Players Ken Pomeroy Is Going to Love in the 2014-15 College Basketball Season
For the second consecutive year, Louisville's Russ Smith won the KenPom.com Player of the Year (kPOY) Award for the 2013-14 men's college basketball season, and now we're looking ahead to try to determine the 20 most likely candidates to win the award in 2014-15.
In attempting to simplify Pomeroy's complex (and top-secret) formula for the kPOY standings, we noticed a handful of common threads among top-10 finishers:
- Player was used on at least 25 percent of possessions when on the floor and was responsible for at least 25 percent of field-goal attempts taken when on the floor.
- More often than not, player was on the court for more than 30 minutes per game.
- Player attempted a minimum of 170 free throws (roughly five per game) throughout the season.
- Player had an O-rating of at least 110.
- And, player was on a team that ranked in the top 25 according to Pomeroy's pythagorean formula.
Since the kPOY's inception in 2011, there has yet to be a player who finished in the top nine while playing for a team that finished outside the top 25. As Pomeroy wrote when he first formulated the award, "There’s enough team influence such that it’s hard to win the award if your team is not in the top 10 and nearly impossible if it’s not in the top 20."
Based on those criteria, we're looking for players who will take and make a lot of shots while doing a few other helpful things—be it assisting, rebounding or defending—for teams that will be a legitimate threat to cut down the nets next April.
Big emphasis on projected team success, because if there's one important and wonderful thing that separates the kPOY from all other Player of the Year awards, it's that Pomeroy's award does include games played in the NCAA tournament.
Though there have been two players from the same team in the top 10 in three of the last four years—most recently, Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McRae from Tennessee—we limited ourselves to just one player per team on this list.
Forced to pick which team is most likely to double dip in the kPOY this year, I'd say it's a toss-up between Duke (Rasheed Sulaimon and Jahlil Okafor) and Wisconsin (Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky), even though none of those guys appears in the projected top five.
20. Monte Morris, Iowa State
2013-14 stats: 28.1 MPG, 6.8 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.3 SPG, 125.1 O-rating
Monte Morris didn't appear in many (any?) of the "top freshmen in the nation" lists this past year.
Now that most of those great freshmen have bolted for the NBA, though, don't be surprised if Morris is the best sophomore during the 2014-15 season.
Despite starting the final 17 games for the Cyclones, Morris was never quite able to become a focal point of the scoring attack. Between DeAndre Kane, Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang, there were just too many mouths to feed. But Morris did rank highest on the team in both three-point shooting percentage and O-rating.
In small doses he was quite lethal. The only question is whether he'll become a more assertive scorer with Ejim and Kane now out of the picture.
19. Chris Walker, Florida
2013-14 stats: 4.8 MPG, 1.9 PPG, 1.3 RPG
This one is both a shot in the dark and a shoutout to all of the Florida fans who spent the first half of the 2013-14 season reminding us that the Gators might get even better once Chris Walker starts playing.
Though he did eventually become academically eligible, Walker only once logged more than seven minutes in a game last season.
Brief and infrequent as his appearances were, there were undeniable flashes of absurd athleticism. He only played 87 minutes, but his "per 40 minutes" numbers come out to 15.6 points, 11.0 rebounds and 3.7 blocks.
Despite his extremely limited minutes, it was still a coin flip as to whether he would come back to school for a sophomore year. Walker was unanimously in the top 12 among incoming recruits this past summer, and was fully expected to be another drop in the one-and-done barrel.
But thanks in very large part to the academic issues that caused him to miss the first two months of the season, he's coming back to Gainesville and should be the focal point of the team. With Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguete and Patric Young all graduating this year, there's more than a little bit of room in the starting lineup for Walker's playing time to make a quantum leap.
18. Trevor Cooney, Syracuse
2013-14 stats: 32.1 MPG, 12.1 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1.9 SPG, 122.3 O-rating
Syracuse had just four players last season who averaged better than six points per game, and Trevor Cooney is the only one who will be lacing up for the Orange again this season.
C.J. Fair, Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant are all gone, and it may be up to Cooney to do his darnedst Stephen Curry impression if the Orange are to finish anywhere near the top of the ACC.
Though Cooney did attempt better than seven three-pointers per game, he was only used on 17.3 percent of possessions when he was on the court, and he only attempted 22.2 percent of the team's field goals while he was in the game.
