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Monday Overreactions: Kentucky, Kansas State are not top 25 teams

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Admiral Schofield, Tennessee

Have yourself a day, Admiral.

You may have missed it while watching the Miami Dolphins somehow land a win over the New England Patriots or trying to figure out whether or not Patrick Mahomes is actually human, but the most entertaining game of the day on Sunday was No. 7 Tennessee’s win over then-undefeated No. 1 Gonzaga.

And the hero of the afternoon was Schofield, Tennessee’s overlooked, 6-foot-5 pro wrestler of a wing.

Schofield had a career-high 30 points against the Zags. He scored 25 of those 30 points in the second half. He scored 11 of those 25 second half points in the final 3:18, all of Tennessee’s points as they closed the game on an 11-5 surge. His three with 22.1 seconds left gave the Vols the win.

The narratives abound after this performance, and I touched on most of them here. This was a statement win for a Tennessee team that most had yet to put into the same conversation as the Dukes, Gonzagas and Michigans of the world. This was a statement performance for Schofield, whose defensive versatility, toughness, professionalism and ability to bang home threes makes him an awfully intriguing NBA prospect. There’s the rise of Barnes at Tennessee coming at the same time as Shaka Smart, his replacement after getting fired at Texas, is struggling to win in Austin.

But mostly, this was just a thrilling basketball game that was capped by a tremendous performance for a guy that doesn’t get enough credit.

It’s really not all that different from the title game of the Maui Invitational, when Brandon Clarke’s performance against Duke thrust him into the national spotlight.

Myles Cale (22) and Myles Powell (13), Rich Schultz/Getty Images

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Seton Hall Pirates

Exactly one week removed from losing at home to a Louisville in a game where the Pirates blew a double-digit first half lead, Seton Hall made the trek up to Madison Square Garden to take on that other team from the Commonwealth, as the No. 9 Kentucky Wildcats played away from Rupp Arena for the first time since they were embarrassed by Duke at the Champions Classic.

And despite both of the Myles’ — Powell and Cale — playing like they were shaving points for the first 35 minutes, and despite Keldon Johnson hitting a halfcourt prayer at the buzzer in regulation to force overtime, Seton Hall finished the job and their fans were able to hop on NJ Transit to head back to Newark with a smile on their face.

I do think it is important here to reiterate just how bad both Myles Powell and Myles Cale were for the majority of this game. Powell finished with 28 points, but he scored 17 of those 28 points in the final five minutes of regulation and also buried a three in overtime. He had been totally held in check by Ashton Hagans until then.

Cale was even worse. He finished with 17 points — that number is still shocking when I see it — but he shot just 4-for-18 from the floor and had one of those nights were everything seemed to roll off the rim. He was visibly frustrated, punching the air and cursing to himself on more than one occasion.

And then, with 9.5 seconds left in overtime, he casually pump-faked Keldon Johnson out of his shoes and buried the three that gave Seton Hall an 84-83 win.

Winning a game when you don’t play all that well is impressive, especially when it lands you a win that could end up looking as impressive as this one does come March.

MONDAY’S OVERREACTIONS

1. KENTUCKY IS NOT A TOP 25 TEAM

The Wildcats have now played two games outside of Lexington this season. One of them was an absolute beatdown at the hands of Duke, a 118-84 drubbing that served warning of just how good Duke is this season and just how far Kentucky has to go.

The other came on Saturday, when the Wildcats couldn’t put away a Seton Hall team whose two best players were struggling, losing in overtime to the same team that lost to
Nebraska by 23 points and Saint Louis on their home court.

Frankly, that’s not the end of the world. We’re just nine games into the season. Kentucky still plays Utah, North Carolina and Louisville before the start of SEC play, and they do play Kansas in January. Backloaded non-conference schedules can create for weird resumes early in the year. That said, the bigger issue here is that Kentucky has not actually looked all that impressive in the games they’ve actually won at home this year. They struggled with Southern Illinois. They struggled with VMI. They needed a late run to make the win over UNC Greensboro look respectable. They’re allowing opponents to shoot 40 percent from three. They have three five-star point guards on the roster and still manage to turn it over on 20.8 percent of their possessions.

Kentucky has been here before. Need I remind you that last season we were having these very same conversations about the program, and that actually turned out pretty well. If P.J. Washington could make free throws Kentucky probably would have ended up in the Final Four.

No one will be shocked to see John Calipari figure this thing out.

