Every summer we make a list of the 50 best players in college basketball for the upcoming season. Here’s the list from 2011-2012, and from 2012-2013, and from 2013-2014 and from 2014-2015 and from 2015-2016. The criteria: 1/3 their NBA prospects, 1/3 their individual talent, 1/3 how vital they are to their team’s success. Some of the names below are in our 2017 NBA Mock Draft and on teams in the 2016-2017 College Basketball Top 25.
50. Maurice Watson, PG, Creighton, Senior
Has averaged double figures each of his first three seasons, and he’s a sleeper for Big East POY.
49. Bruce Brown, G, Miami, Freshman
Five-star recruit is tearing up practice already, and could start from Day 1. A defensive menace.
48. Jordan McLaughlin, PG, USC, Junior
Had a terrific sophomore season (13.4 ppg, 47/42/73) but then basically the entire Trojans team transferred or graduated or went pro, so McLaughlin will form a 2-man game with forward Bennie Boatwright, who just missed this list.
47. Jack Gibbs, G, Davidson, Senior
Averaged 23.5 ppg last year and should be a contender for A-10 Player of the Year.
46. Antonio Blakeney, G, LSU, Sophomore
Highly-touted coming out of high school, he never became the wingman to Ben Simmons, and struggled (42/33 shooting; 12.6 ppg).
45. Peter Jok, G, Iowa, Senior
Played in the shadow of Jarrod Uthoff, but had a fantastic season (16.1 ppg, 43/40/85).
44. Kris Jenkins, F, Villanova, Senior
Mr. Clutch probably can’t improve on how he ended his junior year: Winning the title on a 3-pointer at the buzzer. Also, he was incredible from deep in the NCAA Tournament: 17-of-35.
43. Austin Nichols, F, Virginia, Junior
Sat out a year after transferring from Memphis, where he put up 13.3 ppg.
42. Kobi Simmons, G, Arizona, Freshman
Big point guard was the best prep player in Georgia last year and should start from Day 1.
41. Nigel Hayes, F, Wisconsin, senior
Struggled offensively without Dekker and Kaminsky, and saw his shooting percentages dip from 49/39 to 36/29.
40. Seth Allen, G, Virginia Tech, Senior
This is a projection that the former Maryland guard will greatly improve on his 14.7 ppg junior campaign. Gave Miami a career-high 31 points in the ACC Tournament.
39. Chris Boucher, C, Oregon, Senior
Led the Pac-12 with 2.9 blocks per game, and also put up 12.1 ppg and 7.4 while only playing 25 minutes per game.
38. Frank Mason, PG, Kansas, Junior
Averaged 12.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg and 4.6 apg in a memorable season that ended with a forgettable 1-of-6 shooting night from deep in an Elite 8 loss to Villanova.
37. Frank Jackson, PG, Duke, Freshman
Such a promising point guard prospect that freshman Derryck Thornton transferred because Jackson was going to win the job.
36. Nick Emery, G, BYU, Sophomore
It’ll be his team with Fischer and Collinsworth gone, so I’m expecting big things. Averaged 16.3 ppg as a freshman. Emery will be joined by two high school teammates who return from their Mormon missions.
35. Nigel Williams-Goss, G, Gonzaga
Sat out last season after transferring from Washington, where he a monster as a freshman, averaging 15.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists.
34. Dennis Smith, PG, NC State, Freshman
I’ll tune out moans from the Wolfpack fans because Smith – who is a 6-foot-2 version of Russell Westbrook from an athletic standpoint – is coming off an ACL injury. He’s explosive. Loves to dunk. Can he lead a team as a freshman in the ACC?
33. Mikal Bridges, F, Villanova, Sophomore
Only averaged 6.4 ppg coming off the bench for the National Champs, but he’ll have a much larger role and NBA teams love his versatility.
32. Miles Bridges, F, Michigan State, Freshman
Spartans lost their top three scorers and are rebuilding … probably with Bridges as a primary scorer along with senior guard Eron Harris.
31. Lauri Markkanen, C, Arizona, Freshman
The 7-footer from Finland averaged 18 ppg at the FIBA European Championships in 2015. Shoots 3’s. Soaring up NBA draft charts.
