Well, we’ve hit that point in the offseason. College basketball is so dead that John Wooden is more lively right now. Fear not, for in the next part of our series, I count down the Top 15 Juniors for the 2016-17 season. Now this list is purely subjective and feel free to debate with any part of it. Except for my #1, that is a fact. So without further ado, here are my Top 15 College Basketball Juniors for 2016-17:
15. Nigel Williams-Goss, PG, Gonzaga
2015-16 Stats: Transfer
2015-16 Honors: Transfer that could’ve been most useful to his team had he not been inelgible
Gonzaga’s lack of a quality point guard until the end of the season curtailed their potential and cost them the chance at a deeper NCAA run. Williams-Goss could’ve been that guy, as at Washington he almost averaged a 15-5-5, coming half a rebound shy of pulling it off. He did this in spite of the fact his jump shot made Shawn Marion look like Stephen Curry, shooting only 25% from 3. His floor general skills should elevate Gonzaga even further, and with many quality options around him, including fellow transfer Jordan Matthews, Williams-Goss should only continue to develop. If he does, look for Gonzaga to make another deep run in the NCAA tournament.
14. Elijah Brown, SG, New Mexico
2015-16 Stats: 21.7 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 3.2 APG, .428 FG%, .394 3PG%, 33.7 MPG
2015-16 Honors: All Mountain West 1st Team
I know what you’re thinking: A New Mexico player? Really? Absolutely. There was almost no player more consistent in his scoring than Elijah Brown, only scoring in single digits once all season, and actually increasing his numbers in conference play. Brown decimated opponents from everywhere on the court, being an excellent three-point shooter and driving to the basket. His scoring abilities led New Mexico to 17 wins, unfortunately they could go no further.
Next season Brown should be able to increase his offensive repertoire, increasing his abilities from mid-range. His defensive skills should also be able to increase. Brown has a legit chance to single handily lead an improved New Mexico team to the NCAA tournament.
13. Marcus Foster, PG, Creighton
2015-16 Stats: Transfer
2015-16 Honors: See above line
With the Wildcats, Foster proved to be an excellent three-point shooter and a devastating driver to the basket as a freshman. However, his sophomore was marked with turmoil and unhappiness, and his numbers plunged across the board. Foster ultimately decided to go one state north to the Bluejays. Based on the potential he flashed as a freshman, Foster could devastate teams next season if can rediscover his deadly shot. Foster should also have increased his maturity thanks to sitting out a season, learning the Bluejays system. Foster can inject some needed life into a program that has struggled without Doug McDermott, and lead them back into the tourney.
12. Xavier Rathan-Mayes, PG, Florida State
2015-16 Stats: 11.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 4.4 APG, .408 FG%, .285 3PG%, 29.3 MPG, 1.76:1 Assist to Turnover Ratio
2015-16 Honors: Eh…
Rathan-Mayes is quite the enigma. His scoring abilities are well known, as no player in the ACC is more capable of exploding than him. His floor general skills have also improved quite a bit, as he was willing to let Dwayne Bacon and Malik Beasley do the bulk of the scoring for the Seminoles, serving as a facilitator. At the same time though, his jump shot went AWOL before his freshman year and is still yet to be found, and his defense is meh at best. Despite this, he proved to be a capable guard in the ACC, helping lead Florida State to the NIT.
With Rathan-Mayes accepting his role as the point guard, Florida State is set up for an excellent season. Bacon is back, giving Florida State one of the best back courts in the ACC. Rathan-Mayes should continue to increase his floor general skills, and increase his defensive abilities. If he finds his jump shot, Rathan-Mayes should challenge for All ACC First Team Honors.
11. Austin Nichols, PF, Virginia
2015-16 Stats: Transfer
2015-16 Honors: Most Anticipated Transfer of 2016
Take a good, long look at this low post player, because he is the only one to make the list. Crazy, huh? When Nichols was healthy at Memphis, fewer low post players were better, as Nichols proved to be an efficient scorer down low and an excellent defensive presence. Unfortunately, ankle injuries sapped some of his ability, and his disappointing conclusion was a reason he left for Virginia.
With the Cavaliers, Nichols should provide an excellent low post presence, something Virginia has lacked in their current resurgence. On defense, he should be the anchor of a typically excellent Virginia defense. Virginia is considered to be a Top 10 team even with three seniors departing, and Nichols is one of the main reasons why.
10. James Blackmon, SF, Indiana
2015-16 Stats: 15.8 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.7 APG, .480 FG%, .463 3PG %, 24.5 MPG
2015-16 Honors: Most Unfortunate ACL Tear in the Big 10
Blackmon’s ACL tear was a major bummer for the Hoosiers. He was playing the best basketball of his career, shooting lights out and scoring at will. If he had been playing when Indiana finally got it all together, Indiana would have been a legit Final Four contender. As it was, Blackmon was one of Indiana’s most improved players, and his ACL recovery is apparently going well.
Next season, Blackmon will provide the Hoosiers some much needed offense to replace the graduating Yogi Farrell. His playing with O.G. Anunoby (coolest name in college basketball) should increase his somewhat liable defensive abilities. Even coming off an ACL tear, Blackmon, Anunoby, and Thomas Bryant should form one of the best big threes in the Big 10, and Indiana should remain a legit Big 10 contender.
