Sports Illustrated’s 2017–18 college basketball projections are a collaboration between economist Dan Hanner, SI’s Chris Johnson and SI’s Jeremy Fuchs. The system uses college and AAU statistics, recruiting rankings and coaching data to project every Division I player and team. For a deeper look at how the system works, read this explainer. SI’s ranking of teams 1–351 has been more accurate than similar 1–351 rankings produced by ESPN, CBS Sports and noted analyst Ken Pomeroy for three consecutive years.
In the first installment of our preview, we’re analyzing the national player of the year race. Advanced and raw statistical projections are provided for each of our top 10 candidates, which are divided into three tiers.
Tier 1: The Favorites
1. Miles Bridges, Michigan State
The basics: 6' 7", 225 pounds, combo forward, sophomore
Projected raw statistics: 17.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.8 apg
Projected advanced statistics: 114.1 offensive rating, 26% usage
When Bridges elected last spring to return to East Lansing for his sophomore season, he at once reshuffled 2017 NBA draft lottery boards and put Michigan State on the short list of 2018 Final Four contenders. After making good on the expectations surrounding his status as the nation’s No. 10 recruit last season, Bridges will be the centerpiece of a stellar sophomore class (along with guard Cassius Winston, wing Joshua Langford and center Nick Ward) capable of bringing Hall of Fame head coach Tom Izzo his second national title. He scores efficiently from both sides of the arc, rebounds his position well and should appear on SportsCenter’s Top 10 at least a few times for a jaw-dropping dunk or a forceful rejection. The narrative allure of Bridges’s choice to buck the one-and-done path will help his cause.
2. Grayson Allen, Duke
The basics: 6' 5", 205 pounds, combo guard, senior
Projected raw statistics: 18.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.9 apg
Projected advanced statistics: 122.1 offensive rating, 25% usage
The answer to your question is yes: Allen does have eligibility remaining. And not only is he back for one more season, but there’s a strong case to be made that America’s most polarizing player will be its best in 2017–18. SIprojects Allen to average more points per game than anyone else on one of our preseason top-10 teams and score at a level of efficiency more closely resembling what he posted during his sophomore campaign than his junior one. You’ll notice fellow Blue Devil and No. 1 recruit Marvin Bagley in the “others considered” section below. The truth is, Bagley received more serious consideration than any other excluded player. His presence—and, hopefully, not any tripping-related drama—may be Allen’s biggest obstacle in the NPOY chase.
3. Allonzo Trier, Arizona
The basics: 6' 5", 205 pounds, shooting guard, junior
Projected raw statistics: 18.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.5 apg
Projected advanced statistics: 126.3 offensive rating, 24% usage
Trier’s choice to spurn the draft in favor of another college season didn’t receive as much attention as Bridges’s, but its impact on the national championship picture could be just as profound. After sitting out the first 19 games of last season while suspended because of a failed performance-enhancing drug test, Trier wasted no time establishing himself as Arizona’s most efficient perimeter scorer. SI doesn’t expect him to have any difficulty expanding that output over an entire season, and he’ll be doing it for the clear-cut frontrunner in the Pac-12. Like Allen, however, Trier risks taking a backseat to a highly touted freshman big man who doubles as a prime candidate to be selected with the top pick in the 2018 draft: No. 3 recruit DeAndre Ayton.
4. Devonte’ Graham, Kansas
The basics: 6' 2", 185 pounds, point guard, senior
Projected raw statistics: 15.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.3 apg
Projected advanced statistics: 120.8 offensive rating, 21% usage
Last season Graham played second fiddle to the senior guard who swept the national player of the year awards, Frank Mason. Mason’s departure, as well as that of lottery-bound freshman forward Josh Jackson, should enable Graham to spread his wings as a featured scorer and lead playmaker while piloting a team that’s heavily favored to take home at least a share of its 14th consecutive Big 12 championship. Our model likes Graham to continue his positive year-over-year trend in scoring efficiency, and he’s a good bet to shoulder one of the heaviest minutes loads in the conference. The biggest cause for hesitation with Graham involves one of his teammates: The more times Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman calls his own number, the fewer shots there will be for Graham to take.
Tier 2: The Challengers
5. Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
The basics: 6' 6", 224 pounds, power forward/center, senior
Projected raw statistics: 18.7 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 1.6 apg
Projected advanced statistics: 125.0 offensive rating, 27% usage
Colson has a remarkable tendency to simultaneously impress and confound viewers. He gets buckets, he cleans the glass, he blocks shots, he gets to the free throw line, and he does all of those things really well, but it’s not entirely clear how he pulls it all off in a husky 6' 6", 224-pound frame. Our system favors three ACC teams over Notre Dame entering the season, so Colson may need to offset his team’s performance with individual brilliance to some degree. That shouldn’t be too much to ask of him, given his track record of efficient, high-volume scoring and productive rebounding. He’ll be the more valuable half of arguably the ACC’s most potent point guard-big man tandem, along with senior Matt Farrell.
