Friday morning the finalists for the Bob Cousy Award, annually given to the nation’s best point guard by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, were announced. Among the players on the list are two of the nation’s best freshmen, Duke’s Tyus Jones and Maryland’s Melo Trimble.
They’re the only two first-year players on the list, which includes six seniors, five juniors and four sophomores.
From a conference standpoint the Pac-12 leads the way with four finalists, with Arizona’s T.J. McConnell, Cal’s Tyrone Wallace, Utah’s Delon Wright and Washington’s Nigel Williams-Goss being the players on the list. In total nine conferences are represented. Also making the cut is BYU junior Kyle Collinsworth, who has tallied an NCAA-record five triple-doubles this season.
Below is the list of finalists for the award, which was won by UConn’s Shabazz Napier last season.
2015 Bob Cousy Award Finalists
T.J. McConnell, Arizona (senior)
Kyle Collinsworth, BYU (junior)
Tyrone Wallace, California (junior)
Ryan Boatright, UConn (senior)
Tyus Jones, Duke (freshman)
Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga (senior)
Keifer Sykes, Green Bay (senior)
Yogi Ferrell, Indiana (junior)
Monte Morris, Iowa State (sophomore)
Terry Rozier, Louisville (sophomore)
Melo Trimble, Maryland (freshman)
Marcus Paige, North Carolina (junior)
Kris Dunn, Providence (junior)
Delon Wright, Utah (senior)
Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington (sophomore)
Juwan Staten, West Virginia (senior)
Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State (junior)
Green Bay gets signature win on the road against unbeaten No. 15 Miami
Over the last two seasons, Green Bay has been one of the mid-major teams that gets the most attention for at-large NCAA Tournament bids. And coming from what is traditionally a one-bid league, the Phoenix need to do all they can for their resume outside of the Horizon League.
Green Bay and talented senior point guard Keifer Sykes pulled off a giant road win on Saturday as they topped previously-unbeaten No. 15 Miami 68-55. The Hurricanes fell behind by double digits in the second half and did everything they could to slow down the Green Bay offense, but to no avail.
Miami tried multiple looks, including a box-and-one on Sykes, but junior guard Carrington Love stepped up with 20 points, nine rebounds, four steals and three assists while forward Greg Mays chipped in 10 points. Sykes added 18 points and spearheaded a defense that changed looks throughout the game and confused the Miami offense.
The Hurricanes only shot 32 percent from the field on the afternoon as point guard Angel Rodriguez struggled to a 2-for-15 day and only 12 points. Miami could have overlooked Green Bay after knocking off a top-25 opponent in Illinois earlier this week, but this is just not a strong effort from the Hurricanes.
For Green Bay, they showed that they have the interior size and depth with guys like Alfonzo McKinnie and Henry Udadiae coming off of the bench, to match up with some bigger teams and if other scorers step up around Sykes, they have a very dangerous team. Coming off of a big loss earlier in the week to Georgia State, Green Bay came out aggressive and won its biggest game of the season to date.
Of course, Green Bay beat Virginia last season, but they couldn’t save their season after a loss in the Horizon League tournament. Head coach Brian Wardle and his team know that they’ll likely have to win the conference tournament title to play in the the Big Dance this season. But the Miami win shows that they’re capable of doing that, and being a threat if they make it.
The term “under the radar” can be a difficult one to define with regards to college basketball. For some, lists of such players will be dominated by guys whose programs are part of the nightly highlights packages you doze off to in the early morning hours. But for others, the term “under the radar” applies to players who in November may be on the outside looking in with regards to All-America teams. Below are some players who may not be considered to be preseason All-Americans but have a shot at landing on one of those teams at season’s end.
1. Larry Nance Jr., Wyoming: When it comes to the Mountain West the traditional contenders (New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV) tend to get most of the attention from fans outside of the region, so the son of the former Cleveland Cavalier may not be as well-known to them. But he should be, as Nance averaged 15.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game last season. Nance is returning from a torn ACL, but he’s expected to be at full strength when the season begins later this month.
