Sports Illustrated’s College Basketball Projection System is a collaboration between economist Dan Hanner and SI’s Luke Winn and Jeremy Fuchs that produces our 1–351 team rankings, conference predictions and player statistical forecasts.
To kick off our 2016–17 preview, we’re unveiling our breakdown of the national player of the year race, complete with advanced- and raw-stat projections for each of the contenders. For more on how our projection system works—what data it relies on, why it simulates the season 10,000 times, and its track record—read this explainer.
Tier 1: The frontrunners
1. Grayson Allen, Duke
Profile: 6' 5", 202 lbs, combo guard, junior
Projected raw stats: 20.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.1 apg
Projected advanced stats: 128.7 Offensive Rating on 25% usage
Allen is the most valuable commodity in college basketball: an upperclassman with a track record of high-efficiency, volume scoring and projected status as a first-round NBA draft prospect. When a player fits that profile and is the star of a highly ranked team—see Buddy Hield, Frank Kaminsky, Doug McDermott and Jimmer Fredette, of late—he tends to win national player of the year awards. There’s a chance that Duke’s addition of elite freshmen Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles III, Frank Jackson and Marques Bolden could create a more balanced scoring environment, but SI projects Allen’s scoring to drop only slightly from last season—from 21.4 points per game to 20.1. He’s going to play a ton of minutes, many of them as the Blue Devils’ lead guard, and regardless of who’s on the floor with him, he’ll always be the most efficient scoring option.
2. Josh Hart, Villanova
Profile: 6' 5.5", 215 lbs, wing, senior
Projected raw stats: 16.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.0 apg
Projected advanced stats: 124.2 Offensive Rating on 23% usage
Hart is unlikely to be in the mix for the national scoring title—Villanova’s offense figures to be fairly balanced, and it doesn’t play at a high tempo—but he should have an argument for NPOY based on his all-around value. He’s a scoring threat at all three levels, he rebounds well from the wing, and he can guard 3–4 positions effectively in the Wildcats’ switching man-to-man D. He’s the biggest two-way star on this list, and if his defensive contributions get proper consideration, he’ll be in the Wooden-and-Naismith mix.
Tier 2: Prime contender
3. Ivan Rabb, Cal
Profile: 6' 11", 220 lbs, PF/C, sophomore
Projected raw stats: 18.3 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 1.1 apg
Projected advanced stats: 119.7 Offensive Rating on 26% usage
With Cal’s top three shot-takers gone from last season, our model forecasts a sophomore breakthrough for Rabb, a former top-five recruit who was an efficient role player and high-level rebounder as a freshman. He’s the major-conference big man whose projections come closest to 20-and-10, and if you do that on a top-20 team (as SI projects the Golden Bears to be), you’re likely to be an All-America and an NPOY contender.
Tier 3: Contenders with asterisks
4. Markelle Fultz, Washington
Profile: 6' 4", 180 lbs, PG, freshman
Projected raw stats: 18.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 5.2 apg
Projected advanced stats: 114.6 Offensive Rating on 27% usage
Fultz looks like the best prospect available in the 2017 NBA draft—and before that happens, he’s in a good situation to put up monster numbers at Washington. Its two heavy possession-users from last season, Andrew Andrews and Dejounte Murray, are gone, and Fultz projects to score like an elite lead guard, distribute like an elite point guard and defensive-rebound better than many forwards. The asterisk is that our projections don’t have the Huskies making the NCAA tournament, and a tourney bid is generally a prerequisite for Wooden-and-Naismith consideration.
5. Dillon Brooks, Oregon
Profile: 6' 7", 225 lbs, SF, junior
Projected raw stats: 17.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.9 apg
Projected advanced stats: 117.0 Offensive Rating on 26% usage
Brooks is a do-everything wing and the leader of the best team on the West Coast. He’d be No. 3 on this list if not for the mild uncertainty regarding his injury situation—he had surgery on his left foot on July 31, missed the Ducks’ exhibition trip to Spain and only recently took off his walking boot. The expectation is that he’ll be fully available for the stretch run, but foot injuries—as Oregon found out last season with Dylan Ennis—can have a wide range of outcomes, and if his early season minutes are limited, it’ll impact his candidacy.
6. Monte Morris, Iowa State
Profile: 6' 3", 175 lbs, PG, senior
Projected raw stats: 15.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 6.3 apg
Projected advanced stats: 121.4 Offensive Rating on 24% usage
The nation’s best veteran point guard has a long track record as a high-quality facilitator and secondary scorer. As a senior, Morris will be making the transition to No. 1 option in Iowa State’s offense, and our projection model thinks he can handle it. He’ll have ample opportunity to score in the pick-and-roll and as an off-ball cutter, and he should still rack up plenty of assists to shooters Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas. The question is whether the height-challenged Cyclones can defend well enough to be ranked in the polls; history shows that it’s extremely difficult to contend for the award from outside the top 25.
7. Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson
Profile: 6' 7", 220 lbs, PF, senior
Projected raw stats: 18.9 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.5 apg
Projected advanced stats: 120.0 Offensive Rating on 25% usage
NBA scouts may be more on the Blossomgame bandwagon than the average college hoops fan. He’s a potential first-rounder in 2017 and one of the best all-around forwards—a 40%-plus three-point shooter who can score on the interior, rebound and defend. If Blossomgame can carry Clemson to its best-case projection—the back end of the top 25, and into its first NCAA tournament since 2011—he’ll make the leap from unheralded to All-America.
8. Malik Monk, Kentucky
Profile: 6' 3", 200 lbs, SG, freshman
Projected raw stats: 16.0 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 2.5 apg
Projected advanced stats: 117.1 Offensive Rating on 25% usage
Monk was one of the best high-volume scorers on the AAU circuit for multiple seasons, and SI’s projection system is bullish on him due to his EYBL advanced stats, recruiting ranking and John Calipari’s track record of getting elite freshmen to produce. There isn’t a guarantee Monk will be Kentucky’s clear star—it could turn into a scoring-by-committee situation between him, De’Aaron Fox, Bam Adebayo and Isaiah Briscoe—but Monk is the lone pure scorer in the rotation.
9. Pick one: Frank Mason or Josh Jackson, Kansas
There’s a chance these guys, along with junior guard Devonte’ Graham, cancel each other out, but they’re each talented enough be an NPOY candidate, and Kansas is going to be in the mix for the national title. Jackson, the freshman, is likely the top wing prospect in the 2017 draft class, and SI projects him to average 15.7 points (a team high) and 6.8 rebounds per game. Mason is the Jayhawks’ senior floor general and projects to average 14.0 points and 4.8 assists per game.
10. Allonzo Trier, Arizona
Profile: 6' 5", 205 lbs, SG, sophomore
Projected raw stats: 17.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 1.6 apg
Projected advanced stats: 116.6 Offensive Rating on 23% usage
Trier doesn’t seem to be getting much hype this preseason, but he looks ready to be the clear go-to-guy on a team that SI projects to be in the top-10 range. His freshman-year momentum was stalled a bit when he broke a bone in his shooting hand in January; given a full, healthy season he should be able to score in big numbers and challenge Brooks and Rabb for the title of best player in the Pac-12.
Also considered: Dennis Smith Jr., NC State; Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin; Melo Trimble, Maryland; Jayson Tatum, Duke; Maurice Watson Jr., Creighton; Jalen Adams, St. Bonaventure; Trevon Bluiett, Xavier; Jack Gibbs, Davidson; Alec Peters, Valparaiso.