It’s college basketball in 2014, so this list can’t be just a compilation of the nation’s best seniors. Instead, we’ll run through the top upperclassmen, because if you’re an elite basketball player, you tend to jump to the NBA earlier than your senior season. Every one of these players has a chance at the pros: either to be taken in the lottery in next year’s draft or to go undrafted and play his way into the league. Despite the one-and-done rule, there’s enough depth in today’s American basketball talent pool that many of the top contributors on this season’s best teams are upperclassmen. Here’s a list of the 10 best -- including Utah's Delon Wright, one of the two seniors in the group. – Reid Forgrave
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Ryan Arcidiacono, junior PG, Villanova
Jay Wright’s team will lose the big body and quiet leadership of James Bell, an anchor of last season’s team, but Villanova has so much depth that I don’t think it will matter. Arcidiacono might be one of the nation’s most underrated point guards, a kid who plays smart and tough and with maximum effort all the time. Will he lead this dark-horse Final Four team in scoring? No – that’ll probably be JayVaughn Pinkston or Darrun Hilliard. But he will lead this team, and that’s what will be most important.
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Willie Cauley-Stein, junior C, Kentucky
This is another player whose return to college hoops surprised me. Cauley-Stein is a unique, artistic kid, which makes him a fascinating guy to talk to but an occasionally baffling player on the court. With more consistency and fire, Cauley-Stein could be one of the nation’s best post players. As it stands, he’s still be an experienced anchor for a ridiculously tall and athletic Kentucky front line. If he makes strides offensively, Cauley-Stein could be a lottery pick after his junior season. And if he plays with urgency and consistency, Kentucky ought to be considered an overwhelming favorite to win it all.
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Perry Ellis, junior SF, Kansas
He’s far from the sexiest player on another elite Bill Self team in Lawrence. That honor would go to one of two freshmen sensations, Cliff Alexander or Kelly Oubre, or perhaps now-healthy sophomore off-guard Wayne Selden. But Ellis’ steady veteran presence – never flashy, always efficient – will be the key for the Kansas’ shot at winning its 11th straight Big 12 regular-season championship in this stacked conference.
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Montrezl Harrell, junior PF, Louisville
I was as surprised as anyone when Harrell, an absolutely ridiculous physical specimen, came back to Louisville for his junior year, especially since he would have been a borderline lottery pick last June. Coach Rick Pitino told me he was shocked, too. Guess what else he said? That no Louisville player improved more in the offseason than Harrell did, adding a steady 16-foot jumper plus more passing and ballhandling skills. Expect Harrell to sand down the rough edges of his game this season during Louisville’s first year in the historically great ACC – and to become a no-doubt lottery pick next June.
APDavid J. Phillip
R.J. Hunter, junior SG, Georgia State
Perhaps the best shooter in college hoops, Hunter, a projected first-round pick and the son of Georgia State coach Ron Hunter, is the highlight of an elite and experienced Georgia State backcourt that will be among the nation’s best. Hunter is joined by transfers Ryan Harrow (formerly of Kentucky) and Kevin Ware (formerly of Louisville), and Georgia State ought to be the class of the Sun Belt Conference.
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Frank Kaminsky, senior C, Wisconsin
The most pleasant surprise in college basketball last season. There was no better example of what Kaminsky meant to Bo Ryan’s team than in the Elite Eight game against Arizona, the nation’s top-ranked defense. Nobody on the Wildcats could figure a way to stop Kaminsky’s inside-outside threat, and his 28 points led the Badgers to Ryan’s first Final Four. Anything short of a second consecutive Final Four this season will be considered a disappointment for this talented and experienced squad. The 7-foot Kaminsky will be playing not just for college glory but for increased draft stock. Amazing thing is, he’s not even the most talented player on this team. That honor goes to junior small forward Sam Dekker, who wowed everyone this summer at the LeBron James Skills Academy.
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Marcus Paige, junior PG, North Carolina
As a sophomore, Paige stepped up as one of the finest leaders in college basketball while North Carolina reinvented itself on the fly in the midst of the P.J. Hairston fiasco. UNC is getting some buzz as a possible Final Four team this season – Paige has more or less called it a Final-Four-or-bust type of year – and a lot of that will depend on the versatile junior helping to incorporate a bumper crop of freshmen into the group that’s been in Chapel Hill for longer. Paige might have an even bigger leadership challenge on his hands this season, however, depending how the Carolina academic scandal plays out.
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D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, junior G, Georgetown
He used to look like a linebacker in the backcourt, but Smith-Rivera has shed about 20 pounds in college. That means he’s quicker and will be able to play all the minutes head coach John Thompson III throws at him. And it’ll be a lot of minutes for a Georgetown team that has an excellent recruiting class but is in need of Smith-Rivera’s on-court leadership after losing point guard Markel Starks to graduation. I can’t see Georgetown missing the NCAA tournament two seasons in a row. Can you?
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Fred VanVleet, junior PG, Wichita State
I wasn’t sure whether to put VanVleet or teammate Ron Baker on this list, so I went with the guy who was the Missouri Valley Conference player of the year last season (over his teammates Baker and Cleanthony Early, who is now playing for the New York Knicks.) VanVleet played a big role as a freshman as the backup point guard for Gregg Marshall’s Final Four team, but last season he burst onto the scene as one of the most reliable point guards in college basketball. I know you might be sick of my Wichita State boosterism, but seriously: Can you name a better backcourt in the nation than VanVleet, Baker and senior lockdown defender Tekele Cotton? I can’t.
Delon Wright, senior PG, Utah
He’ll take it to the hoop on one end, then pick your pocket on the other. He’ll dish out assists on one end, then get a half-dozen rebounds on the other. What can’t Utah senior Delon Wright do? Well, shoot 3-pointers – he made just 22.2 percent last season. But Wright’s all-around play ought to take an experienced, well-coached Utah team into the top tier of the Pac-12 (behind Arizona, which will be untouchable) and into the NCAA tournament. I’m not sure if any player in the nation will impact his team this season as much as Wright will impact Utah. Think of it as a similar situation to Bryce Cotton’s for Providence last season.