CANMORE, Alta. — The level of parity in college basketball in recent years is at an all-time high.
Still, on a nightly basis, mid-major teams are often the underdogs against power conference teams. The likes of the Kentucky Wildcats, Duke Blue Devils, and other blue-blood programs land the top high school recruits each season, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a ton of talent elsewhere in the country.
Smaller programs have just as much talent on their roster, but their names don’t come with the same pedigree as the ones in the ESPN Top 100. So, we thought we would filter through all of the mid-major schools and assemble our own Dream Team for the 2017-18 season.
We assembled a 14-man roster that we would want to see play together. The team is open to interpretation, and can be assembled in an endless number of ways. But, this is a team we think would contend with the best of the best in the NCAA.
G: Jonathan Stark, Murray State Racers
G: Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure Bonnies
G/F: Dikembe Dixson, UIC Flames
F: Mike Daum, South Dakota State Jackrabbits
C: Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s Gaels
The point guard spot was arguably the toughest position to fill in the starting five. So, with that, we moved Adams away from his usual point guard spot and slotted him in as shooting guard. Last season, he averaged 20.6 points and 6.5 assists per contest. Having Adams on the roster essentially gives the team an extra point guard, which adds flexibility for different looks on offense and defense.
Assuming the role of point guard duties would be one of the most underappreciated players across the country, in Jonathan Stark. The latest star guard to suit up for the Racers averaged 21.9 points per game last season, while shooting 42.5% from three point range. Again, the duo of Adams and Stark provide great flexibility on the roster, and also allowed for an extra scoring guard to come off the bench.
In the middle, Jock Landale was one of the top big men in the country last season, let alone the mid-major level. He increased his scoring average from 7.9 points per game as a sophomore to 16.9 points per game as a junior, which was a team-high for the Gaels. Add in his 9.1 rebounds per contest, and the 6’11” Landale had himself quite the season. For the third season in a row, he shot above 61% from the floor (61.1%).
At the power forward spot is a man who needs no introduction. Mike Daum is the top returning scorer in the country, as he averaged 25.1 points per game for South Dakota State as a sophomore, no less. At 6’9” tall, Daum shot 51.4% from the floor, 86.9% from the free throw line, and 41.8% from beyond the three point arc.
Rounding out the top five is a player who only saw action in ten games a season ago, but has the potential (and confidence) to be one of the top players in the country this season. Dikembe Dixson averaged 20.3 points and 6.0 rebounds over UIC’s first 10 games last season, before a season-ending injury derailed his stellar start. Now, he’s healthy and ready to lead the Flames to a Horizon League title and a spot in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
G: Tyler Hall, Montana State Bobcats
G: Ehab Amin, Texas A&M-CC Islanders
G: Fletcher Magee, Wofford Terriers
G: Chris Clemons, Campbell Fighting Camels
G: Marlain Veal, Southeastern Louisiana Lions
F: Alize Johnson, Missouri State Bears
F: Kevin Hervey, UT-Arlington Mavericks
F: Devontae Cacok, UNC Wilmington Seahawks
C: Brandon Gilbeck, Western Illinois Leathernecks
Assembling a balanced bench rotation was the toughest part of this entire project, without question. One could go several different ways with each position, and we flip-flopped on several players in the front court.
In total, we went with a nine-man bench rotation that features five guards, three forwards and a big man in the middle. Some of our choices will raise some eyebrows, but again, it’s open to individual interpretation.
On the back end, the team boasts a pair of the most athletic guards in the country, both of whom stand at 5’9” tall. Chris Clemons and Marlain Veal are highlight reels each time they touch the ball, and they have the athleticism to jump out of the gym.
Veal does a little bit of everything for Southeastern Louisiana, a team we have picked as a sleeper team in the Southland Conference this season. He averaged 14.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.8 steals per contest, while shooting 47.7% from the field.
Clemons averaged 25.1 points per game for Campbell last season, which is tied with Daum for the highest point-per-game mark of any returnee from last season. He scored in double-figures in all 36 games he played last season, and put up 51 points against the UNC Asheville Bulldogs back in March. Clemons also averaged a cool 31.3 points per game over three contests in the 2017 CIT.
Late in games, having a guy who can hit free throws at a high clip can be the difference in close games. Having a guy like Fletcher Magee on your roster would be a big boost in late-game scenarios. He shot 89.3% from the free throw line last season while also averaging a team-high 18.6 points per game for Wofford.
As the old adage goes, ‘defense wins championships’. Ehab Amin is arguably the nation’s best defending guard, and he proved that last season by averaging 3.4 steals per game to lead the country. He’s not afraid to battle in the paint for rebounds, and he can hold his own on the offensive end (16.9 points, 6.6 assists). Kevin Sweeney (@CBB_Central) said it best about Amin, in the fact that ‘he’s a winning player who every coach would want on their roster’. Well, we want him on our roster for that exact reason alone.
If the offense didn’t need more firepower, Montana State guard Tyler Hall, also known as the nation’s best kept secret, rounds out the bench collection of guards. With his 23.1 point per game average, and field goal percentage of 47.7%, Hall is more than deserving of a spot on the roster. Also, at 6’4” tall, he’s the tallest guard on the squad.
Up front, you’ll find a trio of players who need no explanation.
Alize Johnson was the MVP of the Adidas Nations showcase, one that featured the likes of Michael Porter, Jr. among others. He averaged 14.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per game last season, and has worked his way into NBA Draft discussions all across the country. ESPN recently listed the 6’8” forward as a late-second round pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. His stock will only rise this season.
Devontae Cacok led the nation in field goal percentage last season, finishing the season by shooting a remarkable 80.0% from the field. His effectiveness alone earned him a spot on this roster. He’s a reliable force in the paint that can take pressure off the guards. Cacok is a force on the glass on both ends of the floor, averaging 9.8 boards per game last year.
Lastly, Kevin Hervey is one half of arguably the top guard-forward tandem in the country, let alone the mid-major level (Erick Neal). Hervey came back healthy last season and led the Mavericks to 27 wins, a regular season title in the Sun Belt, and a quarter-final appearance in the 2017 NIT. Hervey recorded seven double-doubles over the Mavericks’ last eight games before the NIT, a stretch that included a 34-point, 10-rebound game in a loss to the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns in the regular season finale.
Rounding out the roster is the one player that most people will scratch their heads over and wonder why he’s on the roster.
He finished fourth in the country in blocked shots per game, averaging 3.0 per contest. His 84 total blocks last season were a school record. He stands at 6’11” tall, and weighs in at 250 pounds, and he brings a ton of size to the front court behind Landale.
Meet junior center Brandon Gilbeck, who patrols the front court for the Western Illinois Leathernecks. He appeared in all 27 games last season as a sophomore, averaging 7.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per contest to go along with his 3.0 blocks. Gilbeck recorded at least one block in all but one game, and record four or more blocks on 10 occasions.
While his offensive numbers aren’t as strong as others who were considered, we went for size and defensive presence over offensive statistics. Gilbeck rounds out our 14-man dream team roster for the 2017-18 season!
Did we miss anybody, or overlook someone at a certain position? Let us know on Twitter, using the hashtag #CCRDreamTeam.
– T. Bennett