But right now, Kentucky is just not all that good …

Bruce Weber (Peter Aiken/Getty Images)

2. KANSAS STATE IS NOT A TOP 25 TEAM, EITHER

… and neither is Kansas State. The Wildcats lost a road game for the second straight Saturday, this time going into Tulsa and falling to a team that is middle-of-the-pack at best in the American.

The Wildcats have a serious offense problem. As it stands, they rank 102nd in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to KenPom. They mustered all of 46 points in the loss at Tulsa. As a team, they are shooting just 28.2 percent from three, which is good for 313th nationally. Their effective field goal percentage is a horrid 47.7 percent. They’re shooting 65.6 percent from the free throw line, and somehow manage to give away live-ball turnovers as much as anyone at the high-major level.

This is a concern because these are all things that are not supposed to happen to a team that has a stable of talented, veteran guards. Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes, Cartier Diarra. These guys have been serious disappointments, to say nothing of what we’ve gotten out of preseason all-american Dean Wade.

And it creates an interesting conundrum for Bruce Weber.

There’s been some longstanding angst in Manhattan over his tenure. Kansas State has been fine, but they haven’t risen to the levels that they were at during Frank Martin’s heyday. They had to watch as Weber was given an extension as Kansas State alum Brad Underwood was hired by both Oklahoma State and Illinois since 2016. Last year’s run to the Elite Eight could end up being the worst thing that could have happened to him, because it created massive expectations this season on a team that really wasn’t all that good last year.

If K-State can’t get this thing figured out, how are the folks in Manhattan, Kansas, going to feel about him?

If he can’t make a team that is coming off an Elite Eight and was ranked in the top 15 in the preseason relevant, will he ever?

3. THE TOP SEVEN TEAMS IN THE COUNTRY SHOULD BE CONSENSUS

The elite tier of teams have set themselves apart already this year. They are: Kansas, Tennessee, Duke, Gonzaga, Michigan, Virginia and Nevada.

How you rank them will differ based on what you value when ranking teams. Kansas has the best resume of the seven, but they have struggled the most over the course of the first month of the season and are currently without starting center Udoka Azubuike. The Jayhawks also beat Tennessee, who beat Gonzaga, who beat Duke, with all of those games coming on neutral courts, but if you were forced to bet your left arm on one of those four teams winning a national title, you’d probably rank them the other way: Duke, Gonzaga, Tennessee, Kansas.

Michigan has been utterly dominant at times this season. Virginia, too. Nevada is probably the x-factor, but it’s hard to ignore that they just one six straight games away from home, including trips to USC, a game against Arizona State in LA and a de factor road game against Grand Canyon on Sunday night.

If you have an argument for why someone other than these seven teams should be ranked in the top seven, I’d love to hear it.

4. SYRACUSE IS BACK TO BEING THEMSELVES

Less than a month after the sky was falling on Syracuse, the Orange appear to have righted the ship.

Syracuse has won five straight games. They knocked off Ohio State in Columbus. They dismantled a good Northeastern team. They erased a 13 point halftime deficit in a rivalry game against Georgetown, winning when Tyus Battle knocked down a jumper with just 2.5 seconds left on the clock.

And at this point, Syracuse is more or less exactly what we thought they would be this season. They’re an elite defense. Tyus Battle is getting buckets, and the load he’s had to carry has been eased by the emergence of Eli Hughes and Jalen Carey. They are still struggling to shoot the ball from three, and their games are hardly aesthetically pleasing, but they are back to their winning ways and I cannot see a way that changes.

5. INDIANA IS GOING TO BE JUST FINE

At this point in the year, Indiana’s offense is a work in progress. That’s what you should expect from a program that starts two freshmen, two sophomores and a banged up Juwan Morgan. There were always going to be some growing pains early in the year.

What’s promising is that even with those growing pains, Indiana is still winning basketball games. The Hoosiers are 8-2 on the season. They’re 3-1 in games decided by one possession. They’ve landed four wins against teams that are ranked in the top 50 on KenPom. The only losses that they’ve taken this season came at Duke (everyone is going to lose at Duke this year) and at Arkansas, a 73-72 loss where the Hoosiers missed a layup and a tip-in in the final five seconds of a tie game before committing an over-the-back foul that sent the Razorbacks to the free throw line for the winning point.

The Big Ten is loaded, so it will be interesting to see where the Hoosiers finish within the league, but it will be a major disappointment if Archie Miller can’t get this team to the tournament and win at least one game.

NBC Sports Top 25: Duke back to No. 1, Tennessee hops Gonzaga

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Here’s the conundrum that is going to face voters in the top 25 this week: What do you do with Kansas?

When it comes to resume, Kansas probably has the strongest one of any team in the top seven. They’ve beaten Michigan State on a neutral court. They’ve beaten Tennessee on a neutral court. They’ve beaten Marquette on a neutral court. Every win they have in Phog Allen Fieldhouse this year comes against teams ranked in the top 135 on KenPom.

And then there is this: Kansas has beaten Tennessee. Tennessee has beaten Gonzaga. Gonzaga has beaten Duke. Duke, according to some, can beat the Cavs, which officially means that Kansas is a playoff team in the Eastern Conference.

Or something like that.

The point is that it makes total sense to rank Kansas No. 1 based on what they’ve accomplished this season, but I think that even the most irrational Kansas fans will cop to the fact that these Jayhawks haven’t come close to hitting their stride yet this season, and that’s before you factor in the loss of Udoka Azuibuike to an ankle injury.

The difference between the top seven teams this season is marginal, particularly if you are not as high on Duke as I am, and while that means there really isn’t all that much difference between Nevada at No. 7 and whoever it is that you are going to rank No. 1, it does mean that a team like Kansas — who is in a bad run of form — drops to sixth in this ranking.

And to be frank, as long as your top seven is, in some order, the same as my top seven, your ranking is probably going to be just fine. I’d quibble with ranking Nevada in the top four, and I think it’s probably silly to have Duke, Tennessee or Gonzaga outside the top four, but there are arguments to justify it all. I’m sure Kansas fans will call me a Duke homer and say that Bill Self must ignore my calls, but the truth of it is that there are a lot of really good teams at the top this year. Parsing through a jumbled mess like that is never easy.

I dropped Kentucky all the way out of the top 25, as I did Kansas State, but I’ll go more in depth on that in the Monday Overreactions column.

Here is the full top 25:

1. Duke (9-1, Last week: 2)
2. Michigan (10-0, 3)
3. Tennessee (7-1, 6)
4. Gonzaga (9-1, 1)
5. Virginia (9-0, 4)
6. Kansas (8-0, 5)
7. Nevada (10-0, 7)
8. Auburn (8-1, 8)
9. North Carolina (7-2, 9)
10. Florida State (8-1, 10)
11. Texas Tech (8-0, 11)
12. Michigan State (8-2, 13)
13. Virginia Tech (8-1, 14)
14. Wisconsin (8-2, 15)
15. N.C. State (8-1, 17)
16. Ohio State (8-1, 19)
17. Arizona State (7-1, 20)
18. Purdue (6-4, 18)
19. Villanova (8-2, UR)
20. Syracuse (7-2, UR)
21. Marquette (8-2, UR)
22. Buffalo (9-0, UR)
23. Mississippi State (8-1, 25)
24. Iowa (7-2, 23)
25. Nebraska (8-2, 24)

New Additions: 19. Villanova, 20 Syracuse, 21. Marquette
Dropped Out: 12. Kentucky, 16. Kansas State, 21. Creighton

Saturday’s Things To Know: A recap of all of the day’s college hoops action

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PLAYER OF THE DAY: Tyus Battle, Syracuse

Without looking at the big picture, Tyus Battle had the kind of game that he — and Syracuse fans — will remember for a long time.

The resident All-American in Upstate New York, Battle went for 26 points on 8-for-18 shooting and hit a game-winning jumper with 2.5 seconds left as the Orange knocked off their archrival, Georgetown, 72-71, in the Carrier Dome on Saturday. He scored 21 of his 26 points after halftime, a performance that helped dig the Orange out of a 13 point hole that they had dug for themselves.

(As an aside, all that talk of Battle starting the season slow can officially be deaded. He’s popped off for 20 points in four of the five games during this five-game winning streak for the Orange, including 20 points in the win at Ohio State.)

Then there is the importance of this win for the Orange, both in terms of where their season is heading and what this means for their non-conference resume. Syracuse already has two questionable losses to their name, falling to both UConn and Oregon in Madison Square Garden in November. A home loss to a Georgetown team from a down-Big East that probably isn’t tournament bound isn’t the kind of thing that they need.

But a come-from-behind win in a rivalry game?

That’s a nice way to change the momentum of a season.

