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The Ten Best Returning Players In College Basketball

Julie Jacobson - AP

The one-and-done is hot right now, but these studs have unfinished business in college.

There are 212 days until the first day of the 2018-2019 college basketball season. That’s 212 days too many because there are some bona fide ballers who will grace us with their talents come November.

The nation’s best players and top prospects are declaring for the NBA draft, but some just can’t get enough of college and are staying back to improve their draft stock. 

Of course, there are players who shouldn’t have declared. I’m looking at you, Kevin Knox. That’s right, I said it. There are also others who probably should have declared, like Oshae Brissett from Syracuse.

We are left with a pretty good idea of who’s staying in college and who’s leaving, although we won’t know for sure until late May. Here’s a completely correct and indisputably objective list of the ten best returning players.


10. Jeff Dowtin (9.6 PPG, 5.6 APG)

G - Rhode Island Rams

The scrappy 6-foot-3, 170-pound Jeff Dowtin will return as a junior to a Rhode Island team that is losing not only its four senior starters but also sixth-year head coach Dan Hurley.

Dowtin played the second-most minutes for the Rams this season and took just about 16% of their shots while he was on the floor. Although Dowtin has shown he’s a scorer with 14 games in double digits this season, his passing is what makes him one of the best all-around guards in the country. 

For much of the season, he played at the top of Rhode Island’s zone. From that spot, he weaved passes through opposing defenses and tallied five or more assists in 21 of 34 games. 

With four of five starters graduating, Dowtin will be able to show off his scoring abilities more and continue to drop dimes. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him average a double-double next season as he becomes the Rams’ primary option on offense. With a little more freedom, Dowtin is a true point guard and top-ten player returning for the 2018-2019 season.


9. Anfernee McLemore (7.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG)

F - Auburn Tigers

Before going down late in the season with a nasty ankle injury, McLemore was having a promising season. Despite playing just 19.4 minutes per contest, the 6-foot-7 forward posted 7.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in his sophomore campaign.

That’s a marked improvement from his freshman year (5.4 PPG, 4.5 RPG) and a sign that once he returns from his injury, he’ll be ready to play bug minutes for a team that will be losing star Moustapha Heron (16.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG). 

What is most exciting about McLemore’s future, though, are his upgraded defense and three-point skills. In his freshman year, he averaged a respectable 1.2 blocks per game and shot 100% from three-point range. I suppose I should mention that he only took one three.

Coming off the bench this season, McLemore averaged 2.7 blocks and finished the season leading the SEC in that category, ahead of Texas A&M’s NBA-bound Robert Williams (2.6 BPG). This is impressive because McLemore missed nearly the entire final month of the season.

McLemore also improved his shooting game, going 18-46 from deep for 39%. Yes, that’s right, he took 46 times more threes than he did in his freshman year. For a power forward, he shoots extremely well now, which is a game-changer. McLemore elevated himself from a rebounder to a triple-threat; he’ll beat you with the ball in his hands, he’ll out-rebound you, and he’ll put a seal on the rim with his blocking ability. After he heals up, McLemore is a top-ten forward and player in the country.


8. Killian Tillie (12.9 PPG, 5.9 RPG)

F - Gonzaga Bulldogs

Gonzaga fans most likely threw a party when the 6-foot-10 forward announced he’ll be returning for his junior season, and I’m just as excited as they are. Watching this do-it-all Frenchman play is a privilege. 

Despite a disappointing injury-plagued NCAA tournament run for Tillie, he had perhaps the most well-rounded season in all of college basketball after more than doubling his minutes from last season. His roughly 13 points and six rebounds per game were complemented by 1.7 assists per game and about one block and steal per game.

Oh, and let’s not forget — Tillie was pure from long range, shooting an unfathomable 48% from behind the arc on 94 attempts, which was good enough for the tenth best mark in the nation. I know, I’m also shocked there were nine better three-point snipers.

As an offensive triple-threat, Tillie ranked number 31 in KenPom’s offensive rating. Add to that his defensive skills, and he’s a clear NBA prospect. I’m excited to see both Tillie and Rui Hachimura (another NBA prospect) come back for another year of college ball. Watch out for the Bulldogs and quintuple-threat Tille next season.



7. Grant Williams (15.2 PPG, 6.0 RPG)

F - Tennessee Volunteers

Apparently Grant Williams isn’t finished in college, even after posting great numbers and becoming the 2017-2018 SEC player of the year. You can’t blame him, though. Tennessee had its best season since 2014 but fell to the Final Four-bound Loyola-Chicago Ramblers in the second round of the NCAA tournament. 

Williams was a consistent star for the Volunteers all season long, taking more than a quarter of their shots while he was on the floor. His 6-foot-7, 240-pound athletic frame made him the go-to option down low for the Vols, and his 15.2 PPG show how well he can score. His length also serves him well as he is a ferocious rebounder and blocker, averaging six and 1.3 per game, respectively. 

He dropped 20 or more points eight times this season against top teams like Villanova, Auburn, Purdue and Florida. He is the real deal. If teammate Admiral Schofield returns, Tennessee is bound to have another very good year. Either way, Williams looks to be on track for another monster year.



6. Clayton Custer (13.2 PPG, 4.1 APG)

G - Loyola-Chicago Ramblers

Is Clayton Custer ahead of Grant Williams on this list because he single-handedly took down the Vols in the second round of the NCAA Tournament? Probably. 

Well, technically he didn’t do it alone, but he hit the game-winning shot to send the Ramblers to the Sweet 16. 


