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The one unanimous All-American for The Sporting News in 2021-22 spent the previous season averaging just 19 minutes in the 10 games he played before deciding to look for a new home. The player who came within a single vote of unanimity started one game all last season and took just a half-dozen shots per game.
And a year later, Oscar Tshiebwe of Kentucky and Johnny Davis are such dominant figures that Tshiebwe appeared on the first team of every ballot from the voters on our blue-ribbon, national panel of college basketball experts, and Davis missed on only one.
They have been essential figures on elite teams, with the Badgers winning a share of the Big Ten Conference regular season championship and Kentucky entering the SEC Tournament with 25 victories and the most impressive performance by any team, the Wildcats’ dominance of Big 12 co-champ Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse.
They are not the only great players this season, though. There are guys on this year’s third team who might have been first-teamers in other years. There just wasn’t enough room. There may be “no great teams” in college hoops this season, but there is a galaxy of star players.
Here is The Sporting News All-America team:
Johnny Davis, Wisconsin
6-5, 194, So. G
Key stats: 20.0 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 44.6 pct. FG
Defining game: 37 points, 14 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals in 74-69 victory at Purdue.
Overview: After a promising freshman season that portended a fine career for the Badgers, Davis has jetted past “fine” with a stunning season that saw him put up 30 in his first game, against 2021 Final Four entrant Houston, and go on to record a total of 15 20-point games. He also is an exceptional defender who can guard multiple positions and has a rare gift for rebounding for a player who spends so much time on the perimeter at both ends.
Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky
6-9, 255, Jr. C
Key stats: 17.3 ppg, 15.3 rpg, 60.pc6 t. FG, 1.5 bpg
Defining game: 17 points, 14 rebounds, 4 steals in 80-62 victory at Kansas.
Overview: He is not an elite scorer but nonetheless anchors the UK attack. He has some issues to repair on defense, but without his presence and his dominance of the boards, the Wildcats would be a defensive sieve. In his first season since transferring from West Virginia, Tshiebwe has been everything to Kentucky at both ends of the floor. Most of all, he has rebounded at a level unseen in Division I basketball since the 1970s.
Ochai Agbaji, Kansas
6-5, 215, Sr. G
Key stats: 19.8 pg, 5.2 rpg, 47.7 pct. FG, 41.1 3-PT
Defining game: 37 points, 7 rebounds, 7-of-12 3-point shooting in 94-92 double-overtime victory over Texas Tech.
Overview: Those who watched Agbaji face Michigan State in the opening game at the Champions Classic knew they were seeing a different player from the one who wore a Jayhawks uniform over the previous three years. He was embracing the responsibility of serving as KU’s primary option, the player who had to score or occupying the opposing defense if KU was going to win. He has produced five games of 25 points or more and hasn’t once missed double figures in scoring for the Jayhawks.
Keegan Murray, Iowa
6-8, 225, So. F
Key stats: 23.2 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 55.4 pct. FG
Defining game: 28 points on on 10-of-15 shooting in 86-60 victory over Michigan State.
Overview: It’s not that Murray does not score from 3-point range; he’s hitting 38.5 percent of his attempts. It’s that he has scored 676 points while accumulating only 150 of those from behind the 3-point line. He is an amazing finisher around the rim, hitting 63.9 percent on 2-point tries. With a couple blocks per game on average, he also has added considerable bite to the defense in a program that occasionally struggles in that area.
Kofi Cockburn, Illinois
7-0, 285, Jr. C
Key stats: 21.0 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 59.7 pct. FG
Defining game: 37 points, 12 rebounds, 16-of-19 shooting in 80-67 victory over Wisconsin..
Overview: Cockburn is the sort of physically overpowering center we rarely see in college basketball any longer, a low-post force who demands double (and even triple) teams and manages to find a way to defeat them. He has recorded 14 double-doubles. If he were born in an earlier era, when this degree of size, strength and inside dominance was more valued at the professional level, he probably would have spent this past year excelling in the NBA. The League’s loss has been the Illini’s gain.
Bennedict Mathurin, Arizona
6-6, 210, So. G
Key stats: 17.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 47.1 pct. FG, 37.9 pct. 3-PT
Defining game: 30 points, 7 rebounds, 5-of-8 3-PT shooting in an 83-79 victory at Illinois.
Overview: Mathurin is one of many Wildcats who made significant improvements in their first season under coach Tommy Lloyd. He has nearly doubled his scoring average, reaching double figures in all but three games. He is an exceptional rebounder for his position and frequently creates opportunities for his teammates, ringing up four or more assists nine times.
