekend, it feels like a perfect time for me to release my 2018 picks for a theoretical collegiate all-star game (this would be fun!!). The rules are nearly identical to last year, although I tweaked the rosters to have three "backcourt" starters and two "frontcourt" starters to more accurately reflect the way the college game is played:
- Three backcourt players, two frontcourt players in the starting lineup.
- Three backcourt players, two frontcourt players, and two wildcards on the bench for a total roster of 12.
- For the purposes of making an East vs. West, I’ll use the Mississippi River as a dividing line (continued shouts to the Louisiana Purchase).
- Players must have played 60% of the team's minutes - whether due to injuries or suspensions, that matters.
The criteria for selection is a combination of eye test, team success, and statistical measures - last year, I took a hard line on saying the team must be competing for an at-large berth, but I've backed off that slightly. 2018 represents a new me!!! And now, the starters out West...the first one will definitely shock you:
Backcourt – Trae Young, G, Fr., Oklahoma
There is very little to be written about Trae Young, the presumptive National Player of the Year, that you can’t find all over the internet, so here are some of my favorite pieces about him:
Trae Young Has Broken the NCAA Machine - Mark Titus, The Ringer
Oklahoma's Trae Young Is Quickly Becoming a One-of-a-kind NBA Draft Prospect - Chris Stone, Sporting News
Can Trae Young Be A Generational Shooter? - Cole Zwicker, The Stepien
The Tale of Trae Young - my esteemed colleague Matt Cox of 3MW
And here are a couple fun clips of him doing insane, ridiculous, Trae Young things:
Backcourt – Devonte’ Graham, G, Sr., Kansas
In our Big 12 preview, my colleague Ky cited the concerning statistics for Kansas last year when Graham ran the show and Frank Mason sat. Let’s just say that trend has not continued this year:
Sure, that’s a small sample size without him, but I’d argue that’s mainly because they’re so damn horrendous without him that Bill Self can’t take him off the court. As many suspected, Graham has blossomed as a full-time point guard, raising his assist rate from 19.2% (457th in the country) to 31.3% (66th in the country). He and Udoka Azubuike are, statistically, the only KU players who get to the free throw line with any frequency (and Azubuike shoots them like Shaq), and his creation for himself and others is hugely responsible for the Jayhawks’ elite three-point shooting (39.3%, 28th in the country). He might not win NPOY like Mason, but he’s been a worthy successor as Kansas hunts for another Big 12 title and a top seed in the NCAAs.
Backcourt – Keenan Evans, G, Sr., Texas Tech
You like a dual-PG lineup? Well screw that, WE’RE GOING WITH THREE! In all honesty, these are the three best guards west of the Mississippi (in my humble opinion, of course), so I have no issue trotting Evans out alongside his Big 12 brethren. He’s been sensational for the Red Raiders, the only true offensive weapon for a team whose identity revolves around its elite, athletic defense. Evans has been the KenPom "Game MVP" in 5 of Tech's last 7 games (all wins), showing the ability to get to the rim, hit from deep, plus draw fouls (he's gotten to the line an ungodly 66 times in those 7 games). Chris Beard understands how dynamic Evans is, and smartly went with the “get the F out of his way” isolation on the final play of OT against Texas:
Frontcourt – DeAndre Ayton, F/C, Fr., Arizona
Ayton is less a basketball player and more a re-animated gargoyle laying waste to inferior humans in the paint. I always chuckle watching him play simply because of the way his uniform fits. They just couldn’t figure out how to make a jersey big enough to properly adorn his titanic frame - it’s like The Hulk’s pants after he transforms. Statistically, the Bahamian has been nothing short of spectacular, the picture of efficiency on offense and one of the best rebounders in the country. His best position is probably center, but due to the makeup of Arizona’s roster, the Wildcats have been better with him playing the nominal four spot, as Sam Vecenie noted. Since that article is a month old, I checked the updated stats – it’s still very true today:
Obviously, the defensive PPP with that duo together is concerning (they can't switch much on the perimeter, particularly against the pick-and-roll, and despite Ayton being nimble, he hasn't figured out how to defend in space quite yet). But that offensive number, yowza.
Frontcourt – Jock Landale, C, Sr., St. Mary’s
Landale, like Young, is another no-brainer selection for this squad. The Aussie man-hammer is a back-to-back starter, and basically every stat backs that up: he’s second in KenPom’s kPOY race, first in the country in offensive win shares (ahead of Trae Young!!), first in overall win shares by an Australian mile (sounds far to me), and 11th in the country in Points Produced (despite being hampered by the Gaels’ glacial tempo). His ability to dominate both as an isolated post-up threat or as a rim-running roll man make him a nightmare matchup – few teams have someone big enough AND mobile enough to keep up with his surprisingly nimble game. Plus, for all the lauding his offense gets, his rebounding and size make him crucial to St. Mary’s defense, too. They’re giving up an acceptable 0.97ppp with him on the court, but a dismal 1.10ppp when he hits the bench – roughly the difference between Gonzaga’s defense (0.96) and Pacific’s defense (1.08). The only real question remaining with Landale is whether he can carve out a role off the bench in the NBA – to which I ask, why can’t he be Aron Baynes?
Bench Backcourt (3)
Marcus Foster, G, R Sr., Creighton
Allonzo Trier, G, Jr., Arizona
Chandler Hutchison, G/F, Sr., Boise St.