9. Vince Edwards, SF, Purdue
2015-16 Stats: 11.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.9 APG, .450 FG%, .407 3PG%, 27.5 MPG
2015-16 Honors: All Big 10 Honorable Mention
After spending all his freshman year at the 4, Edwards was allowed to play his natural position of the 3. The results were increased numbers across the board, as Edwards morphed into an all-around threat. A match-up nightmare for both 3s and 4s, Edwards was both an excellent inside player and three-point shooter for the Boilermakers, turning into their best offensive weapon by the end of the season. Edwards helped lead the Boilermakers to a Big Ten Final appearance and a 5 seed. The less said about their tournament performance the better.
Although he will start at the 3 for Purdue again, Edwards will slide over for significant minutes next year, as Purdue’s front court depth is equivalent to zilch. With Edwards playing greater minutes, his numbers should only go up even further, as should his development. With Edwards taking the role of alpha dog, he should lead the Boilermakers back to the tourney. If not? Well, Purdue is used to disappointment anyway.
8. EC Matthews, SG, Rhode Island
2015-16 Stats: Sigh…
2015-16 Honors: Sigh…
Poor Rhode Island and poor EC Matthews. That’s all you can really say about the 2015-16 season for them. With Matthews in position to be a top scorer in the Atlantic 10, the Rams were considered to be a contender for the A-10 title. Then 10 minutes into the season, Matthews tore his ACL, and Rhode Island’s season went downhill faster than a Louisville “escort.” In spite of his injury, Matthews proved to be a dominant force for Rhode Island, as he was a quality defender and good scorer before his injury. While he’ll undoubtedly have to reintegrate himself into the game, and improve on his low quality shooting, Matthews has a legit chance to be A-10 player of the year, and he turns Rhode Island into a Top 25 team almost by himself.
7. Melo Trimble, PG, Maryland
2015-16 Stats: 14.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 4.9 APG, .410 FG%, .314 3PG%, 32.9 MPG, 1.82:1 Assist to Turnover Ratio
2015-16 Honors: AP Honorable Mention All-American
Like everything else related to Maryland in the 2015-16 season, Trimble had a more disappointing than expected season. Strongly considered to be a top PG prospect, Trimble chose to remain for his sophomore year, given the talent that Maryland had put around him. However, aside from his assists total, every other stat of Trimble’s dropped, as he struggled throughout the season. One main reason was his odd infatuation with the three-point line. Trimble took 37 more threes than his freshman year but actually made 3 fewer, as he could never find a good shooting rhythm. In spite of the drop in numbers, Trimble’s ability as a floor general continued to show, as his assists rose dramatically while his turnovers had only a slight increase. His presence was key in leading the Terrapins to the Sweet 16.
Next season, Trimble is the only starter returning for Maryland. As such, his presence becomes more important than ever for the Terrapins. His all-around game should continue to develop, as he is expected to do a bit more of everything. Whether he’ll ever find his shooting stroke again is unknown, but his ability to drive to the hoop should only increase. Trimble is in line to be a great Maryland hero, single handily leading the Terrapins back to the tournament. If not, Trimble might need to run from a few riots.
6. Joel Berry II, PG, North Carolina
2015-16 Stats: 12.8 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 3.8 APG, .444 FG%, .382 3PG%, 30.7 MPG, 2.5:1 Assist to Turnover Ratio
2015-16 Honors: ACC Tournament MVP, All Final Four Team
After his career got off to a slow start his freshman year, Berry turned into one of the Tar Heels’ most pleasant surprises during their runner up run. Berry showed good vision as a passer, constantly being able to find Brice Johnson in the paint. He also became a good shooter, being Carolina’s best deep threat during the season. His ability to run the point allowed Marcus Paige to play off the ball, which enhanced an already ferocious attack. Even though his numbers dropped in conference play, Berry starred in the postseason, winning ACC Tournament MVP Honors, and having an excellent championship game performance, scoring 15 points on 4 for 4 three-point shooting in the first half, earning a spot on the All Final Four Team.
With Paige and Johnson gone, Berry will be the alpha dog for the Tar Heels next year. He will have a bigger role both as a scorer and a passer, as Carolina will no longer have another ball handler to compliment him. If his shooting touch stays, Berry should lead the Tar Heels to being the best team in the ACC not named Duke.
5. Devonte Graham, PG, Kansas
2015-16 Stats: 11.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 3.7 APG, .460 FG%, .441 3PG%, 32.6 MPG, 2.19 Assist to Turnover Ratio
2015-16 Honors: All Big 12 Honorable Mention, Big 12 Tournament MVP
With starting PG Kelly Oubre declaring for the draft, Graham stepped into the starting PG role for the Jayhawks. He did a tremendous job, proving to be an excellent floor general. On a team loaded with options, Graham wisely became a distributor, showing excellent judgment on his passing. He was not too shabby on offense either, shooting a ridiculous percentage from three when given the opportunity. His defense made a major step up, as he was the best perimeter defender for the Jayhawks. He helped lead Kansas to the Big 12 championship, the 1 overall seed, and an Elite 8 appearance before falling to eventual national champ Villanova.