Depending on how capable Kaleb Joseph is of immediately delivering as a freshman point guard, Cooney figures to be more involved in the entire flow of Syracuse's offense—as opposed to simply being a pick-and-pop type of gunner.
And Cooney was already quite involved on the defensive end of the court, ranking 38th in the nation in steal percentage while impressively ranking 12th in the nation in fewest fouls committed per 40 minutes.
He is the only player who was ranked in the top 50 in the country in both of those categories—something Aaron Craft surprisingly didn't accomplish in his four years of urban legend as a thief who never drew whistles.
If Cooney's usage rate increases as considerably as we think it will, he might be drastically undersold at No. 18 on this list.
17. Aaron Harrison, Kentucky
2013-14 stats: 32.6 MPG, 13.7 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.1 SPG, 116.2 O-rating
We still don't know for sure whether either Harrison brother will be back—a pity, since it took the nation just about the entirety of their freshman season to remember whether Aaron or Andrew was the point guard.
Whether Aaron Harrison is back next year or not, it's going to be very difficult to suggest that any individual Wildcat will finish near the top of Ken Pomeroy's Player of the Year index.
He may well be the best player on the best team in the country, and would thus be highly regarded in traditional Player of the Year voting circles. But keeping in mind Kentucky is outrageously stacked and the kPOY skews heavily toward players with a high usage rating, it's hard to imagine Harrison being used on enough possessions to truly vie for the award.
A top-10 finish is totally within the realm of possibility, but he won't contend for the top spot unless he starts jacking up shots left and right like James Young was in the middle of the year.
16. Treveon Graham, VCU
2013-14 stats: 28.3 MPG, 15.8 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.9 SPG, 111.2 O-rating
Perhaps Treveon Graham will do what we thought Juvonte Reddic would do for the Rams last year and go out in a blaze of glory in his senior season by laying to waste the "mid-major" competition standing in his path.
If Graham merely replicates last year's percentages while experiencing a slight increase in playing time, he's practically a shoo-in for a spot in the top 10 in the 2015 kPOY standings.
Last season, he was used on 26.9 percent of possessions and attempted 27.7 percent of shots when he was in the game—minor increases from the previous season. He also led the team in both fouls drawn and free-throw attempts for a second consecutive year.
Perhaps the biggest variable will be his three-point shooting. Graham shot 36.6 percent from beyond the arc as a sophomore, but saw that number decrease to 33.7 percent last year.
If he can get that back up above 36 percent while playing 32 minutes per game, he would be averaging better than 20 points per game for one of the better teams in the country.
15. Marcus Foster, Kansas State
2013-14 stats: 29.4 MPG, 15.5 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.5 APG, 105.6 O-rating
Marcus Foster found another gear toward the end of last season, and he is ready to explode as a sophomore.
Over his final 12 games, Foster averaged 19.3 PPG. It took him a few months, but he finally decided Kansas State's best chance of scoring was if he was the one putting the ball in the hoop.
Though he didn't fully embrace hero ball until February, Foster still finished the season ranked 56th in percentage of shots taken when he was on the court—marginally behind top-10 finishers for the 2014 kPOY Jabari Parker, Sean Kilpatrick and Jordan McRae.
The big question, though, is whether he's ready to make "the leap."
According to Ken Pomeroy, Foster's 2013-14 season was quite similar to Trey Burke's 2011-12 season. Burke played considerably more minutes than Foster, but their O-ratings were almost identical.
As a sophomore, Burke's O-rating skyrocketed from 105.3 to 121.2 as he finished second in the 2013 kPOY standings.
If Foster can drastically improve his assist-to-turnover ratio—Burke's went from 1.66 as a freshman to 3.02 as a sophomore—he would have a strong chance to sneak into next year's top 10.
14. Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia
2013-14 stats: 31.4 MPG, 12.7 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.2 SPG, 114.1 O-rating
Because of Virginia's slow pace, Malcolm Brogdon is highly unlikely to ever catch a whiff of the national leaderboard in points per game.
In offensive efficiency and value added per possession, however, he has at least an outside shot at being one of the best in the country.
Other than blocking shots, Brogdon did a little bit of everything for the Cavaliers last season. He led the team in steal percentage and turnover rate on offense, and was second in assist rate and defensive rebounding percentage.
