College Basketball’s Best Big Men

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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.

Top Backcourts | Top Frontcourts | Top 100 Players

POSITION RANKS: Lead Guards | Off Guards | Wings | Big Men

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 10: Ivan Rabb #1 of the California Golden Bears and Stephen Thompson Jr. #2 of the Oregon State Beavers go after a rebound during a quarterfinal game of the Pac-12 Basketball Tournament at MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 10, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. California won 76-68. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ivan Rabb (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

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.

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

HOUSTON, TEXAS - APRIL 02: Tyler Lydon #20 of the Syracuse Orange attempts to dunk the ball against Isaiah Hicks #4 of the North Carolina Tar Heels in the first half during the NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at NRG Stadium on April 2, 2016 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Tyler Lydon (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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.

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

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 12: Dedric Lawson #1 of the Memphis Tigers shoots a foul shot during a semifinal game of the 2016 AAC Basketball Tournament against the Tulane Green Wave at Amway Center on March 12, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Dedric Lawson (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

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.

RANKINGS: Top Frontcourts | Top Backcourts

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.

ALSO CONSIDERED

  • Bennie Boatwright, USC
  • Evan Bradds, Belmont
  • Amida Brimah, UConn
  • Tyler Cavanaugh , George Washington
  • Gary Clark Jr., Cincinnati
  • Marcus Derrickson, Georgetown
  • Luke Fischer, Marquette
  • Isaac Haas, Purdue
  • Zach LeDay, Virginia Tech
  • Abdul Malik-Abu, N.C. State
  • Hassan Martin, Rhode Island
  • Yante Maten, Georgia
  • Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina
  • Chimezie Metu, USC
  • Johnathan Williams III, Gonzaga
  • Michael Young, Pitt

No. 6 UConn star Azzi Fudd out 3-6 weeks with knee injury

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
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STORRS, Conn. — Sixth-ranked UConn’s top scorer, Azzi Fudd, is expected to be out three to six weeks because of a right knee injury she suffered during her team’s weekend loss to No. 5 Notre Dame, a university athletic spokesperson said.

The sophomore guard was injured in the first half of the game when a teammate collided into her. She returned midway through the second period to play four hobbled minutes, but sat the rest of the way.

“I think she’ll be all right,” coach Geno Auriemma said afterward.

Fudd entered the game averaging 24.0 points but finished scoreless on two shots over 13 minutes in the team’s first loss of the season.

The athletic spokesperson didn’t specify the type of knee injury Fudd sustained.

She underwent evaluation and an MRI confirmed the injury, the spokesperson said.

The Huskies host Princeton next.

New Mexico State suspends player after shooting

Nathan J. Fish/Sun News/USA TODAY NETWORK
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LAS CRUCES, N.M. — New Mexico State’s athletic director says power forward Mike Peake has been suspended indefinitely from the basketball team in connection with last month’s fatal shooting of a student from a rival university.

Mario Moccia also told reporters that neither he nor the school could comment on Peake’s enrollment status as a student. The 21-year-old Peake has not been charged in the Nov. 19 pre-dawn shooting on the University of New Mexico’s campus in Albuquerque hours before the host Lobos were to play the Aggies. That game was canceled along with the Dec. 3 rematch in Las Cruces.

“Mike is suspended from our basketball team until the completion of the university’s investigation and the investigation of the proper authorities,” Moccia said. “When those investigations will be complete, I can’t say.”

State police investigators said 19-year-old Brandon Travis conspired with two other UNM students and a teenage girl to lure Peake onto campus.

The subsequent shootout left Travis dead at the scene and Peake hospitalized with a leg wound that has required several surgeries.

A brawl at an Oct. 15 UNM-NMSU football game in Las Cruces was a precursor to the shooting, police said.

First-year NMSU men’s basketball coach Greg Heiar was not made available to talk to media until 10 days after the shooting.

He expressed his condolences for Travis and his family and said he took full responsibility for the actions of multiple players who sneaked out of the hotel on that morning of the game.

But until Monday, NMSU officials had not spoken publicly about any specific discipline for Peake related to the shooting.

“If there is criticism over this decision, I am in a position to take it on myself,” Moccia said. “I’ve known this player for years and I know what kind of person he is. I didn’t feel a need to rush to judgment. I wanted to give the investigation time to play out before making any decisions.”

Peake, a 6-foot-7 junior from Chicago, played one season at Georgia before transferring to Austin Peay. He joined New Mexico State in 2021 and averaged 4.1 points and 2.4 rebounds last season, helping the Aggies reach the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

No. 18 Gonzaga withstands scare from Kent State for 73-66 win

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
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SPOKANE, Wash. – Drew Timme scored 29 points and grabbed 17 rebounds, and No. 18 Gonzaga closed the game on an 11-0 run to rally past Kent State 73-66 on Monday night.

The nation’s longest home win streak was extended to 69 games but not without a major scare by the Golden Flashes. Kent State led 66-62 with 3:38 left after Miryne Thomas’ 3-pointer, but the Bulldogs tightened on the defensive end and got a handful of big plays offensively to hold off the Flashes.

