College basketball will return this week, meaning this is the time to release all our pre-season previews and best players list. This list is definitely better than the rest, however, because I looked up the stats and watched a few minutes of highlights for every player here. There’s simply no reason to read anywhere else.
Moreover, this list is broken into six tiers: Superstars, Team Carriers, Exciting Pieces, Minutes Eaters, Mid-Major Stars and Breakout Picks. Each group should be fairly self-explanatory, but it’s worth mentioning (a) minutes eaters are basically team carriers except not as good and (b) if a mid-major player is good enough, like Jalen Crutcher, he can be higher up the rankings.
Tier 1: Superstars
1. Luka Garza, Iowa
After being spurned for National Player of the Year, Luka Garza is back to get even more buckets. He’s undoubtedly the most unguardable player in the country, thanks to his bottomless bag of tricks and elite finishing ability. Don’t be surprised if the ole senior averages 25 points per game as he leads the Hawkeyes to Big Ten contention.
2. Jared Butler, Baylor
The Baylor Bears finally put it all together in 2019-20, but a certain virus got in the way of their title pursuits. Jared Butler could have been a surefire first round pick, but decided he wanted to come back because he had unfinished business. He’s going to be the heart and soul of the preseason #2 team.
3. Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois
Illinois might be back, folks, and it’s because star guard Ayo Dosunmu (and Kofi Cockburn) returns to Champagne. The junior guard is a pure winner, a team player who always steps up when his team needs him most. Even if his stats are good not great (16.6 points and 3.3 assists per game), he’s going to get all the credit if the Illini push for a Big Ten title.
4. Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State
The only freshman on the superstar tier, Cade Cunningham is the heavy favorite to go first overall in the 2021 draft. He’s a 6’8, 220-lbs. point guard who has no tangible weakness in his game. The only real issue is that Oklahoma State is banned from the NCAA Tournament, so Cunningham may stop trying if and when he’s cemented himself as a surefire top pick.
5. Marcus Zegarowski, Creighton
If there’s any out-of-nowhere Naismith winner, it will Marcus Zegarowski carrying the Blue Jays on his back. The 6’2 guard is impossible to contain, a born bucket-getter who knows how to use his threat to generate looks for his teammates. After averaging 16 points and 5 assists last season, expect him to be even better as he fills in for the departed Ty-Shon Alexander.
Tier 2: Team Carriers
6. Marcus Garrett, Kansas
The ultimate X-factor a season ago, Marcus Garrett is the best player to return from the 2020 title favorites. We will see how much he can handle without Devon Dotson running the show, but so far he’s a talented player who can do everything at an extremely high level. Even if he doesn’t average more than 12 points, there’s a good chance he’s the best all-around player in the country.
7. Collin Gillespie, Villanova
Villanova was once again an elite offense in 2019-20, even with a slowed down tempo. The main reason was a spread attack with five high-level scorers on the court, with Collin Gillespie connecting the dots. The surrounding pieces are improving, so his role may pivot even more into playmaking.
8. Corey Kispert, Gonzaga
The #1 team in the country is not there because of star players, but because of their elite depth. Corey Kispert is probably the best of the bunch, a smooth wing who gives defenses issues with his three-level scoring ability.
9. Keyontae Johnson, Florida
A bully if I’ve ever seen one, Keyontae Johnson sets the tone for a tough and physical Gators squad. Much like his brother Keldon, he’s an efficient scorer, a terrific rebounder and physical defender. Let’s just hope Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann are as good as they’re supposed to be so that Florida can be a great team.
10. Jalen Crutcher, Dayton
Even without National Player of the Year Obi Toppin, the Dayton Flyers should be an excellent team. Obviously Toppin cannot be replaced, but it’s still a wide-open, guard-driven offense that will run through Jalen Crutcher. He’s so skilled and so smart that’s it’s hard to imagine him not being a star in his own right.
11. Garrison Brooks, North Carolina
No team disappointed as badly as North Carolina as season ago, but it’s hard to fault Garrison Brooks for that. He’s an old school, bully-ball forward who lives to score points in the paint. Even if UNC struggles again, Brooks will get his 18 and 8 every night.
12. Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana
Archie Miller may have finally turned around Indiana, mostly thanks to Trayce Jackson-Davis stepping into a major role as a freshman. The 6’9, 245-lbs. forward doesn’t shoot threes, but he’s modern at everything else, putting the ball on the floor, throwing outlet passes and protecting the rim.
13. Evan Mobley, USC
The second freshman in the top two tiers, Evan Mobley will have sky-high expecations on an overrated USC team. It’s rare to see big men so fluid and skilled, especially at this age. Even if his coach is a dillweed, it will be fun to see him ball out.
