The 2019-20 college basketball season is over, the year cut abruptly short when the novel coronavirus outbreak resulted in the cancellation of many conference tournaments and March Madness itself. But that doesn't mean we can't still celebrate the season that was. Its standouts included grizzled seniors, surprising freshmen and everyone in between, but some shined brighter than others. Here at SI, we set out to rank the best of the best, the Top 50 of a men's season that's was filled with twists and turns.
The rankings were determined with a number of things in mind—stats, of course, were a primary factor, but talent level, importance to team, supporting cast, team success and any other unique circumstances were also given consideration. Therefore, it’s not just a ranking of which players simply score the most points or have the best statistics, nor is it a collection of who’s had the best college careers. While a player’s year-to-year improvement may be cited, previous seasons’ accomplishments were not part of the evaluation.
College Basketball’s Top 50 Players in 2019–20
50. Anthony Edwards, Georgia, Freshman
The presumptive No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, Edwards would be far higher than this if we were ranking by sheer talent. His freshman year was a learning experience to say the least, with some pronounced highs and frustrating lows, and Georgia struggling on the whole. But Edwards still cracks the list off the flashes of elite ability and the progress he made over the course of the year.
49. Ashton Hagans, Kentucky, Sophomore
Hagans remained one of the top perimeter defenders in college hoops and also upped his contributions as a playmaker, leading the SEC in assists and admirably shouldering a key role on a team otherwise devoid of a real point guard. Though not the most efficient scorer, his intangibles and contributions to winning are worthy of mention. Few players can make opponents quite as uncomfortable.
48. Nico Mannion, Arizona, Freshman
Although Mannion’s year wasn’t all that strong statistically, he finished second in the Pac-12 in assists and piloted Arizona to a solid season, passing the eye test as a leader and decision-maker. He didn’t entirely live up to the degree of hype that followed him to Tuscon, but there were few players as entertaining to watch on a good night.
47. Anthony Cowan, Maryland, Senior
Cowan cemented his legacy as a four-year starter and top-10 scorer in Maryland history, showing improved decision-making along the way. His heroic efforts in wins over Illinois and Michigan State and season-long steely resolve while piloting the offense made for the kind of senior season that gets remembered.
46. Mamadi Diakite, Virginia, Senior
Virginia rebounded from a bad start in conference play to go 15–5 in the ACC, and while the Hoos’ defensive prowess is always a team effort, Diakite deserves credit for stepping into a lead offensive role. His shot-blocking skills and improved jump shot proved essential to his team’s success.
45. Kira Lewis, Alabama, Sophomore
Alabama had an up-and-down year, but Lewis took his game to another level, turning his blazing speed into consistent production and evolving into a dangerous scorer and playmaker. He may have gone somewhat underappreciated, all things considered.
44. Lamar Stevens, Penn State, Senior
The Nittany Lions' best season in a long time wouldn't have transpired without Stevens, the leader of a veteran, rugged group that at last broke through under Patrick Chambers. Stevens isn't the most efficient scorer, but he shouldered a heavy load for PSU and was finally rewarded with team success, late slide notwithstanding.
43. Nathan Knight, William & Mary, Senior
Averaging a double double on north of 50% shooting and ranking third nationally in PER, Knight will go down as one of the better mid-major stars you may still have never heard of. William & Mary was upset in the CAA tournament, but Knight’s motor-skill combo makes him one of the better bigs in the country, and worthy of credit here.
42. Oscar Tshiebwe, West Virginia, Freshman
A deep West Virginia team bounced back in a big way this year, and Tshiebwe was a consistent, physical force during his minutes, leading the country in offensive rebounding rate, finishing well around the rim, shooting respectably from the foul line and turning in a strong year on whole. He didn’t draw the same level of attention as most star freshmen, but the quality, by and large, was there all year.
41. Nick Richards, Kentucky, Junior
It all finally clicked for Richards in his junior season in Lexington. Kentucky desperately needed a big man to step up and Richards answered the bell, slowly building consistency until becoming a Player of the Year candidate in SEC play. With an improved touch around the basket and reliable free throw shooting, he became a critical part of the Wildcats' offense.
40. Tyrell Terry, Stanford, Freshman
Terry was once viewed as the third-best prospect on his Minnesota-based AAU team, but emerged in a major way as the heartbeat behind Stanford’s surprisingly solid season. An advanced decision-maker and capable pull-up threat from outside, he’s a strong candidate for a big sophomore leap, provided he returns to campus this fall.
