Who will be No. 1 this season? We’re asking both literally and figuratively.
No. 1 is among the most popular jersey numbers in men’s basketball, for obvious reasons, but who’s the best player who will wear No. 1 this season? What about No. 2?
I went went through every Division I roster in the country — count ’em, all 357 of them — in order to pick out the best player for every jersey number. There are 37 number options in college basketball, since digits can’t be larger than five, such that officials can motion to the scorer’s table with one hand to relay a player’s jersey number. That means after No. 5, the next smallest jersey number available is No. 10, not No. 6.
These selections were made based on which player, at each jersey number, projects to be the best in the country this season, using traditional and advanced statistics. These are not a reflection of a player’s professional basketball future, their past high school careers or even who will be the better college player in the future, but rather asking for the 2020-21 college basketball season only: Who will be the best player?
Team success was also a consideration. Neither scoring 20 points per game for a 10-win team nor being the seventh-leading scorer on a 30-win team necessarily makes a player deserving of “the best player with your jersey number” honor, unless the jersey number is one of the least common in the sport, like No. 51 or No. 53.
Here are the best men’s basketball players for every jersey number.
No. 0 – Marcus Garrett, Kansas
As a junior, Marcus Garrett was named the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year, the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, and was a Second Team All-Big 12 selection, according to the Associated Press. Listed at 6-5 and 195 pounds, Garrett can guard multiple guard and wing positions, and he’s versatile on offense, too, capable of spending time running an offense or playing off the ball. He’s Kansas’s second-leading returning scorer behind Ochai Agbaji.
His offensive game has gradually improved to the point where he averaged 9.2 points and 4.6 assists per game last season — the latter of which more than doubled his previous career-high. While not a high-volume or high-accuracy 3-point shooter, Garrett made roughly a third of his attempts last season and he averaged one 3 every two games. He’s already proven to be the best defensive player in the country and if his offensive improvement continues the trajectory it has been on over the last three seasons, Garrett could reasonably be expected to average something like 12 points and five assists per game, while potentially shooting north of 35 percent from 3.
Garrett exploded for 24 points in Kansas’s regular-season finale against Oklahoma, although that was two games after he went scoreless in 35 minutes against TCU. The Jayhawks didn’t need him to carry the scoring load last season, but they’d benefit from him consistently scoring 10 to 15 points per game — something Garrett accomplished in 11 of Kansas’ first 22 games last season.
Garrett is No. 5 on Andy Katz’s list of top returning players.
No. 00 – AJ Lawson, South Carolina
Yes, No. 00 is different than No. 0, but it’s much harder to find players who wear the former. Double zero might be the rarest jersey number in the sport, even more so than No. 52 and No. 53.
Lawson, 6-6, led the Gamecocks in scoring last season at 13.4 points per game, which was the same scoring average he had as a freshman during the 2018-19 season, and he projects to be South Carolina’s leading scorer once again. The advanced analytics site barttorvik.com projects him to average 15.7 points per game.
Lawson’s greatest attribute, arguably, is his ability to get to the free-throw line and then convert at the charity stripe. He drew 4.8 fouls per 40 minutes last season, which led to a free-throw rate of 37.7 (meaning he attempted 37 free throws for every 100 field goal attempts) and he made 72.4 percent of his free-throw attempts.
As a sophomore, he was roughly an average 3-point shooter, making 33.9 percent of his attempts after shooting 35.8 percent from deep. However, his 2-point percentage climbed to 49.4 percent last season. Lawson isn’t always the most efficient scorer, but he’s the most prolific scorer on the Gamecocks.
No. 1 – Jalen Johnson, Duke
Not surprisingly, the competition for the best player who will wear No. 1 this season is fierce. There are both potential all-conference level players returning who wear the jersey — Arizona State’s Remy Martin, LSU’s Javonte Smart, Rhode Island’s Fatts Russell, West Virginia’s Derek Culver and Xavier’s Paul Scruggs — plus some of the most talented freshmen in the country, like Duke’s Jalen Johnson and Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs.
If we have to take a flier on just one player, we’ll go with Johnson. Defaulting to pick Duke’s most talented freshman seems to be a pretty safe choice year over year, right?
The 6-foot-9, 220-pound freshman will have to share minutes with returning sophomores Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore, who project to be among Duke’s best players this season, but the minutes and shots that freshman center Vernon Carey Jr. occupied a year ago are now available.
Duke’s freshman frontcourt lineage from Carey to Zion Williamson to Marvin Bagley III to Jayson Tatum to Brandon Ingram to Jahlil Okafor — while acknowledging those players didn’t all play the same positions — is a wildly talented and successful one, so if Johnson is potentially the next in line, he could be the best player to wear No. 1 this season.
No. 2 – Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State
With respect to Villanova’s Collin Gillespie, who might have a case to be the choice as the best player on a better (maybe, best?) team, Oklahoma State freshman Cade Cunningham is the pick here. He’s the most talented freshman in the country.
Cunningham is listed a 6-8 and 220 pounds. Oh, and he’s a guard. Andy Katz ranked Cunningham among the top preseason candidates to win the Bob Cousy Award, which is given to the best point guard in the country and Cunningham is No. 3 on Katz’s list of preseason National Player of the Year candidates.
The advanced analytics site barttorvik.com projects Cunningham to average 18.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, which would put him among the top scorers in the Big 12.
