Ranking the Nation's Top 50 Players for the 2016-17 NCAA Basketball Season
College basketball is evolving, and that starts to become clear when evaluating the best players in the country.
The last two national champions have played a small-ball 4-man who in the past would have been considered a wing. A lot of attention is paid to this in the NBA—it's the Draymond Green effect—but it's even more prevalent in college. Many teams are downsizing at the power forward position to gain an advantage on the offensive end.
It's hard to remember a year when more of the most valuable players in the college game were wings that play a position typically reserved for big men.
Another takeaway from this list will be that it's a strong year for freshmen. It has long been believed that the 2016 group was a talented class, and early returns (from exhibition games and word out of practices) are that the freshmen are not disappointing.
That said, we should still learn from history. While the one-and-done rule has given us some awesome freshmen, a handful of 5-star guys have flopped the last few years. While I'm predicting several top-tier guys will have a heavy impact, the freshmen are the least represented class on this list.
The criteria for making the top 50 were a combination of role, talent and past production. This is not a mock draft for the NBA. This is a prediction of who will be the most valuable and productive college basketball players this season. You can consider it a draft, if you'd like, but for strictly college purposes.
V.J. Beachem, Notre Dame
2015-16 Stats: 12.0 PPG, 3.9 RPG
Beachem has to make the difficult transition from complementary piece to go-to scorer, but there's no debating he has serious ability. He has one of the smoothest jumpers in college basketball, and he's 6'8". The Irish have other options in Steve Vasturia and Bonzie Colson, but they need Beachem to be a stud to keep their run of NCAA tourney success alive.
Justin Jackson, North Carolina
2015-16 Stats: 12.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.8 APG
Jackson looked like a star early last season when Marcus Paige was out, but his perimeter jumper has held him back from becoming a 15-17 points-per-game scorer. In two years, he's made just 29.2 percent of his threes. He does his best work in the mid-range and is one of the few wings in the college game who understands how to move without the ball.
Ja'Quan Newton, Miami
2015-16 Stats: 10.5 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 2.5 APG, 0.9 SPG
Head coach Jim Larranaga has had success with lead guards at Miami, and Newton takes over this season following Angel Rodriguez's graduation. A lot of shots went out the door with Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan. Newton has already thrived in a scoring role—he was a microwave man off the bench last year—and he's the only player on the roster who has played a high-usage role before.
Phil Forte, Oklahoma State
2015-16 Stats (3 Games): 13.3 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 0.3 SPG
Forte is only 5'11" and looks more like a manager than a three-point-bombing assassin, but the guy who came to Oklahoma State as a package deal with Marcus Smart is one of the Big 12's most feared shooters. Forte was granted a medical redshirt last season after suffering a season-ending elbow injury three games in. He made 238 threes his first three seasons as a Cowboy and averaged 15.0 points and 1.9 steals per game two years ago on an NCAA tournament team.
Dedric Lawson, Memphis
2015-16 Stats: 15.8 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.7 BPG, 1.2 SPG
Head coach Tubby Smith was smart to retain Lawson's father on the staff at Memphis. Smith has not had a talent as special as Lawson since he coached in Lexington, Kentucky. Lawson is a power forward with guard skills, which makes him a difficult matchup no matter who you guard him with.
KeVaughn Allen, Florida
2015-16 Stats: 11.6 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.1 SPG
Allen was one of the most underrated prospects in the 2015 recruiting class, and he made an instant impact as a freshman at Florida. I saw some Victor Oladipo in him when I watched him on the Nike EYBL circuit, and he was further along as a freshman than Oladipo was his first year at Indiana. He's now Florida's go-to scorer and is in line for a big year, especially if he can improve on his 31.5 percent shooting from deep. He's a better shooter than that, which his 84.6 percent clip at the free-throw line would suggest.
Edmond Sumner, Xavier
2015-16 Stats: 11.0 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.3 SPG
Sumner was still figuring out how good he could be last season. At 6'6" with blazing speed, he's a point guard who should make a lot of money one day. Xavier has some question marks inside, but head coach Chris Mack returns a nice core that could challenge Villanova for a Big East title if Sumner lives up to his potential.
Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin
2015-16 Stats: 13.1 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 2.4 APG
I should address leaving Nigel Hayes off this list. Hayes is a solid (but overrated) player. He's in a group that just missed the cut. Both Koenig and Ethan Happ averaged fewer points than Hayes last season but were more valuable and efficient. Koenig is fun to watch shake dudes off the dribble, and he's a clutch shot-maker. Here's some of his finest work.
Maurice Watson Jr., Creighton
2015-16 Stats: 14.1 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 6.5 APG, 1.0 SPG
Watson is at his best creating for others, and he has a new weapon to share the ball with this season in former K-State guard Marcus Foster. Head coach Greg McDermott's offense is fun to watch when he has talent. Do yourself a favor and find Fox Sports 1 on the guide to watch Watson run the show for the Bluejays this year.
Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
2015-16 Stats: 15.1 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.2 APG, 0.9 SPG
Everyone forgets how good a team like Xavier was because it got knocked out of the tournament early. Here's a reminder that the Musketeers were a legitimate Top 10 team last season, and Bluiett was the star of that group. He's one of several wings on this list who kill it as small-ball 4s.
Allonzo Trier, Arizona
2015-16 Stats: 14.8 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.1 APG
It's a mystery if Trier is going to play this season. Head coach Sean Miller held him out of Arizona's exhibition games and has not said why Trier is not playing. If he does play, Trier is expected to be Arizona's star this year. Miller's teams are usually balanced, but Trier is such a natural scorer that he could put up the best numbers at Arizona since Derrick Williams was on campus.
Bryant Crawford, Wake Forest
2015-16 Stats: 13.8 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 4.4 APG
Crawford is somewhat of an unknown nationally because Wake Forest was mediocre last year. Dating back to his time at Kansas as an assistant, Wake Forest head coach Danny Manning has always done well with player development, and Crawford has the goods to be special. He is a big, athletic guard who is on the radar of NBA scouts and gives the Demon Deacons a chance to make a leap this season.
De'Aaron Fox, Kentucky
2015-16 Stats (High School, per MaxPreps): 31.3 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 3.9 APG, 2.8 SPG
Fox will be one of the faster players end to end in college basketball. His jumper is inconsistent, but he's slithery with the ball in his hands and does much of his scoring off the dribble in the paint. He also has the potential to rack up a lot of steals thanks to his quickness and reach.
Moses Kingsley, Arkansas
2015-16 Stats: 15.9 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 1.2 APG, 2.4 BPG, 1.1 SPG
Kingsley is a nice anchor on both ends for the Razorbacks. He's athletic enough to be a weapon in head coach Mike Anderson's press and protects the rim in the half court while also gobbling up rebounds. Offensively, he can score from the blocks and knock down a face-up jumper.
Peter Jok, Iowa
2015-16 Stats: 16.1 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.3 SPG
With Jarrod Uthoff's graduation, Jok is now Iowa's only high-usage scorer left on the roster. Head coach Fran McCaffery's teams always play fast and do a good job of getting several shots for their star in both transition and the half court. Pencil Jok in for a lot of shots and points this season.
Jonathan Isaac, Florida State
2015-16 Stats (High School): 17.6 PPG, 10.0 RPG
Isaac is a guy NBA scouts are very intrigued by because of his combination of length, skill and athleticism as a 6'10" wing. His ideal spot in college is power forward, and that could be a challenge because he's so thin. But he's also a mismatch waiting to happen, and if the Seminoles are going to make the jump to becoming an NCAA tournament team, they need Isaac to be good.
Tyler Dorsey, Oregon
2015-16 Stats: 13.4 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.0 APG
Dorsey was one of the most consistent freshmen in college basketball last year, and he'll be Oregon’s go-to scorer until Dillon Brooks returns from a foot injury. Much like Joseph Young before him, he's a perfect fit in Oregon's uptempo system, where an early three-point jack is never frowned upon.
