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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

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.