One of the toughest things to do in any sport is rank the importance of one great player over the next. Every MVP/Naismith/Wooden/Player of the Year award has a lot of debate over if the right player got the award. I’m sure I will miss some players so let me know if you disagree with what I think, but here is my view of the best 25 players in college basketball next season:
1. Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina)- I don’t think I’ll have many people disagreeing with me taking “Psycho-T” number one in this player ranking. Hansbrough is the reigning ACC Player of the Year, Naismith award winner, and Wooden award winner. There is a strong possibility that with the team that Hansbrough has around him at North Carolina he could average around 25 PPG and 10 RPG. He is the most dominating player in college basketball and next season will be the favorite to once again win every Player of the Year honor that is out there.
2. Stephen Curry (Davidson)- It looks like North Carolina is a good state to find great college basketball players because the top two players in the country both play in the state that was “First in Flight”. Many people doubted Curry last season because he plays in such a bad conference, but he certainly showed what he was worth in games against North Carolina, UCLA, and Duke in Davidson’s non-conference schedule. Then he was pretty much immortal in the NCAA tournament. This season should be no different. The switch to point guard will probably decrease his scoring average, but not by much, and I expect Curry to average over 25 PPG and probably shoot around 40 percent from behind the arc. It will be interesting to see where Curry ends up in Player of the Year voting for next season, especially if Davidson can make another deep run in the tournament.
3. B.J. Mullens (Ohio State)- I might be the biggest B.J. Mullens fan out there, and I truly believe that in a year where the freshman class is not as good as year’s past Mullens will be one of the best players in the NCAA. Mullens will lead his team to the NCAA tournament and probably past the Sweet Sixteen. There really isn’t any substitute in the tournament for a big athletic center that can score at will. In my opinion, Mullens flows better on the court than Greg Oden, and I think he will have a better season than Oden did in 2006-07. Look for Mullens to average around 15 PPG,12 RPG and 3 BPG.
4. Demar DeRozan (USC)- In recent years it seems like every great big man ends up at Ohio State and every great guard is going to Southern California. DeRozan looks to follow in those guards’ footsteps and be one of the best players in the nation at the guard position. However, DeRozan isn’t necessarily only a guard, he is big enough to play small forward and definitely athletic enough to play any position. I think DeRozan will average around 20 PPG, but won’t really get a lot of rebounds or assists.
5. Luke Harangody (Notre Dame)- It will definitely be interesting to see how Harangody builds on his success last season. He is the favorite to win Big East player of the year for the second year in a row and may end up as a first team All American. This kid will carry the Irish to a potential Final Four run, and along the way probably average around 20 PPG and 12 RPG. I think come the end of this season Harangody may be one of the players going top 10 in the NBA draft in 2009.
6. James Harden (Arizona State)- Being the die hard college basketball player that I am, I was overcome with happiness when I heard that James Harden was coming back to school for the 2008-09 season. Harden shoots a great percentage from the field and because he has another year under his belt, he will average even more than his 17.8 PPG last season. I look for Harden to be a force in the Pac-10 and I can’t wait for the matchups between Harden and DeRozan. Not only will Harden carry his team to the NCAA tournament, but he will put up great numbers, probably somewhere around 22 PPG.
7. Tyrese Rice (Boston College)- If anyone of you saw what Tyrese Rice did against North Carolina last year, you should have no problem with him being this high on my list. This kid can shoot the ball with tremendous consistency and is actually underrated when it comes to driving the ball to the hoop. If Rice is on all year, Boston College should have no problem making the NCAA tournament and Rice should garner First Team All-ACC honors once again. I expect this kid to score around 20 PPG and even dish out about 8 APG to be one of the best all-around point guards in the game.
8. Blake Griffin (Oklahoma)- The Sooners were lucky to land a kid with Griffin’s size and athleticism, as well as his tremendous work ethic. Not only does Griffin look to be a top player in the upcoming college season, but many people are saying that he may be the number one pick in the NBA Draft for 2009. Griffin can post up just about anyone in the country, and can rebound with the best of them. He also is a great athlete at the power forward position. I look for Griffin to average around 17 PPG and 11 RPG being a consistent double-double guy for the Sooners every time he takes the court.