With super freshman Josh Jackson joining the Jayhawks, the backcourt of Graham, Jackson, and Frank Mason should be one of the best in the country. Graham should continue his development as one of the best point guards in the country, refining his driving to the basket and his mid-range shooting. Graham’s presence easily helps make the Jayhawks a title contender.
4. Kelan Martin, SF, Butler
2015-16 Stats: 15.7 PPG, 6.8 RPG, .447 FG%, .377 3PG%, 28.3 MPG
2015-16 Honors: All Big East 2nd Team
Aside from my #1 on this list, no player improved more significantly between his first two years than Martin. An inaccurate ballhog his freshman year (.247 3P%), Martin more than doubled his numbers in points, rebounds, assists, and minutes, while hiking up his field goal percentages. Martin was a deadly third option behind Roosevelt Jones and Kellen Dunham, proving to be a match up nightmare as a 6’6, 235 quick forward. Without Martin’s development, Butler almost certainly misses the NCAA tournament. Instead, Butler made it as a 9 seed, took out Texas Tech in the first round (a game I was at, although I spent most of the second half in the lobby watching Duke-UNCW), and playing Virginia tough for 30 minutes before falling short.
Martin will be the alpha dog of a Bulldogs team losing their top two weapons to graduation. Martin will continue to be a match up nightmare for teams, as well as continue to build up his improving defensive game. If Martin continues his progression, he not only could lead all Juniors in scoring, he should lead the Bulldogs back into the tournament.
3. Trevon Bluiett, SF, Xavier
2015-16 Stats: 15.1 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.2 APG, .424 FG%, .398 3PG%, 30.6 MPG
2015-16 Honors: Honorable Mention All-American, 1st Team All Big East
Xavier was expecting to be a tourney team in 2015-16, but Bluiett carried the Musketeers to new heights due to an excellent campaign. Bluiett started off the season as one of the best scorers in college basketball, averaging almost a 20-10 in non-conference play, leading Xavier to a 12-0 start. Though his scoring eventually cooled off, he still provided excellent numbers that led Xavier to a 2 seed, the highest seed in school history (as for the tournament, blame Koening, Bronson). Bluiett proved to be an excellent scorer, shooting almost 40% from 3 and also proficient from inside the arc. He also was a good rebounder and passer, providing a match-up nightmare when playing the 4 for Xavier.
Next season, he will be the unquestioned alpha dog for Xavier. He will continue to have to play down low for a squad where no player is taller than 6’10”, allowing him to continue terrorizing 4s across the country. His defense needs some work, but his offense should only continue to evolve. Xavier loses only one senior, allowing the Musketeers to enter the 2016-17 as a legit challenger to 2016 National Champions Villanova for the Big East title.
2. Dillon Brooks, SF, Oregon
2015-16 Stats: 16.7 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 3.1 APG, .470 FG%, .338 3PG%, 32.8 MPG
2015-16 Honors: 3rd Team All-American, 1st Team All Pac-12
After Joseph Young graduated and transfer Dylan Ennis was lost for the season in the second game, it was expected for Oregon to stay around the same or drop a little from their 8 seed in 2015. Instead, Oregon made a dramatic leap to the Pac-12 championship, a 1 seed, and their first Elite 8 since 2007. A huge reason for that jump was the emergence of Dillon Brooks as a threat. Though not a great shooter, Brooks proved to be an excellent scorer from inside the arc, outsmarting his opponents to get a variety of good shots. In addition, Brooks proved to be a quality defender, locking down the top scorer on Oregon’s opponents.
Next season, Oregon is returning almost every quality player, which should allow Brooks more freedom to develop. He will continue to be Oregon’s primary weapon, as his awareness and on-court excellence should only continue to improve. His shooting should improve, as Oregon will have even more threats around him, taking some of the pressure off. Look for Brooks to challenge for first team All-America, and for Oregon to be a contender for the Pac-12.
1. Grayson Allen, SG, Duke
2015-16 Stats: 21.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 3.5 APG, .466 FG%, .417 3PG%, 36.6 MPG
2015-16 Honors: 2nd Team All-American, 1st Team All-ACC
Were you expecting anyone else?
Due to a combination of early draft decisions and injuries, Grayson Allen, after barely playing as a freshman, became the primary weapon for a Duke team that often played only 6 players. Allen proved to be more than ready to take on the challenge. Playing an absurd amount of minutes (he played all 120 minutes in Duke’s games against UNC (2x) and UVA), he proved to be a deadly scorer both driving to the basket and shooting the three. In addition, his passing evolved to the point that by the end of the season, he was serving as Duke’s de facto point guard. His season also had some controversy, as two separate tripping incidents cemented his status as a hated Duke player, which of course also validated him as one of the best.
Next season, with a much better team around him, Allen won’t be asked to carry as much of the scoring load (although he could definitely drop 20 a game again). Instead, he will be able to focus on evolving his game as a passer and defender, becoming a more well-rounded player. If Allen develops any further, Duke will be downright scary next season.