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College Basketball’s Best Big Men

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There are a number of really, really talented big men in college basketball this season.

Probably more than we have seen in recent years.

Of the three college guys currently in the mix for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, two of them – Marvin Bagley III and Deandre Ayton – are bigs. Another big man is a potential top five pick, as well as a trio of players that you’ll find listed as first-team all-americans at some point during the preseason.

In a sport that has routinely been dominated by terrific lead guards in an era where small-ball and floor-spacing has become the most important part of the game, there are going to be some teams with some throw-back front courts this year. 

And that certainly isn’t a bad thing.

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.

RELATED: Top 100 Players | Top Backcourts | Top Frontcourts | Top Lead Guards
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1. Marvin Bagley, Duke

A potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Bagley’s August decision to reclassify and attend Duke was the biggest roster news of the offseason. By adding Bagley, the Blue Devils are getting a double-double machine who is one of the most fluid and athletic big men of the last decade.

And that doesn’t even go into Bagley’s skill level with the ball in his hands or how hard he plays. The lefty can take a rebound at above rim level in traffic and run like a guard down the floor, delivering passes or finishing with long and fluid strides to the rim. If there is one big question mark with Bagley it is consistent perimeter shooting as Bagley has a workable jumper but it doesn’t always fall. Even with an inconsistent jumper, Bagley has a chance to be a major force for the Blue Devils this season.

2. Angel Delgado, Seton Hall

Arguably college basketball’s most productive big man last season, the 6-foot-10 Delgado put it all together for an All-American caliber junior season. Putting up 27 double-doubles and back-to-back 20-20 games in Big East play, Delgado averaged 15.2 points and 13.1 rebounds per contest.

An absolute warrior on the glass who makes an impact with putbacks, Delgado also improved his overall skill level and became a much better passer last season, nearly garnering a triple-double in the Big East tournament. With a veteran team around him that has played many games together, Delgado and Seton Hall could have a huge year.

Final Four Sleepers | Louisville | Villanova | West Virginia | USC | Wichita State | Miami
Ethan Happ (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

3. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin

The 6-foot-10 junior continues to be one of the most important players in the country and now Wisconsin needs Happ more than ever. With most of the senior core now gone, Happ is the team’s only returning starter after nearly averaging a double-double last season while leading the Badgers in both blocks and steals.

Happ’s summer project became re-working his jumper and proving that he can score outside of the paint — something he’s rarely done at the college level. Although Happ’s jumper looked okay during the summer at the Under Armour All-America Camp, Wisconsin big men have also shown dramatic increases in skill as their careers have gone on. Seeing if Happ can expand his range will be something to watch for.

4. Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame

He’s only 6-foot-5 but there is no doubting that Colson is one of the best in the country at playing inside. Putting up 17.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per game while shooting 43 percent from three-point range, Colson has become a versatile player for the Irish the last few seasons.

Capable of playing against bigger post players because of his natural timing and 7-foot-0 wingspan, Colson is also a lot quicker than some of his larger counterparts and his range allows him to take them outside. One of the winningest players in program history, Colson has been on two Elite Eight teams and a team that made the Round of 32 last season.

5. Deandre Ayton, Arizona

It’ll be interesting to see how this five-star freshman fits in at Arizona in what will likely be his only season. The Wildcats return a ton of talent around Ayton, including another double-double threat in Dusan Ristic, and guards like Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins can get shot-happy at times. Arizona would be wise to keep Ayton active and engaged during the season because college hoops hasn’t seen many 7-footers like Ayton in recent memory.

Gifted with outstanding athleticism and the touch of a wing, Ayton is quick enough to guard smaller wings while being big enough to wall up at the rim. Ayton can easily soar above the rim and he’s also capable of stretching the floor for three-pointers.

CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke
Deandre Ayton (Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
Final Four Sleepers | Louisville | Villanova | West Virginia | USC | Wichita State | Miami

6. Mo Bamba, Texas

The most fascinating player to watch on this list could be this 7-foot-0 freshman with an absurd 7-foot-9 wingspan. Bamba might be a little bit raw in certain areas of his game this season, but the New York native can make up for it by erasing almost everything on the defensive end.

For a player with an elite standing reach, Bamba’s lateral quickness and ability to switch might be his best attributes. Still skinny and needing to add weight as he increases his level, Bamba is going to be bullied by some but he might be long and athletic enough to make up for it.

Offensively, Bamba is fast and able to make an impact on the offensive glass and on lobs but he has to show a more consistent jumper than he has displayed in the past. The sky is the limit for Bamba’s basketball future but will we see a ton of positive flashes in the likely few months he’s in Austin?

