The Top 50 Players in College Basketball. What does that even mean? Let’s start with what it doesn’t mean – this isn’t just a list of who will make the best pro. You can have the best skill set and not be anywhere near the top of this list. Do you play defense? Make teammates better? Best is highly subjective, but we were looking for a combination of things – talent, stat sheet stuffers, defenders, unselfishness, and how players project for next season, as well as the future. We did a Top 50 list last July. Here’s this year’s version. At the very bottom is a few players who just missed the cut.
50. Jerrelle Benimon, F, Towson. If he played in the ACC or Big Ten, he’d have a much larger profile. Averaged 17-11 for Towson. Was 3rd in the country in rebounding. Using NBA efficiency metrics, he ranked in the Top 10 in college hoops last year.
49. Chane Behanan, F, Louisville. Had him at 22 on the list last year, and clearly that was too high, but he’s a very good college basketball player. Love his Barkley-like game inside. Can rise up, too.
48. James Young, G/F, Kentucky. One of the few guys on this list who comes off the bench, as likely will be the case with the high school star. Lefty has a smooth game; think Nick Young, minus all bad shot selection.
47. Joe Jackson, PG, Memphis. Senior will need to stop being a turnover machine if the Tigers are to finally break through for Josh Pastner. Scored 13.6 ppg.
46. Will Sheehey, F, Indiana. The Hoosiers are losing four starters, Sheehey will have to make the transition from ‘glue guy’ to ‘leader.’ Jack of many trades, master of none. But he sure can leap.
45. Bryce Cotton, PG, Providence. Slight point guard (6-foot, 165 pounds) was quietly one of the best players in the Big East last year, scoring 19.7 ppg.
44. Kyle Anderson, G, UCLA – Really struggled as a freshman, but the Bruins were a dumpster fire. Perhaps Anderson takes over as the team’s leader with some strong personalities departed? Last year: 19th on this list.
43. Alex Kirk, C, New Mexico – Freshman Posted strong stats for the Lobos – 12.1 ppg, 8.1 ppg – and was the only guy to show up in the NCAA loss against Harvard (22-12). Will be a 4th year junior in the Fall.
42. Alex Poythress, F, Kentucky. Disappointing freshman campaign, at least given the hype coming out of high school. Got lost at times, and what’s going to happen this year when he takes a backseat to all the freshman? Was 29th on this list last year.
41. LaQuinton Ross, F, Ohio State. One of the few guys on the list who didn’t start a game last year. Only played 16 minutes a night but scored 8.3 ppg, so it’s quite possible with DeShaun Thomas gone, Ross explodes. Had a very good final three games in March (17 points, 17, 19).
40. Jarnell Stokes, PF, Tennessee. Had a nice run with the US Junior National team this summer. I was probably too high on him last year (11th on this list), and he might be too low this year. Tough to figure out the inconsistent power forward (12.4 ppg, 9.6 rpg) who laid massive eggs against Florida and Kentucky (twice) last year.
39. TJ McConnell, PG, Arizona. Transfer should start alongside Nick Johnson for the Wildcats. Averaged 11.4 ppg, 5.5 apg two seasons ago at Duquesne.
38. Andre Hollins, G, Minnesota. Underrated sophomore shot 41 percent on 3-pointers and led the Gophers in scoring (14 ppg). Will be the 2nd best point guard in the Big Ten this year.
37. Andrew Harrison, PG, Kentucky. He’s too low, I know. Highlight reel is awesome. Will be surrounded by talent. Breathe, Kentucky fans, there are four other Wildcats on this list.
36. Luke Hancock, G/F, Louisville. Seems low for the MVP of the Final 4. Great shooter, consummate teammate, I think he’ll slide into Peyton Siva’s leadership role. Starred at George Mason before transferring.
35. Wayne Selden, G, Kansas. The ‘other‘ prized freshman in Lawrence, and he’ll probably thrive while all the defenses focus on Wiggins.
34. Dorian Finney-Smith, F, Florida. Surprised there are no Gators on this list? Well there are a lot of good players on the team, but no great ones. (Well, incoming freshman Chris Walker isn’t academically cleared, or he’d be on this list.) Finney-Smith sat out last year after transferring from Virginia Tech. McDonald’s All-American. Reportedly dominant in practice.
33. Dez Wells, G, Maryland – Transfer from Xavier averaged 13.1 ppg for the up-and-down Terps, but expect those numbers to rise with Alen Len gone to the NBA. If you look at just returning players, Wells is one of the five best in the ACC.
