If you missed the West All-Stars, check them out right here.
Quick rules re-hash:
- 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.
I selected based on a combination of stats, eye test, and team success. The East has so many good teams/tough choices, I'm sure these will be a little controversial...
Backcourt – Jevon Carter, G, Sr., West Virginia
While he’s probably the best on-ball defender in the country, Carter’s starting spot on this team is actually cemented by his strides on the offensive end. He’s taken over as a true shot creator and facilitator for the Mountaineers, able to set up teammates (33rd-ranked assist rate in the country) or create his own shot. Only 65% of his his three-point makes have been assisted this year (down from 76% last year), and yet he’s still shooting slightly better from deep. Of course, this is all glossing over what makes Carter truly special – his ability to harass ball-handlers for 94 feet and consistently steal their lunch money. He’s become an artist in the way he gets his hands on the ball, employing a variety of tricks to create havoc:
Backcourt – Jalen Brunson, G, Jr., Villanova
If you listened to our most recent pod, you probably heard this stat right off the bat, but it's worth repeating - prior to the Providence debacle, Brunson's offensive rating had been above 100 in every single game this year. He hadn't had an outright bad game! Sure, he finally had a poor night at the Dunkin' Donuts Center, but his season stats are still staggering. Other than the Prov game, he's had 3 or fewer turnovers in every game, multiple assists in every game except two, and on top of that, his shooting splits are bonkers (54/44/81 from the field/three/free throw). Per sports-reference.com, he's second nationally in O-rating, second in offensive win shares (behind Jock Landale), and second in offensive plus/minus (behind Trae Young). Nova's offense currently falls just short of being the best ever in the KenPom era, but it becomes completely pedestrian when Brunson sits:
He's been elite in every sense of the word and is a very real contender for National Player of the Year (oh, and Nova is one of the favorites to cut down the nets).
Backcourt – Trevon Bluiett, G/F, Sr., Xavier
As the hyper-efficient, high-usage linchpin to the country's #5 offense (per KenPom), Bluiett was a fairly obvious selection to this team. His deadly outside shooting (44% on 194 attempts!) sets the table for the entire Musketeers' attack, and it's no surprise that he's just 6/18 from deep in Xavier's 3 losses. He's expanded his game and is far more than a shooter, but the thing I want to focus on most with Bluiett is his lightning-quick release. The ball barely has to be in his hands before it's arcing towards the hoop, ready to splash through the net - it's like he's touch-passing three-pointers. That deadly stroke iced Xavier's road win at Butler, helping keep the Muskies on the one-seed line (for now):
He's scoring 1.393 points per catch-and-shoot possession (94th percentile nationally), per Synergy, and he and his senior teammates (JP "Sleeves" Macura, Sean O'Mara, Kerem Kanter) have perhaps Xavier's best ever shot at reaching the Final Four.
Frontcourt – Keita Bates-Diop, F, R-Jr., Ohio St.
No one is more emblematic of Ohio State's incredible re-emergence into a Big Ten power than Bates-Diop, who missed most of last year due to injuries but has bounced back with an incredibly fury to place himself in the All-American discussion. He's a very good shooter from deep, and his versatility is a nightmare for opposing big men to match up with. As good as he is on offense, though, his value truly shines on defense. Per Hoop Lens, the Buckeyes' defense descends into the abyss without his ability to switch and block shots (8th in the entire B1G in block rate!):
To spell that even more plainly - when he's on the court, Ohio State outscores opponents by 20 points per 100 possessions. When he's on the bench, their opponents outscore them by 13 points per 100 poss., and the defense becomes the worst in the country - no, really, USC Upstate is KenPom's 351st-ranked defense, and their raw defensive ppp is 1.18. That's some serious impact, folks!
