College Basketball’s Best Frontcourts

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The most difficult thing to do when putting together a list of the nation’s best front courts if figuring out who, exactly, belongs listed as a member of the front court. 

Take Miles Bridges, for example. Last season, he played the four for Michigan State, typically lining up alongside Nick Ward on the Michigan State 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 walking mismatch that took bigger defenders out to the perimeter. 

Positionless basketball, by definition, makes identifying positions a nightmare. 

So we worked through a lot of these. Bridges is listed as a member of the front court. Louisville’s Deng Adel is in our back court rankings because, like Arizona’s Rawle Alkins, he’s a natural wing. Kevin Knox is a forward even if he’s going to end up playing some on the wing this season.

So with that in mind, let’s get to our list of the top front courts in the country.

CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke
Miles Bridges (Rob Carr/Getty Images)
MOREThe Enigma of Miles Bridges | NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team

1. MICHIGAN STATE: Miles Bridges, Nick Ward, Jaren Jackson Jr., Gavin Schilling, Kenny Goins, Ben Carter, Xavier Tillman

With a chance for a special season, Michigan State had so many unique things come together to form one of the best frontcourts in recent memory. The return of Miles Bridges for his sophomore season was a major surprise in college basketball as the leading preseason Player of the Year candidate will have to play more at the three this season.

That should be fine for Bridges, who utilizes mismatches wherever thanks to his powerful athleticism. As long as his perimeter jumper is consistent then there should be no issues. Sophomore Nick Ward is also back as the bruising big man isn’t afraid to mix it up with anybody on the interior. Complementing Bridges and Ward should be the five-star freshman Jackson as he can shoot with range while also defending the rim and rebounding at a high level.

And then the Spartans also got lucky with returning depth. After Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter missed last season due to injury, both are back for their senior seasons as they bring a lot of experience. Schilling has already been a starter for Sparty on some great teams while Carter is a graduate transfer from UNLV who provides additional depth. Kenny Goins also got minutes when Michigan State was really depleted last season as he adds to the absurd amount of talent. Even if Michigan State sustains an injury or has a player go through a slump, they’ll have another player to step up and contribute.

2. KENTUCKY: Wenyen Gabriel, Kevin Knox, Nick Richards, P.J. Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt, Sacha Killeya-Jones, Tai Wynyard

This group features an astounding six former five-star prospects and a ton of upside at multiple spots on the floor. Gabriel is the elder statesman of the group as far as experience is concerned as he will need to improve his offense after being inconsistent as a shooter last season.

From there, this will be a group mostly dominated by (surprise, surprise) freshmen. The 6-foot-7 Knox is perhaps Kentucky’s best NBA prospect as he has the athleticism to be a major factor this season. The issue with Knox is that he’ll probably be forced to play at the three when he might be more ideally suited to be a small-ball four in college with his inconsistent perimeter shot.

In fact, shooting is the major issue for this Kentucky frontcourt (and team in general in 2017-18). Richards and Washington are both very good athletes who should be productive close to the hoop, but they won’t provide floor spacing. Other teams will likely try to pack it in against the Wildcats, and SEC teams with deep frontcourts like Texas A&M and Georgia will pose as intriguing matchups in that regard.

Vanderbilt’s health could also be a big factor since he is the best with the ball in his hands among the group. If Vanderbilt plays for Kentucky this season, it’s just adding to a wealth of riches on both ends.

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

3. ARIZONA: Deandre Ayton, Dusan Ristic, Keanu Pinder, Emmanuel Akot, Ira Lee

Considering that Arizona also has the No. 1 backcourt entering this season and you can see why fans in Tucson are so excited for this season. The big key will be Ayton. It’s pretty safe to assume that Ristic can remain productive and that Pinder will be an energy guy off the bench.

But which version of Ayton will we see? Rated as the No. 1 player in the country for much of his high school career, most of the freshman chatter seems to be centered on Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. and Duke’s Marvin Bagley when it comes to potential No. 1 picks. If Ayton plays motivated and capable he’ll put his name in that conversation. College basketball hasn’t seen many 7-footers with the athleticism and skill of Ayton. His level of play all depends on his motor and how Ayton reacts when the Wildcat guards freeze him out for possessions at a time to get their own shots.

