The most difficult thing to do when putting together a list of the nation’s best back courts if figuring out who, exactly, belongs listed as a member of the back court.
Take Brandon Ingram, for example. Last season, he played the four for Duke, typically lining up alongside Marshall Plumlee on the Blue Devil front line. But given his skill-set and his physical tools, he natural position is probably as a three. Then if you actually go back and watch the film, the role he played was essentially as a scoring guard, a two.
Positionless basketball, by definition, makes identifying positions a nightmare.
So we worked through a lot of these. Duke’s Jayson Tatum is listed as back court and not front court because we expect him to play the way Ingram did last season. Villanova’s Josh Hart is in our back court rankings because, like Kansas’ Josh Jackson, his ability to rebound doesn’t change the fact that he is true wing. Hart’s teammate, Kris Jenkins, is more of a small-ball four and a mismatch in the front court, which is more or less the same way we view Dillon Brooks.
We unveiled the top backcourts in college basketball earlier today.
Here’s a look at the top frontcourts.
1. Duke: (Amile Jefferson, Harry Giles, Marques Bolden, Chase Jeter, Javin DeLaurier, Sean Obi)
With talent and depth across the frontline, the Blue Devils have a potentially special group on a potentially special team. Senior Amile Jefferson returns after missing most of last season with a broken bone in his right foot. He averaged 11 points and 10 rebounds a game and provides loads of experience. If Harry Giles returns healthy from multiple knee injuries, the five-star recruit is a potential top-5 pick and an elite rebounder. Center Marques Bolden is another McDonald’s All-American and potential lottery pick who can score in the post. Sophomore center Chase Jeter was one of the youngest freshmen in the country last season as he’s younger than some incoming freshmen. He could be in for a solid year. Freshman Javin DeLaurier and junior Sean Obi provide more depth than the team had last season.
2. Oregon: (Dillon Brooks, Chris Boucher, Jordan Bell, Kavell Bigby-Williams, M.J. Cage, Roman Sorkin)
The key for this deep and talented group is versatile forward Dillon Brooks, who is one of the premier matchup nightmares in the country. Brooks is injured to start the season and it’s unclear when he might return but the Ducks still have plenty to like. Senior big man Chris Boucher is an elite athlete and shot blocker who is talented enough to hit some threes. Jordan Bell is another big-time shot blocker who provides great minutes off the bench. Junior college big man Kavell Bigby-Williams was the NJCAA Player of the Year and is also a noted rebounder and rim protector. Freshman M.J. Cage was a four-star prospect and junior Roman Sorkin appeared in 22 games last season.
3. Purdue: (Isaac Haas, Caleb Swanigan, Vince Edwards, Jaquil Taylor, Basil Smotherman)
Losing A.J. Hammons hurts, but the Boilermakers have so much depth and talent here. Sophomore Caleb Swanigan opted to get out of the NBA draft in order to return and he’s a double-double threat with intriguing skills. Isaac Haas takes over at center and the 7-foot-2 center averaged 9.8 points in only 14.3 minutes per game last season. Vince Edwards is another returning starter who can knock down shots and do a bit of everything. Basil Smotherman returns after a redshirt year and will be a key reserve along with sophomore Jacquil Taylor.
4. Kentucky: (Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel, Derek Willis, Isaac Humphries, Sacha Killeya-Jones, Tai Wynyard)
It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch freshman big man Bam Adebayo operate this season. A powerful athlete who can rebound and finish with authority, Adebayo has the chance the be a major factor this season in what’s likely his only year in school. Freshman Wenyen Gabriel is another five-star who can defend multiple positions and has an emerging perimeter skillset. Senior Derek Willis showed production as a rebounder and perimeter shooter and he could be asked to play some on the wing this season. Sophomore Isaac Humphries gave some decent minutes last season but needs to be more consistent. Freshman Sacha Killeya-Jones is another five-star prospect who is talented as a shooter but he needs to add strength. Tai Wynyard also joins the roster after redshirting last season.
5. Indiana (Thomas Bryant, OG Anunoby, Juwan Morgan, De’Ron Davis)
Sophomores dominate this frontcourt rotation as center Thomas Bryant has a chance to be one of the country’s best players this season. Bryant is a tenacious rebounder and also scored at a decent clip from time-to-time. OG Anunoby can defend nearly everyone on the floor and his upside is immense. There were times late last season when Anunoby looked like he was capable of being a star. Morgan could be a stretch option for Indiana as he made 5 of his 11 attempts last season and showed a good-looking shot. Freshman De’Ron Davis is physical ready to compete and he can provide backup minutes.
6. Syracuse: (Tyler Roberson, Tyler Lydon, DaJuan Coleman, Paschal Chukwu, Taurean Thompson, Matthew Moyer)
The depth of this group should be very good as the Orange have plenty of rotation pieces. Senior Tyler Roberson and sophomore Tyler Lydon are both productive returning forwards and the addition of 7-foot-2 center Paschal Chukwu could make Syracuse’s 2-3 zone tough to score on. Senior DaJuan Coleman is also back to help give some minutes and freshmen Taurean Thompson and Matthew Moyer were both four-star prospects who play with a lot of activity.