14. Kofi Cockburn, Illinois
The more menacing of Illinois’ star duo, Kofi Cockburn is a behemoth in the paint. He’s an above-the-rim finisher and shot blocker who brings a certain intimidation factor. It’s really too bad there will be limited capacity, because he deserves a crowd.
15. McKinley Wright IV, Colorado
McKinley Wright is still here getting buckets and leading a veteran Buffs team that hopes to redeem themselves after a late-season collapse. Wright might have to step into a bigger scoring role this season, so watch for how he balances that with being the primary playmaker and perimeter stopper.
16. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Villanova
The superb sophomore forward looks to take another step and become a walking double-double on an elite team. He’s so long, so smart and so polished — a damn basketball player in the purest sense.
17. James Bouknight, Connecticut
Sophomore James Bouknight is a high-flying guard who always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Call them winning plays and him a winning player. He figures to be even better than his surprising freshman season, particularly if he takes over for playmaking duties now that Christian Vital graduated.
18. Oscar da Silva, Stanford
As we saw last season, Oscar da Silva is so smart and so skilled that he can power Stanford to wins without even doing anything. He’s going to get buckets, but even if he doesn’t, he’s such a winning player that it cannot be overstated. (Stanford would’ve been a top-10 team if Tyrell Terry had returned.)
19. Remy Martin, Arizona State
Even if he’s overrated — CBS Sports ranked him 8th best in the country — Remy Martin is a talisman that makes the Sun Devils go. Bobby Hurley’s team is a real breakout candidate, so it goes without saying Martin could have national relevance as a shot-maker this coming season.
Tier 3: Exciting Pieces
20. B.J. Boston, Kentucky
There’s not much to dislike with B.J. Boston’s game. He’s an elite shooter, has excellent handles, work hard on defense, and can even throw down crazy dunks. The 6’7 wing will surely be top-5 pick, it’s just how valuable he will be on yet another exciting Kentucky team.
21. Jalen Johnson, Duke
In a freshman class loaded with talented wings, Jalen Johnson might have the best 2020/21 season. He’s a 6’8 bully with the skills and feel of a guard. He should be an instant star.
22. Greg Brown, Texas
I have no idea if Texas will be good or not, but they do have some very fun pieces who will be a delight to watch. Greg Brown is going to dunk on a lot of people in his one-and-done season.
23. Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga
A big, strong guard, Suggs could end up being Gonzaga’s best player this season. He’s a certain one-and-done, so enjoy the 37 wins while he’s here.
24. Scottie Barnes, Florida State
The best recruit Florida State has ever landed, Scottie Barnes is a 6’8 playmaking forward who flashes consider defensive upside. He looks a little like Tracy McGrady, a little like Blazers-era Nicolas Batum.
25. Terrence Clarke, Kentucky
A five-star wing prospect, Terrrence Clarke will have a ton of hype and pressure to succeed. He’s super long, super athletic and loves getting into the paint. He’s going to be really fun.
26. Ziaire Williams, Stanford
Smooth, polished and fearless, Ziaire Williams is not the typical Stanford recruit but man is he going to add another dimension to their outstanding team.
27. Caleb Love
The most important position in the country is North Carolina’s point guard. Everything runs through them, for better (Joel Berry) or for worse (Cole Anthony). Caleb Love is a terrific athlete and downhill scorer, but we don’t know how he will look as game manager.
Tier 4: Minutes Eaters
28. Caleb Mills, Houston
There are only a handful of players who have as much confidence as Caleb Mills. He’s a hero-ball type who loves dribbling the air out of the ball and creating his own shot, someone who can carry Houston to great heights if he catches fire.
29. MaCio Teague, Baylor
After transferring from UNC Asheville, MaCio Teague was so solid and so efficient on a tremendous Baylor team. Jared Butler will be running the offense, so Teague can maintain his role as a two-way stud.
30. Sam Hauser, Virginia
A highly touted transfer from Marquette, Sam Hauser gives the Cavaliers a three-point weapon they missed without Kyle Guy. Not that Hauser will have the same dynamism as the former Most Oustanding Player, but he’s definitely someone to watch on a potential title contender.
31. Oscar Tshiebwe, West Virginia
Another powerful big man who loves to dunk and block shots, Oscar Tshiebwe is the heart of a physical West Virginia team. The Congolese center is still developing his game, so watch for him to take a big step forward as the Mountaineers compete for a Big 12 title.
32. Chris Smith, UCLA
As UCLA romped through the Pac-12 late last season, it was Chris Smith leading the charge. Even if his shooting regresses some, he’s the most talented and physical player on a Mick Cronin team that caught the league off-guard.
