Welcome to the East All-Stars! If you missed the West, check them out here. Quick recap of what we’re doing here, from the first section: “The rules are pretty simple. Two teams, same roster rules as the NBA:
1. Two backcourt players, three frontcourt players in the starting lineup (players who spend most of their time at the 3 count as frontcourt)
2. Two backcourt, three frontcourt, and two wildcards on the bench for a total roster of 12
3. For the purposes of making an East vs. West, I’ll use the Mississippi River as a dividing line (Louisiana Purchase continues to be key)
Everyone’s criteria will probably be different, but here’s mine: I pored over stats from KenPom, sports-reference.com, and Synergy Sports, along with film and my faithful eye test, trying mightily to put together the most worthy group of 12 guys I could. Also – team success matters. I want these guys to be in, or right on the fringe of, the NCAA field – no, I’m not sorry, Markelle Fultz. I placed premiums on efficiency and high usage, and I’m also setting a fairly arbitrary cutoff that players must have played 60% or more of their team’s minutes so far this year. As Zach Lowe says, “availability is a skill,” whether it be due to injury, fouls, or accidental steroids.”
Joel Berry, Jr., North Carolina – 15.5ppg, 3.4rpg, 4.0apg, 1.5spg – 122.7 O-rating, 21.1% usage
DeAaron Fox, Fr., Kentucky – 16.2ppg, 4.6rpg, 5.9apg, 1.6spg – 113.1 O-rtg, 26.5% usage
When in doubt with guards, I lean hard towards point guards and primary ball-handlers. Scoring is nice (and you’ll find Fox’s higher-scoring teammate further down this list – Berry’s just missed), but Berry and Fox have been elite table-setters for the Heels and Wildcats, respectively. Berry missed two games with an injury, but he still satisfies my minutes threshold, and UNC’s sloppy efforts without him (closer-than-they-should-be wins at home vs.Tennessee and Davidson) serve to strengthen my argument. Berry is their best outside shooter (42% despite many being off the dribble) and he sets the tone for their perimeter defense. His offensive plus/minus (+8.3) is 12th in the country, as his combination of scoring and creating for others is crucial to UNC’s attack. He also rocks an excellent hair/beard combo this year.
Speaking of awesome hair, Fox has one hell of a ‘do himself. He’s also an elite NBA prospect at guard, a devastating penetrator and excellent shot creator who wreaks havoc on opposing defensive schemes by essentially living in the lane on offense. His only real flaws are physical strength (it will come) and outside shooting ability. As noted on our podcast on this topic, though, his form is really not broken and he hits 70% of his free throws, so there’s reason to hope his perimeter jumper will come around eventually. Some may look at this and say “but Monk is averaging 22ppg!” To you I say – 90% of Monk’s threes are assisted, and Monk’s scoring and efficiency benefits massively from the attention drawn by Fox’s drives.
Josh Hart, Sr., Villanova – 19.0ppg, 6.6rpg, 3.5apg, 1.6spg – 129.8 O-rtg, 26.6% usage
Biggie Swanigan, So., Purdue – 18.8ppg, 12.7rpg, 2.8apg, 0.8bpg – 114.9 O-rtg, 28.0% usage
Ethan Happ, R So., Wisconsin – 14.5ppg, 9.0rpg, 2.9apg, 2.0spg, 1.0bpg – 117.5 O-rtg, 28.9% usage
It may or may not be cheating to include Josh Hart as a frontcourt player, but my argument for that is as follows: he already plays nearly half of his minutes with Brunson and DiVincenzo, both of whom are definitely guards, and once Phil Booth returns, an even higher share of Hart’s minutes will be spent at the three. I don’t feel a major need to defend Hart as a starter, though – he’s my pick for National Player of the Year right now (he’s KenPom’s as well), he has amazing counting stats, sparkling advanced stats (#1 nationally in win shares, #3 nationally in overall plus/minus per sports-reference.com), he passes the eye test with flying colors, and he’s already had major moments in the spotlight where he’s stepped up in the clutch. There’s very little more you could ask for from a player.