2. Darrun Hilliard, Villanova: Hilliard was a bit miffed that he wasn’t chosen to be Big East POY at their media day, and rightfully so. The senior is coming off of his best season as a Wildcat, averaging 14.3 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. And with James Bell out of eligibility, Hilliard could be even more productive for the preseason favorites to win the Big East.
3.Shawn Long, Louisiana: Losing Elfrid Payton hurts, but in the 6-foot-9 Long head coach Bob Marlin has a very good piece to build around in an attempt to make a second straight trip to the NCAA tournament. Last year Long accounted for 18.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocked shots per game.
4. R.J. Hunter, Georgia State: When it comes to the best shooters in America, Hunter’s clearly on the list. He averaged 18.3 points and 4.6 rebounds per game last season, helping lead the Panthers to a Sun Belt regular season title.
5. Isaiah Taylor, Texas: Taylor was good as a freshman, averaging 12.0 points, 4.0 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game. But there’s clearly room for improvement, as evidenced by the shooting percentages (39.1% FG, 26.3% 3PT), and the Longhorns’ deep front court should result in cleaner shooting opportunities for him.
6. A.J. English, Iona: While the Gaels will have to account for the loss of Sean Armand, English returns after averaging 17.2 points, 4.3 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game as a sophomore.
7. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown: Who was the pick to win preseason Big East POY? Smith-Rivera was, and with Markel Starks gone the Hoyas will need a big year from the junior guard. Smith-Rivera accounted for 17.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists per contest in 2013-14.
8. DaVonte’ Lacy, Washington State: Ernie Kent has a tough job in front of him, but it helps that Lacy has one last season of eligibility. As a junior Lacy averaged 19.4 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.
9. Zak Irvin, Michigan: With Caris LeVert on our All-America team, we’ve essentially pegged him to make the jump that has become commonplace during the John Beilein era in Ann Arbor. But why not Irvin? Thanks to the Wolverines’ personnel losses, he’ll be in a position where he’s asked to do more offensively than just “catch and shoot.”
10. Terran Petteway, Nebraska: While Petteway was a first team All-Big Ten selection last season, that hasn’t led to his being included on many preseason All-America teams. He averaged 18.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game last season, and if Petteway can improve from an efficiency standpoint look out.
FIVE NAMES YOU’VE HEARD BEFORE BUT DON’T SEE ON TV OFTEN
1. Keifer Sykes, Green Bay
2. John Brown, High Point
3. D.J. Balentine, Evansville
4. Daniel Mullings, New Mexico State
5. E.C. Mathews, Rhode Island
Keifer Sykes always knew that he was talented at basketball but it took the offseason between his junior and senior seasons at John Marshall Metropolitan High School in Chicago to realize how much work it would take to succeed at the college level.
After a breakout junior season of high school basketball in which the point guard helped lead Marshall to a third-place finish in Illinois’ Class 3A, Sykes joined the Mac Irvin Fire in the Nike EYBL for the spring and summer. But instead of starting and shining in big moments like he was accustomed to doing during his junior year, Sykes was relegated to coming off of the bench.
It wasn’t like the demotion to the bench for Sykes was unwarranted. On paper, the Mac Irvin Fire that summer had one of the most loaded groups of high-major prospects assembled in grassroots basketball. The Fire had highly-touted players who eventually committed to DePaul (Macari Brooks, Jamee Crockett), Illinois (Myke Henry, Mike Shaw), Louisville (Wayne Blackshear), Ohio State (Sam Thompson) and Oregon (Bruce Barron) on the roster during the July live evaluation period and Sykes was a 5-foot-10 point guard garnering mid-major interest.
Playing with the Mac Irvin Fire in the EYBL humbled Sykes immensely and he knew he had to work incredibly hard to make a mark in college basketball, no matter what level he ended up at.
