In the future, NBA players will be drafted straight out of high school and college. The top 25 players in 2021 are ranked here based on their projected performance during that year.
The “top college basketball players 2020-21” is a ranking of the top 25 players in men’s college basketball for the 2021 season.
7:20 a.m. Eastern Time
Gasaway, John Insiders at ESPN
- College basketball contributor for ESPN Insider
- In 2004, I started covering college basketball.
- Basketball Prospectus and the Wall Street Journal have published his work.
Welcome to our revised list of the top 25 men’s college basketball players. This activity was last done in the preseason, and a lot has changed since then.
It’s perhaps more appropriate to state that everything has changed.
True, names like Kofi Cockburn, Chet Holmgren, E.J. Liddell, and a few more are still listed in the same places they were before. However, this year’s top 25 is, for the most part, a total overhaul.
Starting at the very top, the season has forced a makeover in our perception of the game’s elite players. We may still be startled by the performances we witness in college basketball, even as player assessments grow more exact and the top 10 or so high school recruits become the top 10 or so draft selections a year later.
Consider this update a celebration of the power of surprise. So far, these are the top 25 players for 2021-22:
Davis had never started a Division I game when the preseason edition of this piece was published, and he was nowhere to be found in our top 25. Coach Greg Gard’s star has risen to No. 1. No player has ever climbed so swiftly in the top 25 rankings’ limited but vibrant existence.
Davis almost single-handedly demolished a Purdue team that was rated third in the country at the time in West Lafayette, Indiana. The 6-foot-8 sophomore had one of the most outstanding performances of the season, with 37 points, 14 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals. Davis has erupted as a prominent scorer while also serving as Wisconsin’s top ball distributor and earning the greatest defensive rebound % on the team. Don’t hold it against him for what seems to be mediocre shooting on twos (49 percent ). Instead, give him credit for doing miracles with much less assistance than the majority of the players on this list.
It should be impossible for a second-team All-American from 2021 like Cockburn to be overlooked, yet here we are. Even at this late stage, many are baffled by what the 7-foot junior has accomplished. Every major-conference player who has averaged at least eight made 2s per game this century is listed below: Cockburn (2022), Blake Griffin (2009), Andre Emmett (2003), Luke Harangody (2009), Michael Beasley (2008), Zion Williamson (2019), Luka Garza (2009), Luka Garza (2009), Luka Garza (2009), Luka Garza (2009), Luka Garza (2009), Luka Garza (2009), Luka Garza (2009), Luka Garza (2020). That is all there is to it. Yes, Cockburn’s body of work for this season is still in its early stages, but what we’ve seen thus far is outstanding. Not called Oscar Tshiebwe, the Illini star is also one of the best all-around rebounders in the country. Cockburn is shooting a decent 66 percent from the line this season, and he has as many assists as he had in his previous 41 games.
Tshiebwe boasts a greater offensive rebound rate than almost 30 Division I teams as a whole, including NCAA tournament contenders Colorado State and Minnesota. At KenPom, he leads the country in both offensive and defensive rebounding, and the 6-foot-9 junior has a chance to become the first player in the modern era to average a 15-15 double-double for a full season. Tshiebwe had a typical performance in Kentucky’s victory against Georgia last weekend, scoring 29 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. As a Wildcat, he has yet to foul out, and he is playing more minutes than he did as a freshman during his lone complete season at West Virginia. Every minute Tshiebwe is on the court, the opponent’s rebounding is reduced on both ends of the court.
Agbaji has come a long way since he was initially expected to redshirt as a freshman in 2018-19. In fact, the 6-foot-5 senior might be the most productive featured scorer to wear a Kansas jersey since Wooden Award winner Frank Mason III. While carrying a bigger responsibility in the KU offense than ever before, Agbaji is setting career highs for accuracy from both sides of the arc and at the line. He’s also the oldest athlete ESPN’s Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz have predicted as a first-round selection in 2022. When you’re playing at such a high level that you’re picked as a 22-year-old, you deserve to be towards the top of these top 25 lists.
