There were so many great stories in college basketball this season that will never get the ending they deserve. The NCAA tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, an absolutely necessary move but a sad one nonetheless. We can make predictions about what would have happened in March Madness, but the reality is none of us will ever know who ultimately would have cut down the nets at the Final Four in Atlanta.
While we mourn the loss of the NCAA tournament, it’s important to remember the players who made the 2019-20 college basketball season what it was. There were veterans like Markus Howard and Udoka Azuibuike who got even better as seniors. There were players like Luka Garza and Immanuel Quickley who seemingly came out of nowhere to become stars. There were freshmen like Onyeka Okongwu who made an immediate impact.
These are the 50 best players in college basketball this season, ranked.
50. Desmond Bane, G, TCU
The 6’6 senior guard capped a productive four-year career by leading TCU in scoring (16.6 points per game), assists (four per game), and steals. He shot 43.9 percent from three-point range while nearly doubling his assist rate from last season to near 26 percent. He was named first-team All-Big 12 for his efforts.
49. John Mooney, F, Notre Dame
Mooney led the nation in double-doubles, posting at least 10 points and 10 rebounds in 25 of Notre Dame’s 31 games. The senior big man wasn’t the most efficient scorer (51 percent true shooting) due to a penchant to take and miss three-pointers (31-of-105 on the season), but his consistent work on the glass and inside scoring helped carry Notre Dame to a 20-12 record on the year.
48. Oscar Tshiebwe, C, West Virginia
Tshiebwe was one of the most physically intimidating players in the country from the moment he stepped on the floor for West Virginia. The 6’9, 260-pound freshman center led the country in offensive rebound rate (19 percent). Tshiebwe was also a critical cog protecting the paint in the Mountaineers’ No. 3 overall defense while leading the team in scoring, rebounding, and blocked shots.
47. Jalen Crutcher, G, Dayton
Obi Toppin might have been the star of the show at Dayton, but the Flyers’ high-powered offense wouldn’t have been so prolific without the contributions of his trusty sidekick Jalen Crutcher. The 6’1 junior guard drastically improved as a shooter from three-point range (42 percent) and the foul line (86 percent). He ended the season averaging 15 points and five assists per game.
46. Precious Achiuwa, C/F, Memphis
Memphis’ dream season went up in smoke when star freshman center James Wiseman was suspended and ultimately left the team amid an NCAA scandal after only three games. The Tigers were still able to win 21 games and have a chance to play themselves into the Big Dance at the AAC tournament thanks to the contributions of Achiuwa, their other McDonald’s All-American freshman. A long and strong 6’9 forward, Achiuwa averaged 15.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game to lead the Tigers in all three categories.
45. Kaleb Wesson, C, Ohio State
There was a time when Wesson looked like the best player in the country in the early part of the season as Ohio State rose as high as No. 2 in the AP poll. Both Wesson and his team would eventually come back down to Earth before rebounding late in the season to win four of their final five games. The 6’9, 270-pound big man ended the season averaging 14 points and 9.8 rebounds while making 45 three-pointers at a 42 percent clip.
44. Zeke Nnaji, C, Arizona
Nico Mannion and Josh Green were the Arizona freshmen with the most hype this season, but Nnaji ended up becoming the Wildcats’ best player. The 6’11 big man led his team in scoring (16.1) and rebounding (8.6) while also finishing with 63 percent true shooting. An underrated part of Nnaji’s offense was his ability to get to the foul line and make free throws. He finished with 6.1 fouls drawn per-40 minutes and knocked down 76 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe.
43. Nathan Knight, C, William & Mary
The CAA had lots of great players this year — Charleston’s Grant Riller and Hofstra’s Desure Buie were also considered for this list — but Knight was the guy took home the conference’s player of the year award after finishing second in the country in double-doubles. The 6’10, 250-pound senior forward was a beast inside for conference opponents all season, averaging 20.7 points and 10.5 rebounds per game on 61 percent true shooting. He leaves school as the program’s second all-time leading scorer.
