Every summer we make a list of the 50 best players in college basketball for the upcoming season. Here’s the list from 2011-2012, from 2012-2013, from 2013-2014, from 2014-2015, from 2015-2016, from 2016-2017 and from last year, 2017-2018. The criteria: 1/3 their NBA prospects, 1/3 their individual talent, 1/3 how vital they are to their team’s success. Some of the names below are in our 2019 NBA Mock Draft and on teams in the 2018-2019 College Basketball Top 25.
50. Austin Wiley, C, Auburn, Sophomore – Averaged 8.8 ppg on 58% shooting as a freshman before missing last season because of an FBI investigation. Despite not playing, he was invited to the NBA combine.
49. Xavier Sneed, SF, Kansas State, Junior – Put his name on the map with a 22-point, 9-rebound game against Kentucky in the Sweet 16 upset.
48. M.J. Walker, G, FSU, Sophomore – Highly-touted recruit had a mostly quiet first season, and was a non-factor in the NCAA Tournament. Expect him to play much more than 18 minutes a night this season.
47. Grant Williams, F, Tennessee, Junior – The undersized 6-foot-7 post presence averaged 15.2 ppg for the Vols and won SEC Player of the Year.
46. Charles Matthews, SG, Michigan, Senior – The Kentucky transfer averaged 13 ppg for the Wolverines, helping lead them to the National Title game.
45. Charles Bassey, C, Western Kentucky, Freshman – Top 10 recruit is an athletic freak, and looks like a young Dwight Howard, but he’s actually got a shooting touch. Off-the-court questions linger, which is why he’s at WKU.
44. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, G, Virginia Tech, Sophomore – A bigger role is expected of the Canadian, who scored 10.7 ppg on only 8.4 FGAs in only 25 minutes per game. He shot 39 percent on 3’s and could be one of the biggest surprises in the ACC.
43. Ethan Happ, F, Wisconsin, Senior – The rare college basketball player who looks NBA-ready as a freshman, but stays all four years. Put up 17.9 ppg and a career-best 3.7 assists per game for the Badgers last year.
42. Payton Pritchard, PG, Oregon, Junior – Sneakily one of the best players in the Pac-12 last year, averaging 14.5 ppg, 4.8 apg, and shot 41 percent on 3-pointers. He’s got help this year, so the Ducks should be back in the NCAA Tournament.
41. Lindell Wigginton, G, Iowa State, Sophomore – Quietly had a monster year in the Big 12, averaging 16.7 ppg and shooting 40 percent from deep. He’s on the NBA’s radar.
40. Bennie Boatwright, F, USC, Senior – His season and immediate pro future crumbled due to a February knee injury. Can score inside and out (13.6 ppg) and his shooting and length are what make him a prospect.
39. Kyle Guy, G, Virginia, Junior – Better known as “Man Bun” during his freshman year, Guy averaged 14.1 ppg for the Cavaliers.
38. Jontay Porter, C, Missouri, Sophomore – The younger brother of Michael Porter turns 19 in November, and don’t be surprised if he doubles last year’s output of 9.9 ppg and 6.8 rpg.
37. Brad Davison, G, Wisconsin, Sophomore – Surprising freshman season in which he averaged 12.1 ppg – including giving Michigan State 30 – could be a springboard to an All-Big Ten campaign.
36. James Palmer Jr, G, Nebraska, Senior – The Miami transfer was an explosive scorer last year (17.2 ppg) and was named All-Big Ten. Nobody in the conference got to the line more than Palmer (221 trips).
35. Ky Bowman, G, Boston College, Junior – Played in the shadow of lottery pick Jerome Robinson, and still averaged 17.6 ppg and collected 6.8 rpg, the latter of which is really impressive for a 6-foot-1 guard.
34. Killian Tillie, C, Gonzaga, Junior – He missed the NCAA Tournament loss to FSU, or the Zags could have gone to the Final Four. Averaged 12.9 ppg and shot 47 percent on 3’s.
33. Jahvon Quinerly, PG, Villanova, Freshman – The 5-star point guard could start from Day 1, but the Wildcats backcourt is strong with Collin Gillespie and Phil Booth.
32. Shamorie Ponds, G, St. John’s, Junior – One of the best scorers in the Big East (21.6 ppg), but struggled with his shot (25 percent on 3-pointers), which is what he needs to improve to make the NBA.
