The college basketball season has come to a close. All the buzzer-beaters, the court-storming, the rivalries and all the fun that is associated with the game and its atmosphere is painfully gone until November.
It was an entertaining year for the game, as well as the West, which boasted some of the best talent in the country. There will be a few players from the region who will get their names called during the 2015 NBA Draft. There are others who may not, but have been talked about as some of the best in college hoops.
Seriously, cutting down the pool of players in the six western conferences was a daunting task, so much that there’s a handful more on this roster than the maximum. Even then, there were perfectly worthy names that missed the cut.
Cutting down the pool of players to five starters was nearly impossible.
Without further adieu, here is an attempt at creating a team of the top players in the western region throughout the 2014-15 season.
The Rams were unfortunate to miss out on the NCAA Tournament, and then to lose in the opening round of the NIT to South Dakota State. However, J.J. Avila helped lead the Rams to 27 wins by averaging 16.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. He wasn’t just Colorado State’s leading scorer and rebounder, but he also led in steals as well, while winding up a first-team Mountain West Conference member.
Collinsworth is the first of a slew of guards who'll end up on this list. The West was packed with some of the best guards in the country, as seen by three of the five finalists of the Bob Cousy Award in the region. Then there’s Collinsworth, who tied the NCAA career triple-double record with six in this past season. To put in comparison, of the thousands of athletes from the 350 other Division I schools, only 13 other players picked up a triple-double this year and none of those athletes had more than one.
Collinsworth also wound up averaging 13.8 points, 8.7 rebounds and six assists per game. And yes, the point guard led BYU in rebounding by three boards per game more than anyone else on its roster.
Quick, name this year’s leading scorer in NCAA basketball? If you guessed anyone but Tyler Harvey, you would be wrong. The junior who never got recruited by a single Div. I coach out of high school (seriously) put together 1,415 points over the past two seasons. This year he averaged 23.1 points per game on 47 percent shooting and 43 percent from beyond the arc. He also led the country in 3-pointers made per game.
He scored 27 points and hit 6-of-12 from 3-point range in the Eagles’ NCAA Tournament loss to Georgetown. Though he didn’t win the Big Sky MVP award, Harvey has continued to show he not only belongs on a Div. I stage, but he might be the best little-known player in the country as well. He’ll now look to make the same splash in the NBA after declaring for the draft last week.
Not only was Corey Hawkins named Big West Conference Player of the Year, but he became the first Aggie in 104 years to end up on AP’s All-America list as an honorable mention. The senior averaged 20.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists for UC Davis this past season, leading the Aggies to a regular-season title. He also led the nation with his 49 percent shooting from 3-point range.
Josh Hawkinson went from averaging 1.2 points and 1.6 rebounds per game in six minutes to finishing fourth in the country with 20 double-doubles this year. In fact, not only did he pick up one in nearly two-thirds of the games he played this season, he also averaged a double-double with 14.7 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. It’s no surprise he won most improved Pac-12 player.
Tyler Haws averaged more than 20 points per game for the third consecutive year at 22.2 points per game in his senior season. He scored double figures in all but just one game this past season, and in doing so, he also surpassed Jimmer Fredette for the all-time school record in scoring. The senior from Alpine, Utah, is just one of three from the “Best of West” region to end up a finalist for the Wooden Award, as is a finalist for the Jerry West Award, as the best shooting guard in the country.
This high-flyer helped give Arizona the depth it needed to make its run to the Elite Eight. He averaged 11.2 points and a team-high 6.8 rebounds on 50 percent shooting. However, his most valuable asset came on defense, where he produced more Win Shares (a stat determining the amount a player contributed to a team during the season) defensively than offensively this season. There are conflicting reports that the sophomore opted to enter in the NBA Draft following the team’s run. If he does, both DraftExpress.com and nbadraft.net project him as a late first-round pick.
Kevon Looney is another one on this list who will reportedly test the pro waters, but will do so after just his freshman year. Though he was just the Bruins’ third-leading scorer, he was a key factor down the stretch for a team that shocked many when it reached the Sweet 16. Looney averaged 11.6 points and 9.2 rebounds in his lone college season.
Of note, not only did Looney lead all freshmen with 15 double-doubles on the season, he, Duke’s Jahlil Okafor and Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado were the only three freshmen in the country to compile more than eight double-doubles this season. It’s a good reason ESPN currently rates him seventh on its prospect big board.
The Broncos appeared down and out after an injury to a key leader in Anthony Drmic, but that’s when Derrick Marks stepped up and helped carry Boise State to a surprise regular-season Mountain West title and eventual NCAA Tournament berth.
The senior claimed the conference’s player of the year award by averaging 19.4 points per game — 4.5 points higher than his junior year average. He did so on 49 percent shooting from the floor and a career-best 44 percent from 3-point range.
It wasn’t a surprise to anyone that Wyoming’s struggles at the end of the regular season coincided with Larry Nance, Jr. being out with an illness. When he came back and got his feet under him, Wyoming made an unforeseen run to win the Mountain West Tournament. He led the Cowboys, who made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002, with 16.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. He did so on an efficient 51.4 percent shooting.