42. Paul Reed, C, DePaul
A long 6’9 junior big man, Reed turned into a dependable scorer and one of the better defensive centers in the country this season at DePaul. He posted monstrous block (9.4 percent) and steal (3.4 percent) rates while averaging 15.1 points and 10.7 rebounds per game for the Blue Demons. He finished No. 13 in America in box score plus-minus.
41. Yoeli Childs, C, BYU
The 6’8 senior was again one of the most productive big men in America when he was on the court for BYU this season. Childs led his team in scoring (22.2 points per game), rebounding (nine per game) and blocks while finishing with a 60.3 true shooting percentage. His final year of college basketball unfortunately got off to a late start after he was suspended the first nine games of the season for a paperwork error related to his decision to pull out of the 2019 NBA Draft.
40. Kira Lewis, PG, Alabama
Lewis entered college basketball as a 17-year-old freshman at Alabama and took another step forward in his development this year. An ultrafast 6’3 point guard with emerging scoring ability, Lewis led the Crimson Tide by averaging 18.5 points, 5.2 assists, and 1.8 steals per game. He’s expected to be a first-round pick in the NBA Draft.
39. Keyontae Johnson, F, Florida
Florida didn’t quite live up to preseason expectations, but it wasn’t Johnson’s fault. The sophomore swing man led the Gators in scoring (14 points per game) while also being his team’s best defender. An active and athletic player on both ends of the floor, Johnson was named a first-team All-SEC selection by raising his scoring efficiency (62.4 percent true shooting) and finishing with the highest box score plus-minus on his team.
38. Isaiah Stewart, C, Washington
Stewart was blessed with adult-level strength from his early years in high school, so it was no surprise to see him have such a productive freshman year at Washington. The 6’9, 250-pound big man led the Huskies in scoring (17.7 points per game) and rebounding (8.8 per game) while finishing with 63 percent true shooting that ranked top-50 in the country.
37. Elijah Hughes, F, Syracuse
A long and versatile 6’6 forward, Hughes enjoyed a breakout junior year by becoming Syracuse’s primary scoring option. He led the ACC in scoring at 19 points per game while also averaging five rebounds and 3.4 assists per night. Hughes’ scoring punch was helped by an increased volume in three-point shooting, where he hit 34.1 percent of his 7.2 attempts per game from downtown.
36. Lamar Stevens, G, Penn State
Stevens wrapped up a phenomenal four-year career at Penn State by leading the Nittany Lions to their first ranking in the AP poll since the 1995-96 season, where they peaked at No. 9. Penn State was going to make its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2010-11 with Stevens leading the team in scoring for the second straight season. He leaves school just six points short of becoming the program’s all-time leading scorer, which he would have been a lock to get had the season continued as planned.
35. Nick Richards, C, Kentucky
Most McDonald’s All-Americans don’t spend their first two years in college basketball averaging less than 15 minutes per game. That was the reality for Richards as he competed in a deep Kentucky front court while he skill set took time to catch up to his physical talent. Everything clicked for him as a junior, giving the Wildcats an athletic center who finished everything inside and turned into one of the SEC’s premier defenders. Richards ended his junior year averaging 14 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, with a huge eight percent block rate and a 67.8 true shooting percentage that ranked No. 8 in America.
34. Mamadi Diakite, F, Virginia
Virginia lost Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, and De’Andre Hunter from its reigning national championship team, but the two-way play of Diakite helped the ‘Hoos maintain their excellence. After a slow start, Virginia was set to enter the ACC tournament at 23-7 overall and 15-5 in the conference. Diakite was their leading scorer and also arguably the top defensive player on the No. 1 defense in America. He should never have to pay for a meal in Charlottesville again.
33. Tres Tinkle, F, Oregon State
In his fifth season playing for his father at Oregon State, Tinkle led his team in scoring (18.5 points per game), rebounding, and steals, and finished second in assists and blocks. The 6’7 forward passed Gary Payton on March 6 to become the program’s all-time leading scorer.
