You won’t find an easier team in the country to root for than St. Louis.
Let’s start with the fact that this team is dealing with the loss of their head coach, Rick Majerus. He stepped away from the program during the offseason to battle a heart condition that eventually took his life a month-and-a-half ago.
You don’t think that’s tough on this team? Look at Brian Conklin’s reaction (6:30 mark) when he realized he would never play for Majerus again. Read this terrific story on what the Billiken team is going through this season while dealing with the loss. (The anecdote about Cody Ellis at the bottom is sensational.)
This group of kids — and while they’re big and muscular and athletic and playing a sport at a level most of use only dream of, they’re still kids, many of whom still can’t legally drink — has plenty to think about and deal with already, but they still find the time and the energy to welcome Joshua Brown into their world.
Joshua Brown is neither a powerful booster nor a prized recruit. He’s a 9-year-old from Belleville with a brain tumor who has been adopted by the Billikens.
The SLU basketball team and Joshua came together through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, a group that connects children with brain tumors with local college sports teams. The foundation was started by the parents of Jaclyn Murphy, who as a 9-year-old in 2004 had taken inspiration during treatments for a malignant tumor by a poster in her room of a college lacrosse player celebrating a victory. She declared that she would play lacrosse again when well, and eventually, through friends, word of this desire got to the Northwestern lacrosse team, which made her part of the team and, in just its third year of competition, won the NCAA championship.
The Browns had read about the foundation and signed up. The group reached out to SLU and the request found its way to Mike Lepore, SLU’s director of basketball operations, who signed them up.
I don’t want to take too much from the story, because it’s undoubtedly worth the click and the five minutes to read it, but it’s pretty clear that Josh is helping the Billikens just as much as the Billikens are helping him.
College athletes don’t ask to be role models or pillars in the community. They are there to play a sport and, maybe, learn a thing or two in class. There is nothing wrong with a player that simply wants to show up every day, do his job, do his classwork, and be left alone.
But there’s something so heartwarming about players that embrace being something more; that use their status in the community to help others that are not quite as fortunate as they are.
I’m sure St. Louis isn’t doing this for the attention or the positive media coverage, but they deserve. Kudos, fellas.
The big men in college basketball this season are going to be intriguing to watch since a lot of talented freshmen opted to come back. Cal’s Ivan Rabb, Indiana’s Thomas Bryant and Syracuse’s Tyler Lydon are three promising sophomores among a big pack of them.
There are also plenty of freshmen that should factor this season and this list is dominated by 14 underclassmen. Some talented veterans also remain on this list like Arkansas senior Moses Kingsley, Valparaiso senior Alec Peters and Virginia junior Austin Nichols.
Before we dive into the top 20 big men in college basketball, a quick disclaimer: We used four positions to rank players – lead guards, off guards, wings and big men. If your favorite player isn’t on this list, he’s probably slotted in a different position.
1. Ivan Rabb, Cal: College basketball’s best returning big man could have been a first-round pick, but now he’ll get way more touches as Cal’s best players. The 6-foot-11 big man shot 61 percent from the field and averaged 12.5 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. With three shot-happy perimeter players leaving Cal from last season, it’s all on Rabb now.
2. Harry Giles, Duke: One of the major early storylines in college basketball will be how the knee of Harry Giles holds up. The 6-foot-10, five-star big man is an ultra-talented big man and potential top-five pick but he has to show the bounciness and feel that he showed before he lost his senior season to injury. Giles could be special if healthy.
3. Thomas Bryant, Indiana: Tom Crean has to be thrilled his 6-foot-10 starting center is back for his sophomore season as Bryant looked dominant at times last season. Shooting 68 percent from the floor and 70 percent from the free-throw line, Bryant could see his scoring numbers jump from the 11.9 he averaged as a freshman.
4. Austin Nichols, Virginia: Nichols might be the most important transfer to play this season as the 6-foot-9 forward is an elite shot blocker who can also score and rebound. After sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer regulations, Nichols could be an All-American with a big season as he gives Virginia a legit frontcourt presence.
5. Bam Adebayo, Kentucky: Kentucky’s best freshman big man is the 6-foot-9 Adebayo, a powerful player who will dunk on anybody and rip away rebounds in traffic. Adebayo could very well lead the SEC in dunks this season and he’s already operated in pick-and-rolls with talented point guards like Dennis Smith in AAU.
6. Moses Kingsley, Arkansas: A major candidate for SEC Player of the Year, this 6-foot-10 senior is coming off of a monster junior year in which he averaged 15.9 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.4 blocked shots per game. With more backcourt help this season, Kingsley could have more space to operate and he already shot 54 percent from the floor.
7. Tyler Lydon, Syracuse: The 6-foot-8 sophomore exceeded expectations last season as he showed rare ability to protect the rim and stretch the floor. Bouncy and quick off the floor, Lydon averaged 10.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last season and made a lot of key plays during the Orange’s Final Four run.
8. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin: Senior Nigel Hayes is the team’s leader and most recognized player, but Happ is the two-way monster who rebounds and is impressively efficient. Bursting on the national scene last season as a redshirt freshman, Happ averaged 12.4 points and 7.9 rebounds per game as he looks to expand his range this season.