Throw in his 37.0 percent three-point shooting and 87.5 percent success rate from the free-throw line, and he was arguably the most valuable player for a No. 1 seed last season.
Now that he's one year older, one year wiser and one year removed from having to share the rock with Joe Harris, he could come to be regarded as one of the most valuable players in the country.
13. Joseph Young, Oregon
2013-14 stats: 31.1 MPG, 18.9 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.3 SPG, 128.6 O-rating
This one all comes down to whether Oregon will do well enough in Ken Pomeroy's pythagorean formula.
If the Ducks had been ranked maybe 10 spots higher than their 29th-place finish this past season, I have little doubt that Joseph Young would have cracked the top 10 in last year's kPOY race.
Young was already the team leader in possessions used and percentage of shots taken at 24.1 and 28.4 percent, respectively, and his role only figures to increase as Richard Amardi, Jason Calliste, Johnathan Loyd and Mike Moser graduate this summer.
Young rarely commits turnovers, finishing this past season with more steals (44) than turnovers (39). Over the past two years, he has drawn nearly three times as many fouls as he has committed, and he has shot 87.8 percent from the free-throw line.
Factor in his 53 percent two-point shooting and 42 percent three-point shooting, and he should be one of the most intriguing seniors during the 2014-15 season.
12. Markus Kennedy, SMU
2013-14 stats: 25.0 MPG, 12.4 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.5 SPG, 1.2 BPG, 106.1 O-rating
Markus Kennedy's per-game numbers—especially minutes—are a bit deceptively low, because he spent the first two months of last season as the sixth man off the bench.
Kennedy did have some serious conditioning issues as a freshman at Villanova, but he progressed by leaps and bounds after transferring to Southern Methodist.
He led the Mustangs in rebounds, steals and blocked shots, and he seemed to simply be improving as an all-around player as the season progressed.
With Emmanuel Mudiay coming to Dallas next season, SMU has already been pegged by many as the primary candidate for a breakout season. Kennedy figures to reap a lot of benefits from that improvement as teams are required to focus on stopping Mudiay and Nic Moore, leaving the Mustangs' big man in one-on-one situations that he can dominate.
11. Ryan Boatright, Connecticut
2013-14 stats: 32.4 MPG, 12.1 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.6 SPG, 105.9 O-rating
For my full thoughts on what Ryan Boatright meant to Connecticut's national championship team, feel free to read what I wrote not long after the final buzzer had sounded in the Huskies' win over Kentucky.
Long story short: Boatright was far more important than most people realized, and his role is only going to increase in the upcoming season.
That isn't to suggest that he will necessarily become Shabazz Napier 2.0—which I suppose would be Kemba Walker 3.0—but is rather a reminder that Connecticut isn't going to suddenly be devoid of do-it-all guards with veteran leadership.
With Napier out of the picture, Boatright's usage rate should skyrocket. If he can in turn improve his two-point shooting percentage (39.8 percent in 2013-14 after shooting 48.4 percent in 2012-13), he will be one of the most valuable players in the country.
10. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona
2013-14 stats: 25.3 MPG, 9.1 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.1 BPG, 113.1 O-rating
If I could just put "some small forward from Arizona" on the list, that to-be-determined entity would rank in the top five.
Because I don't know whether it will be Rondae Hollis-Jefferson or Stanley Johnson, though, RHJ is being placed at No. 10 and Johnson is just getting an honorable mention.
With Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson both leaving early for the NBA, there are quite a few holes to be filled for Arizona. They were the team leaders in scoring, usage and free-throw shooting. Gordon was also the team leader in rebounding.
Brandon Ashley should be healthy and back in the fold for the Wildcats, but I suspect it will be Hollis-Jefferson who picks up the slack. He stepped up his game considerably after Ashley's injury occurred, and he should take an even bigger step this year now that he figures to be a starter who averages closer to 30 minutes per game.
9. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
2013-14 stats: 27.2 MPG, 13.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 1.3 APG, 0.7 SPG, 124.2 O-rating
One thing we know is that Wisconsin will be near the top of the preseason polls when they are released in November. And if history is any indication, the Badgers will also finish in the top 13 in Ken Pomeroy's standings, as they have in each of the past five seasons.
One thing we don't know is how many minutes Frank Kaminsky will play for this highly rated team.
