For the fourth summer in a row, we’re tackling the 50 best players in College Basketball. Here’s the list from 2011-2012, here’s the list from 2012-2013, and here’s the list from 2013-2014. Surely a name or two or 10 will outrage you.
There’s a dozen or so players listed at the very bottom who “just missed the cut.” What constitutes “Best?” A combination of things: 1) How they’ve played in college or last year in high school, 2) How I project them as a player next year, 3) Individual skill and value to the team, 4) How I project them as a pro.
50. Bobby Portis, C, Arkansas. Quietly one of the best big men in the SEC last year (12.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg) but the Razorbacks missed the tournament.
49. Brandon Ashley, F, Arizona. The Wildcats were favored to win the Title until he was lost for the season due to injury. They didn’t lose a game without him! He’ll be drafted in 2015. Averaged 11.5 ppg and 5.8 rpg last year but missed all of March and all but two minutes of February.
48. Abdul-Malik Abu, F, NC State. There are a lot of talented freshman coming into the ACC and Abu – who spurned Florida and UConn – could be one of the best at the college level who stays more than a year or two.
47. Nigel Hayes, PF, Wisconsin. Don’t let him get lost in the Kaminsky/Dekker shuffle. May not have the stats (7.7 ppg) to warrant this ranking, and is mentioned as a tweener in NBA circles, but he’s an ideal power forward in college basketball.
46. Jordan Sibert, G, Dayton. The Ohio State transfer led the Flyers in scoring (12.7) and was integral in their March run to the Elite 8. Shot 42 percent on 3-pointers.
45. Anthony Brown, G/F, Stanford. After promising freshman year, he missed almost all of his sophomore season but bounced-back nicely with 12.3 ppg last year, and he shot 45 percent on three’s. Pac-12 POY sleeper?
44. Rashad Vaughn, G, UNLV. At 6-foot-5, he’s been compared to Bradley Beal. One of the best scorers in high school last year, he had offers from Kentucky and Kansas.
43. Isaiah Whitehead, SG, Seton Hall. Freshman shooting guard is a lethal scorer who could put up 20 points a night. The Pirates will stink, but he’ll score plenty.
42. Ryan Boatright, PG, Connecticut. Statistically better offensively as a sophomore, but moved aside as a junior to let Shabazz Napier shoulder the scoring. Will be one of the best defensive guards in the nation (again) and exciting, too.
41. Jabari Bird, SG, California. Battled injuries during a frustrating freshman year (8.3 ppg) but the high profile high school recruit will be expected to come close to doubling that output this season.
40. Jordan Mickey, F, LSU. He’s the 6-foot-8 version of Willie Cauley-Stein, with slightly more offense. He averaged 12.7 ppg and 3.1 blocks per game, but was overshadowed by the play of star Johnny O’Bryant (now in the NBA).
39. Treveon Graham, F, VCU. Averaged 15.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg for the Rams. On a deep team, he’s their most consistent scorer, failing to reach double figures only three times last season.
38. Tyler Haws, F, BYU. Volume scorer put up 767 points last season, 5th most in college basketball. Reigning WCC Player of the Year.
37. Branden Dawson, F, Michigan State. Great athlete was inconsistent last year, but he could be because of all the talent they had. But on a depleted Spartans team this season, will be asked to do much more.
36. Michael Frazier, G, Florida. Ranked 22nd in the nation according to Ken Pom in True Shooting percentage. Frazier tied for 5th in college basketball last year with 118- made 3-pointers. A lot of talent left Gainesville, so Frazier won’t be as open on the perimeter.
35. Trey Lyles, F, Kentucky. The freshman is very skilled, but also injured right now, and on a team with nine McDonald’s All-Americans, could take some time to climb in the rotation. When will he pass jumping jack Marcus Lee for playing time?
34. Wesley Saunders, G, Harvard. Ivy League Player of the Year actually had better stats as a sophomore (16.2 ppg vs. 14.2) and I think he’ll get a long look as a pro next year. At 6-foot-5, he does everything well and if he can add a 3-point shot to his game … 2nd round pick?