That clutch shot came after one against Miami in the first round, where he tied the game at 60 with just a minute left.


Custer had an amazing year on a phenomenal Final Four Loyola team that didn’t get enough attention all year. He had a 21.2% usage rate and made the most of his opportunities with a 65% true shooting percentage, the 38th best mark in the country. 

Custer’s combination of three-point excellence (46.2%) and passing (4.1 APG) makes him a dangerous offensive player. You can’t give him space to shoot, but when you defend him, he’ll find an open man. In the video above, you can see Miami had trouble defending him. In his senior season, watch out for the Ramblers, led by one of the best guards in the country in Custer.


5. Oshae Brissett (14.9 PPG, 8.8 RPG)

F - Syracuse Orange

Brissett put together a first-rate freshman campaign. He nearly averaged a double-double and was a top option for an offensively challenged Syracuse squad. He played almost every minute he could, and he was vital to their famous zone defense. He finished the year with 29 blocks and 43 steals to complement his offensive skillset.

Although he wasn’t very efficient with the ball, he found ways to score. He’s a creator, and he showed poise while having to take a large share of Syracuse’s shots. Throughout the season, guards Frank Howard and Tyus Battle jacked up last-second threes as the shot clock dwindled. Brissett, on the other hand, always made an effort to drive to the hoop, using his 6-foot-8 frame to his advantage. 

Brissett also showed confidence on the national stage, scoring 17 points and grabbing 9.25 rebounds per game in the tournament. 


While his perimeter game could use some work (he shot 33%), Brissett is an athletic forward who is better than most on both sides of the ball. I’m looking forward to watching him come back stronger as a sophomore.


4. De’Andre Hunter (9.2 PPG, 3.5 RPG)

G - Virginia Cavaliers

In his freshman season, the 6-foot-7 guard racked up big numbers and was named the ACC’s sixth man of the year. On a Virginia team that had the lowest adjusted tempo in the country, Hunter stepped up. His powerful style of play complemented the other Hoos’ guards nicely. He led the team in usage rate, active in over a quarter of their possessions. 

Hunter missed the NCAA tournament with a broken wrist, but he didn’t miss much. Top-seeded Virginia got walloped by 16-seed UMBC. But let’s not talk about that because I still am suffering from bracket-related nightmares.

Hunter used his length to contribute to the best defense in the country, and he ended the year with 13 blocks. While his defense was impressive, he also proved to be a dangerous shooter at times, shooting 38% from beyond the arc. Hunter’s combination of size, driving ability, and sharpshooting makes him a top-10 player in the country, especially once he plays more minutes as a sophomore.



3. Mike Daum (23.9 PPG, 10.3 RPG)

F - South Dakota State Jackrabbits

Ah, yes. The Dauminator, college basketball’s most underappreciated player. He is, dare I say, a unicorn. Not only did he average well over a double-double, but he did so efficiently. 

While taking over 36% of his team’s shots when in the game, he earned nearly a 60% true shooting percentage, including 43% from deep. Ya know what, I’m just gonna say it. He’s clearly a better shooter than Trae Young, and he’s 6-foot-9. 

In the Jackrabbits’ first round game against Ohio State, Daum put up 27 points, hitting five of his 10 threes. He dropped 30 or more points 10 times this season.


He also has a 50-point game to his name, a feat not many college players have accomplished. 


I see Kevin Love in Mike Daum. He’s returning for his senior year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he averaged 30 points next season. Fear the Dauminator.


2. Omari Spellman (10.9 PPG, 8.0 RPG)

F - Villanova Wildcats

Spellman shall henceforth be referred to as “Mike Daum Plus Defense.” He’s a beast with the ball and on the boards, but also averages 1.5 blocks per game. 

Much like Daum, Spellman is 6-foot-9 and 245 pounds, and he can’t be bullied in the post. But what makes Spellman so amazing is his outside shooting. He shot the three at a 43% clip this season, highlighted by a 6-7 performance against Seton Hall in February.

Spellman is capable of much more than 10.9 PPG, but he had to share the ball with player of the year Jalen Brunson and likely lottery pick Mikal Bridges. Still, he showed out in the Final Four with a double-double against Kansas and then eight points and 11 boards in the championship. 

All season long, Spellman contributed in a big way to the best team in college hoops. If he put up those numbers as a freshman with a loaded squad, I can’t wait to see what he does with more freedom. 



1. Cassius Winston (12.6 PPG, 6.9 APG)

G - Michigan State Spartans

Winston proved to be one of the nation’s best point guards in his sophomore season. He’s clearly been eating his Wheaties because he transformed from an offensive non-factor into a threat from anywhere on the floor.

In his freshman year, he averaged 6.7 points per game on 42% shooting, including 38% from deep. He also had a 77% free throw percentage. This season he nearly doubled his scoring, shot eight percent better from the field, nailed just about 50% of his threes (yes, that is real life) and shot 90% from the charity stripe. 

If this were baseball, he’d probably be accused of taking steroids, but at 6 feet tall and 185 pounds, that’s clearly not what’s going on. No matter what sparked the change, it worked. 

He ranked in the top ten in true shooting percentage (68), three-point percentage (49.7 - again, that is a real number) and assist rate (43.7). Winston is arguably the best point guard in the nation now, and we should be honored he’s coming back as a junior.


Edited by Jazmyn Brown.

SQuiz
Who led the NCAA in points per game in 2017-2018?
Created 4/13/18
  1. Mike Daum
  2. Trae Young
  3. Shamorie Ponds
  4. Jalen Brunson

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