Julian Strawther added 14 points, including a 3-pointer with 3:19 left that started Gonzaga’s decisive run. Timme’s spinning basket in the lane with 2:29 left gave Gonzaga (6-3) the lead, and he added a key defensive play blocking Sincere Carry’s layup attempt at the other end.

Timme was fouled and split free throws with 1:55 left, but Malachi Smith grabbed the offensive rebound and his three-point play gave the Bulldogs a 71-66 lead. It was Smith’s first basket of the game.

“(Timme) was heroic. He wasn’t really looking for the ball much early and wasn’t demanding it . he was splitting the defense and scoring in a variety of ways like he does,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “To end up with 17 boards is monster and we needed every one of them.”

Nolan Hickman added 10 points and seven rebounds for the Bulldogs, who held a 43-30 advantage on the boards. It was just the second home game inside the McCarthey Athletic Center for Gonzaga and first since Nov. 7 against North Florida.

Thomas led Kent State (6-3) with 16 points, including four 3-pointers. Malique Jacobs added 11 points and Carry, who was averaging 18.5 points per game, was held to 10.

“I think in the second half we moved the ball well, we got some turnovers, got some easy shots and was able to give us a lead playing a great team and great program. . Unfortunately we couldn’t finish it off. Give them a lot of credit for that,” Kent State head coach Rob Senderoff said.

Kent State nearly pulled off a surprising upset on the road for the second time in two weeks but couldn’t withstand Gonzaga’s late surge. Kent State led No. 1 Houston by one-point with less than a minute to go nine days ago in Houston but couldn’t make the plays in the closing seconds to finish off the upset in a 49-44 loss.

“Coach Few has told us all week that this is a great team that could go to the Sweet 16. . We knew what they were capable of and we weren’t taking them lightly and we knew it was going to be a dog fight,” Strawther said.

JERSEY RETIRED

Kelly Olynyk’s No. 13 jersey number was retired in front of a sellout crowd. Olynyk played for Gonzaga from 2009-13 and led the Bulldogs to its first ever No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament while earning first team AP All-American status as a senior.

“You’re almost speechless,” Olynyk said. “It’s just such an honor, especially with the names that you’re up beside. They’re unbelievable players.”

BIG PICTURE

Kent State: The Golden Flashes lost their third game of the season and their second against a ranked opponent. Kent State has three non-conference games left before beginning Mid-American Conference play at home against Western Michigan.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs bounced back from a one-point loss to No. 12 Baylor last week with the win. All three of Gonzaga’s losses are to teams ranked in the top 12 of the AP Top 25.

UP NEXT:

Kent State: At Cleveland State on Saturday.

Gonzaga: Host in-state rival Washington on Friday.

Preseason No. 1 North Carolina drops out of AP Top 25

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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Houston and Texas remain firmly entrenched atop The Associated Press men’s college basketball poll, while preseason No. 1 North Carolina has dropped out entirely after a fourth straight loss.

The Cougars earned 37 of 62 first-place votes in the poll, extending the program’s first stay at No. 1 since the “Phi Slama Jama” days in the 1980s for another week. Houston (8-0) beat Norfolk State and Saint Mary’s in its first week at the top.

“I don’t dwell on it,” coach Kelvin Sampson said last week about the No. 1 ranking. “We’re not running around here pushing our chest out, thinking we’re something we’re not.”

The Longhorns received 14 first-place votes. No. 3 Virginia got three votes and No. 4 Purdue got the remaining eight.

Connecticut (9-0) climbed to No. 5, the program’s highest ranking since early in the 2011-12 season. Other than the top five, there are three other teams in the AP Top 25 that entered Monday undefeated (No. 11 Auburn, No. 13 Maryland and No. 23 Mississippi State).

SWIFT FALL

North Carolina is only the sixth team to go from preseason No. 1 to unranked since at least the 1961-62 season, most recently with Michigan State during the 2019-20 season.

Of that group, the Tar Heels had the swiftest exit from the poll to start the season (four weeks) excet for UCLA in 1965-66. The Bruins fell out of the poll after just three weeks back when only 10 teams were ranked.

Ranked No. 18 last week, the Tar Heels (5-4) l ost their fourth straight game over the weekend at Virginia Tech while playing without banged-up big man Armando Bacot. They appeared on a single ballot this week from the 62-member panel that votes on the AP Top 25.

“I told them also that I’m not panicked, I’m not any of that,” coach Hubert Davis said afterward. “I’m convinced we’re going to be a great basketball team by the end of the season.”

Last year’s Tar Heels were on the bubble to even make the NCAA Tournament well into February in Davis’ debut season. They went on a final-month tear all the way to the NCAA championship game before falling to Kansas.

THE TOP TIER

Kansas climbed to No. 6, followed by three Southeastern Conference teams in Tennessee, Alabama and Arkansas. For the Volunteers and Crimson Tide, it marked their first appearances inside the top 10 this year. Arizona rounded out the top 10, falling six spots after a loss at Utah.

RISING

No. 13 Maryland had the biggest jump of the week, vaulting nine spots after wins against Louisville and Illinois last week in the Terrapins’ first year under Kevin Willard. That marks the program’s highest ranking since pushing into the top 10 during the 2019-20 season.

Tennessee was next up with a six-spot climb, while No. 11 Auburn rose four spots.

In all, 13 teams climbed from last week.

SLIDING

Creighton had the week’s biggest fall, tumbling 14 spots to No. 21 after losing at Texas and at home to Nebraska last week.

No. 12 Baylor fell six spots after a loss to Marquette, though the Bears responded by beating Gonzaga on Friday in a rematch of the 2021 NCAA championship game won by Baylor.

The Zags, now No. 18, fell four spots to their lowest ranking since checking in at No. 20 on Christmas Day in 2017.

In all, four teams slid from last week.

STATUS QUO

Beyond the top three, No. 25 Ohio State remained in place after a tough loss at No. 15 Duke last week.

WELCOME

No. 23 Mississippi State and No. 24 TCU were the new additions to the poll, with the Bulldogs (8-0) earning their first AP Top 25 ranking under first-year coach Chris Jans since January 2019.

The Horned Frogs were ranked 14th and 15th, respectively, in the first two polls before falling out for two weeks.

FAREWELL (FOR NOW)

In addition to UNC, Michigan State (No. 20) fell out after losses to Notre Dame and Northwestern.

CONFERENCE WATCH

The SEC led the way with six ranked teams, including No. 16 Kentucky. The Big Ten and Big 12 each had five ranked teams, followed by two each for the Atlantic Coast, Pac-12 and Big East conferences.

The American Athletic, West Coast and Mountain West conferences each had one.

Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer tops women’s AP Top 25 appearances

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer stands atop The Associated Press women’s basketball poll with the most appearances all time, breaking a tie with the late Pat Summitt.

VanDerveer’s Cardinal remained No. 2 behind top-ranked South Carolina, giving her 619 weeks with one of her teams in the AP Top 25: 592 weeks with Stanford and 27 with Ohio State when she was in charge of that program. Summitt’s 618 weeks in the poll all came with Tennessee.

The Hall of Fame coach downplayed the achievement.

“Fortunate to be here for 36 years. We have great players and have been successful,” VanDerveer said. “I don’t pay attention to (records). People bring it up and I’m like `OK, great.”‘

Louisville fell out of the Top 25 for the first time since 2016, a span of 127 weeks. That was the fifth longest active streak. The Cardinals (5-4) started the season ranked seventh and have struggled to find consistency this year, dropping their last two games to Ohio State and Middle Tennessee.

They are the third preseason top 10 team to fall out of the poll, joining Texas (this week) and Tennessee (last week). Before this year, only 10 preseason top 10 teams had fallen out of the rankings at some point during the year since the AP Top 25 became a writers’ poll in 1994-95.

Even more rare has been a preseason top five school dropping out. Only five teams had done that prior to this year and none before January. Tennessee was the last to do it, starting the 2015-16 season at No. 4 before falling out of the rankings Feb. 22.

Now Texas and Tennessee are both out before the New Year.

“Two factors are at play here. One of them is more parity with more good teams,” said Rebecca Lobo, the former UConn star, ESPN analyst and Top 25 voter. “The other factor at play is the transfer portal. I think those three teams all have multiple players who start who weren’t in their program a year ago. It’s a reflection that you can’t just assemble teams and right away expect them to be good. I think all those teams will in the poll by the end of the season.”

Ohio State moved up to No. 3 after, the Buckeyes’ best ranking since Nov. 30, 2009, when they also were third. Indiana and Notre Dame round out the top five.

UConn fell three spots to sixth with Virginia Tech seventh, the best ranking ever for the school. North Carolina and N.C. State were tied in eighth and Iowa State is 10th.

RANKED RAZORBACKS

Arkansas (10-0) vaulted into the poll at No. 21. The Razorbacks have a difficult month ahead with games against No. 18 Creighton and a tournament in San Diego that has Oregon, South Florida and Ohio State.

“I do think we know a lot about our team,” Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors said.

He was also happy his team made the poll as every sports team on campus that has played this year has been ranked, including football, men’s basketball, soccer and cross country.

“We didn’t want to be the team that stops that streak,” he said..

FALLING LOUISVILLE

The Cardinals had been ranked ever week since Jan. 11, 2016. That was the same season they started the year at No. 8 before falling out on Nov. 30, the earliest a top 10 team had fallen out of the poll until last week. Things got better for Louisville as the Cardinals finished that regular season 24-6 and went 15-1 in the ACC.

HISTORIC WEEK

With Louisville, Texas and Tennessee all out of the Top 25, it marks only the second time in the poll’s history that none of those three teams were ranked. The only other time was the first-ever poll in 1976.

COMING AND GOING

Oklahoma and Kansas State also returned to the Top 25 this week, coming in at No. 23 and No. 24. Marquette dropped out after losing to Seton Hall.