RELATED: Why did Big Bob Williams return to school for his sophomore year?

7. Robert Williams, Texas A&M

One of the most fascinating returning players in the country this season will be Big Bob Williams as his freakish displays of athleticism earned him plenty of admirers last season. The SEC’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Williams is capable of playing well above the rim on both ends of the floor and he has some of the best natural timing in the country for putbacks and blocks.

The key for the 6-foot-10 Williams this season (and for his NBA Draft stock) is to expand his skill level and show some more range on offense. There is no doubting that Williams can make impact plays thanks to his one-percent athleticism but he’ll also need to expand his game as jumps up some levels.

CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke
Chimezie Metu (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

8. Chimezie Metu, USC

USC needed the 6-foot-11 Metu to step up in a major way last season and he became the Pac-12’s Most Improved Player. Another freak athlete who can easily play at 11 or 12 feet, Metu can put up big numbers. The scary thing about Metu is that he has personal room to grow with his game and the Trojans have the kind of talent around him to make a serious run.

Metu put up a lot of big numbers last season while Bennie Boatwright was injured, and now that Boatwright is back, it could mean that defenses don’t have enough to stop a loaded frontcourt.

9. Yante Maten, Georgia

Quietly one of the best two-way big men in the country last season, the 6-foot-8 Maten can put up points in multiple ways while also being a solid defender and rebounder. Averaging 18.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game, Maten can make impact plays on both ends of the floor.

Although he needs to improve as a defensive rebounder, Maten is strong on the offensive glass and also skilled enough to stretch the floor from three-point range. A sleeper SEC Player of the Year pick, Maten is hoping to lead the Bulldogs back to the NCAA tournament.

10. Tyler Davis, Texas A&M

Davis only shot 61 percent last season as a sophomore after the massive 6-foot-10 Davis was at 65 percent as a freshman. One of the nation’s best post scorers, Davis owns a soft set of hands, developing post moves and the size that makes him very tough to defend one-on-one.

The key for Davis will be continuing to improve his agility and mobility as he’s done a great job of improving his conditioning throughout his college career. Also watch for the spacing the Aggies are able to put around Davis. With a frontcourt-heavy team last season, there were times when it got too clogged for Davis to be at his best. Now with more point guard options this season, Davis might have some easier touches.

CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke
Tyler Davis (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
  • 11. Wendell Carter, Duke: The other five-star freshman in the Blue Devil frontcourt, Carter also has a chance to be a top pick with a big year. Big and skilled, Carter is a tenacious rebounder with a surprising amount of touch and vision.
  • 12. Jaren Jackson Jr., Michigan State: The Spartans have a wealth of bigs this season but this five-star freshman might be a lottery pick. At 6-foot-10, Jackson can knock down threes at 40 percent or defend the rim with his 7-foot-4 wingspan.
  • 13. Reid Travis, Stanford: The Pac-12’s returning leader in points and rebounds per game last season, Travis has become a force to reckon with now that he can stay healthy and on the floor. The Cardinal will run more offense through Travis this season.
  • 14. Mike Daum, South Dakota State: The 6-foot-9 junior plays in a one-bid league but he’s also a one-man show. Capable of 50-point games and huge numbers across the board, Daum is a must-watch for diehard college hoops fans.
  • 15. Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s: Improving immensely from sophomore to junior year, the 6-foot-11 Landale just missed averaging a double-double last season. One of the nation’s most efficient players, Landale is also a solid passer.
Nick Ward (Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
  • 16. Nick Ward, Michigan State: Others in Michigan State’s recruiting class were more highly-touted but Ward’s production in just under 20 minutes a game was huge for the Spartans making the NCAA tournament.
  • 17. Mo Wagner, Michigan: Wagner improved in every way during his sophomore season as he’s a three-level shooter who became more comfortable off the bounce. Defense and rebounding are areas Wagner can improve but he shows potential in both.
  • 18. Gary Clark, Cincinnati: A former AAC Defensive Player of the Year, Clark can lockdown multiple spots on the floor while also being a double-double threat. If Clark’s perimeter touch improves then watch out.
  • 19. Ben Lammers, Georgia Tech: One of the nation’s most improved players last season, Lammers became a force on both ends for the Yellow Jackets. He’s one of the best bigs in the country at playing from the elbows.
  • 20. Kyle Washington, Cincinnati: Washington thrived with the Bearcats last season following his transfer from N.C. State. The bouncy big man is a solid rim protector while being skilled enough to shoot 35 percent from three.

VIDEO: Kansas State legend celebrates revenge on Kentucky 67 years in the making

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In 1951, Kansas State lost to Kentucky in the National Championship game.

