On the spot, the other day on the radio, I was asked to name an All-America team.
And I was stumped.
Honestly, I hadn't put much thought into it, hadn't really sat down and assembled a team based less on preseason expectations and more on what's actually happened through the first seven weeks of the season. But as the New Year approaches and conference play gets underway, it seemed reasonable to take stock of the nation and determine the leading candidates to be First Team All-Americans.
|With such a balanced team, Kansas' Sherron Collins fails to make the top five. (Getty Images)|
If I had to name an All-America team right now, it would look like this:
Now let's answer some questions.
Q: Why these guys?
A: If you read me regularly, you know that I care very little about players who post big numbers for bad teams, and that I typically love great players on great teams. That's why it should surprise nobody that four of the players -- Wall, Johnson, Butler and James -- are the most important players for four of the teams ranked among the top six nationally. The only exception here to that guiding principle is Harangody, but he's just too darn good to be ignored.
Q: Who has the strongest case of any player?
A: Wall, obviously. He's the best player and prospect in the nation, and it's not even really close. He's averaging 17.2 points, 7.5 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game. He's a great leader, a wonderful teammate and leading his team to what should be a Final Four. Soon enough, the conversation won't be about whether Wall will win National Player of the Year. It'll be about whether he's the best freshman in the history of college basketball, and it'll be a conversation worth having.
Q: No Kansas Jayhawks? Really?
A: That's a fair complaint. But you can't remove Wall for Sherron Collins, and probably can't remove Harangody for Cole Aldrich. I suppose you could argue Collins instead of Johnson, or Xavier Henry instead of Johnson or Butler. But I'd rather have the team listed above than any team that removed one of my players for Collins, Aldrich or Henry. Is it possible all three are being hurt because they play with the other two, meaning none of them can post huge numbers because Kansas is just too balanced? Yes. In fact, I think that's precisely the issue. And that's why I suspect one of the Jayhawks, probably Collins, will ultimately earn First Team honors. But right now, it's reasonable to leave them off.
Q: Who do you regret leaving off most?
A: The Kansas trio. Then there's Duke's Jon Scheyer, who is averaging 18.5 points and 6.0 assists for the seventh-ranked Blue Devils. Washington's Quincy Pondexter is averaging 21.9 points and 8.4 rebounds for the likely Pac-10 champions. Kentucky's Patrick Patterson (16.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game) and DeMarcus Cousins (15.2 points and 9.0 rebounds per game) would be more serious candidates if not for Wall's enormous shadow. I still like Wake Forest's Al-Farouq Aminu (16.7 points and 11.3 rebounds per game), too. And then there's Washington State's Klay Thomspon, whose 25.0 points per game ranks third nationally and has the Cougars off to a 10-2 start.
Q: Any darkhorse candidates who don't get the same kind of attention?
A: That list starts with Kansas State's Jacob Pullen, who is averaging 19.8 points (while shooting 44.2 percent from 3-point range) for the No. 12 Wildcats. Then there's junior college transfer Darington Hobson, who is averaging 16.9 points and 8.1 rebounds for the 19th-ranked Lobos. And I left a recent trip to Waco really impressed with Baylor's Ekpe Udoh, a 6-foot-10 transfer from Michigan who is getting 14.6 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.9 blocks for the better-than-most-realize team Scott Drew has assembled. I know this sounds crazy, but it's possible Udoh could by March be considered the best post player in the Big 12 despite the presence of Aldrich and Dexter Pittman. I'm not predicting it'll go that way, necessarily. I'm just telling you it's possible.
Q: And what about the Coach of the Year race?
A: Bill Carmody has to be the frontrunner, right? Not only does he have Northwestern ranked 25th, he has Northwestern ranked despite the loss of Kevin Coble, who was widely regarded as the Wildcats' best player. Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, Southern California's Kevin O'Neill, Kansas State's Frank Martin, Temple's Fran Dunphy, New Mexico's Steve Alford and Kentucky's John Calipari are some other worthy candidates. But for now, Carmody would get my vote.