32. Reggie Perry, C, Mississippi State
Coming off an MVP run with USA Basketball in the FIBA U19 World Cup, Perry built on a promising freshman year at Mississippi State by raising his numbers across the board. He averaged a double-double (17.4 points and 10.1 rebounds) while shooting 50 percent from the field. The 6’10 big man also made strides as a shooter, both from three-point range (where he doubled his makes from last year by hitting 23) and the foul line (76.8 percent).
31. Jordan Ford, G, St. Mary’s
Ford was one of the most reliable scorers in America for the second straight season. He duplicated the 21 points per game he averaged a year ago, and this time did it a tad more efficiently. Ford appeared in all 33 games for St. Mary’s this season and played 93.5 percent of the team’s available minutes. The point guard did a tremendous job of taking care of the ball, posting a turnover rate of just nine percent which ranked top-30 in the country.
30. Jalen Harris, G, Nevada
The 6’5 guard turned into one of the most dynamic backcourt scorers in the country in his first season at Nevada after transferring from Louisiana Tech. Harris put up 21.7 points per game to go along with nearly four assists per night. He was one of the most efficient high-usage scorers in America, ending the year ranked in the 83rd percentile of points per possession.
29. Tyler Bey, F, Colorado
Bey broke out into a legitimate first-round NBA Draft prospect during his junior season at Colorado. The 6’7 forward was one of the top defensive players in the country, posting impressive block and steal rates while having the versatility to switch onto forwards, big men, and even some guards. He was also the team’s second leading scorer at 13.8 points per game while grabbing a team-best nine rebounds per night. He was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year for his efforts.
28. Sam Merrill, G, Utah State
Merrill officially owns college basketball’s most memorable moment of March 2020 with his buzzer-beater to shock San Diego State and punch the Utah State Aggies to the NCAA tournament. Merrill finished his senior year just tenths of a point from his second consecutive season of averaging 20 points per game. Mountain West teams should be thrilled to see him graduate. He leaves school as the program’s second all-time leading scorer.
27. Filip Petrušev, C, Gonzaga
Petrusev went from a reserve in a deep and talented Gonzaga front court as a freshman to one of the best offensive centers in the country as a sophomore. He led Gonzaga in scoring (17.5 points per game) and rebounding (7.9 per game) while posting nearly 60 percent true shooting. He was named WCC Player of the Year for his efforts.
26. Ayo Dosunmu, G, Illinois
Dosunmu made a surprising decision to return for his sophomore year without even testing the NBA Draft waters. It’s a choice that allowed him to go down as one of the great players in recent Illinois basketball history. The 6’5 guard led the team in scoring (16.6 points per game) and assists (3.3 per game), but that doesn’t fully capture the impact he made in leading the Illini to what would have been their first NCAA tournament berth since 2013. It’s the clutch moments for Dosunmu that will stand the test of time, closing out wins against Wisconsin, Purdue, Rutgers, and Northwestern before hitting this game-winner vs. Michigan:
25. Devin Vassell, SF, Florida State
Florida State won the ACC regular-season crown and were about to be a trendy pick to reach the Final Four. Vassell led the team in scoring and rebounding while being the team’s best defender and best three-point shooter. There’s a reason the 6’7 sophomore wing is projected as a possible NBA lottery pick despite relatively pedestrian per-game stats (12.7 points, 5.1 rebounds per game). He made a noticeable impact on winning every time FSU took the floor.
24. Skylar Mays, G, LSU
An athletic 6’4 swingman, Mays capped his four-year career at LSU by becoming one of the better players in the SEC. The leading scorer (16.7 points per game) on the No. 4 offense in America, Mays improved as a shooter — hitting over 39 percent of his threes — and made major strides as an offensive creator. He finished in the 98th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball handler, according to Synergy Sports. He was also arguably the Tigers’ best defender, finishing with a steal rate of about three percent for the fourth straight year.
