The 50 Best Players in College Basketball for 2015-2016
For the 5th 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, here’s the list from 2013-2014 and here’s the list from 2014-2015. 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.” 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. E.C. Matthews, G Rhode Island – Is he the best player in the A-10? Averaged 16.9 ppg last season.
49. Dwayne Bacon, G, FSU – Incoming freshman can absolutely fill it up, I mean look at this guy just pumping in the points at Oak Hill. Doesn’t do much else besides score, dunk and talk trash. Supreme bucket-getter.
48. Rico Gathers, F, Baylor – Assuming his offseason arrest doesn’t impact his status with the team, the 6-foot-8, 280-pound enforcer averaged 11.6 ppg and 11.6 rpg.
47. Malcolm Brogdon, PG, Virginia – Cavs fans were angry at me after last year’s list, and I’m sure many will gripe Brogdon should be much higher than this. But he’s a shooting guard who shot 34 percent on 3-pointers. He’s terrific defensively and money at the foul line, but I don’t know if he makes the Justin Anderson leap next season.
46. Ryan Arcidiacono, PG, Villanova – Made this list two years ago, to much outrage from the twitter mob. Was the Big East co-Player of the Year as a junior.
45. Justin Moss, F, Buffalo – Is he the best mid-major player who doesn’t suit up for Wichita State? Averaged 17.5 ppg and 9.2 rpg for the Bulls, who have enough talent to get back to the NCAA Tournament.
44. Kaleb Tarczewski, C, Arizona – The only remaining starter from two Wildcat teams that that lost in the Elite 8 to Wisconsin. Was almost disappointing last year for a 7-footer to grab only 5.2 rebounds and block 0.6 shots in 26 minutes a game.
43. Sheldon McClellan, SG, Miami – Led the Hurricanes in scoring at 14.5 ppg, but if the Texas transfer wants to make the leap to the NBA, he’s going to have to shoot better from deep (35 percent on 3-pointers)
42. Yogi Ferrell, PG, Indiana – Feels like he’s been in Bloomington forever. After averaging 17.3 ppg as a sophomore, he passed up the NBA to return to a strong young core. He shot 43/41/86 as a junior, and now wants to leave a legacy. Tom Crean certainly hopes so.
41. Damion Lee, G/F, Louisville. Senior could have lead the country in scoring (21.1 ppg last year) if he stayed at Drexel, but he transferred to Louisville, where he’ll at least make the NCAA Tournament. Shot 38 percent on 3-pointers.
40. Jake Layman, F, Maryland – All-around, he’s one of my favorite players in the country. Does everything well. No flaw in his game except he’s not a take-over star-type player. Could have a long, lucrative NBA career as a role player if he can shoot just a little better from deep (37 percent). One of those guys who may not have the best stats, but watch him closely, he does everything right.
39. Gary Payton Jr, PG, Oregon State – Went to prep school for a year, then spent two years at JUCO, and was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year as a junior. Turns 23 in December.
38. Tyler Ulis, PG, Kentucky – Played a pivotal reserve role last year (shooting 42 percent on 3-pointers), but now will have to fight off incoming studs Isaiah Briscoe and Jamal Murray.
37. Caleb Swanigan, PF, Purdue – A large power forward (6-foot-8, 275 pounds), he picked Purdue after previously giving a verbal commitment to Michigan State. Conditioning could be an issue early, but by March he could be an offensive force. Decent touch from the perimeter.
36. Malik Pope, SF, San Diego State – Pope broke his leg in high school as both a junior and senior, and was limited last year in his first year as an Aztec. As a result, he decided not to turn pro even though he was a possible first round pick based on his potential. The 6’10” wing player got an invite to the U-19 USA Basketball camp, and will hope to stay healthy and justify all the optimism about his abilities.
35. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, F, Kansas – One of the youngest players in “college basketball history” last year, the Ukrainian turned 18 in June. Only played 12 minutes a game as a freshman, and despite the loaded Jayhawks roster, he’s billed as one of the most talented.
34. Diamond Stone, C, Maryland – Incoming freshman will add a bruising post presence to the Terps. Looks fluid and skilled for his size on this reel, but he’s going against kids who aren’t in his class.
33. Brice Johnson, F, North Carolina – As a junior, blossomed into one of the best post-players in the ACC, averaging 12.9 ppg and 7.8 rpg in only 24.7 minutes a game. Two games against Duke: 35 points, 19 rebounds, 68% FGs.
