With one of the nation’s best big men in Alan Williams leading the way, UCSB entered the season with expectations of not only contending in the Big West but also earning their first NCAA tournament bid since 2011. While both goals remain on the table for Bob Williams’ team, things got tougher this week as Alan Williams suffered a left shoulder injury in practice on Tuesday.
According to the school Williams, who got tangled up with freshman Alex Hart late in Tuesday’s practice, will miss at least two weeks of action. And Williams wasn’t the only player to suffer an injury this week either, as junior DaJuan Smith injured his hip in a bike accident and is out indefinitely.
Alan Williams was averaging 17.9 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game at the time of his injury. Thursday night the Gauchos moved to 2-2 in Big West play with an 83-75 win over UC Riverside, shooting 51.7% from the field with John Green scoring a team-high 21 points and grabbing nine rebounds.
Without Williams the Gauchos started four guards with Sam Beeler in the post, and both Hart and Mitch Brewe served as reserves in the front court. Brewe played well against the Highlanders, finishing with 18 points, seven rebounds and three assists in 26 minutes of action. Brewe, who’s averaging 3.4 points and 2.6 rebounds per game, becomes an even more important player for UCSB with Williams out of the lineup.
In UCSB’s five games prior to Thursday, Brewe accounted for a total of ten points and nine rebounds.
No. 5 Kansas tested by Alan Williams and UC Santa Barbara in 69-59 win
Kansas, ranked No. 5 in the preseason rankings, welcomed in one of the top Alan Williams and UC Santa Barbara — one of the top mid-major programs in the nation — to Allen Fieldhouse on Friday night, and pulled out a 69-59 win.
The Gauchos had kept it close in the first half, and a 10-0 run in the opening minutes of the second half cut the Jayhawks lead to 39-37. But for a five-minute stretch, the trio of Frank Mason, Cliff Alexander and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk scored KU’s 19 points to extend the lead to 15. UC Santa Barbara would get it to 10 on multiple occasions, but could never crack through and cut the deficit to single digits.
Bill Self did not start any of his heralded freshmen, but Devonte Graham led all Jayhawks with 14 points. Graham, the former Appalachian State signee who fought all of last winter to get his release, was the spark late in the first half. After being hit with his second foul, Graham returned to the game and behind the freshman floor general, KU went on a 10-0 run, which led to a 31-23 halftime lead.
Williams, the 6-foot-8 senior, recorded 16 double-doubles last season, ended with game-highs in points (22) and rebounds (13) to go along with four blocks.
Kansas now sets its sights on top-ranked Kentucky in Tuesday night’s Champion Classic in Indianapolis. UC Santa Barbara plays one of the best mid-major non-conference games of the year on Monday night at Florida Gulf Coast.
We’ve already gone over the other positional rankings on CBT this week but now we get to the big men. You’ll see a lot of new faces on the list this year, because the incoming group of freshman has a lot of talented McDonald’s All-Americans playing in the post that should contribute right away. But there are plenty of experienced post cogs as well and some that are versatile inside-outside threats with the ability to stretch the floor.
1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke: It’s high praise for a true freshman to be ranked No. 1 on this list, but then again, Okafor isn’t your typical college freshman. Many viewed Okafor as the No. 1 player in the country in the 2014 class and the 6-foot-11 center is patient, skilled and comes from a winning pedigree. Okafor was a major factor for USA Basketball during his high school career and enters Duke as an instant double-team threat whenever he gets his mitts on a post touch. Coach K will ride his new center as far as he can take him.
2. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: Now a senior, the 7-foot Kaminsky had a breakout junior season, averaging 13.9 points and 6.2 rebounds per game on 52 percent field-goal shooting, 76 percent free-throw shooting and 37 percent three-point shooting. A rare inside-outside offensive threat at center, Kaminsky can be a nightmare to defend because he can stretch the floor, is a patient passer and doesn’t force too many shots. If the Wisconsin big man has a weakness, it’s on the defensive end, where he’s an average rebounder and positional defender on his own.