TEAM OF THE DAY

Tulsa students got a chance to storm the court on Saturday night, as the Golden Hurricne knocked off No. 16 Kansas State, 47-46.

(Yes. That score is correct.)

Good for Frank Haith. Good for Tulsa. Good for the American.

Very, very bad for Kansas State.

This is the second straight Saturday where Bruce Weber’s club has dropped a road game. Last week, they fell at Marquette. This week Tulsa. I think that it is time for us to truly question just how good this team actually is, and it’s not an answer that Kansas State fans are going to like. The problem? They can’t score. The Wildcats rank 99th in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to KenPom, and are shooting 28.2 percent from three, but you didn’t really need me to explain to you that this team can’t score after they put up 46 points on Tulsa.

Before the season, I made the point that Bruce Weber has quite a bit of pressure on him because of the overloaded expectations he had coming into the year, and this certainly isn’t going to help matters. It’s not a secret that Kansas State fans haven’t exactly been thrilled with his tenure, and struggling to find a way to win games like this is going to be a bad thing for him in the long-term.

ONIONS OF THE DAY

You tell me which shot was the Onions Of The Day.

Was it Myles Cale hitting the game-winner with 9.5 seconds left as Seton Hall upset No. 9 Kentucky, 84-83?

Was it Myles Powell burying a ridiculous step-back three to put the Pirates up three with 1.5 seconds left in regulation?

Or was it Keldon Johnson hitting the halfcourt shot to answer Powell, forcing the extra frame where Cale hit the game-winner?

SATURDAY’S BIGGEST WINNERS

SETON HALL AND MARQUETTE: The Big East badly needed to pick up some impressive non-conference wins, and they got two of them on Saturday: Seton Hall knocked off No. 9 Kentucky in overtime and Marquette knocked off No. 12 Wisconsin in overtime. For a conference that doesn’t have a clear second-best team when the best team is a reloading Villanova, these are the kind of wins that can turn a four-bid league into a five-bid league or a five-bid league into a six-bid league.

I don’t think I’m overstating that, either.

This was really important not just for these two teams, but for the league in general.

And at some point, I should probably mention that the Golden Eagles have now beaten Louisville, Kansas State and Wisconsin over the last two weeks. That’s pretty good.

INDIANA: The Hoosiers got 21 points from Romeo Langford and came from behind at home to land a win over Louisville in Assembly Hall. Indiana has had some struggles early on this season, as a young team built around a freshman and a banged-up Juwan Morgan has had their share of difficulties, but they’re getting the wins they need. Indiana is now 3-1 in games decided by one possession, and their only loss came at Arkansas, when they missed a layup and a tip-in before committing a foul on the ensuing rebound in a tie game. They should be fine in the long run.

FLORIDA STATE: The Seminoles knocked off UConn in the Never Forget Classic in Newark, landing another solid win and improving to 8-1 on the season. Like Indiana, Florida State has yet to truly click this year, but they now have wins over UConn, Purdue, Florida and LSU. That’s a pretty good resume for the first month of the season.

JORDAN POOLE: The concern with Michigan this season was always going to be whether or not they could find enough perimeter shooting to be able to keep the floor spaced, and Poole looks like he is providing the Wolverines with an answer. He had 26 points on Saturday in a win over South Carolina, and has now hit for at least 14 points in the last five games and six of the last seven games. He’s shooting 45.2 percent from three on the season and, after missing nine of his first 10 threes, he’s made 18 of the last 32 threes he’s attempted.

MISSISSIPPI STATE: I’ve been a doubter of Mississippi State this season, but after knocking off Clemson on Saturday afternoon, the No. 22 Bulldogs are 8-1 on the season, thanks in large part to the 28 points and eight threes that they got from Lamar Peters. Clemson is not a great team this season. Hell, I’m not sold they are actually a good team, especially when they are playing without Marcquise Reed. But a win is a win is a win, and Mississippi State got one that they needed on Saturday.

OKLAHOMA: Is Oklahoma actually better this year than they were with Trae Young last season? I don’t know if I fully believe it — they’ve beaten Florida, Notre Dame, Dayton and now Wichita State, albeit by 32 points while losing to Wisconsin by 20 — but I will say this much: They are better than I thought they would be this year. An NCAA tournament bid is within reach if they can do what they need to do in Big 12 play.

