We are officially half-way through the 2017-18 College Basketball season and what a wild ride it has been! 16 different teams have been ranked in the Top 5 this season and we have seen the #1 team in the country go down 3 times this season, all to unranked opponents on the road. Coming into the year, it seemed as if Miles Bridges was going to be handed the National Player of the Year trophy on a gold platter and we would see the “Blue Bloods” in the Final Four battling it out for the National Championship. Well… there is this guy named Trae Young down in Norman, Oklahoma, and 10 teams that are in the Top 25 this week that were not ranked to start the season, three of which are in the Top 10. If we know anything about this college basketball season, it is that the back-half of the season will be a rollercoaster ride. Buckle up, because the Road to the Final Four is going to be bumpy!
Midseason National Player of the Year: Trae Young, Oklahoma
If you have not heard the name Trae Young yet, then you definitely are not paying attention to college basketball. Everybody knew Trae Young was good and a highly coveted five-star recruit, but did anyone think he would be this dominant? Through 15 games this season, Trae Young has dominantly lead the Sooners to a 13-2 record, 4 Top 25 wins, and a #9 ranking in this past AP Top 25 Poll. Young also leads the nation in scoring, averaging 29.2 PPG, leads the nation in assists per game, averaging 10.1 APG, has put together fifteen 20-point games, and has 8 double-doubles on the year.
Not only has Trae Young turned a team who went 11-20 last season to 13-2 right now, but has Oklahoma in prime position to dethrone Kansas from the throne of the Big-12, something that has not been done in thirteen years. When people are calling you the “Steph Curry” of college hoops, I think it is safe to say that you are pretty talented. It is very rare to find a dominant point guard like Young that is so demanding with the ball offensively, yet makes every player around him better. The race for National Player of the Year is no doubt Trae Young’s to lose right now.
Midseason National Coach of the Year: Tony Bennett, Virginia
You could make the case for a lot of coaches so far this season, but I truly believe that Tony Bennett deserves Coach of the Year for what he has done with Virginia. Tony Bennett is a fantastic coach and does not get enough recognition in my opinion. After finishing 23-11 last season and all the players the Cavaliers were losing this past offseason, it seemed like Virginia was ready to take a step back. Tony Bennett had been rumored to be leaving UVA for the Indiana coaching job this offseason after losing his key players in the program. Bennett shut down these rumors though and made sure everyone knew he was remaining the head coach at Virginia. Even though nobody who averaged more than 20 minutes/game last season, a certain “Guy” is leading the way for UVA. Sophomore guard Kyle Guy has been Virginia’s breakout star this season, averaging 15.4 PPG and shooting above 40% from long-range.
Although you may hate watching it, you must admit that Virginia’s defense is amazing. They are allowing a staggering 53.0 PPG to their opponents this season while scoring 70.7 PPG. According to Kenpom, Virginia ranks #1 in defensive efficiency this season and really shows no flaws in their defense. Year-in and year-out, Tony Bennett orchestrates one of the nation’s best defenses that opponents dread to play.
Of course, it is tough to win games when you are scoring 50 points in game, which is what happened with Virginia last season, but Tony Bennett has changed his offensively philosophy for Virginia this year, making them even more dangerous than in the past. The Cavaliers have silenced the offenses of big scoring teams, such as North Carolina and Virginia Tech this season, and continue to dominate in ACC play. It is almost impossible to go undefeated in ACC play, so expect Virginia to lose some games down the stretch, but come March, do not be surprised to see Virginia a top the ACC.
Midseason Most Improved Player: Mikal Bridges, Villanova
There have been a lot of players that have improved tremendously this season, but for me, Mikal Bridges is the biggest improvement in a player this season that has made the biggest impact for his team. What do I mean by this? Well, Mikal Bridges saw a major uptake in minutes last season, but did not see a prominent role because of senior leader Josh Hart being the focal point. With someone needing to step up into a big player for Nova next to Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges took the reigns from Josh Hart and has made his presence felt in the college basketball world.
