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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.

High school basketball player collapses, dies at AAU event

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James Hampton, a member of Team United and a senior at Liberty Heights, a private high school in Charlotte, collapsed and died during a Nike Elite Youth Basketball League game on Saturday night.

Hampton was 17 years old.

In the second half of a game against Nike Phamily, a Phoenix-based program that is run by the father of Marvin Bagley III, Hampton collapsed to the floor unresponsive. Trainers at the event began CPR on and administered chest compressions. Parademics arrived within 10 minutes, but Hampton could not be revived.

The cause of death has not yet been released, but this is not the first time that Hampton had an issue. Last spring, at an event in the Washington D.C. area, Hampton collapsed on the court and had to be given CPR.

“He just fell down on the floor,” Team United director Jacoby Davis told the Charlotte Observer. “He had seizures a year ago and I remember (one of the Team United coaches) telling me that, ‘I saw his eyes rolling back in his head.’ I ran on the court thinking he was having a seizure. A trainer came over and said he didn’t know what was wrong. Another trainer checked his pulse. He said he didn’t have a pulse. It got crazy after that.”

RIP James Hampton.

Nevada’s Jordan Caroline pulls out of 2018 NBA Draft

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Jordan Caroline has opted to pull his name out of the 2018 NBA Draft as he will return to Nevada for his senior season, he announced on Saturday.

The 6-foot-7 Caroline put together a strong season for the Wolf Pack as he averaged 17.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game as Nevada made the Sweet 16 behind one of the most talented offenses in the country.

Caroline’s return is a huge boost for Nevada as they still await the NBA draft decisions of Caleb and Cody Martin.

Currently ranked No. 17 in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25 (without the Martin twins), the Wolf Pack will still have a ton of talent around Caroline next season. Five-star freshman center Jordan Brown recently committed to Nevada. The program also a number of talented transfers entering the mix, including Tre’Shawn Thomas, Nisre Zouzoua and Ehab Amin.

If the Martin twins return to school (and that is a big if) then Nevada could have a potentially elite offense next season. But even if the Martin twins go pro, Nevada should still be the favorite in the Mountain West and a threat to once again make the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Dewan Huell returning to Miami for junior season

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Miami received some positive news on Saturday afternoon as the school announced the return of forward Dewan Huell for his junior season.

After testing the NBA draft waters without an agent, the 6-foot-11 Huell will be back for the Hurricanes. Starting all 32 games for the program last season, Huell averaged 11.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per game while shooting 57 percent from the floor.

“After getting feedback from NBA teams and talking it over with my family and coaches, I would like to announce that I will be returning to Miami for my junior season,” Huell said in the release. “I’m really excited to get back to work with my brothers so we can accomplish more than ever during the 2018-19 season.”

A former McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school, Huell’s return gives the Hurricanes stability in the front court for next season as he’ll play with other returning players like Sam Waardenburg and Ebuka Izundu. With Miami losing both Lonnie Walker and Bruce Brown early to the 2018 NBA Draft, Huell could be expected to provide more offensive production as a junior.

Bruce Weber receives contract extension at Kansas State

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Kansas State and head coach Bruce Weber have agreed to a two-year contract extension, according to a release from the school.

After leading the Wildcats to a surprising Elite Eight appearance in March, Weber will be the head coach at Kansas State through the 2022-23 season, which gives him another five seasons to work with. Weber will be paid $2.5 million in 2018-19 and he’ll receive a $100,000 increase to his salary in each remaining contract year.

Weber had already signed a two-year extension in August 2017, but this move gives the veteran head coach more job security (and positive recruiting perception) for the next few seasons.

“We are very fortunate to have not only such an outstanding basketball coach but also a man in Coach Weber who conducts his program with integrity and class and is widely respected across the nation,” Kansas State Director of Athletics Gene Taylor said. “Certainly last season was one of the most memorable postseason runs in our program’s history, and we are excited for next season and the years ahead under Coach Weber’s leadership.”

With Kansas State returning most of its roster from last season, including the return of guard Barry Brown from the 2018 NBA Draft process, expectations are sky-high for Weber and the Wildcats this season. Currently ranked as the No. 8 team in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25, Kansas State’s veteran club could give Kansas a serious run for a Big 12 regular season title this season.

Northwestern loses incoming freshman point guard

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Northwestern and incoming freshman point guard Jordan Lathon are parting ways. The 6-foot-4 Lathon was viewed as a potential candidate to replace Bryant McIntosh at lead guard for the Wildcats this season, but Northwestern has reportedly revoked his offer of admission and basketball scholarship.

It is unclear why Lathon was unable to be admitted into Northwestern, but the school’s VP for University Relations, Alan Cubbage, gave a statement to Inside NU’s Davis Rich and Caleb Friedman.

“Northwestern University has revoked its offers of admission and an athletic scholarship for Jordan Lathon, a recruit for the Northwestern men’s basketball team,” the statement said. “Out of respect for the privacy of the student, the University will have no further public comment.”

Lathon later acknowledged the situation in a tweet explaining to fans that he will no longer be attending Northwestern.

While it is unclear why Lathon and Northwestern are parting ways, other high-major programs are already very interested in bringing in Lathon for next season. Oklahoma State immediately jumped in with a scholarship offer. There is also speculation that Lathon, a native of Grandview, Missouri, could also hear from the in-state Tigers as well.

It’ll be interesting to see where Lathon lands, and how this also affects Northwestern’s point guard situation. The loss of a four-year starter like McIntosh will be tough to fill, especially since Lathon was committed to Northwestern since last June. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Wildcats and head coach Chris Collins seek out a veteran point guard graduate transfer to try and get some immediate help.