We recently learned that Oregon star forward Dillon Brooks might miss the start of the season due to a foot injury, and although he’ll likely be fine by the time the Ducks’ schedule heats up, it’s still a cause for concern. Brooks is an integral part of Oregon's success, and losing him could be the difference between a Final Four appearance and an early NCAA tournament exit.
On that note, we’ve identified seven of the most indispensable players in college basketball for the coming season. Take a look.
Melo Trimble, Maryland
Maryland loses Diamond Stone, Robert Carter Jr., Jake Layman and Rasheed Sulaimon off of last year’s Sweet 16 team, leaving Trimble as the lone returning starter for the Terrapins. So, yes, he’s clearly crucial to anything Mark Turgeon’s team plans to do this season.
Trimble is a scoring guard at heart, but last season, one could argue he was miscast as a table-setter. Maryland will not be as talented as it was last season, but Trimble will assume a role in which he’s more of a natural fit, and he should have an amazing year. The potential problem? The Terrapins lack secondary shot creators, and if they lose Trimble for any stretch, their NCAA tournament hopes will be slim.
Maryland is going to rely heavily on its point guard this season, for better or worse.
Monte Morris, Iowa State
Jameel McKay and Georges Niang are gone, and the Cyclones are officially Morris’ team. The heady point guard looks to be up to the task.
As a junior, the Iowa State floor general averaged 13.8 points and 6.9 assists per game on a blistering 48.7 percent shooting. Morris is efficient and deceptive; he zigs when the defense zags, and he’s a willing passer that makes everyone around him better.
Morris’ usage rate was 18.4 percent last season, and as a senior, that number will likely eclipse 20. The Cyclones better hope it does; good things happen when Morris finishes possessions. But when one player means so much to a roster, and the reserve options are untested, the margin for error is small.
Ivan Rabb, California
Rabb was awesome last season, and with three of Cal’s four leading scorers from a year ago departing, he’s going to carry a heavy load as a sophomore.
That’s fine with him. Rabb’s per 40 numbers were fantastic last season (17.5 points, 11.9 rebounds), and he’ll log more than the 28.7 minutes per game he played as a freshman. The Golden Bears are unproven outside of their star big man, and they’ll need to play out of the post and exploit double teams in order to make the NCAA tournament again. Without Rabb, Cal doesn’t have much to hang its hat on.
Rabb posted the highest net rating (29.5) of any Cal regular last season, besting No. 3 overall pick Jaylen Brown by double digits. The Golden Bears were an outstanding team when Rabb was on the court last season, and he’s immensely important to everything they do.
Jordan Woodard, Oklahoma
Oklahoma trotted out the scariest backcourt trio in the country last season in Woodard, Buddy Hield and Isaiah Cousins. Woodard is the lone returnee of that group in 2016-17, and he’s poised to have a huge season.
Woodard made 45.5 percent of his 3-point attempts last season, but his efficiency from 2-point range must improve; he shot just 38 percent on regular field goal tries a year ago. With that said, Woodard will be unleashed as a senior, and he’s ready to let his all-around game shine. The Sooner guard averaged 3.4 assists and 1.6 steals per game in 2015-16 to go with his 13 points, and with more volume, he could average close to 20 tallies per contest this season.
Frankly, the Sooners will need him to. Oklahoma will have an athletic (albeit unproven) frontcourt, but Woodard is going to be the focal point of the offense. The Sooners don’t have a player capable of taking a game over in Woodard’s fashion in the event that he gets injured.
Dillon Brooks, Oregon
Brooks was the inspiration for this piece, and although the Ducks surround him with ample talent, he's the engine that makes this offense run.
Able to play either forward spot, Brooks is a matchup nightmare. He's capable of shooting 3’s as well as punishing smaller defenders on the drive or on the block. He holds his own defensively, too.
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Last season, Elgin Cook was Brooks-lite for Oregon. They possessed similar skill sets, though Brooks was certainly the more dynamic of the two. Cook is gone, and No. 24 is the difference between this team being ‘good’ and ‘great.’ Here’s to hoping he gets well soon.
Maurice Watson Jr., Creighton
Where would Creighton have been without Watson last season? The jet-quick point guard averaged 14.1 points and 6.5 assists per game while making 51 percent of his 2’s, and he’s back for more in his senior year.
With Kris Dunn and Ryan Arcidiacono gone, Watson is the best returning point guard in the Big East, and the Bluejays have a good chance to return to the NCAA tournament in 2017. There are very few perimeter defenders in college basketball that can keep Watson out of the paint, and once he breaks down a defense, he’s magic.
Watson is adept at finishing over bigger defenders and dishing to shooters or rollers, and the majority of successful Creighton offensive possessions happen because of a Watson penetration. Nobody else on the roster can do what he does, which makes him crucial to the Bluejays’ success.
Peter Jok, Iowa
Jok enjoyed a breakout campaign as a junior, and the Hawkeyes will be his team as a senior.
Jok flourished as the second option behind Jarrod Uthoff last season; Uthoff is gone, as are key contributors Anthony Clemmons, Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury.
Can Jok create his own shot on a consistent basis? He’s going to have to prove that this season. To his credit, he has the size, handle and outside stroke to do so. Jok averaged 16.1 points per game on 40.2 percent 3-point shooting a year ago, and due to a volume spike alone, he’ll probably top 20 points per game this season. The key is efficiency, and if the Hawkeyes are going to match their success from 2015-16, Jok is going to need to play at an All-American level. Not many other players carry that kind of burden, but if anyone is capable, it’s Iowa’s smooth swingman.