Top 25 players in college basketball 2.0


In this latest installment of my rankings of the nation's top 25 players, you'll find a handy listing of where each player was ranked by yours truly in August. Speaking of which, you'll notice a good many selections here were previously unranked -- including my current Nos. 1 and 2.

Maybe we should have seen that Trae Young would happen, or maybe college basketball is captivating in part because it's difficult to see a Trae Young in advance. Perhaps it's a bit of both.

Still, before we beat ourselves up for not spotting Young on the horizon, a what-if scenario may be in order. What if someone had told you in the preseason that a 6-foot-2 freshman who would start his college career ranked outside the top 15 in his class nationally -- and who would be playing for a team that went 11-20 last season -- was going to be the talk of the college basketball world? You would have been skeptical. You would have been right to be skeptical.

As for the non-Young selections, let this serve as your reminder that these rankings are based purely on college performance and are not intended to compete with or mimic a mock draft. Also, Nick Ward fans may want to skip Nos. 1 through 25 and go right to the postscript at the bottom.

Lastly, Bonzie Colson would have been highly ranked on this list if not for his recent foot injury. Colson isn't the only injury-related absence: Michael Porter Jr.?was also highly ranked in August, and Rawle Alkins missed the first month of the season for Arizona. These rankings are, inevitably, specific to their moment and in a perpetual state of flux.

With that in mind, here are the best 25 players in the country right now:

1. Trae Young, Oklahoma Sooners
Previous ranking: None
Young may yet rewrite the rules we've used to classify college basketball talent since the dawn of the one-and-done era. Until this season, there were two primary ways to be an elite, Wooden Award-level performer. Either you were a veteran who refined your game over the course of two or three seasons to the point where you had become hegemonic ( Frank Mason III, Josh Hart), or you were a freshman who carried a huge reputation on Day 1 and then lived up to your billing (a la Lonzo Ball).

Lon Kruger's star fits neither profile. Young entered the season as the No. 23-ranked freshman in the nation, yet he has exploded in the college hoops sky like a point guard version of Anthony Davis. Young is either scoring or assisting on an astonishing percentage of Oklahoma's possessions, to the clear benefit of a previously moribund Sooner offense. If he continues to perform at the level he has shown thus far, it will be legitimate to ask whether we've just seen the best season recorded by any college player in the past 15 years.

2. Mikal Bridges, Villanova Wildcats
Previous ranking: None
Bridges seemed to announce his intentions for 2017-18 with an especially emphatic dunk in Villanova's especially emphatic 88-72 win over Gonzaga at Madison Square Garden last month. The 6-7 junior has always been an efficient scorer and versatile defender, but this season he has taken a quantum leap forward in terms of possession usage on offense. With Hart and Kris Jenkins no longer in residence, Bridges and Jalen Brunson are now the stars for still another highly effective Wildcat offense.

3. Marvin Bagley III, Duke Blue Devils
Previous ranking: No. 1
It sounds odd to say about a freshman who might win ACC player of the year honors, but Bagley's value to his team might actually exceed what his individual stats would suggest. In each of the past two seasons, Duke attempted a lower volume of shots in ACC play than the Blue Devils had achieved during their national championship season in 2014-15. This season, however, those numbers have taken a decided turn for the better, thanks in large part to Bagley. The freshman is a superb offensive rebounder, and it's no mistake that Duke might end the season with the nation's top-ranked offense.

4. Deandre Ayton, Arizona Wildcats
Previous ranking: No. 8
In the most important game of his college career so far, Ayton recorded a 23-19 double-double to go with three blocks as Arizona beat Arizona State 84-78 in Tucson. The 7-1 freshman is a dominant defensive rebounder who has already surpassed veteran teammates Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins in terms of likelihood to shoot on a given possession. Most importantly for a 7-footer, Ayton plays a low-foul brand of ball and is averaging no less than 32 high-usage minutes per game. Compare him to David Robinson, Wilt Chamberlain or anyone else you want, Ayton's off to an incomparable start.

5. Jevon Carter, West Virginia Mountaineers
Previous ranking: No. 12
We've grown so accustomed to acknowledging that Carter's an elite defender that it seems like no new information on that front is allowed to be added. Well, that's a mistake. Bob Huggins' senior is posting the highest steal rate of his illustrious defensive career. Carter recorded nine steals in November against American and has notched at least five takeaways in a game four times this season, including in the Mountaineers' Big 12 opener against Oklahoma State. Moreover, Carter's reaching new heights on D at the same time that he's having arguably his best season yet as a scoring point guard.

6. Jock Landale, Saint Mary's Gaels
Previous ranking: No. 7
Every year I do these lists, and every year I point out that Landale plays for a slow-paced team that gets a limited number of games against marquee opponents. If the senior keeps putting up numbers like the 31-13 double-double he registered in SMC's overtime win against BYU in Provo, I can probably dispense with the disclaimers. Landale converts his 2s at the same rate as Ayton or Bagley, but he does so while taking a larger share of his team's shots.

