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. 

Avoiding the Sophomore Slump This Season

The sophomore season is an interesting year for players in college basketball. For some freshman, it’s a year to build on what may have been a underwhelming first year. For others, it’s an attempt to avoid a sophomore slump, after breaking onto the scene and dazzling from the very start. The seven players below had very different freshman campaigns, but they all have one thing in common. They must avoid the hyperbole sophomore slump in order to help their respective team win this year.

Payton Pritchard – Oregon

Payton Pritchard is one of the few returning players from the Duck’s Final Four team last season. Playing a limited scoring role last season due to the heavy back court depth, Pritchard finished eighth in assists in the Pac 12 with 3.6 assists a game. Pritchard will take on more of a scoring role this season, but will likely not be Oregon’s go-to scorer. That role will go to incoming freshman Troy Brown. With Brown taking a bulk of the scoring, Pritchard will be in charge of facilitating the offense and being the Duck’s number two scorer. After spending the summer playing on the U19 FIBA World Cup team, I expect Pritchard to be a leader for the Ducks in his second year.

VJ King – Louisville

Everyone knows about the coaching change at Louisville, which will affect the team this season. Also a factor is the suspension of incoming freshman Brian Bowen. Bowen was a heralded recruit, expecting to take over a bulk of the scoring left by Donovan Mitchell. Now with Bowen’s status for the season uncertain, a hole is left on the wing. Enter VJ King. King is expected by many to be the team’s breakout player this year. Starting in seven games, he led the team in free throw and three-point percentage, but his attempts were low. Louisville is notorious for having good front court depth, but often lacks the ability to spread teams out from deep. Incoming freshman Jordan Nwora was brought in to help, but if King can lead the Cards in these shooting categories again, while putting up more volume, he will fill a big hole for Louisville this season.

 

Temple Gibbs – Notre Dame

Gibbs served a modest role last season, rotating in with upperclassmen Matt Farrell, Steve Vasturia and VJ Beachem. With Farrell the only one in that group set to return, expect Mike Brey to demand a lot more out of Gibbs this season.  Notre Dame has a reputation of guard development. Matt Farrell and Demetrius Jackson are two of the more recent examples of players who improved vastly year over year at ND. Gibbs looks next in line to follow this lineage. With 27 points per game needing to be accounted for between Beachem and Vasturia, the Irish will need Gibbs to step up and handle a portion of that.

Miles Bridges – Michigan State

This seems like an obvious one seeing as Brides was an assumed one-and-done player. Not many counted on him sticking around, as he was expected to be a lottery pick in this past draft. The freshman wing showed an unmatched athleticism last season, and has a body that is ready for the NBA. After deciding to come back for a sophomore campaign, Bridges’ presence has catapulted Sparty to a Preseason Top 5 team. Last year Michigan State was young and inexperienced; this year they are mature and, talented and deep. Bridges is the key to a Final Four run for Tom Izzo’s club this year.

Andrew Jones – Texas

There was a lot to be excited about in Austin thanks to the recruiting class Shaka Smart brought in. That excitement elevated when Andrew Jones withdrew his name from the NBA Draft. Jones was the Longhorn’s second leading scorer last year, not including Tevin Mack who was suspended after 15 games. He led the team in 3-point percentage and will be a leader on a team that will rely heavily on the contribution of their newly arrived freshman. I expect Jones to raise his scoring efficiency this year and be the center point of the Longhorn’s offense. If not, Texas will fail to see the Big Dance yet again.

Robert Williams – Texas A&M

Williams was another player who some thought would jump to the NBA after one year due to this great play as a freshman. The Louisiana native took home SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors, as well as Second Team All-SEC. Williams averaged just shy of 12 points per game last year and led the Aggies with 8 rebounds per contest. His efficiency and defensive prowess will make for a good career at the next level, when the time comes. Williams owns any paint he’s in. His near 2.5 blocks per game to go along with those 8 rebounds prove that. He will need to build on his 55% shooting and continue to be efficient on offense for Texas A&M to succeed. With a non conference schedule that includes West Virgina, USC and Arizona, Williams needs to be big for the Aggies this year.

Amir Coffey – Minnesota

Minnesota enjoyed one of its best seasons in recent years despite a first round NCAA Tournament upset in which many viewed them as the underdog. The Gophers bring back a lot of last year’s team, including senior Nate Mason. While Mason was the team’s leading scorer, Amir Coffey will be a key piece to a second straight tournament appearance. Coffey was the perfect “complimentary” piece next to Mason last year. He finished second on the team in scoring, assists and steals per game. He led the team in scoring on several occasions last season. With Wisconsin, Purdue and Michigan all losing big pieces to last year’ teams, there is a chance for Minnesota to finish in the top three of the conference. Coffey will need to repeat, if not increase that production for Minnesota to finish near the top of the Big ten.

Honorable Mentions:

Bruce Brown (Miami) – Brown will be a stud at Miami this season. With the return of Ja’Quan Newton and a (hopefully) healthy Lonnie Walker, he will not be leaned on as heavily as the guys above.