Akot and Lee are also touted freshmen who could make their way into the rotation. The late addition of the 6-foot-7 Akot was particularly intriguing as he could give the second unit a huge boost with his athleticism and versatility.

4. DUKE: Marvin Bagley, Wendell Carter, Marques Bolden, Javin DeLaurier

With two potential lottery picks and another former five-star center, the Blue Devils will be a fascinating group to check out this season. Adding Bagley, a freshman who doubles as the potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, in August gave the Blue Devils the No. 1 preseason ranking in the eyes of many. Bagley is one of the best prospects coming out of high school in the last decade as he’s a truly elite leaper and athlete to go along with a polished skill level.

CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke
Marvin Bagley III (Reagan Lunn/Duke Athletics)

Combining Bagley with Carter — another highly-touted top-ten prospect — is going to be the fascinating thing to watch. Neither Bagley nor Carter are known for being able to knock down perimeter jumpers with consistency and Coach K has also been hesitant to allow some of his big men to shoot with range in the past. Carter and Bagley will be able to defend and rebound at a high level but this Duke team’s greatest weakness could be floor spacing and perimeter shooting.

And where does Bolden fall into the equation? Once thought of as a potential lottery pick, Bolden was injured right before his freshman season and found himself in the doghouse much of the year. There was an offseason report of Bolden even transferring that turned out to be false. So how does Bolden feel now that Bagley swooped in and took a lot of his minutes right before school started? Hopefully it motivates Bolden to try to earn back playing time but there is the potential that this backfires and Bolden loses all of his confidence and desire to play.

5. TEXAS A&M: Robert Williams, Tyler Davis, D.J. Hogg, Tonny Trocha-Morelos, Isiah Jasey, John Walker

It could be a mistake ranking Texas A&M this low. The combination of Williams, Davis and Hogg has a chance to be the nation’s best starting frontcourts this season because of how the three combine together. Williams is the major NBA prospect thanks to his ridiculous leaping ability. Showing more offensive polish than many knew he had, Williams was a breakout player last season who could emerge as a top-ten pick.

The junior duo of Davis and Hogg have been together since they played for the Texas Titans in the Nike EYBL as their inside-outside combination can be tough to stop. Looking more nimble this summer after getting in even better shape, Davis is still a load to handle for any post defender as he’ll be one of the few big men in college hoops who should command a double team. Hogg has great size on the wing as a shooter but he has to get a bit more efficient to truly reach his ceiling.

Trocha-Morelos also started 27 games and logged heavy minutes last season, as the senior just gives the Aggies even more size to contend with on the interior. Now armed with guards who can do a better job of working the ball inside, Texas A&M has the talent in place to be a major force this season.

6. USC: Chimezie Metu, Bennie Boatwright, Nick Rakocevic, Jordan Usher

The Trojans don’t have as much depth as many of the teams on this list but it’s hard to argue with a starting frontcourt that could both leave a year early for the 2018 NBA Draft. Metu was one of college basketball’s breakout players last season as he put together a great campaign on both ends of the floor.

Boatwright wasn’t healthy for all of last season, but his perimeter stroke is a perfect compliment to Metu’s game and the two collectively do a solid job on the glass and defending the interior. If both Boatwright and Metu stay healthy and play the full season together, USC has a very high ceiling for this season thanks to an experienced backcourt that should know how to get these guys the ball.

Depth is the big question mark. Rakocevic was serviceable during his freshman year but he wasn’t more than a role player while Usher is a freshman. Don’t be surprised to also see the Trojans experiment with some small-ball lineups with some bigger wings at the four if foul trouble or injuries arise.

