As expected, Kentucky will be losing seven players to the NBA Draft.
At a press conference on Thursday afternoon, head coach John Calipari and seven of his underclassmen announced their decision. When Cal asked the players declaring for the draft to stand up, this happened:
Karl Anthony-Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Trey Lyles, Devon Booker, Dakari Johnson and both Aaron and Andrew Harrison will all be heading to the NBA.
“If Alex [Poythress] didn’t get hurt, it would have been eight,” Coach Cal said. Poythress has not yet made a decision. He’s got his degree already, according to Cal, and he’s still deciding whether or not he will return.
Towns is projected to be a top two pick in the NBA Draft, with many expecting that he will be taken No. 1 over Duke center Jahlil Okafor. Cauley-Stein is a top ten pick, while Lyles and Booker are both expected to be taken somewhere between the late lottery and the late first round.
Things are a bit different for the twins and Johnson. Johnson will likely get drafted, although he is expected to be a second round pick. The twins, on the other hand, are not guarantee to end up being picked. Andrew is probably the better NBA prospect at this stage, especially given the way he played late in the season, while Aaron is a shooting guard that hasn’t proven to be able to consistently shoot outside of the NCAA tournament.
Tyler Ulis, Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress will all return for the Wildcats, joining Skal Labissiere, Isaiah Briscoe and Charles Matthews, the three freshmen that Kentucky has signed for the 2015-16 season. Labissiere is one of the top prospects in the 2015 class, a guy that is projected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft. Briscoe is a top ten recruit and a talented scoring guard, while Matthews is a four-star prospect.
Kentucky is still in the mix for a number of elite recruits that have yet to commit to a school, including Jaylen Brown, Cheick Diallo, Stephen Zimmermann and Thon Maker, among others.
We had Kentucky has the preseason No. 4 team in the country when we put out our list earlier this week, and nothing unexpected with any of the other teams in the top five has happened since then. As good as Labissiere is, they will ideally add some front court depth this spring, be it a freshman or a graduate transfer that is eligible immediately.
Frank Kaminsky, Jahlil Okafor highlight five Wooden Award finalists
The John R. Wooden Award announced five finalists for the nation’s most outstanding college basketball player on Monday.
The group is highlighted by three players who will participate in the Final Four. Wisconsin senior center Frank Kaminsky, Duke freshman center Jahlil Okafor, Kentucky junior center Willie Cauley-Stein, Notre Dame senior guard Jerian Grant and Ohio State freshman guard D’Angelo Russell are the five finalists.
The winner will be announced April 10 at 8 p.m. ET on the College Basketball Awards Show.
The Wooden All-Americans were also announced, with Wichita State junior guard Ron Baker, Northern Iowa senior forward Seth Tuttle, Virginia junior guard Malcolm Brogdon, Utah senior guard Delon Wright and Gonzaga junior Kyle Wiltjer joining the five national player of the year candidates.
#POSTERIZED: Willie Cauley-Stein does it again … (VIDEO)
Kaminsky has greatly outperformed expectations he had entering the season, even though he was a preseason all-american pick. He’s been sensational, leading the Badgers in scoring, rebounding, assists, blocks and steals. Not bad for a guy that averaged 10 minutes as a sophomore.
Jahlil Okafor, Duke (17.6 ppg, 9.2 rpg)
Okafor is an easy pick as well, as he was the most dominating offensive force in the country this season. To get an idea of just how good he can be, think about this: He’s not just a poor defender, he can be downright awful at times, and yet he’s going to finish the season as a consensus first team all-american and the runner-up to Kaminsky in the Player of the Year voting. Not bad.
D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State (19.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 5.2 apg)
If Kaminsky has been the nation’s best player and Okafor has been the most dominating offensive force, than Russell has to be the nation’s most entertaining player. He can take over a game with his ability to score, and he throws some absurd passes in transition. Can he be this year’s Shabazz Napier in the NCAA tournament?
Jerian Grant, Notre Dame (16.8 ppg, 6.7 apg)
The Irish have no business being a top ten team this season, but they are because Grant has been incredible. Notre Dame has one of the most potent offensive attacks in the country, and it all centers around Grant’s ability to make plays off the dribble and in ball-screen actions. He’s better than anyone else in the country at making his teammate’s better.
