College Basketball Preview: Top 15 Seniors
NCAAB's Top 15 Seniors
Pierre Jackson burst onto the college basketball scene last year. Trevor Mbakwe played his first game at the Division I level five full years ago. Chris Gaston has toiled for a mediocre team, and C.J. McCollum and Nate Wolters have led previously mediocre programs to the national spotlight.
But while all the aforementioned players have different backgrounds in college basketball, they all have one thing in common: on their respective rosters, they are all listed as seniors.
Seniors tend to be valuable commodities in college basketball. They have experience, which generally gives the average senior a higher basketball IQ than the average freshman. They have had three years to develop their game, and in their final year, they typically leave everything on the floor, knowing they don’t have another chance.
You often hear the term “senior leader” thrown around broadcasts. Not every senior meets the necessary criteria, though — you could have tremendous talent and average 20-plus points per game, but if you put yourself ahead of the team, you’re not a leader. Instead, a senior leader might average just five points per game, but he will do anything to help the team win. He is generally vocal but also leads by example.
For this list of college basketball’s top 15 seniors, the “senior leader” factor is not completely ignored, but it has less of an influence than statistics and importance to the given team.
As with all lists, some of the game’s more notable players remain on the periphery. The ones who came closest to cracking the list will appear on a “Just Missed the Cut” slide.
Just Missed the Cut
Michael Snaer, Florida State — Snaer hit a few huge shots for the Seminoles last year, and his 14 points per game led one of the nation’s better teams in scoring.
Brandon Davies, BYU — Omitting Davies was not easy. I’ll leave it at that.
Keith Clanton, UCF — Clanton’s decision to remain with the Knights was admirable, but his pedigree is slightly worse than the other big men ahead of him.
Elijah Johnson, Kansas — With Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson gone, Bill Self will look to Elijah Johnson as a more valuable player in 2012-13.
Jack Cooley, Notre Dame — Cooley’s work-ethic helped the Fighting Irish to a surprisingly good 2011-12, following Tim Abromaitis’ season-ending injury.
Mark Lyons, Arizona — Lyons can score, but he’s not better all around than the players ahead of him.
D.J. Cooper, Ohio — Cooper can do everything on a stat sheet. However, he is erratic, leaving his shooting percentage too low and his turnover rate slightly too high.
E.J. Singler, Oregon — Singler is a solid all-around player. But playing for Oregon, he is somewhat of an unknown commodity.
MoMo Jones, Iona — Jones played a role in Arizona’s 2011 trip to the Elite Eight. Now without Scott Machado and Mike Glover at Iona, we will see if he can be a leader.
Julian Boyd, LIU — Playing for LIU might pad Boyd’s numbers slightly, but the forward can play. His level of competition in the NEC hurt him here.
O.D. Anosike, Siena — Anosike led the nation in rebounds per game last year. He wouldn’t have done it in a conference much better than the MAAC, though, where talented bigs are rare.
15. Mason Plumlee, Duke
Mason Plumlee has developed from an athletic 6-foot-10 four into an athletic 6-foot-10 four who not only rebounds and plays solid post defense but also scores. He averaged 11.1 points to go with 9.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game as a junior, and his 57.2 percent field goal percentage reflects how frequently he finds shots from close range.
Plumlee is one of the last remaining rotation players from Duke’s 2010 championship team, giving him valuable experience that could help the Blue Devils back to the top of the ACC.
14. Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota
Trevor Mbakwe was supposed to be a fifth-year senior in 2011-12, entering the season with high expectations after averaging 13.9 points and 10.5 rebounds as a junior. However, a torn ACL cut his season short, and the NCAA granted him a rare sixth-year of eligibility.
As far as sixth-year players go, Mbakwe doesn’t have much experience — he only played one full season as a key rotation player. But he’s a double-double machine, and Tubby Smith is one fortunate fellow.
13. Vincent Council, Providence
Vincent Council is a do-it-all point guard, who led the Big East in assists last year. Looking at his statistics, he is very similar to D.J. Cooper, an honorable mention to this list. But here’s what separates the two: level of competition and minutes per game.
Last year, Council averaged 15.9 points, 7.5 assists and 4.1 rebounds in 38.7 minutes per game against better teams.
12. Matthew Dellavedova, St. Mary's
Matthew Dellavedova enters 2012-13 in an unfamiliar situation — without an established co-star like Rob Jones or Mickey McConnell. But the Aussie should do just fine with his supporting cast, considering he led the Gaels to the tournament last year with 15.5 points and 6.4 assists per game.
11. Rodney McGruder, Kansas State
Under Frank Martin, Rodney McGruder blossomed from a shooter into a scorer, who averaged 15.8 points per game as a junior. McGruder has gone from scoring more than half of his points from beyond the arc to finding the bottom of the net in other ways almost 75 percent of the time.
He can also rebound very well for a 6-foot-4 guard, reflected by his 5.2 rebounds per game last year and 5.9 the year before.
10. Chris Gaston, Fordham
Few positive stories have emerged from Fordham in recent years, but Chris Gaston is one of the best under the radar players in the country.