WESTERN KENTUCKY: The Hilltoppers are just 5-4 on the season, but after beating Arkansas on Saturday, they have two wins over high-major competition — the Razorbacks and West Virginia. You don’t want to see this group as a No. 15 seed in your bracket.

SATURDAY’S BIGGEST LOSERS

THE BIG EAST NOT NAMED SETON HALL OR MARQUETTE: We mentioned earlier how important it is for this league to go out and land some big wins during the remainder of non-conference play.

Well, Creighton got smoked at Nebraska. DePaul lost at Northwestern. Xavier got drummed by Cincinnati. Georgetown blew a 13 point halftime lead at Syracuse. Yes, all of those games came on the road, but all of those losses are going to hurt.

FLORIDA: The Gators lost their fourth game of the season, and this one might have been the most frustrating, as Mike White’s team had a shot at picking off No. 10 Michigan State slip through their fingers. Kyle Ahrens, of all people, scored the final seven points for the Spartans in a 63-59 victory.

NEW MEXICO STATE: The Aggies had a second half lead on No. 2 Kansas in Lawrence and blew it. Dedric Lawson scored 19 of his 21 points in the second half, including the last 14 points of the game for the Jayhawks, as Kansas eked out a 63-60 win.

FINAL THOUGHT

It is perfectly reasonable to drop Kentucky out of the top 25 come Monday morning.

Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Wildcats are not one of the top 25 teams in college basketball at this moment, and it certainly doesn’t mean that they can’t find a way to make themselves a favorite to get to the Final Four by the end of the season.

But as of today, after losing to an OK Seton Hall on a neutral court, Kentucky has not won a game against a high major opponent. They have not won a game away from Rupp Arena. They have not beaten a top that ranks in the top 75 on KenPom and have just two wins against teams that are in the top 150.

That’s just not a good resume.

And, frankly, they have not looked great in the games they have won, either. They struggled with Southern Illinois and UNC Greensboro. It was more difficult than it should have been to beat VMI and Winthrop.

This has happened before with Kentucky teams — Do you remember last season? — and it will happen with Kentucky teams again. It’s the way of the world when you deal with freshmen, and I don’t doubt that Cal will figure this thing out.

But as of right now, if you don’t think that Kentucky is one of the 25 best teams in college basketball, you’re probably right.

Igbanu helps Tulsa top No. 16 Kansas State 47-46

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TULSA, Okla. — Martins Igbanu made a go-ahead jump hook with 1:51 remaining, and Tulsa edged No. 16 Kansas State 47-46 on Saturday.

Curran Scott scored 14 points for Tulsa (7-3), and Igbanu had nine points and six rebounds. The Hurricane got their second straight victory against the Big 12, also topping Oklahoma State 74-71 on Wednesday.

Kansas State had one last chance in the final seconds, but Barry Brown Jr. rimmed out a floater on a drive into the lane. Several tips misfired and the Tulsa students stormed the court to celebrate.

Xavier Sneed had 13 points and 10 rebounds, but the Wildcats (6-2) shot 30.5 percent (18 for 59) from the field. They also committed 16 turnovers.

The Hurricane also struggled offensively, shooting 38 percent (19 for 50) and committing 15 turnovers. They were outrebounded 42-34 by the Wildcats.

Tulsa opened a 45-40 lead on a long 3-pointer by Jeriah Horne with 4:19 left. But Kansas State came right back.

Sneed made two 3-pointers to help the Wildcats to a 46-45 lead with 2:24 left, setting the stage for Igbanu’s big play.

Tulsa’s matchup zone defense baffled Kansas State all game long, just as it did in a 61-54 victory in 2017. Dean Wade, the Wildcats’ leading scorer coming into the day, finished with two points on 1-for-6 shooting. Brown and Kamau Stokes combined to shoot 4 for 24.

BIG PICTURE

Kansas State: The Wildcats made 4 of 32 3-pointers in the 2017 loss and were slightly better against the zone this time at 5 of 19. Kansas State played physical defense without fouling in the second half, committing just one team foul.

Tulsa: The Hurricane is proving to be one tough team at home, having won 13 consecutive games at the Reynolds Center and 22 of 24 overall.

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.

College Basketball’s Top Frontcourts

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What defines a big man in college basketball these days?

In the NBA, there are clearly defined types of bigs.

There are stretch-fours, stretch-fives, switchable rim-runners, rim-protecters, skilled fives.

And these days, those bigs come in all shapes and sizes, from Draymond Green to Clint Capela, from Joel Embiid to Giannis Antetokuonmpo.