39. Grant Riller, Charleston, Senior
Riller’s prolific college career ended with a loss in the conference tournament, but another year of elite, efficient production will not go unmentioned here. He might be the best finishing guard in college basketball, and few mid-major players meant more to their programs.
38. Reggie Perry, Mississippi State, Sophomore
Although Perry’s shot selection can still be frustrating at times, he remained one of the most productive rebounders and stat-stuffing players in the country, and Mississippi State remained mostly successful on the strength of his play. Win or lose, he continues to prove difficult to slow on the offensive end.
37. Precious Achiuwa, Memphis, Freshman
Achiuwa stepped up big after James Wiseman’s unceremonious exit from Memphis. While the Tigers didn’t meet lofty expectations, they did boast one of the better defenses in the country, led by Achiuwa, who slid over to provide a shot-blocking presence at center. He can get shot-happy and has his flaws as a decision-maker, but averaged a double double and proved pretty valuable.
36. Zavier Simpson, Michigan, Senior
Simpson once again set the tone for the Wolverines as a senior, averaging the third-most assists in the NCAA and continuing his reputation as a top defender. He also improved his outside shot, turning a usual weakness into a respectable 36% and increasing his attempts inside the arc. While he's never been an explosive scoring guard, he topped 30 points in a game for the first time in his career.
35. Tyler Bey, Colorado, Junior
Bey probably didn’t get enough credit as the versatile backbone for what was largely a good Colorado team, and as one of the best high-energy bigs in the country. He rebounds, makes a ton of plays defensively and managed a highly efficient year scoring the ball, working himself into more of a threat as a jump shooter and putting the Buffaloes in position to win the conference before a four-game slide to end the season.
34. Jalen Crutcher, Dayton, Junior
The Robin to Obi Toppin's Batman, Crutcher may have been nearly just as important to the Flyers during a dream season cut short. The junior guard was the best of a collection of Dayton outside shooters and knew his role well in Anthony Grant's well-oiled offense. Crutcher can also score at all three levels and is knockdown at the free throw line.
33. Isaac Okoro, Auburn, Freshman
Okoro’s value to Auburn transcended box-score stats—the Tigers dropped games to Georgia and Missouri without him—and his presence made a difference in a key role on both ends of the floor. This is less about the numbers and more about the obvious impact. It’s tough to walk onto a veteran team as a true freshman and blend right in, and Okoro certainly did.
32. Mason Jones, Arkansas, Junior
Entering the year as a junior college transfer with zero fanfare, Jones ended up leading the SEC in scoring and became one of the most bankable buckets and fun-to-watch players in the country. The volume scoring didn’t always translate to the win column, but deserves mention nonetheless.
31. Corey Kispert, Gonzaga, Junior
Kispert was one of the lone returning veteran presences after an NBA draft exodus from Spokane, and he adapted well to his expanded role. He refined his three-point shot to a deadly 43.8% while doubling his assists, posting the Zags' second-highest offensive rating in the process.
30. Zeke Nnaji, Arizona, Freshman
Although Nnaji was underhyped coming into the season, his productivity speaks for itself as one of the country’s top rebounders and most efficient scorers. While at times he struggled on the defensive end, his energy on the glass and reliable production proved essential for Arizona.
29. Sam Merrill, Utah State, Senior
The cold-blooded shot Merrill hit in the Mountain West title game to punch what would've been Utah State's NCAA tournament ticket was the signature moment in another prolific, under-the-radar year. You may not hear much about it, but he’s flirted with 50-40-90 shooting splits each of the last two seasons, and was the top dog for another strong Aggies team.
28. Marcus Zegarowski, Creighton, Sophomore
Creighton boasted a top-five offense thanks in large part to Zegarowski’s ball distribution, which apart from a handful of dud games was largely spot-on. He takes care of the ball, gets it where it needs to go, and became an improved threat to score it himself when called upon. The Bluejays wouldn’t have been atop the Big East without him.
27. Jordan Ford, Saint Mary's, Senior
Ford remained one of the deadliest, most efficient scorers in the country, again shooting north of 50% on twos, 40% on threes and 80% from the stripe to carry the Gaels in a tough West Coast Conference. He doesn’t do a ton of playmaking, but he also rarely turns the ball over and shoulders crazy volume in an offense that prefers to slow things down and control tempo.
26. Tyrese Haliburton, Iowa State, Sophomore
Haliburton’s season was cut short with a wrist fracture, and Iowa State struggled on whole after losing most of its talent to the pros. But even in a shortened year, the quality of his individual play and passing acumen was exceedingly obvious. He couldn’t carry the Cyclones alone, and it’s hard to place him much higher than this based on the circumstances, but in a vacuum, his ability speaks for itself.
