One of the biggest storylines entering 2016–17 was the strength of the incoming freshman class. A handful of newbies shone with their respective teams, but only two ultimately earned spots on SI.com’s All-America teams, and both of them represent the West Coast. UCLA’s Lonzo Ball took first-team honors, while Washington’s Markelle Fultz claimed a spot on the second team. Upperclassman standouts filled most of the rest of the teams, but a pair of sophomore big men (Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan and Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ), and one sophomore guard (Duke’s Luke Kennard), also made the cut. The teams reflect the depth and quality of talent spread throughout the college game. We were treated to high-level basketball across the country during the regular season, and that should continue as the sport takes center stage later this month.
. lONZO bALL
UCLA, G, freshman
We’ve grown accustomed to first-year players being outstanding, but rarely has one been as transformative as Ball. Bruins coach Steve Alford remade his entire offense around the highly efficient, 6’ 6” passing savant, who averaged 15.0 points, 7.6 assists and 6.3 boards while pushing a free-wheeling UCLA squad up the polls.
. Josh HART
Villanova, G, senior
The Eagle Scout is a Swiss Army knife of a player, capable of defending multiple positions while averaging 18.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 1.5 steals and shooting 39.9% from outside. Over a one-week span in December, he posted a triple double (16 points, 11 boards, 10 assists vs. Saint Joseph’s) and dropped 37 points on Notre Dame.
. Frank Mason III
Kansas, G, senior
The Jayhawks’ hard-nosed, cold-blooded point guard with the self-described “pit bull look” has capped an already strong tenure in Lawrence with a senior season worth smiling about. A 50.0% three-point shooter and the Big 12’s leading scorer at 20.3 points per game, Mason began the season with a game-winner over then-No. 1 Duke and may end it as the national player of the year.
. CALEB SWANIGAN
Purdue, F, sophomore
In what has often become a guard’s world, the man they call Biggie stands alone as the country’s best forward. His 12.5 rebounds per game rank second nationally (and his 33.3% defensive board rate ranks third) and his 24 double-doubles in 30 games are tied for first. But Biggie does not just bang inside: he’s also made 45.5% of his threes, while attempting nearly three a game.
. Nigel williams-goss
Gonzaga, G, junior
The Zags’ latest transfer success story, Williams-Goss sat out last season after leaving Washington and has spent this season leading the Bulldogs in scoring (16.3 points per game), assists (4.8) and steals (1.7) while chipping in 5.6 rebounds to boot. And his best may be yet to come, as his scoring average has steadily increased by at least 1.7 points each month.
Refresh the field
. mARKELLE fULTZ
Washington, G, freshman
While he wasn’t able to transform a meager Huskies squad into even a .500 team, the ultra-talented guard did his part, leading all major-conference players in scoring (23.2 points per game) on 41.3% outside shooting while averaging 5.9 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals.
. Luke kennard
Duke, G, sophomore
A strong freshman debut last season turned into an outstanding sophomore campaign for Kennard, who emerged as the best player on a talent-loaded Duke team by averaging 20.1 points while shooting 45.0% from three.
. Ethan happ
Wisconsin, F, sophomore
The key to the Badgers’ stingy defense, Happ is fifth in the Big Ten in defensive rebound percentage (and fourth on offense), 15th nationally in steal rate (4.4%) and a nightmare for would-be entry passers. He also averages 13.9 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists.
. JUSTIN JACKSON
North Carolina, F, junior
A marked improvement from beyond the arc (38.5% this season, up from 29.2% as a sophomore) has helped Jackson emerge as the offensive centerpiece (18.3 points per game) of a Tar Heels team that seems primed for another run to the postseason’s final weekend.
. Johnathan motley
Baylor, F, junior
The Big 12’s surprise contender was led by the league’s surprise go-to inside force. After serving as a member of Baylor’s supporting cast for two years, Motley broke out with 17.5 points and 10.0 rebounds per game while grabbing 15.1% of the Bears’ misses (21st nationally) and using 30.6% of the their possessions.