33. Kevin Pangos, PG, Gonzaga. Has averaged double figures in points and shot better than 40 percent on 3-pointers in all three of his college seasons. Probably should be higher on this list.
31. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, F, Arizona. Insanely athletic, and will get drafted, but still lacks a perimeter game. If he finds one, he’s in the Top 15 on this list.
30. Chris Walker, F, Florida. Incredibly optimistic for a kid with a checkered background. But the talent is there, and if he stays out of trouble, he could be a double-double guy for Billy Donovan.
29. Terran Petteway, G, Nebraska. Pumped in 18.1 ppg as a freshman, helping get the Cornhuskers to the NCAA tournament. Can he do it again? [Ed. Listed as a rising sophomore at ESPN; rising junior on Nebraska’s website.]
28. Buddy Hield, G, Oklahoma. Best player on a good team that everyone knew would lose in the 1st round of March Madness. More than doubled his scoring average from his freshman to sophomore year (7.8 ppg to 16.5 ppg). Very good defender.
27. R.J. Hunter, G, Georgia State. Future pro – maybe a 1st round pick– averaged 18.5 ppg on one of the best teams in the Sun Belt conference, which is where Elfrid Payton (10th pick in the 2014 draft) toiled last year. Hunter gave Payton 33 points in one meeting.
26. Rasheed Sulaimon, G, Duke. Up-and-down last year, and didn’t live up to his #19 ranking on our list. Impact freshman are arriving in Durham (see below), but there will be times he’ll need to score 20 and carry the offensive load.
25. Perry Ellis, F, Kansas. Very skilled at scoring around the basket. Averaged 13.5 ppg as a sophomore, and scored 24 against Duke last year, and 30 in a loss to Iowa State.
24. Isaiah Taylor, PG, Texas. Averaged 13-4-3 for the Longhorns, who are loaded and a Final 4 sleeper. If he consistently makes his jumper, he’s Top 15 material.
23. Delon Wright, G, Utah. On a team that came on strong late last season, he put up very good numbers (15.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 5.3 apg). Was 11th in the nation in steals (2.5 per game).
22. Marcus Foster, G, Kansas State. Perhaps the best returning freshman in the country. Averaged 15.4 ppg and shot 40 percent on 3-pointers.
21. Olivier Hanlan, G, Boston College. Outside shot the Canadian makes a run at ACC POY. Had an instant impact as a freshman (15.4 ppg) and then put up 18.5 ppg as a sophomore.
20. Joe Young, G, Oregon. One of the best pure scorers in the nation, scored 29 or more points five times last season, including 29 in an NCAA tournament defeat to Wisconsin. Given the ugly offseason the Ducks had, he’s a darkhorse to lead the nation in scoring.
19. Juwan Staten, G, West Virginia. Throwback point guard who can get to the hoop, score, rebound and pass (18-5-5 last year). Incredibly only made 6 three-pointers last season.
18. Justise Winslow, F, Duke. The 6-foot-6 small forward has been compared to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and is known as a defender first, offensive weapon second. Let me guess, you’re outraged that Duke has three players who haven’t played a minute of college basketball in the Top 20?
17. Kelly Oubre, F, Kansas. “The guy replacing Andrew Wiggins.” He’ll score double figures in their first few games and everyone will point to Wiggins against Stanford and say, “Oubre won’t let that happen in March!”
16. Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky. It’s going to be a real battle for minutes among all the bigs Calipari has, but WCS is the most athletic 7-footer in the country. Tied for 6th in the nation last year in blocks (106).
15. Fred Van Vleet, PG, Wichita State. Consummate college basketball point guard was tremendous last year for the 1-loss Shockers: 19th in the country in offensive win shares (4.4), 20th in defensive win shares (2.8). He’s the only returning player in both categories.