30. Devonte Graham, G, Kansas, Junior
Excellent defender and explosive scorer, he gave Buddy Hield fits last year (especially in the February meeting). If Graham (17 points) had help against Villanova, the Jayhawks advance to the Final Four.
29. Caleb Swanigan, PF, Purdue, Sophomore
Nice freshman year (10.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg) and should improve with AJ Hammons off to the NBA.
28. Shake Milton, G, SMU, Sophomore
Big guard (6-foot-5) excelled behind Nic Moore last year, but now that Moore’s graduated, it’s Milton’s team. He averaged 10.5 ppg on 47/42 shooting last year.
27. OG Anunoby, F, Indiana, Sophomore
Too high for a guy who played 13 minutes a game? Nope. Buried behind Troy Williams, Anunoby scored 24 points in two games vs Michigan and is an incredible athlete. A candidate to be the most improved player in the nation.
26. Malik Monk, G, Kentucky, Freshman
Will he be the most explosive guard in the country from November? It’s entirely possible. I loved watching Jamal Murray last year, but Wildcats fans will have forgotten about him by Thanksgiving.
25. Trevon Bluiett, G, Xavier, Junior
Led the Muskeeters in scoring (15.1 ppg) and shot 39 percent on 3’s. Forms perhaps the most underrated backcourt in the country with Sumner.
24. Jaron Blossomgame, F, Clemson, Senior
Wisely pulled out of the NBA draft and should be one of the best returning players in the ACC. Averaged 18.7 ppg and 6.6 rpg for the Tigers last year.
23. VJ Beachem, F, Notre Dame, Junior
Averaged 12 ppg as a 3rd banana for the Irish, but he’ll be the man this year, and I’m expecting big things from the talented wing.
22. Jalen Adams, G, UConn, Sophomore
Best remembered for this shot, but he’s going to do much more this year for the Huskies. Averaged a modest 7.3 ppg as a freshman but only played 23 minutes a night.
21. London Perrantes, G, Virginia, Senior
Shot a blistering 48 percent on 3’s last year, but the point guard had just one assist in the collapse Elite 8 loss to Syracuse.
20. Tyler Dorsey, G, Oregon, Sophomore
Excellent freshman year (13.4 ppg) ended with a rough NCAA tournament, when he shot a combined 5-of-19 against Duke and Oklahoma.
19. Edmond Sumner, PG, Xavier, Sophomore
Dynamic player who, if he adds a reliable shot, could make a run at Big East Player of the Year. Averaged 11 ppg, 3.6 apg, 3.4 rpg but only shot 30 percent on 3-pointers.
18. Josh Hart, G, Villanova, Senior
Good sophomore year mushroomed into a terrific junior campaign (15.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg). Had a memorable 23-point effort in the Final Four vs Oklahoma.
17 De’Aaron Fox, G, Kentucky, Freshman
A more athletic, left-handed version of Brandon Knight? Not a shooter on that level yet, but he’s very fun to watch.
16. Jordan Woodard, G, Oklahoma, Senior
Averaged 13 points alongside Buddy Hield in the backcourt, and shot better from three (45%) than he did from the field (41%). But will he get nearly as many open looks with Hield gone?
15. Bam Adebayo, F, Kentucky, Freshman
Looks like a man among boys in these highlights, similar to Dwight Howard physically against high school kids. But does he have the offensive skills to do this at the college level immediately?
14. Melo Trimble, PG, Maryland, Junior
Probably should be lower given his sophomore struggles. Still a monster in the pick-and-roll, but I wonder how he’ll look this year losing four starters. The guess? Good.
13. Dillon Brooks, F, Oregon, Junior
Will be one of the favorites for Pac-12 Player of the Year. Averaged 16.7 ppg and 5.4 rpg as a sophomore.
12. Justin Jackson, F, UNC, Junior
Very good all-around player, he’ll need to make the leap to star with Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige graduating. Averaged 12.6 ppg and 3.8 apg, and is a top flight defender.
