When the news is slow and the season is still months away, what else is there to do but make lists?
Newcomers are exciting, and there will be plenty of time to break down incoming players like Jarkel Joiner and Casey Benson. But for now, let’s look at the WAC’s top-25 returning players to get a sense of how the league could shake out in 2017-18.
Some of this is based on production. Some of it’s based on potential. All of it’s based on one person’s opinion, so please feel free to tell that person (me) how wrong he is in the comments.
25. Moataz Aly
24. Xavier McDaniel Jr.
23. Morgan Means
22. Broderick Robinson
21. Zach Nelson
20. Conner Toolson
19. Aaron Menzies
18. Isaiah Ross
17. Kenneth Ogbe
16. Gerard Martin
15. Fred Sims Jr. (Chicago State)
Tracy Dildy assumed his 2017-18 team would be replacing its leading scorer. But at the last minute, Sims withdrew his name from the NBA draft and announced that he and his 18.8 points per game would be returning to the South Side. The All-WAC second teamer got points in bunches last season, albeit not very efficiently. Those 18.8 points per game came on — wait for it — 18.8 field goal attempts per game. He also shot 31.1 percent from outside the three-point arc, and 39.0 percent within. Those numbers are what they are, but at his core Sims is also what he is: a guy that can score the basketball. He did it against each WAC team and against the best non-league competition too, scoring at least 22 points against both Wisconsin and Northwestern.
14. Zach Moore (Seattle)
Jim Hayford’s transfer frenzy has sparked optimism in Seattle. The pieces he already has on his roster should do the same, in no small part because of Moore. The Bellevue-native took on a bigger role as a sophomore and continued to improve as the year went on. He seems primed to become one of the WAC’s best three-point shooters, after connecting on 42.0 percent of his 81 attempts in league play. That figure is buoyed in part because he hit eight three-pointers en route to scoring 33 points against UTRGV’s soft defense on Jan. 28. Nonetheless, it showed the potential for offensive fireworks from a player that was also a capable wing defender.
13. Brandon Randolph (Utah Valley)
Randolph had a solid first season running the show in Orem (10.0 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 3.9 APG) after being used sparingly in his two years at Xavier. Much of his value came from his defense, as he was arguably the league’s best on-ball perimeter defender outside of Bakersfield. While we’re handing out arbitrary titles, let’s also point out that Randolph was one of the league’s best rebounding guards. Putting Randolph this high banks on the former four-star, top-100 recruit putting the entire package together. He’ll need to make strides offensively in his senior season, particularly by taking better care of the ball.
12. Shon Briggs (CSU Bakersfield)
Shon Briggs with the second-chance points pic.twitter.com/ZKaMKp3ojK— Zach Ewing (@zewing) March 28, 2017
The ‘Runners had plenty of players contribute to their program-defining 2016-17 season. Few finished stronger than Briggs, who seemed to build momentum as the season entered its final stretch. The burly, undersized forward averaged 15.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game during the ‘Runners historic run to the NIT semifinals. He’s a solid rebounder that runs the floor well and is crafty scoring around the rim. In the last month of the season he also became a free throw machine, racking up three games with at least 11 attempts. Look for that to continue as he assumes a much bigger role with fellow forward Matt Smith gone.
11. Brent Wrapp (CSU Bakersfield)
Wrapp is another ‘Runner that didn’t get top billing last season. Amid calling him a glue guy and floor general, Rod Barnes talked about the rising senior’s importance. “He’s not the guy, or even the guy that’s next to the guy, but then he’s probably the most important guy on the team,” Barnes said in an interview last March. His stats — over any of his three seasons — are not gaudy. Yet he may be the league’s most likely triple-double waiting to happen on a given night. He does everything well, from on-ball defense to running an offense. The metrics love him, as he finished in the top-ten in league play in assist rate, steal percentage and block percentage. The more traditional stats should love him more next season as he, like Briggs, handles more responsibility with Jaylin Airington and Dedrick Basile gone.