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College Basketball’s Best Big Men

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While plenty of our best-of lists are heavily populated by freshmen, this one, highlighting the top frontcourt players in the country, has a decidedly veteran bent.

From four-year stars to seasoned upperclassmen to super sophs and successful transfers, the best players big men in the country this season will be no strangers to college basketball fans.

Here are the 10 best big men heading into the 2018-19 season.



1. LUKE MAYE, North Carolina

By this point, Maye’s story is well known as he went from over-qualified walk-on to a potential National Player of the Year. Still, his rise is remarkable. He went from averaging 5.5 points in 14.4 minutes per game as a sophomore to 16.9 points in 32.2 minutes per game as a junior to establish himself as one of college basketball’s best bigs – and players.

Maye, a 6-foot-8 power forward, has gotten there largely on the strength of his ability to stretch defenses. He shot 43.1 percent from 3-point range last season, including a mark of 46.6 percent in ACC play, which was tops in the league. A rather remarkable feat for a frontcourt player who launched over 100 3s for the season. In a sport often dominated by freshmen, Maye gives North Carolina the valuable weapon of the combination of experience and talent.

2. RUI HACHIMURA, Gonzaga

The 6-foot-8 Japanese standout has been a favorite in basketball circles for awhile, though he’s yet to truly breakthrough in a major way to the broader hoops public. That could very much change this season.

Hachimura averaged 11.6 points and 4.7 rebounds as a sophomore for the Bulldogs last year while shooting 60.6 percent inside the arc. It’s been on the international scene, though, where he’s really flashed the potential that has him being looked at as a lottery pick. He averaged 20.6 points and 11 rebounds in the 2017 U19 World Cup and he’s averaging 21.5 points and six rebounds per game in Japan’s World Cup qualifiers this year. WIth Johnathan Williams graduated and Killian Tillie out for two months with injury, Hachimura will take over the Gonzaga frontcourt in a big way.

Rui Hachimura (Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

3. DEDRIC LAWSON, Kansas

The Kansas roster is loaded with returners off last year’s Final Four squad, a top-flight recruiting class and transfers like K.J Lawson and Charlie Moore, but it’s Dedric Lawson, a transfer from Memphis, that really puts the Jayhawks over the top as the preseason national title favorite.

As a sophomore at Memphis, the 6-foot-9 forward averaged 19.2 points, 9.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. He’s an elite defensive rebounder, an underappreciated shot blocker and a willing passer. He can replicate something close to the numbers he put up in the AAC in the Big 12, Lawson will have a spot on the All-American first team.

4. ETHAN HAPP, Wisconsin

Wisconsin was bad last year. The Badgers finished under .500 and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in two decades. That famed top-four-in-the-Big-Ten run came to a close, too, obviously. Things were not sweet in Madison. Ethan Happ, though, he was good.

The Badger big man averaged 17.9 points, eight rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1.5 steals per game while converting at a 52.8 percent clip from the floor. As an under-the-rim player who doesn’t stretch the floor, Happ doesn’t project particularly well at the next level, but he is unquestionably one of the top players – let alone big men – in the country. Wisconsin should be improved this season, and Happ will once again get his due after sliding off the radar some during the Baders’ dip last season.

5. GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee

Grant Williams has a chance to do something that no one has done since Corliss Williamson and Shaquille O’Neal did in the early 1990s: Repeat as SEC Player of the Year, as Williamson did in ‘94 and ‘95 and the Shaq Diesel did in ‘91 and ‘92.

The 6-foot-7 junior averaged 15.2 points, six rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game last season en route to those honors as the Volunteers surprised just about everyone with their move to the top of the SEC standings. Williams, picked as the league’s preseason player of the year this fall, isn’t a high-level finisher, but he draws fouls, gets to the line and frustrates opponents at a rate few others can match.

6. REID TRAVIS, Kentucky

It’ll be interesting to see how Travis fits in at Kentucky after spending four NCAA tournament-less seasons out west at Stanford. Given the monster numbers he put up the last two seasons with the Cardinal, it’s not hard to see the 6-foot-8, 238-pound forward as the linchpin on an otherwise young roster.