No. 3 – Brandon Boston, Kentucky
I analyzed the percent of returning minutes for every team ranked in Andy Katz’s preseason Power 36 rankings and Kentucky returns the least production from last season at roughly eight percent of its minutes played during the 2019-20 season. That’s not necessarily a new position to be in for Kentucky and with a host of talented newcomers, headlined by Boston, the Wildcats should be strong again this winter.
The 6-7 guard out of Norcross, Georgia, is Kentucky’s most talented freshman, one who averaged 19.7 points and 7 rebounds per game at Sierra Canyon last season. Barttorvik.com projects Boston to average 15.5 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game, which would put him in the neighborhood of departed Kentucky guards Immanuel Quickly and Tyrese Maxey.
No. 4 – Evan Mobley, USC or Scottie Barnes, Florida State
The best player to wear the No. 4 jersey this season will likely be one of two players: USC’s Evan Mobley or Florida State’s Scottie Barnes.
Florida State traditionally plays one of the deepest rotations in the country — the Seminoles had 10 players who averaged at least 10 minutes per game last season. An 11th player averaged more than nine minutes, and the team’s 12th and 13th players combined for more than 100 minutes played.
The point being that Barnes, while extremely talented, may not play as many minutes or take as many shots as Mobley, with could limit his counting stats.
Barttorvik.com projects Mobley to average 17.1 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game, while leading the Trojans in minutes played (81 percent of available minutes), the highest offensive usage rate on the team (24 percent) and a strong offensive efficiency (115).
Barnes isn’t far behind in his individual stat projections at 15.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game, while playing 80 percent of the available minutes and posting an offensive rating of 115 with a usage rate of 22 percent.
Mobley is listed at 7-feet and 210 pounds, and his USC player bio describes him as “a dominant scoring and defensive presence in the paint.” While Barnes, who’s listed at 6-9 and 227 pounds, also has a large frame, his game is different. He could be used in an offensive initiator role as a versatile inside-out, or outside-in, player in Tallahassee.
Barnes’s Florida State team, which finished atop the ACC standings last season, could be better than Mobley’s Trojans in 2021, but Mobley could play more minutes and have a larger share of the offense, so this one’s a toss-up.
No. 5 – Terrence Clarke, Kentucky
If you counted the most talented freshmen in the country this season, you’d name Terrence Clarke before your second hand was full, and maybe you’d even count him on your first hand. Like teammate Brandon Boston, Clarke — the 6-7, 194-pound guard from Brewster Academy — will replace the minutes, shots and, presumably, the production of Immanuel Quickley, Tyrese Maxey and Ashton Hagans, who combined for more than 41 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists per game last season.
Barttorvik.com projects Clarke to average 10.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game, although it remains to be seen how Clarke, Boston and Creighton transfer Davion Mintz share minutes and shot attempts this season in Kentucky’s new-look backcourt.
Minnesota’s Marcus Carr is another name to watch among players who wear No. 5 as the redshirt junior is coming off of a season in which he averaged 15.4 points, 6.5 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game for the Gophers, which went 15-16. Carr, who averaged 36.8 minutes per game, played as much basketball last season as just about anyone in the country. While his efficiency stats won’t blow you away (106.8 offensive rating, 45.8 effective field-goal percentage), he did made 36 percent of his threes and 70 percent of his free throws, while getting to the line more than five times per game.
Villanova’s Justin Moore, who’s coming off of a freshman season in which he averaged 11.3 points and 3.1 rebounds per game, while shooting nearly 40 percent from three, could grow into an even larger role as a sophomore, but playing second fiddle in Villanova’s backcourt to Collin Gillespie and sharing the floor with talented big man Jeremiah Robinson-Earl could make him the team’s third option on offense.
No. 10 – Jalen Crutcher, Dayton
With respect to Louisville’s Samuell Williamson, Iowa’s Joe Wieskamp and Florida’s Noah Locke, this choice largely came down to two players: Dayton’s Jalen Crutcher and Virginia’s Sam Hauser. The challenging part, besides choosing between two very talented players, is that each will be in a different environment in the 2020-21 season than we last saw them.
Crutcher will no longer have Wooden Award winner Obi Toppin playing alongside him, nor will graduated seniors Trey Landers and Ryan Mikesell be at his disposal. So the Dayton team that was in contention for a No. 1 seed, didn’t lose in regulation last season and which had the second-most efficient offense in the country experienced some significant turnover around Crutcher.
Hauser sat out last season after transferring from Marquette, where he was an efficient No. 2 scorer (and elite 3-point and free-throw shooter) alongside Markus Howard.
Crutcher could see his number of shots and usage rate increase, even if it comes with a cost of his efficiency decreasing, while Hauser’s efficiency could remain at a lethal level in Tony Bennett’s blocker-mover and continuity ball screen offense, even if Virginia’s tempo could limit his per-game stats.
We’ll go with Crutcher by a hair, after his impressive junior season in which he averaged 15.1 points, 4.9 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game, while shooting a career-best 42 percent from 3, 52 percent inside the arc and roughly 87 percent at the free-throw line, which gave him an offensive rating that ranked in the top 60 nationally.
No. 11 – Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois
The group of players who wear No. 11 might be among the most talented group in the sport, or at least, they have some of the best depth of top-end talent. Two of Andy Katz’s top seven National Player of the Year candidates — Illinois’s Ayo Dosunmu and Creighton’s Marcus Zegarowski — wear it, as do Gonzaga’s Joel Ayayi, Florida’s Keyontae Johnson and Texas Tech’s Kyler Edwards. Collectively, it’s a group of proven veterans who can carve out even bigger roles on their respective teams in 2020-21, or even have some untapped potential left in college.
