College basketball: Which preseason All-American could win Player of the Year?
Let’s pick college basketball’s player of the year.
OK, maybe that’s a tad premature, seeing as no one has played an official game yet. Not even Heisman polls start that early. (Come to think of it, yes they do). But with the five-man Associated Press preseason All-American team’s announcement Monday, we now have a working list on who the best candidates will be, at least at the start.
Call it the morning line for Player of the Year. From the top.
Miles Bridges, Michigan State
If this were a car race, he’d be on the pole. He was supposed to be playing in his, oh, 10th NBA game by now, so his surprising decision to return already has made him something of an East Lansing legend. “A Christmas present in April,” Tom Izzo called it. His freshman numbers were marvelous, even as Michigan endured some struggles, and this year the Spartans should be better and deeper, which won’t hurt his profile.
Izzo’s routinely arduous schedule will give him plenty of chances to shine on the big stage. He’s also from a power-5 league and that’s a big plus. Only two consensus POYs in the past 12 years – Creighton’s Doug McDermott and BYU’s Jimmer Fredette – weren’t.
“Miles is, I think, somebody special for all college basketball,” Izzo said. “I call him my blue-collar star. He’s got the humility and humbleness of an everyday player and the skills of a very, very good player.”
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
Being named pre-season ACC player of the year is a big running start to Player of the Year. It’s like winning the Super Tuesdayprimaries in a presidential campaign. He’s a senior, and boy, the voters have loved seniors lately. The past four years of consensus picks have been a senior sweep. If Irish running back Josh Adams happens to win the Heisman, Colson could make Notre Dame only the third school in history to win the top individual awards in both sports in the same school year. Oklahoma (Sam Bradford and Blake Griffin in 2008-09) and UCLA (Gary Beban and Lew Alcindor in 1967-68) are the others.
“I knew I was a four-year guy,” Colson said of his decision to stay the course in South Bend. “He’s a throw-back,” coach Mike Brey said.
By the way, circle Nov. 30. Notre Dame at Michigan State. Bridges vs. Colson. The rest of the Spartans and Irish will be there, too.
Michael Porter Jr., Missouri
He’s the nation’s and SEC’s most vaunted freshman and he doesn’t play for Kentucky, so already his story has an unusual tinge. And should he lead the Tigers to a renaissance season, that’d really help the cause, as opposed to slogging through a mediocre record. Remember the parable of LSU’s Ben Simmons.
Allonzo Trier, Arizona
He certainly made a lot of noise last season for a guy who started only a third of the Wildcats’ games because of suspension. Comeback stories always play well with voters. The highlights from his Most Outstanding Player performance in the Pac-12 tournament could well have been like movie trailers of coming attractions, as he makes the Wildcats bonafide national championship contenders. “I think all of us are hoping he can do it from start to finish, from the first game to the end,” coach Sean Miller said. Trier might win support just by being a novelty. The conference hasn’t had a Player of the Year this century.
Jalen Brunson, Villanova
He is the loudest echo of the 2016 national champions, and with Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins gone, it’s his team now. If Villanova stays among the elite, it’s hard to imagine him not being the main reason, with a ton of stats.
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“I think he is most comfortable when everything’s on his shoulders,” Jay Wright said. “It’s most natural to him. I don’t think he needs to carry this team, we have a lot of talent around him. But I think he’s in a position to lead this team and I think he’s very comfortable with that.”
A few more to keep in mind:
Grayson Allen, Duke
A story of redemption is always good for votes. If Allen keeps scoring like he did at the end of last season, and the Blue Devils hang around No. 1, he’ll certainly be in the hunt. Being portrayed as the villain by Duke haters does not kill a campaign. It didn’t for J.J. Redick. So long as Allen doesn’t trip anyone.
Joel Berry III, North Carolina
He’ll be directing the Tar Heels’ title defense – once he gets back from a broken hand – and that’s a great spot to get a lot of attention.
Landry Shamet, Wichita State
The underdog option. What a stirring, breakthrough ride this season could be for the Shockers, and for Shamet, assuming his foot heals of from a stress fracture. With Wichita State moving to the American Conference, Shamet has the chance to make his name in new places – from SMU to Cincinnati to Connecticut.
Whoever is Player of the Year in the end, history suggests he won’t be getting a ring with his award. Only two this century have been national champions – Kentucky’s Anthony Davis in 2012 and Duke’s Shane Battier in 2001. The others would probably have been happy to trade one for the other.
Mike Lopresti is a member of the US Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, Ball State journalism Hall of Fame and Indiana Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame. He has covered college basketball for 43 years, including 38 Final Fours. He is so old he covered Bob Knight when he had dark hair and basketball shorts were actually short.
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