College Basketball’s Best Big Men

Reagan Lunn/Duke Athletics
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There are a number of really, really talented big men in college basketball this season.

Probably more than we have seen in recent years.

Of the three college guys currently in the mix for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, two of them – Marvin Bagley III and Deandre Ayton – are bigs. Another big man is a potential top five pick, as well as a trio of players that you’ll find listed as first-team all-americans at some point during the preseason.

In a sport that has routinely been dominated by terrific lead guards in an era where small-ball and floor-spacing has become the most important part of the game, there are going to be some teams with some throw-back front courts this year. 

And that certainly isn’t a bad thing.

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.

RELATED: Top 100 Players | Top Backcourts | Top Frontcourts | Top Lead Guards
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1. Marvin Bagley, Duke

A potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Bagley’s August decision to reclassify and attend Duke was the biggest roster news of the offseason. By adding Bagley, the Blue Devils are getting a double-double machine who is one of the most fluid and athletic big men of the last decade.

And that doesn’t even go into Bagley’s skill level with the ball in his hands or how hard he plays. The lefty can take a rebound at above rim level in traffic and run like a guard down the floor, delivering passes or finishing with long and fluid strides to the rim. If there is one big question mark with Bagley it is consistent perimeter shooting as Bagley has a workable jumper but it doesn’t always fall. Even with an inconsistent jumper, Bagley has a chance to be a major force for the Blue Devils this season.

2. Angel Delgado, Seton Hall

Arguably college basketball’s most productive big man last season, the 6-foot-10 Delgado put it all together for an All-American caliber junior season. Putting up 27 double-doubles and back-to-back 20-20 games in Big East play, Delgado averaged 15.2 points and 13.1 rebounds per contest.

An absolute warrior on the glass who makes an impact with putbacks, Delgado also improved his overall skill level and became a much better passer last season, nearly garnering a triple-double in the Big East tournament. With a veteran team around him that has played many games together, Delgado and Seton Hall could have a huge year.

Final Four Sleepers | Louisville | Villanova | West Virginia | USC | Wichita State | Miami
Ethan Happ (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

3. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin

The 6-foot-10 junior continues to be one of the most important players in the country and now Wisconsin needs Happ more than ever. With most of the senior core now gone, Happ is the team’s only returning starter after nearly averaging a double-double last season while leading the Badgers in both blocks and steals.

Happ’s summer project became re-working his jumper and proving that he can score outside of the paint — something he’s rarely done at the college level. Although Happ’s jumper looked okay during the summer at the Under Armour All-America Camp, Wisconsin big men have also shown dramatic increases in skill as their careers have gone on. Seeing if Happ can expand his range will be something to watch for.

4. Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame

He’s only 6-foot-5 but there is no doubting that Colson is one of the best in the country at playing inside. Putting up 17.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per game while shooting 43 percent from three-point range, Colson has become a versatile player for the Irish the last few seasons.

Capable of playing against bigger post players because of his natural timing and 7-foot-0 wingspan, Colson is also a lot quicker than some of his larger counterparts and his range allows him to take them outside. One of the winningest players in program history, Colson has been on two Elite Eight teams and a team that made the Round of 32 last season.

5. Deandre Ayton, Arizona

It’ll be interesting to see how this five-star freshman fits in at Arizona in what will likely be his only season. The Wildcats return a ton of talent around Ayton, including another double-double threat in Dusan Ristic, and guards like Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins can get shot-happy at times. Arizona would be wise to keep Ayton active and engaged during the season because college hoops hasn’t seen many 7-footers like Ayton in recent memory.

Gifted with outstanding athleticism and the touch of a wing, Ayton is quick enough to guard smaller wings while being big enough to wall up at the rim. Ayton can easily soar above the rim and he’s also capable of stretching the floor for three-pointers.

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

6. Mo Bamba, Texas

The most fascinating player to watch on this list could be this 7-foot-0 freshman with an absurd 7-foot-9 wingspan. Bamba might be a little bit raw in certain areas of his game this season, but the New York native can make up for it by erasing almost everything on the defensive end.