Caleb Swanigan, or “Biggie” as he’s apparently become known now nationally, is maybe the King of Counting Stats so far this year. His preposterous rebounding numbers have been impossible to ignore, with four 20-board games on his ledger (including three in a four-game stretch), and he’s #3 nationally in defensive rebounding rate. He’s using a ton of possessions for an offense that has climbed all the way to #15 in the country per KenPom, and perhaps the most surprising/deadly feature to his game is his newfound silky shooting stroke. He’s already hit the same amount of threes as last year (21) but on 30 less attempts; he’s cooking at a sizzling 50% clip from deep this year. If we’re picking nits, he still turns the ball over too much (3.5 per game), but basically every other part of his game is All-American-level.
Speaking of flaws in a player’s game – let’s start with Ethan Happ’s. He’s shooting a miserable 52% on free throws, and…that’s about it for flaws. He’s a hyper-efficient post scorer with (in my opinion) the best footwork in the country:
He’s an elite rebounder, leads the Badgers’ in assist rate (?!), and also leads them in steals (15th in the country in steal rate!!) and blocks. Sports-reference.com absolutely adores him, as he leads the country in overall plus/minus by a full two points (+17.3 – second place is +15.2). He’s quietly surpassed two program pillars (Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes) to become the Badgers’ best player, and if Wisconsin didn’t play so damn S-L-O-W, he’d have more momentum to be the Big Ten POY over Swanigan (hoops writer Sam Vecenie is leading this movement).
London Perrantes, Sr., Virginia – 12.3ppg, 3.2rpg, 3.7apg, 0.6spg – 115.2 O-rtg, 22.9% usage
Jevon Carter, Jr., West Virginia – 12.2ppg, 4.5rpg, 4.7apg, 3.0spg – 121.6 O-rtg, 19.4% usage
Two guys whose counting stats don’t truly portray their value. Mark Titus of The Ringer did a great job of deep-diving London-town’s game here, illustrating that it’s not completely about stats for him. He’s a heart-and-soul leader for one of the best and most consistent teams in the country, and his stats would surely be more impressive if the Cavs didn’t play at the nation’s second-slowest tempo. He’s also the only guy on the team averaging 30+ mpg, which demonstrates just how much value Tony Bennett places in constantly having him on the floor. One of my favorite London plays is how consistently he makes the right read in Virginia’s curl-heavy offense, threading clever passes to the roll man for a lay-up:
Carter is also his team’s undisputed leader and brings a gigantic amount of value on the defensive end. He’s the most frenetic defender for Bobby HuggyBear’s Press Virginia insanity, leading the team and ranking 5th in the country with a 5.6% steal rate, per KenPom. Sports-reference.com’s advanced stats also love Mr. Carter, ranking him tied for first in defensive win shares, fourth in defensive rating, and fifth in overall box score plus/minus. He’s no slouch offensively, either, as evidenced by his team-leading assist rate and sublime O-rtg. He’s the go-to guy when West Virginia needs a bucket late in the shot clock or late in the game, and a bonus for fans: his receding hairline distinguishes him from the Mountaineers’ other seemingly-cloned guards!
Bonzie Colson, Jr., Notre Dame – 15.6ppg, 10.5rpg, 1.1spg, 1.3bpg – 119.2 O-rtg, 25.2% usage
Luke Kennard, So., Duke – 19.8ppg, 5.5rpg, 2.5apg, 1.0spg – 134.1 O-rtg, 22.4% usage
Jacob Evans, So., Cincinnati – 14.5ppg, 4.3rpg, 2.5apg, 1.2spg – 125.0 O-rtg, 21.2% usage
BONZIE! Notre Dame’s anchor in the paint has been incredible this year, amping up his rebounding while staying hyper-efficient in a featured role following the departure of Zach Auguste. He’s only 6’5, but due to the Irish’s lack of dynamic center options and Colson’s own 7-foot wingspan, he’s spending a lot of time at the 5 as the screener in Mike Brey’s beautiful spread pick-and-roll scheme. He has snuck onto KenPom’s NPOY radar (currently sitting in 10th), and he’s also 19th in overall win shares per sports-reference. He’s been useful on both ends of the floor, and perhaps his deadliest quality is his 83% FT shooting – he’s tough to stop while constantly attacking the rim, but fouling him nearly always gives the Irish two free points.