3. Karl Towns, Jr., Kentucky: You’ll see plenty of Kentucky big men on this list — and quite fairly, as they’re all McDonald’s All-Americans with a lot of talent — but the 6-foot-11 freshman might be the most talented and productive of them all in 2014-15. Towns was a member of the Dominican Republic’s senior national team as a 16-year-old and has steadily improved his overall game ever since. During the Wildcats’ summer exhibition tour in the Bahamas, Towns, at times, looked like the team’s most talented overall player and he’s more offensively skilled than any other Kentucky center.
4. Georges Niang, Iowa State: Niang will be one of the most intriguing big men in the country this season thanks to his offseason weight loss and increased role. The 6-foot-8 junior averaged 16.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game last season, but when you consider he was often the Cyclones’ third offensive option, that’s impressive. Skilled enough to step out and hit the long ball, if Niang can improve his 32 percent three-point shooting, he could be virtually unstoppable on the offensive end thanks to his off-balance post looks and mid-range game.
5. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville: Harrell was one of the top big men in the country last season as the powerful 6-foot-8 junior averaged 14 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 1 steal per game for one of the best teams in the country. The high-motor Harrell never seems to take a play off and he’s relentless on the glass and around the rim when hunting for dunks. If Montrezl can improve his mid-range jumper — which looked shaky in August at adidas Nations — he could take another step forward this season.
6. Perry Ellis, Kansas: The 6-foot-8 junior had a breakthrough sophomore season, as the Kansas native averaged 13.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game on 54 percent shooting. Skilled enough to hit jumpers, but tough enough to play on the interior, Ellis shot a respectable 76 percent from the free-throw line and even made 8 of 17 three-pointers last season to help keep the defense honest. Ellis also thrives on doing the little things like setting off-ball screens and sealing opposing defenses so his wings have a free lane to the hoop.
7. Cliff Alexander, Kansas: Alexander comes into his freshman season with a big reputation thanks to his bruising 6-foot-8 frame and a dunk-at-all-costs attitude. Seriously, this dude lives to dunk on people and we’ll probably see Big Cliff deliver some posters throughout the college basketball season. Besides his affinity for dunks, Alexander is a tremendous rebounder and is more skilled with the ball in his hands than people give him credit for. His jumper takes a little bit too long to get out of his hands right now, but it’s workable with the increased reps and practice time Alexander is sure to get in Lawrence.
8. Brandon Ashley, Arizona: After Ashley broke his foot in February of last season, Arizona went from a national championship contender to falling just short of the Final Four. The 6-foot-9 Ashley can do it all for the Wildcats as he averaged 11.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game while shooting 52 percent from the field, 75 percent from three-point range and 37 percent from the three-point line. With Ashley back in the lineup, Sean Miller’s offense can spread the floor or attack on the interior by using Ashley in whichever way creates a mismatch.
9. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: It’s really a shame that Cauley-Stein injured his ankle in the Sweet 16 win against Louisville, because it caused the 7-footer to miss the rest of the tournament. But if you’re looking for positives, that injury likely kept the 7-foot junior in school and he returns to Kentucky as one of the best defensive big men in the nation. Cauley-Stein averaged 6.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game as a sophomore and passed up a guaranteed first-round spot in the NBA Draft to return to Lexington.
10. Trey Lyles, Kentucky: The 6-foot-10 freshman was also a McDonald’s All-American and gives Kentucky a versatile and skilled offensive player. The Indianapolis native can face-up and make plays or score on the block using hooks or short jumpers. Lyles should also be able to rebound well for Kentucky and he’s not afraid to mix it up a bit down low.
THE NEXT TEN
11. Jordan Mickey, LSU: Overlooked by recruiting analysts, the 6-foot-8 Mickey put up great numbers during his freshman season, averaging 12.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game.
12. Jonathan Holmes, Texas: The 6-foot-8 senior increased his shooting percentages (50% FG, 74% FT, 33% 3PT) and his averages (12.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg) across the board in helping Texas get back to the NCAA Tournament last season.
