Building a list of the best mid-major players is not an easy process. To pull back the curtain a little bit, Parks and I have been looking at the same Google spreadsheet for over a month trying to fill out and juggle the list into something that we felt comfortable putting out there.
There have been as many as 70 players on the list, and trying to pick nits between this point guard, or that power forward hasn't been simple. The ultimate output began Wednesday, a rundown of those that made the cut, in bite sized chunks so that you can digest the upcoming season without the heartburn that we have been dealing with.
But before we give away all our secrets, we have one more piece to give you: the All-Americans. Parks detailed out the 2nd team last week, and now we get to the top.
Here are our 2014-15 Mid-Major Madness Preseason 1st Team All-Americans:
C - Alan Williams, UCSB: There is no bigger Sabermetric darling than Alan Williams. The man just does everything right when on the floor and maximizes his value to his team, whether that is shooting, or rebounding, or defense in general. UCSB just missed the regular season title in the Big West last season, and then had a choke of a game against Cal Poly in the Big West tournament, which kept the country from finally seeing Williams on the big stage and taking him out of the realm of folklore and making him a real person with real skills. The Gauchos should again be one of the best teams in the conference, and Williams will be a major part of their success. Expect another Big West Player of the Year season and potentially a jump into the National All-American scene.
F - Shawn Long, La.-Lafayette: If you saw the Ragin' Cajuns' run to the NCAA Tournament past what looked like a dominant Georgia State team, then you are already familiar with Long. He averaged a double-double last season as a sophomore, but also accomplished that feat as a freshman, and there is only one other still active player who has done that each of the past two seasons. He is the guy listed above Long on this list. He is just learning how to draw fouls and if he can improve a little at the stripe, he becomes a massively dominant weapon for Louisiana-Lafayette, even with the departure of Elfrid Payton to the League. For arguments sake, his season last year compared favorably to the 2011 season put together by former Bucknell star Mike Muscala. And we all know how good he was.
F - Treveon Graham, VCU: The Rams power forward has a chance to be the all-time leading scorer for VCU, which is an impressive feat given that he didn't show up on campus with the fanfare that a player of that caliber normally does. He will be the main show for VCU this season, after a stunning junior year where he scored in double-digits in all but three games (Fordham x2, Virginia Tech -- his team didn't need his help in either). But concentrating on his scoring ignores the fact that Graham is also a darn good rebounder, and grabbed 21 percent of the defensive opportunities he had last season. As the Rams shift to life after Juvonte Reddic, Graham will be the piece that holds the puzzle of VCU in place.
G - Ron Baker, Wichita State: After finishing his freshman year as a crucial piece for the push to the Final Four, Baker followed up with a stellar sophomore campaign that saw him as one of the best shooters in the country. As with all of Wichita State, he was an impressive part of the defense, probably only second on the team in terms of impact in that area behind Tekele Cotton. But his contribution doesn't end there. People always forget that Baker was a point guard before arriving at Wichita State and still has skills in that area. He ended the year with a 20.9 percent assist rate and ended the year with 112 dishes as the backup for Van Vleet in that area. Don't sleep on Baker as a possible sleeper for a first team National All-American this season.
G - Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State: Van Vleet was one of the most underrated players entering last year, after playing behind Malcolm Armstead during the Final Four run. But people got a glimpse of what Van Vleet could do in those NCAA Tournament games, even if it didn't convince them. That opinion changed quickly, with Van Vleet winning player of the year in the Missouri Valley and landing on several All-American teams (including ours). He enters the year with high expectations (First team All-Americans everywhere), given his prowess in shooting, distributing, defense, and just general floor leadership. He is a massive talent all-around, yet one of the more humble players you will ever encounter.