31. Admiral Schofield, SF, Tennessee, Senior – Second leading scorer on the Vols last year (13.9 ppg) shot 39 percent from deep, opening the eyes of some NBA scouts. He made more 3’s as a junior (64) than he did the 1st two years combined (46).
30. Jordan Caroline, F, Nevada, Senior – Averaged 17.7 ppg and 8.6 rpg for the Wolfpack. He’s the son of Simeon Rice, the Illinois football legend, and Caroline is out to prove they really made a mistake not offering him a scholarship.
29. Naz Reid, C, LSU, Freshman – Skilled freshman looked dominant in the McDonald’s All-American game, displaying the ability to go coast-to-coast at 6-foot-9, 220 pounds.
28. Bol Bol, C, Oregon, Freshman – Best incoming big man in the country (7-foot-2) plays more like a small forward, but more importantly, he’s the son of Washington Bullets legend Manute Bol.
27. Jon Elmore, G, Marshall, Senior – One of the best shooters in the country, he pumped in 22.7 ppg last year while adding 6.8 apg. Scored 30+ points four times, and dropped 27 on Wichita State in a March upset.
26. Jaylen Hands, PG, UCLA, Sophomore – Nearly entered the NBA draft despite just averaging 9.9 ppg because scouts know his potential is off-the-charts. Might average 20 this season.
25. Kamar Baldwin, PG, Butler, Junior – It’ll be his team with Kelan Martin graduated, and Baldwin should relish that opportunity. The explosive 6-foot-1 scorer averaged 15.7 ppg last year.
24. Sagaba Konate, F/C, West Virginia, Junior – It’s unclear what he’ll be in the pros, but at WVU he’s a menacing shot blocker (3.2 blocks per game in only 25 minutes a night). Very curious to see if he’s more of a factor on offense with the Mountaineers losing their starting backcourt.
23. Dedric Lawson, F, Kansas, Junior: Averaged 19.2 points and 9.9 rebounds per game at Memphis two years ago, and now slides into the Jayhawks starting lineup and could put up similar stats.
22. Markus Howard, G, Marquette, Junior– Averaged 20.4 ppg and shot 40 percent on 3-pointers as a sophomore, and will be an All-American candidate. Gave Providence 52 points (including 11 three-pointers) in an overtime win.
21. De’Andre Hunter, F, Virginia, Sophomore – The best prospect to come out of Charlottesville since Courtney Alexander in 2000, the 6-foot-8 Hunter should mold himself as a 3-and-D NBA prospect. I’m curious if Tony Bennett thinks that’s what’s best for his Cavs.
20. Cody Martin, G/F, Nevada, Senior – Averaged 14.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg and 4.7 apg for the Wolfpack. His 25-point performance in the stirring rally against Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament was legendary.
19. Daniel Gafford, C, Arkansas, Sophomore – Returned to the Razorbacks despite the allure of the NBA, and should improve his post play, and hopefully, foul less. Gafford reminds me of a former UCLA center named Dan Gadzuric.
18. Keldon Johnson, SF, Kentucky, Freshman – On a team with maybe six future NBA players, Johnson could have the highest upside. Starred at Oak Hill Academy last year, leading them with 20.5 ppg.
17. Tyus Battle, G, Syracuse, Junior – Wisely stayed in school and should be able to build on his 19.2 ppg and improve his NBA draft stock.
16. Eric Paschall, F, Villanova, Senior – Nearly left for the NBA after a big March Madness (12 points, 14 rebounds vs Texas Tech; 24 points vs Kansas), but his return is one of the reasons the Wildcats could be headed back to the Final Four.
15. Kellan Grady, G, Davidson, Sophomore – One of the best freshman in the country averaged 18 ppg for the Wildcats, and I believe he’ll be a lottery pick in 2019. Had three games with 30+ points, including 39 in a triple OT loss to St. Bonaventure.
14. Quentin Grimes, SG, Kansas, Freshman – Last year it was Devonte’ Graham; the year prior Frank Mason; before that Tyshawn Taylor and further back Sherron Collins. This is what Bill Self does – finds guards. Grimes, who is 6-foot-5 and played on Team USA for Self, is next.
