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Player of the Year projections: Wiltjer, Simmons a cut above competition

Gonzaga's Kyle Wiltjer and LSU's Ben Simmons lead's projected Player of the Year race.

Over the coming weeks, SI will reveal its player projections, conference forecasts and national rankings for 2015-16. These are derived from our statistical projection system, a collaboration between economist Dan Hanner and SI's Luke Winn and Chris Johnson that's now in its second year.

Our individual projections are based on many factors: players' past advanced-statistical performance in the context of more than a decade of D-I player data; the predictive power of recruiting ratings, both on immediate freshman performance and longer-term development; coaches' abilities to develop and maximize talent, as well as their playing-time distribution tendencies; teams' estimated pace of play; and intel from teams on how their rotations will be structured, which helps us better forecast how many minutes and shots will be available to each player.

The first reveal of SI's projection-system output focuses on the National Player of the Year race. These are the 15 players that our model suggests will be most in the hunt:

Tier 1: Frontrunners


1. Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga

Info: 6'10", 240 lbs, SF/PF, senior
Projected raw stats: 21.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 2.1 apg
Projected advanced stats: 127.9 Offensive Rating on 26% usage

SI forecasts Wiltjer to lead the nation in scoring and be its top high-usage, high efficiency scorer, while playing for a top-10 team. That's a POY formula. Gonzaga's willingness to play a three-big lineup—with Wiltjer at small forward and Domantas Sabonis and Przemek Karnowski on the blocks—frees more minutes for Wiltjer to boost his candidacy.

2. Ben Simmons, LSU

Info: 6'10", 240 lbs, PF, freshman
Projected raw stats: 17.2 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 3.6 apg
Projected advanced stats: 110.8 ORating on 27% usage

Simmons's frontrunner status is due to his all-around abilities as a point forward and his favorable situation at LSU, where frontcourt stars Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey combined to take 776 shots and grab 613 rebounds last season—then both left early for the NBA. SI's system projects Simmons as the nation's top-scoring freshman and one of just two major-conference players to average a double-double, the other being Baylor's Rico Gathers. That Simmons averaged 20.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists during LSU's August tour of Australia bolsters our confidence in his POY campaign.

Tier 2: Prime contenders


1. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma

Info: 6'4", 214, SG, senior
Projected raw stats: 17.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.1 apg
Projected advanced stats: 114.4 ORating on 26% usage

As a proven, volume scorer—and clear No. 1 offensive option—on a team that figures to be in the top 20 all season, Hield is an obvious contender. He'll play major minutes in a fast-paced offense and be within reach of the national scoring title.

2. Denzel Valentine, Michigan State

Info: 6'5", 220 lbs, G, senior
Projected raw stats: 16.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 4.8 apg
Projected advanced stats: 113.8 ORating on 24% usage

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We haven't seen Valentine on any publications' preseason All-America first teams, but SI's projections view him as a darkhorse POY pick—a statistical monster who could lead the Spartans in points, rebounds and assists. Valentine is a complete, efficient player who can operate on the wing or as an oversized point guard.

3. Melo Trimble, Maryland

Info: 6'3", 185 lbs, PG, sophomore
Projected raw stats: 16.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.2 apg
Projected advanced stats: 117.9 ORating on 24% usage

As one of the nation's best foul-drawing guards—and an 86.3% free-throw shooter—Trimble is a reliable scorer. Newcomers Diamond Stone, Robert Carter and Rasheed Sulaimon could detract from Trimble's point totals, but they'll make the Terps a better team, and he'll get credit for leading a title contender.

4. Georges Niang, Iowa State

Info: 6'8", 230, PF, senior
Projected raw stats: 16.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.8 apg
Projected advanced stats: 111.3 ORating on 27% usage

Niang can produce in the post and in mid-range, can make threes and can pass more adeptly than any other college power forward. He thrived in former coach Fred Hoiberg's spread-out, iso-heavy offense, but will he be as good a fit in new Cyclones coach Steve Prohm's schemes?


5. Perry Ellis, Kansas

Info: 6'8", 225 lbs, PF, senior
Projected raw stats: 16.3 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.5 apg
Projected advanced stats: 116.4 ORating on 24% usage

Ellis didn't break through as a superstar during his first eight years in college, but given Kansas' lack of a go-to-guy on the perimeter—and the possibility that five-star freshman Cheick Diallo might not be eligible—this could be the season that Ellis puts up POY-worthy numbers. He may not be flashy, but he is a highly effective post scorer.

