The Best and Brightest: Young College Basketball Stars

Daniel Beeck, Sports Editor

The 2017 college basketball season has surely had its fair share of up’s and downs, adding to the excitement around every game that’s played. Teams in every conference are beginning to take form, playing their best basketball, while jostling for position as the days pass by en-route to March.

In this article, Steve and I will break down the top six players in the league, with two honorable mentions. The three I will discuss are, Josh Hart (Villanova), Malik Monk (Kentucky), and Nigel Williams-Goss (Gonzaga), with the honorable mention being Marcus Keene (Central Michigan).

Josh Hart

The 6’6″ senior Guard for the Wildcats has been on a tear as of late, averaging 19 points per game in the month of February, tacking on 6.5 rebounds per game as well.

With a career-high 37 points scored against the #23 ranked Fighting Irish at the time, its clear that this senior has talent. Shooting 10-14 from the field, while snatching 11 rebounds to complete the double-double, Hart does whatever he can on the court to push his team in the right direction. He also converts from the charity stripe, as Hart knocked down 14 of his 14 attempts to complete the comeback against the Irish.

The only word you can use to describe Hart’s play-style is “complete”. Being able to drive to the basket using crafty dribbling, or even pulling up from downtown, Hart gets it done. With the “Big Dance” rapidly approaching, he will also be getting ready to prep for the NBA draft.

As the defending national champions head into the final three games of the season ranked #2  in college basketball, they have quite a bit to live up to. With the next few games being against Big East opponents, competition will heat up, as it does when playing in conference.

Looking ahead to the NCAA tournament, it seems as though the Wildcats will take the #1 seed in the East region. A region that also features teams such as Kentucky, Virginia, Oklahoma State, and Wisconsin, this is arguably the most competitive region to focus on.

Malik Monk

This 6’3″ freshman phenom is tearing it up for yet another Wildcat team, as he has led Kentucky to a 22-5 record this season. A key victory against Michigan State early on in the season, coupled with wins against North Carolina and Tennessee (the second time around) show how much this team can perform, with younger bodies on the floor.

Monk had huge performances against UNC and an overtime win at home against Georgia, a game in which he had 37 points. The only knock you could have against Monk is his lack of ability to use those around him on the floor. In the game against UNC, Monk played all but two minutes while racking up 47 points, however, he only racked up two assists. Monk could be passing into an assist (which is a stat that isn’t counted) but his inability to find the open man on the floor could be due to experience.

The reason Monk has made the list of the best and brightest is due to his scoring ability. Averaging 21 points per game and out shadowing many of the other starters that Head Coach John Calipari’s staff has built is a hard task to do. After grabbing NBA all-stars Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins before their fame, could Monk be the next great to come out of Lexington?

As for the Kentucky teams likelihood for success in the NCAA tournament, it’s hard to tell which Wildcat team will show up in the playoffs. Defeats against teams such as UCLA, Kansas, Tennessee, and a blowout loss against Florida stick out like sore thumbs when over viewing their schedule. A likely #3 seed in the East region (behind the same Louisville team that handed them a loss), they will probably have an easy first two rounds before facing opponents who will match them across the board.

With all of that said, Monk has nothing but talent to show for this season, and I believe the sky is the limit for this young shooter. If he continues to score with such ferocity, you can bet that you will be able to purchase his NBA jersey in the near future.

Nigel Williams-Goss

The Washington Huskies lost out big when Williams-Goss left the team for Gonzaga, as he leads the team in scoring with an average 16.3 points per game, along with just under six rebounds. The Bulldogs have been perfect this season, with a record of 28-0, taking down a talented Tennessee team along with a win against the #16 ranked Arizona Wildcats at the time. A big reason why the Bulldogs are having such a stellar season, is due to the name right above, being that Williams-Goss is averaging around 16 points per game, along with 90 percent from the free-throw line.

The big reason why Williams-Goss has been such a standout player for the Bulldogs this season, is his selflessness on the floor, and how he gets the ball in the open players hands. In the game where Gonzaga had to travel to War Memorial Gymnasium and take on the Dons, Williams-Goss shot lights out from the field, and also moved the ball on the floor. With 36 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, he really can do it all. Just getting to the hoop and using the whole floor are two reasons why the Zag’s are leaning on Williams-Goss so heavily.

When peering into the crystal ball of the NCAA tournament, Gonzaga hasn’t had the hardest road into the big dance. As aforementioned, the Bulldogs do have a few quality wins over strong teams, however, the quality of teams in the bracket predictions released by popular panelists have Gonzaga in one of the more unpredictable brackets. Teams that play a much different game than the Bulldogs are used to, might halt the party before it even happens.

After taking all of the information provided above, into consideration, if Gonzaga shows up in the tournament, their path could be clear to raising the coveted trophy in Phoenix.

Honorable Mention: Marcus Keene

Marcus Keene has doubled his scoring totals from last season, as he has surpassed the 40 point total six times this season. Even equally impressive, he has exceeded the 30 point total 15 times this season. The scoring ability of this junior is evident through the ability to drive to the hoop and get the contested shots to fall.

Although the Central Michigan Chippewas are long shots at best to make the NCAA tournament or even the NIT tournament, Keene has talent. It seems that Central Michigan landed a diamond in the rough when the Youngstown State transfer left the state of Ohio.