By no means is that a suggestion that Frank the Tank will lose playing time to anyone else on the roster. But he only averaged 27.2 minutes per game last year, and it's pretty difficult to win the kPOY without playing at least 30 minutes per game.
It's also hard to win the award without attempting a ton of free throws, and Kaminsky doesn't exactly embrace contact in the post. Despite shooting 76.5 percent from the charity stripe, Kaminsky only averaged 3.5 free-throw attempts per game.
Just like Aaron Harrison, I suspect he will get a lot of recognition in many Player of the Year awards by being the best player on (perhaps) the best team in the country, but I also suspect he'll finish a large stone's throw away from first place for the kPOY.
8. Caris LeVert, Michigan
2013-14 stats: 34.0 MPG, 12.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.2 SPG, 111.7 O-rating
We still don't know if Mitch McGary plans on staying for another season or leaving for the NBA.
If McGary does stay, Caris LeVert could be the favorite to win the 2015 kPOY.
With Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas gone, LeVert is going to be the man of the hour in Michigan. LeVert shot better from 40 percent from three-point range last year and was one of the best slashing guards in the country.
However, he never seemed to get enough national attention because he was just one of the three parts of Michigan's three-pronged scoring attack. Now that he'll be leading the way with Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin as his primary sidekicks, he could average upwards of 20 points per game.
But he needs McGary to remove some of the defensive pressure.
With Jordan Morgan graduating and Jon Horford transferring, McGary is the only potentially returning player who is taller than 6'7" that played in a game for Michigan last season. If McGary isn't there to draw the attention of interior defenders, there might not be any paths to the rim for LeVert.
7. Cliff Alexander, Kansas
2013-14 stats: N/A (incoming freshman)
As a freshman during the 2010-11 season, Jared Sullinger won the inaugural kPOY award. The following season, he finished in third place.
So, yes, a highly touted big man who has never played a collegiate game is absolutely a candidate to win this thing.
Put him on an equally highly regarded team like Kansas, and he just might be the favorite.
The big question, of course, is how much Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor will "detract" from Cliff Alexander's dominance.
During Sullinger's time at Ohio State, he was the alpha and the omega in the paint for the Buckeyes. William Buford and Deshaun Thomas attempted more than their fair share of two-pointers, but they were perimeter players who occasionally drove to the hoop. Sullinger was the only back-to-the-basket type of post presence on the team, and he was fantastic in the process.
Both Kansas and Alexander will be special this season. And with Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Tarik Black out of the picture, there are ample field-goal attempts waiting to be claimed.
6. Jahlil Okafor, Duke
2013-14 stats: N/A (incoming freshman)
You didn't think I would rank Cliff Alexander without also ranking Jahlil Okafor slightly ahead of him, did you?
Okafor and Alexander are already being projected as the top two picks in the 2015 NBA draft by the folks over at Draft Express. Sounds like we'll be treated to another season of debating whether the freshman from Duke or the freshman from Kansas deserves to be the No. 1 overall draft pick.
Okafor gets the nod in the preseason kPOY projections, however, because he will unquestionably be Duke's primary big man. Amile Jefferson will get plenty of touches, but Okafor should lead the team in points, rebounds and blocks per game.
If Duke bounces back as expected to become one of the top two or three teams in the nation this year, you have to like Okafor's chances of vying for just about every Player of the Year award out there.
5. Branden Dawson, Michigan State
2013-14 stats: 28.3 MPG, 11.2 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 123.3 O-rating
When he was healthy, Branden Dawson was incredible.
Dawson was the best rebounder for the Spartans last season. Between his block percentage and steal percentage, you could make a very strong case that he was the team's best defender. And though he attempted just under 20 percent of the team's shots while he was on the floor, he made better than 61 percent of them.
However, between missing 10 games and averaging just 28.3 minutes in the others, he was barely on the court 50 percent of the time for the Spartans.
Unless he breaks his hand again, that will change in a major way this year.
Gary Harris (16.7 PPG), Adreian Payne (16.4 PPG) and Keith Appling (11.2 PPG) are all gone, and the Spartans don't have any 5-star recruits coming in to pick up the slack. They'll need to fill the bulk of those scoring gaps internally, and Dawson figures to be one of the biggest benefactors from that necessity.
4. Fred VanVleet, Wichita State
2013-14 stats: 31.7 MPG, 11.6 PPG, 5.4 APG, 3.9 RPG, 1.9 SPG, 130.3 O-rating
Fred VanVleet is the rare breed of point guard who doesn't shoot enough.