For a player with an elite standing reach, Bamba’s lateral quickness and ability to switch might be his best attributes. Still skinny and needing to add weight as he increases his level, Bamba is going to be bullied by some but he might be long and athletic enough to make up for it.

Offensively, Bamba is fast and able to make an impact on the offensive glass and on lobs but he has to show a more consistent jumper than he has displayed in the past. The sky is the limit for Bamba’s basketball future but will we see a ton of positive flashes in the likely few months he’s in Austin?

RELATED: Why did Big Bob Williams return to school for his sophomore year?

7. Robert Williams, Texas A&M

One of the most fascinating returning players in the country this season will be Big Bob Williams as his freakish displays of athleticism earned him plenty of admirers last season. The SEC’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Williams is capable of playing well above the rim on both ends of the floor and he has some of the best natural timing in the country for putbacks and blocks.

The key for the 6-foot-10 Williams this season (and for his NBA Draft stock) is to expand his skill level and show some more range on offense. There is no doubting that Williams can make impact plays thanks to his one-percent athleticism but he’ll also need to expand his game as jumps up some levels.

CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke
Chimezie Metu (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

8. Chimezie Metu, USC

USC needed the 6-foot-11 Metu to step up in a major way last season and he became the Pac-12’s Most Improved Player. Another freak athlete who can easily play at 11 or 12 feet, Metu can put up big numbers. The scary thing about Metu is that he has personal room to grow with his game and the Trojans have the kind of talent around him to make a serious run.

Metu put up a lot of big numbers last season while Bennie Boatwright was injured, and now that Boatwright is back, it could mean that defenses don’t have enough to stop a loaded frontcourt.

9. Yante Maten, Georgia

Quietly one of the best two-way big men in the country last season, the 6-foot-8 Maten can put up points in multiple ways while also being a solid defender and rebounder. Averaging 18.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game, Maten can make impact plays on both ends of the floor.

Although he needs to improve as a defensive rebounder, Maten is strong on the offensive glass and also skilled enough to stretch the floor from three-point range. A sleeper SEC Player of the Year pick, Maten is hoping to lead the Bulldogs back to the NCAA tournament.

10. Tyler Davis, Texas A&M

Davis only shot 61 percent last season as a sophomore after the massive 6-foot-10 Davis was at 65 percent as a freshman. One of the nation’s best post scorers, Davis owns a soft set of hands, developing post moves and the size that makes him very tough to defend one-on-one.

The key for Davis will be continuing to improve his agility and mobility as he’s done a great job of improving his conditioning throughout his college career. Also watch for the spacing the Aggies are able to put around Davis. With a frontcourt-heavy team last season, there were times when it got too clogged for Davis to be at his best. Now with more point guard options this season, Davis might have some easier touches.

CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke
Tyler Davis (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
  • 11. Wendell Carter, Duke: The other five-star freshman in the Blue Devil frontcourt, Carter also has a chance to be a top pick with a big year. Big and skilled, Carter is a tenacious rebounder with a surprising amount of touch and vision.
  • 12. Jaren Jackson Jr., Michigan State: The Spartans have a wealth of bigs this season but this five-star freshman might be a lottery pick. At 6-foot-10, Jackson can knock down threes at 40 percent or defend the rim with his 7-foot-4 wingspan.
  • 13. Reid Travis, Stanford: The Pac-12’s returning leader in points and rebounds per game last season, Travis has become a force to reckon with now that he can stay healthy and on the floor. The Cardinal will run more offense through Travis this season.
  • 14. Mike Daum, South Dakota State: The 6-foot-9 junior plays in a one-bid league but he’s also a one-man show. Capable of 50-point games and huge numbers across the board, Daum is a must-watch for diehard college hoops fans.
  • 15. Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s: Improving immensely from sophomore to junior year, the 6-foot-11 Landale just missed averaging a double-double last season. One of the nation’s most efficient players, Landale is also a solid passer.
Nick Ward (Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
  • 16. Nick Ward, Michigan State: Others in Michigan State’s recruiting class were more highly-touted but Ward’s production in just under 20 minutes a game was huge for the Spartans making the NCAA tournament.
  • 17. Mo Wagner, Michigan: Wagner improved in every way during his sophomore season as he’s a three-level shooter who became more comfortable off the bounce. Defense and rebounding are areas Wagner can improve but he shows potential in both.
  • 18. Gary Clark, Cincinnati: A former AAC Defensive Player of the Year, Clark can lockdown multiple spots on the floor while also being a double-double threat. If Clark’s perimeter touch improves then watch out.
  • 19. Ben Lammers, Georgia Tech: One of the nation’s most improved players last season, Lammers became a force on both ends for the Yellow Jackets. He’s one of the best bigs in the country at playing from the elbows.
  • 20. Kyle Washington, Cincinnati: Washington thrived with the Bearcats last season following his transfer from N.C. State. The bouncy big man is a solid rim protector while being skilled enough to shoot 35 percent from three.

