Oklahoma's Buddy Hield, Michigan State's Denzel Valentine and North Carolina's Brice Johnson, all seniors, lead Sports Illustrated's 2015–16 college basketball All-America team.
In this odd season of top-of-the-poll turnover, one trend has remained steady: This year has been the seniors’ turn in the spotlight. A mix of prominent returnees and a relatively disappointing freshman class has led to many of college basketball’s elder statesmen dominating both on the court and in the conversation for the nation's best players. SI’s All-America voting certainly reflects as much, with six of the 10 spots going to fourth-year players. That number includes the first team’s two unanimous selections—Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield and Michigan State guard Denzel Valentine—as well as North Carolina forward Brice Johnson, who fell one vote shy of the same distinction. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t also room for a trio of sophomore studs and a freshman whose name we seem likely to be hearing for a long time to come.
Players are listed in order of votes received. An asterisk indicates a unanimous selection.
As relentless as he is gregarious, Hield ascended from the Big 12’s best player as a junior to perhaps the nation’s best as a senior. He has shot 47.3% from three-point range (16th nationally) on 8.7 attempts per game, making him the embodiment of the gunning Sooners, while his 25.1 points per game paced the Big 12—by six.
Not even late-December arthroscopic knee surgery could derail the hometown hero’s senior campaign, during which he has assisted on 44.6% of his team’s field goals while on the floor (second in the country) for an average of 7.5 per game. Even better: He did so while averaging 19.6 points and 7.5 rebounds and shooting 45.4% from three.
After an up-and-down first three years in Chapel Hill, Johnson put it all together for a breakout senior season during which he has averaged 16.8 points and an ACC-best 10.8 rebounds per game. An elite finisher, his dunktastic 39-point, 23-rebound performance against Florida State on Jan. 4 was one of the year's signature performances.
As a freshman Poeltl excelled in a modest offensive role; as a sophomore the 7-foot Vienna native became the most efficient high-usage player in any major conference. His 17.5 points per game on ridiculous 66.0% shooting from the field (plus 9.1 rebounds per game) has helped him earn a 127.1 offensive rating on kenpom.com.
The lone returning freshman from last season’s near-perfect Wildcats, the 5’ 9” Ulis emerged as the driving force and second-leading scorer (16.6 points per game) for a Kentucky team took longer than usual get up to speed. His 7.4 assists per game led the SEC, while his defense (1.4 steals) has caused opponents headaches.
The Tigers (18–13, 11–7 SEC) may not have met expectations, but their 6’ 10” position-bending freshman was brilliant nonetheless. The Australian native has averaged 19.6 points (on 56.1% shooting), 11.9 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 2.0 steals per game.
Arguably the best scorer of coach Tony Bennett’s seven-year tenure in Charlottesville, Brogdon has averaged 18.4 points per game by becoming an excellent shooter (41.1% from three) even while shouldering 30.1% of the Cavaliers’ shooting load—and grading out as the best defender on a top-10 defense.
A game-changing defender (2.7 steals per game, third nationally) and top-level distributor (6.4 assists per game, with the nation’s third-best assist rate at 42.9%), the versatile Dunn has also averaged 16.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.
The sophomore proved he was no one-game wonder, transferring the potential he displayed in his breakout national title game last April into averages of 21.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.6 assists this season.
His third season as a starter (we swear that’s it) was Ellis’s best yet, as the senior thrived as the centerpiece of the Jayhawks’ offense. He has averaged 16.5 points and 6.0 rebounds per game and helped a defense that ranks 10th nationally, according to kenpom.com.
Kay Felder, Oakland; Yogi Ferrell, Indiana; Josh Hart, Villanova; Georges Niang, Iowa State; Marcus Paige, North Carolina; Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga; Melo Trimble, Maryland; Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa.