Add another top preseason honor to Miles Bridges’ growing list.
The Michigan State forward is rated No. 1 in ESPN’s annual rankings of the top 50 players in college basketball unveiled Monday, ahead of Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ, Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson, Arizona’s Allonzo Trier and Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr.
Bridges, who bypassed the NBA Draft, was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year last year after averaging 16.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks and shooting 38.9 percent on 3-pointers in 28 games for the Spartans.
“The sophomore returned to chase Big Ten and national titles after a freshman season few players in the country could match,” ESPN wrote. “When Bridges left the floor, Michigan State’s success rate from beyond the arc dropped to 34.8 percent, compared to its overall 38.8 percent clip with the second-year stud on the court, per hooplens.com.”
Bridges headlines a talented sophomore class that leads the Spartans and has them tabbed as serious contenders to win the NCAA Tournament.
He’s joined on the list by fellow sophomore and frontcourt mate Nick Ward, who checked in at No. 35. Ward earned All-Big Ten honorable mention honors after averaging 13.9 points and 6.5 rebounds in 19.8 minutes over 35 games as a freshman.
“(Ward) was a pleasant surprise last season, thrown into the fire because of a rash of frontcourt injuries,” ESPN wrote. “Ward is talented and skilled but needs to take another step this season in terms of consistency.”
Just ahead of Ward at No. 31 is Michigan center Moritz Wagner, who also passed on the NBA following a breakout sophomore season. Wagner started all 38 games for the Wolverines and averaged 12.1 points and 4.2 rebounds in 23.9 minutes while shooting 39.5 percent from 3-point range.
“He thought about turning pro after scoring 26 points and leading the Wolverines to an upset of Louisville in the second round of the NCAA tournament,” ESPN wrote. “Now, the 6-11 big man from Germany must prove he’s capable of consistent production, a challenge for him last season.”
Also making the list is Georgia forward and Bloomfield Hills product Yante Maten at No. 23. The first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection averaged 18.2 points per game last season and scored 33 points in 31 minutes against Michigan State in an exhibition on Oct. 29.
“Maten is going to be a problem for opposing defenses all season long,” ESPN wrote. “The 6-foot-8 senior is a box score stuffer par excellence.”
To determine the top 50 rankings, ESPN formed a panel of writers, reporters, analysts and insiders who collaborated with Microsoft Research and The Wharton School. They then polled a variety ESPN experts who voted in thousands of head-to-head matchups for the final results.
Michigan State and Michigan both open the regular season by hosting North Florida on Friday and Saturday, respectively.