25. Skylar Mays, LSU, Senior
There were no truly great teams in the SEC this season, but of the quality ones, no player did more to elevate the talent around him than Mays. He took on more responsibility with the departure of Tremont Waters, improved his decision-making on the ball, and saw his numbers tick up across the board, keeping LSU near the top of the conference.
24. Ayo Dosumnu, Illinois, Sophomore
Dosunmu’s fingerprints are all over Illinois’s resurgence as the first big recruit to commit to Brad Underwood, and his decision to stay in college proved fruitful. His decision-making and craftiness as a scorer were the connective thread for a surprisingly good team, and in spite of his shortcomings as a jump shooter, Dosunmu was inarguably one of the Big Ten’s most impactful players.
23. Devin Vassell, Florida State, Sophomore
Florida State deserves team-wide praise for the success of its suffocating defense, but it’s Vassell who came to play the most pivotal role. His instincts, long limbs and aggressiveness around the ball were a key component for the Seminoles, and his improved individual shot-making skills supplied an equal-opportunity attack with much-needed scoring punch and spacing.
22. Saddiq Bey, Villanova, Sophomore
It was seemingly a given that someone on Villanova would break out this season; that someone turned out to be Bey, whose smart, low-maintenance game and consistent three-point shooting greased the wheels for the Wildcats on both ends of the ball. There were Big East players with flashier numbers, but few who made more meaningful contributions when it came to winning games.
21. Daniel Oturu, Minnesota, Sophomore
Oturu was a factor on the Big Ten leaderboards in almost every statistical category—second in points, third in field goal percentage, first in rebounds and blocks—the caveat being that the Gophers simply weren’t a very good team. Still, those type of counting stats in the deepest conference in the country certainly count for something, and his motor and physicality turned him into one of college basketball’s most productive, stat-grabbing stars at any position.
20. Yoeli Childs, BYU, Senior
After an NCAA paperwork error after his NBA draft-reversal cost Childs the first nine games of his senior season, he picked up where he left off as a hugely productive big man. A vacuum on the defensive boards and 22.2 ppg scorer, he was the perfect interior piece to complement the nation's No. 1 three-point offense. Nothing might illustrate his impact more than BYU's 23-point loss to Gonzaga without him and 13-point win with him.
19. Filip Petrusev, Gonzaga, Sophomore
Petrusev emerged as Gonzaga’s primary option and one of the more efficient post players in the country, keeping defenders off balance with a deep bag of moves despite his near-total lack of a jump shot. He’s a scoring specialist in a throwback sense, and the most consistent part of yet another deep, experienced Gonzaga team.
18. Kaleb Wesson, Ohio State, Junior
Wesson and the Buckeyes went through a roller-coaster season, which included both nearly ascending to No. 1 and also losing six of seven. Through it all the big man did it all for Ohio State, leading the team in scoring and rebounding and shooting 42.5% from three. Without Wesson, the Buckeyes wouldn't have turned things back around after their midseason slide.
17. Immanuel Quickley, Kentucky, Sophomore
Quickley bounced back from an underwhelming freshman year to become the most consistent contributor on another good Kentucky team, leading the Wildcats in scoring and become their only major threat shooting from the perimeter. He found a way to star within his role, as part of a group that sorely needed him to step up, and emerged as one of the SEC’s best players in the process.
16. Jared Butler, Baylor, Sophomore
Butler is the guy Baylor leaned on when the going got tough, the primary shot-creator leading a tough, defensive-minded supporting cast. The Bears were greater than the sum of their parts all season, but Butler’s perimeter shooting and playmaking ability kept the offense humming. He would have been leaned on more than ever when games got close in March.
15. Onyeka Okongwu, USC, Freshman
Without Okongwu, USC likely wouldn’t have been sniffing anywhere close to an at-large bid, with his superb efficiency (61.2% FG) and elite interior defense (2.7 blocks per game) granting his teammates a comfortable margin for error. The Trojans needed every minute, and at this point there’s little question he’s among the top bigs in the country, let alone freshmen.
14. Xavier Tillman, Michigan State, Junior
Tillman’s value to Michigan State goes well beyond the box score, and he quietly has a strong case as the most well-rounded big in college hoops. His understanding of the finer points—positioning and timing, playmaking and screen-setting—are well beyond his years, even as a college upperclassman. He doesn’t garner headlines, but deserves a large share of credit for the Spartans holding things together over the course of an uneven, yet still successful season.