Travis put up 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game while shooting 52.7 percent from the floor. As a graduate transfer who flirted with the idea of going pro before making his way to Lexington, the bet is here that Travis embraces his role around a group of talented-yet-inexperienced teammates to help make the Wildcats one of the preeminent national title contenders.

7. DANIEL GAFFORD, Arkansas

Gafford could have easily called it a collegiate career last year after averaging 11.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks while shooting 60.5 percent from the floor. The 6-foot-11 Arkansas native made the decision quickly that he’d return to the Razorbacks after his rookie campaign, and enters this season as one of the premier shot blockers in the country.

8. DEAN WADE, Kansas State

There’s not much flashy about Wade’s game. He’s not overly athletic and he’s not going to be throwing down rim-rattling dunks, but he leads the charge for a Kansas State team that brings back everyone from last year’s surprise Elite Eight team.

He averaged 16.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.5 steals (more than he averaged on blocks) as a junior, but it was his 44 percent mark from 3-point range that truly made him an offensive threat and a potential All-American for his senior season.

Dean Wade (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

9. MIKE DAUM, South Dakota State

All Mike Daum has done for three seasons in Brookings is put up huge numbers. He averaged 15 points as a freshman before 25 as a sophomore and 23.9 – while shooting 42.5 percent from deep – last season as a junior. The 6-foot-9 Nebraska native could have been a graduate transfer or gone pro after last season, but instead returned to what will be the overwhelming favorite in the Summit and almost certainly a Cinderella darling come March.

10. P.J. WASHINGTON, Kentucky

The strangest part of this list is that it has two Kentucky Wildcats and neither are freshmen. How about that?

Washington averaged 10.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists last season as a rookie for John Calipari. He’s back for his sophomore campaign, and it’ll be interesting to see how he’s deployed by Calipari, who will have decisions to make about weighing 3-point shooting, experience and defense with his lineup construction, especially up front.

Tuesday’s Things To Know: Badgers return to form, futures of Georgetown and Illinois on display and Izundu’s big night for Miami

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There were only two top-25 teams in action Tuesday night, but there was still plenty of solid hoops action around the country with rematches, youth vs. youth and sterling individual performances. Here’s everything you need to know about what went down.

1. Wisconsin resurgent

The 2017-18 season was as disappointing as any for Wisconsin in some time. The Badgers were under .500, missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years and were just generally uncompetitive in the Big Ten after years of consistently being one of its best programs. Given how Greg Gard inherited the program, that made this season an important one in Madison.

The Badgers look to understand that.

Wisconsin got 30 points from Ethan Happ, 22 from D’Mitrik Trice and 19 from Brad Davidson, who added a little flavor to the victory. The issues last year for Wisconsin were many, but so often the main problem was Happ being left to do everything himself. If the Badgers can consistently get help around Happ – while he continues to reassert himself as one of the country’s best players – Wisconsin should be back in the NCAA tournament and pushing for a spot atop the Big Ten. There’s a long way to go and Wisconsin finishes off November with a difficult slate of games, but the early returns are positive for Gard and Co.

2. Georgetown beats Illinois in fun battle of two young teams

I don’t know that either Georgetown or Illinois will be all that good this season. In fact, I would venture to guess neither is all that great once we hit the middle of winter. They did, however, play a super entertaining game Tuesday night.

Georgetown outlasted the Illini, 88-80, in Champaign as part of the Gavitt Games in a back-and-forth game that featured fun, mistakes, highlight plays, more mistakes, breathless action and, yup, some additional mistakes. Still, it was apparent that both teams have young talent that can take them places, whether it’s this year or in the future.

The Hoyas’ starting backcourt of freshmen James Akinjo and Mac McClung combined to score 31 points and dish out 11 assists while making game-winning plays down the stretch. On the flip side, they also tallied a combined eight turnovers. There was good and bad from the two youngsters, but the positive well outweighed the negative and the potential of both was on major display. Patrick Ewing looks to have this thing pointed in the right direction in D.C.