33. Yves Pons, Tennessee
Possibly the best wing defender in the country, Yves Pons is a freak athlete who will continue to terrorize the SEC.
34. Trevion Williams, Purdue
Trevion Williams follows the tradition of bully-ball Purdue basketball. The Boilermakers are going to depend on his post offense if they are to bounce back from a disappointing 16-15 season.
35. Javonte Smart, LSU
The Tigers lose four-year starter Skylar Mays, so Javonte Smart will have to step up and carry LSU just as his predecessor did. He’s probably a better scorer than playmaker, but further development is a must.
36. Marcus Carr, Minnesota
The McKinley Wright of the Big Ten, Marcus Carr does everything on what could be a significantly improved Minnesota squad.
37. Aaron Henry, Michigan State
Those are mighty big shoes to fill at Michigan State, what with Cassius Winston leaving and all. If the Spartans are going to be good, a lot will depend on the senior guard Aaron Henry.
38. John Fulkerson, Tennessee
Fifth-year senior John Fulkerson isn’t as hyped as some other forwards on the list, but the lefty has a bevy of offensive moves that should continue to confound the rest of the SEC. He averaged 13.7 points per game on 61% shooting — not bad in a loaded conference.
Tier 5: Mid-Major Stars
37. Drew Timme, Gonzaga
Drew Timme should probably be higher, considering he’s in line to become the next dominant Gonzaga big.
38. Joel Ayayi, Gonzaga
A one-time Colorado recruit, Joel Ayayi is a big, versatile guard who does all the little things for an elite team. Maybe the Zags would still be great without him, but his value is immense.
39. Ron Harper Jr., Rutgers
I realize Rutgers is in the Big Ten and I realize they’re actually really good, but it’s impossible to compliment them without making jokes. (Ron Harper Jr. plays like a grown ass man.)
40. Fatts Russell, Rhode Island
An old school player with an old school name, Fatts Russell is a pint-sized guard capable of carrying the Rams to a NCAA Tournament appearance.
41. Sandro Mamukelashvili, Seton Hall
If you love Eastern Europeans who model their game after Hedo Turkoglu, I have a player for you.
42. A.J. Green, Northern Iowa
A.J. Green was set to break out in the NCAA Tournament, but the Panthers were upset in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament and lost their automatic berth. It’s almost guarantee the scoring guard will win his second straight MVC POY.
43. Neemias Queta, Utah State
The Aggies had high expectations heading into 2019/20, but Neemias Queta was sidelined and then hobbled by a dislocated knee. The Portuguese center should be fully healthy this year, providing Utah State with a dominating presence in the paint.
44. Isaiah Miller, UNC Greensboro
If you’re searching for the best defensive guard in the country, you may have to visit the Southern Conference. Who cares if you can’t shoot if you average 3 steals per game.
Tier 6: Breakout picks
45. Ochai Agbaji, Kansas
Ochai Agbaji didn’t have to do too much with Devon Dotson, Udoka Azubuike and Marcus Garrett running the show. Maybe he’s best-suited as a role player, or maybe he has a ton more to offer as a slasher and shooter.
46. Terrence Shannon, Texas Tech
Chris Beard is getting really good at developing versatile wings. He’s not the creator Jarret Culver was, nor the athlete Zhaire Smith was, but he’s a little bit of both. He is poised for a breakout now that he may have carry the team with Jahm’ius Ramsey gone to the NBA.
47. Scottie Lewis, Florida
I was so wrong about Scottie Lewis last year. I thought he was going be an instant star, an Andre Iguodala-type who played elite defense and pushed the ball in transition. But he sucked, plain and simple. He’s still extremely talented and works his ass off, so I’m hoping that breakout comes a year late.
48. Keon Johnson/Jaden Springer, Tennessee
The Vols are going to be really good this year, so it’s worth including the third and fourth Tennessee players on this list. Pons will be the physical defender, Fulkerson the bucket getter, and these two wings will be flying around making plays. (This may be the non-CU team I root for this season.)
49. Will Richardson, Oregon
Someone always steps up for Oregon, it’s just a matter of figuring out who it will be. I’m guessing Will Richardson, the crafty lefty who quietly average 14 points per game in his final 11 conference games.
50. Kai Jones, Texas
This breakout pick comes out of nowhere, but the Kai Jones hype train starts right here on Ralphie Report dot com. The Bahaman is a late-bloomer who is still growing into his body, but he’s such a fluid athlete at 6’11 that it’s hard not to see untapped potential. He’s going to block a ton of shots, throw down a lot of dunks, and hit just enough threes to tantalize even more.