7. Devonte' Graham, Kansas Jayhawks
Previous ranking: No. 11
Perhaps the only thing more amazing than people expecting Graham to seamlessly fill the shoes of last season's Wooden Award winner is the fact that this is precisely what has happened. Mason was the point guard last year, and in his absence Graham's assist rate has shot up like a rocket. Meanwhile, the senior is posting the best perimeter shooting of his career on a team that, however improbable this would have seemed when Graham first arrived in Lawrence, is riding the 3-point wave.

8. Landry Shamet Wichita State Shockers
Previous ranking: No. 16
It was Shamet's misfortune to have Trae Young come to Wichita and uncork one of the finest games recorded by any Division I player this season. If not for that coincidence in scheduling, we might be more apt to notice that Gregg Marshall's sophomore is in fact having the outstanding season that everyone predicted he would. Shamet has been ridiculously accurate from both sides of the arc, and he has done so while performing as a solid distributor at point guard.

9. Jalen Brunson, Villanova Wildcats
Previous ranking: No. 6
Watching Brunson doing battle with and ultimately losing to a Butler team that was scoring 1.40 points per possession was a riveting piece of hoops theater. If ever a team was fated to win a game, it was the Bulldogs on that day at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Yet somehow Brunson just kept coming, to the tune of 31 points on 12-of-21 shooting. Villanova players surely reap rich statistical rewards from playing in this reliably efficient offense, but in Brunson the man, the system and the moment have all met.

10. Miles Bridges, Michigan State Spartans
Previous ranking: No. 9
Bridges is a warrior who was a unanimous selection as the preseason Big Ten player of the year. If anyone can live up to such preposterous expectations, it's Tom Izzo's sophomore. The Spartans haven't played a major-conference opponent in four weeks, but Bridges is about to take on the best that the Big Ten has to offer. That promises to be quite a sight. At no point in the last 15 years has Izzo given a starter as high a share of MSU's shot attempts as he has to his 6-7 star this season.

11. Allonzo Trier, Arizona Wildcats
Previous ranking: No. 10
All eyes are on Ayton, but Trier's having a season worthy of comparison to the holiest of Tucson efficiency holies. Yes, I'm speaking of Nick Johnson in 2013-14, and Derrick Williams in 2010-11. Like his predecessors, Trier is equally dangerous inside or outside the arc, and the 6-5 junior is recording the highest assist rate of his career. In the Wildcats' big win over Arizona State, Trier turned in a typically businesslike 23-point performance and was 10-for-10 from the foul line.

12. Luke Maye, North Carolina Tar Heels
Previous ranking: None
The former walk-on is now, along with Joel Berry II, the co-featured scorer for the defending national champions. (Maye also had more than a little bit to do with UNC being in a position to win that title in the first place. At 6-8, Maye operates as a stretch-4 or -5 and does most of the work for UNC on the defensive glass. The junior is just a career 59 percent shooter at the foul line, yet somehow has managed to connect 41 percent of the time (albeit at a relatively low volume) from beyond the arc.

13. Jordan Murphy, Minnesota Golden Gophers
Previous ranking: None
Murphy might be the finest offensive rebounder on this list, and the fact that the 6-6 junior's getting many of those boards while competing against teammate Reggie Lynch makes the numbers all the more impressive. In addition to being a beast on the offensive glass, Murphy's a reliable and prolific interior scorer who gets to the line with a high degree of frequency. He may well be the most effective scorer in the history of D-I who's also a career 18 percent 3-point shooter.

14. Grayson Allen, Duke Blue Devils
Previous ranking: No. 2
The surprise in Allen's senior season isn't necessarily that he's accounting for a lower share of Duke's shots during his minutes than he has at any point in his career. It's that the above is true and that the Blue Devils offense is performing magnificently just the same. With teammates like Bagley, Wendell Carter, Trevon Duval and Gary Trent Jr., Allen's getting and indeed waiting for wide-open looks. As a result, the senior's posting his most accurate shooting from the field to date.

15. Collin Sexton, Alabama Crimson Tide
Previous ranking: None
Sexton arrived in Tuscaloosa with a big reputation -- and then promptly added to it. The 6-3 freshman scored 40 points against Minnesota and did so while the Crimson Tide played more than 10 minutes with just three players on the floor. Golden Gophers head coach Richard Pitino termed Sexton's effort " an out-of-body experience." Avery Johnson will be happy if his freshman has a few more such performances will all four teammates present and accounted for.

16. Trevon Bluiett, Xavier Musketeers
Previous ranking: No. 17
I put it to you that if Bluiett could just play Cincinnati 35 to 40 times each season, he would be among the finest players the game has ever known. In his last two outings against the Bearcats (spanning last season and this one), the 6-6 senior has scored 68 points on 19-for-29 shooting from the floor. He's pretty good against the rest of Division I, as well. In the Musketeers' 91-87 win at Marquette, Bluiett overcame a 1-for-8 evening from beyond the arc by going 10-for-11 at the line and dishing eight assists.

17. Jaren Jackson, Michigan State Spartans
Previous ranking: None
No one player can claim credit for Michigan State's amazing interior defense this season, but Jackson sure has been a big help. The freshman has blocked 15 percent of opponents' 2-point attempts during his minutes on the floor. That might be expected from a blue-chip recruit who's 6-11, but Jackson has additionally confounded expectations by knocking down 3s and hitting better than 80 percent of his free throws. He is the rare big in 2018 whose game might translate equally well at both the college and pro levels.