Maceij Bender (WVU) – Bender only played 6 minutes a game last season, but will play a huge role for West Virginia while Esa Ahmad sits the first half of the season due to suspension. 

Ty Jerome (Virginia) – London Perrantes finally graduated (really, he did). Tony Bennett will give the keys to Jerome now to drive the Cavaliers through an always rigorous ACC schedule. 

Rawle Alkins (Arizona) – Alkins will miss the beginning of the season due to a foot injury. His injection into the line up mid year could catapult the Wildcats at the right time, and Sean Miller might finally get into a Final Four. 

Jeff Dowtin (Rhode Island) – Dowtin came on strong down the stretch for coach Danny Hurley and Rhode Island. I expect him to be an even better distributor than he was last year, and Rhode Island to dance again in March. 

Teams and Players to Watch in the BIG Ten

big ten

The Big Ten showed up in a big way last year. Even while perennial powerhouse Michigan State struggled, the Big 10 was one of the most solid conferences through and through. This year should be more of the same as we preview some of the best teams and some of the best players you should watch this season.

Talented Teams

michigan state, big ten

Michigan State

The Spartans had an uncharacteristically average season last year, finishing 10-8 in conference play, placing them directly in the middle of the pack at 7th place. Much of MSU’s struggles can be chalked up to inexperience. The Spartans were loaded with underclassmen last year and even a coach like Tom Izzo cannot be expected to do much with such a green roster. However, since Izzo is one of the best to ever do it, one year of growth for his young squad will be all they need. Look for the Spartans to be back on top of the Big 10 this year.

Minnesota

While a first round exit in the NCAA tournament was not what Minnesota was hoping for, the Golden Gophers will return a bunch of key players that carried them to the postseason. Minnesota is returning 4 of their 5 starters. Nate Mason, last year’s leading scorer and floor general, will return for his senior season Look for the Golden Gophers to be one of the most complete teams in the country, as they will exhibit strong guard play paired with 2 veteran big men.

Purdue

The Boilermakers may have lost Caleb Swanigan to the NBA Draft, but almost everyone else from last year is back. Like last year, Purdue’s success will largely come from their dominant inside presence. Issac Hass’ 7-2 frame will be more than enough for Purdue to continue their recent trend of winning by dominating the paint and boards on both ends of the floor.

 

Teams on the Downswing

maryland, big ten

Maryland

The Terrapins had a very underwhelming season last year. Expectations were high and they did not quite meet them. They managed to finish 3rd in the Big 10 but did not necessarily impress en route to doing so. They also got bounced in the first round of the Big Dance by Xavier. Justin Jackson will return, but I doubt this will be enough to cover up for the loss of Melo Trimble, who was the face or Maryland basketball for the past couple of years. Besides Jackson, the only player returning who averages double-digit points per game is Anthony Cowan. So unless some like Kevin Huerter or Jared Nickens can help carry the load, expect a very pedestrian showing from Maryland this year.

Wisconsin

The Badgers are coming off of an incredibly hot ending to the season, in which they went all the way to the Big 10 Championship and kept the momentum going, knocking out the #1 overall seed Villanova. However, like Maryland, the Badgers are also losing two key players in Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig. Ethan Happ is the only returning starter from last year’s squad, as Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown are also gone. With so many question marks and such a high level of competition, I wouldn’t count on the Badgers to be much of a force this year.

Ohio State

The departure of Thad Matta signals a culture shock for the Buckeyes. After a couple of mediocre seasons, change at the top was needed and now Chris Holtmann is leading the charge with 10 toes in. Ohio State returns leading scorer Jae-Sean Tate, but there is a major drop off after that. It could be a tough year in Columbus, but hey, it’s always darkest before the dawn right?

 

Big 10 Player of the Year Candidates

miles bridges, big ten, michigan state

Miles Bridges

You can’t talk about talent in the Big 10 without talking about Miles Bridges. Many are shocked to him return to school after averaging 17 points and 8 rebounds after his freshman year at Michigan State. Bridges is the ideal wing player, as he shoots well inside and beyond the arc. He shot an incredible 55% from inside the arc last year thanks to his pure stroke and magnificent finishing abilities. Pair that with a 39% percentage from deep and add in a year of development under Tom Izzo, the results could be insane. Not only will Bridges be one of the best players in the conference, he will be one of the best players in the nation.

Nate Mason

The senior floor general is coming off a solid 2016-2017 campaign where he averaged 15 points and 5 assists per game. Mason is crafty with the ball and has above average awareness and vision, as he turned the ball over under 2 times per game as well. Mason will also have a strong supporting cast around him, including Amir Coffey, who many think will have a breakout year. Mason is an experienced and proven leader surrounded by a familiar, and talented, team so there is no reason he cannot improve upon his stellar performance from last year.

Moe Wagner

The stretch 4 should have a huge year for the Wolverines, especially with the departure of Derrick Walton. Wagner will be the go-to man for Michigan this year so expect his production to sky-rocket. Wagner perfectly fits the trend we are seeing from contemporary European big men. He is tall, long and can score from inside and out. Many believe that Wagner made the right decision in leaving the NBA Draft, as he will now have another year to prove his worth. He averaged 12 points and 4 rebounds last year, but look for him to pump those numbers up and perform similar to another European of recent memory, Lauri Markkanen.