Pangos won the West Coast Conference Player of the Year, helping lead Gonzaga to a 35-3 season that ended in the Elite Eight. Sure, he averaged the fewest points in his career (11.6 points per game), but shot better from downtown (43 percent) and from the field in total (45 percent). More importantly, he had his best year facilitating the Zags’ offense. Pangos posted a career-best 4.8 assists mixed with career-low 1.3 turnovers per game. That resulted in the fourth-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the nation.
Gary Payton II made an immediate impact in his first season at Oregon State, averaging 13.4 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 3.1 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. With that, the junior college transfer led the Beavers in scoring, rebounding and steals, while second in assists and blocks.
He finished second in the nation with his little more than three steals per game, so it wasn’t a shock when he was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. He said he intends on returning for his senior season and if that commitment holds true, the Beavers — picked to finish last in the Pac-12 this past season only to finish seventh in the conference — may have a good shot to go further than that next season.
Chasson Randle surpassed the 2,000-career point mark this season and wound up with a career-best 19.6 points per game. Though his shooting percentages dipped from the floor this season, his free-throw percentage soared from 77 percent to 88 percent compared with last season.
That’s important because his free throws forced overtime in the NIT championship game, where he helped the Cardinal win that title. In fact, he took charge in that tournament, averaging 23.6 points. He also had other clutch postseason moments, such as a last-second 3-pointer to down Washington in the Pac-12 Tournament.
Christian Wood is another guy on this team who dominated the paint and the glass. The sophomore finished with 18 double-doubles this season — eighth-best in the country — on his way to averaging one with 15.7 points and 10 rebounds per game. He also shot roughly 56 percent from inside the arc offensively, while adding 2.7 blocks per game defensively. That total didn’t lead his team but was still 17th-best in the nation.
Joseph Young shut many of his critics up at the Pac-12 Tournament when he hit a last-second long 3-pointer to lead Oregon into the championship game. Young led the Pac-12 in scoring (20.7 points per game), which helped propel him to a conference player of the year award and the Ducks to a surprise second-place regular-season finish in the league.
Young didn’t have his best shooting percentage numbers, but notched career highs in scoring, rebounding (4.4 per game) and assists (3.8 per game) in his senior season.
T.J. McConnell doesn’t make this mythical all-star starting lineup because of gaudy stats or ridiculous athletic ability, but because of his exceptional hustle, leadership and heart. That’s something that any coach wants, but from a point guard especially. That can also be hard to find. He was the most valuable player on Arizona’s team that made the Elite Eight, even if there isn’t an award to prove it. It made him a Bob Cousy Award finalist as the best point guard in the country, and it’s why many argued his candidacy as the Pac-12 Player of the Year.
McConnell ended the season with 10.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, but more importantly finished with 6.3 assists per game — 11th-best in the country. However, his impact couldn’t be noted by stats.
In many ways, Delon Wright was a shooting guard this year for Utah, even though he made his team better even when he wasn’t launching shots. He’s the type of guy who makes plays that seem to have never been done before. And again, on a mythical team, who wouldn’t want to see how McConnell and Wright would run the backcourt together? It’d be one of the most unselfish teams in America.
Like McConnell, Wright is a leader. He’s not as vocal as his Arizona counterpart, but he’s just as effective on the floor leading by example. And like McConnell, Wright is a Bob Cousy Award finalist. In a region dominated by quality guards, both (and in many ways Pangos too) led in ways that separated themselves from the rest of the group.
Wright ended with 14.5 points and 4.9 rebounds, as well as a team-leading 5.1 assists and 2.1 steals per game. He led Utah in scoring, assists and steals, and was second in rebounding and blocks. He also made plays that seemingly changed the course of games throughout the season, which is another stat that cannot be measure.
Stanley Johnson hasn’t announced whether he’ll go pro or not (yet), but when he does, there’s a good chance he’s a lottery pick. DraftExpress.com currently has him going ninth overall, while nbadraft.net has him going No. 8 overall.
Johnson won Pac-12 Freshman of the Year while leading Arizona in scoring, while second in rebounding and steals. He finished his first year averaging 13.8 points per game and 6.5 rebounds per game, as well as 1.5 steals per game. His upside and athletic ability are hard to match at this position. He’s also a finalist for the Julius Erving Award as the best small forward in the country.
Kyle Wiltjer probably could have and should have won West Coast Conference Player of the Year, but considering the Zags swept the WCC awards this year, he likely didn’t care. He was the West Coast Conference’s Newcomer of the Year and certainly showed he’s grown plenty since transferring from Kentucky. He’s no longer a contributor; he’s a star. He’s also quickly becoming one of the best stretch forwards in the country — and is a finalist for the Karl Malone Award as the best power forward.
The junior led Gonzaga with 16.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, but also showed he has very little weaknesses shooting the ball. Wiltjer shot 46.6 percent from 3-point range, which was among the best in the country, and 54 percent from the floor in general — 12 percentage points better than when he was at Kentucky.
As a true freshman, Jakob Poeltl still has a lot to learn. However, finding centers with his type of upside is pretty rare (minus Kentucky). While he probably hasn’t even come close to his full potential, he still shot 74 percent from the floor on the biggest of stages — the NCAA Tournament. He also averaged 13.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and three blocks in those three games, while helping hold Okafor, one of the nation’s best centers, to six points and eight rebounds.
The Austrian wound up averaging 9.1 points on 68 percent shooting, 6.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in his first season. DraftExpress.com lists him as a potential lottery pick if he opts for the NBA.