MICHAEL CARTER-WILLIAMS –SYRACUSE
Once again under the guidance of Jim Boeheim, Syracuse men’s basketball looks like a legitimate title contender. The Orange have moved on from the Bernie Fine scandal, they have that always stingy 2-3 zone, they have a strong core of veterans (Brandon Triche, James Southerland, CJ Fair), and they have the best facilitator in the nation in Michael Carter-Williams. After barely cracking the rotation as a freshman, this kid has emerged as quite possibly the best point guard in college basketball, and is definitely emerging as a potential lottery draft pick.
As of right now, Carter-Williams leads the country in assists (9.2 apg) and ranks fourth in the nation in steals (3.1 spg). If he stays on this same pace through the rest of the season, MCW could be the first player since Jason Kidd in 1994 to post more than nine assists and three steals a game. A prolific scorer at St. Andrew’s School in Providence, the Massachusetts native is chipping in with 12.3 points per game as well, but seems to be more comfortable as the distributor for the Orange. Not to mention that with his size (6’5”) and speed, MCW has become a much-needed, disruptive force on the defensive end for ‘Cuse.
College basketball is not like the NBA; great guards win titles, not big men. As evidenced by their comeback victories against Louisville and Cincinnati this past week alone, the Orange have one of the most poised backcourts in the country. Carter-Williams, one of the more unique point guards we’ve seen in the last few years, sparked both of those rallies with his play on both ends of the floor and seems to have the intangibles to lead Syracuse back to glory.
TREY BURKE – MICHIGAN
Michigan is back, and it might be the best thing to happen to college basketball in a long time. It seems like it’s been forever since the Wolverines have been a title contender, in fact you would probably have to go all the way back to the Fab Five era to find the last time they made in impact in the NCAA tournament. Since Chris Webber’s infamous failed timeout call, the Wolverines haven’t done jack shit. That being said, John Beilein has put together the best team Ann Arbor has seen in 20 years, as Michigan, at 17-1, will most likely take over as the new No. 1 after seeing Duke get destroyed Wednesday night by Miami.
Those of you who were NBA fans in the 90’s will recognize some of the names on this Michigan roster, such as Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III. However, the key to Michigan’s success this year has been Trey Burke. Maybe one of the quickest guards in the country, Burke can score in the blink of an eye and is averaging 18 points a game to go along with a little over seven assists, and is shooting a cool 50 percent from the floor. He’s smart with the basketball, efficient, controlled, and composed; everything you could want from your star point guard.
The Wolverines are a well-rounded team across the board, but the catalyst on both ends of the floor is Burke, another top point guard prospect in next year’s NBA draft. If he keeps it up and leads Michigan to a top seed in the big dance, expect Burke to garner a ton of consideration for the college basketball’s Player of the Year award.
BEN MCLEMORE – KANSAS
Kansas hasn’t lost in over two months. Judging by the way they’ve been rolling as of late, and judging by the level of talent in the Big 12 this year, the Jayhawks might not lose for a while. Although most people point to stud center Jeff Withey, a shot-blocking machine, as the reason for their success, we here in the Dumpster think otherwise. The key has been Ben McLemore, another potential top-five pick in the NBA draft who already looks ready for the pros and might just end up going No. 1 overall.
McLemore has a silky smooth jump shot and can score from pretty much anywhere on the floor. The 6’4” shooting guard is averaging 16 points and five rebounds a game, while shooting over 50 percent from the floor, which is pretty damn good for a two-guard. As he continues to get more comfortable in just his first season in college basketball, McLemore could be on his way to leading Kansas, one of the most consistent programs in the nation, to another championship run. This guy can play for my team any day of the week. Did I mention he can dance? If you didn’t click the link I just posted in the previous sentence you are missing out. Funniest shit I’ve seen in a while.
DOUG MCDERMOTT – CREIGHTON
There’s always that one token white guy from a tiny no-name mid-major school somewhere out west who takes the nation by storm in March. We’ve seen it before, with the likes of Adam Morrison and Jimmer Fredette. Well, for two years in a row now, it looks like that guy is Doug McDermott. As a first-team All-American just a year ago, he led the Creighton Blue Jays to the NCAA’s after averaging 23 points per game and shooting 60 percent as a sophomore. Yet, you probably don’t even know who he is. So, that’s what I’m here for.
McDermott, who is currently second in the country with 23.9 points per game, might just finish the season as the nation’s leading scorer. And for someone who takes 15 shots a game, he’s pretty damn efficient, shooting 56 percent from the floor. Much like Morrison and Fredette before him, McDermott might not be a star in the NBA. In fact, if he’s anything like Adam Morrison, he’ll be out of the league in three years. But right now, McDermott is one of the country’s premier scorers, and he’s doing it for an underrated Creighton team that is currently ranked No. 17 in the nation. At the very least, Creighton is a very dangerous team that you do not want to see in the first couple rounds of the NCAA’s. That being said, there’s no doubt Doug McDermott alone has the ability to shoot the Blue Jays into the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1974.
ANTHONY BENNETT – UNLV
If you haven’t watched UNLV play yet this season, do yourself a favor and check them out. A one-time national power, the Runnin’ Rebels have all the talent to make a run in the NCAA’s this year. At 16-4 overall, UNLV currently stands outside the Top 25, so in some sense the Rebels are underachieving this season. But then again, you cannot consider the Mountain West to be a mid-major conference; right now, it might be the third best conference in the country behind the ACC and the Big 10. Despite not having won in the NCAA’s since 2008, UNLV looks poised to cause damage in the Big Dance this year, mainly because of Anthony Bennett.
Bennett is a bit undersized (listed at 6’7”), but he still looks like a smaller version of Dwight Howard out there between his massive shoulders and his 7’1” wingspan. At 240 lbs., Bennett is a big boy. Yet, the Canada native is already a polished post player with an outstanding inside/outside game; 18.4 points per game as just a freshman is certainly evidence of that. Defensively, he has endless potential given his excellent athleticism and big-bodied frame. To make a long story short, the Runnin’ Rebels are one of the most exciting teams in the country to watch, and it all starts with Anthony Bennett, a potential top five pick in the upcoming NBA Draft and the go-to player for UNLV.
Sidenote: Another reason UNLV is so exciting? Freshman guard Katin Reinhardt. Seriously, check out this kid’s handles.
Other names to know: Marshall Henderson (Ole Miss), Russ Smith (Louisville), Nerlens Noel (Kentucky), Deshaun Thomas (Ohio State), Kenny Boynton (Florida), Isaiah Caanan (Murray State), Kelly Olynyk (Gonzaga), Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati), C.J. McCollum (Lehigh), Jamaal Franklin (San Diego State)