18. Tra Holder, Arizona State Sun Devils
Previous ranking: None
Arizona State has given opposing defenses fits by putting three point guards on the floor and letting them wreak their fast-paced and well-spaced havoc. For his part, Holder has done more than his fair share in sowing that mayhem. In the Sun Devils' 84-78 loss at Arizona, the senior went off for 31 points thanks to a 15-of-16 showing at the line. His perimeter shooting has improved every season, and Holder is now knocking down better than 45 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.

19. Gary Clark, Cincinnati Bearcats
Previous ranking: None
Sometimes versatility gets in the way of accolades. At 6-8, Clark is an excellent rebounder (particularly on offense) who also defends the rim, records steals, draws fouls and shoots 83 percent at the line. UC's similarly versatile multiseason moment -- the Bearcats have been able to excel on defense and make shots, too -- has coincided rather suggestively with Clark's development on both sides of the ball.

20. Mo Bamba, Texas Longhorns
Previous ranking: No. 19
Last season, teams made 48 percent of their 2s against the Texas defense. That seems like a long time ago. In an intense recruiting battle with Duke, Kentucky and Michigan, Shaka Smart landed Bamba. Now opponents are converting just 43 percent of their tries inside the arc, and that's no coincidence. The freshman is possibly the best rim defender in the country, and he's proving to be a burgeoning talent on offense as well. In the Longhorns' 92-86 loss to Kansas, Bamba scored 22 points on 9-for-16 shooting.

21. Chris Silva, South Carolina Gamecocks
Previous ranking: None
No player on this list gets to the line more reliably than Silva, who has already attempted more than 100 free throws despite averaging just 24 minutes per game. The 6-9 junior is also an excellent combination of rim defender and defensive rebounder -- when he's on the floor. To be sure, Silva's foul rate has dropped season by season. As a freshman, said rate was astronomical, and as a sophomore it was exceptional. Now it is merely very high. With luck, Silva will be able to log big minutes next season as a senior. Then we'll see some numbers.

22. Carsen Edwards, Purdue Boilermakers
Previous ranking: None
Maybe Matt Painter knew exactly what he was getting when Edwards arrived last season, but at the time the buzz about the No. 88-ranked freshman in the country was not yet appreciable. That should be changing right about now, if it hasn't already. As a sophomore, Edwards is one of the best dual-threat scorers in the nation. Per, Painter's star has come close to doubling his shooting percentage on 2-point jumpers in just one season.

23. Keenan Evans, Texas Tech Red Raiders
Previous ranking: None
Evans has gone from being an unjustly underrated point guard as a junior to a criminally underrated one as a senior. At 6-3 he's making better than 60 percent of his 2s, and his 32-point outburst in the Red Raiders' overtime win against Nevada was one of this season's better individual performances. Chris Beard's rotation gets a lot of mileage out of its combination of great rim defense and ball pressure, but for offense Tech is fortunate to have Evans.

24. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin Badgers
Previous ranking: No. 5
Let Happ be Happ. The 6-10 junior is not a 3-point shooter, nor is he what you'd call automatic at the line. But if you had to be limited to just three skills, you could do a lot worse than 2-point scoring (at the highest of volumes), defensive rebounding and, most incongruously, point-guard-level passing. Happ has far and away the highest assist rate on the Badger roster, and his ability to either score against or pass his way out of double-teams is the jeweled pivot of the Wisconsin offense.

25. Justin Tillman, VCU Rams
Previous ranking: None
This could be the first season since 2009-10 where VCU doesn't make the NCAA tournament, but anyone still following along is seeing an outstanding senior campaign from Tillman. The 6-8 scorer has rebooted himself as a stretch-5, to the tune of 47 percent 3-point shooting on two to three attempts per game. Meanwhile his production inside the arc has been, as always, prodigious. Lastly, if you're looking for a motivational speaker for a player or entire team that can't make free throws, please note: Tillman's shooting 80 percent at the line after entering the season as a career 58 percent foul shooter.

BONUS footnote on Michigan State's Nick Ward
His per-40-minute stats are such that he could be plausibly ranked above just about anyone here not named Trae Young, and I suppose I could even see my way toward including a player who logs as little as 18 minutes a game, as Ward does. But, for better or worse, Izzo is giving Ward a consistent 18 minutes. The sophomore really, truly hasn't played more than 25 minutes in a game yet this season. Conversely, Marvin Bagley hasn't played less than 25 minutes in any game in which he wasn't poked in the eye by Javin DeLaurier. Ward will be one of the best players in the country when Izzo gives him minutes, the key term there being "when."

Dropped off the list: Michael Porter Jr., Missouri; Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame; Robert Williams, Texas Tech; Kelan Martin, Butler; Wendell Carter, Duke; Joel Berry II, North Carolina; Trevon Duval, Duke; Rawle Alkins, Arizona; Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky; Moe Wagner, Michigan; Angel Delgado, Seton Hall