Last season, Bridges averaged 9.8 PPG, 4.6 RPG, and shot about 39.3% from long-range in just under a 30-minute span per game. This season, Mikal Bridges is averaging 17.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.9 SPG, and is shooting 45.2% from 3-pt range this season. He currently ranks second on the team in scoring and rebounding and leads the team in assists. Bridges is a focal point in the Villanova offense and takes an extreme amount of pressure off of his point guard, Jalen Brunson. His ability to create space on the court and be a reliable, lengthy shooter anywhere on the court makes him a mismatch for smaller opponents guarding him on the wing. Perhaps Mikal Bridges’ greatest improvement is his defensive awareness. Not only has Bridges helped Nova on help side defense this season, but he has been a huge factor in disrupting the passing lanes of opponents. Without Mikal Bridges, Villanova would not be ranked #1 in the country and would definitely struggle to score the ball. Mikal Bridges is a special player and has once again made Villanova one of the teams to beat in college hoops.
Midseason First Team All-American:
G Trae Young – Oklahoma: 29.2 PPG, 10.1 APG, 3.8 RPG, 44.9 FG%, 38.9 3P%
G Jalen Brunson – Villanova: 19.4 PPG, 5.2 APG, 3.3 RPG, 59 FG%, 49.3 3P%
Brunson has definitely shocked a lot of people with how well he has improved as a scoring point guard. His ball handling has improved drastically and his assist to turnover ratio this season is 4:1. If Villanova is to make a deep run in the tournament once again this year, Brunson will be the main reason.
G Tra Holder – Arizona State: 21.4 PPG, 4.2 APG, 5.0 RPG, 45.2 FG%, 43.5 3P%
Who thought that Bob Hurley’s Sun Devils team would be the best team in the PAC-12 this season? Tra Holder definitely did! His athleticism and explosiveness is definitely fun to watch an has made Arizona State one of the “feel-good” teams of the year so far. Holder is one of those guys that makes everyone around him better, even if he is the one distributing the ball. With Holder around, Arizona State will be a tough team to take down.
F Marvin Bagley III – Duke: 22.5 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 64.1 FG%, 34.5 3P%
We knew Marvin Bagley III was going to be a stud for Coach K and he has fully lived up to his hype. Bagley is a complete mismatch for whoever faces him and nobody has seemed to find a strategy to stop him. His height and length makes him a gem for NBA scouts and makes him one of the hardest players to go up against. Although he has his struggles on the defensive end, Bagley has definitely made up for it with his aggressive rebounding, especially on the offensive end. It should not take long come time for the NBA Draft to hear Bagley’s name called.
F DeAndre Ayton – Arizona: 20.4 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 62.5 FG%, 33.3 3P%
Much like Bagley, DeAndre Ayton is a physical freak. Standing 7’1” with a 7’6” wingspan, Ayton is almost unguardable when he gets in the paint offensively, and will punish his opponents on the glass. He leads the Wildcats in scoring, rebounding, offensive rebounding and blocks, and has been a major part of their game plan all season long. After Arizona’s “hiccup” down in the Bahamas earlier this season, they have made their resurgence, in large part because of DeAndre Ayton.
Midseason Second Team All-American:
G Jevon Carter – West Virginia: 16.1 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 6.8 APG, 3.6 SPG, 39.5 3P%
G Trevon Bluiett – Xavier: 19.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.7 APG, 45.3 FG%, 41.7 3P%
G Mikal Bridges – Villanova: 17.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.9 SPG, 45.2 3P%
F Miles Bridges – Michigan State: 16.9 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 46.3 FG%, 34.0 3P%
C Jock Landale – Saint Mary’s: 21.3 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 0.8 BPG, 63.8 FG%, 73.8 FT%
Midseason Third Team All-American:
G Markus Howard – Marquette: 22.8 PPG, 2.8 APG, 3.4 RPG, 47.5 FG%, 40.1 3P%
G Devonte’ Graham – Kansas: 18.1 PPG, 7.5 APG, 3.5 RPG, 42.9 FG%, 43.2 3P%
G Keenan Evans – Texas Tech: 17.3 PPG, 3.4 APG, 3.1 RPG, 49.2 FG%, 32.9 3P%
F Mike Daum – South Dakota State: 22.7 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 0.8 BPG, 48.0 FG%, 40.4 3P%
F Keita Bates-Diop – Ohio State: 20.0 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 52.5 FG%, 38.8 3P%
This season has been nothing short than spectacular so far and the rest of the season is bound to be crazy. With all the upsets this season and amazing talent throughout the country, the end of conference play should be very interesting and intriguing and March Madness should live up to its name! If you thought the first half of the season was fun, just wait… Spring basketball is on its way!