Thomas Bryant, Indiana
2015-16 Stats: 11.9 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.9 BPG
The Hoosiers do a great job of spreading the floor around Bryant and allowing him to often work from the blocks without seeing double-teams. That helped him shoot 68.3 percent from the field as a freshman. He'll miss some easy opportunities Yogi Ferrell created, but he should consistently produce no matter who he's playing with because his motor runs endlessly.
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
2015-16 Stats: 12.4 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.9 BPG
Happ is one of the cleverest scorers in college basketball with a bag of tricks that makes post defenders look silly. Wisconsin is famous for its player development—see Kaminsky, Frank—and the Badgers have the luxury of Happ's playing three more years because he was behind Kaminsky and redshirted as a freshman. He's also a sneaky-good defender who ranked 20th in steals rate last year, per KenPom.com. He was the only player taller than 6'5" to rank in the top 50.
Joel Berry, North Carolina
2015-16 Stats: 12.8 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.5 SPG
Berry was a rock during North Carolina's run to the title game. He does a little bit of everything for the Heels and deserves credit for piloting the nation's most efficient offense last year. He'll be relied upon to score even more this year after Marcus Paige's graduation.
Lonzo Ball, UCLA
2015-16 Stats (High School): 23.9 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 11.5 APG, 5.1 SPG
UCLA needed an influx of talent and got just that in Ball and T.J. Leaf. Ball gives the Bruins the natural point guard they needed and moves Bryce Alford off the ball, allowing him to be more of a scoring guard. The 6'6" Ball can do a bit of everything, but it's his vision that makes him special.
Alec Peters, Valparaiso
2015-16 Stats: 18.4 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 1.3 APG
Peters is a 6'9" stretch power forward who made 91 threes and shot 44 percent from deep last year. He flies under the radar because he plays at Valpo, but he would put up numbers anywhere he played. He helped lead the Crusaders to the postseason NIT title game last season, averaging 20.8 points per game for the tournament.
Donovan Mitchell, Louisville
2015-16 Stats: 7.4 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.7 APG, 0.8 SPG
It's really hard to find where to put Mitchell on this list. Someone is going to be the star at Louisville this season, and it's a safe bet Rick Pitino is going to have a Top 10-15 team. Hence, that guy belongs on this list. Mitchell and Deng Adel are the best candidates, and I'm going with Mitchell because he showed more as a freshman. He's also a freak athlete who will find a way to put up numbers as a slasher and could be a lottery pick one day if his jumper develops.
Tyler Davis, Texas A&M
2015-16 Stats: 11.3 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.1 BPG
The Texas A&M offense should go through this 6'10", 270-pound beast on the blocks. Davis is a throwback who understands who he is and is happy to spend a majority of the time in the low post. With excellent hands and a good understanding for how to use his big body, he's an efficient scoring machine who shot 65.5 percent from the field as a freshman.
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
2015-16 Stats: 10.2 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 1.8 APG
Swanigan could learn some lessons from Texas A&M's Davis. The Purdue big fella spent a little bit too much time trying to prove he can play both inside and out as a freshman. While it's a luxury that he's a threat from the outside, he made just 21 of 72 threes and would be better served throwing around his weight on the blocks. He also has soft hands and knows how to carve out space with his big body. Used effectively, he could be a monster this year.
Johnathan Motley, Baylor
2015-16 Stats: 11.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.1 BPG
Motley is a candidate to follow the Taurean Prince path and end up a lottery pick. Motley is the more talented of the two, but he's still in the prove-it phase of his career. Motley told me at Big 12 media day that he believes he'll play a role similar to Prince this year as Baylor's stretch 4. If he can add perimeter scoring to complement his inside game, he has potential to put up huge numbers.
Malik Monk, Kentucky
2015-16 Stats (High School): 28.6 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 4.4 APG
Monk has a lot of similarities to Jamal Murray in his approach to the game in that he rarely sees a shot he doesn't like, although he does a lot of his work in the mid-range and Murray floated more to the perimeter. Monk will inherit Murray's role and delight UK fans with his theatrics around the rim. In addition to one of the best mid-range jumpers in the college game, he'll be one of the top dunkers.
