The focus of Hoops Prospects is evaluating talent for pro basketball, and our current watch list consists of more than 300 draft-eligible prospects who are either playing college basketball or international pro ball. With the start of the college season right around the corner, we thought it would be fun to tally the players on our watch list and rank the top 25 teams based on that talent. The teams are ranked below, with each team’s number of prospects on our watch list in parenthesis.
It should be noted that having the most pro-level talent does not necessarily mean that a team will be the best in college basketball. If that were so, Kentucky would likely win the National Championship every season. In college basketball, the coach and the system are nearly important as talent, and every season, we see schools such as Notre Dame, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin be highly competitive with much less talent than the blue-blood programs. In other words, we realize that the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts when it comes to college basketball.
We should also clarify the difference between our watch list and our 2017-18 player rankings. The latter does not necessarily represent the top players in college basketball. Only 60 players will be selected in each NBA draft, and most of the underclassmen who feel that they are unlikely to be drafted will wisely choose to stay in school. Knowing this, our current rankings do not include players that we believe are most likely to pass on entering the 2018 draft, which is why the bottom half of our current rankings is upperclassmen heavy. The bottom line is: a number of underclassmen on our watch list would likely be ranked higher than many of the aforementioned upperclassmen, if we chose to include those underclassmen.
The Top 25
- Duke (7) – Every player in the Blue Devils’ projected starting lineup is in the top 40 of our current rankings. Senior guard Grayson Allen will be in the Player of the Year discussion, while freshman PF Marvin Bagley is one of the leading candidates to be the top overall pick.
- Kentucky (9) – The Wildcats have the most prospects on our watch list, but they have a logjam in the frontcourt and are somewhat suspect in the backcourt. Also, blue-chip forward Jarred Vanderbilt (foot) is going to miss a significant amount of time due to an injury.
- Michigan State (7) – The Spartans feature two top-10 prospects, Player of the Year candidate Miles Bridges and 5-star freshman Jaren Jackson. Two Spartans sophomores who are currently not ranked, C Nick Ward and SG Josh Langford, could be on our draft board before the season is over.
- Kansas (7) – The Jayhawks do not have any highly ranked prospects, but transfer Malik Newman, who was considered a top-10 prospect a few years ago, is one of six Kansas players who might finish the season in our top 40. Kansas has a nice core of returning veterans, including senior guard Devonte Graham and junior wing LaGerald Vick.
- USC (7) – Five of the seven Trojans on our watch list are ranked 105th or better, led by junior PF Chimezie Metu at No. 16. This team has nice balance and depth.
- Arizona (6) – The Wildcats landed the top true big man in the 2017 recruiting class, DeAndre Ayton. He joins veteran wings Allonzo Trier and Rawie Atkins, two top-30 prospects. Atkins (foot) will miss the early part of the season, opening the door for 5-star freshman Emmanuel Akot to get some quality playing time.
- Louisville (6) – Scandal has rocked the Louisville program, leading to the firing of head coach Rick Pitino and the suspension of incoming 5-star freshman Brian Bowen. However, the Cards should still be one of the better teams in the country this season, thanks to a solid core of veterans, including three top-60 prospects.
- UCLA (6) – Lonzo Ball is gone, but UCLA added two 5-star recruits in PG Jaylen Hands and SF Kris Wilkes. The incoming freshmen join a pair of solid veterans, PG Aaron Holiday and C Thomas Welsh. Ball’s brother, LiAngelo, also joins this deep Bruin squad. However, the younger Ball is not highly touted, and he and fellow freshman Cody Riley and Jalen Hill are currently detained in China on suspicion of shoplifting.
- Villanova (5) – 5-star redshirt freshman center Omari Spellman brings some much-needed size to a small but battle-tested group. SF Mikal Bridges and PG Jalen Brunson are both top-60 prospects.
- Miami (4) – The Hurricanes feature two top-20 prospects in freshman Lonnie Walker and sophomore Bruce Brown, a pair of very athletic wings. Sophomore PF/C Dewan Huell has NBA potential as well.
- Gonzaga (5) – Senior Johnathan Williams and sophomores Killian Tillie and Rui Hachimura are top-70 prospects. With this trio, the Zags should, once again, have one of the better front lines in college basketball. The unheralded Hachimura has been quickly climbing draft boards after an impressive performance at the U19 World Championships this past summer.
- Florida (5) – Junior SG KeVaughn Allen is the top prospect on an experienced and deep Gator squad that made it to the Elite Eight last season. Senior center John Egbunu probably will not play until January, as he continues to recover from last season’s ACL injury.