13. Jordan Nwora, Louisville, Junior
After flirting with the NBA last spring, Nwora returned to pace Louisville as one of college basketball’s top perimeter scorers and improve incrementally on his sophomore numbers. The Cardinals had more talent this time around, but his contributions remained crucial, and he’s one of the rare few who can win a game by himself on a hot night.
12. Cassius Winston, Michigan State, Senior
Repeating his outstanding 2018-19 was always going to be tough for Winston, and that was before his world was rocked by the death of his brother just days into his senior season. Through all of it, he managed to continue to be the engine that runs the Spartans, putting together another excellent year as a scorer and a playmaker. Michigan State's late surge had it trending toward another deep March run, of which Winston almost certainly would've been at the center of.
11. Tre Jones, Duke, Sophomore
Jones came back to Durham knowing he would once again have the keys to the offense, and even as a sophomore he served as the steadying vet for a largely young Blue Devils group. He was the beating heart of Duke on both ends of the floor, with tenacious defense and four games with at least 10 assists. After struggling with his outside shot as a freshman, he erased that weakness by improving from 26.2% to 36.1%.
10. Jalen Smith, Maryland, Sophomore
Around the start of January a switch seemed to flip for Smith, who transformed himself into one of the best big men in the country. Despite going up against strong and physical Big Ten centers almost every night, the lanky sophomore turned his defense into a strength while dominating the boards. Offensively, the development of a reliable three-point shot made him an even tougher guard, and he had a knack for getting on the receiving end of lobs and out in transition.
9. Myles Powell, Seton Hall, Senior
Although Powell’s shooting splits took a dip this season on increased volume, he remained the centerpiece of a successful Seton Hall season, averaging 21 points and bombing threes from deep range to hold defenses accountable. He was still one of the most dangerous players anywhere off the catch, and being able to anchor a successful offense in that capacity is no small feat.
8. Markus Howard, Marquette, Senior
Howard’s remarkable four-year career culminated in his best season yet. He led the NCAA in scoring and usage rate, averaging 27.8 points per game and remaining a highly difficult shooter to ever slow, even when defenses know exactly what’s coming. Marquette finished the season in a funk, but Howard’s individual brilliance remains of note.
7. Vernon Carey, Duke, Freshman
Carey’s freshman year exceeded expectations as he put his size and dangerous left hand to use on the interior, providing Duke with consistent production and the offensive fulcrum it sorely needed in what could have otherwise been a down year. He’s not flashy by any means, but he bangs in the paint and gets to the line as effectively as anyone.
6. Devon Dotson, Kansas, Sophomore
Dotson was the driving force behind the top team in the country, leading the Big 12 in points and steals per game and helping elevate an elite, experienced supporting cast. Few players anywhere work harder on both ends of the floor and set the tone the way he does, and had had Kansas poised to thrive in March as a result.
5. Udoka Azubuike, Kansas, Senior
Azubuike worked himself into shape, stayed healthy, took a major leap defensively and shot 74% from the floor, turning himself from a situational force into a daunting cover, and a player who will swing games if left unchecked. He was the most punishing player in the country, and perhaps the least enjoyable matchup in college basketball. That counts for a lot.
4. Payton Pritchard, Oregon, Senior
Oregon was the Pac-12’s best team thanks to Pritchard, who was asked to do more than ever in his final college season and rose to the challenge. He was shooting a career-high 51.2% on twos and 41.5% on threes through the end of the regular season, led his conference in scoring and assists, and has earned his mantle as one of the country’s top closers, leading Oregon to a 5–1 record in overtime games.
3. Malachi Flynn, San Diego State, Junior
The Aztecs opened the season with 26 straight wins and Flynn at the controls, and returned to national relevance thanks to perhaps the craftiest player in the country. His ability to score with finesse and distribute to a host of quality three-point shooters gave San Diego State one of the country’s most potent attacks, to accompany an equally staunch defense. Arguably no guard successfully completed as heavy a lift.
2. Luka Garza, Iowa, Junior
Garza was more or less impossible to contain in the post, ending the regular season with a run of 16 straight games of 20-plus points and scoring in single digits just once all season. His dominance almost singlehandedly kept Iowa afloat in the country’s toughest conference, and while the Hawkeyes had ups and downs, Garza was the picture of consistency throughout.
1. Obi Toppin, Dayton, Sophomore
Toppin’s dream season came in concert with Dayton’s improbable journey to a top tournament seed, and his size, inside-out versatility and efficiency made him a daunting task to defend. No player left their stamp on this season quite like Toppin did, which often took place in mid-air, with flourish and emphasis.