23. Marcus Zegarowski, PG, Creighton
Zagaroawski was the sophomore point guard who served as the engine of the No. 3 offense in the country. A dangerous long-range shooter (42 percent from three) and skilled playmaker (five assists per game), he led Creighton to the No. 7 overall ranking in the final AP poll of the year. The Bluejays were a major threat to reach the second weekend of the tournament for the first time since 1973.
22. Killian Tillie, F, Gonzaga
It feels like Tillie has been around college basketball forever. As a freshman, he was the French forward off the bench for a team that went to the national championship game. He broke out into a star as a sophomore by becoming a knockdown three-point shooter who hit better than 47 percent of his attempts from behind the arc. His junior season was painfully cut short by ankle and foot injuries. Gonzaga didn’t need him to be its leading man as a senior with such a talented supporting cast around him, but Tillie was still arguably the team’s most consistent offensive player. He’s going to have a long and prosperous pro career if the injury troubles are behind him.
21. Immanuel Quickley, G, Kentucky
From a sparingly used guard off the bench to SEC Player of the Year: that’s the story of Quickley’s sophomore season at Kentucky. The 6’3 guard slotted into more of an off-ball role this season next to Tyrese Maxey and Ashton Hagans, where he blossomed as a three-point shooter (41.6 percent from deep) and eventually became the primary scoring option for the Wildcats by the end of the year. This will go down as one of the great sophomore leaps in John Calipari’s tenure at Kentucky.
20. Saddiq Bey, F, Villanova
The improvements Bey made as a sophomore at Villanova are about to make him a very rich man. The 6’8 forward was at the center of everything Villanova did this year, leading the team in scoring (16.1 points per game) and nearly doubling his assist rate from his freshman season. His biggest strides came as an outside shooter. Bey hit 45.1 percent of his threes on 5.6 attempts per game. During a shooting-obsessed era of the NBA, Bey’s deep range should make him a first-round draft pick.
19. Tre Jones, PG, Duke
Jones was projected as a possible first-round pick last year after playing with Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, and Cam Reddish as a freshman. He decided to return to Duke for his sophomore year instead, becoming the heart and soul of the team from the moment the season tipped off. Jones raised his numbers across the board on his way to becoming ACC Player of the Year. Going from a role-player to a leading man while raising your efficiency is no easy task, but Jones pulled it off flawlessly. The NBA is still waiting.
18. Mason Jones, G, Arkansas
Was there a better player in college basketball this year who received less hype than Mason Jones? Arkansas’ junior guard averaged 22 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per night on 45.3/35.1/82.6 shooting splits. His ability to hit step-back and pull-up jumpers paced the Arkansas offense through the year while he also posted a solid 2.7 percent steal rate on defense.
17. Tyrese Haliburton, PG, Iowa State
Before Haliburton’s sophomore season ended in early February thanks to a wrist injury, the Iowa State point guard was emerging as one of the oddest yet most effective players in America. After putting up incredibly efficient numbers in a small role as a freshman, Haliburton more than doubled his usage while continuing to be hyper-efficient offensively. While the 6’5 guard wasn’t much of an attacker off the dribble, he was a dynamic threat on catch-and-shoot threes (42 percent) and finished with a 35 percent assist rate that ranked No. 26 in America. He’s expected to be a lottery pick in June’s NBA Draft.
16. Daniel Oturu, C, Minnesota
Oturu was considered one of the top recruits in Minnesota basketball history when he committed — 247 Sports only has Kris Humphries and Royce White rated ahead of him. He spent his sophomore season showing how correct that prophecy always was. The 6’10 center put up gigantic numbers all season, finishing with averages of 20.1 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game. He was one of the best two-way big men in college basketball this season by any definition.
15. Vernon Carey Jr., C, Duke
There was no point in which Carey looked or felt like a freshman during his first and likely only season at Duke. The 6’10, 270-pound center was considered a top-three prospect in his recruiting class, and lived up to the hype for every second he was on the floor. Carey finished the year leading Duke in scoring (17.8 points per game), rebounding (8.8 per game), and blocked shots (1.6 per game) while finishing with an efficient 61.5 true shooting percentage. He was also a monster at drawing fouls and hit a respectable 67 percent of his free throws. Could he have had the same perfect ending to his freshman year that Jahlil Okafor once enjoyed at Duke? We’ll never know.