“I think that season is what humbled me the most,” Sykes said to NBCSports.com. “I was coming off of a good junior season of high school ball and I went into club basketball with a team of high-profile, high-Division I players on that circuit you see other guys like Austin Rivers and Brad Beal and it made me want to work.
“I might have been the best guy on my [high school] team, but it showed me there are other players better than me all across the world. It just humbled me and it had me in a position where I had to work out.”
Sykes took the challenge to get better head-on, and after committing to Green Bay in late September of his senior year, had a strong senior season for the Commandos before joining his new college program.
As a member of the Phoenix for three seasons under head coach Brian Wardle, Sykes has thrived even more. The 5-foot-11 guard has averaged double-figures in scoring in all three seasons and gotten progressively better in all facets of the game, culminating in averages of 20.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game last season while earning Horizon League Player of the Year honors.
Keifer went from Horizon League Newcomer of the Year as a freshman, to first-team All-Horizon League honors as a sophomore to the league’s Player of the Year as a junior.
But he’s more hungry for team success and making the NCAA Tournament.
While Green Bay’s record has also steadily gotten better over those same three seasons, Sykes has never had a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament and it drives him and the team to get better.
Last season’s defeat in the conference tournament semifinals at home to Milwaukee was a shocking upset for a team many expected to play in the NCAA Tournament. Even though Green Bay finished 24-7 and 14-2 in the league, they had to settle for the NIT as some writers used them as an example for how unfair the conference tournament system for winning a tournament bid can be.
“It motivates us a lot,” Sykes said of last season.” That put things in perspective. We know how to win games. Now we know that you have a small margin of error that you have to make it. We won so many games, and we were feeling so good, but losing one game or even two or three possessions that we needed to fall our way took us out of the tournament. That motivates us more and it makes us realize that everything has to be run to perfection.”
Green Bay head coach Brian Wardle said that Sykes has not only elevated his own play over the last couple years, but that of the entire program. Sykes helped raise the play at Marshall while he was in high school and has always had a big reputation for winning games and stepping up in the spotlight. Against eight 2014 NCAA Tournament opponents, Sykes raised his scoring average to 25.6 points per game.
“We had a great year last year, we took some big steps forward,” Wardle said. “But they have a taste of it now. And now the expectation is higher in that locker room. Way higher than any media or preseason predictions. We have higher expectations and [Keifer] has driven that behind the scenes.”
Wardle challenged his senior point guard to be more of a vocal leader and Sykes has responded by being more vocal and holding other players to a higher standard. With his high-flying game that features numerous highlight reel dunks, including a self-alley-oop — in which Sykes tosses the ball high in the air from the three-point line and runs under it without bouncing for an alley-oop — Sykes has also become a popular fixture in Green Bay, signing autographs and receiving a lot of positive admiration from the local fans.
Through it all, Wardle says that Sykes remains humble because he’s still working towards achieving the goals of the team.
“He’s in the gym all the time,” Wardle said. “He’s in the weight room. Watching film. He’s talking more, leading more than ever before. He wants to bring this program to another level. And that’s what’s been driving him all offseason and it’s contagious.”
Although Sykes has accomplished a lot in his first three seasons at Green Bay, he still wants to finish off a dynamic career with one more strong season. One that includes another leap and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re held to this standard and we don’t want to fail again,” Sykes said. “We know that feeling [of coming close but missing the tournament] from last year. We definitely don’t want to feel that again.”
The importance of elite lead guards was stressed last March when senior point guard Shabazz Napier helped lead UConn to the national championship to cap off a magnificent senior season. Napier’s play on both ends of the floor made a huge impact for the Huskies, especially in tournament play, and it proved once again that an elite guard with the ball in his hands can lead a good supporting cast to glory.
