A daunting challenge four months before the season begins, but we figured it was better to roll the list out this week than in November with everyone else. What kind of criteria did we use for this list? A combination: 1) Stats, 2) value to their team, 3) eye test. I didn’t take the NBA into account. Here’s last year’s preseason Top 50 players, which included a couple glaring misses (Anthony Davis only 8th!). A lot of these players come from next season’s Top 25,
50. Shonn Miller, F, Cornell – The Ivy League’s rookie of the year (8.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.7 blocks per game).
49. Brandon Triche, G, Syracuse – Will Michael Carter-Williams be the better Syracuse guard? I’ll go with the experience. It’ll be Triche’s team now that Waiters, Scoop & Joseph are gone.
48. Mason Plumlee, C, Duke – The best Plumlee should be the best rim protector in the ACC. He was 5th in the conference last year at 1.6 blocks per game.
47. Frantz Massenat, G, Drexel - Early favorite for CAA player of the year. Averaged 13.7 ppg as a sophomore, when he shot 45 percent from deep.
Mark Lyons, G, Xavier – [UPDATE: He transferred to Arizona. Replacement - Can we get a judges ruling on Ryan Harrow, G, Kentucky?]
45. Pierre Jackson, PG, Baylor – Probably my favorite heat-check player in college basketball. Averaged 13.8 ppg, but he (and Brady Heslip) will be gunning like LaceDarius Dunn was in 2010.
44. Brandon Davis, PF, BYU – Enter sex jokes here.
43. Elias Harris, F, Gonzaga – Yes, he’s still in school.
42. CJ Leslie, F, NC State – Has he improved at all during his career? Last year, we had him ranked in the 20s.
41. Aaric Murray, C, West Virginia – Transfer from LaSalle who averaged 15.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg should have a massive impact filling the void of Kevin Jones.
40. Adonis Thomas, F, Memphis – Best player on a stacked team.
39. Michael Snaer, G, Florida State – Tenacious guard should be one of the ACC’s best.
38. DJ Cooper, G, Ohio – Up-and-down talent – only shot 34 percent for the season; then outplayed Michigan’s Trey Burke in the opening round of the NCAA tourney; then shot 3-for-20 vs. UNC.
37. Jamaal Franklin SG, San Diego State – Averaged 17.4 points, 7.9 rebs for the Aztecs, will battle Moser for conference POY honors.
36. Kyle Wiltjer, F, Kentucky – Wildcats lost six players to the NBA and have a lot of new pieces. Wiltjer should be a 15 ppg glue-guy.
35. Rotnei Clarke, G, Butler - Most anticipated transfer (from Arkansas) in college hoops. Shot 43 percent in his last season with Razorbacks.
34. Kenny Boynton, Florida – Shot 40 percent on 3-pointers. Should take over the Gators with Beal and Walker gone.
33. Peyton Siva, PG, Louisville – Probably my favorite player in college basketball. Needs to play more under control, though. Cardinals are headed back to the Final 4.
32. Alex Oriakhi, PF, Missouri – Don’t read into the transfer from Connecticut’s disappointing junior year (6.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg). The Huskies were a mess. Expect him to improve on his sophomore numbers (9.6 ppg, 8.7 rpg).
31. Alex Len, C, Maryland – Somewhat disappointing freshman year – 6 ppg, 5.4 rpg. Expect him to double those numbers this year in College Park.
30. Patric Young, F, Florida – Can’t shoot FTs, built like an Adonis, beast around the basket … he’s Ben Wallace, right?
29. Alex Poythress, F, Kentucky – Freshman might lead the Wildcats in scoring.
28. Brandon Paul, G, Illinois – Awesome individual talent who, if he works on his 3-point shooting, could become a very, very good player.
27. Mike Moser, F, UNLV - Rebels might have their best team since the Tark days, and Moser’s their best player.
26. Trevor Mbakwe, F, Minnesota – Yes, he’s still in school.
25. Rodney McGruder, G, Kansas State - Sleeper for Big 12 player of the year? Averaged 15.8 ppg last year; dropped 30 on Southern Miss in the NCAA tourney.
24. Phil Pressey, G, Missouri – Dynamic point guard surrounded by talent should put the Tigers in Final 4 contention.
23. Jeff Withey, C, Kansas – Came out of nowhere to block 3.5 shots a game. But can he excel without Thomas Robinson beside him?
22. Chane Behanan, F, Louisville – Reminds me of a young Barkley, minus the perimeter game – tireless rebounder, great hands, undersized, yet undaunted.
21. Erik Murphy, F, Florida – Quietly emerged as a very good stretch 4 – he shot 42 percent from deep. Smart player who has an underrated handle.
20. Nate Wolters, PG, South Dakota State – Averaged 21.2 ppg for the Jack Rabbits. If it hasn’t happened already, someone will compare him to Jimmer.
19. Kyle Anderson, F, UCLA – Smooth talent has been compared to Magic Johnson for his passing ability. Yes, people love hyperbole.
18. Gorgui Dieng, C, Louisville – Improved significantly as a sophomore, averaging 9.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.2 blocks. Potential 1st team All-American center.
17. Otto Porter, F, Georgetown – Don’t kill me for this – a poor man’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist?
16. Andre Roberson, F, Colorado: Only 6-foot-7, but a rebounding machine. Averaged 11.6 ppg, 11.1 rpg. Seth Davis loves him.
15. Tony Mitchell, PF, North Texas – Averaged 14.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg; probably best low-major player in the country (he toils in the Sun Belt).
14. Christian Watford, F, Indiana – Scoring went down last year due to the emergence of Zeller, but 3-point shooting (43 percent) went up.
13. Le’Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State – Didn’t quite meet lofty expectations as a freshman (13.3 ppg, 39 percent shooting).
12. Deshaun Thomas, F, Ohio State – Could lead the Big Ten in scoring with Sullinger in the pros.
11. Jarnell Stokes, F, Tennessee – Averaged a modest 9.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg in just 17 games. The SEC lost a ton of talent, and he might be the best returning frontcourt player in the league.
10. Trey Burke, PG, Michigan – Glad he stayed in school. He makes Michigan a Final 4 contender.
9. C.J. McCollum, G, Lehigh – Scored 21.8 ppg as a junior, and the Mountain Hawks snuck up on Duke in the 1st round of the NCAA tournament.
8. BJ Young, G, Arkansas – Best player in the SEC who gets the least amount of publicity. Shot 41 percent on 3-pointers, averaged 15.2 ppg as a freshman.
7. Doug McDermott, F, Creighton – Scored 22.8 ppg for the Blue Jays last year. They’re a legit Elite 8 contender in 2013.
6. Aaron Craft, PG, Ohio State – Yes, this means I value him as the best point guard in the country. From defense to distribution, what’s not to love?
5. Nerlens Noel, C, Kentucky – Expect a highlight reel’s worth of blocks and dunks as a freshman before he leaves for the pros. Won’t be the game-changer Anthony Davis was, though.
4. James Michael McAdoo, F, UNC – No Zeller, Henson or Barnes, so it’ll be his show. Feel like he’s studied Kevin Durant’s game well, from the mannerisms, to the shooting form. Only played 15.6 minutes per game as a freshman.
3. Isaiah Canaan, G, Murray State – Blew up last year and scored 18.9 a game for the Racers. Lighting quick, deadly shooter (45 percent from deep).
2. Shabazz Muhammad, F, UCLA – In charge of helping Ben Howland and UCLA back to the prominence.
1. Cody Zeller, F, Indiana – On a stacked team, he’ll be over-analyzed, like Sullinger and Perry Jones were last year. Most complete forward in the country.