6. Jalen Brunson, Villanova
The basics: 6' 3", 190 pounds, point guard, junior
Projected raw statistics: 16.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 4.2 apg
Projected advanced statistics: 128.4 offensive rating, 24% usage
Brunson kept a relatively low profile last season as teammate and future first-round draft pick Josh Hart made a serious run at Mason in the NPOY derby. Anyone who paid close attention to Brunson saw a star hidden in plain sight. He has operated more as a facilitator than a go-to scoring option during his first two seasons with the Wildcats, but we’re betting on him changing that this season. SI projects Brunson to score nearly two more points per game than the 14.7 he put up as a sophomore, and at a more efficient rate. Villanova’s status as the obvious top dog in the Big East will strengthen Brunson’s case for the major individual honors, as will the absence of other players on the Wildcats’ roster who’ve drawn national acclaim.
7. Michael Porter Jr., Missouri
The basics: 6' 10", 215 pounds, combo forward, freshman
Projected raw statistics: 19.3 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 1.5 apg
Projected advanced statistics: 117.9 offensive rating, 28% usage
No one else on this list plays for a team that isn’t considered a virtual lock to make the NCAA tournament. Every other squad with a featured player ranks inside our projected top 20. That discrepancy should be interpreted as an indication of how much faith our system is putting in Porter despite his nonexistent college body of work. He’s a gifted scorer whom SI expects to post a robust points-per-game figure at a high usage rate and nearly notch a double-digit rebounding average, numbers that should keep him firmly in the mix with Ayton, Bagley and Slovenian phenom Luka Doncic to be the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft. Expect Porter to fade in the NPOY discussion if Missouri flops in the SEC and falls out of contention for a bid to the tourney.
8. Joel Berry II, North Carolina
The basics: 6' 0", 195 lbs, point guard, senior
Projected raw statistics: 17.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 4.1 apg
Projected advanced statistics: 118.7 offensive rating, 23% usage
It’s extremely unlikely Berry will experience as much team success as he did last season, when North Carolina won 33 games and claimed the program’s sixth national championship. But Berry could well reach his personal peak as a college player during his senior campaign. The losses of big men Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley, as well as combo forward Justin Jackson, leave North Carolina with a perimeter-oriented rotation, and Berry will be its most important cog. Our model expects Berry to increase his per-game scoring average of 14.7 ppg by nearly three points. The question is whether a bump in Berry’s statistics can outweigh a dip in form from the Tar Heels. We like four ACC teams more than them.
Tier 3: Don’t overlook these guys
9. Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
The basics: 6' 6", 198 pounds, small forward, senior
Projected raw statistics: 18.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.4 apg
Projected advanced statistics: 118.2 offensive rating, 25% usage
Sleeping on Xavier as a tourney dark horse was a big mistake last season, as most of the college basketball world found out when the Musketeers upset No. 2 seed Arizona en route to the Elite Eight. And sleeping on Bluiett as a NPOY threat would be a big mistake this season. He decided to return for one last go with Xavier after entering the draft pool without hiring an agent last spring, and he should have no trouble extending his streak of double-digit points-per-game campaigns to four in 2017–18, and we expect a rise in his scoring efficiency. If Bluiett can help the Musketeers topple Villanova in the Big East—thereby denying the Wildcats a fifth consecutive regular season conference title—it would, at the very least, make him a more compelling pick than Brunson.
10. Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s
The basics: 6' 11", 255 pounds, center, senior
Projected raw statistics: 18.5 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 1.7 apg
Projected advanced statistics: 121.6 offensive rating, 30% usage
Landale’s low-block mastery is no secret to college hoops junkies, but most casual observers may be puzzled about why a senior they’ve never seen play on television belongs in the NPOY discussion. It’s because Landale is the fulcrum of a team SI projects to have one of the top 10 offenses in the country. The Australian big man’s blend of proficient inside scoring, consistent foul-drawing and voracious rebounding on both ends of the floor makes him the most persuasive NPOY challenger from outside of the top nine conferences (American, ACC, Atlantic 10, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, MW, Pac-12 and SEC). Landale may be a huge long shot, but he ought to be recognized before the focus shifts to other candidates from brand-name programs during the season.
Others considered: Marvin Bagley III, Duke; Landry Shamet, Wichita State; Ethan Happ, Wisconsin; Bruce Brown, Miami; DeAndre Ayton, Arizona; Mike Daum, South Dakota State; Angel Delgado, Seton Hall; Jevon Carter, West Virginia; Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure; Collin Sexton, Alabama.