1. Marcus Paige, North Carolina: The 6-foot-1 junior had one of the most impressive seasons in the country last season, especially when you consider many ACC defenses were geared to stop him. Paige averaged 17.5 points, 4.2 assists and 3.2 rebounds and was also the Tar Heels’ only consistent perimeter threat and late-game free-throw shooter. Now that Paige has more perimeter help, he could be slotted at either guard spot, but he’s one of the unique guards in college basketball this season who can set other guys up or hunt his own offense.
2. Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State: Had Fred Van Vleet made the potential game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament last season, we might be singing his praises even more. As it is, the calm and collected junior point guard is incredibly efficient and tough despite standing only 5-foot-11 and not owning jaw-dropping athleticism. Van Vleet averaged 11.6 points, 5.4 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game as a sophomore while shooting 48 percent from the field, 83 percent from the free-throw line and 41 percent from three-point range. After helping Wichita State reach a Final Four coming off the bench as a freshman and having a hand in 35 consecutive wins last season, we already know that Van Vleet is a winner.
3. Juwan Staten, West Virginia: The 6-foot-1 senior quietly put up monster numbers last season and is a favorite for Big 12 Player of the Year honors. Although West Virginia missed the NCAA Tournament in 2014, it was certainly no fault of Staten’s. As a junior, he led the Big 12 in scoring (18.1 points per game), minutes (37.3 mpg) and was second in assists (5.8 apg) and assist-to-turnover ratio. Staten was also third in field-goal percentage at 48 percent from the floor and also shot 40 percent from the three-point line. If Staten can spearhead a better defensive effort from the Mountaineers, than he could be a dark horse All-American candidate.
4. Chasson Randle, Stanford: More of a natural scorer, the 6-foot-2 senior had to bring the ball up by default for the Cardinal last season once Aaron Bright transferred out of the program. That was fine for Stanford, as Randle helped lead the team to a Sweet 16 appearance while averaging 18.8 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists. Randle had 16 games of 20-plus points and did that while shooting 47 percent from the field and 38 percent from distance.
5. Yogi Ferrell, Indiana: One of the fastest players in the country, the 6-foot Ferrell is lethal in the open floor and can score in bunches from the perimeter. Last season, Ferrell put up 17.3 points a contest and shot 40 percent from three-point range while also setting up teammates for 3.9 assists per game. Limiting turnovers will be the big focus for Ferrell in his junior season. A 1.6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio simply isn’t going to cut it.
6. Tyus Jones, Duke: When the CBT crew voted on the rankings for this list, I had Jones much lower than my colleagues because he was a defensive liability at times in high school. But if Jones can stay in front of anyone on the defensive end, it’ll be icing on the cake for his fantastic offensive skill set. The 6-foot-1 freshman and McDonald’s All-American can hit perimeter jumpers, set up teammates on the fast break, or feed the post. A natural leader, Jones could step in and give Coach K a steady, reliable presence with the ball in his hands that Duke has lacked at times the last few seasons.
7. Andrew Harrison, Kentucky: Credit is due to the 6-foot-6 Harrison because perhaps no player in the country took more of a beating from fans and media during the regular season last year. Despite some erratic play during his freshman season, Harrison turned it up another level during the Wildcats run to the national championship game and expectations will be high for him in his sophomore season. Harrison averaged a solid 10.9 points, 4.0 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game last season but must improve his 36 percent field-goal percentage.
8. Terry Rozier, Louisville: Rozier had to come off the bench last season behind senior Russ Smith but the 6-foot-1 sophomore guard is poised for a breakout season after a strong summer on the camp circuit. NBA scouts and writers raved about Rozier at the LeBron James Skills Academy and adidas Nations and his pull-up jumper and ability to get to the basket are both strengths.