In a tough choice, Illinois’s Ayo Dosunmu is the pick. Katz ranks him as the No. 2 National Player of the Year contender in the preseason and the best point guard in the sport entering the season. As a sophomore, the 6-5 guard averaged a team-high 16.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game as the Illini’s primary offensive option. After electing to return for his junior season, Dosunmu can still improve, namely in his 3-point shooting, free-throw rate and turnover percentage, and if he does, he could play his way onto an All-America team.
He attempted 93 3-pointers last season but made just 29 percent of them. He made 76 percent of his free throws but he only got to the line just less than 3.5 times per game. And he averaged nearly three turnovers per game.
Dosunmu has the frame and athleticism to be a matchup nightmare at the point-guard position and he has shown how dangerous he can be in late-game possessions, but if he can continue to polish his game around the edges, his scoring efficiency (and therefore Illinois’ efficiency as a team) can still improve. Katz projected Illinois to be a No. 1 seed in his first 2021 NCAA tournament bracket projections.
No. 12 – Jared Butler, Baylor
Butler was the headliner on a really impressive Baylor squad last season that could’ve been in contention for a program-best No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Bears won 23 games in a row, not losing from Nov. 9 until Feb. 22. Baylor went into Allen Fieldhouse and beat Kansas by 12, it knocked off Villanova by 9 on a neutral floor, and it took out Arizona and Butler at home.
Butler, the 6-3 guard who’s entering his junior season, was arguably the biggest reason why, leading the Bears in scoring (16 points per game), ranking second in assists (3.1) and steals (1.6) per game, and fifth in rebounding (3.2 per game). When considering volume and accuracy, he was probably the team’s most dangerous 3-point threat as he made 38.1 percent of his 6.7 attempts per game.
To put it simply, the offense ran through Butler. He had a 29.5 percent shot rate, which meant that he took almost a third of the team’s shots when he was on the floor, which was about five percentage points higher than the Baylor player with the second-highest shot rate. But he’s not selfish, either. He assisted on roughly 23 percent of Baylor’s baskets when he was on the floor, which ranked 263rd nationally.
Butler is No. 3 on Andy Katz’s list of top returning players.
No. 13 – Oscar da Silva, Stanford
There’s a lot of competition for the best player in the country to wear No. 13 this season, whether you want to go with an upperclassman who was a first-team all-conference performer last season (Stanford’s Oscar da Silva, UNLV’s Bryce Hamilton), a talented guard who will play in his first season at his new school (Arizona’s Jamse Akinjo, Alabama’s Jahvon Quinerly), a high-profile freshman (Arizona State’s Josh Christopher) or a returning player whose career is on an upwards trajectory (Louisville’s David Johnson, Oklahoma State’s Isaac Likekele).
Stanford’s da Silva, a First Team All-Pac-12 selection last season, started every game for the Cardinal as a junior, averaging a team-high 15.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, while helping Stanford post the seventh-best defensive efficiency in the country, per kenpom.com. At 6-9 and 225 pounds, da Silva does a bit of everything, scoring efficiently (especially inside the arc, at a 60-percent clip), rebounding (18.2 defensive rebounding percentage, 8.1 offensive rebounding percentage), shot-blocking (3.4 percent block rate) and getting to the free-throw line (131 attempts last season).
The senior has shown he can be a lethal 3-point shooter after he made 55 percent of his 52 attempts as a freshman, but his shooting percentage behind the arc has taken a nosedive the last two seasons. If he can regain that kind of efficiency from outside, while cutting down on his turnovers, he can help Stanford’s play on the offensive end of the floor make up the ground on its high-performing defense.
No. 14 – Marcus Santos-Silva, Texas Tech
The focus on who the best player to wear No. 14 centered around Texas Tech’s Marcus Santos-Silva, Ohio State’s Justice Sueing and Seton Hall’s Jared Rhoden. The first two players will be in their first season playing for their new school after transferring from VCU and California, respectively. And while Sueing isn’t a transfer, like Santos-Silva and Sueing, he’ll be playing in new surroundings in a sense, because former Seton Hall guard Myles Powell, who took 38 percent of the team’s shots when he was on the floor last season (the seventh-highest mark nationally), graduated.
Sueing was the leading scorer on a Cal team that went 8-23 in 2019 and the best VCU team Santos-Silva was part of was when he was the team’s fourth-leading scorer. Then there’s Rhoden, who notably performed much better in Big East play last season than in non-conference action. He was a 33 percent 3-point shooter on the season but he ranked fourth in the conference with a 44.6 3-point percent against Big East foes. His offensive rating was 12 points higher in conference play and he got to the free-throw line more often, too. Can he pick up where he left off, while filling a bigger role in the post-Myles Powell era at Seton Hall?
Those are some of the considerations when selecting the best No. 14 in the country. Sueing has the most proven production (albeit for one of the worst teams in the Pac-12), Santos-Silva was the most efficient offensive player, best rebounder and best shot-blocker on a really good VCU team in 2019, and Rhoden arguably has the most untapped potential. We’ve seen what it looks like when Santos-Silva plays for a good team and Texas Tech coach Chris Beard has previously succeeded in player developing and getting the most out of transfers (e.g. Matt Mooney, Tariq Owens and Brandone Francis were key members of Texas Tech’s national runner-up squad), so Santos-Silva is the pick in an intriguing debate.
