JW's Non-Con All-Americans: Off the Beaten Mock

JW's Non-Con All-Americans: Off the Beaten Mock
Dec 27, 2006, 06:48 pm
At this time last season, college hoops fans and draft nuts alike were enjoying one of the best NPOY races the game had seen in some time. Both Adam Morrison and JJ Redick were considered near-lock lottery picks, both flirted with the mythical 30 ppg level, and both continued to one-up each other well into their respective conference seasons. 2007, projected to be one of the more top-heavy drafts in recent memory, is surprisingly thin on lottery picks producing at an All-American level. Other than truly sensational freshman Kevin Durant, not a single player projected to go in the Top 10 is even threatening the 20 ppg barrier.

Of course, it was this week one year ago that Brandon Roy put in his breakout performance against Arizona. While the Huskies would lose that game, Roy went from a player many were keeping an eye on to a projected lottery pick and lock First Team All-American in a matter of weeks. Could Darren Collison or Alando Tucker be in the process of blowing up Brandon Roy-style? Or maybe 2007’s big sleeper has yet to emerge, still flying under a radar currently dominated by an age limit-induced abundance of big names…

Please keep in mind that these teams represent no speculation of any kind, simply an “if the season ended today” type of snapshot. I have attempted to emphasize noteworthy individual performances that have led to noteworthy team success, while still looking for consistent standout production.

First Team All-America

PG Darren Collison, so, UCLA
(13.0 ppg, 6.2 apg, 2.7 spg, 59.3% fg’s, 44.8% 3-pt)

Much of the “best PG in the nation” discussion centered on Ronald Steele and Dominic James headed into the season, and point guard was actually considered a question mark for Ben Howland. But it is really hard to argue anyone but Collison as the top floor general in America thus far. His relentless on-the-ball defense absolutely keys the Bruin attack, and he does what he does without making critical mistakes. Collison isn’t a dominant scorer just yet, but you can see in remarkable shooting percentages just how well he understands when it is time to pass and when it is time to get his.

SG Chris Lofton, jr, Tennessee (22.5 ppg, 1.8 spg, 50.9% fg’s, 48.1% 3-pt)

Sure Lofton is still somewhat of a one-trick pony, but if you’ve seen the guy shoot the ball you know he’s a purebred. Lofton single-handedly destroyed Memphis, scoring 34 points on 12-18 from the field and 6-11 from 3, nearly outscoring the rival Tigers by himself in the first half (Memphis 22, Lofton 21). The junior sharpshooter put on a comparable show against Texas this past weekend, hitting two deep 3-pointers in the final 1:05 to force an improbable overtime session that the Vols dominated and finishing with 35 points on the night. Tennessee is suddenly one of the hottest teams in the country after four consecutive impressive home wins, and Lofton is the one leading the way.

SG Russell Carter, sr, Notre Dame (17.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.1 spg, 47.9% fg’s, 47.8% 3-pt)

This choice may surprise many, but his late-game heroics against Alabama probably represent the most significant individual performance of the year so far. If he hadn’t drained those two deep jumpers and came up with a critical steal in the face of yet another potential Fighting Irish collapse, Mike Brey’s squad may have lost that game and the program may have never recovered. A no-name recruit who has fought for and earned every minute he’s ever played at Notre Dame, Carter has developed over the past four seasons and now appears to be on the brink of stardom. The release on his jumper isn’t conventional, but he can hit in just about every situation and is one beast of an athlete. It is highly unlikely that Russell Carter will find himself labeled a First-Team All-American by very many come the end of the season, but the senior deserves all the accolades we can give him for his spectacular non-conference play.

SF Alando Tucker, sr, Wisconsin (20.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 51.6% fg’s)

Amongst the national press, Tucker would probably get the most votes for NPOY if the season ended tomorrow. His sparkling play in the three close games the Badgers have played so far (28.3 ppg, 8 rpg, 57% shooting) certainly leaves him deserving of the honor. It is still hard to peg Tucker as a draft prospect (he will certainly be moving up substantially the next to the DX mock is updated), but his dominance on the college level really can’t be denied. Tucker has mastered the art of creating his shot in the midrange, and seems to have improved athletically since injuries slowed him down as an underclassman.

PF Mario Boggan, sr, Oklahoma State (21.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 61.7% fg’s)

Truly the feel-good story of the season thus far, Boggan is my choice for non-conference NPOY. It really is hard to believe that this is the same dramatically overweight player who couldn’t cut it at Florida and then bounced around from school to school before going the junior college route. The burly scorer has literally lost an entire human being’s worth of weight, in the process transforming his game from nearly grounded to explosive and almost unstoppable. Boggan has accomplished what Glen Davis is trying to do, only he has done it much more successfully. He dropped 25 in a last-second win over Auburn, contributed 21 in the big victory at Syracuse, and put the nation on notice with a spectacular 30-point performance against Aaron Gray and Pitt. If you want to watch a post scorer that knows what he’s doing, Boggan is your man. He creates space for himself with the low center of gravity, knows what he is doing before he gets the ball, and converts with jaw-dropping rapidity and touch. Mario Boggan is a star, folks.