Ernie Barrett, who eventually became the school’s athletic director and is known as “Mr. K-State“, played on that team.

He’s wanted to get revenge on Big Blue ever since.

On Thursday night, Kansas State did.

Ernie was there, and here was his reaction in the locker room:

Keenan Evans perseveres through toe injury as Texas Tech looks to get through the East Region

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BOSTON — It was a gut punch when they got the call.

After a dreadful 3-15 freshman season, Tubby Smith had turned Texas Tech around his sophomore year, when Keenan Evans had averaged 8.7 points and 2.9 assists, respectable enough given the role that Tubby asks his point guards to play. The core of that team — a sophomore class that also included Zach Smith, Justin Gray and Norense Odiase — were returning. Tubby was making some in-roads in Texas. Everything was pointing up.

And then the former Kentucky head coach left for Memphis, a job that would chew him up and spit him out within two years.

“As parents, we definitely thought about what his next step would be,” Kenny Evans said. Who would Texas Tech hire? What if they didn’t like him? What if he didn’t like Keenan? It didn’t help matters that the Evans family had a weird and unique bond with Tubby.

The Evans’ family is as athletic as athletic gets. Keenan’s basketball IQ and guile come from his mom, Shantell, who was an all-SWAC guard at Arkansas-Pine Bluff. His athleticism comes from his dad, Kenny, who was an Olympic high-jumper. He finished 13th in the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, which also happened to be the Games where Tubby was an assistant coach for USA Basketball. Kenny, an Arkansas-native and high school basketball star, knew who Tubby Smith was; he was less than two years removed from winning a national title out of the same conference as his Razorbacks, and Kenny says he idolized Nolan Richardson and his Arkansas teams.

“You don’t see a lot of celebrities in Arkansas,” Kenny said, so when the Track & Field team was put next to the USA Basketball team, he did what any red-blooded American would do: He asked them for pictures.

One of those pictures was with Tubby — Kenny’s mother was a fan — and that picture ended up being displayed in the Evans house for years to come.

Suffice to say, Tubby’s name carried some weight with the family. It was part of what made Keenan decide to play at Texas Tech. And it’s one of the reasons why Keenan’s parents wanted to do their homework on the good ole’ boy Tech hired that was on his third job in three weeks, his sixth job in six seasons and a little more than four years removed from coaching in the ABA.

(Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Chris Beard’s roots run deep in Texas.

He went to high school just outside Houston. He was a manager at Texas during his time as a student. After graduating, he spent 14 of the next 16 seasons coaching in Texas, with one-year layovers at Junior Colleges in Kansas and Oklahoma along the way.

Throw in a one-year stay with the South Carolina Warriors and one season with Arkansas-Little Rock, and Beard lived outside Texas for just four years since childhood. And, as his assistant coach Chris Ogden puts it, “Beard’s a relationship guy.” He knows people all over the state, and when he got the job at Texas Tech — where he had previously been an Associate Head Coach under Bobby Knight — Kenny started getting calls from people vouching for him.

Give him a chance.

He may not have the national title-pedigree that Tubby does, but he’s got a shot at getting there one day.

Hear him out.

And Beard made sure they would have the chance to do so. Almost immediately after setting foot in Lubbock, the new Tech staff got to work trying to develop relationships with his new players and their families. Beard had a one-on-one meeting with every single member of the Texas Tech roster, which is not uncommon. He then took a flight to meet with the family of every member of his team. To sit down in front of them, look them in the eye and get to know them personally, as more than just the people that his players hear from when they go over their data plan or when those on-campus parking tickets start to add up.

“When I called them to let them know that Coach Beard said he was going to fly out to see [them], they were kind of shook,” Keenan said. “‘Wow, he’s really going to fly to everybody’s family around the country?’ They were really in shock and that stood out to them as well.”

“Not a lot of coaches do that. Fly to each person’s family, sit down and meet them, introduce himself. That played a big part in [my decision to stay] as well.”

The other part of it was that Keenan believed in the plan, in the vision that Beard had, for both the program and himself.

You see, the way Tubby uses his point guard is different than the way Beard does.

“Tubby is more old school,” Kenny explains. “He envisioned his point guards not shooting much and running the offense. Chris is new school. He recognizes you need to me more dynamic at the point guard spot. You gotta be a threat to score to get assists.”

And Beard knew he had the guy he needed in Keenan.

The staff was not unfamiliar with him when they took over. Ogden had recruited Keenan’s high school teammates, so he had seen him plenty. They knew what Keenan would be able to do when unleashed, and they knew what kind of a player and a worker they were inheriting.

