There are so many good wings in college basketball this year.
And to be frank, the “wing” spot is a tough one to define. For us, the definition is fairly simple: Players that you cannot simply classify as a guard, but that unequivocally are not big men.
Miles Bridges is the perfect example. He’s certainly not a guard, at least not in the college games, but the idea of listing him alongside the likes of Tyler Davis or Ethan Happ just doesn’t work.
Where this gets complicated is with the likes of, say, Trevon Bluiett or Deng Adel or Troy Brown. It’s almost as if the idea of positionless basketball makes it difficult to clearly identify players as a certain position.
Which is why we give this 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.
1. Miles Bridges, Michigan State
Simply put: Bridges is the best player in college basketball this season. He’s back for a sophomore season after averaging 16.9 points and 8.3 boards while shooting 38.9 percent from three as a freshman. He’s a freak-of-nature athlete and a rarity in the sense that he actually embraces playing on a college campus. He wants to here. That’s why he passed up being a top ten pick to make a run at winning a national title.
As Tom Izzo says, Bridges is a “weirdo“.
But it’s not going to be that simple for Bridges. He’ll be playing a new position as a sophomore. Last year, he was forced to play the majority of his minutes at the four, as Michigan State couldn’t keep any of their big men healthy and Bridges – who checked in at 6-foot-7, 240 pounds last season – is the perfect small-ball four. He can bang with the big boys and he can torch those same players when they try to guard him on the perimeter.
This year, he’s going to be playing the three. He’s not going to be guarding bigs, he’s going to be guarding wings. He’s not going to be defended by power forwards, he’s going to draw an opponent’s best perimeter defender. There are going to be different reads he has to make, different instincts and skills he has to utilize, different places that he is going to be getting shots within the Michigan State offense.
That doesn’t mean that Bridges is going to be worse this year. Far from it. It just means that his role is going to be … different, and how he handles that change will affect whether Michigan State is national title good or just the favorite in the Big Ten.
2. Michael Porter, Missouri
There may not be a more talented player in college basketball this season than the potential No. 1 overall pick Michael Porter. At 6-foot-10, Porter has the size of a big man, the perimeter skills of a guard and the athleticism of a ten-time NBA all-star. He’s a freak, and while I hesitate to compare him to Kevin Durant as a player, I think there is the potential that the kind of season that he has for Missouri mirrors that of Durant’s freshman year.
But for me, the big question for Porter – and, frankly, for Missouri – is going to be where he ends up playing. The way that the Missouri roster is constructed, Porter is probably going to end up playing the three. That’s what happens when two big men are among the five best players on a team coached by a guy that loves playing two bigs together. I’m not convinced that is the best place for him to play, not against college players and not when he still hasn’t fully developed those perimeter skills.
At the very least, I expect Porter will be able to do what Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz could not: Get to the NCAA tournament.
Final Four Sleepers | Louisville | Villanova | West Virginia | USC | Wichita State | Miami
3. Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
Anyone that watched Xavier’s run to the Elite 8 in last year’s NCAA tournament knows just how good Bluiett can be when he gets it going. He’s a walking bucket playing on a team that needs someone to carry the lion’s share of their offensive production. Bluiett will enter this season as a heavy favorite, alongside Villanova’s Jalen Brunson and Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado, to win the Big East Player of the Year award. Hell, he could have made a push for that award last season had he not hurt his ankle.
Bluiett is a good bet to be the Big East’s leading scorer this season, and if Xavier is truly going to make a push to win the conference this year, it will be because Bluiett grew into an all-american.
4. Deng Adel, Louisville
Adel is going to test out just how complicated can a season get for a player.
Let’s start with what’s happening on the court. After spending his freshman season banged up, Adel was thought by many to be a breakout candidate as a sophomore, and to a point, he actually was. He was very good down the stretch of last season, although that growth was somewhat overshadowed by the fact that Donovan Mitchell was awesome.
This was supposed to be Adel’s year to because the superstar for this team, to show NBA teams why he’s worthy of a contract, but a wrench got thrown into those plans when Rick Pitino was fired as a result of the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college hoops. Now, instead of playing for one of the greatest coaches in the history of the sport, Adel will be looking for make that improvement under the tutelage of a 32-year old first-time head coach.
Let’s see how this plays out.
5. Vince Edwards, Purdue
Edwards has quietly been a productive, versatile and vital cog in the Purdue machine over the course of the last two seasons. He’s a multi-positional defender that makes threes and distributes the ball with an efficiency that should make stat-heads swoon. He’s not really cut out to be a star, but he was quietly much more effective last season than O.G. Anunoby, an in-state rival that got all of these accolades last preseason.
Anunoby is off to the NBA after an injury-plagued season, meaning that it is time for Edwards to get his due. With Caleb Swanigan gone, he’ll have to shoulder more of the offensive load this season, but assuming that Carsen Edwards can develop into a go-to guy offensively for the Boilermakers, Edwards should prove to NBA teams why he has value as a role player.
6. Kevin Knox, Kentucky
I’m torn on Knox when it comes to ranking him on this list.
On the one hand, the kid is a terrific talent. He’s a top ten prospect in a very good class with the tools and the athleticism to make him an intriguing player in the eyes of the NBA. But to me, he’s more of a power forward with some perimeter skill than he is a small forward at this point in his development. In other words, the role I see him playing in his career is as a small-ball four, a guy that should be tasked with getting to the glass and being a switchable defender all while taking advantage of the slow-footed power forwards that will try to keep him in front at the other end.
