Few would question any belief that Duke fields the most talented team in college basketball. Mike Krzyzewski’s roster includes eight McDonald’s All-Americans, the most of any team in the country.
Even knowing that, it still is more of a blind assessment to simply say Duke is the nation’s most-gifted club. In order to prove – or disprove – the point, I have used a formula over the years that better quantifies such a supposition.
No surprise, my formula confirms what we all believed.
So talented are the Blue Devils, even with highly touted freshmen Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum sidelined by injuries, that Duke would still rank 11th nationally in overall talent. With the 6-foot-10 Giles and the 6-8 Tatum on the active roster, the Blue Devils would jump to No. 1.
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Close on the heels of Duke in overall talent are UCLA and Oregon, followed by Kansas, UNC, Purdue, Kentucky and Virginia. Arizona and Wisconsin are tied for ninth to round out the Top 10. N.C. State, with super freshman Dennis Smith Jr., comes in 36th nationally.
Several seasons ago I devised this formula as a way of compiling my preseason poll for The Associated Press. Otherwise, picking a preseason top 25 was a lot like throwing darts at a board. Other than returning starters, there is not a lot of information to go on when it comes to predicting how a team should be ranked.
What I found is that my preseason poll was more of an evaluation of talent level than a predictor of team strength. As we all know, the team with the most talent is not necessarily the best team or the one that ultimately wins the national championship, as Villanova proved this past season.
Lindy’s Sports annually produces a college basketball preview magazine and in recent years has rated the top 25 players in the country at each of five positions. My formula takes those player ratings and assigns 25 points for the best at each position, 24 for the second best, all the way down to 1 point for the 25th best player at each position.
Frank Burlison, a senior writer for Lindy’s, is a longtime follower of the college game who compiles the annual player ratings. According to Lindy’s, Burlison’s ratings combine a player’s worth as a college player with his projection as an NBA player in his ratings.
Because freshmen now have an enormous impact on their teams and in the game itself, I added Lindy’s top 25 incoming players to the formula. Believing there are only a couple of handfuls of junior college players who make a difference each season, I included the top 10 incoming JUCO players, according to Lindy’s.
There is much subjectivity in Lindy’s rankings. Another expert in evaluating talent would certainly come up with a different list from Burlison’s. Whatever the ratings, we still would get some indication of where the most talent is.
Adding up the points
Duke and UCLA each had six players rated in the seven categories, followed by Oregon with five. Kansas, UNC, Kentucky, Arizona, Villanova and Florida State each had four players rated, while Purdue, Virginia, Arkansas, Gonzaga, Florida and Michigan each had three.
Duke’s Grayson Allen was rated as the top shooting guard (25 points) in the country, Luke Kennard was rated 18th among small forwards (8 points) and Chase Jeter was 24th among centers (2 points). Among freshmen, Tatum was ranked No. 3 (23 points), Giles No. 4 (22 points) and Frank Jackson No. 14 (12 points).
That adds up to 92 points for Duke, four better than UCLA, five better than Oregon, 21 better than Kansas and 38 better than UNC. The Tar Heels’ 54 points came from No. 14 point guard (12 points) Joel Berry, No. 12 small forward (12 points) Justin Jackson, No. 11 center (15 points) Kennedy Meeks and No. 13 freshman (13 points) Tony Bradley.
N.C. State garnered all of its 20 points by virtue of Smith being rated the sixth-best incoming freshman.
Of the 160 players rated, 27 play in the ACC. Ranking the ACC teams based on talent, Duke is followed in order by UNC, Virginia, Florida State, Clemson, Syracuse, N.C. State and Notre Dame tied, Wake Forest, Boston College, Louisville, and Miami and Pittsburgh tied. Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech did not have a player rated.
Again, that does not mean Duke will win conference championships or a national championship, but it does give us an idea of why most believe the Blue Devils are the nation’s most talented team.
Using a formula devised from the player ratings of Lindy’s Sports preseason publication, these are the most talented teams in the country along with The Associated Press preseason rankings:
Rank Team Pts. AP
1 Duke 92 1
2 UCLA 88 16
3 Oregon 87 5
4 Kansas 71 3
5 UNC 54 6
6 Purdue 53 15
7 Kentucky 52 2
8 Virginia 49 8
9 Arizona 48 10
10 Wisconsin 48 9
11 Indiana 47 11
12 Villanova 44 4
13 Arkansas 42 NR
14 Florida State 40 NR
15 Gonzaga 39 14
16 Georgia 31 NR
17 Florida 29 NR
18 Iowa State 28 24
19 St. Mary’s 28 17
20 California 27 NR
21 Clemson 25 NR
22 Cincinnati 24 NR
23 Maryland 24 25
24 Xavier 24 7
25 Memphis 23 NR