13. Zach Norvell, G/F, Gonzaga, Sophomore – Freshman from Chicago popped earlier than many expected, averaging 12.7 ppg while shooting 37 percent from deep. Expect his minutes and his scoring to rise, after the departures of two senior starters. His 28-point, 12-rebound NCAA Tournament game vs Ohio State was magnificent.
12. Clayton Custer, PG, Loyola – The MVC Player of the Year really blew up in March, leading Loyola to the Final 4. Despite modest stats (13.2 ppg, 4.1 apg) Custer could be an All-American with another great season.
11. D’Marcus Simonds, PG, Georgia St, Junior – Strong season culminated with a 24-point explosion vs Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament. Dynamite guard averaged 21.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 4.4 apg, but his 3-point shot must improve if he wants to be a 1st round pick.
10. Luke Maye, F, UNC, Senior – Had the big year everyone expected (16.9 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 43 percent on 3-pointers), and he’s back in hopes the Tar Heels could get him a 2nd national title.
9. Romeo Langford, G, Indiana, Freshman – He’s coming to the Big Ten with Trae Young range and a Tracy McGrady takeover ability. Sleeper to lead the conference in scoring.
8. Rui Hachimura, F, Gonzaga, Junior – Loved that he passed on the NBA to maybe win a title with the Zags. Born in Japan, where he played high school ball, Hachimura is a talented stretch four in the mold of Boris Diaw. We’ll eventually find out if Hachimura can move his feet quick enough defensively.
7. Caleb Martin, G/F, Nevada, Senior – The Mountain West Player of the Year averaged 19 ppg and shot 40 percent on 3-pointers.
6. Mike Daum, F, South Dakota State, Senior – Has shot over 40% from three each season, and averaged 23.9 ppg last year. He turns 23-years old in October, and his defense is very limited, so his pro prospects don’t scream lottery.
5. Carsen Edwards, PG, Purdue, Junior – Nearly made the jump to the NBA, but returned to college and there’s an outside chance he could be the best point guard in the country. Averaged 18.5 ppg and shot 40 percent on 3-pointers.
4. Zion Williamson, F, Duke, Freshman – I don’t think he’ll be effective if he stays at 285 pounds on the wing in the ACC, but he’s too skilled to fail on a loaded team where the biggest question will be whether or not there are enough shots to go around.
3. Nassir Little, SF, UNC, Freshman – I compared the MVP of the McDonald’s All-Star game (28 points on 12 shots) to Draymond Green, who was very skilled offensively at Michigan State, where he was the Big Ten Player of the Year. Little, who is 6-foot-6 but plays much bigger (7-foot-1 wingspan), could average 18-10 for the Tar Heels.
2. Cameron Reddish, SG/SF, Duke, Freshman – After a disappointing Elite 8 overtime loss, the Blue Devils lost their five leading scorers, but it won’t matter because as you can see, they’re well stocked. The 6-foot-9 Reddish as a 2nd option offensively is scary.
1. RJ Barrett, F, Duke, Freshman – If the NBA has become a 2-way wing league, Barrett is the prototype. The 6-foot-7 Canadian does everything well and is the heavy favorite to be the Player of the Year and #1 pick in the 2019 draft.
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Just missed the list
Terance Mann, G, FSU, Senior
Jessie Govan, C, Georgetown, Senior
Aric Holman, Mississippi State, Senior
Dean Wade, F, Kansas State, Senior
Jordan Murphy, Minnesota, Senior
Justin Robinson, G, Virginia Tech, Senior
Cameron Johnson, F, UNC, Senior
Nick Ward, C, Michigan St, Junior
TJ Gibbs, G, Notre Dame, Junior
Udoka Azubuike, F/C, Kansas, Junior
Cassius Winston, G, Michigan State, Junior
Oshae Brissett, F, Syracuse, Sophomore
Tremont Waters, LSU, Sophomore
Kaleb Wesson, Ohio State, Sophomore
Cameron Krutwig, C, Loyola, Sophomore
Nick Richards, C, Kentucky, Sophomore
McKinley Wright, Colorado, Sophomore
Tre Jones, PG, Duke, Freshman
Louis King, G/F, Oregon, Freshman
Darius Garland, PG, Vanderbilt, Freshman
Simisola Shittu, PF, Vanderbilt, Freshman