In college, it’s a little bit different.

Since the Golden State Warriors haven’t broken the sport like they have at the highest level, teams can play different styles and have success. Villanova won the 2018 national title by going all in on spacing, shooting and skill while the 2017 national title was played between North Carolina and Gonzaga, two teams that played with massive frontcourts.

Styles can still make fights at this level, which makes the different frontcourts all that much more interesting this season.

So let’s take a look at them.

Here are the best sets of bigs in college basketball.


Chet White | UK Athletics

1. KENTUCKY

Players: Reid Travis, P.J. Washington, Nick Richard, E.J. Montgomery

The Wildcats may not match the numbers that some of the other teams on this list have from a depth standpoint, but they certainly hold their own from a talent standpoint. P.J. Washington and Nick Richards are the lone returnees in this quartet, with the former coming off of a freshman season in which he averaged 10.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 51.9 percent from the field. The transition to college basketball was a bit more difficult for Richards, who despite starting all 37 games struggled some from a consistency standpoint and averaged 5.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.

That season of experience should serve both Washington and Richards well, and they’ve got two very talented newcomers to work with in Reid Travis and E.J. Montgomery. Travis is the best grad transfer in college basketball this season, as he’s coming off of a 2017-18 season at Stanford in which he averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game on 52.5 percent shooting. Had Travis, who withdrew his name from the NBA draft in the spring, returned to Stanford he very well could have been the preseason Pac-12 Player of the Year. As for Montgomery, the 6-foot-10 five-star recruit earned McDonald’s All-America honors and was Florida’s Player of the Year after averaging 25.6 points, 13.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game as a high school senior.

2. GONZAGA

Players: Jeremy Jones, Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke, Killian Tillie, Corey Kispert, Filip Petrusev

The front court at Mark Few’s disposal this season is a big reason why Gonzaga has the appearance of a national title contender. In junior Rui Hachimura the Bulldogs have an All-America candidate who averaged 11.6 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, shooting 56.8 percent from the field. He isn’t the only returnee in the Gonzaga front court either, as second team All-WCC big man Killian Tillie returns after averaging 12.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. This duo will lead the way in a rotation that will have to account for the departure of leading scorer and rebounder Johnathan Williams, and they’re joined by two talented newcomers in Brandon Clarke and Filip Petrusev.

Clarke, who sat out last season after transferring from San Jose State, averaged 17.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game in 2016-17. At Gonzaga the 6-foot-8 redshirt junior may not score as much due to the talent he’s playing with, but he’ll certainly be an impact addition. As for Petrusev, the 6-foot-11 freshman from Serbia finished his high school career at Montverde Academy in Florida and was a key contributor on teams that won gold at both the 2017 and 2018 FIBA Europe Under-18 Championships. Sophomore Corey Kispert made seven starts last season, averaging 6.7 points and 3.2 rebounds in just over 19 minutes per game, and former walk-on Jeremy Jones will round out this talented rotation.

3. KANSAS

Players: Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson, Udoka Azubuike, Mitch Lightfoot, Silvio De Sousa*, David McCormack

While Kansas does have some uncertainty to work through at present time due to the status of sophomore power forward Silvo De Sousa, this is still one of college basketball’s most talented front court rotations. A big reason for that is the addition of Memphis transfer Dedric Lawson, a 6-foot-8 forward who averaged 19.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.1 blocks per game as a sophomore in 2016-17. Also making the move from Memphis was Dedric’s brother K.J., who averaged 12.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game during that same season. The third newcomer is 6-foot-10 forward David McCormack, who earned McDonald’s All-America honors and helped lead Oak Hill Academy to a 30-4 record as a senior.

That trio joins three returnees led by junior center Udoka Azubuike, who in 2017-18 averaged 13.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 23.6 minutes per game. Azubuike led the country in field goal percentage, making 77.0 percent of his attempts, and when he gets the ball with two feet in the paint he’s incredibly difficult to stop. Mitch Lightfoot gives Kansas additional depth inside, but the question mark for the Jayhawks is De Sousa.

Joining the program in December, De Sousa averaged 4.0 points and 3.3 rebounds per game in 20 appearances as a freshman. He’s in line to take a significant step forward as a sophomore, provided he be cleared to play as the school is currently looking into his eligibility status in the aftermath of the first round of trials in the FBI’s investigation into bribes paid to influence recruits. The Kansas front court will be good regardless of that outcome, but there’s no denying that De Sousa’s presence would only make this group better.