Cauley-Stein’s numbers don’t measure up to anyone else on the first team, but what he does best doesn’t necessarily show up in the scorebook. The Wildcats are downright dominant on the defensive end of the floor, and Cauley-Stein is the engine that drives them. He’s the best perimeter and the best interior defender in the country all at the same time.
NBCSPORTS.COM’S SECOND TEAM ALL-AMERICANS
Delon Wright, Utah (14.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 5.3 apg, 2.1 spg): Wright did so much for Utah this season, and while his numbers were impressive, it was his defense and ability to understand his strengths offensively that were most important to the Utes.
Kris Dunn, Providence (15.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 7.4 apg): The only reason Dunn isn’t in the conversation for National Player of the Year is that he turns the ball over too much. He was completely dominant at times this season.
Buddy Hield, Oklahoma (17.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg): Hield has a rep for being one of the nation’s best defenders, dating back to his freshman season. Now he’s also one of the best wing scorers.
Rico Gathers, Baylor (11.6 ppg, 11.7 rpg): Gathers is the nation’s best rebounder, an improving scorer on the block and a critical component for arguably the nation’s most surprising team.
Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse (17.5 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 2.5 bpg): He won’t get to showcase his ability this March, but there was not a more improved player in the country than Christmas this season.
NBCSPORTS.COM’S THIRD TEAM ALL-AMERICANS
T.J. McConnell, Arizona (9.6 ppg, 6.3 apg, 2.1 spg): McConnell’s numbers are nowhere near as impressive as the other lead guards here, but if you watched Arizona play over the last two months, you understand just how important he was to that team’s success.
Melo Trimble, Maryland (16.1 ppg, 3.1 apg): Maryland is ranked 31st in KenPom. Yet, they’re a top ten team that’s going to be a top four seed because they’re 11-0 in games decided by six points or less. Trimble is their ‘closer’. He earned this spot.
Justin Anderson, Virginia (13.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 48.5% 3PT): Anderson was in the mix for first team all-american when he broke his finger. He deserves recognition despite missing time.
Bobby Portis, Arkansas (17.8 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.5 bpg): I was called out by an Arkansas assistant coach for having Bobby Portis ranked 62nd in our top 100 players list in the preseason. That coach was right.
Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa (15.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 3.3 apg): I’m fully on the Tuttle bandwagon. He’s a low-post scorer with three point range, the ability to put the ball on the floor and terrific vision. He’s Frank Kaminsky 2.0.
Frank Kaminsky, Jahlil Okafor among ten semifinalists for Naismith Award
Wednesday afternoon the Atlanta Tipoff Club revealed the ten semifinalists for the Naismith Trophy, which is annually given to the best player in college basketball as voted upon by their selection committee. Among the ten players on the list are Wisconsin senior forward Frank Kaminsky and Duke freshman center Jahlil Okafor, who are seen by many as the favorites to win national Player of the Year honors.
Also on the list in Kentucky junior Willie Cauley-Stein, whose impact on the defensive end of the floor has been one of the keys for the top-ranked and undefeated Wildcats. Of the ten players on the list two are freshmen, with Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell joining Okafor.
The senior class is the most represented on the list with there being five, followed by the freshman and junior classes (two apiece) and one sophomore (Murray State’s Cameron Payne). Gonzaga is the lone program to have two players on the list, as senior point guard Kevin Pangos and junior forward Kyle Wiltjer were selected.
Below is the list of semifinalists for the Naismith Trophy, with the four finalists scheduled to be announced March 22.
F Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky (junior)
G Jerian Grant, Notre Dame (senior)
F Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin (senior)
C Jahlil Okafor, Duke (freshman)
G Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga (senior)
G Cameron Payne, Murray State (sophomore)
G D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State (freshman)
F Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa (senior)
F Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga (junior)
G Delon Wright, Utah (senior)
Player of the Year Power Rankings: Why Jerian Grant, Kyle Wiltjer need more attention
1. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: A quick update on Kaminsky’s potentially historic season. Wisconsin has slid back a bit in recent weeks and is now on pace to be just the fourth most efficient offense in the KenPom era (2002-2015). Kaminsky is still putting up ridiculous numbers, however, with an offensive rating of 126.3 while using 27.5 percent of Wisconsin’s possessions when he’s on the floor.
2. Jahlil Okafor, Duke: I’ve said numerous times in this space that Okafor has the offensive skill set to one day become an all-time great big man. Here are three reasons why:
That’s a 6-foot-11, 270 pound 19-year old making those moves. Are you kidding me?
3. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: The Irish are 24-4 on the season and are going to finish the season as a top four team in the ACC despite having a defense ranked 165th in adjusted efficiency, according to KenPom, and playing almost half of every game with a lineup that uses 6-foot-5 Bonzie Colson as the center. It’s incredible how much better Grant makes everyone on that team. He’s still not getting enough attenion, so I’m just going to leave this right here.
5. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: Josh Richardson is Tennessee’s best player this season. A 6-foot-6 wing, he is averaging 15.7 points and 3.6 assists while shooting 36.5 percent from three. He also runs the point for the Vols from time-to-time. On Tuesday night, when Kentucky played at Tennessee, Cauley-Stein — Kentucky’s 7-foot-1 center — drew the assignment of covering Richardson, who finished 4-for-14 from the floor:
He also drew the assignment of covering Auburn’s K.T. Harrell. Cauley-Stein might be the best defensive center in the country. He might also be the best perimeter defender in the country. He can single-handily take any advantage an opposing team has when they run a screen-and-roll by his ability to switch out onto ball-handlers.
6. Delon Wright, Utah: The Utes fell at Oregon over the weekend, putting their Pac-12 title hopes in jeopardy, but that shouldn’t take any of the luster off of the season that Wright is having. We’ve discussed this before, but one of the things that makes Wright so efficient offensively despite the fact that he doesn’t make many threes is that he’s incredible at getting to the rim and finishing over bigger players. If you didn’t believe me, here’s some visual proof:
7. Kris Dunn, Providence: Dunn had 21 points, four boards, four assists and four steals in last week’s win over DePaul, a relatively mediocre win for the guy that should be in everyone’s college basketball FanDuel lineups whenever he is suiting up. But he also had six turnovers in that game, which is not all that surprising considering that he is averaging 4.2 turnovers on the season. Is that the reason that he doesn’t show up on more Player of the Year listings?
8. T.J. McConnell, Arizona: This isn’t necessarily going to be about T.J. McConnell, but I wanted to take the chance to highlight a brilliant coaching move from Sean Miller over the weekend. With Arizona locked in a tight game at home against UCLA, Miller noticed that the Bruins had switched to a 3-2 zone late in the second half. Kevon Looney, who was killing the Wildcats in the second half, was playing at the top of the zone. He also had four fouls, so Miller called for a set play — one he likely implemented that week while prepping for the game — where Stanley Johnson and Gabe York set in-screens on the two wings, leaving Looney to guard McConnell 1-on-1. McConnell goes by him and draws Looney’s fifth foul, getting the potential lottery pick out of the game:
9. Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa: As long as the Panthers and Wichita State can get past their midweek games, they’ll head into Saturday — the final game of the regular season — tied for first place in the Missouri Valley. On a Saturday with some unreal matchups, that might end up being the best of the day.
10. Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga: The only reason Justin Anderson isn’t listed here is because he’s dealing with that broken finger, but don’t let that take away from the season that Wiltjer has had. He’s 17.4 points and 5.8 boards he’s averaging while shooting 46.9 percent from three is impressive in and of itself, but when you look at his efficiency numbers is when it goes from good to great. Wiltjer’s offensive rating, according to KenPom, is 132.1, an insanely high number before you even consider the fact that he’s using 26.3 percent of Gonzaga’s possessions. Only one other player since 2004, when KenPom started keeping track of these numbers, has had an offensive rating above 130 while using at least 24 percent of his team’s possessions.
If Wiltjer wasn’t such a question mark on the defensive end, he’d be much higher on this list.
OTHERS THAT WERE CONSIDERED: Justin Anderson (Virginia), Ron Baker (Wichita State), Ryan Boatright (UConn), Rakeem Christmas (Syracuse), Kyle Collinsworth (BYU), Tyler Haws (BYU), Buddy Hield (Oklahoma), Stanley Johnson (Arizona), Jarell Martin (LSU), Jordan Mickey (LSU), Larry Nance Jr. (Wyoming), Georges Niang (Iowa State), Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga), Bobby Portis (Arkansas), Juwan Staten (West Virginia), Melo Trimble (Maryland), Seth Tuttle (Northern Iowa), Brad Waldow (St. Mary’s), Joseph Young (Oregon)