32. Xavier Rathan-Mayes, G, Florida State – Leading returning scorer in the ACC (14.9 ppg) but only shot 28 percent on 3-pointers. Scored 35 against UNC and Miami, and gave Clemson 30.
31. Zach Auguste, C, Notre Dame – If he can stay out of foul trouble, he could be one of the better post players on the East Coast. Put up 12.9 ppg and 6.5 rpg in only 24.4 minutes per game. Struggled in two games against Jahlil Okafor, but did score 20 points against Kentucky.
30. Denzel Valentine, G/F, Michigan State – Looked his best in the last part of the season alongside Trice and Dawson. With those two graduated, how will Valentine do as the team leader?
29. Nigel Hayes, F, Wisconsin – Developed a nice outside touch as a sophomore (39 percent on 3-pointers) to go with his bullish inside game, and will be more relied upon to score with Dekker and Kaminsky gone. Would be my sleeper for Big 10 POY.
28. Isaiah Taylor, PG, Texas – Didn’t make the leap many expected as a sophomore, so he’s returning for his junior year. Must improve on the 28% 3-pointers. Should thrive in Shaka Smart’s offense.
27. Fred Van Vleet, PG, Wichita State – While very good defensively as a junior, he struggled offensively as he had to take on more of a scoring role. He went from 48/41 as a sophomore shooting to 43/35.
26. Daniel Hamilton, F/G, Connecticut – Had a good-but-not-great freshman year with the Huskies, who didn’t rebound well from winning the Championship. Could have gone to the NBA, but stayed in school and should significantly improve on his 10.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg and 38 percent FG shooting. Hamilton is a fantastic buy-low stock.
25. Eron Harris, G, Michigan State – Was terrific as a freshman at West Virginia, averaging 17.2 ppg and shooting 42 percent on 3-pointers. Will be a problem for the rest of the Big 10 once his suspension is over for a recent DUI arrest.
24. Cheick Diallo, F, Kansas – MVP of the McDonald’s All-Star game (18 points, 10 rebounds) is bouncy and active, but far from polished offensively. Probably will have much more impact as a freshman than highly-touted Cliff Alexander did last year.
23. AJ Hammons, C, Purdue – Agile 7-footer could have left Purdue and probably been taken in the late 1st round. Averaged 11.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg, and 2.2 bpg as a junior.
22. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, G, Georgetown – Leading scorer last season (16.3 ppg) made a wise move to return to school after initially declaring for the draft. Was the Preseason Big East POY last year, but didn’t quite live up to expectations.
21. Perry Ellis, F, Kansas – Captain of the “he’s still in school?” team. Great garbage man around the basket, not sure he’s got a position in the NBA because his range is limited, but he has the potential to have another very good season (13.8 points, 6.9 rebounds as a junior).
20. Demetrius Jackson, PG, Notre Dame – Could be one of the best all-around point guards in the country after a strong sophomore year in which he averaged 12.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.1 apg, and 1.6 spg, plus shot 50% from the field and 41% on three-pointers
19. Buddy Hield, G, Oklahoma – His shooting percentages slipped a bit as a junior, which is probably why he didn’t leap to the NBA, but still pumped in 17.4 ppg and is a joy to watch. The Sooners are Final Four material, chiefly because of Hield’s relentless attacking style.
18. Antonio Blakeney, G, LSU – Great young scorer. Fairly athletic. High-impact player for the Tigers from the tipoff of the season opener.
17. Kyle Wiltjer, F, Gonzaga – Averaged 16.8 ppg while shooting 46 percent on 3-pointers in his first year after transferring from Kentucky. Could be the best scorer on the West Coast, and will get more shots with the Zags’ backcourt gone.
16. Caris Levert, G, Michigan – Missed the final two months of the season with a foot injury. Shot 40 percent on 3-pointers the last two seasons. Could play his way into becoming a lottery pick because he does so many things well at 6-foot-7.
15. Jakob Poeltl, C, Utah – Could have left early for the NBA, but another year developing his outside shooting – will he develop a 3-pointer? – would help his NBA stock. In only 23 minutes a night, averaged 9.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg and shot 68%, 5th best in the country.
14. Domantas Sabonis, F, Gonzaga – Averaged 9.7 ppg and 7.1 rpg in just 21 minutes a night on a guard-driven team. Shot 66% from the field. In a tall Zags frontcourt, he’s the best NBA prospect.