Tyler Lydon, Syracuse
2015-16 Stats: 10.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1.8 BPG, 1.1 SPG
Lydon was a steady two-way player for the Orange as a freshman, and numbers do not capture his value. He can play three different positions—both forward spots and center when needed. He's talented enough to be Syracuse's go-to guy, but if Nebraska grad transfer Andrew White takes on a high-usage role as the primary scorer, Lydon will be one of the best complementary players in college basketball.
James Blackmon Jr., Indiana
2015-16 Stats: 15.8 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.2 SPG
Blackmon is back after missing most of last season with a knee injury. He has his faults—mostly on the defensive end—but few guys can get buckets like the Indiana gunner. He was burying 46.3 percent of his threes last season through 13 games. With Yogi Ferrell gone, the Hoosiers will rely even more on Blackmon, but it's looking like he'll get some help from the next guy on this list.
OG Anunoby, Indiana
2015-16 Stats: 4.9 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 0.8 SPG
Anunoby gets the Victor Oladipo treatment and looks to be the next gem Tom Crean has uncovered. Much like Oladipo, Anunoby wasn't a big-time prospect out of high school but flashed potential on both ends of the floor as a freshman and is now in line for a much bigger role. He's off to a terrific start in two exhibition games, averaging 20.5 points and knocking down seven of 11 threes after making just 13 all of last season.
Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State
2015-16 Stats: 12.9 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 4.9 APG, 1.1 SPG
Jawun Evans put up two of the most impressive lines in college basketball last season:
- 42 points, six assists and seven boards against Oklahoma and Buddy Hield.
- 22 points, eight dimes and six rebounds in a 19-point upset win over Kansas.
Evans missed the last half of the season with a shoulder injury and played on a mediocre team, so it's easy to forget about him. But he's one of the best all-around guards in the country—equipped with terrific vision and a 47.5 percent three-point stroke—and he should be even better this season with Phil Forte as his running mate and Brad Underwood's taking over the program.
Devonte' Graham, Kansas
2015-16 Stats: 11.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.4 SPG
Graham came on strong late last season and emerged as one of the best two-way guards in the Big 12. He could be even better this season with the addition of Josh Jackson. Graham is KU's best spot-up shooter—44.1 percent from deep last year—and he'll be on the receiving end of a lot of drive-and-kicks from both Frank Mason and Jackson.
Bam Adebayo, Kentucky
2015-16 Stats (High School): 18.9 PPG, 13.0 RPG
Adebayo looks nothing like a freshman. He's built like a grown man—6'10" and 260 pounds—and he's a freak athlete. He'll thrive playing with Kentucky's speedy guards as a lob catcher. He also has a developing back-to-the-basket game. He's exactly what Kentucky was missing last season, and his presence should get the Cats back to playing dominant defense.
Kris Jenkins, Villanova
2015-16 Stats: 13.6 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.2 APG
Jenkins was arguably Villanova's best player down the stretch last season. He averaged 18.6 points per game over Nova's final 14 games, and he hit the biggest shot in the history of the program. Jenkins does not impress on looks alone. But don't let the pudgy, undersized power forward fool you. He's extremely skilled, a better-than-you'd-think defender and a constant mismatch as the prototypical small-ball 4.
Miles Bridges, Michigan State
2015-16 Stats (High School): 25.0 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 5.0 APG, 2.0 SPG
The Spartans are hurting in the frontcourt right now with Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter both out, but the plus side is it's forced Tom Izzo to unleash Bridges as a small-ball 4. Bridges is perfect for that spot and killed it in two exhibition games, averaging 26.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.0 blocks per game. This might be unfair, but Bridges is like a lefty version of a young Charles Barkley. He punishes rims with ferocious dunks, and like a young Chuck, he is dangerous when he gets going downhill.