No. 15 – Garrison Brooks, North Carolina
While North Carolina had a disappointing 2020-21 season, in part due to the injury of star freshman Cole Anthony, Garrison Brooks had a breakout junior season. His scoring average jumped from 7.9 points per game to 16.8, his rebounding average from 5.6 to 8.5 per game, and he averaged a career-best two assists per game. On a team that ranked just 77th nationally in offensive efficiency, per kenpom.com, Brooks was a bright spot, posting a 111.5 offensive rating that ranked as the second-best on the Tar Heels. He made roughly 54 percent of his 2-point attempts and he got to the free-throw line with regularity (six attempts per game).
Brooks drew 5.3 fouls per 40 minutes and he attempted almost half as many free-throw attempts as field-goal attempts — a sign of his aggressiveness and the difficulty of defending him around the basket, and which bodes well for a player’s efficiency. He’s a strong rebounder, especially on the offensive end of the floor, and he takes care of the ball (14.4 percent turnover rate) for being a fairly high-usage player.
With the Tar Heels losing Anthony, third-leading scorer Brandon Robinson and a few other rotation players from last season, Brooks could carve out an even bigger role in the 2020-21 season.
No. 20 – Joey Hauser, Michigan State
After sharing the Big Ten title last season, Michigan State lost point guard Cassius Winston and forward Xavier Tillman, who were responsible for more than 32 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists per game, plus all the intangibles of veteran leaders. Enter, Joey Hauser.
Hauser sat out last season after transferring from Marquette and he could form a formidable frontcourt duo along with Aaron Henry. As a freshman, Hauser started 31 of 34 games for the Golden Eagles and he averaged 9.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game as Marquette’s third option offensively. He was a great shooter, making 42 percent of his 3.1 3-point attempts per game and 79 percent of his free throws.
Hauser will presumably carve out a role as one of the Spartans’ top two options on offense and with the departures of Winston and Tillman, there’s certainly shots available, especially for someone who shoots so efficiently. As a freshman, Hauser had an offensive rating of 108.0 (if anything, it’s his 2-point shooting that has room to improve) and his 15.2 assist rate was productive for a freshman forward. He also showed a promising level of aggressiveness with a free-throw rate (free-throw attempts divided by field goal attempts) of 38.4, which was a nationally ranked percentage, per kenpom.com.
No. 21 – Kofi Cockburn, Illinois
Interestingly, many of the most talented players who will wear No. 21 this season are sophomores (or a redshirt sophomore) who are poised for potential breakout seasons. There’s Duke’s Matthew Hurt, Michigan’s Franz Wagner, Arizona’s Jordan Brown and Marquette’s D.J. Carton.
But we’re going with Illinois big man Kofi Cockburn, who was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and a Third Team All-Big Ten selection by the conference’s media members after averaging 13.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, which ranked 13th in the Big Ten and fourth among freshmen nationally, respectively. Cockburn had 12 double-doubles on the season, including five in the first six games of the season as he immediately proved to be a strong college player as a freshman.
Cockburn was efficient, making 53 percent of his 2-point attempts (he didn’t attempt a three all season) and he averaged more than five free-throw attempts per game, which helped him post an offensive rating of 110.4. On a team with a potential All-America candidate at point guard, Cockburn offers an almost equally strong presence on the interior, where he should wreak havoc across the Big Ten this winter.
No. 22 – Jalen Pickett, Siena
Step aside Myles Cale (Seton Hall), Gabe Kalscheur (Minnesota) and Rich Kelly (Boston College), this honor goes to Pickett, the headband-wearing, 6-4 junior. As a sophomore, Pickett continued his sensational play from his freshman season, when his 11 MAAC Rookie of the Week honors were second all-time in Division I history for a newcomer in any conference. Last season he averaged 15.1 points, 6.0 assists, 4.6 rebounds, 1.1 blocks and 1.0 steal per game, while shooting 37 percent from 3 and almost 52 percent inside the arc.
Pickett’s 118.8 offensive rating ranked 110th nationally and his 34.3 percent assist rate ranked 34th, as he’s both an unselfish distributor and an efficient scorer for a Saints team that finished last season with a 20-10 record, including 10 wins in a row to end the season.
No. 23 – Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana
There’s often a lot of competition for who’s the best player to wear No. 23 in a given season and you can almost certainly credit Michael Jordan for that. Few double-digit jersey numbers, especially those in the 20s or higher, are worn by as many talented players as those who wear No. 23.
Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana’s super sophomore, made a jersey change in the offseason, going from No. 4 to No. 23, and he’s the pick after a freshman season in which he started every game for the Hoosiers and averaged 13.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 1.2 assists in nearly 30 minutes per game. He had the highest offensive rating on the team by more than 11 points, according to kenpom.com, with a rating of 119.8, which ranked 89th nationally. That means Jackson-Davis was scoring roughly 1.2 points per possession.
He was named a Third Team All-Big Ten selection by the conference’s coaches and media, as well as a member of the All-Big Ten Freshman Team.
He knows what he is and that’s not a 3-point shooter. In an era where many big men are trying their hand at spreading the floor, Jackson-Davis didn’t attempt a single shot from behind the arc last season and you can understand why when seeing how he made nearly 57 percent of his shots inside the arc. He averaged more than five free-throw attempts per game, thanks to a free-throw rate of 59.8 (meaning he attempted roughly six free-throw attempts for every 10 field-goal attempts).