Frontcourt – Marvin Bagley, F/C, Fr., Duke
Despite that he should be a high school senior, Bagley has been as good as any player in the country, using his incredible size+athleticism combination to dominate around the rim. His second jump is as good as any in the country, allowing him to play volleyball on the glass with himself and earn easy points (unsurprisingly, he leads the entire country in points scored on putbacks, per Synergy, despite missing a couple games). My colleague Matthew remarked that a comparison to another freshman behemoth, DeAndre Ayton, might prove interesting, and indeed it did. Their stats are very similar, with each showing a few strengths relative to the other:
Bagley ranks slightly lower in some of the "offensive efficiency" categories, mostly due to his slightly higher propensity for turning it over, but it's amazing how both players have toyed with college competition. Perhaps the most telling part of this comparison is that in their KenPom player profiles, they share four of the same statistical comparisons: 2015 Jahlil Okafor, 2017 TJ Leaf, 2016 Thomas Bryant, and 2012 Cody Zeller. That's not elite company for NBA teams hoping they're getting a future megastar come draft time in June, so perhaps there are some red flags (and the deep web NBA Draft Twitter is already on the case), but both players are unquestionably college all-star starters.
Bench Backcourt (3)
Mikal Bridges, G/F, Jr., Villanova
Devon Hall, G, Sr., Virginia
Miles Bridges, G/F, So., Michigan St.
Calling Bridges a “backcourt” player could be seen as a stretch (either one of them, really), but both Mikal and Miles predominantly play the 3 with two bigs on the floor at the same time, so I’m comfortable with that classification. Villanova is the only team with two players on this year’s East All-Stars, and given that they’re the #2 team in the country, they seem as good a team as any on which to bestow that honor (sorry, UVA). The fellas at 3MW have been in on Mikal Bridges since his redshirt freshman year, when we lovingly nicknamed him “The Octopus” for his tentacle-like arms that drove opponents crazy – just refer to him smothering Frank Mason in the 2016 Elite Eight, eventually leading to a Ryan Arcidiacono deflection. None of us foresaw the offensive detonation he has exhibited over this season, however. His usage has increased nearly 150% year-over-year, going from a little-used spot-up shooter and cutter to a true creative fulcrum, but his efficiency hasn’t suffered whatsoever. He’s as effective as ever from the outside – 1.231ppp on spot-ups (93rd percentile nationally), per Synergy, while adding a deft post-up game – 1.056ppp, 90th percentile. He’s developed into the two-way monster that NBA Draft Twitter has always hoped he could be, and he seems like a surefire lottery pick come June.
I’m likely going to have to convince you that Devon Hall belongs here over Kyle Guy (or even defensive stalwart Isaiah Wilkins), so let’s start here: Hall has the 62nd-best offensive rating in the entire country (fueled by 46% shooting from deep and 91% from the FT line), spearheading the Cavs’ effectiveness on that end through his lethal shooting off screens. As I detailed here last season, Virginia’s offense is a constant motion with “movers” and “blockers” – as a mover, being able to shoot off the catch is crucial, and Hall is in the 97th percentile in shooting off screens, per Synergy. Watch his masterful work along the baseline here, getting his man moving in the wrong direction before using Jack Salt’s gargantuan frame to free himself:
He’s also a capable creator and passer when needed, splitting those duties with sophomore Ty Jerome. The part that differentiates him from Wilkins and Guy is that he’s a two-way destroyer – he constantly guards the opponent’s best perimeter player (recently: Lonnie Walker, Justin Robinson, Tyus Battle, Deng Adel, etc.) due to his athleticism and lengthy frame. That value on both ends of the court has Hall 12th in the country in win shares, per sports-reference.com, tops on Virginia by a significant margin (he also tops them in WS/40 minutes). So in conclusion – Guy is a shooting star, Wilkins is a monster in their defensive scheme, but I’ll take Hall over both of them.
Two-thirds of 3MW took Miles Bridges as the preseason National Player of the Year (including me), and while he isn’t quite in that stratosphere, he’s been every bit of an all-star (he earned honorable mention in my eyes as a freshman). Despite arguably (okay, definitely) playing out of position at the three, he’s upped his efficiency compared to last year (credit to a 20% [!!!] jump at the free throw stripe), using his size to bully smaller opponents and his constantly-improving stroke from deep to force defenders to come to him. The confidence in his stroke was extremely clear in his dagger game-winner against Purdue, calmly launching with his smooth lefty motion in a gigantic moment. I’d still love to him destroying opponents at the four far more often, but even playing where he is, he’s the most dynamic offensive option for Sparty’s Top-10 offense, and a plus defender to boot.