13. Myles Turner, Texas: Another McDonald’s All-American, the 6-foot-11 freshman gives Rick Barnes another shot blocker on the interior, but Turner also has a smooth perimeter stroke.
14. Alan Williams, UC Santa Barbara: The pride of the Big West, the 6-foot-8 Williams averaged 21.3 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game during his junior season.
15. Bobby Portis, Arkansas: An impressive freshman season has NBA people talking highly of the 6-foot-11 sophomore. Portis put up 12.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 1 steal per game last season.
16. Dakari Johnson, Kentucky: The 7-foot sophomore was the starting center on a team that played in the national championship game and is now considered the fourth best big man on the roster. Johnson did lose 20 pounds this offseason and additional mobility should make him that much better.
17. Josh Scott, Colorado: The 6-foot-10 junior has had two productive seasons for Colorado and averaged 14.1 points, 8.4 rebounds per game last season on 51 percent shooting and 81 percent free-throw shooting.
18. Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina: Incredibly productive in limited minutes as a freshman (7.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg in 16.3 mpg), expectations are high for the 6-foot-9 big man after his offseason weight loss. And keep an eye on Meeks this season as a skilled outlet passer for North Carolina’s transition breaks.
19. Shawn Long, Louisiana-Lafayette: The 6-foot-9 junior has averaged a double-double in each of his first two seasons and averaged 18.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game last season 52 percent field-goal shooting and 42 percent three-point shooting.
20. Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin: Much like Meeks, Hayes was very productive in limited minutes last season and should see his role increase this season in Madison. The 6-foot-7 sophomore averaged 7.7 points and 2.8 rebounds per game in 17.4 minutes a game last season.
ALSO CONSIDERED: A.J. Hammons (Purdue), Markus Kennedy (SMU), Justin Sears (Yale), JayVaughn Pinkston (Villanova), Jarell Martin (LSU), Kevon Looney (UCLA), Chris Walker (Florida), Kaleb Tarczewski (Arizona)
Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
Under head coach Bob WIlliams the UCSB Gauchos have made three NCAA tournament appearances, with the most recent appearance coming in 2011. Those last two tournament teams were led by the perimeter tandem of Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally, who combined to average 32.7 points and 11.0 rebounds per contest in 2009-10 and 37.3 points and 11.9 rebounds the following season. Both Johnson and Nunnally returned in 2011-12, meaning that their careers at UCSB overlapped that of one Alan Williams.
And in three seasons at UCSB, Williams has developed into one of the top big men in college basketball.
As a freshman the 6-foot-7 Williams started 20 of the 30 games he played in, accounting for 6.9 points and 6.5 rebounds in just over 17 minutes of action per contest. With Nunnally and Johnson moving on after the 2011-12 season more was required of Williams and from a statistical standpoint he produced, averaging 17.1 points and 10.7 rebounds per contest. But during that season Williams had trouble staying on the court, playing just over 28 minutes and averaging 3.2 fouls per game and fouling out of seven contests.
Williams made strides in each of those areas last season, playing 31 minutes per contest and fouling out of just two of the 28 games in which he played (3.0 fouls committed per game). More time on the court resulted in more production from Williams, as he averaged 21.3 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocked shots per game. That led to Williams winning Big West Player of the Year honors, and Williams’ work to improve his stamina is the biggest reason as to why the senior has developed into one of the country’s best front court players.
“The biggest thing for me was improving my conditioning,” Williams told NBCSports.com earlier this month. “With that, I’ve been able to stay on the floor longer and be more productive.”
In addition to improving physically Williams has also expanded his offensive repertoire, as he enters the 2014-15 season as a more consistent mid-range shooter. Another area in which Williams has improved is in how he deals with double teams, with the senior even more capable of finding open teammates on the perimeter. And while Williams will get most of the attention due to his status, the fact of the matter is that the Gauchos have enough pieces returning to Santa Barbara to make a run at the Big West crown that eluded them a season ago.