13. Ivan Rabb, F, California. Made all the postseason All-Star games. Consensus Top 10 player in his class. Went head-to-head with Ben Simmons and played well. Rabb won’t face nearly as many double-teams as he did in that game, not with Jaylen Brown on his team.
12. Ron Baker, G, Wichita State – Best senior shooting guard in the country, a 4-year icon for the Shockers. Had a terrific summer at the Pan-Am Games after a 14.7-point, 4.5-rebound season in which he shot 38 percent on 3-pointers. There’s got to be room for this guy on an NBA roster … right?
11. Jalen Brunson, PG, Villanova – Son of a former NBA point guard looked like a high-impact player this summer, and he could be good enough to slide Villanova senior Ryan Arcidiacono to shooting guard. Brunson has that takeover quality you love in a point guard, and at times reminds me of a young Deron Williams.
10. Malik Newman, G, Mississippi State – Explosive combo guard with a shot to match. Instant impact player in the SEC, where he could lead the conference in scoring as a freshman.
9. Marcus Paige, PG, UNC – Top senior point guard in the country. There’s an argument that he was better as a sophomore, and he played with the burden of the NBA on his shoulders as a junior. The Tar Heels are stacked, and if he can shoot 45/40, he could be the Player of the Year and guide UNC to the Title.
8. Melo Trimble, PG, Maryland – Too bullish? I took heat for having him high in my 2016 NBA Mock Draft, but maybe I watched too much of his tremendous freshman season with the Terps: 16.2 ppg while shooting 44/41/86. Best returning player in the Big 10? Didn’t star at the Pan-Am Games, losing minutes to Bobby Brown, who plays internationally in China.
7. Brandon Ingram, F, Duke – The Blue Devils are rebuilding, and Ingram may be the focal point of the offense. He’s very wiry and will get pushed around, but his all-around game is strong. Absurdly cocky for 17, but I guess that happens when you win four straight State Championships.
6. Georges Niang, F, Iowa State – Best senior frontcourt player in the country, though I’m sure he’d trade in gaudy stats (15.3 ppg, 46% FG, 40% 3-pointers) and regular season wins for a deep March run. Would he have stayed if he knew Fred Hoiberg was going to the Bulls?
5. Jaylen Brown, F, California – Dominant inside-outside player who has drawn comparisons to a young Antonie Walker. Will be a force in the Pac-12, perhaps immediately. If he develops a reliable 3-point shot, look out.
4. Kris Dunn, PG, Providence – Highly-touted recruit finally got healthy and showed everyone what he’s capable of as a sophomore: 2nd in the nation in assists (7.6 per game) and averaged 15.6 ppg and 5.5 rpg, too. Shared Big East Player of the Year honors with Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono.
3. Jamal Murray, SG, Kentucky – If you watched any of the Pan-Am Games, you know this kid became a star. Is this a bit knee-jerk? Perhaps. We do this list last month … he’s probably not in the Top 20. Murray is from Canada, and he lit up anyone who tried to check him this month. He’ll have a bigger impact in Lexington than Devin Booker did last year. And Booker was a lottery pick.
2. Skal Labissiere, F/C, Kentucky – Doesn’t quite enter college with the post skills of Jahlil Okafor, but he’s got more range on his jumper. He looks like a more offensive-minded Karl-Anthony Towns.
1. Ben Simmons, F, LSU – Versatile 6-foot-10 forward who can do it all. Lamar Odom? Ceiling higher than Andrew Wiggins? Point guard handle for a big man, and if he can develop a reliable jumper, the Magic Johnson chatter will begin.
JUST MISSED (no particular order):
Monte Morris, PG, Iowa State
Taurean Prince, F, Baylor
Nic Moore, PG, SMU
Bryce Alford, PG, UCLA
Isaiah Briscoe, G, Kentucky
James Blackmon, F, Indiana
Rodney Purvis, F, UConn
Troy Williams, F, Indiana
Justin Jackson, G/F, UNC
Tony Parker, F/C, UCLA
Markus Kennedy, C, SMU
Malachi Richardson, G, Syracuse
Kellen Dunham, SG, Butler
Angel Rodriguez, PG, Miami
Allonzo Trier, G, Arizona
Carlton Bragg, PF, Kansas
Beejay Anya, PF, NC State
ADDED AFTER THE LIST WENT UP
Kyle Collinsworth, F, BYU
DeAndre Bembry, G/F, St. Joseph’s
Tyrone Wallace, G, California
Frank Mason, PG, Kansas
Damian Jones, C, Vanderbilt
AJ English, G, Iona