For Illinois, it was Chicago product Ayo Dosunmu starring. The point guard put up 25 points on 9 of 15 shooting, including 3 of 4 form deep. He was electric and at times unstoppable. Fellow freshman Giorgi Bezhanishvili had 12 points, five boards and four assists. Brad Underwood’s four non-senior starters combined for 17 of the Illini’s points on the night while sophomore reserve Da’Monte Williams had 11 of those points. The future look good for Brad Underwood, too.

3. Izundu puts up numbers, Louisville impresses, Mays throws down and Temple knocks off Georgia

Ebuka Izundu had a night that’s not often seen. The Miami big man went for 22 points and 17 rebounds while shooting 11 of 13 from the floor. It was just the 13th time since 2010 that someone put up at least 22 and 17 while shooting 84 percent or better from the floor. So that’s pretty good. So, too, was the Hurricanes’ 96-58 win over Stephen F. Austin to improve to 3-0 on the season.

Louisville wasn’t all that good in Chris Mack’s debut, but the Cardinal looked significantly stronger Tuesday in a 1014-54 win over Southern. Jordan Nwora scored 20 points off the bench, and Louisville shot 58.2 percent from the floor as a team.

LSU defeated Memphis, 85-76, but more importantly, the 22nd-ranked Tigers got 19 points and one thunderous dunk from Skylar Mays.

Georgia shot 50 percent from the floor, but turned it over 20 times and lost to Temple in Philadelphia. The story, though, was the Owls’ duo of Quinton Rose and Shizz Alston, Jr., who both tallied 25 points as they improved to 3-0 in what will be coach Fran Dunphy’s final season leading them.

Defense carries No. 5 Tennessee past Georgia Tech 66-53

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Grant Williams scored 22 points and No. 5 Tennessee used its stingy defense to beat cold-shooting Georgia Tech 66-53 on Tuesday night.

Tennessee (3-0) was playing one day after moving up a spot in the Top 25 to earn its first top-five ranking since the 2007-08 season. After the Yellow Jackets made the game’s first basket, Tennessee scored the next seven points and stayed in control the rest of the way.

Georgia Tech (1-1) shot just 27.6 percent from the field — its lowest mark since Josh Pastner took over as coach in 2016. The Yellow Jackets had nearly twice as many fouls (30) as baskets (16).

The Yellow Jackets missed 15 straight shots during one stretch, including their first 11 attempts of the second half. They didn’t make their first second-half basket until Jose Alvarado sank a 3-pointer with 12:12 left.

Georgia Tech still managed to hang around and cut Tennessee’s lead to 45-37 on another basket by Alvarado with 10:08 remaining, but the Volunteers responded with seven straight points.

Jordan Bone had 15 points and Kyle Alexander added 12 for Tennessee. Brandon Alston led Georgia Tech with 16.

Tennessee’s defense enabled the Vols to win on a night when they shot just 39.6 percent (19 of 48) from the field and 63.2 percent (24 of 38) at the foul line.

Georgia Tech received some good news earlier in the day as the NCAA granted a waiver allowing Texas transfer James Banks III to play immediately for the Yellow Jackets rather than sitting out the season. Banks had five points and seven rebounds in 16 minutes before fouling out.

The game marked a return to Knoxville for Georgia Tech guard Shembari Phillips, who played two seasons at Tennessee before transferring. Phillips started and played 22 minutes but scored just two points.

BIG PICTURE

Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets lacked the outside shooting that helped them beat Lamar 88-69 in their season opener. Georgia Tech shot just 3 of 19 from beyond the arc. Georgia Tech’s 12 3-point baskets and 30 3-point attempts against Lamar were the most by the Yellow Jackets under Pastner.

