College Basketball’s Top Frontcourts

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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.

CONTENDER SERIES: Duke | Oregon | Kentucky | Kansas | Villanova

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.

CONFERENCE PREVIEWS: Big 12 | ACC | Pac-12 | Big Ten

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 13: Isaac Haas #44 of the Purdue Boilermakers shoots against Colby Wollenman #41 of the Michigan State Spartans in the championship game of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 13, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Isaac Haas (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

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.

ST LOUIS, MO - MARCH 20: Nigel Hayes #10 of the Wisconsin Badgers handles the ball in the first half against the Xavier Musketeers during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Scottrade Center on March 20, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Nigel Hayes (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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.

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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.

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 10: Marcus Derrickson #24 of the Georgetown Hoyas celebrates his three point shot in the first half against the Villanova Wildcats during the quarterfinals of the Big East Basketball Tournament on March 10, 2016 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Marcus Derrickson (Elsa/Getty Images)

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.