In addition to Williams three other starters return for coach Williams, including junior guard Michael Bryson and senior guard Zalmico Harmon. Bryson took a step forward for the Gauchos last season, averaging 11.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per contest and shooting 47.2% from the field and 41.7% from beyond the arc. Bryson reached double digits in 20 games last season, and he was an honorable mention All-Big West selection. The key for Bryson when it comes to his taking another step forward for the Gauchos is a simple one: consistency.
“That’s the key for Michael, just being more consistent,” UCSB head coach Bob Williams told NBCSports.com.
To coach’s point, there were multiple occasions last season in which Bryson followed up a very good outing with a quiet night. After scoring 21 points in a December victory over San Diego, Bryson managed to score just five in a win over Troy four days later. And his longest stretch of double-digit outings in 2013-14 was six, with those efforts coming in UCSB’s final six games of the season. The 2014-15 season sets up as one where Bryson, who also performed well defensively last season, can cement his status as one of the best guards in the Big West. The best way for him to do that is to produce on a nightly basis, which would benefit his team as well.
Another perimeter returnee whose play will greatly impact UCSB’s fortunes is senior point guard Zalmico Harmon. The Washington, D.C. native joined the program after a stint at Ventura College, and his arrival was an important one for the program. With T.J. Taylor undergoing hip surgery prior to the start of last season, the Gauchos were without the player who started at the point in each of the last two seasons. But thanks to Harmon, the team didn’t miss a beat, as he accounted for 7.8 points and 5.1 assists per contest and led the Big West in assist-to-turnover ratio.
The addition of Harmon undoubtedly impacted UCSB on the offensive end, as they ranked second in the Big West from an efficiency standpoint after being ranked ninth the season prior.
“He just knows how to run a team,” Alan Williams noted. “He gets guys the ball in the spots where they can be most effective.”
Taylor will return to the fold, but Harmon will remain at the controls on the court and with good reason. However even with this being the case Taylor is expected to help UCSB, and the same goes for a forward in Mitch Brewe who showed signs of improvement last season despite finishing with averages of 4.1 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. UCSB lost a starter in forward Taran Brown (7.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg), and while guard Kyle Boswell (10.2 ppg) started just five games he was a valuable contributor who was also the team’s best perimeter shooter. With Boswell’s departure two newcomers, junior college transfer DaJuan Smith and freshman Gabe Vincent, are expected to compete for a starting spot.
That will result in a team that looks a little different than last season’s edition, with both players capable of making the Gauchos a better team with regards to perimeter defense.
“We lose Kyle, but with Gabe and DaJuan we’ll have a different look this season,” Bob Williams said. “We’ll be a little more athletic at that spot, which should help us defensively.”
UCSB won’t lack for talent, but the same goes for many of their competitors in the Big West. UC Irvine is loaded and will be expected by many to repeat, with Long Beach State and Cal-State Northridge among the other teams hoping to cut down the nets in Anaheim. How will UCSB look to get over the hump and earn its first NCAA tournament bid in four seasons? With a multi-faceted attack led by a gifted big man who’s better equipped to shoulder the load now than he was as a sophomore.
With that being the case, Williams and his teammates enter 2014-15 using their Big West tournament loss to Cal Poly as motivation. The season is a marathon, but those final strides to the proverbial finish line have the greatest impact in the end.
A quick disclaimer before I begin, because determining who qualifies as a mid-major and who doesn’t is always a touchy subject. Here is how we broke it down for these rankings: The Mountain West, the Big East, the Atlantic 10 and the American were all, by default, barred from these rankings. The WCC was eligible with the exception of Gonzaga and BYU. The Missouri Valley was eligible with the exception of Wichita State. Everyone else was fair game.
