Ranking College Basketball's Most Dynamic Duos in 2017-18
Grayson Allen will be back at Duke for one final season, and he should be one half of college basketball's most dynamic duo.
In the NBA, it has become impossible to compete for a title without a "Big Three" or even a fearsome foursome. At the college level, however, sometimes having two superstars is enough for a great season and deep NCAA tournament run. Whether it's a pair of frontcourt phenoms, two backcourt buddies or an old-fashioned inside-outside assault, these are the two-man groups most likely to dominate in 2017-18.
These duos were ranked by the combination of expected individual production and projected team success, with the goal being the biggest contributors to the best teams finish near the top. But these aren't all monster scorers. And they are not all members of legitimate title contenders, though it was almost impossible to rank in the top five without scoring well in both categories.
Normally, we dedicate at least a sentence or two to each of the honorable mentions to explain why they were close to making the cut. However, there were so many strong options for this topic that simply listing the narrow misses will have to suffice. Just know that all 14 of these pairings are going to make a major impact on the various statistical leaderboards.
Alabama: Collin Sexton and Braxton Key (Soon to be known as the X-Men)
Arizona State: Shannon Evans and Tra Holder
Auburn: Mustapha Heron and Austin Wiley
Gonzaga: Killian Tillie and Rui Hachimura
Louisville: Quentin Snider and Deng Adel
Morgan State: Phillip Carr and Tiwian Kendley
Murray State: Jonathan Stark and Terrell Miller Jr.
Oregon: Elijah Brown and Troy Brown
Saint Bonaventure: Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley
Saint Joseph's: Lamarr Kimble and Shavar Newkirk
Seton Hall: Angel Delgado and Khadeen Carrington
St. John's: Shamorie Ponds and Marcus LoVett
Texas A&M: Robert Williams and Tyler Davis
Xavier: J.P. Macura and Trevon Bluiett
10. Michael Porter Jr. and Jontay Porter, Missouri
Michael Porter Jr.: Incoming Freshman
Jontay Porter: Incoming Freshman
Over the course of the next nine months, there will be much debating over whether Michael Porter Jr. or Marvin Bagley Jr. is more deserving of the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft. There has also been much preseason chatter about whether Missouri can immediately turn things around and reach the NCAA tournament with Porter. Regardless of where you land on those arguments, the consensus is that Porter is ridiculously good.
The question the Tigers need to answer, though, is who plays second fiddle to their 6'10" enigma on the wing?
Former Texas transfer Jordan Barnett and Canisius transfer Kassius Robertson are both strong candidates, but the best bet might be Porter's younger brother, Jontay. The 5-star big man's decision (made in August) to reclassify and play one final season with his sibling is what cemented Missouri as a legitimate threat to potentially go straight from an 8-24 season to a 24-8 campaign. Per MaxPreps, the Porters led Nathan Hale to a 29-0 record just one year after going 3-18, so this won't be their first rodeo in a rapid rebuild.
Both Porters have three-point range and the ability to make plays off the dribble, but Jontay will almost certainly serve as Missouri's starting center, making for a dynamic inside-outside duo that has been playing together for longer than any pair on this list.
9. Andrew Jones and Mohamed Bamba, Texas
Andrew Jones: 11.4 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.2 SPG, 32.8% 3PT
Mohamed Bamba: Incoming Freshman
Speaking of sensational first-year players, Shaka Smart got himself a dandy when Mohamed Bamba committed to the Longhorns in late May.
Bamba isn't nearly as polished on the offensive end as Michael Porter Jr. or DeAndre Ayton, but he might be the best defensive player in the nation as a freshman. At 7'0" with a 7'9" wingspan and the know-how to use it as a rim protector, Bamba is going to block a ton of shots and force at least twice as many bad ones as opponents feebly attempt to avoid his reach.
Point guard Andrew Jones is no slouch on defense, either, with a combined 55 steals and blocks last season as a freshman. After a sluggish start to the year, Jones averaged 13.1 points, 4.5 assists and 4.1 rebounds over his final 17 games, scoring in double figures in 15 of those contests.
Granted, Texas only went 4-13 in those games after suspending and later dismissing Tevin Mack from the team, but it was clear that Jones was the building block for the future. He'll need to drastically reduce his turnover rate (2.5 per game), but the 2016 5-star recruit is, at worst, a fringe candidate for Big 12 Player of the Year.
8. Hamidou Diallo and Kevin Knox, Kentucky
Hamidou Diallo: Incoming Freshman
Kevin Knox: Incoming Freshman
This list isn't entirely freshmen. In fact, there won't be any first-year players on the following five slides. But you didn't think you'd get through this thing without seeing a pair of new guys playing for Kentucky, did you?
For the Wildcats, it's not a question of if two players will shine together, but rather which two players will shine the brightest. John Calipari signed six 5-star freshmen and added two other top-100 guys to make up for losing eight of last year's top nine scorers. Factor in the return of Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones and Kentucky might have a (gulp) platoons situation on its hands again.