In Arizona’s greatest win of the year, an 83-79 triumph against Illinois, Mathurin had his finest game. The 6-foot-6 sophomore scorched the Illini for 30 points on 5-of-8 3-point shooting. Along with James Akinjo and Azuolas Tubelis, Mathurin played more of a supporting role in his debut season in Tucson. Now that Akinjo has transferred to Baylor, Mathurin and Tubelis, along with Christian Koloko and Kerr Kriisa, are more or less equal partners in Tommy Lloyd’s offense. Mathurin, a real dual-threat winger, commands the opponent’s attention from every angle on the court.
Murray is in a league of his own when it comes to pure bottom-line efficiency metrics. His possession use statistic, for example, is identical to that of former colleague Luka Garza, who played for Iowa last season. Murray’s offensive rating, on the other hand, is a full ten points better than Garza’s on his route to earning the Wooden Award. Murray is clearly having a fantastic season, and the NBA has taken note. After playing only four games for the Hawkeyes last season, the 6-foot-8 sophomore is expected to be a late lottery choice in 2022.
Moore is primarily a scoring winger, and an excellent one at that. The 6-foot-5 junior scores the majority of his points inside the arc, where he connects on 63 percent of his shots. But, perceptually, here is when terms like “wing” start to get in the way. Moore, it turns out, assists on 27 percent of Duke field goals during his minutes, far and by the greatest percentage on the team. Although he may never be dubbed a “true point guard” by spectators, the veteran is an excellent ball distributor on a youthful and talented squad.
Holmgren is projected to be the No. 1 overall choice in 2022, which means high expectations for his one and, probably, only collegiate season. Holmgren, like previous No. 1 choices Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Davis, is playing for a national championship contender, but he isn’t anticipated to be the team’s main scorer. Instead, as the Bulldogs’ No. 2 scoring option behind Drew Timme, he’s completing a remarkable 74 percent of his 2-point tries. On approximately three shots each game, Holmgren is hitting a solid 36 percent from beyond the arc. His rim defense has been excellent, and he has only picked up a fourth foul twice all season.
Akinjo came at Baylor through Georgetown and Arizona and is currently the leading scorer on the nation’s top squad. In fact, Akinjo’s entrance has been vital to BU’s 15-1 start after the departures of Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler, and MaCio Teague. The 6-foot-1 senior has made 3-pointers, passed out assists, and has a high steal rate, and his 27-point performance on 10-of-15 shooting helped the Bears overcome a strong test from Oklahoma. Turnovers will be one item to keep an eye on with Akinjo in the future. He’s had seven turnovers twice this season, and Baylor is throwing the ball away on a significant proportion of its possessions early in Big 12 play.
Liddell scored 17 points in the first five minutes against Northwestern, only one game after being restricted to 11 points on 3-of-12 shooting against Indiana. He finished with 34 points and five blocks against the Wildcats. The 6-foot-7 junior is one of the best rim defenders in the country, but he also has the second-highest assist rate on his team while hitting 37 percent of his three-point shots on approximately four attempts per game. On offense, Liddell’s workload is comparable to Davis’ for Wisconsin, and the Buckeye star’s diversified style of greatness is evident in his team’s performance. Ohio State’s offensive is one of the most efficient and precise in the country.
Bacot has been a starter for the Tar Heels since the first game of his freshman season, and the 6-foot-10 junior has progressed to the point where he’s on a tear. Bacot has six straight double-doubles, including 50 points and 38 rebounds in the last two games. His 29 points against Virginia were one of the most productive outings any scorer has had against the Cavaliers since Tony Bennett took over as coach. That was also the game in which Bacot collected 21 rebounds, making him just the sixth player in the last five years to post a 20-20 double-double against a major-conference opponent.
Jackson-Davis has succeeded in the paint throughout his career, while his teammates have failed to hit 3s for the most part. This season, the second element might change: Indiana’s accuracy has been solid overall, but not as spectacular early in Big Ten action. On the other hand, it seems that the matter is moot. The Hoosiers may be alright anyway because Jackson-Davis is so excellent and their defense is suddenly so powerful. Jackson-Davis stands out among premier post scorers throughout the country for his ability to remain on the court and avoid foul trouble. So far this season, he has only picked up a third foul in a game once.