Jackson-Davis is a strong rebounder — he has an 11.8 offensive rebounding percentage and a 21.0 defensive rebounding percentage — plus he takes great care of the ball (just 1.3 turnovers per game) and he protects the rim defensively.
Indiana’s highest-usage offensive player last season, Devonte Green, graduated, which means that Jackson-Davis should shoulder a higher load on offense this season and his efficiency stats certainly suggest that’s a good thing for the sophomore and Indiana.
No. 24 – Corey Kispert, Gonzaga
You could go in a few different directions with this choice. Villanova’s Jeremiah Robinson-Earl returned to school for his sophomore season and he could be Villanova’s second-best player (or a 1A to Collin Gillespie’s “1”) after averaging 10.5 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.1 steals per game as a freshman. He’ll give his Wildcats more rebounding and more of a defensive presence than Kispert will provide his Zags, as well as potentially similar assist numbers, but Kispert could be the No. 1 offensive option (and an efficient one at that), so this could be a question of what you value most on the basketball court.
Gonzaga might be the best team in the country this season, following its 31-2 season in 2019-20, and Kispert could be the best player on the Bulldogs. Wherever you project Gonzaga to be in the national landscape this season, Villanova will likely be in a similar place, and Robinson-Earl will be a prominent reason why, which makes this an interesting comparison.
Mitch Ballock, Creighton’s crazy-efficient 3-point shooter, and Houston’s Quentin Grimes, who averaged 12.1 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.6 rebounds per game last season, are talented No. 24s who could potentially play their way into this discussion with a really strong season.
No. 25 – McKinley Wright IV, Colorado
Wright is No. 12 on Andy Katz’s list of top point guards entering the 2020-21 season after a junior season in which he averaged 14.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.1 steals per game as the Buffaloes’ do-it-all floor general. He’s been a steady presence for Colorado since he arrived on campus, as his career averages of 13.8 points, 5.1 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game aren’t far off of his averages from last season. Another season like his last season, let alone a senior-year improvement, will put him on an all-conference, if not a potential All-America, trajectory.
Wright’s 31.3 assist rate, which means that he assisted on almost a third of Colorado’s made baskets when he was on the floor last season, ranked in the top 70 nationally, but he still had a solid free-throw rate for being a generous point guard. He attempted almost four free throws per game, good for a free-throw rate of 33 percent, and he was a 79-percent free-throw shooter last season.
No. 30 – Ochai Agbaji
Agbaji arrived at Kansas as a player who was supposed to redshirt the 2018-19 season, but the Jayhawks removed his redshirt and he was a promising, and incredibly athletic, freshman. He was an every-game starter as a sophomore and now he could move into a role as Kansas’s leading scorer, after the departures of Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike. Agbaji averaged 10.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game last season as the team’s third-leading scorer and barttorvik.com projects him to average 13.3 points per game this season, along with similar rebounding and assist numbers.
Dotson and Azubuike both finished in the top six of kenpom.com‘s National Player of the Year standings, so there’s no questioning that production of what Kansas’s best players in a given season can do statistically, but it’s a matter of if Agbaji, the athletic wing and potential small-ball “four,” can continue to improve in Lawrence.
He shot 33 percent from 3 on 130 attempts last season and that’s a number that should ideally improve given the quantity of attempts he’s taking. He made 52 percent of his 2-point attempts but just 67 percent of his free-throw attempts, and he turned the ball over on 19 percent of his possessions.
Agbaji has all of the physical tools, now it’s a matter of him improving as a shooter and taking advantage of the larger role that’s available with the Jayhawks.
By the way, if you’re looking for a sneaky choice for the best No. 30 in the sport, look at Virginia’s Jay Huff, a redshirt senior who never averaged more than 10 minutes per game and never started a game until last season. His career per-40 minute averages are 15.3 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game, while shooting 38 percent from three, and he has shown flashes of excellence (a 15-point, 10-block double-double with nine rebounds against Duke last season, 11 points and seven rebounds in 10 minutes against Clemson as a redshirt sophomore, 13 points, six rebounds, five blocks, two assists and two steals in 19 minutes against Columbia last season).
No. 31 – MaCio Teague, Baylor
Baylor was in contention for a No. 1 seed last season and the Bears return the core of their roster, so it makes sense that they’re well-represented on this list. It also helps that some of their best players don’t have traditionally popular jersey numbers. Davidson’s Kellan Grady, Ohio State’s Seth Towns (a transfer from Harvard) and Arizona’s Terrell Brown Jr. (a transfer from Seattle who averaged 20.8 points per game last season) are some other No. 31s to watch this season, but Teague is the pick.
Stable production isn’t always guaranteed when a player transfers to a bigger school, but when Teague made the move to Baylor from UNC Asheville, where he averaged 16.7 points per game as a sophomore, he averaged 13.9 points per game for the Bears, which ranked second on the team. He also averaged 4.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.0 steal per game.
Teague was the second-most efficient Baylor player last season, with an offensive rating of 117.4 that ranked 148th nationally. He was a 35-percent 3-point shooter on 169 attempts and he was an 85-percent free-throw shooter, while taking great care of the ball (1.3 turnovers in 32.6 minutes per game). Teague scored in double figures in 22 of the 28 games he played in last season and he was just a bucket shy of 10 points in five of those six games in which he was held to single digits.