32. James Michael McAdoo, F, North Carolina. Slightly disappointing sophomore season (14.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg) after being poised for a monster year. He’s getting a soft/passive label and rarely seems hungry enough to rebound. I completely whiffed on him last year, having him 4th.
31. Noah Vonleh, F, Indiana. All the Hoosier talk is about Sheehey and point guard Yogi Ferrell, but the only way Indiana contends in the Big 10 is if Vonleh is as advertised. He’s added 20 pounds since arriving on campus in May and I expect him to be the team’s best player by February, if not sooner.
30. Kevin Pangos, G, Gonzaga – Biggest question is how he’ll perform with star Kelly Olynyk now in a Boston Celtics jersey. Pangos averaged 11.9 ppg as a freshman, then 13.6 as a sophomore and for his career is a 40.8 percent 3-point shooter.
29. Cleanthony Early, F, Wichita State. Perhaps the biggest key to the Shockers’ unlikely Final 4 run was the play of Early. Averaged 13.9 ppg for the season, and blew up for 21-7 against Pitt in the first round of the NCAA tournament, then dropped 24-10 on Louisville in the Final 4.
28. Ryan Arcidiacono, G, Villanova. Criminally underrated guard who was the Big East Rookie of the Year on the Big East All-Rookie team and Big 5 (Philly) Rookie of the Year. You put him on a team with talent, and he’s probably in the Top 20 on this list, maybe Top 15. The Wildcats return a lot of mediocre players, and Arch will once again have to carry the team.
27. Jordan Adams, G, UCLA. Before he went down for the season with an broken foot, Adams was arguably the best freshman scorer in the country. Averaged 15.3 ppg for the Bruins, and with Shabazz Muhammad and Larry Drew gone, look for Adams to take on a larger scoring role for Steve Alford’s Bruins.
26. Russ Smith, G, Louisville. Came out of the womb shooting. Chucker. Nearly shot the Cardinals out of the National title game. But the kid can score. Stayed in school, which was smart; the Cardinals have a legit shot at repeating as NCAA champs.
25. Marshall Henderson, G, Mississippi – Assuming the drugs don’t sideline him, he should score at least 20 a night for the Rebels. He carried Ole Miss in the SEC tourney, and then to the NCAA tourney last year, and helped them beat Wisconsin. As far as 1-dimensional basketball players go, he’s near the top of the list. Made 138 three-pointers last year, 2nd most in the country.
24. Isaiah Austin, F/C, Baylor. Wasn’t the game-changer everyone thought he’d be last year despite averages of 13 ppg, 8 rpg. Tough to find a 7-footer who can step out and shoot 33 percent from deep, though.
23. Shabazz Napier, G, UConn. Lightning-quick guard will be one of the best players in the ‘new’ Big East. where the hell is UConn playing anyway? Eh, it’s not really important. Averaged 17.1 ppg, 4.6 assists, 4.4 rpg per game.
22. Jordan McRae, SG, Tennessee – First team All-SEC player passed on the NBA draft, and he could lead the conference in scoring next season. How did the Vols only win 20 games with two Top 40 players?
21. Rodney Hood, F, Duke. Two years ago at Mississippi State he posted 10.2 ppg and 4.8 rpg. Suffered a summer injury but he’s expected to be 100% before the season begins. My guess is he’ll thrive at Duke. Can teams afford to double him and leave Parker and Sulaimon open?
20. Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky. Shot-blocking machine who had a good freshman year on a team that underachieved. He’ll be a high NBA pick based on how great of an athlete he is for being a 7-footer. Couldn’t he be Tyson Chandler as a pro?
19. Rasheed Sulaimon, G, Duke. Very good freshman year (11.6 ppg) should turn into an explosive sophomore one with other big-time scorers alongside him like Parker and Hood. Hit a freshman wall late (awful 1-for-10 against Louisville in Elite 8 loss).
18. PJ Hairston, SG, North Carolina. He’ll probably open the season suspended, but we’re just making a list here of the best players in the country, so that’s irrelevant. Vanished in a lot of games early last year. But when he’s cooking, few shooting guards in the country can keep up.
17. Tyler Haws, G, BYU – Scored 21.7 ppg as a freshman, and with Brandon Davies gone, there’s an outside shot Haws leads the country in scoring. Came out of high school as the 145th best player in his class, according to Rivals. Yeah, he’s improved quite a bit.
