In the one and done era of college basketball, the strength of each draft depends primarily on the strength of the freshman class of the previous college season. Unfortunately, last year’s draft class was pretty disappointing. Especially considering the new rule changes that worked to make the college game more exciting overall. It was the first time in all the years that I’ve owned a DVR, that at the end of February, it was primarily NBA and not NCAA, games that it was filled with. That will NOT be the case this year, the 2016 class is unbelievable and there are several up and coming returning players that are going to be exciting.
Several sites have already started making big boards and mock drafts for 2017. However, when you turn on your TV and start flipping through the channels, it’s not the player’s names that come up but the names of the schools. So it’s obviously important and helpful to know which schools will be the most significant in regards to their draft talent, whether you are wondering what college teams will be most interesting to watch next season for the purposes of scouting the draft or if you just want to see talented athletes play basketball. Often times, a ranked team will be playing, but just because a team is successful at the college game, it does not mean that they are exciting to watch or even that they have many NBA prospects. On the other hand, a team with many NBA prospects is almost always fun to watch, even if they aren’t always winning at a high level. Case in point – Ben Simmons-led LSU.
Starting with some honorable mentions:
There are four Pac-12 schools on the cusp. USC is on the come up under Andy Enfield and rail thin G/F Shaqquan Aaron will be a sleeper to watch for them. He reminds me of Jamal Crawford a lot more then even DaJounte Murray does. Oregon has a chance to win a national championship this year, but they are more so a great college team than a great NBA draft team. UCLA has a lottery talent in Lonzo Ball and a couple other potential first rounders in TJ Leaf and Ike Anigbogu, but not quite enough big time prospects around them. Washington only has one realistic NBA prospect, but Markelle Fultz is almost guaranteed to go top-3 next June.
Florida State and Louisville have plenty of potential but the players with the highest ceilings on both teams need to show more before they can be considered. Jonathan Isaac and Donovan Mitchell are their two best prospects.
Finally, Marquette and San Diego State are two sleeper teams in this category. Marquette has NINE former four or five-star recruits, but none of them are huge stand outs for now. San Diego State in the Steve Fisher era always seems to have several long and athletic prospects, but once again none of them really stand out.
And finally the actual top 10:
- Kansas – If Malik Newman was eligible right away they could’ve been higher. Plus Udoka Azubuike is too young to make himself eligible for the 2017 draft. There is plenty of other talent here, led by Josh Jackson who has been considered one of the top-3 players in his class for many years and is an elite athlete with a tenacious all-around game. DeVonte Graham, Carlton Bragg, Landen Lucas, Svi Mykahiluk and Frank Mason are all solid prospects as well, in roughly that order.
- North Carolina State – Dennis Smith Jr. looked more athletic than ever this summer, even coming back from a torn ACL. Projected as high as number one overall, the intrigue around this team starts and ends with him, but Turkish big man Omer Yurtseven has an outside shot at being a lottery pick as well. Maverick Rowan and Markell Johnson probably won’t be ready to declare yet but they are both interesting players with some potential.
- Indiana – Unlike most the other schools on this list, the most interesting players on this team are both returning players. Thomas Bryant and OG Anunoby may be the two most talented sophomores in all of college basketball. Anunoby in particular is a huge personal favorite, a raw talent with some star qualities. If James Blackmon improves defensively, he has a shot at the first round as well. Juwan Morgan is a deep sleeper.
- Syracuse – There’s no one that’s a sure fire lottery pick on this team but between three and eight guys on this roster have a chance to get drafted. Tyler Lydon is a long, fluid stretch-4 who is the closest thing they have to a star, and Tyler Roberson, Andrew White and DaJuan Coleman are all seniors with a decent shot to get picked in the second round.
- Connecticut – Similar to Syracuse, none of the players on this roster are likely to ever be stars in the NBA, but almost everyone who has a scholarship has a shot to be drafted one day. Jalen Adams and Alterique Gilbert are the two guys I like the most, while a lot of other draft media have praised Terry Larrier. Amida Brimah, Juwan Durham, Vance Jackson and Rodney Purvis all have skill and natural ability to varying degrees.
- Texas – Athletic C Jarrett Allen leads the way and has legit lottery potential, but there are a couple other guys who can have nice careers in the pros. Andrew Jones really impressed in the McDonald’s All-American practices, as he’s continued his steady rise up the recruiting rankings. Meanwhile, Kerwin Roach showed flashes last year as a freshman. James Banks is another athletic big who probably won’t see a lot of time behind Allen this year, but certainly has the potential to eventually be a legit prospect as long as he’s able to continue to improve his basketball IQ and skill level. It will also be interesting to see how much Eric Davis, Tevin Mack, Shaquille Cleare, and Jacob Young all develop this year.
- North Carolina – Joel Berry, Theo Pinson, Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks make up a starting five of likely future pros, whether in the NBA or elsewhere. They will certainly help UNC challenge for the national championship once again but will also keep the NBA scouts and GMs showing up to games. The guy that the execs may come away liking the most though is Tony Bradley, one of the most underrated incoming freshman in the nation.
- Arizona – DeAndre Ayton, the top player from the high school class of 2017, committed to Arizona this September and he’s probably the most talented high school center prospect since Greg Oden. However, Sean Miller has some good talent to surround him with as well. The 2015-16 team may have had somewhat of a down year for the program, but Rawle Alkins and Kobi Jordan-Simmons (what a name!) are two possible first round selections next June. The biggest star at Tucson may be Lauri Markannen, a Finnish 7-footer with an automatic jumper and some nice mobility to boot.
- Kentucky – Kentucky at number two on a list like this is a pretty big surprise since there’s no one who has done a better job recruiting and molding NBA-level talent than Coach Cal. Once again, he’s adding several heavy hitters to the roster, with players like Bam Adebayo, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, and Wenyan Gabriel, all of whom are in the mix to become possible lottery selections next year. It may not be quite as strong as the Anthony Davis, John Wall and Karl Towns classes from previous UK teams, but it’s still as good as anyone in the nation. Marcus Lee has transferred to California but Big Blue Nation brings back Isaac Humphries and Isaiah Briscoe from last year’s team. As great as the talent here is though, the number one team just edged them out.
- Duke – Well, Coach K is slowly coming for Calipari’s spot by making Duke the go-to program for 5-star and one-and-done recruits across the country. While most schools concentrate more on local athletes, Duke and Kentucky have no problems recruiting across the U.S. and even the world. Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum are the crowning jewels of this loaded class but almost every recruiting service had Marques Bolden and Frank Jackson rated as 5-star prospects, too. That’s before getting to Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard and Amile Jefferson, sure to be three of the best returning college players in the country next year. Javin DeLaurier and Chase Jeter have the talent to start for many top-25 teams this year, but Duke is so loaded up front, they may have trouble finding a spot in the rotation. Duke isn’t only the most talented team in regard to their player’s NBA futures, but also a strong favorite for next year’s national championship. Derryck Thornton’s transfer to USC leaves a hole at the PG position but that’s the only thing I really see as a potential barrier to a dominant season from this squad. If Jackson or Allen are able to step in and be competent playing the point, I think this team has the talent to challenge Kentucky’s 39-1 campaign. Those are lofty expectations, but this team is the most talented in the country and will be a must watch for all college and NBA draft fans.