At 6-foot-7, he has a keen sense for the ball off the glass, which he uses to out-rebound bigger players. Gaston’s rebounding numbers dipped last year — to 9.9 per game. That should give you a sense of how dominant he was on the glass as a freshman and sophomore, when he averaged 11.4 and 11.3 rebounds per game, respectively.
But rebounding is not Gaston’s sole forte. He can also score — he averaged 17.1 points per game last year — and he has an outside chance at the 2,000-point mark.
9. Jeff Withey, Kansas
Playing in a frontcourt with Thomas Robinson, Jeff Withey didn’t have many shot opportunities. But when the occasion arose, he converted at a 53.6 percent clip to average nine points per game.
But Withey’s most impressive feature is his shot-blocking ability, which resulted in 3.6 swats per game as a junior. At 7-foot, Withey should corral more boards than the 6.3 he averaged last year. But, then again, he was playing with Robinson.
8. Peyton Siva, Louisville
Some would say No. 8 is too low for Peyton Siva, considering his name has surfaced in All-America talk. But Siva is far too inconsistent to be much higher.
Yes, he ran the Louisville offense last year, helping the Cardinals reach the Final Four. Yes, he averaged 5.6 assists per game. But how good are 5.6 assists when you also turn the ball over 3.4 times? And how effectively can you run an offense when you also shoot 40.2 percent from the floor and 24.6 percent from deep?
He has the ability to take over games, like he did several times in last year’s Big East and NCAA tournaments, and for that, he’s on this list. But before Siva receives any more praise, he has to become more consistent.
7. Brock Motum, Washington State
Playing for a mediocre Washington State team, Brock Motum has flown under the national radar — believe me, though, Aussies and people on the west coast definitely know what he has done.
Motum, who wasn’t much of a threat as a sophomore, broke out last year, averaging 18.1 points per game. That mark pitted him at No. 1 in the
Pac-12— ahead of NBA draft picks Jared Cunningham and Tony Wroten.
For a 7-footer, Motum’s 6.4 rebounds and 0.4 blocks per game are somewhat underwhelming, but he counters that on offense by stretching defenses. Motum buried about one three-pointer per game last year at a 39.7 percent clip.
6. Kenny Boynton, Florida
After a hot start to 2011-12, Kenny Boynton cooled down but still managed to average 15.9 points per game while shooting 40.7 percent from deep. He’s primarily a scorer, but he’s definitely versatile on offense — when Billy Donovan needs Boynton to step in at point guard, the senior produces.
Boynton, who has never played fewer than 31.6 minutes per game, also has the added bonus of being a key rotation player since his freshman year.
5. Pierre Jackson, Baylor
Pierre Jackson and Peyton Siva have some similar qualities. For one, they are exciting point guards capable of taking over a game. And they also posted very similar assist-to-turnover ratios in 2011-12, with Jackson’s being 5.9-to-3.5.
But Jackson doesn’t have such severe bouts with inconsistency. His shooting percentages across the board are significantly higher than Siva’s, with his 40.8 percent three-point percentage adding another weapon to his arsenal.
4. Isaiah Canaan, Murray State
Few players have the ability to accomplish what Isaiah Canaan has at Murray State. After playing a key role on the Racer team that beat Vanderbilt in 2010, Canaan continued to improve, eventually assembling a junior campaign that will be hard to top.
Last year, the guard averaged 19 points, 3.6 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game while shooting 46.8 percent from the floor and 45.6 percent from deep.
Canaan has the experience and the talent to be one of the nation’s top players in 2012-13.
3. Tim Frazier, Penn State
Perhaps because he plays for Penn State, Tim Frazier did not receive much national coverage during his breakout junior year. But while fans outside the Big Ten watched elsewhere, Frazier averaged 18.8 points, 6.2 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game.
He turned the ball over 3.7 times per game, but the fact that he dished out 6.2 assists per game on a subpar Penn State team speaks volumes about his ability to run the point.
2. Nate Wolters, South Dakota State
Nate Wolters can do it all. Leading South Dakota State to an NCAA tournament appearance, he averaged 21.2 points, 5.9 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game last year.
Whereas his fellow point guards on this list struggle with turnovers, Wolters has held very solid assist-to-turnover ratios over the past two years. He turned the ball over just 2.2 times per game last year.
Anytime a player posts numbers like Wolters’ in a conference like the Summit, critics say the level of competition pads the statistics. That’s not false in Wolters’ case, but he would thrive anywhere.
He’s that good.
1. C.J. McCollum, Lehigh
C.J. McCollum joined the 2,000-point club as a junior. Few players have accomplished the feat recently.
Entering his senior year, McCollum has never averaged fewer than 19.1 points and five rebounds — both numbers from his freshman year. The past two seasons, he has averaged 2.5 and 2.6 steals per game, respectively.
So, he can clearly play, and he has a 26.5 points per NCAA tournament game stat to prove it. (In case you forgot, he scored 30 points to eliminate Duke in last year’s second round.)