- Ken Pomeroy
There's always early speculation about which teams will be good next season, but not as much about which players will be good. At least part of the reason is that it's easier to identify breakthrough teams than breakthrough players. Observers thought Indiana would be one of the best teams in the country this past season even without being able to predict that Victor Oladipo's effective field goal percentage would jump from 49 to 65 between his sophomore and junior seasons.
I'm going to try to predict the All-American teams next season. This will be a fairly subjective exercise, but there are some guiding principles involved here. Mainly, it's easier to project a player's role than his efficiency. Take Oladipo, for example. His usage rate didn't change much last season, actually dropping slightly from 23.7 percent to 22.7 percent, but his efficiency skyrocketed due to the massive improvement in his shooting numbers. Oladipo didn't jump into the national consciousness because he took more shots. It was because he was more efficient when he took shots. (I know, I know, it was also because he was really athletic and very disruptive on defense.)
There are exceptions, of course, but if a player played a limited role on his team last season, he's unlikely to get the ball enough to turn into a star the following season. So in predicting who will be named All-Americans, I'll be keying on guys who proved they could create shots, even if those shots didn't go in very often.
While a player's efficiency is more variable from season to season than his usage, efficiency tends to improve the most after a season when he played a lot of minutes and used a larger than average share of his team's possessions. Trey Burke is a good example of this. Even though his success was more widely anticipated last season, he was not close to becoming the best offensive player in the country during his freshman season. However, he was essentially Michigan's go-to guy as a freshman while playing nearly every meaningful minute for the Wolverines. Both were good statistical signs for the improvement we saw as a sophomore.
With all this in mind, we have the additional challenge that as of this writing, the best college players still have two weeks to decide whether to turn pro. In my predicted first and second All-American teams that follow, I'm leaving out guys in the top 50 of Chad Ford's Top 100 who appear to be seriously contemplating turning pro.
Obviously, players like Doug McDermott and Kelly Olynyk are going to be solid favorites to be first-team All-Americans if they decide to return for their senior seasons. This also eliminates three-fifths of Michigan's potential starting lineup, and guys like Michigan State's Adreian Payne, Georgia's Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes, each of whom could put up monster numbers if he decides to come back.
There is no doubt that some of the undecided prospects will opt to return, but instead of filling All-American teams with a bunch of players who might not actually play, what follows is a group of the 10 best players who are expected to play next season.