Games like his 24-point performance on nine shots against Oklahoma State and 21 points against Coastal Carolina on 14 attempts showed his scoring and efficiency potential.
No. 32 – Moussa Cisse, Memphis
There may not be 10 more talented freshmen in the country this season than Cisse, the 6-10, 220-pound center from Guinea. At a similar position and talent level as Precious Achiuwa, who led the Tigers at 15.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game last season, Cisse could have a similar statistical impact for Memphis this winter.
It remains to be seen how Memphis’s offensive roles shake out with Cisse, plus the additions of transfers Landers Nolley II (Virginia Tech) and DeAndre Williams (Evansville), combined with key returners D.J. Jeffries, Lester Quinones and Alex Lomax. But Cisse might have the most talent of anyone in that group and Cisse could be a major defensive force if the Tigers replicate their top-five defense from last season.
Other No. 32s to watch include LSU’s Shareef O’Neal (Shaq’s son), Ohio State’s E.J. Liddell, Dayton’s Jordy Tshimanga, Hofstra’s Isaac Kante and Xavier’s Zach Freemantle.
No. 33 – Tre Mitchell, UMass
To pull readers behind the curtain, there wasn’t a ton of depth or competition for numbers greater than thirty that weren’t divisible by five (so, essentially No. 31 through No. 34, No. 41 through No. 44, etc.). But jersey No. 33 could lead to some compelling debates from fans.
Richmond’s Grant Golden was the second-leading scorer for the Spiders last season at 13.4 points per game and their leading rebounder at 6.9 boards per game. Andy Katz projected Richmond to be a No. 7 seed in his first 2021 NCAA tournament projections, so the Spiders could be a mainstay in the AP Top 25 this season.
Kansas big man David McCormack might be the name that most casual college basketball fans have a relative level of familiarity with, given the team he plays for and the level of talent he brought to Lawrence as a freshman. His sophomore-year stats won’t blow you away (6.9 points and 4.1 rebounds in 14.7 minutes per game) as he played alongside standout Udoka Azubuike, but if he plays an additional 10 minutes per game, McCormack could average at least 10 points and six rebounds as a junior.
Iowa State won just 13 games in Solomon Thomas’s freshman season and only 12 games last year, but as a junior, Thomas was the team’s third-leading scorer at 9.8 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, and the Cyclones will have to replace starters Tyrese Haliburton and Michael Jacobson, which could make more shots available for Young.
Marquette freshman Dawson Garcia is arguably one of the five most talented freshmen that the Golden Eagles have enrolled in the modern era and he could play a big role for them in the post-Markus Howard era in Milwaukee.
Belmont, which was the darling for many hardcore college basketball fans during the 2019 season, has a special player in junior center Nick Muszynski, who was second on the team in scoring (15.3 ppg) and rebounding (6.4 rpg) last season, while making an impressive 63.8 percent of his 2-point attempts.
But we’re taking Mitchell, the sophomore center who had a standout freshman season for UMass, where he averaged 17.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.9 assists, one steal and one block per game, while shooting 53 percent inside the arc and 72 percent at the line. He was named the A-10 Rookie of the Year — the first time a UMass played had earned the honor in 16 years — as well as a Second Team All-A-10 selection. He had a 15-point, 19-rebound game at Fordham in February, which was immediately followed by a … 19-point, 15-rebound game. He finished his freshman season with a 34-point, 12-rebound, four-assist outburst against Rhode Island.
No. 34 – Oscar Tshiebwe, West Virginia
Tshiebwe was a revelation as a freshman, helping the Mountaineers quickly put their disappointing 15-21 campaign in 2019 in the rear-view mirror. They started last season unranked but peaked at No. 12 in the AP poll, behind the play of the 6-9 Tshiebwe, who led the team in scoring (11.2 points per game) and rebounding (9.3 rebounds per game). He’s a load down low at 258 pounds, especially when playing alongside the 6-10, 255-pound Derek Culver.
Based on his freshman-year averages, Tshiebwe obviously has double-double potential, because he nearly averaged a double-double, but he has the potential to put up stat lines in the 15-15 or 20-20 neighborhood, where he’s grabbing as many rebounds as he has points. In just his second college game, he had 20 points and 17 rebounds at Pitt. Two weeks later he had 19 points and 18 rebounds against Wichita State. There was a 17-point, 17-rebound performance on the road against Kansas.
He wasn’t putting up those numbers against West Virginia’s lesser opponents, but rather, some of more high-profile opponents.
The next step for Tshiebwe is consistency. His ceiling is high and his best games absolutely stuff the stat sheet, but it’s a matter of him removing games like his one-point, five-rebound game at TCU or four-point, three-rebound day at Texas Tech, and replacing them with something closer to a double-double.
Tshiebwe ranks No. 19 in Andy Katz’s list of top returning players.
No. 35 – Nate Reuvers, Wisconsin
For whatever reason, the crop of players who will wear No. 35 this season seems to be headlined by veterans who were promising, if not productive, role players, who might step into larger roles during the 2020-21 season. There’s Yves Pons, who was a reserve on Tennessee’s 2018 and 2019 teams that won a combined 57 games, before developing into a 10-point-a-game scorer last season. Wisconsin’s Nate Reuvers had been at least a part-time starter since arriving in Madison, but he was overshadowed by Ethan Happ for his first two seasons, before breaking out and averaging 13.1 points and 4.5 rebounds as a junior.