Sagaba Konate (Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

4. NORTH CAROLINA

Players: Luke Maye, Garrison Brooks, Brandon Huffman, Sterling Manley, Nassir Little

The Tar Heel front court is led by a player in Maye who ranks among the nation’s best. The 6-foot-8 senior is coming off of a season in which he averaged 16.9 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game, earning first team All-ACC honors and the conference’s Most Improved Player award. In addition to the conference honors, Maye was also named a third-team All-American by multiple outlets at season’s end. At minimum he can be a first-team All-American this season, if not a major factor in the national Player of the Year race.

Another reason why the front court is considered to rate among the nation’s best is the arrival of Nassir Little, a 6-foot-6 McDonald’s All-American who can be used at either the three or the four. Given North Carolina’s numbers on the wings, it’s likely that the talented freshman will see more time at the latter spot. And given his athleticism, look for Little to be one of college basketball’s best freshmen. Sophomores Garrison Brooks, Brandon Huffman and Sterling Manley will all factor into Roy Williams’ plans as well, with Brooks (4.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg) having made 16 starts as a freshman and Manley averaging 5.4 points and 3.6 rebounds per game off the bench.

5. WEST VIRGINIA

Players: Sagaba Konate, Esa Ahmad, Andrew Gordon, Lamont West, Wesley Harris, Logan Routt, Derek Culver

While “Press Virginia” will have a different look this season due to the departures of guards Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr., Bob Huggins has a front court that lacks neither depth nor experience. West Virginia’s top three returning scorers are all front court players, led by the nation’s best rim protector in 6-foot-8 junior Sagaba Konate. Last season Konate, who entered the NBA draft before deciding to withdraw his name, averaged 10.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game, ranking second in the country in block percentage (15.6; Texas’ Mo Bamba led in that category). Also back from last year’s Sweet 16 team are senior Esa Ahmad, and juniors Wesley Harris and Lamont West.

Ahmad, who missed West Virginia’s first 16 games of the season, made 16 starts and averaged 10.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game as a junior. West, who Ahmad eventually replaced in the starting lineup, made 20 starts and averaged 9.4 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. Harris was one of two Mountaineers, Carter being the other, to start all 37 games in 2017-18 and he chipped in with 5.3 points and 3.6 rebounds in 20.6 minutes per game. 6-foot-9 sophomore Andrew Gordon, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, and 6-foot-11 junior Logan Routt give West Virginia additional size inside, and the same can be said of talented 6-foot-10 freshman Derek Culver. Culver was a standout at Brewster Academy last season, earning first team All-NEPSAC Class AAA honors.

6. TENNESSEE

Players: Admiral Schofield, Grant Williams, Kyle Alexander, Yves Pons, Derrick Walker Jr., John Fulkerson, D.J. Burns, Zach Kent, Brock Jancek

The Tennessee front court, a big reason why the Volunteers managed to earn a share of the SEC regular season title, is anchored by reigning SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams. As a sophomore Williams averaged 15.2 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, shooting nearly 48 percent from the field. Also in the rotation is senior Admiral Schofield, who after entering his name into the NBA draft pool decided to return to Knoxville for one last run. The 6-foot-6 Schofield led Tennessee with an average of 6.4 rebounds per game last season while also scoring 13.9 points per game (he shot 39.5 percent from three on 4.6 attempts per game).

Adding depth and experience inside are senior Kyle Alexander and sophomores Yves Pons, John Fulkerson and Derrick Walker Jr., with Alexander (34 starts) having averaged 5.6 points and 5.6 rebounds in just over 20 minutes per game. Freshmen D.J. Burns, Brock Jancek and Zach Kent, who played in Tennessee’s first two games before being redshirted last season, will look to crack this experienced rotation. That will be difficult to do, but at the very least competing with the likes of Williams and Schofield should help those three freshmen down the line.

7. DUKE

Players: Zion Williamson, Javin DeLaurier, Marques Bolden, Jack White, Justin Robinson, Antonio Vrankovic

Williamson, one of the nation’s top recruits in the 2018 class, is the headliner for this group. The freshman has a combination of athleticism, raw power and size (6-foot-7, 285 pounds) that has not been seen at this level. Given Williamson’s ability to impact a game, he’s going to be an incredibly difficult matchup for opponents to account for. The remainder of the front court rotation will be asked to provide depth, defense and rebounding in a lineup that projects to be led by four freshmen (Tre Jones, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish on the perimeter with Williamson at the four).