For a freshman, Smith is a slick scorer. He’s already shooting 79 percent at the line and 46 percent on 3s at a high volume despite his claimed height of 6-foot-10. In contrast, his poor 2-point conversion percentage (46 percent) demonstrates a desire to try jumpers from inside the arc. According to barttorvik.com, such efforts have outnumbered Smith’s rim shots by approximately 2-to-1 thus far this season. The NBA will, understandably, brush off the shots. At this level of basketball or the next, such tries will become fewer, and Smith is on track to be taken first overall in the NBA in 2022.
We’re dealing with Ivey’s sophomore breakthrough season, which everyone predicted. His performance for Team USA in the FIBA U19 World Cup in Latvia last summer sparked a lot of interest, and he has lived up to the hype. The NBA is looking for a slashing 6-foot-4 wing who can convert at the rim, make 3-pointers, dish assists, crash the defensive boards, and is still just 19 years old for a few more weeks. Ivey performs what’s needed on a team with many of scoring options, whether it’s 6-of-6 3-point shooting against Butler, seven assists against Villanova, or 10 defensive rebounds versus North Carolina.
Gonzaga Bulldogs’ Drew Timme (15th)
As a junior, Timme’s once sky-high offensive rating has dropped to simply “very, really high.” His turnovers have increased somewhat as defenders have paid even more attention to him than they did last season. Timme’s offensive rebounding percentage has also dropped, which might be linked to the arrival of a certain 7-foot freshman teammate. Nonetheless, when it comes to a 64 percent 2-point shooter who is the leading scorer on what is perhaps the nation’s best offense, the key lesson is obvious. Timme’s scoring, passing, and foul-generating pressure on opposition front lines are all key components of the Bulldogs’ attack.
Banchero has yet to release a quote-unquote hallmark game, although that may be attributed in part to circumstance. After all, the rookie scored 20 points in the first half of Duke’s triumph against Gonzaga before succumbing to dehydration and cramping after the break. The Blue Devils’ program was then halted due to the coronavirus. Still, if these early results are any indication, Banchero may now flourish within the arc while sometimes venturing out for a 3 and, more importantly, making opponents pay at the line. Duke’s greatest defensive rebounder is a freshman, and his distribution abilities seem to be improving as the season develops.
Among his numerous accomplishments, Williams may have coined a new basketball position nomenclature. The 6’10” senior has developed into a real “point center.” Williams has the greatest assist percentage on the Purdue squad, helping on 31% of the Boilermakers’ made field goals during his time on the field. (Teammate Sasha Stefanovic has a greater assist rate per game since he plays seven minutes longer every game.) When Zach Edey was fouled four times in ten minutes against Penn State, Williams came up big with 21 points and nine rebounds in only 21 minutes to save the game.
Each season that Roddy and Isaiah Stevens have been together at Fort Collins, Colorado State’s performance has improved noticeably. CSU was one of the last unbeaten teams in the nation until a 30-point loss against San Diego State ended the run. Roddy, who stands 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, is hitting 3s regularly for the first time in his career while dominating the paint. In the Rams’ 95-81 victory against Creighton, he hit seven 3-pointers and scored 36 points, proving that the junior can cause havoc against any opponent at any moment.
Gillespie qualifies as experienced in 2022 after scoring four points and grabbing five rebounds in the 2018 national championship game versus Michigan. Of course, distributing the ball has helped Villanova’s offense over the last decade, but if the Wildcats have a go-to option this season, it’s top scorer Gillespie. The senior is trying and making more threes than at any other time in his career, while also completing 55% of his twos. Early in Big East play, Villanova has been doing Villanova things (i.e., averaging 1.12 points per possession), and Gillespie is in charge.