In 2013-14, he shot 51.6 percent from two-point range, 41.1 percent from three-point range and 83.0 percent from the free-throw line. He averaged better than 1.50 points per field-goal attempt.
By contrast, Andrew Wiggins was good for 1.41 points per field-goal attempt. Doug McDermott's ratio was 1.49.
But VanVleet only averaged 7.7 field-goal attempts per game, instead spending the bulk of his time setting up teammates for buckets. This was excellent news for his 4.0 assist-to-turnover ratio, but it kept his usage percentage far too low to even sniff the 2014 kPOY, despite being arguably the most valuable player on a team that had an undefeated regular season.
By ranking him this high, I'm assuming he'll become a more assertive scorer this season with Cleanthony Early, Chadrack Lufile and Nick Wiggins graduating.
If it's not VanVleet, it'll be Ron Baker drastically increasing his field-goal attempts per game and becoming the best mid-major player in the nation. Either way, take it to the bank that there will be a Shocker in the top 10 at season's end.
3. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
2013-14 stats: 29.3 MPG, 14.0 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 1.3 BPG, 1.2 APG, 1.0 SPG, 117.8 O-rating
Montrezl Harrell's decision to shun the NBA draft for another season at Louisville wasn't quite as shocking as Marcus Smart's call to do the same last summer, but it was definitely the biggest surprise out of this year's batch of potential early entrants.
He probably would have been a first-round draft pick. Now, we're all expecting him to be a lottery pick in 2015.
Harrell was a bit hit or miss over the first half of last season, but I would argue there wasn't a more dominant player in the country in the final two months of the 2013-14 season.
In Louisville's last 19 games, Harrell averaged 32.6 minutes, 16.3 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. He shot better than 60 percent from the field—mostly on thunderous dunks.
And I wouldn't worry about his ability to carry that into the ACC, because he was actually better against quality opposition. In nine games against Cincinnati, Connecticut, Memphis and Southern Methodist, Harrell recorded seven double-doubles and averaged 18.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per game.
Whenever the Duke vs. Louisville game is played, Harrell vs. Okafor just might be the most anticipated big man battle in college basketball since Jared Sullinger vs. Thomas Robinson in the 2012 Final Four.
2. Jordan Adams, UCLA
2013-14 stats: 30.1 MPG, 17.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.6 SPG, 2.3 APG, 121.5 O-rating
UCLA is losing a ton this summer. The Wear twins are graduating, and Kyle Anderson and Zach LaVine were early entrants to the NBA draft.
However, the Bruins will be getting arguably their most important player back, and he'll be asked to play an even bigger role than he was last season.
Jordan Adams made first-team All-Pac-12 this past year, and it was an egregious oversight that he was left off the all-defensive team after ranking seventh in the nation in steal percentage. He led UCLA in percentage of shots taken and free-throw attempts. He knows how to attack the opponent on both ends of the court.
He isn't the greatest three-point shooter in the country by any means (35.6 percent), but when UCLA needs a bucket, there's no question he'll be the go-to guy.
Say, that sounds an awful lot like the role Russ Smith played for Louisville over the past few seasons, doesn't it? And he won the kPOY in both 2013 and 2014.
If UCLA recovers well enough from all the turnover in personnel to remain a top-25 team next season, Adams will definitely finish in the top five for the Ken Pomeroy Player of the Year.
1. Marcus Paige, North Carolina
2013-14 stats: 35.6 MPG, 17.5 PPG, 4.2 APG, 3.2 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 120.1 O-rating
When all else fails, ask yourself how much worse a team would be if it didn't have a specific player.
Russ Smith was the catalyst that tied together all of the pieces on both ends of the court for Louisville. Without Shabazz Napier, Connecticut would have been a joke. Take away Doug McDermott, and we wouldn't even know what part of the country Creighton is in.
Marcus Paige is that sine qua non for North Carolina.
The 2014-15 Tar Heels are going to have a ton of talent next year. They'll almost certainly be ranked in the top five of the preseason AP poll.
Take Paige out of the equation, and they're left with a backcourt of Nate Britt and Joel Berry. I'm not even convinced that team would make the 2015 NCAA tournament.
With Paige, though, North Carolina is a serious threat to win it all.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.