With college basketball’s March madness just around the corner, it’s time to reflect on another fun season of tracking draft prospects and box score heroes from across the country. Although the scope of college hoops coverage has expanded in the social media age (Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn just penned a 2,000 word epic on my man John Brown from High Point), there are still a few stellar performers who slipped through the cracks and deserve their just recognition. These are this year’s Hardwood Blues All-Americans:
School: Murray State
Most of the players I’m going to list are anonymous for one reason or another, but I am actually pretty bullish on Cameron Payne’s NBA potential. 6’2” sophomore point guards with stat-lines like that don’t come around very often, even in the mid-majors. Not that this comparison means anything in particular, but Payne seems entirely more draft-able than Murray State alum Isaiah Canaan, who was chosen 34th overall by Houston in 2013 and now starts for the 76ers.
|Cameron Payne (So.)||.530||.375||.791||4.4||7.3||2.5||0.6||3.0||25.0|
|Isaiah Canaan (Sr.)||.494||.370||.822||3.9||4.7||1.7||0.1||3.5||23.9|
I first took notice of Payne last year as a rambunctious freshman who looked like someone hit Lou Williams in the face with a frying pan. He showed promise as a passer then, but Payne’s ascension to an elite point guard this season has gone mostly unnoticed. With the Racers favored to win the Ohio Valley Conference, Payne stands out as the type of dynamic star that could lead a team on a Cinderella run in the tournament.
Honorable Mention: Mikh McKinney (Sacramento State), Jalan West (Northwestern State)
School: Incarnate Word
Denzel was featured in my NCAA season preview and, while his numbers aren’t as mind-blowing as they were a year ago, the way he adds value in every aspect of the game still makes him my favorite two-guard. I actually got to watch Livingston some this season (on ESPN3, naturally), and was impressed, particularly with his defensive chops. In addition to his gaudy steals rate, Livingston is one of only three players listed as a guard on CBB Reference to average over 1 block per game. Livingston has enough size and all-around skills to put him on the draft radar, but he will need to prove that he can produce against less generous defenses than those found in the Southland Conference.
Honorable Mention: Corey Walden (Eastern Kentucky), Corey Hawkins (UC-Davis), Derrick Marks (Boise State), Craig Bradshaw (Belmont)
School: St. John’s
Sir’Dominic Pointer put up some interesting all-around stats in limited roles in his first three seasons at St. Johns, but it wasn’t until their January 25th matchup against Duke that I began to comprehend the weirdness and complexity of his game. Pointer is, and I say this with zero hyperbole, one of the most unique basketball players I’ve ever laid eyes on. Perhaps his “signature play” is grabbing a defensive rebound, pushing the ball up the middle of the floor, and kicking to an open teammate like a sort of grungy, awkward, but no-less-fun version of Andre Iguodala. Dom is the only player in Division 1 this season to average over 2 steals and 2.5 blocks per game, and the only player since 1997 (at least) to average 2 steals, 2.5 blocks, and 2.9 assists. His lack of 3-point range makes him even more perplexing, as nobody knows what position to project him at at the next level. Rather than worrying myself over such existential quandaries, I will be savoring the last month of Dom Pointer’s NCAA career, because we may not see another player like him for quite some time.
Honorable Mention: Kyle Collinsworth (BYU), Janari Joesaar (Texas-Pan American), Javonte Green (Radford)
School: Eastern Washington
Venky is the player I am most excited about giving props to because I have literally never seen his name mentioned anywhere despite his impressive statistical dominance. It would appear that Eastern Washington’s entire hype quota was used on guard Tyler Harvey because, you guessed it, he scores a ton of points. Meanwhile, Venky was converting 60% of his 2-pointers and filling up the stat sheet on both ends to zero fanfare. Watching YouTube clips of Jois conquering Big Sky foes, it’s clear why he doesn’t pass the eye test.
Nothing that the stocky native Australian does looks pretty, but that’s why I like stats so much; they allow us to look past such inherent biases and get to the facts. In this case, the fact is that Venky Jois is a boss.
Honorable Mention: Seth Tuttle (Northern Iowa), Shawn Long (Louisiana-Lafayette), Vince Hunter (UTEP)
I was going to bestow this honor unto Frank Kaminsky, the national POY candidate who’s been absolutely brilliant this year, but that’s boring. Drame, on the other hand, is a pretty fascinating case. He scores, rebounds, blocks shots, and shoots free throws like a 1st round prospect, but his offensive efficiency is horrible. I initially suspected that Drame’s .448 2P% was due to bad variance on mid-range jumpers (because he’s so good at free throws), but according to Hoop-Math.com, he only shoots 46.9% at the rim. This seems particularly anomalous, because big men who block shots and gobble rebounds are almost always reliable finishers in the paint. To that point, Ousmane is the only player since 1997 to average over 10 rebounds and 2.5 blocks while shooting under 45% from 2-point range. If someone can solve the mystery of his layup woes, Drame presents a legitimate case to be drafted as a shot-blocker/rebounder.
Honorable Mention: Reggie Lynch (Illinois State), Kendall Gray (Delaware State), Youssou Ndoye (St. Bonaventure)