Second Team All-America

G Jarrius Jackson, sr, Texas Tech
(21.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 47.4% fg’s, 53.8% shooting)

If Chris Lofton means more to his team than any other player in the country, Jarrius Jackson has to come in a close second. Bob Knight’s Red Raiders embody the term “one man team” this year, and Jackson is that man. He faces defenses designed around containing him every moment he is on the court, and Jackson still manages to produce at absurdly efficient levels. Sometimes Knight’s “system standouts” fall under the radar, but Jackson’s star would shine bright in any program. He is shooting nearly 54% from beyond the arc, gets into the lane and creates looks for himself at will, plays superb individual defense, is lucky to get any sort of breather in a game that matters, and still somehow manages to average less than 2 turnovers per game.

G Jerel McNeal, so, Marquette (15.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.6 apg, 3.6 rpg, 3.6 spg, 42.1% fg’s)

Another choice that may appear unconventional, but McNeal absolutely deserves this spot. If you don’t believe me, check in with Jarrius Jackson (season-low 14 points on 4-11 shooting) or any member of the Duke backcourt (7-22 shooting, 5 assists, 14 turnovers for Paulus, Scheyer, Nelson and Pocius). Ask Josh McRoberts or Brian Zoubek, for that matter (he cleanly blocked both 7-footers in one-on-one situations on th eblock). While teammate Dominic James received all the headlines for his clutch scoring exploits down the stretch, it was the downright Artest-like way McNeal contested the perimeter that broke the Blue Devil spirit and earned Tom Crean the win. McNeal still struggles with his shooting and turns the ball over way too much, but has firmed up both areas recently. The sophomore combo guard is likely the best perimeter defender in the country, and his 3.6 steals per game (already 4 games of 6 or more) really don’t tell the whole story of McNeal’s ability to disrupt entire offenses by himself.

F Kevin Durant, fr, Texas (21.6 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 1.5 spg, 2.0 bpg, 47.4% fg’s, 36.4% 3-pt)

There are plenty of worthy candidates for this spot, but Durant has done as much for his team as anybody else. The fact that he’s only scratching the surface of what he can do certainly doesn’t hurt, either. The freshman phenom is one of the most uniquely talented prospects to ever emerge in this country, borrowing from a variety of comparison stereotypes – Reggie Miller, Tracy McGrady, Rashard Lewis and Kevin Garnett, to name a few. Durant has struggled in learning how play within the team concept and understanding the difference between a good shot (this kid really can’t take a bad) and a great one, but the light bulb has really come on over his last two games. His best showing of the year came in last week’s win over Arkansas, when he scored 28 points in just about every imaginable way. He followed that up with a monster 26 point effort against Tennessee, two of which came on a last-second drive to the basket that sent the game into overtime. It is easy to see future Top-3 pick keeping up this pace in Big XII play and averaging close to 25 ppg on the season.

PF Ivan Radenovic, sr, Arizona (17.5 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 58.2% fg’s, 50.0% 3-pt)

When people talk Arizona this year, they mention high-powered guard play, the resurgence of Mustafa Shakur, and gush over the latest veteran play made by freshman Chase Buddinger. But why is Arizona winning games? That would be the unselfish, downright electric-at times play of senior big man Ivan Radenovic. With almost no help in the frontcourt, Radenovic has managed to hold down the fort and provide enough of a presence to allow the guards to go to work. Nearly every time Lute Olson has needed a momentum basket, it has been the senior who has come through. He rebounds well, has polished up his outside shot, and is equally comfortable with his back to the basket as he is facing it. It really can’t be understated how far Radenovic has come over the past four seasons – his feel for the game is quite special. He doesn’t look like an NBA player, but here’s guessing that he ends up one.

C Aaron Gray, Pittsburgh (16.5 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 62.2% fg’s)

Gray isn’t putting up astonishing numbers by any stretch, but in watching him play it is clear that he worked hard on his game over the summer. His offensive repertoire is much-improved, as he showed in a phenomenal 24 point, 11-15 shooting performance in the loss at Oklahoma State. Gray looks like much more of a traditional back to the basket factor, now able to force defenses to pay him extra attention as well as convert on the freebies at the rim that he struggled with last season. If Gray hadn’t been playing under the weather in Madison, Oklahoma State probably would have been his second straight big-time performance and we would be talking about the senior as a first teamer. Gray agonized about whether to enter the draft last season, but the early returns indicate that he made the right decision in returning to school.

Just Missed - PG Jared Jordan, sr, Marist; PG Drew Neitzel, Michigan State; G Rodney Stuckey, so, Eastern Washington; SF Morris Almond, Nevada; PF Nick Fazekas, sr, Nevada; PF Josh Heytvelt, Gonzaga;

As for those Brandon Roy-style breakout conference seasons? I’ll gladly throw out a few names (freshmen not included) with that type of potential behind them…

PG Ramon Sessions, Nevada; G Mike Mercer, Georgia; George Washington; SG Malik Hairston, Oregon; SG Nick Young, USC; SF Al Thornton, Florida State; SF Wilson Chandler, DePaul; SF Dominic McGuire, jr, Fresno State; SF Marcus Dove, Oklahoma State; SF Curtis Sumpter, Villanova; SF Demetris Nichols, Syracuse; PF Jermareo Davidson; C Sean Williams, jr, Boston College; C Randolph Morris;

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