Tennessee: After winning its first two games by an average margin of 33.5 points, Tennessee passed a tougher test Tuesday before heading to the NIT Season Tip-Off next week in Brooklyn, New York. After facing Louisville in the first round of the NIT event, Tennessee will meet No. 2 Kansas or No. 24 Marquette.

UP NEXT

Georgia Tech hosts East Carolina on Friday.

Tennessee faces Louisville on Nov. 21 in the NIT Season Tip-Off in Brooklyn.

Nwora, Williams power Louisville easily past Southern 104-54

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The second act of Louisville’s Chris Mack era produced the same outcome as the first, but this time the Cardinals came away with a much better showing.

Jordan Nwora scored a career-high 20 points as the Cardinals (2-0) easily dominated Southern 104-54 Tuesday night. Malik Williams also posted a career high of 17 points in the rout.

After Nicholls State stayed close with Louisville in last week’s season opener, Mack used the practices to toughen up his players in preparation for a schedule that includes eight games against teams ranked in the AP’s preseason top 10. Mack saw improvement on both sides of the court as the Cardinals shot 58.2 percent and forced 23 turnovers.

“The three practices that we had leading up to tonight really set the tone,” he said. “I really think you earn the right to win and you earn your victories in practice because that’s who you become on game night.”

Southern coach Sean Woods said he noticed a marked difference from the team he observed in game film.

“Handling pressure, making shots, executing high-low situations, so I tip my hat off to coach Mack because he’s been working on getting his guys better,” Woods said.

One of the players Mack wanted to see improve was Nwora. The sophomore forward came off the bench and scored 15 points in the first half. He provided an immediate spark, scoring a layup off a Jaguars turnover just two seconds after checking in. He later got frontcourt steals on consecutive possessions that he turned into back-to-back dunks, the latter of which made it 21-9 with 11:32 remaining.

Louisville kept pulling away throughout the game, leading by as many as 53 points in the final minute. Mack used 13 players, with none playing more than 22 minutes. A dozen Cardinals ended up scoring.

“After the last game, I don’t think a lot of people were happy with our performance, especially not the coaches,” said Nwora, who made 7-of-11 shots. “We just had to get better, and that’s the way he woke us up. Just having some drills in practice that really brought out the toughness in some guys.”

Aaron Ray led the Jaguars (0-3) with 14 points and eight rebounds.

BIG PICTURE

Southern: Facing its third major conference foe in a week, the Jaguars again struggled as they shot just 39.1 percent. They also had a hard time keeping up with bigger, more athletic Cardinals. By halftime, Southern committed 21 fouls, with two players picking up four each. The Jaguars finished getting whistled for 39 fouls. Three players fouled out, with four more drawing four each.

Louisville: The Cardinals looked much more at ease Tuesday after struggling in their season opener. In addition to the practices, it may have been due to the size advantage Louisville enjoyed over the Jaguars, who did not start anyone taller than 6-foot-7. Louisville outrebounded Southern 37-22 and enjoyed a 38-20 scoring advantage in the paint.

LOCKER ROOM CLOSED

Prior to the game, Louisville announced its locker room would be closed for postgame interviews, per Mack’s decision. The program had been one of the few to allow locker room access during the regular season. The NCAA maintains an open locker room policy during the March tournament.

AGAU RETURNS

Tuesday marked the return of Akoy Agau to the Cardinals. The graduate transfer from Southern Methodist played 22 games for the Cardinals before leaving the program in late 2014 to play for Georgetown. The 6-foot-8 forward scored seven points and tied Nwora with a team-high seven rebounds against the Jaguars.

UP NEXT

Southern travels to Fairfax, Va., for a Saturday game at George Mason as part of the Emerald Coast Classic.

Louisville concludes a three-game, season-opening homestand on Friday when it hosts Vermont.

Mays scores 19, No. 22 LSU tops Memphis 85-76

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Skylar Mays scored 19 points, transfer Kavell Bigby-Williams added a career-high 14, and No. 22 LSU held off a relentless effort by first-year coach Penny Hardaway’s Memphis squad, 85-76 on Tuesday night.

