1. Who is the best player in the nation right now?
Colin Sylvester (@ColinSylvester)-
So many great options, but I have to go with Duke’s Jahlil Okafor. He makes finishing around the hoop look so easy, and the variety of his game in the paint is so rarely seen from a freshman. He does benefit greatly from Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook, who always seem to get him the ball in the right spot. If Okafor can become a little bit more of a force on the defensive end, this Duke team could do something special in March.
Michael Veal (@vealornodeal)-
D’Angelo Russell has to be the best player in the nation. He uses 29.4% of Ohio States possessions with an offensive rating of 118.0. To put that in perspective, only Steph Curry at Davidson (28.5%, 116.9) and James Harden at Arizona St. (28.3%, 115.7) have put up similar numbers in the past ten years. That’s some pretty good company.
Dan Stack (@Stacdemon)-
I have to give it to Frank Kaminsky. He has been consistent all season and you got to love the way he plays the game. He is such a force offensively and he’s incredibly difficult to guard, as he can beat you in so many ways. Plus, he is as clutch as they come.
Andrew Beverly (@Andrew_Bev)-
D’Angelo Russell. Most people will say Frank Kaminsky which is understandable because his team is better, but I really do think Russell is the best player in all of college basketball. His numbers speak for themselves: as a freshman, he’s averaging 18.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, and 5.4 APG and he’s shooting 46% from the floor including 43% from three. Most importantly, Russell is making me root for Ohio State this year…and I absolutely hate Ohio State.
Bobby Reagan (@uklefty22)-
The majority of votes will go to Frank Kaminsky or Jahlil Okafor, which is fine. They are great players, but what Willie Cauley-Stein can do is something no one else in the country can do. He’s able to switch onto a guard despite being 7-feet tall. Kaminsky and Okafor are both great offensive players, but their teams aren’t putting up historical numbers with them as anchors, something Kentucky is doing defensively with Cauley-Stein. Not to mention he’s developing a 15-foot jumper (shooting 33 percent from that range this season) making him a weapon offensively as well. If he was playing 32 minutes or more like those guys, think about how ridiculous his stats would be.
2. Who is the best coach in college basketball?
I really think it’s John Calipari. It’s almost as if he loses respect for winning with the best players in the nation, but recruiting is an enormous part of coaching in college basketball. And don’t slight him in the least when it comes to X’s and O’s or player development. He’s become one of the best at getting his teams to grow and develop as the season progresses and he always has the Wildcats playing great basketball at the right time. Kentucky this year is what happens when the head coach is a brilliant player developer in addition to being a phenomenal recruiter. Scary, isn’t it?
Mike Krzyzewski. Duke and Coach K have been successful for so long that it’s hard to argue against him being the best. Not to mention he has the most wins in Division 1 history.
Wow, is this tough question. I’ll go with Tom Izzo. Between his ability recruit, mold teams and get his teams to constantly play hard, Izzo always maximizes the most out of his squads
Virginia’s Tony Bennett should win the national coach of the year award and no other coach should even receive a vote. What Bennett has done this season is absolutely astounding. Bennett’s disciplined system of dominant defense (UVA still leads the nation in terms of points allowed per game at 50.1 PPG) and efficient offense is the reason Virginia is so good. All the players have bought in and Virginia is a legitimate title contender.
There’s really only two correct answers for this answer and it’s Calipari or Coach K. However, when you look at what a coach has to do, which includes recruiting and marketing for his players, there’s nobody more well-rounded than Calipari. Despite what many people want to believe, Calipari is a strong in-game coach. Look at the run he had to the Final Four in 2011 as a No. 4 seed as an example. He gets his kids to play together and he’s currently the best all-around coach in the game.
3. What team is your bracket buster?
If N.C. State wasn’t so all over the place and if they had a more secure spot in the Dance, I’d say them because I’ve been high on them since the preseason. But, since they are such a volatile bunch, I’ll go with another red and white in the Hoosiers. Indiana has everything you want in a bracket buster: a show-stopping guard in Yogi Ferrell, an eccentric yet savvy coach in Tom Crean, and a normally terrible defense. Yes, a terrible defense. So many past bracket busters have lit up the scoreboards all season, only to start beating top teams in March when their defense finally starts to click. These undersized yet high-flying Hoosiers can do the same.
I like Oregon to pull a couple upsets. Joseph Young is a game changer, averaging nearly 20 points a game. Elgin Cook is as consistent as they come, and the athletic Dwayne Benjamin is picking up his game at the right time. If the Ducks get hot from behind the arc, I don’t see why they can’t win in March.
