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Bridges, Ward, Wagner make ESPN’s top-25 player list

The Detroit News
Wolverines Zack Irvin and Derrick Walton, Jr. can do nothing to stop Spartan freshman Miles Bridges on a huge dunk in the first half as MSU beats UM, 70-62 at Breslin Center Sunday afternoon, January 29, 2017 in East Lansing. (Dale G. Young/The Detroit News)

Michigan State and Michigan received good news when Miles Bridges, Nick Ward and Moritz Wagner announced they were bypassing the NBA draft.

And that's bad news for the rest of college basketball.

Bridges, Ward and Wagner are among ESPN’s top 25 players for the 2017-18 season. According to writer John Gasaway, the rankings are based on expectations for the coming season and not pro potential.

Bridges, who was projected to be lottery pick in this year’s draft, checks in at No. 8, while fellow Spartan forward Ward is ranked No. 17 and Wolverine center Wagner is No. 22.

“You can make a case that in many ways Bridges improved as he logged more games as a freshman (most notably, he drained 42 percent of his 3s in Big Ten play), and his decision to return for a sophomore year gives Michigan State an enormous boost for 2017-18,” Gasaway writes. “At 6-foot-7, Bridges is a classic dual-threat wing (who often plays at power forward or even, on occasion, center), but he's also one who can clean the glass and even protect the rim.”

Gasaway compared Ward to former Kentucky star and current New Orleans Pelican DeMarcus Cousins and praised him as one of the top offensive rebounders in the country.

Moritz Wagner

“You might have to go back to the freshman year DeMarcus Cousins recorded at Kentucky in 2009-10 to find a combination of ‘per-possession dominance’ and ‘not many possessions’ like what we saw from Ward last season,” Gasaway wrote. “Tom Izzo's sophomore will enter 2017-18 as possibly the best offensive rebounder in the nation, and Ward's per-minute ability to draw fouls fairly boggles the statistical mind. If the 6-foot-8 center can stay on the floor and out of foul trouble for extended minutes, he'll quite rightly top every list of breakout sophomores.”

Wagner was projected to be a late first-round pick, at best, in the draft but will take on a larger role for Michigan with the departure of forward D.J. Wilson.

“Before last season, Wagner had made a grand total of two 3-pointers in his college career. I'll spare you the ‘life comes at you fast’ reference, but one year later this same player very nearly entered the draft before deciding to return to Ann Arbor for his junior season,” Gasaway wrote. “The 6-foot-11 Wagner added perimeter range to his game last season while (oh, by the way) converting 66 percent of his tries inside the arc. With teammate D.J. Wilson deciding to take a shot at a pro career sooner rather than later, John Beilein will be relying on Wagner to post healthy increases in both minutes and defensive boards.”

Duke senior Grayson Allen topped the list for the second straight year.