Each of LSU’s three freshmen starters — Naz Reid, Ja’Vonte Smart and Emmitt Williams — scored 11 points. Williams also grabbed 10 rebounds for the Tigers (3-0), who trailed briefly with about 13 minutes to go before surging ahead for good with a pivotal 12-1 run that included back-to-back 3s by Mays and Reid. Smart set up Reid’s 3 with a behind-the-back bounce pass from the right wing.

Bigby-Williams, a transfer from Oregon, never scored more than 11 in a game for the Ducks, and is expected to be relied upon primarily for defense this season. He made all seven of his shots, all from close range, including an emphatic dunk that gave LSU a 10-point lead with seven minutes remaining.

Memphis freshman Tyler Harris, who missed all six of his shots and didn’t score in his debut, was 6 of 13 on 3s and finished with 20 points in his second collegiate game.

Jeremiah Martin scored 15 points and Kyvon Davenport had 10 for Memphis (1-1), which remained within single digits for most of the game.

Mays scored from all over the court, mixing in a soaring, driving one-handed dunk with his usual array of perimeter shots. He hit three times from 3-point range.

LSU had trouble distancing itself from Memphis most of the night but appeared in control for most of the final 10 minutes, when its highlights included a roundhouse dunk from Williams and Reid’s double-pump, back-to-the-basket, no-look scoop off the glass that made it 74-64 with 4:35 to go.

BIG PICTURE

Memphis: The way Memphis played on the road against a ranked team provided an early indication that Hardaway’s first season at the helm could turn out better that the fourth-place finish predicted in the AAC preseason coaches’ poll. When Harris found his shot from the perimeter, it opened up opportunities inside for Davenport and Martin.

LSU: The Tigers’ dramatic upgrade in talent was evident in the fact they led 48-39 at halftime despite Tremont Waters, their best player from last season, not scoring at all to that point. Mays also asserted himself more, scoring more points in the first half than in either of his previous two full games while throwing down a monster first-half jam. Waters finished with eight points and eight assists. LSU’s top freshman reserve, Darius Days, had nine points and six rebounds.

UP NEXT

Memphis hosts Yale on Saturday night.

LSU hosts Louisiana Tech on Friday night.

Brad Davison chomps Xaiver, Wisconsin is back

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It’s really nice to see the nascent-yet-kind-of-nasty rivalry between Wisconsin and Xavier has survived the graduation of JP Macura.

The Badgers and Musketeers met for the third time in four years Tuesday, with Wisconsin taking the rubber-match, 77-68, behind a big-time performance from Ethan Happ and some beautiful turnabout-is-fair-play trolling from Badger guard Brad Davison.

The genesis of this fun little back-and-forth is the 2016 NCAA tournament, when Bronson Koenig’s buzzer-beater ended second-seeded Xavier’s tourney run in the first weekend. Then last season as part of the Gavitt Games, the Musketeers dropped the Badgers 80-70 with Macura going for 20 points and a Florida-inspired (???) taunt to finish things off.

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So the Badgers got a little bit of payback at the Cintas Center, leading by as many as 18 points as they turned a tight game into a what goes for a rout at the pace Wisconsin plays despite a mini-run late by Xavier, which saw a 41-game home non-conference winning streak come to a close.

Happ scored 30 points on 15 of 23 shooting while grabbing 13 rebounds and dishing out five assists in what looked like an All-American performance from the Badger big man. D’Mitrik Trice added 22 points and Davison added 19 plus the finishing trolling touches in the callback to a fellow Twin Cities native and master trash talker in Macura.

The win looks to be a significant sign that the Badgers are poised to bounce back after going 15-18 last season and missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in two decades. Just exactly how good of win it’ll ultimately be remained to be seen with Xavier in transition under Travis Steele, but winning big in Cincy can’t be ignored.

We’ll almost certainly know for sure where the Badgers stand by the end of this month when they get three big games at the Battle 4 Atlantis followed by tips against NC State, Iowa and Rutgers.