16. Jahii Carson, PG, Arizona State. I’m sure there will be groans about this ranking. Might have been the most underrated player in the nation last year after scoring 18.5 ppg, and setting six freshman school records. The speedster is a sleeper for Pac-12 Player of the Year.
15. Spencer Dinwiddie, G/F, Colorado. The best player you probably aren’t aware of. Does a little bit of everything – 15.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.0 apg – and gets to the foul line like a pro. Had a forgettable end the season against Illinois in March (1-of-8, six points, four fouls).
14. Montrezl Harrell, F, Louisville. Modest stats as a freshman (5.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg), but had a strong NCAA tourney and even better summer. Long arms, beastly inside, and should be a double-double guy. If you’re making a list of players to make The Leap from one year to another, he might be 1st on the list.
13. Sam Dekker, F, Wisconsin. Despite Bo Ryan’s restrictive system, it wouldn’t shock me if he doubled his freshman averages of 9.6 ppg and 3.4 rpg. Already has the makings of a complete player (47/39/69). Dekker does so many things well.
Also, loves Jennifer Lawrence.
12. CJ Fair, F, Syracuse. Great on the baseline, nice touch inside 15 feet, but the pressure will be on him to do much more with the Orange losing three starters. Improved his game this much: Made one three pointer as a freshman; 30 last season.
11. Mitch McGary, C, Michigan. Blew up in the NCAA tourney. Product of Trey Burke or not? We’ll see. Monster around the basket, great feet, great hands. Energetic, active, very fun to watch. I compared him to DeJuan Blair, the former Pitt great.
10. Adreian Payne, F, Michigan State. At 6-10, 240, I find him to be one of the most fun big men to watch in the country. Would be featured offensively on other teams, and his stats would be larger than 10.5 ppg and 7.6 rpg. Had 17-12 and owned McGary in a March loss to the Wolverines. Athletic. Very athletic.
9. Glenn Robinson III, F, Michigan. Could have gone to the NBA and probably been a lottery pick. One of the most athletic players in the Big 10. Expect him to lead the team in scoring with Burke/Hardaway gone.
8. Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State. Best player on the 27-win Spartans and he’d be more of a National name if Tom Izzo reigned in Appling and let Harris go to work. Expect a monster sophomore year after 12.9 ppg as a freshman.
7. Doug McDermott, F, Creighton. Second best senior in the country, but the best offensive player in the Nation. Tremendous shooter. Stats last year were insane: 54/49/87 and 23 ppg.
6. Aaron Craft, PG, Ohio State. Best senior in college basketball – sorry, Doug McDermott – isn’t a great shooter, but he’s clutch, a tenacious defender, and can I toss in scrappy, too? Crafty, as well. Rick Reilly vs. Aaron Craft was fun in March.
Thirteen guys who narrowly missed this list (no order):
Sam Thompson, G/F, Ohio State. Skywalking dunking machine.
Augustine Rubit, F, South Alabama. With a name like that … Sun Belt Conf Player of the year averaged 19-10 last year.
Jerian Grant, F, Notre Dame. Averaged 13.3 ppg for the Irish, should be their best player next season.
Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse. Incoming freshman starred for Canada this summer, could light up the Carrier Dome.
Cory Jefferson, F, Baylor. Overshadowed by trigger-happy guards and hyped freshman, but still posted 13.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg
Jabari Bird, G/F, Cal. Incoming freshman arrives with major hype, will need to fill the scoring guard of departed Allen Crabbe.
Travis Bader, SG, Oakland. Averaged 22.9 ppg and made more 3-point FGs (139) than anyone in the country.
Kellen Dunham, G, Butler. One of the last cuts. It was more of projection than anything. He’ll be Butler’s go-to guy in the post-Brad Stevens era.
Markel Brown, F, Oklahoma State. Solid all-around player, and a nice complement to Marcus Smart. Brown’s emergence last season made my LeBryan Nash projection on last year’s list look really bad.
Corey Hawkins, G, UC Davis – Will be a contender to lead the country in scoring after averaging 20.3 ppg last season.
Sean Kilpatrick, SG, Cincinnati. Very nice player, but shot selection (39 percent from the field, 30 percent from the deep) remains bizarre.
DeQuan Hicks, F, Northwestern State. Averaged 14 ppg, 5.9 rpg, and shot 58 percent from the field.
Cleveland Melvin, F, DePaul – He averaged 16.6 points a game as a sophomore, a slight drop from his 17.5 points and 7.4 rebounds a game as a freshman.