11. Monte Morris, G, Iowa State, Senior
One of the most underrated players in the nation, he returned for his final year and could be a Big 12 Player of the Year candidate. Averaged 13.8 ppg and 6.9 apg.
10. Ethan Happ, F, Wisconsin, Sophomore
A projection based on how he progressed as a freshman. Had 18 points and 15 rebounds vs Syracuse; and 14/12 against Notre Dame in the gut-wrenching NCAA Tourney loss.
9. Tyler Lydon, F, Syracuse, Sophomore
Became a force in March Madness (20 blocks in five games) as the Orange made a run to the Final 4. I don’t think 18-10 are absurd average projections for next year.
8. Grayson Allen, SG, Duke, Junior
Most improved player in college basketball last year. Went from small minutes and stats as a freshman to 21.6 ppg on 46/41/83 as a sophomore. Will be the “veteran” on a young, loaded Duke team that should win the title.
7. Lonzo Ball, G, UCLA, Freshman
The oldest of three brothers who were excellent in dominating California high school basketball last year. Weird-looking jumper. Very good defender. Smart player, great passer.
6. Thomas Bryant, C, Indiana, Sophomore
Averaged 11.9 ppg and 5.8 rpg in just 22 minutes a game and the early favorite for Big 10 Player of the Year.
4. Ivan Rabb, F, California, Sophomore
Highest returning player from last year’s list, the 6-foot-11 forward averaged 12.5 ppg and 8.6 rpg. Cal lost its three other best players, so it’ll be the Rabb show next season.
3. Markelle Fultz, PG, Washington, Freshman
MVP of Team USA at the Under-18 Championships. No young player has risen like Fultz in the last 18 months. Going to be a major star.
2. Josh Jackson, G, Kansas, Freshman
A 19-year old freshman who turns 20 before March Madness, he’s a dynamo on both ends, superior athletically and the Kansas backcourt is on this list, so he’ll be in good hands.
1. Harry Giles, F, Duke, Freshman
The early favorite to be the #1 pick in the 2017 draft. Tore his ACL and MCL after his freshman year in high school; during his senior year, he partially tore his ACL. Is his ceiling Tim Duncan? Kevin Garnett?
Just Missed [UPDATE]:
Bennie Boatwright, F, USC, Sophomore
Jordan Bell, F, Junior, Oregon
Allonzo Trier, G, Arizona, Sophomore
Jonathan Isaac, F, FSU, Freshman
Tyler Davis, C, Texas A&M, Sophomore
Tyler Roberson, F, Syracuse, Senior
Dusty Hannahs, G, Arkansas, Senior
Jalen Brunson, PG, Villanova, Sophomore
Marques Bolden, C, Duke
Malcolm Hill, G, Illinois, Senior
Josh Hawkinson, F, Washington State, Junior
Mo Alie-Cox, F, VCU, Senior
Omar Prewitt, G, William & Mary, Junior
Deng Adel, F, Louisville, Sophomore
Tyus Battle, PG, Syracuse, Freshman
Zach LeDay, F, Virginia Tech, Senior
Isaiah Hicks, F, UNC, Senior
Bonzie Colson, F, Notre Dame, Junior
Isaac Hamilton, G, UCLA, Senior
Carlton Bragg, F, Kansas, Sophomore
James Blackmon, G, Indiana
Kareem Canty, G, Auburn, Junior – Former Marshall player’s career is over
Andrew White, G, Nebraska, Senior – Just announced he’s transferring
Names added AFTER the post, per your recommendations:
Joel Berry, PG, UNC, Junior
Dedric Lawson, F, Memphis, Sophomore
Vince Edwards, F, Purdue, Junior
Michael Young, F, Pittsburgh, Senior
Moses Kingsley, F, Arkansas, Senior
Dwayne Bacon, G, Florida State, Sophomore
Corey Sanders, G, Rutgers, Sophomore
Charles Cooke, G, Dayton, Senior
Alec Peters, F, Valparaiso, Senior
Jordan Mathews, G, Gonzaga, Graduate Transfer
Jacob Evans, G, Cincinnati, Sophomore
Jawun Evans, G, Oklahoma State, Sophomore