One is a former Kentucky Wildcat who made a splash when he became a Gonzaga Bulldog and could lead the nation in scoring this year. Another is a freshman who spurned blue-chip programs to commit to LSU instead, possibly only for a year before he heads to the NBA. Another is the reigning Big 12 player of the year, a prolific scorer who might be even better as a defender. Two others are seniors, for North Carolina and Iowa State, respectively, trying to reach a Final Four in their last opportunity. Together they are the first-team selections for SI.com's preseason All-America team.
Wiltjer is the only unanimous first-team pick from our panel of writers and editors, which included senior writers Seth Davis and Luke Winn; staff writers Brian Hamilton and Lindsay Schnell; writer-reporter Dan Greene; senior editor Ted Keith; producers David Gardner and Peter Bukowski; and contributing writers Zac Ellis, Will Green, Chris Johnson and Jeremy Woo. (NOTE: Players are listed in order of votes received.)
Senior, forward, Gonzaga
The former Kentucky transfer’s first season as a Zag was a splashing success, as the 6'10" forward averaged 16.2 points and 6.2 rebounds while shooting 46.6% from three. That added up to a 128.9 offensive efficiency rating according to KenPom.com, tops in the country among players who used at least 20% of their team’s possessions.
Freshman, forward, LSU
The 6'10" Australian prodigy boasts a position-defying skillset that could see him carrying the Tigers in myriad ways. On LSU’s preseason tour of his native country, Simmons averaged 20.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists—all team highs—while making four of nine three-pointers.
Senior, guard, Oklahoma
The Big 12's best player is a dangerously quick scorer in the open floor and an aggressive slasher in the half court, but his defense is underrated: Last season he held opponents to just 0.656 points per possession, according to Synergy Sports.
Senior, guard, North Carolina
Plantar fasciitis and bone spurs in his right ankle dampened Paige’s junior campaign amid high preseason expectations, but he still managed 14.1 points and 4.5 assists while shooting 39.2% from three. As a senior—and healthy—he will be the centerpiece of a national title contender.
Senior, forward, Iowa State
A well-rounded 6'8" forward, Niang can rebound (5.4 per game last season, and a 15.2% rate on the defensive glass), distribute (his 21.9% assist rate ranked ninth in the Big 12) and score (15.3 points per game, including 40.0% shooting from three).
Sophomore, guard, Maryland
The local star recruit wasted little time justifying the hype, averaging 16.2 points and 3.9 assists while shooting 41.2% from three and 86.3% from the line. For a follow-up, he’ll be asked to helm a Maryland team with the highest expectations the program has seen since its 2002 national title.
Junior, guard, Providence
What more could Dunn have, ahem, done for the Friars during his breakout sophomore season? The nation’s leader in assist rate (50.0%) also ranked fifth nationally in steal percentage (4.9%) while averaging 15.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Expect him to do even more as a junior.
Senior, guard, Wichita State
A third-year starter who was a prominent reserve during the Shockers’ 2013 Final Four run, VanVleet is a first-rate ball-handler and an excellent defender who led the Missouri Valley Conference in offensive rating (120.2) and assist rate (35.3%) a year ago.
Senior, guard, Michigan State
The heady Valentine is a strong and frequent outside shooter (41.6% on 6.3 attempts per game as a junior) capable of playing on the wing or running the point, both of which he will be asked to do this season as the centerpiece of the Spartans’ offense.
Junior forward, Wisconsin
A subject of much encomium during this year’s NCAA tournament, Hayes’s breakout sophomore season saw him develop an outside shot (39.6% from three) while nearly doubling his playing time. With fellow forwards Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker gone to the NBA, the Badgers will be Hayes’s team to lead.