9. Keifer Sykes, Green Bay: Sykes put up ridiculous numbers last season for a Green Bay team that fell short of the NCAA Tournament by falling in the Horizon League conference tournament. The 5-foot-11 senior averaged 20.3 points, 4.9 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game for the Phoenix last season and his athleticism has led to numerous CBT posts this summer thanks to some electric dunks. Scoff all you want at Sykes putting up those numbers in a mid-major league, but the Chicago-native played better against good competition, averaging 25.6 points a game in eight games against 2014 NCAA Tournament teams last season.
10. Ryan Boatright, UConn: Boatright lived in Shabazz Napier’s shadow for much of last season, but the 6-foot senior had a tremendous postseason of his own and he’s active on both ends of the floor. Besides being a pesky perimeter defender, Boatright can also score and distribute and will have more of a chance to have the ball primarily in his hands as the senior leader. If Boatright can improve his 39 percent field goal percentage, he could be among the nation’s elite this season.
THE NEXT TEN
11. T.J. McConnell, Arizona: The numbers aren’t gaudy for the 6-foot-1 senior, but his 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and selfless nature helped lead the Wildcats to a No. 1 ranking and an Elite Eight appearance last season.
12. Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga: One of college basketball’s toughest players, the 6-foot-2 senior gutted out his junior year despite toe and ankle injuries and averaged 14.5 points, 3.7 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game. A healthy Pangos could help vault Gonzaga into a deep March run.
13. Monte’ Morris, Iowa State: Morris didn’t put up huge numbers last season, but his efficiency was off the charts. Don’t be surprised if he ends up being an all-Big 12 player this season.
14. Tyler Ulis, Kentucky: To dismiss Ulis because of his 5-foot-9 frame would be silly because the freshman is an exceptional passer who thrives on creating for others. Ulis might not start games at the point for Kentucky this season, but don’t be surprised if he’s on the floor at the end of games along with the Harrison twins this season.
15. Kasey Hill, Florida: Hill has some of the biggest shoes in the country to fill by replacing Scottie Wilbekin, but the 6-foot-1 sophomore is a former McDonald’s All-American who showed some positive flashes his freshman season.
16. Siyani Chambers, Harvard: The 6-foot junior is the engine that makes Harvard go and he averaged 11.1 points and 4.6 assists per game last season. Chambers has helped the Crimson win a NCAA Tournament game in each of the last two seasons.
17. Olivier Hanlan, Boston College: New head coach Jim Christian has to be pleased the 6-foot-4 junior guard decided to return. Hanlan averaged 18.5 points per game last season.
18. Quinn Cook, Duke: Consistency is the big question for the 6-foot-2 senior. Will we see the Cook who finished in double-figures in the scoring column in 13 of the first 15 games last season, or the one who came off-the-bench for the final 10 games?
19. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: The 6-foot-5 senior missed much of last season due to an academic issue, but Grant averaged 19 points and 6.2 assists per game on 51 percent shooting and 40 percent three-point shooting during 12 games last season.
20. Angel Rodriguez, Miami: Jim Larranaga has to be pleased the 5-foot-11 All-Big 12 selection is eligible this season.
ALSO CONSIDERED: Ryan Harrow (Georgia State), Isaiah Taylor (Texas), Nic Moore (SMU), Derrick Walton (Michigan), London Perrantes (Virginia), Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington), Jordan Woodard (Oklahoma), Romelo Trimble (Maryland)
One of the key players for a Green Bay team won the Horizon League regular season title last was guard Keifer Sykes, who in all honesty is one of the most exciting players in college basketball. Sykes, who’s entering his senior season, is one of the best dunkers in college basketball and Saturday he provided some evidence supporting that status during Green Bay’s annual FanFest and “#PHXMadness” events.
The 6-foot tall Sykes won the team dunk contest for the second consecutive year, and above is a video of his final two dunks. On our list of the best dunkers in college basketball entering the 2014-15 season Sykes was ranked sixth, and that may be a bit low for him. Sykes was named Horizon League Player of the Year last season, as he averaged 20.3 points, 4.9 assists and 4.4 rebounds per contest.