Potential Player Of The Year Candidates

College basketball is less than a month away. Excitement is beginning to grow as practice intensifies and opening season tip-off tournaments are on the horizon. With that, let’s look at five guys who could be talked about as National Player of the Year Candidates.

Miles Bridges – Michigan State

Bridges is considered the favorite by many to win NPOY after a somewhat surprising return for his sophomore season. Bridges put up a complete stat line last year for the Spartans. He averaged 16 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.5 blocks a game during his freshman campaign. That is crazy. With the arrival of Jaren Jackson, and a more experienced Michigan State team, Bridges might not have the same stat line this year, but he will undoubtedly be the straw that stirs the drink for Tom Izzo.

Jalen Brunson – Villanova

Brunson is my favorite to win National Player of the Year now that he is the focal point of Villanova’s offense. Brunson’s game expanded last year despite being overshadowed by Josh Hart. However, Brunson still led the team in scoring multiple times last season. He seemed to shine brightest against the top competition in the Big East, scoring 20+ points in games versus Butler (twice), Seton Hall and Creighton. Expect more scoring output from Brunson this season, and a better assist/turnover ratio in his junior year.

Michael Porter Jr – Missouri

Porter is an interesting candidate because he is sure to put up the numbers and is also an expected top two draft pick in next year’s draft. The question mark will be Missouri’s record. Players in years past like Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz did not receive as much attention due to their team’s performance. Missouri’s record will better indicate if Porter is closer to Anthony Davis/Kevin Durant or Simmons/Fultz.

Allonzo Trier – Arizona

Trier should be a NPOY candidate with a full junior season under his belt. He was limited to just 18 games due to a suspension in the beginning of the season. Trier showed his best self when Sean Miller inserted him back into the starting line up, averaging just shy of 19 points per game in Arizona’s last 10 regular season games. DeAndre Ayton will receive a lot of publicity as a future lottery pick, but expect Trier to be the centerpiece of the Wildcat’s success.

Devonte’ Graham – Kansas

Kansas has a history of seeing seniors take giant leaps in production. Perry Ellis did it, so did Frank Mason. Expect Devonte’ Graham to be the next in line. Graham averaged 13 points and 4 assists per game last season playing a “third wheel” to Mason and Josh Jackson. Though his percentage was down, Graham was good for over 2.5 three-pointers a contest last year for KU. With Mason and Jackson gone, I expect Graham’s numbers to blow up as the senior leader of Bill Self’s squad.

Honorable Mentions:

Marvin Bagley/Grayson Allen – Each player should have strong seasons for Duke, but they will both take production away from each other in terms of NPOY recognition

Joel Berry – A lot of pieces depart from UNC’s National Championship team. Berry is the key returner who will be enemy number one on every opposing team’s scouting report.

Angel Delgado – Delgado is good for a double-double every time he’s on the court. The Pirates should have a strong year thanks to a great senior nucleus, and Delgado should lead the country in double-doubles. 

The Border War is Back…Kind Of

The Border War is back, sort of. It was announced today that Kansas and Missouri will play in an exhibition game on October 22nd at the Sprint Center. All money raised by the game will go towards supporting hurricane relief efforts. Many college basketball junkies know the rivalry that exists between the Jayhawks and Tigers. While this game’s first priority is to raise money, it will also give fans a taste of one of the best rivalries in college sports.

Kansas and Missouri first played each other on the hardwood back in 1907, but the Border War dates back even further. KU has the advantage, with a record of 172-96 against Mizzou. It’s been six years since the two programs have met however, due to Missouri moving out of the Big 12 Conference. For those that can remember, the last meeting between the two programs was epic. Kansas stormed back from a 19 point deficit at Phog Allen to top Missouri in overtime, 87-86. The outcome resulted in championship caliber celebrations and agony by each side. The win also gave Kansas their 8th straight conference championship.

“Playing Missouri does mean something. It means something to me.” -Kansas Coach, Bill Self

This exhibition game will not have the same allure as previous match-ups. The game does not count towards anyone’s record, and the goal is to raise money and not get anyone hurt before the real season begins. However, it’s tough to peg this as just another exhibition game. You have Kansas and their 13 straight Big 12 Championships. You have Missouri and their talented group of freshman, led by potential #1 pick Michael Porter Jr. And let’s not forget the rivalry and hatred that exists between the two states. Exhibition game or not, this game means something. The Sprint Center will be packed; it will be rowdy. Both fan bases will want a win whether it reflects on record or not.

There is everything to love about this game, and nothing to hate. Pre-Season All-Americans, a rich and storied rivalry, and above all, it’s for a great cause. College basketball may not tip off for another month, but we’re going to get an early look at two teams who have high expectations attached with them for this season. If all goes well, maybe we will see a non-conference, home and home develop out of this. Here’s to hoping.

Cuonzo Martin Creating Excitement In Missouri

In March, Cuonzo Martin stepped down from his coaching duties at the University of California. That same day he took the vacant position at the University of Missouri. From there all Martin has done is get the Mizzou faithful excited for the upcoming basketball season. First he hired Michael Porter Sr. to his staff, which all but insured his son, Michael Porter Jr., would choose Missouri after decommitting from Washington. With Porter on board for one year, Missouri fans could dream of a Michael Beasley scenario – a seemingly bona fide star destined for the NBA dominating the college level and leading his team to the NCAA tournament.

Martin followed up by inking another Top 100 recruit in Jeremiah Tillmon, who decommitted from Illinois after head coach John Groce was fired. Now Martin had two Top 50 recruits in hand. Fans could envision a Greg Oden & Michael Conley situation. A pair of young, one-and-done players leading their team to a National Championship Game.

Now, news broke that Jontay Porter, ESPN’s #11 Player in the Class of 2018, and younger brother of Michael, will reclassify and play with his brother this year in Columbia. This gives Mizzou a three-headed monster they could not have even imagined five months ago. In a weaker SEC conference, the trio alone can keep Missouri towards the bottom of the Top 25, and have them fighting with South Carolina for third place in the conference, behind Kentucky and Florida.

The Missouri ship has done a complete 180 degree turn and is sailing full steam into the college basketball season. Expectations and excitement have no doubt risen, but only time will tell how special this group can be. They do return their top three scorers from last season. But on a team that only managed eight wins last season, there is room for change all around. Only time will tell, but Cuonzo Martin has a special concoction brewing in Columbia right now.