Frank Mason, Kansas
2015-16 Stats: 12.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 4.6 APG, 1.3 SPG
Bill Self plans to use some smaller lineups this season because his backcourt is much deeper than his frontcourt, and that could benefit Mason. Mason is best when he's able to operate in space and put defenders on skates. It's hard to predict who will emerge as KU's leading scorer, but don't be surprised if it's Mason and not Josh Jackson. Mason is a more natural scorer, and playing alongside Jackson and Devonte' Graham, Mason can worry less about distributing and focus more on getting buckets.
Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga
2014-15 Stats (at Washington): 15.6 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 5.9 APG, 1.1 SPG
Williams-Goss was one of the best point guards in college basketball two years ago at Washington, and now he's two years older and surrounded by a much better supporting cast at Gonzaga. That's important because Williams-Goss is more of a distributor than a scorer, so he should benefit from playing with more talented players. Mark Few has also had recent success with transfers (see Kyle Wiltjer, second-team All-American his first season as a Zag).
Ivan Rabb, California
2015-16 Stats: 12.5 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 1.2 BPG
Rabb was one of the most surprising players to return to school. He was a borderline lottery pick had he bolted after his freshman year. Now he'll become the go-to guy at Cal. The Bears have less talent around him, but the offense could improve with Rabb's usage going way up. Rabb is a throwback in that he embraces operating with his back to the basket. He has slick footwork and is ambidextrous, so he can score over either shoulder with either hand.
Austin Nichols, Virginia
2014-15 Stats (at Memphis): 13.3 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 3.4 BPG
Nichols is arguably the most talented post player Tony Bennett has ever coached. The Cavaliers are in need of scoring after graduating Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill, and the offense will likely go through Nichols in the post. Nichols will also be a weapon in Bennett's pack-line defense. Two years ago, he ranked eighth in the country in block rate, per KenPom.com. In seven years at Virginia, Bennett has never had a shot-blocker rank in the top 90.
Melo Trimble, Maryland
2015-16 Stats: 14.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 4.9 APG, 1.2 SPG
We're at the point in Trimble's career where he's gone from overrated to underrated. Trimble and the Terps disappointed last year, and that could set up a monster redemption season for the point guard. He's not surrounded by as much talent, but that was the case his freshman year when he was much more productive. He'll be allowed to dominate the ball, and Mark Turgeon should give him a heavy dosage of ball screens. Look for his freshman jumper to return (41.2 percent from three that year/31.5 percent last season) and for Trimble to put up some big numbers.
10. Dennis Smith Jr., North Carolina State
2014-15 Stats (High School): 22.2 PPG (missed his senior season)
Set your DVRs to record NC State this season.
Dennis Smith Jr. is a highlight waiting to happen with his combination of explosive athleticism and slashing ability. Smith will be one of the most dangerous transition players in the country. He has the jets to blow by defenders but also has a good feel for changing speeds, which makes him difficult to contain off the bounce.
At one time, Smith was considered the best point guard prospect in his class, but Markelle Fultz has since passed him up. Smith started to close the gap with an impressive summer at Adidas Nations, where he proved he got his burst back after tearing his ACL last August.
Cat Barber put up awesome numbers for the Wolfpack last year (23.5 PPG and 4.5 APG), and the expectation is Smith will do the same.
9. Harry Giles, Duke
2014-15 Stats (High School): 23.9 PPG, 12.5 RPG (missed his senior season)
Is he the next Karl-Anthony Towns or Greg Oden?
When healthy, Harry Giles is a new-age big man who brings a lot of similar things to the table as Towns. Defensively, he can guard multiple positions and has the quickness to switch on a guard in a ball screen. His versatility on that end is one reason Duke could have its best defense in years.
Offensively, Giles is not quite as skilled as Towns, but like the former Kentucky big man, he's comfortable working from the blocks or the perimeter. You could also argue he's quicker and bouncier than Towns.
But the big concern with Giles is whether he's ever going to stay healthy. He's torn both ACLs and recently had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, which is the one he hurt as a sophomore in high school. He tore the ACL in his right knee at the beginning of his senior season.