But on this Kentucky team, Knox will likely never play that role, not with the amount of front court talent John Calipari has at his disposal and the lack of depth available in the back court. This, to me, has the feel of Kentucky trying to fit Trey Lyles into the lineup as a three when that role just wasn’t quite right for his skill-set.
It will be interesting to see how that will play out for Knox, who picked perimeter playing time at Kentucky over a more natural small-ball four role that he could have played at Duke or North Carolina.
CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke
7. Troy Brown, Oregon
It’s going to be fascinating to see how Oregon head coach Dana Altman opts to use Brown this season, because he’s never really had a play of Brown’s ilk at his disposal. Brown is something of a 6-foot-6 point forward, an uber-versatile wing that isn’t exactly a scorer and isn’t exactly a shooter but that can handle the rock in ball-screen actions and is capable of creating off the bounce, for himself and for his teammates. Think P.J. Dozier, a former South Carolina player that is now on a two-way contract with Oklahoma City.
Altman’s never really had a guy like that at Oregon. He’s had a lot of guys that were tweeners, but they were either score-first forwards (Dillon Brooks) or freak athletes that work as switchable defenders (Jordan Bell, Elgin Cook, Dwayne Benjamin). Brown will be a different kind of player on a team that returns essentially just a single relevant guy from last year’s Final Four team. Altman is as good as anyone at finding a way to make new rosters fit together, and I’m exciting to see how he decides to utilize Brown’s talent.
8. Bennie Boatwright, USC
Boatwright was a guy that I expected to be something of a breakout star as a freshman, and to a point he was. He averaged 15.1 points in 27 minutes, shooting 36.4 percent from three on the season. But he also missed roughly half the season with knee issues. He’s healthy now, and that is a major reason why I think that USC has a shot to be a Pac-12 title contender and a Final Four team this year.
There’s a reason they call him Bennie Buckets, and we’re going to see it this season.
9. Jeff Carroll, Oklahoma State
No one benefitted more from Brad Underwood’s one season at Oklahoma State than Jeff Carroll, who went from a no-name role player on a mediocre team to a 17-point scorer and a 44-percent three-point shooter on a tournament team. Now, with Jawun Evans in the professional ranks and Underwood at Illinois, it is going to be Carroll who carries the water as new head coach Mike Boynton looks to navigate his first season as a head coach, wading into the Big 12 with the stench of an assistant coach fired after being arrested by the FBI hanging over the program.
10. Justin Jackson, Maryland
Jackson is one of the guys that I think will have a breakout 2017-18 season. I don’t think it’s crazy to project him as a potential top 20 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. He’s 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, the ability to make threes and the skill-set to play the three or the four. Players like him at the future of the NBA.
The big question is going to be how much of that shines through this season at Maryland. There’s a changing of the guard for the Terps, as Melo Trimble is off to the NBA and a sophomore class that includes Jackson, Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter takes over. Jackson put up some massive games as a freshman, but consistency was an issue. How will that play out this year?
- 11. Amir Coffey, Minnesota: Coffey is such an important piece for what Minnesota does. He’s a multi-positional defender with offensive versatility that takes some of the play-making pressure off Minnesota’s backcourt.
- 12. Jacob Evans, Cincinnati: As much as everyone wants to talk about Cincinnati’s front court, there’s a line of thinking that Evans may actually be the best player on the Bearcat roster. He did lead them in scoring as a sophomore.
- 13. Mustapha Heron, Auburn: A former five-star recruit lured to Auburn by Bruce Pearl, Heron is going to be asked to carry the water for a Tiger team that has the pieces to make a run to the NCAA tournament this season.
- 14. Mikal Bridges, Villanova: We’ve been waiting for Bridges to make a leap as a player for a couple years now, and that has not yet happened. But even without it, he’s still been effective for the Wildcats thanks to his length, defensive prowess and ability to score from the perimeter.
- 15. J.P. Macura, Xavier: With all the attention that Trevon Bluiett gets, Macura has flown under the radar. But he is a talented, versatile player that led Xavier through some difficult stretches last season. He is a tough kid that isn’t going to back away from a challenge.
- 16. Kelan Martin, Butler: The big thing with Martin this season is going to be consistency. He has the ability to score 25 points in a half on any given night, but he can turn into something of a gunslinger that hunts shots at the detriment to his team’s offense. How will new Butler head coach Lavall Jordan handle that?
- 17. Jordan Caroline, Nevada: Caroline is probably the most talented player in the Mountain West this season. He had some explosive performances last season, and with Nevada losing two of their top three scorers, he’ll be asked to do much more on that end of the floor.
- 18. Theo Pinson, North Carolina: This may be something of a reach for a guy that has never proven to be a consistent scorer, but his playmaking and the fact that Roy Williams can slot him at the four in need-be makes him incredibly valuable. I think he has a big senior season.
- 19. Chandler Hutchison, Boise State: If Caroline is the most talented player in the league, Hutchison may be the best. He’s my pick to win Mountain West Player of the Year.
- 20. Josh Okogie, Georgia Tech: Okogie is a name you need to familiarize yourself with. He averaged 16 points in the ACC as a freshman and made the cut for the U19 World Cup, a team coached by John Calipari, over kids Cal was recruiting.