6. Yogi Ferrell, Indiana

Info: 6'0", 180 lbs, PG, senior
Projected raw stats: 16.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 5.1 apg
Projected advanced stats: 127.2 ORating on 23% usage

Ferrell is the key component of what projects to be one of the country's best offenses. He's an efficient, high-volume scorer on a team that intends to play at a fast pace, which should give him the opportunity to put up significant numbers while in the national spotlight.

7. D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown

Info: 6'3", 215 lbs, PG, senior
Projected raw stats: 17.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.1 apg
Projected advanced stats: 121.3 ORating on 24% usage

Smith-Rivera is another darkhorse candidate that SI's projection system loves. He's one of just two major-conference players who projects to use at least 24% of his team's possessions with an offensive rating above 120 (the other is Colorado's Josh Scott). That, combined with Smith-Rivera's penchant for hitting clutch shots, gets him in the POY mix.

8. Jaylen Brown, California

Info: 6'7", 225 lbs, SF, freshman
Projected raw stats: 16.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.7 apg
Projected advanced stats: 113.0 ORating on 27% usage

While point guard Tyrone Wallace took the bulk of Cal's shots last season, and is back for his senior year, look for Brown to emerge as the Bears' top offensive option in '15-16. He's an attacking wing who's physically ready to make a big impact as a freshman—and he's in better position to chase POY awards than the elite freshmen at say, Kentucky, which projects to have more balance in its points distribution.

Tier 3: Leaders with lesser point totals


1. Marcus Paige, North Carolina

Info: 6'1", 175 lbs, PG, senior
Projected raw stats: 14.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 4.6 apg
Projected advanced stats: 120.2 ORating on 20% usage

The Tar Heels have too much talent for one guy to average 20 points per game; SI's projections have five UNC players between 10.0 and 14.3 ppg. But Paige is an efficient combo guard who could distinguish himself by being the leader of a top-ranked team. With his history of clutch shots, he's likely to create some signature campaign moments.

2. Fred VanVleet, Wichita State

Info: 6'0", 195 lbs, PG, senior
Projected raw stats: 14.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 5.4 apg
Projected advanced stats: 121.1 ORating on 25% usage

VanVleet has led the Shockers to 65 wins over the past two seasons, and he projects to have the best all-around stats—in terms of offensive rating, assist-turnover ratio and defensive contributions—of any point guard on a ranked team.

3. Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia

Info: 6'5", 215 lbs, G, senior
Projected raw stats: 14.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.5 apg
Projected advanced stats: 110.7 ORating on 25% usage

It's difficult to post eye-popping numbers while playing at Virginia's controlled pace—averaging 14.4 points for the Cavaliers is akin to averaging 17-plus at Oklahoma—but Brogdon's contributions are appreciated by tempo-free statheads. He'll once again be the centerpiece of a top-10 team.

Tier 4: Wild cards


1. Kris Dunn, Providence

Info: 6'4", 200 lbs, PG, junior
Projected raw stats: 16.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 6.6 apg
Projected advanced stats: 103.9 ORating on 30% usage

Dunn is likely to post huge numbers for the Friars; SI projects him to use the highest rate of possessions of any All-America candidate (30%) and lead the nation in assists per game. He just might be the best point guard in the country. So what's keeping him in the Wild Card tier? The fact that we don't project Providence to be an NCAA tournament—or even NCAA bubble—team, and no one in the expanded-tourney era has won a Naismith or Wooden award without playing in the Big Dance.

2. Kyle Collinsworth, BYU

Info: 6'6", 210 lbs, G, Sr.,
Projected raw stats: 16.1 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 6.2 apg
Projected advanced stats: 113.0 ORating on 27% usage

Collinsworth had a nation-high six triple-doubles (points, rebounds, assists) last season; and in a year without a runaway preseason POY favorite, there's room for a stat-stuffing BYU guard to get in the race. But our projections have the Cougars outside the national top 50 and just outside the NCAA tournament field as well, which hurts Collinsworth's candidacy.

Also considered: Nigel Hayes, SF/PF, Wisconsin; Ron Baker, SG, Wichita State; Grayson Allen, SG, Duke; Caris LeVert, SG, Michigan; Skal Labissiere, PF, Kentucky; Jamal Murray, PG/SG, Kentucky; Tyler Ulis, PG, Kentucky; Taurean Prince, PF, Baylor; Demetrius Jackson, PG, Notre Dame.