Michael Gbinije – Syracuse
Even though Syracuse will miss out on post season play due to their own self imposed ban, Gbinije is a player that deserves to be recognized throughout the month of March for his play this season. He’s been the engine that has kept Syracuse going through a difficult season. Since the injury to freshman Kris McCullough back in mid-January, Gbinije has averaged 17 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists and would be in the conversation for ACC POY if it weren’t for a couple of guys named Jahlil Okafor and Jerian Grant. He’s a point forward that can do a little bit of everything. He’s a good three point shooter, he takes care of the ball, defends, rebounds and plays with a great motor. There’s not much not to like when it comes to his game and the way he’s played this season.
He isn’t an elite athlete and he doesn’t "wow" you with anything in particular but what he does bring to the table is a smart, versatile player that does everything well. He’ll likely need to return for his senior season and work on perfecting his jump shot and his rebounding but he has a spot at the next level and will likely be a late first round pick next year if he keeps improving. With the transfer of Ojeleye and dismissal of Sulaimon, do you think Coach K would like to have Gbinije on the roster right about now?
Kyle Wiltjer – Gonzaga
There’s a great article on Grantland about Wiltjer and his transformation between his sophomore season at Kentucky and this his red-shirt junior season with the ‘Zags. If you haven’t read it, then do so as soon as you’re finished with this piece. That being said, Wiltjer is a completely different player now than he was two seasons ago. And while it might be true that he looks better because he’s playing against inferior competition, he has improved on his game immensely and would be torching teams on the offensive end no matter who he was playing for. He’s long, he’s skilled and he can shoot the lights out from distance which makes him a prototypical stretch four at any level. While he’s not done growing into his body, he looks so much more comfortable on the floor and in this offense than he did with his time in Lexington.
This season with the ‘Zags has been a coming out part of sorts for Wiltjer. Aside from shooting the ball extremely effectively from beyond the arc, he’s become a better player from inside the arc as well. While he’s not a great post player, he has developed some moves that surprise you when he makes them. He dropped 45 against Pacific last week going 7-10 from distance and 15-22 overall. He was lights out no matter where he caught the ball. It was one of the better individual performances that I’ve seen this year from any player at this level. He still isn’t a great rebounder and needs to add some weight if he wants to become a better rebounder and be able to play in the post at the next level but he’s still got another year to grow, learn and become an NBA prospect. If Ryan Kelly can make an NBA roster then so can Wiltjer who is the better of the two in terms of an overall skill set.
Branden Dawson – Michigan State
Dawson has been one of the more physically gifted players in all of college basketball for some time. But he never has really tapped into his true potential. He’s a wing by size playing a big man by necessity and overall skill set. He is a slashing forward that uses his strength to get to the rim and finish in traffic. He projects as a SF at the next level but his inability to stretch the floor will hurt his overall stock as he’s just not a great shooter from distance. The good thing is that he knows that isn’t his strength and doesn’t try to force it. He’s a self aware player that knows what he does well and uses that to his advantage.
This season with a younger, less talented Michigan State team around him, Dawson has become the go-to player for the Spartans. He’s averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks this season and aside from his putrid free throw shooting (47%) he should be one of the finalists for Big 10 Player of the Year. He’s on a stretch right now that has him averaging 17/10/3/3 over his last three outings helping the Spartans get back on the inside looking out in terms of the NCAAT. Dawson will undoubtedly be drafted this season but it will likely be in the second round as he doesn’t provide enough on the offensive end. But his ability to defend and rebound won’t be overlooked and will provide enough for a team to call his name in June.
Abdul Malik Abu – NC State
Head Coach Mark Gottfried was really high on Abu coming into the season. The freshman had shown promise in practice as well as in the "Throwback with the Pack" back in October. He’s a gifted athlete who has a high ceiling. He wasn’t supposed to take over a starting spot this season as the Wolfpack had three talented sophomores (Washington, Anya and Freeman) coming back but his versatility combined with this ability to rebound, defend and block shots has all but forced Coach Gottfried’s hand down the stretch.
He’s now cemented in the starting lineup and taking minutes away from that sophomore trio. While he’s a project from an offensive standpoint as he doesn’t have great footwork or touch just yet, he’s a relentless rebounder and is as springy of a player as you’ll find. He’s tough and works hard on the glass and is exactly what the Wolfpack need on the block with guards Trevor Lacey and Cat Barber playing so well lately. Abu has NBA level athleticism and will be a player to watch over the next year or two as he refines his game.
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