14. Ron Baker, G, Wichita State. Don’t get hung up on if he’s a 1 or 2 at the next level. Enjoy his fantastic all-around game in college (13-3-3, 38 percent 3-pointers).
13. Marcus Paige, PG, UNC. Slick scorer is one of my favorite players to watch and a 1st team All-American candidate. Averaged 17.5 ppg.
12. Terry Rozier, G, Louisville. Didn’t put up massive stats (7.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg) as a freshman on a loaded team, but somebody has to fill the scoring void Russ Smith left.
11. Caris Levert, G, Michigan. The Wolverines lost almost everything, and Levert will be called upon to be their offensive leader. Shot 40 percent on 3-pointers and could lead the Big 10 in scoring after averaging 12.9 ppg last year.
10. Georges Niang, F, Iowa State. His late-season broken foot prevented the Cyclones from making a Final 4 run. Averaged 16.7 ppg, stuffs the stat sheet and has a high basketball IQ.
9. Sam Dekker, F, Wisconsin. Had him 13th on this list last year, but he stepped back a bit offensively, and ultimately decided to stay in school. Recently took part in LeBron’s camp in Vegas and the reviews were rave. I think he projects as a better pro than Gordon Hayward.
8. Myles Turner, C, Texas. Seven-footer was one of the top-rated high school basketball players by the scout services. He’s expected to have an immediate impact, be one-and-done and get selected in the lottery.
7. Tyus Jones, G, Duke. Arguably the best point guard in high school basketball last year, he’s drawn some comparisons to former Michigan star Trey Burke.
6. Frank Kaminsky, C, Wisconsin. When he dropped 40 in a December game, I thought it was an outlier. Then, he continued to dominate all season, and was unstoppable at times in March (until Kentucky held him to eight points on seven shots). Averaged 4.2 ppg as a sophomore. Hung 28 on Arizona in the Elite 8.
5. Montrezl Harrell, F, Louisville. Stayed in school to round out his all-around game, and there’s no reason to believe his averages of 14 ppg and 8.2 rpg can’t improve to 18-10. Shot 60 percent from the field … but just 46 percent from the line.
4. Karl Towns, F, Kentucky. The Wildcats are loaded, and yet this 7-footer who can float to the perimeter might have the most talent of any player on Calipari’s roster. Would be a major stunner if this freshman wasn’t 1-and-done.
3. Stanley Johnson, G/F, Arizona. Will he fill the Nick Johnson role of top scorer? Or will he be used as a reserve to SF Rondae Hollis-Jefferson? Thing is, Johnson can score, and few incoming freshman can do it as well.
2. Cliff Alexander, C, Kansas. Stud from Chicago is 6-foot-8, 250 pounds, and will quickly make everyone forget about Joel Embiid’s great freshman season.
1. Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke. First back-to-the-basket big man the Blue Devils have had since Carlos Boozer. Should be instant impact 15-10 guy from November.
Just missed the cut:
Jonathan Holmes, F, Texas; Sam Thompson, G, Ohio State; Kaleb Tarczewski, C, Arizona; Dez Wells, F, Maryland; TJ McConnell, PG, Arizona; Kasey Hill, PG, Florida; Wayne Selden, F, Kansas; Jamari Traylor, F, Kansas; Rodney Purvis, G, UConn; Angel Rodriguez, PG, Miami; Siyani Chambers, PG, Harvard; Josh Scott, F, Colorado; Winston Shepard, G, San Diego State; Dwayne Polee, G/F, San Diego State; Kyle Wiltjer, F, Gonzaga; Malcolm Brogdon, G, Virginia; Ryan Arcidiacono, PG, Villanova.
Just missed the cut because I forgot them or you complained:
Andrew Harrison, G, Kentucky; Chasson Randle, G, Stanford; D’Angelo Russel, F, Ohio State; Justin Jackson, G/F, UNC; Yogi Ferrell, PG, Indiana; Amida Brimah, C, Connecticut; Dorian Finney-Smith, F, Florida;