If there are any locks for the starting lineup, though, they are Hamidou Diallo and Kevin Knox. Thus, that pair of wings is our preseason pick for this team's dynamic duo.
Diallo almost took the none-and-done route to the NBA, testing the draft waters after spending one semester of practices in Lexington. That "experience" makes him one of the most veteran players on the roster. He needs to improve as a perimeter shooter, but in typical Kentucky fashion, he oozes athleticism and potential.
At the other end of the recruiting spectrum, Knox was a late arrival, committing in early May and immediately becoming a projected starter. Whether you want to call him a guard, a forward, a wing or just a positionless baller, Knox is probably going to be the go-to scorer for this team. It's a little scary (for people who aren't part of Big Blue Nation) to think this was the consensus No. 1 team in the way-too-early Top 25s back before Knox had even committed.
7. Chimezie Metu and Bennie Boatwright, USC
Chimezie Metu: 14.8 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 1.4 APG
Bennie Boatwright: 15.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.7 APG, 36.4% 3PT
Compared to the blue bloods and recent title contenders, USC might seem out of place when it debuts in the Top 10 of the preseason AP Top 25 this fall. Let this serve as your notice that it might have the most talented roster in the country. The ridiculous depth in the backcourt is the biggest strength for the Trojans, but it'll be the frontcourt phenoms who carry them on the quest for their first Final Four appearance since 1954.
Bennie Boatwright is a guard trapped in a center's body, but he got the best of both worlds. The 6'10" wing-forward led the Trojans in three-point attempts per game last year (6.8) and was their best free-throw shooter (90.7 percent). He was also one of their best offensive rebounders and arguably the most valuable player on the roster, despite atrocious defensive metrics.
But who needs Boatwright on defense when you have Chimezie Metu to patrol the paint? His block rate wasn't nearly as high as it was his freshman season, but he still swatted away 55 shot attempts while averaging just under 10 rebounds per 40 minutes. His offensive game still needs a little work, but he has the tools to put together a ridiculous junior year.
6. Devonte' Graham and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Kansas
Devonte' Graham: 13.4 PPG, 4.1 APG, 3.1 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 38.8% 3PT
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk: 9.8 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.9 SPG, 39.8% 3PT
Devonte' Graham is the no-brainer of the Kansas duo. He has been perennially overlooked in favor of guys like Frank Mason, Josh Jackson, Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden, but this is his year to become a household name across the nation. He should be a near-unanimous first-team All-American when those things start coming out in two months' time.
Without an obvious second half to the duo, though, we couldn't quite justify putting Kansas in the top five.
That isn't to say there aren't a ton of options. Udoka Azubuike or incoming freshman Billy Preston could give Kansas a fierce inside-outside combo. Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman should pair nicely with Graham in a dual combo-guard backcourt. Returning wing Lagerald Vick could also star alongside Graham.
Of all the candidates, our choice is fellow senior Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk for what could be college basketball's version of the Splash Bros. Both Graham and Mykhailiuk averaged more than 7.0 three-point attempts per 40 minutes last season, combining to make 164 triples—and that number should only increase with Mason (82-of-174) out of the picture.
5. Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell, Notre Dame
Bonzie Colson: 17.8 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.4 BPG, 1.1 SPG, 43.3% 3PT
Matt Farrell: 14.1 PPG, 5.4 APG, 2.0 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 42.0% 3PT
Between Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell, Notre Dame had the breakout duo of the 2016-17 season.
As sophomores, they had a combined 472 points, 261 rebounds and 79 assists while making 15 three-pointers. As juniors, those numbers skyrocketed to 1,145 points, 434 rebounds, 252 assists and 107 made triples. Colson led the ACC in rebounds per game, while Farrell finished just one assist behind Dennis Smith Jr. for first place in the conference in that category.
This duo was lost a bit in the shuffle in a conference that churned out 10 first-round draft picks, but they were two of the most valuable players in the ACC.
After losing teammates V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia, it will be key for Farrell and Colson to improve even further as seniors. If they do improve while Notre Dame wins at least 24 games for a fourth straight season, they just might be battling each other for spots in the top 10 of the National Player of the Year conversation.
4. Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, Villanova
Jalen Brunson: 14.7 PPG, 4.1 APG, 2.6 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 37.8% 3PT
Mikal Bridges: 9.8 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 39.3% 3PT
Villanova was No. 1 on this list last season with Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, and the Wildcats still made it into the top five despite losing both of those seniors.
Like Devonte' Graham at Kansas, Jalen Brunson is the clear, veteran leader of this team. A starter from day one in Philadelphia, Brunson was a solid freshman on the 2016 championship team and an All-Big East-caliber point guard as a sophomore. Pick virtually any statistic other than three-point percentage—where he slipped ever so slightly from 38.3 to 37.8—and he showed marked improvement in his second season. Year No. 3 is where he goes one step further to possible All-American and NBA draft pick.