9. Alec Peters,Valparaiso: The senior could have left for the NBA or played for any other program as a grad transfer, but he’s back at Valpo. At 6-foot-9, Peters splashes in jumpers from all over the floor as he put up 18.4 points and 8.5 rebounds per game while shooting 44 percent from three-point range.
10. Dedric Lawson, Memphis: The Tigers rode the freshman last season as he averaged 15.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. Lawson has to improve his athleticism and efficiency if he wants to play in the NBA, but he was very productive last season and should be the same as a sophomore.
11. Jonathan Isaac, Florida State: The freshman class is so deep that Isaac is an elite talent and ranked this far down. A matchup nightmare at 6-foot-10, Isaac has the skillset of a wing, but will likely play the stretch four for Florida State. An elite rebounder who is skilled with the ball, Isaac could have some big moments this season.
12. Jonathan Motley, Baylor: A long and athletic 6-foot-9 junior, Motley can look like one of the Big 12’s best players on one night and be non-existent the next. If Motley is more consistent, he’s able to defend multiple spots on the floor while also scoring from all three levels and rebounding. He could be a key Big 12 player.
13. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: Playing next to some talented centers, Swanigan put up 10.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per game as a freshman. This season, Swanigan will play along with Isaac Haas and could also see some time at the five as well. With surprising touch and range, Swanigan’s mid-range jumper will be something to watch.
14. Carlton Bragg, Kansas: Replacing Perry Ellis is tough but that’ll be the job of this sophomore McDonald’s All-American who played a reserve role last season. Bragg is talented enough as a shooter to space the floor a little bit and he can also attack the basket off the bounce. Rebounding might be the key to his season and if he can play the five in small lineups.
15. Jarrett Allen, Texas: Shaka Smart’s most important recruit should start right away at center and be a factor on both ends of the floor. The 6-foot-10 McDonald’s All-American is skilled in the mid-range and in, runs the floor well and he also protects the rim and rebounds. If Allen plays well, he might be in Austin for only one season.
16. Lauri Markkanen, Arizona: The most intriguing country in the freshman might be this 6-foot-11, floor-spacing big man because he hasn’t been seen much by American basketball fans. Regarded as a five-star prospect, Markkanen could be a first-round pick if he plays well.
17. Chris Boucher, Oregon: The bouncy 6-foot-10 senior became a force in his first year at Oregon last season, breaking the school record for blocks in a season and averaging 12.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. If Boucher becomes a more consistent perimeter shooter than Oregon can play some dangerous lineups.
18. Tyler Davis, Texas A&M: Keep an eye on this 6-foot-10 sophomore center as he shot 65 percent from the floor while averaging 11.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. Last season, Davis wasn’t a main part of the offense but he could be more involved and see an increase in production this season.
19. Omer Yurtseven, N.C. State: If eligible, Yurtseven could be a key for point guard Dennis Smith’s pick-and-roll attack as he comes in with a lot of expectations. The Turkish 7-footer has produced against NBA teams playing in Europe and he’s said to have an advanced scoring package around the basket.
20. Marques Bolden, Duke: Coach K was able to convince Bolden to sign with the Blue Devils over Kentucky this spring and his signing acts as a huge insurance policy for Harry Giles. Bolden could log major minutes and center and help by scoring in the post and defending the rim. He’s a potential lottery pick with a good season.
The lead guard position is the deepest in college basketball this season, but wings aren’t all that far behind.
And I have a theory on that.
One of the most valuable positions in the NBA these days are wings that can defend everyone from a point guard to a power forward and are capable of knocking down an open three. Throw in the ability to attack a close out off the dribble and the willingness to play within a system, and you understand why a guy like Trevor Ariza’s NBA career is spanning into a second decade. The trickle-down effect here is that guys like Jaron Blossomgame or Josh Jackson or O.G. Anunoby focus on developing the perimeter skills necessary to be able to space the floor, making them more valuable at the professional level in the long-term.
Maybe I’m reading too much into it and this just happens to be a year where there are a lot of talented players at this position. Whatever the case may be, there are a lot of guys on this list that will spend a lot of time in the NBA.
Before we dive into the top 20 wings in college basketball, a quick disclaimer: We used four positions to rank players – lead guards, off guards, wings and big men. If your favorite player isn’t on this list, he’s probably slotted in a different position.
1. Josh Jackson, Kansas: I don’t think it’s crazy to compare Josh Jackson to Andrew Wiggins. They’re both supremely-athletic, 6-foot-8 wings that will play a critical role on a Kansas team that has the talent to win a national title. The difference between them? The comparison isn’t perfect – Jackson is more polished as a scorer and a passer while Wiggins was a more athletic, raw talent – but here’s the major point that needs to be made: Wiggins wasn’t ready to play a alpha-dog role that he was forced into. Jackson is, but he won’t be asked to, not with the veterans on the KU roster.
Wiggins has a negative rep from his time at Kansas, but he averaged 17.7 points and was the best perimeter defender in the country on a team that very easily could have made the Final Four had Joel Embiid stayed healthy. He was damn good, and Josh Jackson has a chance to be better.
2. Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart’s ability to guard different positions and attack the glass on both ends of the floor made him the most valuable piece that Villanova had on their roster last season. It’s impossible to over-value how good he fits on that team. His NBA potential is a question mark, however, the same way that Buddy Hield’s was heading into last season. Can Hart make the same kind of jump that Hield did?
3. Jayson Tatum, Duke: Now that we know his foot injury is not something serious we can move on discussing Tatum as the potential No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. There are been rave reviews about Tatum coming out of the Duke camp during the preseason. He is, essentially, a 6-foot-9 kid with a shooting guard’s skill-set. Think Brandon Ingram, only more fluid and more skilled with less hair and less tattoos.
4. Dillon Brooks, Oregon: Brooks was a tough guy for us to rank on this list. When healthy, he’s an awesome college player that is a perfect fit for Oregon’s offense. He’s a guy that could average upwards of 20 points on a top five team. He’s a first-team all-american. But … he’s got this foot issue that will likely keep him out for the start of the season, and if you know anything about foot issues, they don’t necessarily just go away. His health may be the single biggest x-factor in college hoops this side of Harry Giles III.
5. Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson: Blossomgame is the most under-appreciated player in college basketball. He can guard anyone outside of the nation’s best low-post scorers. He averaged 18.7 points for a slow-paced Clemson team. He shot 44.6 percent from three on more than 100 threes attempted. But he plays for Clemson, so no one notices him. Trust me. You should take notice.
6. O.G. Anunoby, Indiana: Anunoby is a tough player to rank on a list like this for a couple reasons. He’s a potential breakout star that didn’t post great numbers last season. His value lies in his ability to play a role more than his ability to score 20 in the Big Ten. He may be a better NBA prospect than a college player. But he’s also a 6-foot-8 defensive menace that can guard four positions, hit threes, get to the offensive glass and beat people off the dribble.
7. Malcolm Hill, Illinois: If Blossomgame is the most under-appreciated player in the country, Hill isn’t all that far behind. He’s what we like to call a bucket-getter. He can score in the post. He can score on the perimeter. He hits threes. He beats people off the dribble. He’s got a jab series. He can hit step-backs. He is a great college scorer.
8. Miles Bridges, Michigan State: There may not be a better athlete is college basketball than Miles Bridges. He’s a freak to the point that I may demand to see a birth certificate if I’m to believe that he isn’t from outer space. The concern with Bridges is going to be his ability to score. Michigan State desperately needs a go-to guy, so Bridges will have the chance to show what he can do offensively. It also means he’ll risk being exposed.
9. Trevon Blueitt, Xavier: Edmond Sumner is the guy that has been getting all the hype this season, which is why it may surprise you to find out that Bluiett was actually Xavier’s leading scorer last season. He’s not as athletic as some of the other wings on this list, but he is a terrific shooter that can defend bigger players.
10. Justin Jackson, North Carolina: Jackson is a tantalizing prospect because of his height, his length and his touch in the lane. The issue is that he hasn’t consistently shown the ability to take over games at the college level. With Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson gone, it’s Jackson’s time.
11. Kris Jenkins, Villanova: You’re going to remember Jenkins as the guy that made the national title-winning shot last April. You should also remember him as a sniper from three whose ability to defend bigger players was why Villanova was able to create so much space and so many mismatches offensively.
12. Deng Adel, Louisville: By the end of the year, this may be too low for Adel. He struggled with injuries last season, but people in and around the program rave about how good he’s been behind closed doors. Will that show through on the Yum! Center floor this season?
13. Dwayne Bacon, Florida State:
14. V.J. Beachem, Notre Dame: Beachem is a guy that deserves to get more attention than he’s gotten in his career. He’s an athletic, 6-foot-8 sniper that will be playing the Pat Connaughton/Tim Abromaitis role in Notre Dame’s offense. Don’t be surprised when he’s averaging 18 points and shooting 43 percent from three at the end of the year.
15. Kelan Martin, Butler: Martin was Butler’s most dangerous scorer last year, and with the amount of talent that the Bulldogs lost to graduation, don’t be surprised to see him lead the Big East in scoring this season.
16. Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin: This will seem low for a player with Hayes’ profile and a preseason Big Ten Player of the Year nomination this fall. It will also seem low if he shoots better than 36 percent from the floor and 29 percent from three, like he did last season.
17. Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina: Thornwell has averaged 13 points, 4.5 boards, 3.0 assists and more than a steal per game in his three years at South Carolina. At some point he is going to get the respect he deserves as one of the best players in the SEC.
18. Kevin Hervey, UT-Arlington: One of the most talented mid-major players in the country, Hervey was drawing attention from NBA scouts when he tore his ACL last winter.
19. Andrew White, Syracuse: White is one of the best volume shooters in the country, and he’ll join Syracuse to play the role vacated by Malachi Richardson. The question is whether White will be able to accept being the third or fourth option offensively.
20. Isaac Hamilton, UCLA: No one talks about Hamilton when talking about UCLA, but he averaged 16.8 points for the Bruins as a junior.