“I just believed in his process, believed that he wanted to win at this level,” Evans said. “He believed in me, so I believed in him, and he gave me an opportunity. And he’s still doing that.”

“What I’m most appreciative of Keenan is he basically trusted me before he had to. He basically took me at my word,” Beard said. “He trusted me from day one, and I asked him to do a lot of things that he had never done before in his career.”

It paid off.

Tech struggled last season, but as a senior, Keenan morphed into one of college basketball’s best players. He’s averaging 17.8 points, 3.2 assists and 3.2 boards entering Friday’s Sweet 16 matchup with Purdue, numbers that would have been more impressive in a year that could have truly been legendary if it wasn’t for an awkward landing after a jump shot that resulted in unfortunate toe injury that Keenan suffered at Baylor on February 17th.

Keenan did not play in the second half of that game. He did play at at Oklahoma State and against Kansas in the two subsequent games, but anyone watching knew that he wasn’t himself. He sat out a road trip to West Virginia.

Four straight losses.

Sole possession of first place in the Big 12 with a home game left against Kansas and a grasp on Big 12 Player of the Year turned into just another victim of the Jayhawks’ 14-year reign over the conference.

And if you don’t think that was hard for Keenan to handle, you don’t know Keenan.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Keenan Evans has always picked up on things quickly.

Everyone has that one friend that is annoyingly good at everything, whether it’s pool, or bowling, or Fortnite. That’s Keenan, and that’s why Keenan’s mom — an all-conference basketball player herself — had to stop training him by the time he was in the fourth grade.

He was just getting too good, too quickly.

That can be a slippery slope. If you’re a natural, if things come too easily to you, work ethic might not be your forte. With Keenan, it worked the other way. When he got good at one thing, he wanted to perfect the next thing. The best are the best because they are addicted to improvement, and Keenan falls into that category.

“The Keenan Evans story is not me or Tubby,” Beard said. “It is Keenan Evans. This guy self-made himself into one of the best players in college basketball, and I can tell you how he’s done it. He’s done it with a lot of work. He’s in the gym every day. He’s in the film room a lot. He’s a guy that’s changed his body in the weight room.”

That’s what made this toe issue so devastating.

We’re talking about a guy that is known within the Texas Tech locker room as being their hardest work. Three-a-days in the gym. He’s made himself into a star. He earned his shot at getting a Big 12 title and a Player of the Year award, and it got taken away from him.

Because of a toe.

“Simply stated, a lot of guys wouldn’t even be playing on it right now,” Beard said. “Keenan is playing on it and playing at a high level. He’s just an absolute warrior.”

“I’ve never coached a tougher guy than Keenan Evans.”

“It was tough to overcome just because I felt like I was letting my team down in a way,” Keenan said. “It wasn’t my fault, but also [my toe’s] just not 100 percent, and I still battle with it every night.”

According to Kenny, the struggle was as much mental as physical.

“It was devastating for him,” he said. “He tried to be strong for his teammates. He could have shut it down and gotten ready for everything after college. But that’s not us, that’s not our family, that’s not Keenan.”

He does his best to stay off the foot when he’s not playing games. His time on the practice floor is limited. When media is granted access to the Texas Tech locker room, Keenan’s foot is in a big, yellow bucket full of ice water. He doesn’t have the same explosiveness. He can’t push off of it the way he did before the injury. And that’s before you get to the mental side of it, having the confidence in himself and his body to be able to try and do the things he’s been doing all season long.

And in this tournament, it’s worked.

Keenan has scored 45 points through two games, and 33 of those 45 points have come in the second half. He made every shot he took in the second half of a come-from-behind win over Stephen F. Austin in the opener. He hit the go-ahead three and threw a lob to Zhaire Smith for the clinching basket in the final two minutes of the win over Florida. All told, in his last five games, Evans is averaging 17 of his 21.2 points and shooting 26-for-37 from the floor after halftime.

He is Texas Tech’s closer, and with a date against No. 2-seed Purdue in the Sweet 16 on Friday night, Evans will likely be called upon to close once again.

Just the way Beard likes it.

“I just love coaching him,” he said. “I just don’t want it to end. I want to coach that guy another day. It is like when you go to a good movie and you know it’s getting towards the end, but you are loving the movie so much, you want it to go a little bit farther. Or you’ve got a good plate of enchiladas and you’re looking at it, and you only have two bites left, but it’s so good, you turn it into three bites.”

“I want it to keep lasting.”

The end was disappointing, but Kentucky’s season outpaced all expectation

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In yet another example of what makes March Madness the greatest and most unpredictable sporting spectacle on the planet, Kentucky’s run to the Sweet 16 this season is going to be looked at as a disappointment.

Who saw that coming back in January?