40 Hoop Group Alumni Named to ESPN Top 100

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Erlier this week, ESPN released their top 100 players in the class of 2016. Of these 100 prospects, an incredible 40% of them, have attended a Hoop Group event in their life. Whether it was a camp, tournament or Top 100, this list continues to prove how many elite players come to the Hoop Group every year. Let’s breakdown some takeaways from the list:

9 Have Already Committed to Division 1 Schools

A young Omari Spellman breaks onto the scene at Future All-American Camp in 2015

A young Omari Spellman breaks onto the scene at Future All-American Camp in 2015. Spellman is now committed to play at the University of Villanova

Not uncommon for most players of this stature, nine of our alum have verbally committed to a Division 1 school prior to the start of their senior year. We would like to recognize and congratulate these players.

  • Omari Spellman – Villanova
  • Tyus Battle – Michigan
  • Justin Jackson – UNLV
  • Derek Funderburk – Ohio State
  • Matthew Moyer – Syracuse
  • Ty Jerome – Virginia
  • Temple Gibbs – Notre Dame
  • J.J. Caldwell – Texas A&M
  • Mamadou Diarra – Connecticut

4 Alumni have Trained in the Poconos

A lot of hard work and training goes into making a list of this nature. Four of our alums have put in the work at Hoop Group Skills Camp in the mountains of Stroudsburg, PA. This includes a pair of New Jersey players in Tyus Battle (Gill St. Bernard) and Taurean Thompson (St. Anthony’s), Connecticut’s Mustapha Heron (Sacred Heart School) and Curtis Jones, who attends Huntington Prep in West Virginia.

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32 Have Competed in Team Tournaments

The Hoop Group Team Tournaments division prides itself on providing a high level of competition at all its events; this list helps support that claim. Just a few weeks ago we saw Dennis Smith (Trinity Christian), Miles Bridges (Huntington Prep), Mamadou Diarra (Woodstock Academy) and Edrice Adebayo (Northside HS) dominate at the Southern Jam Fest. A number of guys have displayed their talents out in Pitt over the years as well (Kwe Parker, Derek Funderburk and Xavier Simpson are a few).

But it’s more than just AAU. A number of players have competed with their high school teams during our in season showcases. Notre Dame commit Temple Gibbs (who plays on Seton Hall Prep), Tony Carr (Roman Catholic) and Bryce Aiken (Patrick School) all are included on that list.

Hoop Group Tournaments bring in top talent.

18 Alumni Have Attended Elite Camp

Whether it was early in their careers attending Future All-American Camp, playing with their high school team at Team Camp, or attending various Elite Sessions, 18 of the Top 100 players in the Class of 2016 have attended Hoop Group Elite Camp. Headlining the list at 16 is Villanova commit Omari Spellman (MacDuffie School). Spellman was just one of eight players to attend Future All-American Camp. Other FAA attendees include Rawle Alkins (Christ the King), Justin Jackson (Findlay Prep), Sedee Keita (22 Feet Academy) and Lamar Stevens (Haverford School).

Then there was Markelle Fultz (DeMatha Catholic), Kevin Heurter (Shenendehowa Central) and Tyus Battle (Gill St. Bernard), who we saw just last summer when they traveled with their high school teams to Reading to compete in Team Camp. And Kassoum Yakwe (Our Savior New American) who was an all-star at Elite Session 1 last year.

See the full list

While we’ve mentioned a lot of players on the list, we have not hit all 40. Check out the entire list of #HGAlum in the Class of 2016, and where they rank, right here!

PlayerPositionESPN Ranking
Josh JacksonSF#3
Dennis SmithPG#4
Miles BridgesSF#7
Edrice AdebayoPF#8
Terrance FergusonSG#14
Omari SpellmanPF#16
Dewan HuellPF#18
Markelle FultzSG#21
Rawle AlkinsSF#22
Mustapha HeronSG#26
Tyus BattleSG#27
Justin JacksonSF#29
Maverick RowanSF#30
Seventh WoodsSG#32
Juwan DurhamPF#33
Jaylen FisherPG#41
Derek FunderburkPF#44
Javin DeLaurierPF#49
Matthew MoyerSF#51
Tony CarrPG#52
Curtis JonesSG#65
Ty JeromePG#66
Shamorie PondsSG#67
Koby McEwanPG#71
Temple GibbsSG#72
Kevin HuerterSG#73
Lamar StevensSF#74
Sedee KeitaPF#83
Wenyen GabrielPF#84
Xavier SimpsonPG#87
Bryce AikenPG#88
Kwe ParkerSG#90
Taurean ThompsonC#91
Jayce JohnsonC #92
Miles PowellSG#93
Cameron LardPF#94
Quentin GoodinPG#95
J.J. CaldwellPG#96
Mamadou Diarrac#98
Kassoum YakwePF#100