With both Hart and Jenkins gone, Mikal Bridges should have the type of breakout that Hart experienced between his sophomore and junior seasons. Bridges isn't quite as prolific a three-point shooter, but there are a lot of similarities between him and Hart. He puts forth tremendous effort on both ends of the floor and looks like a natural in everything he does.
Bridges' transition from defensive stalwart who occasionally scores to featured piece of the offense should be seamless—particularly with Brunson running the show.
3. Miles Bridges and Nick Ward, Michigan State
Miles Bridges: 16.9 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.5 BPG, 38.9% 3PT
Nick Ward: 13.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.5 BPG
One almost has to feel bad for Mikal Bridges. Even if he has the breakout year for Villanova that we're expecting, there's no chance he becomes the most popular Mi. Bridges in college basketball. That honor is already reserved for Michigan State's Miles Bridges, who may well be the preseason National Player of the Year for some outlets.
The Spartans were going to be strong this year regardless of what Bridges decided about the NBA, but they became one of the favorites for the 2018 national championship when he opted for a sophomore season. Save for a pair of subpar games right after he returned from an ankle injury, there was not a more explosive or attention-grabbing player in the country. It's almost laughable that he felt the need to return and prove even more of what he can do.
On a stats-per-minute basis, though, Nick Ward is actually the better contributor of this tandem. He only played 19.8 minutes per game because of a combination of conditioning and foul trouble, but he averaged 28.0 points, 13.1 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per 40 minutes. For sake of an "I'm not saying, I'm just saying" comparison, DeMarcus Cousins' numbers as a freshman at Kentucky in 2010 were 25.8, 16.8 and 3.0, respectively.
Because of Michigan State's copious frontcourt depth, the Spartans don't need to push Ward to 30-or-more minutes per game as a sophomore. But if he can remain that effective for 23-24 minutes per night while the rest of the roster improves a bit with age, this team could be just about unstoppable.
2. Allonzo Trier and DeAndre Ayton, Arizona
Allonzo Trier: 17.2 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.7 APG, 39.1% 3PT
DeAndre Ayton: Incoming Freshman
We round out the list with a pair of teams boasting a proven scoring machine at shooting guard and a freshman phenom in the post.
The runner-up in that category is Arizona's duo of Allonzo Trier and DeAndre Ayton.
Trier missed the first half of last season following a suspension for inadvertently taking PEDs, but even after it was out of his system, his performance was noticeably enhanced. Like Villanova's Jalen Brunson, Trier was already doggone good as a freshman before becoming a monster as a sophomore.
Without the benefit of warming up for the first two months against predominantly inferior nonconference competition, Trier torched the Pac-12. In his last seven games before the NCAA tournament, he averaged 22.1 points while shooting 51.4 percent from three.
Joining forces with Trier is a versatile 7'0" monster. Ayton has the potential to be the total package in this positionless era of hoops. He can dribble, pass, shoot from the perimeter, rebound and defend at a high level and will enter the year on the short list of guys in the running for the No. 1 pick.
Several scouts have expressed concern about Ayton's motor, suggesting he became complacent when he was ranked No. 1 in the 2017 class for the first several years of his high school career. But if he plays the season with a chip on his shoulder from a summer of hearing people argue about Michael Porter Jr. and Marvin Bagley Jr. as the top player in this year's class, he and Trier could carry the Wildcats to a national championship.
1. Grayson Allen and Marvin Bagley Jr., Duke
Grayson Allen: 14.5 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.5 APG, 36.5% 3PT
Marvin Bagley Jr.: Incoming Freshman
With apologies to all other candidates, this was the clear winning duo.
Grayson Allen was the consensus preseason National Player of the Year last season, and there's at least an outside chance he'll be headed for that honor again this year. He struggled through injuries and tripping controversies in 2016-17, but he's still the same person who averaged 21.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG and 3.5 APG while shooting 41.7 percent from three as a sophomore.
If the senior doesn't get that preseason title, though, his freshman counterpart might. When Marvin Bagley Jr. reclassified and signed with Duke in August, he became the projected 2018 No. 1 overall pick in the eyes of a lot of draft prognosticators. His combination of versatility and energy will make him an instant star at the college level.
The Blue Devils have gone a bit smaller in recent years with guys like Justise Winslow, Brandon Ingram and Jayson Tatum serving as the de facto power forward. However, Mike Krzyzewski is no stranger to the 6'11" stretch 4. Just a few years ago, he turned Ryan Kelly into an indispensable starter. Give Kelly better vision and handling and twice as much athleticism, and you're beginning to scratch the surface of what Bagley will bring to the table.
The only concern here is role allocation on the roster. In addition to Allen and Bagley, Duke has Trevon Duval, Gary Trent Jr. and Wendell Carter on its list of guys who could average 15 points per game. Perhaps a different duo of Dukies will start the season on fire and become the pair of the year. The safest bet is on Allen and Bagley, though.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames. Recruiting information courtesy of Scout.com. Advanced stats courtesy of Sports-Reference and KenPom.com.