Kennard probably deserves to start, but I’m (unfairly) penalizing him for Duke’s struggles of late and choosing to make him a frontcourt player based on how much time he spends at the 3 (often playing with 2 of Grayson Allen, Frank Jackson, and Matt Jones). For my money, he has the silkiest jump shot in the game, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him miss a three-pointer – he’s roughly 102-for-102 when I've watch him play over the past two years (and he just went 6/6 on Saturday at Wake Forest, including an ice-in-his-veins game winner). He’s just been ludicrously efficient from the floor while also showing a surprising amount of playmaking out of the PnR and in transition. Duke should be running way more of their action through him (and not Allen and Jab-step Jayson Tatum), one of the bigger knocks on Capel to this point in his interim period.
Another guy we discussed in detail on our podcast is Jacob Evans, who to me is the main reason Cincinnati is comfortably in the top-25 and sniffing a protected seed (top-16). Most think of Troy Caupain, Gary Clark, or Kyle Washington first for the Bearcats (I did too before I went through this exercise), but Evans actually leads the team in scoring and offensive rating (top 70 in the country) while serving as the shutdown perimeter defender for the nation’s 7th-ranked defense, efficiency-wise. He’s a Swiss-army knife of versatility, showing the ability to get key steals and blocks or knock down crucial threes (40%) in big moments. Clark is actually 13th in the country in overall plus/minus, but I’m choosing to give the perpetually-underrated Evans some shine.
Malik Monk, Fr., Kentucky – 21.7ppg, 2.4rpg, 2.4apg, 1.2spg – 122.3 O-rtg, 25.5% usage
Donovan Mitchell, So., Louisville – 14.1ppg, 4.8rpg, 2.5apg, 2.0spg – 112.1 O-rtg, 23.6% usage
I mentioned Monk above in the Fox section, and while he may be second in the country in major-conference scoring at 21.7ppg (behind Markelle Fultz’s 23.7ppg), I downgrade him to a wildcard due to his penchant for streaky shooting and lack of much versatility to his game. But hoo boy, when he’s on, it’s electric; his 47-point supernova explosion against UNC was one of the most impressive displays of individual shot-making I’ve seen in a college game. As SEC play has progressed, he’s starting to attack the rim more (FT rate has risen from 27.0 to 45.1), and more easy points for Monk = deadly for the ‘Cats opponents. His scoring ability gives him an even higher offensive plus/minus than his teammate (+9.1), and Kentucky’s shooting-starved roster would really struggle with spacing if he missed any time.
Mitchell is a bit of a pet pick of mine, but think there’s enough of an argument to be made for him that I don’t feel bad about it. Louisville has the country’s #2-ranked defense, and Mitchell is their best defender and player: He’s tied for 6th in the country in defensive win shares and is 9th in overall plus/minus; his offense is coming along as the year progresses. With backcourt mate Quentin Snider out, Donovan Mitchell has played his best basketball:
Louisville just won back-to-back conference games by a combined 80 points despite their injuries, and Mitchell (and their defense) is the key reason why. He’s at 43% from deep in conference play, and if he’s hitting shots, he’s nearly unstoppable.
Toughest exclusions: Justin Jackson, Jr., UNC (toughest cut – I’m probably underselling him); Melo Trimble, Jr., Maryland (not super efficient, but he’s the clear leader of an 18-2 B1G team); Sindarius Thornwell, Sr., South Carolina (missed too much time with suspension – otherwise he’d be a lock); John Collins, So., Wake Forest (Wake needs to beat some tourney-quality teams first); Yante Maten, Jr., Georgia (struggling just enough in the SEC to keep him out); Jaron Blossomgame, Sr., Clemson (ditto with Clemson in the ACC); Scottie Lindsey, Jr., Northwestern (tough to choose between him, Law, and McIntosh); Kelan Martin, Sr., Butler (pretty blah efficiency); Matt Farrell, Jr., Notre Dame (but we still love you Matt!!); Tacko Fall, So., UCF (he’s a monster, literally and figuratively); Dennis Smith, Fr., NC State (they’re hanging around the tourney picture…); Trevon Blueitt, Jr., Xavier (can’t ignore 40-point explosions – also can’t ignore losing 4 out of 5)
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