14. Xavier Tillman, C, Michigan State
Ever since Tillman inherited Nick Ward’s spot in Michigan State’s lineup midway through last season, the Spartans big man has been one of the most impactful players in America. He proved his worth in a full-time role this season, leading the country in box score plus-minus on the strength of elite defense and solid offense. Tillman’s per-game stats of 13.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game don’t jump off the page, but MSU was simply a different team with him on the floor. Tillman didn’t need elite athleticism or shooting ability to be a force; he did it with strength and smarts instead. His play is a great example of what per-game numbers don’t capture when it comes to contributions to winning.
13. Jared Butler, G, Baylor
Butler became the best player on one of the best teams in the country this season as the sophomore leader of Baylor. As the Bears started the year 24-1 overall and 13-0 in conference, Butler emerged as their leading scorer and a key defender in a top-five defensive unit. The 6’3 point guard scored in double-figures in 25 of his 30 games, including a 22-point effort in a defining win against Kansas on Jan. 11.
12. Onyeka Okongwu, C, USC
Okongwu was the best freshman in college basketball all year even if most people didn’t realize it. He finished third in the country in box score plus-minus and grew into a lottery pick during his freshman year at USC by becoming one of the best two-way bigs in America. Okongwu was a skilled finisher with either hand who made a habit of dunking in traffic. He might have been even better defensively, where he posted a nearly 10 percent block rate and deterred so many more shot attempts with his length and verticality. There were freshmen who earned more attention nationally, but none that were quite as good as Okongwu.
11. Jordan Nwora, F, Louisville
Nwora is the type of player every college basketball team wants but few actually have: a big wing who can score from all three levels of the floor. He carried the scoring load for a powerful Louisville team all year, acting as the primary option on the No. 12 offense in the country. Nwora averaged 18 points per game and shot a career-best 40 percent from three on six attempts per game as a junior. He ranked in the 82nd percentile of points per possession in the country.
10. Jalen Smith, C, Maryland
Smith took a superstar leap as a sophomore after flirting with the NBA Draft at the completion of his freshman year. He raised his numbers across the board and emerged the best player on a Maryland team that peaked at No. 3 in the polls. The 6’10 big man averaged 15.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game, while extending his shooting range out past the three-point line (36.8 percent on 87 attempts). He finished the year with a 62.6 true shooting percentage after scoring with just average efficiency (55 percent true shooting) last year.
9. Devon Dotson, G, Kansas
Dotson took the superstar leap in his sophomore season that many were expecting. The point guard was excellent on both ends of the floor, leading the Jayhawks in scoring (18.1 points per game) while posting a monster 3.6 percent steal rate. Arguably the fastest player in the country, Dotson was brilliant at creating offense for himself and others, showing rare finishing touch and the ability to absorb contact at the basket. He finished No. 2 overall behind Luka Garza in KenPom’s Player of the Year award race.
8. Myles Powell, G, Seton Hall
Tom Izzo said it best during a postgame interview after Powell dropped 37 points in 34 minutes on the Spartans in a November game he was originally slated to miss with an injury: “Myles is one of the great players I’ve ever seen in college basketball.” Powell was a stud for Seton Hall this season as a senior on his way to being named a first-time AP All-American. He ended the season averaging 21 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, though his scoring efficiency dropped as the season went along (he ended the year shooting under 40 percent from the field). The Pirates were poised to make some noise in March.
7. Luka Garza, C, Iowa
Garza went from a solid starting center in the Big Ten as a sophomore to KenPom’s No. 1 finisher in the Player of the Year race as a junior. He was unstoppable both offensively and on the glass, raising his scoring average from 13.1 to 23.9 points per game while nearly doubling his efforts as a rebounder (4.5 to 9.8 per game). He even added a consistent three-ball to the mix this year, knocking down 39-of-109 shots from deep, good for 35.8 percent from behind the arc. Garza didn’t bring much defensively, but he has a case for the best offensive big man in America this year.