At full strength, he has the potential to be the best big man in college basketball as a two-way monster. Hopefully these injuries are more random bad luck than chronic.
8. Josh Hart, Villanova
2015-16 Stats: 15.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.2 SPG
Watching Villanova in the NCAA tournament was a treat to anyone who considers themselves a basketball purist. Bobby Knight, for instance, was probably getting goosebumps under his sweater. The Wildcats were just so darn fundamentally sound right down to their pivoting. No one pivoted like the 2015-16 Wildcats.
Kind of boring, huh? Well, that's Josh Hart. The dude knows how to play basketball the right way and gets his shots by taking advantage of angles and using solid footwork. He gets the absolute most out of his ability.
That's not an insult to Hart. He is talented. He's a plus athlete who is really, really strong (good work, Nova strength and conditioning coaches). He can also shoot the three and has one of the better mid-range jumpers in the college game. He's one of those college players who quietly gets his points and rarely makes a mistake on either end of the floor.
7. Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson
2015-16 Stats: 18.7 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.3 BPG
Jaron Blossomgame could have left after last season and possibly been a first-round pick. He performed well at the combine—averaging 13.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in two scrimmages—and he fits the small forward/small-ball 4ish type that the league loves right now. He's a bouncy NBA-level athlete who can shoot the three and defend multiple positions. No college player in the country has a better blend of that particular skill set than Blossomgame.
Defenses will key in on him, but he's going to be hard to stop because of his versatility. He can score from all three levels and has improved his outside jumper drastically, knocking down 44.6 percent of his threes last year after shooting 24.8 percent the previous two years.
As a fifth-year senior, Blossomgame should be hungry to improve his draft stock and get to the NCAA tournament for the first time. If he's able to do that, he should be in contention for National Player of the Year and a spot on the All-American team.
6. Markelle Fultz, Washington
2015-16 Stats (High School): 19.1 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 7.3 APG
Markelle Fultz appears this high on the list with some hesitation. Washington underachieved last season with two first-round picks along with an experienced scorer in Andrew Andrews on the roster, and Fultz is not going to have a fellow first-round prospect playing alongside him. Fultz is also one of the few freshmen on this list who I've yet to see play in person. But I'm taking the word of NBA scouts who have been talking him up for the last year.
"He's just such a modern guard," one scout told me earlier this year. "He can score. He's a playmaker. He can shoot. He can do a bunch of different things and all of them are important nowadays, and you couple that with his size [at 6'4"]. Just the way he brings the entire package is really exciting."
Fultz could be in a position similar to Ben Simmons last year, where he plays on a team that struggles but puts up monster numbers in the process.
5. Monte Morris, Iowa State
2015-16 Stats: 13.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 6.9 APG, 1.8 SPG
The steadiness of Monte Morris through his first three years in Ames, Iowa, has been ridiculous. Consider this: Since 2008, Morris has put together three of the top six assist-to-turnover-rate seasons that qualified for the NCAA leaderboard. He led the country in that statistic as a freshman and sophomore, and he finished third last year.
Morris will have to play without safety valve Georges Niang this season for the first time, but he still has weapons around him. Sharpshooter Naz Long returns after missing last season. Matt Thomas is another deadeye shooter on the perimeter, and Deonte Burton is an erratic/slightly less skilled version of Niang.
Morris told me at Big 12 media day that he's shooting the ball much better than he ever has in his career, and that should help him to develop into more of a scoring guard. He'll need to take on more of the offense with Niang gone. Expect him to average around 17 points while maintaining the stellar assist-to-turnover numbers that have kept the Cyclones near the top of the country in offensive efficiency for three straight seasons.
4. Josh Jackson, Kansas
2015-16 Stats (High School): 26.9 PPG, 13.1 RPG, 6.3 APG
The easy thing to do is to compare Josh Jackson to Andrew Wiggins, but the two are totally different players. Jackson is an awesome athlete but not quite as explosive as Wiggins, and Wiggins is a better outside shooter. Jackson is a superior ball-handler and has a better overall feel for the game.