Tennessee center Tamari Key out for season with blood clots

Saul Young/News Sentinel/USA TODAY NETWORK
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee senior center Tamari Key will miss the rest of this season because of blood clots in her lungs, coach Kellie Harper said.

Doctors found the issue during testing. Key is expected to make a full recovery after treatment from University of Tennessee doctors, Harper said, adding that her sole concern is Key getting the medical care she needs to heal and return to full strength.

Key missed the first game of her career in a win Tuesday night over Chattanooga after playing her first 99.

“This is much bigger than basketball. We are so grateful that this medical condition was caught,” Harper said in a statement. “Our entire program will be right beside Tamari during this process and welcomes prayers and positive thoughts from Lady Vol Nation and beyond.”

The Lady Vols opened the season ranked fifth but currently are 5-5.

The 6-foot-6 Key from Cary, North Carolina, currently is Tennessee’s third-leading scorer averaging 8.4 points a game and averaged 4.2 rebounds per game. She started all 34 games as the Lady Vols reached their first Sweet 16 since 2016 last season and set the school record with 119 blocked shots.

Key had 18 blocks this season and 295 for her career, five away from becoming the eighth woman to reach that mark in Southeastern Conference history.

No. 7 Tennessee beats Eastern Kentucky, win streak hits 7

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Saul Young/USA TODAY NETWORK
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tyreke Key scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half and finished with 17, and No. 7 Tennessee overcame a sluggish first half and beat Eastern Kentucky 84-49 on Wednesday night.

“Tyreke is handling the ball now,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “That’s all new to him. He keeps getting better.”

The Volunteers (8-1) struggled in the first half but still built an 11-point lead over Eastern Kentucky (4-5) on the way to their seventh straight victory.

Key led Tennessee in scoring before leaving with a cramp in his right leg with 6:15 left in the game. Julian Phillips had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Zakai Zeigler and Uros Plavsic added 13 points apiece. Olivier Nkamhoua scored 10.

“I’m still settling in,” said Key, a transfer from Indiana State who didn’t play last year while recovering from an injury. “This is a new role. I’m taking steps every day and keep learning.”

Eastern Kentucky, which came into the game averaging 83.5 points, was held well below that total due to 17% (6 for 35) shooting from long range and 22% (15 for 68) overall. Leland Walker led the Colonels with 13 points.

It was the seventh time this season Tennessee has held its opponent to 50 or fewer points.

“(Tennessee) is the best defensive team in the country,” Eastern Kentucky coach A.W. Hamilton said. “I think they’re the best team in the country.”

At one point in the first half, Tennessee was shooting 20% and still leading by 10 points. The teams combined to shoot 4 of 32 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes. The Vols, who shot 24% (8 of 34), led 32-21 at the break.

“If we can’t make shots, can you find a way to win the game?” Barnes said. “When the shot’s not going in, find a way to play. The first thing we talk about is our defense.”

Tennessee shot 41 free throws. Phillips, a true freshman, was 7 of 10.

“(Phillips) has learned the pace of the game,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure there’s been a more effective freshman in the country (this season).”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Since its early season slip against Colorado, Tennessee has had a steady ascent in the rankings. The Vols’ next two games – neutral site (Brooklyn) against No, 13 Maryland (Dec. 11) and at No. 10 Arizona (Dec. 17) – will go a long way toward justifying the No. 7 ranking.