Oklahoma’s Brady Manek arrived on campus along with Trae Young and now Manek enters his senior year, after having been the team’s third, second and third-leading scorer the last three seasons, respectively. He has always been an elite shooter who takes care of the ball, is a capable but not elite rebounder, who offers some rim protection. Can his role and skill set expand even more in his final season with the Sooners?
Then there’s Buddy Boeheim, who was the second-leading scorer on the team coached by his father at 15.3 points per game as a sophomore and first-time, full-time starter. He’s a strong 3-point shooter, making 37 percent of his eight attempts per game, but there’s more to basketball than outside shooting.
Wisconsin is a projected No. 2 seed in the 2021 NCAA tournament in Andy Katz’s first bracket projection and Reuvers might be the team’s best player, as a 3-point-shooting, floor-spacing, shot-blocking big man. But let’s be clear, the answer to the question of “Who’s the best No. 35?” could be answered differently by reasonable people, and it might come down to which veteran has the most untapped potential or whose game expanded the most amid a nontraditional offseason.
No. 40 – Collin Welp, UC Irvine
After a sophomore season in which he averaged 13.0 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 23.5 minutes per game, Collin Welp is projected to average 18.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game as a junior, according to barttorvik.com. Welp has both proven production, along with upside to put up even bigger numbers.
Welp started just twice last season and played just over half of the game, on average. With a bigger role as a full-time starter who plays, say, 30 minutes per game, Welp could become closer to realizing his per-40-minute stats of 22.2 points and 10.0 rebounds per game.
UC Irvine was in contention for the NCAA tournament last season and the Anteaters finished 2020 with a 21-11 record and the second-best 2-point percentage defense in the country (40.8 percent). Welp was really efficient (offensive rating of 114.7), in large part because of his 44-percent clip from behind the arc and his nearly 86-percent free-throw shooting.
No. 41 – Steffon Mitchell, Boston College
With consideration also given to Colorado’s Jeriah Horne, Steffon Mitchell is the pick here. Mitchell is coming off of a junior season in which he averaged a career-best 7.8 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game. His advanced stats are arguably more impressive than his per-game stats, as he posted the 31st-best steal rate in the country (3.9 percent) and 31st-best free-throw rate (66.1 percent), as well as a nationally ranked offensive rebounding percentage, defensive rebounding percentage and block rate. He’s an above-average player offensively, even if he’s not a great shooter, thanks to the number of times he gets to the free-throw line, and he’s a strong defender and doesn’t foul much.
No. 42 – Dan Fotu, Saint Mary’s
This choice came down to four players: Fotu, Rutgers’s Jacob Young, Abilene Christian’s Clay Gayman and Mount St. Mary’s’ Malik Jefferson. Fotu, who averaged 6.4 points and 3.4 rebounds per game as a sophomore after making 41 percent of his 3s on 51 attempts as a freshman, is the pick here.
He developed into a complementary scorer last season, while still only being a part-time starter who played roughly 20 minutes per game, which means that with a larger role, his per-game stats will presumably increase, especially if he regains his 3-point stroke. Fotu was the team’s fifth-leading scorer last season and the Gaels graduated seniors Jordan Ford (21.9 ppg) and Tanner Krebs (9.1 ppg), while Malik Fitts (16.5 ppg) left for the NBA, which means there’s definitely room for Fotu to receive a larger share of the offense.
The advanced analytics site barttorvik.com projects Fotu to average 11.8 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.
No. 43 – Eric Dixon, Villanova
No. 43 is one of the least common jersey numbers in college basketball, but Dixon offers some considerable potential after redshirting during his freshman season. Villanova has a number of forwards to utilize this season, such as Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Jermaine Samuels, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, Cole Swider and Brandon Slater, so Dixon will have to earn his playing time.
But he arrived at Villanova as a well-regarded player, and we’ve seen the benefits of a redshirt season with the Wildcats. Being a productive reserve on one of the country’s best teams is enough to make you the best No. 43 in the country.
No. 44 – Ruot Monyyong, Little Rock
Monyyong was named a First Team All-Sun Belt selection last season after averaging 11.9 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, 1.5 assists and 1.0 steal per game. He was also named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year in his first season with the Trojans, which finished with a 21-10 record (15-5 Sun Belt). Despite being just 7-for-29 from 3-point range on the season, he finished with a 113.1 offensive rating (284th nationally), while being a ferocious defensive rebounder (his 26.7 defensive rebounding percentage ranked 29th) and a great rim protector (7.0 percent block rate ranked 72nd).
Monyyong is a force to deal with in the post as he drew 4.9 fouls per 40 minutes and he had a ridiculous free-throw rate of 64.5, which means that he attempted almost two free throws for every three field-goal attempts. His 61.9 percent shooting inside the arc ranked in the top 100 nationally.
Missouri State’s Gaige Prim, UNC Greensboro’s Kaleb Hunter and Michigan State’s Gabe Brown also received some consideration here.
No. 45 – Davion Mitchell, Baylor
After transferring from Auburn, Mitchell was an every-game starter for Baylor last season, when he was the team’s third-leading scorer at 9.9 points per game. He was the No. 1 creator for the Bears with a team-high 3.8 assists per game, he was third in steals (1.5 per game) and sixth in rebounds, as one of the team’s key players around Jared Butler. Mitchell played more minutes than any other player on the team (972, which was 58 more than any other player) and his perimeter defense helped the Bears post the fourth-best defensive efficiency in the country, per kenpom.com.
