The Redshirt Senior: The Evan Griffith Completely Accurate All-Divison I First Team
The college basketball season is about two-thirds of the way through, and we’re that much closer to the Madness. It’s a great Saturday for me as I write this column since Syracuse doesn’t play, so my heart rate will stay at a reasonable level. In the spirit of relaxation, I now have the extra two hours vacated by the Syracuse game to take a look around the league and explore who the best players in the country are. I’ll start with point guard and move down the numbers to fill in every position in what I consider to be the Evan Griffith Completely Accurate All-Division I First Team.
The starting point guard position goes to a player who, for a while, was the only consistent piece in his team’s starting rotation. That player is Purdue University’s Carsen Edwards. Edwards is the only returning starter on a Purdue team that lost four seniors after a Sweet Sixteen run last year. Former Dartmouth player Evan Boudreaux was expected to come in and contribute some upperclassman leadership on a young team, but he’s lost playing time and currently only plays 27 percent of the team’s minutes. As Purdue found its stride and won 11 of its 14 conference games, Carsen Edwards has been the rock at the point guard position this team needed. Edwards leads the team in points per game with 24.4 (which is really needed because only one other player averages above 10) and assists per game with 3.2. One of his best performances actually came at a loss against the University of Texas, in which Edwards made seven 3-pointers to go along with 40 points, in addition to four rebounds and three assists. Edwards has never made it past the Sweet Sixteen during his college career, but he may be able to do it this year with the way his team is playing.
I’m cheating a little bit with this next pick for the best shooting guard in the country. One of Duke University’s all-star freshmen is the Canada-born RJ Barrett. ESPN lists him as a forward, which makes sense since Barrett weighs in at 6-foot-7 and 202 lbs. However, Barrett leads the team in points per game and is in fact the smallest player on the starting roster other than Tre Jones, whom ESPN lists as a guard and who takes the ball up the court more than Barrett does. So Barrett is a really big shooting guard, and with an average of 22.7 points per game while shooting 44.8 percent from the field, he certainly plays like one. Barrett and Zion Williamson, whom we’ll talk about later, both have the size and shooting ability to be selected in the high picks of the NBA Draft, and I expect Barrett to stay in the top five.
There are many, many good forwards in the NCAA this season, including the University of Kansas’ Dedric Lawson and the front court player on AP’s No. 1 University of Tennessee, Grant Williams. I’m going to reward defense with my pick for the best small forward in the country, Texas Tech University’s Jarrett Culver. Like with Purdue, Texas Tech underwent a lot of turnover after the team’s Elite Eight run last season. Culver, a 6-foot-5, 195-pound sophomore, leads Texas Tech in points per game with 17.7, rebounds per game with 6.3 and assists per game with 3.7. It’s his aggressive defense that makes Culver stand out. Culver, along with two other players on the Red Raiders, average at least one steal per game. This certainly attributes to Texas Tech currently leading the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, only allowing 84 points per 100 possessions.
The power forward position is taken up by the other player on Duke’s one-and-done ride and ESPN’s talking point of the year, Zion Williamson. Williamson is a physical specimen at 6-foot-7 and 285 pounds, but it’s hard to get across just how massive he is just by writing numbers on paper. Williamson, who leads his team in rebounds and steals per game and is second on the Blue Devils in points per game behind RJ Barrett, is comparable to Charles Barkley, who during his first season in the NBA was listed at 6-foot-6 and 282 pounds. The difference is that, according to Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, “He’s like Charles Barkley was, except he shoots better than Charles did. And he’s not as fat.” If Williamson entered the NBA right now, he’d be the second heaviest player in the league behind Boban Marjanovic, who weighs in at 7-foot-3, 290 pounds. Williamson is without a doubt a physical force, but the fact that he is able to continually disrupt an opposing team’s play while averaging 20 points per game is something special.
The best center in the league goes to the University of Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ, who is the only true senior among these five players. Happ, who’s built like a true five measuring 6 feet 10 inches and 237 pounds, is currently averaging a double-double with 18.4 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. I’m of the opinion that if Zion hadn’t gone to Duke and was instead in the NBA right now, as he should be, everyone in the country would be talking about Happ as the best player in college basketball. He can score, rebound and guard opposing teams’ best players, such as when he held star freshman Iggy Brazdeikis to zero points in Wisconsin’s win over previously undefeated Michigan.
So, there’s my list: Edwards, Barrett, Culver, Williamson and Happ. If I had to pick some honorable mentions, including Lawson and Williams, I’d include Michigan State University’s Cassius Winston and Gonzaga University’s Brandon Clarke. Look out for all these names come March.