Jackson also will spend his one season in Lawrence surrounded by a better supporting cast. There isn't a player on the roster as talented as Joel Embiid, but Wiggins was hurt by the lack of a trustworthy point guard, and Jackson has two in Frank Mason and Devonte' Graham.
Bill Self plans to use Jackson all over the floor, giving him some run as the primary ball-handler, posting him up in the mid-post area—he did some of that with Wiggins—and using him as a small-ball power forward. The Jayhawks do not have their typical dominant back-to-the-basket scorer and will rely heavily on a slash-and-kick attack. It's a different look for Self, but it should be ideal for Jackson's game.
3. Grayson Allen, Duke
2015-16 Stats: 21.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.3 SPG
Grayson Allen turned into a villain last season when he was caught multiple times on camera tripping opponents. There's no excuse for what he did, but he was under a lot of pressure carrying a team that was talented but not what we're used to seeing in Durham, North Carolina.
Allen was incredibly productive and efficient in a high-demand role, and there's no reason to believe he will not have a very good junior season. His averages could go down a tick now that he's playing alongside two future lottery picks as opposed to just one. He also might have to inherit more of a distributor role because Duke's best lineups could feature him at point guard.
It could take some time for Mike Krzyzewski to figure out his rotations, but more talent around Allen should help ease the pressure he felt a year ago. What shouldn't change is a healthy dose of Allen's driving to the rim like a mad man and finishing crazy runners with a feathery touch. He makes difficult shots look easy, and even those who hate Duke have to admit he's really fun to watch when he gets hot.
2. Dillon Brooks, Oregon
2015-16 Stats: 16.7 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.1 SPG
This ranking comes with the assumption that Dillon Brooks' foot will heal and he'll be at 100 percent when he returns. Brooks hurt his foot this summer, and it doesn't appear he's going to be ready to start the season, as head coach Dana Altman has not given a timetable yet for when he'll return.
Now let's get to what makes a healthy Brooks such a weapon.
Altman is at the top of the list of college coaches who have figured out how to thrive playing small ball, and Brooks is his cheat code. The Canadian is a bulldog at 6'7" who isn't afraid to mix it up with big men and poses a massive mismatch on the offensive end. He's one of the best at the country at putting his head down and finding a way to slash to the rim. You can put a smaller, quicker defender on him, but he'll just overpower those guys.
The one weakness for Brooks last year was three-point shooting. He was good enough for people to respect his shot, but he made only 33.8 percent. Expect that number to go up this year, which will only make Brooks a more impossible cover.
1. Jayson Tatum, Duke
2015-16 Stats (High School): 29.5 PPG, 9.1 RPG
It's so hard to predict what a freshman is going to be. A year ago, for instance, Skal Labissiere was a fixture on preseason All-American teams.
There's risk in putting Jayson Tatum in this spot. I feel a little queasy doing so. But I had the chance to watch Tatum cook for two years on the Nike EYBL circuit, and I'm convinced he's going to be a stud. Mike Krzyzewski also has a pretty good track record with gifted wing scorers.
Tatum is the most talented offensive player on Duke's roster, and that's why you don't see Grayson Allen in this spot. The freshman is incredibly smooth for a player his age and has an advanced understanding for how to get shots. He also does some of his best work from the mid-range, which is rare in today's game. His perimeter jumper has been behind his mid-range game, but an NBA scout who watched him this preseason said his three-point shot looks improved.
Strangely, the challenge for Tatum could be playing most of his minutes at his actual position of small forward. The last three scoring wings who have come through Durham (Jabari Parker, Justise Winslow and Brandon Ingram) have all killed it as small-ball 4s. Tatum has the size at 6'8" to play that spot, but Krzyzewski has so much depth inside that it'll be hard to not have two of his bigs on the floor at all times.
The luxury Tatum has is Coach K is great at putting his scorers in spots where they can be successful. This season should be no different, and like the three wings before him, Tatum should end up a lottery pick after one season at Duke. He might also leave with some National Player of the Year hardware.
C.J. Moore covers college basketball and football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.