Why did we eliminate the Shockers from contention? Well, the complicated answer is that “high-major” delegation is more about financial resources, support from the university, the fan base and the community, and consistent, high-level success during the season and on the recruiting trail, but the simple answer is that the Shockers would be the clear-cut No. 1 team here and it’s more fun to do this without them involved. Our rankings, our rules. Deal with it.
Keifer Sykes, Green Bay, Sr. (20.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 4.9 apg): High-flying, high-scoring point guards aren’t that easy to find. Sykes is the reason that the Phoenix have a shot at winning a game-or-two in the NCAA tournament.
R.J. Hunter, Georgia State, Jr. (18.5 ppg, 39.5% 3PT): Yeah, I know he plays for Georgia State, but we picked him on this team because he may actually be the nation’s best spot-up shooter.
John Brown, High Point, Jr. (19.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.6 spg, 1.5 bpg): The nation’s highest-flying wing, Brown is the reigning Big South Player of the Year and a human-highlight reel.
Alan Williams, UC-Santa Barbara, Sr. (21.3 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 2.4 bpg): Williams has been a star at the mid-major level for three years now, but the Gauchos simply haven’t had the kind of success as a team that would garner him more national recognition.
Shawn Long, Louisiana-Lafayette, Jr. (18.6 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 2.7 bpg, 42.3% 3PT): It will be Long’s Ragin’ Cajuns team this season with Elfrid Payton now in the NBA. His ability to block shots and shoot threes at 6-foot-10 could mean that he winds up in the NBA Draft after this season as well.
Jalan West, Northwestern State, Jr. (19.4 ppg, 6.4 apg, 40.3% 3PT): His numbers are inflated by Northwestern State’s uptempo style of play. That doesn’t make him any less talented, however.
Daniel Mullings, New Mexico State, Sr. (16.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.5 apg): Mullings is the reigning WAC Player of the Year, and he’ll have a chance to play more point guard this season.
Wesley Saunders, Harvard, Jr. (14.2 ppg, 3.8 apg): Saunders was the Ivy League’s Player of the Year last season and should once again be the leading scorer on a Harvard team that has one a game in the tournament in back-to-back seasons.
Jacob Parker, Stephen F. Austin, Sr. (14.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 46.9% 3PT): Parker won last year’s Southland Player of the Year award and was the best player on a team that went 32-3 and beat VCU in the NCAA tournament.
Justin Sears, Yale, Jr. (16.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.9 bpg): Sears is our Preseason Ivy League Player of the Year and the biggest reason Yale has a chance to contend with Harvard for the Ivy title.
Siyani Chambers, Harvard, Jr. (11.1 ppg, 4.6 apg): The heart and soul of the Crimson. He’s one of the nation’s most underrated point guards.
Ryan Harrow, Georgia State, Sr. (17.8 ppg, 4.2 apg): The former Kentucky and N.C. State point guard found his niche back in his hometown of Atlanta.
Julius Brown, Toledo, Sr. (14.9 ppg, 6.0 apg): ‘Juice’ Brown helped lead the Rockets to a share of the MAC regular season title last season.
A.J. English, Iona, Jr. (17.2 ppg, 4.3 apg, 3.9 rpg): English is the best player on an Iona team favored to win the always-competitive MAAC.
Cameron Payne, Murray State, So. (16.8 ppg, 5.4 apg, 1.7 spg): The Memphis-native had a terrific freshman season trying to replace the production left when Isaiah Canaan graduated.
HONORABLE MENTION: D.J. Balentine (Evansville), Joel Bolomboy (Weber State), Karl Cochran (Wofford), Brett Comer (Florida-Gulf Coast), Juan’Ya Green (Hofstra), Martez Harrison (UMKC), Tyler Harvey (Eastern Washington), Damion Lee (Drexel), Tshilidzi Nephawe (New Mexico State), Andrew Rowsey (UNC-Asheville), Bernard Thompson (Florida-Gulf Coast), Marcus Thornton (William & Mary), Seth Tuttle (Northern Iowa), Isiah Umipig (Seattle), Jameel Warney (Stony Brook), Kyle Wilson (Army)