Javin DeLaurier, who averaged 3.4 points and 4.0 rebounds in 12.6 minutes per game as a sophomore, appears to be first in line for that fifth spot in the starting lineup with fellow junior Marques Bolden competing for that designation as well. Junior Jack White appeared in 28 games (5.6 mpg) last season, and Justin Robinson and Antonio Vrankovic will also look to earn increases in playing time in 2018-19.

8. VIRGINIA

Players: Jack Salt, Mamadi Diakite, De’Andre Hunter, Jay Huff, Francisco Caffaro

Redshirt sophomore De’Andre Hunter is healthy after his first season on the court came to a premature end due to a thumb injury, and he’s considered by many to be Virginia’s best NBA prospect heading into the 2018-19 campaign. As a redshirt freshman the 6-foot-7 Hunter averaged 9.2 points and 3.5 rebounds per game, earning ACC Sixth Man of the Year honors. Senior Jack Salt started all 34 games for the Cavaliers, averaging 3.4 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, and Mamadi Diakite was a valuable reserve with averages of 5.4 points and 3.0 rebounds per contest.

Redshirt sophomore Jay Huff and freshman Francisco Caffaro, a 7-footer who helped lead Argentina to a bronze medal in this summer’s FIBA U18 Americas Championship, will also compete for playing time. Note: We’ve grouped Braxton Key with Virginia’s perimeter players, but he could certainly factor into Tony Bennett’s plans in the front court as well given his size (6-foot-8, 225).

De’Andre Hunter (Eric Espada/Getty Images)

9. KANSAS STATE

Players: Dean Wade, Makol Mawien, Austin Trice, James Love III, Levi Stockard III, Nigel Shadd, Patrick Muldoon

Kansas State managed to reach the Elite Eight last season without Dean Wade, and with the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year healthy the feeling it that the Wildcats can do even more in 2018-19. As a junior Wade led the Wildcats in scoring and rebounding with averages of 16.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game while also dishing out 2.7 assists per contest. He’s joined in Kansas State’s interior rotation by fellow senior Makol Mawien, who started all 37 games last season and averaged 6.8 points and 3.4 rebounds in just over 20 minutes per night. If Mawien were to become more consistent in his production, Kansas State could really take off.

Levi Stockard and James Love III will both look to earn increased minutes after being on the periphery of the Kansas State rotation last season, and the same goes for redshirt freshman Nigel Shadd who played in just eight games due to a knee injury. Kansas State has added two transfers to the mix, with junior Austin Trice being a third team NJCAA All-American and Wabash Valley CC last season and Patrick Muldoon walking onto the team after averaging 5.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game as a sophomore at Eastern Illinois in 2016-17.

10. AUBURN

Players: Horace Spencer, Austin Wiley, Anfernee McLemore, Danjel Purifoy, Chuma Okeke, Myles Parker

While Auburn’s numbers in the front court will be down a bit to start the season as Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy serve the remainder of their NCAA suspensions, the fact that both returned after being sidelined for all of last season is very good news for Bruce Pearl. As a freshman, the 6-foot-11 Wiley averaged 8.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in just 18 minutes per game. As for Purifoy, he made 25 starts in 2016-17 and accounted for 11.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per contest. Once those two, who will miss Auburn’s first nine games, are back in the fold Auburn will have a deep rotation that won’t lack for talent.

Returnees Horace Spencer, Anfernee McLemore and Chuma Okeke will also be factors in 2018-19. Okeke was Auburn’s most productive front court reserve, as he averaged 7.5 points and 5.8 rebounds in 21.6 minutes per game. Spencer accounted for 4.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game as a key reserve, moving into the starting lineup when Anfernee McLemore went down with a broken leg. McLemore (7.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.7 bpg) was one of the nation’s best shot blockers before the injury, which he suffered in a loss at South Carolina. Getting the 6-foot-7 junior back gives Auburn the rim protector it lacked during last season’s stretch run. Prior to last season Auburn had gone 15 years without an NCAA tournament appearance. This front court is a key reason why the Tigers don’t have to worry about starting a new tournament drought in 2019.

Honorable Mention: Arizona State, Florida State, LSU, Michigan State, Oregon, Providence, Texas, UCLA, Villanova, Wisconsin