9. Jack McClinton (Miami FL)- The ACC is loaded with great players, and once again nobody is surprised. McClinton is definitely no exception, as he has been a leader for the ‘Canes the past two seasons and is looking to lead them to a top three finish in their conference this season and a deeper NCAA tournament run (last year Miami beat Saint Mary’s in the first round but lost to Texas in the second). If McClinton has improved his three point shooting even more, he can be looked at as maybe the best three point shooter in the nation (he averaged 42.7 percent from behind the arc last year). I predict that he will score around 18 PPG and shoot 44 percent from behind the arc.
10. Sam Young (Pitt)- Young is another guy that is very athletic for his size and is also a key leader for his team in 2008. Young gets the little things done and can score easily on just about anyone in the country. His sophomore year he wasn’t called on to do a lot in terms of scoring, but last year he took on a much heavier load and scored 18 PPG. I expect that he’ll do just about the same for the Panthers this season and even get about 7 RPG while earning himself All-Big East First Team honors.
11. Ty Lawson (North Carolina)- This guy is probably more vital to North Carolina’s title hopes this season than Tyler Hansbrough. Lawson gets the fastbreak offense going for the Tar Heels and is also the guy tasked with finding Hansbrough. Over the years Lawson has molded himself into a complete point guard and a very good NBA prospect. ext season he should average about 11 PPG and 8 APG. Assists should come easy for Lawson because he has probably the best offensive weapons on his team that he can dish the ball to.
12. Hasheem Thabeet (Connecticut)- The best shot blocker in the nation showed how much he improved from his freshman year when he was a “Roy Hibbert clone” being uncoordinated around the rim and having trouble sticking with faster centers. Last year was a drastic improvement, and this year I think he will be even better. Thabeet very well may block over five shots per game next season while also scoring around eight points. Jim Calhoun must be pleased to play any kind of zone with his athletic guards on the wings and Thabeet standing tall in the middle. As long as Thabeet is in the lineup, Connecticut will be very hard to beat.
13. Robert Vaden (UAB)- Vaden certainly put on a show last season especially in the Blazers’ win over Kentucky, but he was also very effective against Memphis. If he can improve his field goal percentage, he could be the C-USA player of the year next season in a landslide vote. However, if he struggles (only 40 percent in 2007) other players like Tyreke Evans could make a run at the honor. Vaden averaged 21.1 PPG last season which is right around where I expect him to be in 2008.
14. Chase Budinger (Arizona)- Another small forward, Budinger should be one of the key impact players in the Pac-10 conference. I believe that his stats will definitely take a hit because he doesn’t have a great point guard that can get him the ball (Bayless entered the draft and Brandon Jennings is in Europe as you all know). Budinger can still have a great year but he has to improve his shot selection; there were times last year when I just knew that in the Wildcats next possession Budinger was going to take a bad shot. I think he will most likely average 15 PPG and 7 RPG. There is no substitute for this guy’s athleticism on the court, especially from a big player.
15. Jeremy Pargo (Gonzaga)- Pargo is easily one of the most athletic point guards in the nation, if not the most athletic. This Zag is perfect for dribble penetration and he is also a great defender and knows how to get the right guys the ball. Part of the problem with Pargo is that he gives up way too many turnovers from trying to make a pass he can’t or just stupid dribbling. However, when I watched him in the NBA Summer Camps he looked a lot better with decision making and I could see him being a Second Team All American next season.
16. AJ Ogilvy (Vanderbilt)- The Man from Down Under will be in his second campaign for the Commodores, and this time its his show to run after the departure of star guard Shan Foster. Ogilvy came on very strong at the beginning of the year but had a real tough time in their tournament game against Siena (as did the entire Vandy team). I think with a year under his belt he should be ready to make a run at SEC Player of the Year, and also maybe a tournament run with his teammates. I predict he will score 16 PPG and average 9 RPG.