Marcus Foster was nearly an All-Star for me last year (particularly following Mo Watson's torn ACL), but I had gripes with his middling efficiency. Someone clearly linked Mr. Foster to three dash man dash weave dot com, because Foster has been a model of efficiency during his final collegiate season. On roughly the same usage (top 60 in the country both this year and last), he's raised his offensive rating from 101.7 to 115.1 - a significant jump stemming primarily from a 12% uptick from beyond the arc. He's also taken a larger role distributing the basketball - about the only issue you can take with him offensively is that he doesn't earn free points at the stripe. Creighton has battled through another torn ACL this year (to Martin Krampelj) to firmly place itself in the NCAA Tournament mix, currently sitting at a 6-seed at bracketmatrix.com, and Foster (plus defensive ace Khyri Thomas) has been the biggest part of that.
Even moreso than Foster, Trier has been an efficiency monster for Arizona, ranking an insane fourth in true shooting percentage with splits of 54/42/85 from the field/three/free throw line. He’s absolutely devastating in transition, finishing with an authority and burst that’s tough to stop, and his overall offensive impact is among the nation’s elite (fourth in offensive win shares) – it’s hard to find something he’s not statistically "excellent" at:
His effots on the defensive end are…less stellar, partially contributing to a Wildcat perimeter defense that has limited the Arizona upside, but his net effect on the game is significant enough to land him a spot on this squad.
Despite being a senior playing in the Mountain West, Hutchison definitely has the look of a skilled NBA wing. He’s carrying a gigantic load for the Broncos as they look to sneak into the NCAA Tournament themselves, using the nation’s 10th-highest share of possessions (33.8% usage) while also anchoring the nation’s best defensive rebounding unit (by rate). That rebounding also helps fuel the occasional “grab-and-go” offensive attack, whether it’s to get all the way to the rim or to find one of the team’s many shooters in transition. He’s risen to 9th in KenPom’s player of the year race, and his importance became extremely clear when he got hurt during the Broncos’ loss to Iowa State all the way back in November.
Bench Frontcourt (2)
Mo Bamba, C, Fr., Texas
Mike Daum, F/C, R Jr., South Dakota St.
Texas has clawed itself back to relevance this year through its defense (despite the horrible loss of Andrew Jones to a leukemia diagnosis), and Bamba is the driving force behind that top 5 unit (per KenPom). His sheer length makes scoring in the paint a near impossibility, and his motor has engaged at a much higher rate than when we were sort of lukewarm on him at PK80. Per sports-reference.com, Bamba is sixth nationally in defensive win shares, third in defensive box score plus/minus, and eighth in defensive rating – it’s pretty clear he’s a hugely impactful defender. He’s not a super-talented offensive player yet, but he is developing in that regard - this move is against one of the best interior defenders in the country, Jo Lual-Acuil:
Plus, he’s a gravitational force as a roll man in the paint (imagine if Texas had any shooters around him!), and he hits enough free throws (68%) to not be a liability (cough, Azubuike, cough Ethan Happ).
And the other guy…who? MIKE DAUM! The best mid-major big man in the country, the Dauminator is on his third run through the Summit League, a conference which simply doesn’t have the athletic size to compete with his combination of strength and skill. His greatest weapon is his versatility to play on the block or on the perimeter, depending on who’s guarding him – his skillset is somewhat akin to that of Frank Kaminsky in his ability to pump-fake and drive from the three-point line once opponents over-commit to stopping his smooth three-point stroke. And of course, he’s also sneaky athletic – Damonte Dodd will never forget that:
Daum is 5th in the country in points produced, 12th in the country in win shares, 11th nationally in usage, 3rd in percentage of shots taken, and his team sits atop the Summit League at 22-6 (10-1). He absolutely deserves a place here.
Wild Cards (2)
Trannon Holdevans, G, Sr./R Sr., Arizona St.
Rob Gray, G, Sr., Houston
"Hey what the hell, that's cheating! You can't just combine two players from the same team to save you from having to make a tough decision!!" I can, and I just did!! Differentiating between Arizona State's two 6'1 gunners is tough, and in my opinion, ultimately pointless - they're the embodiment of ASU's downhill, transition-oriented attack that earned the Sun Devils perhaps the most decorated non-conference season in the country. Holder and Evans complement each other perfectly - Evans is slightly more point guard by nature, while Holder traditionally looks to score first. Even so, their numbers are strikingly similar:
Perhaps the best way to sum up how similar they've been is to point out that KenPom's similarity scores compare them BOTH to 2007 Aaron Brooks (Oregon) - they play like the same guy! Running two small guards together limits the defensive ceiling, but after winning three straight games, ASU once again looks like the second-best team in the Pac-12, and this diminutive duo is the chief reason why.
Gray, and Houston by extension, is an interesting case. They’re squarely on the bubble, but they likely wouldn’t even be close to the field without Gray’s elite scoring and facilitating. Despite only standing 6’1, 185 pounds, he excels going to the rim, using clever angles and his quickness to finish on the glass even against size:
He’s not a great shooter, but it’s enough of a weapon to draw out defenders and help open driving lanes, from which he can score or distribute to the team’s stable of more proficient gunners. He likely doesn’t have a future in the NBA due to his size limitations, but he’s a terrific college scorer.
Others Receiving Votes: Caleb Martin R Jr., Nevada; Emmett Naar, Sr., St. Mary's; Aaron Holiday, Jr., UCLA; Landry Shamet, R So., Wichita St.; Chimezie Metu, Jr., USC; Kenrich Williams, R Sr., TCU; Jordan Murphy, Jr., Minnesota; Jordan Caroline, R Jr., Nevada; Reid Travis, R Jr., Stanford; Zach Lofton R Sr., New Mexico State; Yoeli Childs, R So., BYU; James Palmer, R Jr., Nebraska