I’d have to say West Virginia. I wrote about their chances a while back and I just love their toughness and intensity. Bob Huggins is a great coach who has been through the wars before. Plus, the Mountaineers have one of those Kemba/Shabazz-type guards in Juwan Staten who can put a team on his shoulders and lead the team to greatness—even the Final Four.
BYU. With their win at Gonzaga last night, BYU should now be safe to make the NCAA tourney if they make a decent run in their conference tourney (which they will do). The team is absolutely lethal from the outside and Tyler Haws is one of the best players in all of college basketball. They can beat anyone on a good night.
Xavier plays in a strong Big East and has the ability to play with anyone in the country. What makes Xavier unique is the ability to match up with different teams because of their bigs. If they want to play a slower game against a more traditional center, Matt Stainbrook is one of the lesser known good big players in the country. It’s part of the reason as to why they have beaten Georgetown twice this year. When teams want to speed the game up, look for Chris Mack to sub out Stainbrook for Jaylen Reynolds, who is an athletic post player. This team can shoot from deep and score with the best in the country. Can they play defense though is the question.
4. Which player is going to shock the nation during March Madness?
Michael Veal did a piece on guards who can carry their teams in March last week that featured Ron Baker, and I couldn’t agree more. Though he still rocks the Justin Bieber haircut, Baker’s game has matured far beyond his heart-melting locks in four years at Wichita State. The senior guard has a well-rounded, complete game, as seen by his 17 points and 7 assists in the Shockers’ dominating win over Northern Iowa this weekend. Not the sexiest numbers, but he makes up for it with that hair.
Sophomore guard Kris Dunn on Providence is putting up numbers that should scream conference player of the year (15.1 PPG, 7.4 APG, 5.7 RPG, 2.8 SPG). He and LaDontae Henton will do their part, but if the rest of the Friars will step up, watch out for this Providence team.
Granted they make it, watch out for Iona’s A.J. English. English is a gifted guard who has the pedigree to be a star in March. For a guy who averages 19.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game, there is a reason why NBA scouts are high on him.
Virginia’s London Perrantes only averages 6.1 points and 4.5 assists per game, but he has shown the ability to take over games offensively. He’s an excellent outside shooter, a sneaky good finisher, and he’s automatic from the free throw line. Perrantes has scored in double figures in three of the four and a half games he’s played in since star shooting guard/wing Justin Anderson broke his finger in a home win against Louisville on February 7th.
Kris Dunn doesn’t even get talked about when discussing top point guards in the country. Would you believe he’s putting up 15.1 points, 7.4 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game? He’s a walking triple-double threat and was a McDonald’s All-American. He’ll give plenty of teams trouble because they often look to stop his teammate LaDontae Henton instead. Another name to watch comes from the Big East and Darrun Hilliard, who is Villanova’s leading scorer. This is only being mentioned because Hilliard has been left off the Wooden Watch and every other award despite being the best player on arguably the second best team in the country.
5. Who is your national champion?
This question starts with Kentucky, but I’m not so sure it ends with the Wildcats. I’ve already mentioned that this team is an incredible combination of talent and growth thanks to John Calipari, but that doesn’t mean it’s infallible. Remember some of the teams the Wildcats have struggled against? The teams that are quality opponents, but not touted enough to scare the Wildcats? The ones that look a lot like….8 or 9 seeds? Just something to keep in mind. But let’s say they make the Final Four. Wisconsin and Duke are both very capable of beating Kentucky. Somewhere along the way the Cats finally lose, and the Blue Devils are your national champions.
Kentucky is the best team in the country, but I don’t think they have been tested by a truly great team. I’m still going with the young Wildcats, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Arizona or Virginia contending as well.
It just has to be Kentucky. They are just absolutely loaded from top to bottom and head and shoulders above other teams. You won’t beat this team inside. It will take a team that is on fire from deep to knock them off. That said, if they are undefeated heading into the tournament, the pressure to win the title and be the first undefeated team since Indiana to do so will be intense and that type of pressure could weigh heavily on the Wildcats.
As much as it pains me to say it, my national champion is Kentucky. Before Justin Anderson’s injury, I genuinely thought Virginia was the best team in the country but now I have to give the edge to Kentucky (because who knows how long it will take Anderson to get his shot back to peak form?). I also thought Arizona would be a clear contender this year but apparently Sean Miller has forgotten how to coach or something. Kentucky can definitely lose to a Wisconsin or an Arizona, but I don’t see it happening.
I mean, come on. Does this need to be discussed? There’s not a team that should be within 10 points of Kentucky on a neutral court spread. The Wildcats have answered every challenge this season, so why not one more?