Jabari Smith, Auburn
6-10, 220, Fr. F
Key stats: 17.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 43.6 percent 3-PT
Defining game: 25 points, 7 rebounds, 8-of-14 FG shooting in 81-77 victory at Alabama.
Overview: There is no college player better at pulling a 3-pointer from a standing position with a defender directly in his space. That may not come up a ton, but it’s a nice asset for a player closely defended. Smith is one of the two or three most talented players in Division I. It sometimes feels like he could do more, but coach Bruce Pearl says Smith has been big when the Tigers needed him.
Jaden Ivey, Purdue
6-4, 195, So. G
Key stats: 17.2 ppg 4.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 45.9 pct. FG
Defining game: 26 points, 6 assists,10-of-17 FG shooting in 84-68 victory over Illinois.
Overview: The most dynamic athlete to appear in Division I basketball in perhaps a decade, Ivey terrorizes defenses with his ability to penetrate the opposing foul lane. He has improved immensely as a shooter in his second season, up form 25.8 percent to a highly respectable 37.1 percent of jumpshots.
Chet Holmgren, Gonzaga
7-0, 194, Fr. C
Key stats: 14.4 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 43.8 pct 3-PT
Defining game: 20 points, 17 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 9-of-14 shooting in 90-57 victory at BYU.
Overview: It took a while for Holmgren to understand how to apply his amazing talent to Division I basketball. He attempted a total of 15 shots in his first three games combined, firing single-digit shot attempts in 12 of his first 16 games. When the calendar turned to February, though, Holmgren turned into the nations most overwhelming player, with averages of 16.2 points, 11.4 rebounds. 3.8 blocks and 49.9 percent 3-point shooting. He has become a dominant force.
Drew Timme, Gonzaga
6-10, 235, Jr. F
Key stats: 17.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 53.3 pct FG
Defining game: 37 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 15-of-19 shooting in a 86-74 victory over Texas.
Timme is an All-American for The Sporting News for the second consecutive year. He has been an essential ingredient to the Zags’ 55 victories in their past 59 games. He had to adjust to a different function with this season’s team because of the addition of 7-footer Chet Holmgren in the frontcourt — a year ago, he most often was the lone big in a four-guard lineup — and produced 10 20-point games and nine games of 8 rebounds or more.
EJ Liddell, Ohio State
6-7, 240, Jr. F
Overview: There may be no more complete player in college basketball. From the start of the season, Liddell was OSU’s one consistent source of offensive production, and he carried that responsibility beautifully. He also was their most impactful defender, using his ability to leap high — and suddenly — to rank as the shortest player in the NCAA’s top 20 shot blockers. He’s so important to the Buckeyes that Liddell played 35 or more minutes 10 times in his final dozen regular-season games.
James Akinjo, Baylor
6-1, 190, Sr. G
In a season that was a relative desert for high-end point guards, Akinjo stood out as the nation’s most consistently impactful at that position — and he might have contended for first-team honors if not for an injury that knocked him out of two games in the second half of the season and limited him in several others. He produced a dozen games of seven or more assists, including a season-high 11 in a victory over Stanford. The Bears lost the entire starting backcourt from the 2021 NCAA champions, and Akinjo nearly made everyone forget that remarkable trio.
JD Notae, Arkansas
6-2, 190, Sr. G
Notae grabbed everyone’s attention by punishing Kentucky’s defense in the Razorbacks’ big home win, but he’d done the same to opposing teams from the very start of the season. Notae did not post a single-figure scoring game as he inherited the scoring load from last year’s terrific Hogs team and increased his scoring average by nearly 50 percent, to 18.9 points per game.
Collin Gillespie, Villanova
6-3, 195, Sr. G
Gillespie watched injured as the Wildcats lost close to eventual national champion Baylor in the 2021 Sweet 16, aware he might have made a difference in the final stages of that game. He hasn’t wasted the opportunity to rectify that disappointment. The Wildcats won a share of another Big East championship and have ranked among the top teams all season, largely due to Gillespie’s timely deep shooting, his punishing physical style in the lane and his exceptional leadership. He ranks as one of college basketball’s best shooters, hitting better than 43 percent on threes and 90 percent on free throws.
Paolo Banchero, Duke
6-10, 235, Fr. F
Banchero made a tremendous impression in his first college game, hitting Kentucky for 22 points and 7 rebounds in a Blue Devils victory over Kentucky. He has the touch and grace of a small forward but the size, muscle and knack for rebounding of a power forward. He hit a freshman wall of sorts in February, but recovered to finish with three consecutive 20-point games and promise of more to come in March.