BIG PICTURE

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels’ run-and-gun style of offense had them averaging 83.5 points through their first eight games. They ran into a defensive buzz saw in Tennessee, which was yielding just over 51 points.

Tennessee: Santiago Vescovi sat out his second straight game with a shoulder problem. He is expected to be ready to play Sunday against Maryland. . The Vols have won seven in a row since their loss to Colorado.

UP NEXT

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels host Boyce College on Saturday.

Tennessee: Take on No. 13 Maryland on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Invitational in New York.

Hoggard scores career-high 23, Michigan State snaps 2-game skid

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Matthew OHaren/USA TODAY Sports
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A.J. Hoggard scored a career-high 23 points, Joey Hauser had 12 points and 15 rebounds and Michigan State beat Penn State 67-58 on Wednesday night to snap a two-game losing streak.

Michigan State (6-4, 1-1 Big Ten) avoided going .500 or worse after 10 games for the first time in 18 seasons.

Hoggard blocked an open layup with less than a minute to play and Hauser grabbed the rebound before being fouled and making two free throws at the other end for a 66-58 lead.

Hoggard, Hauser and Tyson Walker combined for 31 of Michigan State’s 32 second-half points.

The Michigan State defense allowed only one made field goal in the final five minutes. Penn State was just 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the second half after 7 of 18 before halftime.

Walker scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half for Michigan State. Hoggard, who entered third in the conference in assists at 6.3, had six rebounds, two assists and one key block.

Hoggard gave Michigan State 35-33 lead – its first since 4-2 – after back-to-back three-point plays with 59.3 seconds left in the first half. It was tied at 35-all at the break.

Seth Lundy scored 16 points and Jalen Pickett had 13 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists for Penn State (6-3, 0-1)

Michigan State hosts Brown on Saturday. Penn State, which hadn’t played since a double-overtime loss to Clemson on Nov. 29, plays at No. 17 Illinois on Saturday.

No. 7 Virginia Tech posts 9th straight win, beats Boston College 73-58

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BOSTON — Reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Elizabeth Kitley had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Cayla King scored 16 on Wednesday night to lead No. 7 Virginia Tech to a 73-58 victory over Boston College, the Hokies’ ninth straight win.

Taylor Soule, one of two BC transfers on the roster for Virginia Tech (9-0, 1-0 ACC), added nine points and five rebounds. Soule scored more than 1,500 points and grabbed almost 700 rebounds in four seasons at BC, earning All-ACC honors three times.

Andrea Daley scored 15 points and Maria Gakdeng scored 14 for BC (7-4, 0-1). They each grabbed six rebounds.

Virginia Tech scored 17 of the game’s first 21 points and led by as many as 19 in the third quarter before BC cut the deficit to 10 in the fourth. Leading 64-54 with under three minutes left and the shot clock expiring, Kayana Traylor hit a 3-pointer for the Hokies.

Gakdeng missed two free throws for BC, and then Kitley scored from inside to make it a 15-point game.

Clara Ford, who also played four years in Chestnut Hill, pitched in 2 points in 2 minutes against her former team.

BIG PICTURE

At No. 7, the Hokies have the highest ranking in the program’s history. With the victory over BC, a 10th straight win against North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday would leave Virginia Tech in position to move up even higher should a top five team falter.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech: Hosts North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday.

Boston College: Hosts Albany on Saturday.

Michigan’s Jaelin Llewellyn out for season with knee injury

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is out for the rest of the season with an injured left knee and is expected to have surgery next month.

Wolverines coach Juwan Howard made the announcement three days after Llewellyn was hurt in a loss to Kentucky in London.

Llewellyn transferred to Michigan from Princeton last spring and that seemed to lead to Frankie Collins transferring to Arizona State after a solid freshman season for the Wolverines.

Llewellyn averaged seven points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in eight games at Michigan. He was an All-Ivy League player last season and averaged nearly 16 points over three seasons at Princeton.