G: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State Cowboys
This was a fairly easy decision. Smart was rumored to be the expected first overall pick in last year’s NBA draft but shocked everyone when he announced he was returning. Over the course of the summer, Smart healed a wrist injury and played on the gold medal winning US squad for the FIBA under 19s.
Now that his wrist has healed and with the added experience from his freshman season, Smart should be one of the best guards in the country once again. An almost old school type of player, Smart is not particularly flashy but he always gets the job done. As a passer, Smart is probably one of the purest point guards in the nation because he is always looking to get his teammates the rock.
While some have criticized his decision to return to school rather than opting for the riches of the NBA, Smart should at the very least have gotten himself some extra end of the season accolades. Whether he is able to add on some player of the year awards along with that will remain to be seen but Smart will be one player to keep a close tabs on all season long.
G: Russ Smith, Louisville Cardinals
If Smart was an easy decision, Smith was right along with him. The current champion Louisville Cardinals needed someone to be their leader last season and Smith stepped up big time. With the confidence he has in his own game, one could easily mistaken the young Cardinals guard for New York Knicks 6th man JR Smith.
While Smart plays the game looking to create for his teammates, Smith likes to get himself going. As a guard, he has an excellent shooting stroke and an uncanny knack at getting to the rim despite his small stature. The fact that Smith likes to score the ball doesn’t mean that he isn’t a good passer as well, Smith knows how to blend all facets of the offense together.
The Louisville Cardinals are still a very scary team in the NCAA. It starts with their coach Rick Pitino, and goes all the way through their roster. That being said, no one on the Cards’ roster will be scarier this year for opposing defenses than Russ Smith and that is why he will find himself on the first team All American list by the end of the season.
F: Andrew Wiggins, Kansas Jayhawks
Yeah it has happened a few times in the past. A freshman named to the pre season All American first team. Without having played a single game. The two times a freshman has made the list, it has yielded vastly different results. For Harrison Barnes, it was disappointment as the UNC player never took off at North Carolina. It was a whole different story for Kentucky’s Anthony Davis who parlayed his pre season All American selection to multiple player of the year awards, an NCAA trophy and the first overall pick in the 2012 draft.
When it comes to Wiggins, expect more Davis than Barnes. Possibly the most hyped basketball prospect since Lebron James, Wiggins packs amazing athleticism into a very skilled basketball body. Unlike a lot of players who excell at a young age, Wiggins is more than just someone who can outrun and outjump the competition. As a scorer, he is scary due to his ability to slash to the rim or shoot it from the outside. His superior ball handling abilities also make him a tough matchup for guys that could outmuscle him with their size.
The aspect of Wiggins’ game that no one really talks about is his defense. Already a very solid defender, Wiggins could find himself as one of the best shut down guys in the NCAA at the start of his freshman season. It is rare for young players like him to have the ability to play that type of defense on the perimeter but Wiggins has shown that he can.
On a loaded Kansas squad, Wiggins will be the one looked at to be the leader. If the team struggles in the NCAA tournament, he will be the one blamed. That being said, if the team is able to go deep, or even all the way, it will only add more fuel to the fire that is the Andrew Wiggins hype machine. One thing is for certain, it will be a spectacle to watch unfold.
F: Doug McDermott, Creighton Bluejays
Over the off season, McDermott became the most talented and decorated walk on in the history of the NCAA. After three great years at Creighton, McDermott is looking to add some more hardware to his college career before likely moving on to the pros.
Offensively speaking, McDermott might be the most versatile player in the nation. He has a very nice mid range stroke and is able to stretch it out to the three point line. If his opponent is playing him tight, McDermott is also able to use his dribbling ability and foot speed to take it to the rim. Finally, if all else fails, he is also comfortable setting up in the post and methodically breaking down his defender.
No other player on this list has more offensive responsibility on his team than McDermott does for Creighton. Essentially, he is the entire offense and the Bluejays are only as good as McDermott can take them. After a couple disappointing losses in the NCAA tournament, McDermott would certainly like to go out on a deep run. With his experience, the team has a legitimate chance to do that.
C: Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky Wildcats
In yesterday’s column, I wrote that Julius Randle would be the go-to guy for the Wildcats this season. I still believe that today, nothing has changed. So why have his teammate on the first team while Randle is stuck to the second team? Because centers in the NCAA are weighed with more importance. It happens in the NBA too. A skilled center is one of the rarest assets a team could have and Kentucky has one in Cauley-Stein.
Largely stuck in a supporting role last season, Cauley-Stein got the chance to prove himself when Nerlens Noel went down with an ACL injury. In his added time, the big man impressed and showed everyone why he was so highly revered by scouts despite his lack of court time.
Now with his starting role from the beginning of the season, Cauley-Stein will have the chance to prove that it was not just lightning in a bottle. The scariest aspect of his game is defense, Cauley-Stein will be a big time shot blocker in the NCAA this season and will give the Wildcats one of the scariest paint defenses in the nation. Rebounding should also not be an issue for the seven footer. Thanks to his length and athleticism, he can get to loose balls quicker than most.
As long as Cauley-Stein improves offensively from last season, he will find himself a spot on an All American team. Voters will be enthralled by the blocks and the dunks as they always are with big men. It will have been well deserved too, Cauley-Stein is a hard worker and will be a major reason the Wildcats should be one the toughest draws in the NCAA this season.