Who thought that this team had second weekend potential when they were in the midst of the first four-game losing streak of John Calipari’s tenure in Lexington?

And please, show me who, at that point in time, predicted that Kentucky media would be calling a loss in the Sweet 16 “the worst loss” in the Calipari era back when there were actual discussions being had over whether or not the Wildcats were going to get into the NCAA tournament?

It’s amazing how quickly the tide turns in college basketball

Kentucky lost on Thursday night. The fifth-seeded Wildcats fell to the ninth-seeded Wildcats of Kansas State in a game that turned into drama-filled slugfest down the stretch. The final score was 61-58. Kentucky had two shots at the end of regulation to force a tie or take the lead. They also gave up an offensive rebound to a 6-foot-3 no-name with 40 seconds left that led to the game-winning bucket.

The narrative is going to be that Kentucky choked this game away, that their inability to run offense — and P.J. Washington’s free throw yips — cost them the Final Four that seemed a given Thursday morning and a pipe dream on Selection Sunday.

The truth is that Kentucky was a flawed basketball team that got hot at the right time before running into a team that executed a game-plan to perfection while getting the benefit of a couple of bounces and whistles going their way.

And let me be perfectly clear: In no way, shape or form am I saying that Kentucky or Big Blue Nation should be happy with this loss. It should be disappointing. It should hurt — more so for the players than the fans, but whatever. The bracket broke perfectly for them. Everyone in their region was a cinderella. We weren’t wrong in thinking that Coach Cal’s kids were the heavy favorites to get to San Antonio out of Catlanta.

But we need to say that while also acknowledging this: There is a reason that Kentucky was a No. 5-seed this season.

This was a flawed basketball team.

They were young. They didn’t have enough shooting. Their offense was entirely too predictable, even when they were winning. If Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox weren’t carrying the load for them on that end, they didn’t really have anywhere to turn. And on Thursday night, they ran into a team that had the personnel and a game-plan to take away Kentucky’s two go-to guys.

Kansas State is not overly talented, but what they have in abundance are tough, athletic and older guards that are going to put in a shift on the defensive end of the floor. Kentucky fans may not know who Barry Brown is, but I guarantee you that fans of every Big 12 team can tell you just how good he can be. I guarantee that coaches in the Big 12 can tell you just how annoying their guards are, and those little guards played that role to perfection.

To put it another way, it wasn’t a fluke that Gilgeous-Alexander struggled to make plays off the dribble the way he has for the last two months of the season. It wasn’t an accident that Kevin Knox struggled to find a way to get the looks he had become accustomed to getting coming off of Kentucky’s circle sets.

And in a 40 minute basketball game, when one team matches up well with another, something as simple as Xavier Sneed catching fire and Washington going 8-for-20 from the foul line will get you beat.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Because the real point that I am trying to make here is that this particular Kentucky team just wasn’t all that good. They were young. They were injured. They had their flaws masked by the improvement of a couple of kids who played out of their minds for long stretches of the season, and I just don’t think that’s something that should be overlooked.

Maybe this is just my mindset as a fan. I enjoy the ride more than I need to celebrate the ending. Give me a reason to tune in every game. Make me excited to have the monotony of a week broken up when the ball tips. I’m good.

And I think this Kentucky team accomplished just that.

But two weeks ago, no one thought this team had a shot of getting to the Elite 8. Two months ago, every Kentucky fan would have taken a trip to the second weekend in a heartbeat.

The ending sucked.

No doubt about it.

But this team kept fighting and kept improving and, in the end, lost because someone took makeup remover to the cosmetics that Calipari applied.

Be disappointed, but don’t lost sight of the big picture.

VIDEO: Townes’ late 3 seals Loyola’s win over Nevada

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Nevada was faced with a dilemma. The Wolf Pack were down just one possession – just one point – and were on defense with with a five-second differential between the game and shot clocks.

Foul and extend the game or play it out and hope for a stop?

Nevada opted to play it straight-up, and Loyola hit them with the worst-case scenario – a 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock.

The 3-pointer from Marques Townes made it a two-possession game and the clock all but ruled out the possibility for two possession.

And that’s why Loyola is now in the Elite Eight.

2018 NCAA Tournament: Saturday’s tip times, TV channels, announcer pairings

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Half the spots in the Final Four are up for grabs Saturday. Be sure you know where your TV needs to be before the nets are cut down.

Atlanta: Brian Anderson, Chris Webber and Lisa Byington

  • 6:09 p.m. – No. 9 Kansas State vs. No. 11 Loyola, TBS

Los Angeles: Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner and Dana Jacobson

  • 8:49 – No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 9 Florida State, TBS