17. Lester Hudson (Tennessee-Martin)- A pretty unknown player to most college basketball fans, but to the few that know of him you should have no problem with him being at number seventeen (I actually felt I may be doing him an injustice here). Hudson, who averaged 25.7 PPG last year, is a favorite to be the leading scorer in the NCAA. He also has pretty good hands on defense averaging 2.8 steals per game. I believe that he will surpass his PPG mark of last season and average 27 PPG and three steals per game. I really like this kid to also lead the UT-Martin Skyhawks to the NCAA tournament.
18. DeJuan Blair (Pitt)- Blair is the man that will complement Sam Young down low for the Panthers, and he will be expected to carry a lot of the rebounding load. His averages last year were close to that of a double-double each night, and this year I think he will be able to average just that. Also, on top of his scoring ability Blair plays great inside defense and, besides Hasheem Thabeet, is the only guy that can stop Luke Harangody 1-on-1.
19. Scottie Reynolds (Villanova)- Reynolds may not be the textbook point guard that some people think he should try to be, but he is scoring a lot of points and no one can argue with a guy that puts up twenty points every night. I think Reynolds will have a breakthrough year in 2008 building off his tremendous performance in last year’s NCAA tournament. He needs to get his players the ball more this season, but his low assist per game average can also be credited to the fact that Villanova didn’t have a great supporting cast around Reynolds. Next season, I think Reynolds will score 18 PPG and average around 4 APG.
20. Jrue Holiday (UCLA)- It’s tough to make a top players list and not mention a Bruin once, and it’s also very hard to make a case for why Holiday shouldn’t be on this list. He is one of the premier freshman in the incoming class and should make a huge impact at UCLA leading a pack of young players (and Darren Collison) that will try to make UCLA’s fourth straight Final Four appearance. Holiday should average around 13 PPG next season, and shoot about 46 percent from the field.
21. Al-Farouq Aminu (Wake Forest)- Aminu will be asked to take a good amount of the Demon Deacon’s scoring load in his freshman season, and is expected to lead this team back to the NCAA tournament. It may take some time to adjust to ACC basketball, but I think at least halfway through the conference season this kid will play with the best of them. His tall and lanky frame will help him on defense, and his athleticism will help him get points in the paint. Look for Aminu to average around 12 PPG and 6 RPG for Wake Forest next year.
22. Jon Brockman (Washington)- Brockman is certainly one of the best players that the Pac-10 has to offer and he will prove it with his unbelievable strength and scoring/rebounding ability. He averages a double-double each game and he could be a great NBA prospect. Brockman is the driving force behind the Huskies’ attack and will be able to guard any big man in the conference. Look for Brockman to average 17 PPG and 12 RPG. The only reason that he isn’t higher on my list is because he has been injury prone in the past.
23. Josh Akognon (Cal State Fullerton)- I am a huge Josh Akognon fan, and I think that he is able to contend with Hudson and Curry as the best Mid-Major scorers in the nation. Akognon scored 31 points against Wisconsin, the most by any player against the number one ranked defense in the NCAA. He will be tearing up defenses in the Big West and leading his Titans back to the NCAA tournament and maybe even pulling off a first round upset. I expect 25 PPG or more out of Akognon this season.
24. Jeff Adrien (Connecticut)- Adrien is a very versatile player, especially at the power forward position, and should be one of the best players in the Big East this season. Not only is he athletic enough to stop most big and small men in the conference, but having Thabeet next to him down low will help Adrien be a better player. I look for around 14 PPG and 8 RPG from Adrien as a guy who does all the little things right for UConn and is a vital key to their success next season.
25. Devin Ebanks (West Virginia)- Who said this freshman class wasn’t loaded with studs? Ebanks was probably the best late sign in this entire class, and will offer West Virginia a great scoring forward that can also stroke it from downtown. He should average around 11 PPG in his first season at West Virginia and I expect that he will stick around past his freshman year.
Honorable Mention: Raymar Morgan, Jerel McNeal, Jonny Flynn, Gerald Henderson, Wayne Ellington, Levance Fields, Tyler Smith, Dior Lowhorn, Greg Monroe, J’Mison Morgan, Lee Cummard, Chris Wright, Austin Daye, John Bryant, AJ Price, Greg Paulus, Marcus Thornton, Jeff Pendergraph