- Cincinnati (4) – All three members of the Bearcats’ frontcourt are ranked in our top 140, led by junior SF Jacob Evans at No. 46. Evans, PF Gary Clark, and C Kyle Washington all had a PER greater than 21 last season.
- Texas (4) – With his 7-9 wingspan, 5-star freshman Mohamed Bamba should be an immediate defensive force as a rim protector. Sophomore guard Andrew Jones is a potential first-round pick.
- Alabama (4) – Entertaining and explosive freshman point guard Collin Sexton should have Crimson Tide fans thinking about more than football this season. Sexton will team with a four-star freshman, John Petty, to form one of the better young backcourts in the nation. The Tide also has a pair of solid veterans up front in PF Donta Hall and C Dan Giddens.
- Maryland (5) – Potential first-round pick Justin Jackson leads a solid core of returning Terrapins. With Melo Trimble graduating, Jackson, a versatile wing who shot 44% from beyond the arc last season, should lead the team in scoring, while fellow sophomore Anthony Cowan will run the point. Also, keep an eye on senior center Michal Cekovsky, who flashed some potential last season when he was healthy.
- North Carolina (5) – The defending champs currently have just one prospect in our top 100. The Tar Heels’ frontcourt is suspect, but there is no shortage of talent at guard, with Player of the Year candidate Joel Berry, senior Theo Pinson, freshman Jalek Felton, and sophomore Seventh Woods. Felton and Woods will have to run the show at the start of the season, as Berry is expected to miss a month or so due to a broken right hand.
- Notre Dame (4) – Senior PF Bonzie Colson is a double-double machine and one of the leading candidates for Player of the Year. Very capable 3-point shooters will surround Colson, including freshman SF D.J. Harvey, a rare top-50 recruit for the Irish.
- West Virginia (4) – Currently, the Mountaineers have zero players in our top 100, but they do have a deep group of proven players, including All-American candidate Jevon Carter. Versatile PF Esa Ahmad will not be eligible to play until mid January due to a suspension.
- Texas A&M (3) – Athletic PF Robert Williams, a top-10 prospect, will team with C Tyler Davis and SF D.J. Hogg to form one of the best frontcourts in the country. Despite being misused as a wing for parts of last season due to an injury suffered by Hogg, Williams posted a fantastic PER of 25.3 as a freshman.
- Oregon (4) – Versatile 5-star freshman SF Troy Brown and senior transfer SG Elijah Brown will help offset the loss of Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey, respectively. Adequately filling the shoes of C Jordan Bell and PF Chris Boucher is a big concern for the Ducks, however.
- Minnesota (4) – While no Gophers are highly ranked on our draft board, they return nearly all of the key players from last year’s 24-win squad, including center Reggie Lynch, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and reliable guard Nate Mason, a first-team All-Big Ten performer.
- Missouri (3) – The Tigers should return to prominence after totaling just 27 wins over the past three seasons, thanks to an impressive frontcourt that will feature two 5-star recruits, SF/PF Michael Porter, Jr. and C Jontay Porter. While the comparisons to Kevin Durant are a bit of a stretch, Michael Porter is a multi-level scorer, who some consider to be the top prospect in this year’s draft class.
- Seton Hall (3) – The Pirates return four double-digit scorers from last season. The top three, PF Angel Delgado, SG Khadeen Carrington and SF Desi Rodriguez, all averaged more than 15 PPG and had a PER of 17 or higher. Delgado, who is currently in our top 100, finished last season ranked second in the nation with 27 double-doubles, trailing only Caleb Swanigan (28).
- Auburn (4) – The Tigers would be ranked higher, but two key sophomores – C Austin Wiley, a top-25 prospect, and SF Danjel Purifoy – are suspended indefinitely due to the ongoing FBI investigation that involves former assistant coach Chuck Person. If eligible, Wiley and Purifoy will team with a proven scorer, SG Mustapha Heron, who shot better than 42% from beyond the arc and averaged 15.2 points per game as a freshman last year.
Honorable Mention: Baylor (3), Clemson (3), Connecticut (3), Creighton (3), Florida St. (3), Georgia Tech (3), Oklahoma (3), Oregon St. (3), Mississippi St. (3), Nevada (3), N.C. State (3), Purdue (3), San Diego St. (3), Stanford (3), TCU (3), Texas Tech (3), Virginia Tech (3), Wichita State (3), and Xavier (3).