- Jay Bilas, College Basketball analyst
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At the start of conference play, we have a body of work from the nation's best players, albeit an incomplete one. Instead of projecting which players will be on our final All-America team or projecting which players will be the top picks in the NBA draft, let's select our first-team All-Americans right now, by position, based upon performance to date.
Midseason All-America, First Team
Guard: John Wall, Kentucky. Wall is the most explosive player in the college game, has led his team to an undefeated start and might just be the best player on any team, of any age. He is averaging 17.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 7.1 assists and 2.3 steals per game, all while shooting an impressive 51 percent from the floor and 77 percent from the free throw line. Sure, Wall also averages four turnovers per game, but he has spearheaded an incredible turnaround in Lexington that would not have occurred without his presence. The fastest player in the country with the ball in his hands, Wall is more explosive and more efficient than Derrick Rose was in his rookie season, and so far, he has been every bit the same winner.
Guard: Jon Scheyer, Duke. No player in the country has been as efficient with the ball as Scheyer has been. While not a true point guard, Scheyer has proven to be next to impossible to speed up, and he keeps his dribble and makes plays on the floor. He is not a great passer, but he consistently makes good passes and good decisions. Scheyer leads the nation with a 4.8-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, and when guarded by smaller point guards he will work off the ball and take advantage of defenders not used to playing off the ball. The only defenders who have had success against Scheyer are athletic guards with size, but they haven't had much success against him this season. Scheyer is averaging 20 points per game, 3.5 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.2 steals, and he is knocking down 46 percent of his shots, 41 percent of his 3-balls and 91 percent of his free throws. He is making three 3-point field goals and five free throws per game. There are several other guards who are having great seasons and will be better pro prospects, but there aren't many who have had comparable seasons to date.
Forward: Wesley Johnson, Syracuse. Not many transfers enter college basketball, especially on a good team, so seamlessly. Johnson, in his first season in orange after leaving Iowa State, plays on both ends of the floor and is very good in the open court. He has been the go-to scorer for Syracuse and has been an outstanding back-line rebounder and defender in Jim Boeheim's zone. Johnson is super athletic and very skilled, and he reminds you of a better shooting and rebounding version of Shawn Marion. Johnson is averaging 17.4 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.5 offensive rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.8 steals and 2 blocks per game. He is shooting 57 percent from the field, 48 percent from long distance and 75 percent from the line, and he does not take bad shots.
Forward: Damion James, Texas. James is a great advertisement for staying in school and making more money as a result. Instead of just going to the NBA, James will get there and stay there as a result of coming back to college. James is averaging 17 points, 11 rebounds, 3 offensive rebounds, 1.5 steals and an assist and a block per game, while shooting 50 percent from the field, 34 percent from 3-point range and 67 percent from the line. James has been a vocal leader, and nobody plays harder. He has made winning plays in many of the Longhorns' biggest victories, posting 19 and 10 against USC, 25 and 14 against UNC and 23 and 7 against Michigan State.
Center: Luke Harangody, Notre Dame. Some may believe that Harangody has not won at the same level of the other first-teamers, but it is not his doing. At times a volume shooter, Harangody has continued to be impossible to shut down and as productive a player as there is in the nation. Barring something strange befalling him, Harangody will lead the Big East in scoring and rebounding for the third straight season. As conference play begins, Harangody is averaging 25 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2 assists, while shooting 52 percent from the floor and 80 percent from the line. Harangody can step away, he can face you up and drive, and despite the best interior defenders and detailed scouting reports, nobody in the Big East can shut the big redhead down. Harangody will leave Notre Dame as the most productive big man ever in South Bend, and only Austin Carr will be in his category as an achiever on the stat sheet.
Best Perimeter Defender of the Midseason: Tie, Chris Kramer, Purdue and Dogus Balbay, Texas. Kramer is one of the toughest individual defenders to go against because he will not allow an easy catch, and he fights the opponent's best offensive player game in and game out. Balbay puts the best pressure on the ball of anyone I have seen all season long. With his ball pressure, teams have a difficult time running offense against Texas, and Balbay has taken more than one quality point guard out of the game this season.
Best Interior Defender of the Midseason: Jarvis Varnado, Mississippi State. The long-armed, athletic shot-blocker and rebounder has averaged 11 rebounds per game and a national-best 80 blocks on the season, which comes out to 5 blocks per game. He'll likely become the NCAA's all-time in blocks by the end of the season, but Varnado's presence is felt even more by the shots changed and discouraged, which far outnumber the amount of blocked shots.
Best Coach of the Midseason: John Calipari, Kentucky. The job that Calipari has done in Lexington is nothing short of remarkable. To have the Wildcats, a team so young it should be referred to as Kittens, still unbeaten is an amazing job. Kentucky is getting better and better, and with the talent assembled by Calipari, there is little reason to believe that the Cats will not be playing in the NCAA tournament's second weekend or beyond.
Most Improved Player of the Midseason: Ashton Gibbs, Pittsburgh. Gibbs has emerged as the Panthers' best player, and has been truly outstanding all season long. He makes great reads, comes off screens well and consistently knocks down shots under pressure. Pittsburgh has changed its offensive focus to get Gibbs jump shots, and his effective use of screens and reading defenses has opened up opportunities for teammates. No way is Pittsburgh this good without Gibbs.
Jay Bilas is a regular analyst of college hoops on ESPN television and ESPN.Com.
Kentucky and Texas headline Jay Bilas' midseason All-America team.