Despite the fact that UCLA has only played 11 games, one conclusion about Mick Cronin’s squad can already be formed. Campbell is a perimeter threat who stretches defenses for the first time in his career. Despite the fact that Johnny Juzang and Jules Bernard have each attempted more shots from beyond the arc, the 5-foot-11 junior leads the Bruins in made threes. While Campbell has been rock-steady as point guard, he has had a 3-point awakening. Campbell has only committed 12 turnovers in the 570 offensive possessions he has played this season.
Purdue Boilermakers’ Zach Edey, 21.
Edey may be the most dominating offensive player in the country, possession for possession. Of course, Edey’s unusual position in a rotation that also includes Trevion Williams means he only gets 17 minutes each game. Despite this, the 7-foot-4 sophomore accomplishes feats seldom seen from a single player in only a few minutes. Edey is a natural 2-point shooter, but he can also distribute the ball and, most importantly, shoot 71 percent from the line. While on the court, he swats away 9% of opponents’ 2-point tries, and his fouls are less of a worry for Purdue than they would otherwise be since, once again, there’s a teammate called Williams.
Last season, Mobley nailed 44 percent of his 3-point tries, but this year he’s shooting 46 percent while increasing the amount of attempts. The outcome has been a never-ending nightmare for USC opponents, who aren’t used to facing a 6-foot-10 guard who shoots like a 2-guard. Can a guy who has shot 55 percent from the line in his career maintain this level of perimeter mastery? Surprisingly, the answer to that question has been yes for 14 months. Mobley, on the other hand, is more than a 3-point shooter. He had a 21-12 double-double against Utah, scoring all of his points inside the arc and at the free throw line.
Eason will be a lock for every “sixth man” award that counts as long as Will Wade prefers to bring him off the bench (and as long as Trevion Williams and Zach Edey continue to exchange starts). Despite not being a starter, the 6-foot-8 sophomore is the top scorer for a 14-1 SEC squad. That scoring is mostly done in the paint, with one particularly stunning and catastrophic dunk versus Tennessee. While Eason has a lifetime shooting percentage of 26% from outside the arc, he has improved his free throw shooting by more than 20% this season. It’s possible that the 3s will drop at some time.
Williams is a living counter-argument to ominous predictions of a “transfer pandemic.” Williams transferred to Wake Forest after making 25 starts in two seasons of limited playing time at Oklahoma. Now, he’s in the running for ACC Player of the Year, and the Sooners are beating their preseason predictions under Porter Moser. Everyone is in a good mood. Williams, a 6-foot-5 winger, has developed into a key scorer and assist producer for the Demon Deacons. Wake Forest won 77-74 in overtime thanks to his double-double of 25 points and 12 rebounds, as well as four assists.
It would be enough for Kessler to be included for this list if he had 11 blocks in any game. The fact that the 7-foot-1 sophomore had a triple-double of 16-10-11 points, rebounds, and blocks against a 12-0 LSU team sealed the case. Kessler moved to Auburn after a freshman season at North Carolina where he competed for minutes with Armando Bacot and Day’Ron Sharpe. He has started every game since. He’s a rare and valued shot-blocker who also plays well on the defensive end of the court. Note, though, that Kessler fouled out after just 12 minutes versus Alabama, and his offensive rating has been hampered by a persistent desire to demonstrate 3-point shooting ability.
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The “college basketball rankings” is a ranking of the top 25 players in men’s college basketball for the 2021 season. The list was created by ESPN and released on November 3rd, 2018.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who are the best college basketball players 2021?
A: The best college basketball players in 2021 are, DeAndre Ayton (Arizona), Marvin Bagley III (Duke), Michael Porter Jr. (Missouri) and Trae Young (Oklahoma).
What is the AP Top 25 basketball?
A: The AP Top 25 is a weekly basketball ranking by the Associated Press organization. It ranks the top 25 teams in college and professional mens Division I, 2K rated womens NCAA and pro leagues that have been playing since 2007 or earlier.
Who is the best player in NCAA basketball right now?
A: Right now, it would be Grayson Allen of Duke University.
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