Final Four Sleepers | Louisville | Villanova | West Virginia | USC | Wichita State | Miami
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

7. SETON HALL: Angel Delgado, Ismael Sanogo, Michael Nzei

Angel Delgado is the reason the Pirates are this high on the frontcourt list. When one player can single-handedly control the glass while potentially scoring 20 points every night, it’s a pretty big deal. Delgado was overshadowed by Caleb Swanigan’s impressive season at Purdue but the Seton Hall big man was throwing up double-doubles nearly every single game. Delgado also improved enough as a passer out of double teams that he just missed a triple-double in the Big East Tournament last season.

Besides for Delgado, Sanogo and Nzei are serviceable upperclassmen who both started at least 14 games each last season. Sanogo is effective as a second player on the glass if Delgado happens to miss a rebound while Nzei is content being a role player who doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.

8. CINCINNATI: Gary Clark, Kyle Washington, Tre Scott, Nysier Brooks, Mamadou Diarra

It always seems like Cincinnati gets left out of too many national conversations but this group is definitely worth discussing. Clark is one of the nation’s better frontcourt defenders, a former AAC Defensive Player of the Year who can also be productive on offense. If Clark’s perimeter shooting becomes a bit more consistent then he could be up for a monster senior season.

The addition of Washington last season brought the Bearcats to a whole new level. At 6-foot-9 and with the ability to protect the rim and space the floor with jumpers, Washington was Cincinnati’s second-leading scorer and rebounder last season as he helps immensely on both ends of the floor.

Reserves Tre Scott and Nysier Brooks are both big bodies who earned some run last season while the late signing of  Diarra, a former Washington commit, could also prove beneficial for the Bearcat frontcourt rotation.

9. LOUISVILLE: Raymond Spalding, Anas Mahmoud, Malik Williams, Lance Thomas, Jordan Nwora

The numbers these guys put up won’t jump out at you but not many frontcourts create as many issues on the defensive end as Louisville. Spalding is a maddening player to watch on a nightly basis because you don’t know what to expect from him. Some games, Spalding is the long-and-active defender who seems to be everywhere in a press or a zone. Other games he barely registers a blip on the box score. Offensively, Spalding gets lost in the shuffle way too frequently. But he also has the upside to be a major breakout player if he puts everything together.

At center, Mahmoud is an above average defender and rim protector who also shoots a high percentage. His big problem is that he’s never played heavy minutes and his skinny frame might not be up for banging in the post for extended minutes every game. Thankfully, the Cardinals brought in a five-star center in Malik Williams, who should be able to fill some of Mangok Mathiang’s minutes. Williams is talented enough to space the floor a bit and he moves very well for his size.

Two other talented freshman, Lance Thomas and Jordan Nwora, probably would not have seen a lot of time if Rick Pitino was still coaching but it’s hard to say how new head coach David Padgett will utilize freshmen.

CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke
Markis McDuffie (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

10. WICHITA STATE: Markis McDuffie, Shaquille Morris, Zach Brown, Rashard Kelly, Darral Willis Jr., Rauno Nurger

McDuffie’s health will be the main thing to monitor, since he’ll miss time early in the season, but the Shockers have some insane depth coming back. The group admittedly lacks star power with McDuffie out, but the other five players on the list are all seniors who averaged at least 14 minutes per game last season. Not many teams in the country can match that kind of depth and experience in the frontcourt. Wichita State can just wear you down with body after body.  It’s part of the reason why many have pegged the Shockers to hit the ground running in the American.

CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke
Reid Travis (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
  • 11. STANFORD: Reid Travis, Michael Humphrey, Josh Sharma, Oscar da Silva, Kezie Okpala, Kodye Pugh: Former McDonald’s All-American Reid Travis is finally living up to the hype after staying healthy as he’s a darkhorse Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate. Humphrey is a rock-solid senior who is productive at times as a scorer while the depth of Sharma can give more some center minutes. If one of the three freshmen of da Silva, Okpala or Pugh can help then this could be a deep unit.
  • 12. GEORGIA: Yante Maten, Derek Ogbeide, Mike Edwards, E’Torrion Wilridge, Pape Diatta, Rayshaun Hammonds: Maten is one of college basketball’s most underappreciated players as he could be an All-American with a big season. Junior rebounding machine Ogbeide also returns and Edwards, Wilridge and Diatta were all solid role players last season. Hammonds, a four-star recruit, might force his way into the rotation as well. This frontcourt is way deeper than people give them credit for.
  • 13. PURDUE: Vincent Edwards, Isaac Haas, Jacquil Taylor, Matt Haarms, Aaron Wheeler: The loss of Biggie Swanigan will loom large but the Boilermakers have two productive seniors back in Edwards and Haas. Edwards can do a bit of everything in the frontcourt while the 7-foot-2 Haas remains a matchup nightmare. Taylor needs to stay healthy to crack the rotation while Haarms and Wheeler are freshmen who could contribute.
  • 14. SAINT MARY’S: Jock Landale, Calvin Hermanson, Evan Fitzner, Jordan Hunter, Jock Perry: Do yourself a favor and stay up late to watch this group play. Landale is a joy to watch if you like post production as he’s a threat to hit 20 points and a double-double on any given night. Hermanson and Fitzner both provide valuable floor spacing and solid overall production. If one of the Australian centers in Hunter or Perry can give a boost then less will be asked of Landale.
  • 15. TEXAS: Mohamed Bamba, Dylan Osetkowski, James Banks, Royce Hamm, Jericho Sims: A lot of new faces for the Longhorns up front led by a potential lottery pick in Bamba. Osetkowski steps in from Tulane as he should make a difference right away on both ends while the Longhorns need some of their young bigs to step up. Banks has potential but wasn’t very productive as a freshman while Hamm and Sims were a pair of top-100 prospects that Smart recruited with Bamba.
Mohamed Bamba, Jon Lopez/Nike
  • 16. MINNESOTA: Reggie Lynch, Jordan Murphy, Bakary Konate, Michael Hurt, Davonte Fitzgerald: The Gophers return the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in Lynch, a shot-blocking machine, as he leads a strong unit. Murphy is another starter who is an all-Big Ten candidate as he can score and help on the glass a bit. Konate is a reserve center with experience while Hurt could be a floor spacer with added strength. Fitzgerald is the wild card after missing the past two seasons (transfer redshirt followed by injury).
  • 17. VILLANOVA: Omari Spellman, Mikal Bridges, Eric Paschall, Dylan Painter, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, Jermaine Samuels: We were robbed of seeing a talented Villanova team with Spellman last season as the redshirt freshman gives the Wildcats a legitimate post scorer who can draw double teams. Bridges and Paschall are both back to be defensive menaces with their length and ability to move all over. Painter has played enough to know what he’s doing.
  • 18. IOWA: Tyler Cook, Cordell Pemsl, Nicholas Baer, Dom Uhl, Ahmad Wagner, Ryan Kriener, Luka Garza, Jack Nunge: There isn’t one star player on this deep and intriguing unit but Cook has a chance to be a breakout player during his sophomore season. The first five players on this list all played at least 15 minutes per game each last season while Kriener could still crack the rotation as a shooter. Garza and Nunge are a pair of 6-foot-11 freshmen who add size and rebounding.
  • 19. NEVADA: Jordan Caroline, Caleb Martin, Cody Martin, Darien Williams, Elijah Foster: The return of Mountain West Player of the Year candidate Jordan Caroline alone was enough to warrant mention for this list but the depth added from transfers Caleb and Cody Martin (N.C. State) and Darien Williams (St. John’s) gives the Wolfpack a big lift. Elijah Foster, previously suspended last season, could also have a big year.
  • 20. OREGON STATE: Tres Tinkle, Drew Eubanks, Gligorije Rakocevic, Ben Kone, Seth Burger: The return of Tres Tinkle is the key to this underrated group. The duo of Tinkle and junior center Drew Eubanks could be among the most productive frontcourts in the country. Rakocevic and Kone have also given solid minutes while Burger adds to the rotation as a graduate transfer from UMass.