He scored in double figures 15 times in 30 games, which makes sense for a player who averaged just a hair under 10 points per game, and he scored a season-high 19 points against UT Martin. Mitchell won’t be the first player mentioned when Baylor is discussed, and he may not be the second or third, but Baylor wouldn’t be Baylor without him.
No. 50 – Trevion Williams, Purdue
As Williams’s minutes doubled from his freshman to sophomore season, so did his production. After averaging 5.2 points and 4.0 rebounds in just over 10 minutes per game during the 2018-19 season, he started 22 of 31 games for Purdue last season, averaging 11.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 21.5 minutes per game.
It was a breakout season and given that he played just over half the game, on average, his production can still improve significantly if he can stay on the floor even longer. His per-40 minute stats last season were 21.3 points and 14.2 rebounds per game, and if Williams can play north of 25 minutes per game, he can come closer to realizing those numbers on a per-game basis.
A breakout game at Michigan last season, when Williams scored 36 points with 20 rebounds in 44 minutes, showed his potential. Sure, that might be the best game, statistically, of his career, but coming close to a 40-20 double-double is special. He had seven other double-doubles as a sophomore, including two different stretches of three double-doubles in four games.
With the transfer of Matt Haarms, Williams should have even more opportunity in Purdue’s frontcourt this season and he showed last season that he’s a high-usage player (a team-high 31-percent usage rate, nine percentage points higher than anyone else on the team), which bodes well for his production as a junior. He’s also a terrific rebounder, with a 17.6 percent offensive rebounding rate (the percent of Purdue’s missed shots that he grabbed when he was on the floor) that ranked fifth nationally and his defensive rebounding percentage ranked 60th nationally.
No. 51 – James Butler, Drexel
Butler is a reigning Third Team All-CAA selection after averaging 13.2 points, 11.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game for Drexel as a redshirt junior, when he was the team’s second-leading scorer and leading rebounder. He posted an offensive rating of 113.1, which ranked in the top 300 nationally, after making 52 percent of his 2-point attempts and posting a 36.6 percent free-throw rate (36 free-throw attempts for every 100 field-goal attempts).
He was also among the most prolific rebounders in the country, grabbing 29.3 percent of available defensive rebounds (11th nationally) and 13.5 percent of available offensive rebound (35th). He takes good care of the ball and offers some rim protection.
No. 52 – Chandler Vaudrin, Winthrop
Vaudrin was named a Second Team All-Big South selection last season after averaging 9.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.4 steals per game in his first season playing at the DI level in college, after redshirting during the 2018-19 season. With his per-game averages, Vaudrin can be within shouting distance of a triple-double in almost any game. He did have one triple-double last season against Longwood, when he had 10 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists and six steals, and he had two double-doubles.
Winthrop went 24-10 and won the Big South Tournament, which means the Eagles would’ve made the NCAA tournament.
Vaudrin’s shooting — 45 percent from two, 32 percent from 3, 50 percent from the line — can improve, but he’s an exceptional play-maker at 6-7 (32.9 percent assist rate ranked 42nd nationally) and he’s a tough player to guard (he drew 5.3 fouls per 40 minutes and posted an impressive 62.5 percent free-throw rate).
No. 53 – Tomas Woldetensae, Virginia
Woldetensae transferred to Virginia before last season and in his first season in Charlottesville, he averaged 6.6 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game, while starting 22 of the 29 games he played. Woldetensae, 6-5, was the team’s No. 6 offensive option, based on the usage rates and shot rates among Virginia’s rotation players, and with the losses of Mamadi Diakite and Braxton Key, Woldetensae could carve out a larger role as a senior.
His 36 percent 3-point percentage was the second-highest on the team and his 52 3-pointers paced the team.
No. 54 – Russel Tchewa, South Florida
Tchewa transferred to South Florida from Texas Tech, where he averaged 1.7 points and 0.9 rebounds in just five minutes per game. In limited action, Tchewa had an 8.6 offensive rebounding percentage, which would’ve been a nationally ranked mark if he maintained that while seeing more playing time. His seven-percent block rate was also encouraging for what the future holds.
No. 55 – Luka Garza, Iowa
There’s a chance the best is saved for last. No. 55 is the highest jersey number in the sport and it’s worn by Garza, the only returning consensus First Team or Second Team All-American. He’s likely to receive as much preseason National Player of the Year buzz as any player in the country after he had a breakout junior season in which he averaged 23.9 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game for the Hawkeyes, while making a career-high 35.8 percent of his 3-pointers.
Garza was a ready-made college player from the moment the 2017-18 season tipped off, as he averaged 12.1 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, while starting 26 of 33 games, and his scoring average nearly doubled within two years. It’s unfair and unrealistic to expect Garza’s per-game statistics to take another year-over-year jump like they did last winter, but even a small improvement would put him in the neighborhood of averaging 25 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks per game.
The senior’s high-usage role in the offense and his above-average 2-point efficiency (58.9 percent last season), along with his ability to get to the free-throw line, gives him the potential to put up 30 points at least a handful of times this season. He scored at least 30 points on four occasions last season and he was a bucket shy four other times. A 44-point explosion against Michigan last December, albeit in a loss, showed the numbers Garza can put up when his teammates continue to feed him in the post. He attempted 32 shots from the field, 29 of which were inside the arc, and he made 17 of them, along with 10 free throws.
Garza is No. 1 on Andy Katz’s list of top returning players.
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