6. Malachi Flynn, PG, SDSU
Coming off a redshirt season following his transfer from Washington State, Flynn exploded onto the college basketball scene as a second-team AP All-American. He was the leader of a mighty San Diego State team that started the year 26-0 and likely would have been a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. He led the Aztecs in scoring and assists while also playing a critical role in the No. 10 defensive unit in the country.
5. Payton Pritchard, G, Oregon
Pritchard was one of the best guards in the country all year as a senior for Oregon, and he was ending the season on an absolute tear. He dropped 38 points against Arizona, 23 against Oregon State, 20 against Cal, and 29 against Stanford in his last four games before the Pac-12 tournament, all wins. He also provided one of the season’s most memorable moments with his takeover down the stretch against Washington in January, capped by this game-winner:
4. Markus Howard, PG, Marquette
Howard pulled off a nearly impossible feat as a senior: leading the country in scoring (27.8 points per game) and usage rate while still finishing with nearly 60 percent true shooting despite being the smallest guy on the floor in every game he played. Howard put a cap on a brilliant four-year career by again being arguably the sport’s most lethal shooter, this season draining 121 threes at a 41 percent clip. Marquette was projected to be on the bubble for the NCAA tournament, but if they got in, you can bet Howard wouldn’t have gone down without a barrage of deep threes.
3. Cassius Winston, PG, Michigan State
Winston had to play his senior year under unbearable grief when his younger brother Zachary was found dead just days after the season started. A personal tragedy on that level could sink anyone, but somehow Winston continued to be nothing less than the best point guard in the sport. He led the Spartans in scoring and finished top-20 in America in assist rate while hitting better than 43 percent of his three-pointers. The Spartans struggled to hold onto their preseason No. 1 ranking in the polls, but they were about to enter the Big Ten tournament on a five-game winning streak and seemed to be peaking right on time. Winston was the leader of everything MSU did, just as he had been for the last four years. Throughout his time in East Lansing, Winston personified everything you want a college basketball point guard to be.
2. Udoka Azuibuike, C, Kansas
This was the year Udoka Azuibuike put it all together. After a torn ligament in his right hand ended his junior season after only nine games, Azuibuike returned for his senior year and became the most dominant physical force on the scariest team in the country. Azuibuike was automatic inside, making 74.4 percent of his two-point shots. He took major strides as a defender and rebounder, raising his block rate to nearly 11 percent and posting career-best rates on the glass at both ends of the floor. He also played in every game and anchored the unit that finished in the top-10 of both offensive and defensive efficiency.
When Azuibuike was locked in, he felt like college basketball’s very own Shaquille O’Neal, with opposing defenses looking completely helpless unless they resorted to putting him on the foul line. Players this big and strong and still blessed with touch inside and an increasingly persistent defensive motor do not come along in college hoops very often. Azuibuike was that special.
1. Obi Toppin, F/C, Dayton
There wasn’t much expected from Obi Toppin and Dayton at the onset of the season. The Flyers were unranked in the preseason polls and weren’t even picked to win the A-10. Toppin ranked No. 43 in our preseason countdown of the best players in college basketball, and was well outside of first-round NBA Draft projections. Four months later, Toppin and Dayton were arguably the biggest story in the sport, a future lottery pick leading a No. 1 seed into March on a 20-game winning streak with designs of winning the whole damn thing.
Of course, we’ll never know how far the Flyers actually would have gone. What we do know is Toppin was the best player in America all season. The 6’9 redshirt sophomore forward averaged 20 points per game on absurdly efficient 68.4 percent true shooting. He finished in the 99th percentile of points per possession in DI. He punctuated his greatness with every dunk, going under-the-legs in a game against George Washington and throwing down too many windmills to count. College basketball is going to make Toppin a man wealthy beyond his wildest dreams by the time the draft rolls around. There is no better proof of what this sport can do for a player than Toppin’s rise this year.