7. Wisconsin: (Nigel Hayes, Ethan Happ, Vitto Brown, Alex Illikainen, Andy Van Vliet)
Returning their entire starting five from a Sweet 16 team, the Badgers have senior leadership from Nigel Hayes and Vitto Brown and one of the Big Ten’s emerging stars in sophomore Ethan Happ. Hayes will be one of the Badgers’ most important players and an All-Big Ten prospect while Happ was an outstanding defender who was a regular double-double threat. The rotation could be even better than last season if Alex Illikainen and Andy Van Vliet can stretch the floor consistently. Illikainen played some minutes as a freshman while Van Vliet will debut after having to redshirt last season.
8. Virginia: (Austin Nichols, Isaiah Wilkins, Jack Salt, Jarred Reuter, Mamadi Diakite)
Losing Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey will hurt, but the addition of Memphis transfer Austin Nichols gives the Cavaliers a potential All-American up front and a very good shot blocker. Junior glue guy Isaiah Wilkins started 21 games last season and does a lot to help the Cavaliers on both ends. Sophomores Jack Salt and Jarred Reuter both earned some minutes last season. Redshirt freshman Mamadi Diakite might be the most intriguing big man on the roster as he’s a very good shot blocker who is a great athlete.
9. North Carolina: (Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Luke Maye, Tony Bradley)
Coming off of a national title appearance, the Tar Heels bring back senior center Kennedy Meeks, as he provides some scoring and rebounding and senior forward Isaiah Hicks finally gets a chance to start with the departure of Brice Johnson. Hicks is a former McDonald’s All-American who has been productive in limited minutes and has a chance to be a breakout player. Sophomore Luke Maye gives some depth as he played in 33 games last season while freshman center Tony Bradley is a McDonald’s All-American who has great size.
10. Gonzaga (Przemek Karnowski, Johnathan Williams, Ryan Edwards, Zach Collins, Killian Tillie)
The return of senior center Przemek Karnowski is important because he provides experience on both ends of the floor. Karnowski can draw double teams and block shots with the best of them. Missouri transfer Johnathan Williams led the Tigers in scoring and rebounding before he left and he’s another talented player to put in the starting lineup. Freshman center Zach Collins was a McDonald’s All-American who surprised scouts at the practices with his toughness and ability. Collins was a backup to Stephen Zimmerman and Chase Jeter at Bishop Gorman and is used to being a third big man who contributes. Not many teams can trot a 7-foot-1 center off the bench to replace another as Ryan Edwards returns after 31 appearances last season.
11. Cal (Ivan Rabb, Kameron Rooks, Kingsley Okoroh, Roger Moute a Bidias, Roman Davis)
When you have the best returning big man in the country in sophomore Ivan Rabb, you’re in the discussion for the best frontcourts in the country. Rabb put up great numbers despite not getting a lot of touches and he was very efficient from the field. Kameron Rooks and Kingsley Okoroh combined to play the minutes at center last season as Rooks was more of the scorer and Okoroh protects the rim. Senior Roger Moute a Bidias has given minutes before at small forward and freshman Roman Davis redshirted last year and could help there as well.
12. Texas Tech: (Zach Smith, Norense Odiase, Aaron Ross, Anthony Livingston)
The most underrated frontcourt in the country might be Texas Tech, as this group returns four productive big men that averaged at least 8.5 points per game last season. Junior Zach Smith is a versatile defender who can score and rebound and Norense Odiase is a bruising big man who is productive in limited minutes. Senior Aaron Ross was a double-figure scorer who shot 37 percent from three while Arkansas State grad transfer Anthony Livingston put up 15.5 points and 9.4 rebounds per game at Arkansas State last season. This group compliments each other well with differing skillsets and all of them are productive.
13. Villanova: (Kris Jenkins, Mikal Bridges, Darryl Reynolds, Eric Paschall, Dylan Painter)
National championship game hero Kris Jenkins is back and he’s coming off of a monster end to last season in which he was a floor-spacing matchup nightmare in small-ball lineups. Sophomore Mikal Bridges has great defensive versatility and he could be in line for a breakout season. Senior Darryl Reynolds was a valuable reserve who is solid defensively. Fordham transfer Eric Paschall is eligible after sitting out last season and also is expected to help in the scoring column.
14. Butler (Kelan Martin, Andrew Chrabascz, Tyler Wideman, Joey Brunk)
Junior Kelan Martin is the one to really watch here after he averaged 15.7 points and 6.8 rebounds in a breakout sophomore campaign. Senior Andrew Chrabascz is an experienced double-figure scorer and junior center Tyler Wideman has also played a lot of minutes. Local four-star freshman Joey Brunk provides some depth at center and he could be productive as a second-unit big man with his size and post scoring ability.
15. Georgetown (Isaac Copeland, Bradley Hayes, Marcus Derrickson, Jessie Govan)
The Hoyas get another year to try to gel in stay healthy as a lot of talent is back. Junior Isaac Copeland will be expected to be a main scorer for Georgetown and senior Bradley Hayes was granted another year by the NCAA as he was last year’s leading rebounder. Sophomores Marcus Derrickson and Jessie Govan will be expected to take a leap and Derrickson’s skill level and Govan’s imposing size makes for some different frontcourt looks for the Hoyas.