Bench Frontcourt (2)
Vince Edwards, F, Sr., Purdue
Gary Clark, F, Sr., Cincinnati
Picking a Purdue player was extremely tough - both Vince and Carsen Edwards have been terrific this year, Isaac Haas is a supersized monster, and Dakota Mathias is a vastly underrated two-way wing. In the end, though, I went with Vince Edwards, whose positional versatility has allowed the Boilers to thrive on both ends of the court. At 6'8, 225 pounds, he's big enough to guard big men on defense, but his shooting (42% from deep) makes him a matchup nightmare for those same bigs. He can also switch with guards on D, and Purdue being able to switch in four-player shell around the Haas/Haarms center combo has keyed their Top 10 defense, per KenPom. Edwards is also a very good passer, a necessity in the Boilermakers' system that stresses the extra pass and giving up a good shot to get a great one.
Last night was a rough one for members of the "Bench Frontcourt" portion of the team, as both Purdue and Clark's Bearcats dropped a road game to an unranked opponent. Clark's offensive usage is lower than most members of this team, but he's the heart and soul of the team on both ends of the court. He's 54th in the entire country in offensive rebounding rate, and he can basically guard all five positions defensively while also wreaking havoc (151st nationally in block rate, 152nd in steal rate). A quick list of his national ranks in a few advanced stat categories: Offensive Rating - 8th, Defensive Rating - 1st, Defensive Win Shares - 1st, Win Shares per 40 minutes - 1st, box score plus/minus - 2nd. He's expanded his offensive repertoire to the three-point line, but it's gritty boards and putbacks like this that truly fuel the Bearcats' mentality (and what endears him to Mick Cronin and fans alike):
Wild Card (2)
Andrewkus Howardsey, G, Sr./So., Marquette
Luke Maye, F, Jr., North Carolina
If you read the West version of this article, you probably saw this Marquette combo coming – both the Golden Eagles and the Sun Devils rely heavily on a diminutive pair of shooters/creators who can light it up from anywhere on the court, and I’d just feel wrong separating the two in this space. Rowsey’s impeccable step-back and Howard’s change of pace are almost unfair offensive weapons given how deadly each guy’s jumper is. Similar to the ASU guards, I put together a comparison of each guy's stats - again, strikingly similar, although the split of "Rowsey as PG, Howard as scorer" is a little more pronounced:
I do have to punish them slightly for the defensive end – Marquette is giving up a ghastly 1.17ppp when they play together, compared to a respectable 0.97 in any other lineup configuration. The Golden Eagles win need to win some games down the stretch, as their defense has given themselves very little margin for error.
Luke freakin' Maye!! In our ACC Preview, I had Maye as a third-team all-ACC player and was promptly flogged in the town square for it. However, Maye has blown away even my wildest expectations, asserting himself as the offensive alpha for a top 15 team. In more minutes and with a large offensive burden, he's improved in basically every single statistical measure (ignore steal rate):
He's not the typical Roy Williams big man, but his game fits the identity of this year's team perfectly - they play a little smaller, shoot more threes, but still compete like crazy on the offensive glass (#2 in the country in O-rebound rate, despite playing smaller!), and rarely give up second shot opportunities. The talent level may be down slightly in Chapel Hill this year, but don't tell that to Maye.
Honorable Mention: Carsen Edwards, So., Purdue; Yante Maten, Sr., Georgia; Jared Harper, So., Auburn; Mustapha Heron, So., Auburn; Kyle Guy, So., Virginia; Grant Williams, So., Tennessee; Collin Sexton, Fr., Alabama; Jaren Jackson Jr., Fr., Michigan St.; Kevin Knox, Fr., Kentucky; Tyus Battle, So., Syracuse; Chris Chiozza, Sr., Florida; Nick King, R Sr., Middle Tennessee; Daryl Macon, Sr., Arkansas; Jaylen Barford, Sr., Arkansas; Tony Carr, So., Penn St.; Jared Terrell, Sr., Rhode Island