Top frontcourt players in college basketball
When it came to individual players, most of the hype in college basketball last season surrounded a trio of guards: BYU’s Jimmer Fredette, Duke’s Nolan Smith and Connecticut’s Kemba Walker.
Next season should be the exact opposite.
With some of the nation’s top big men spurning the NBA draft in favor of returning to school, the 2011-12 campaign will be the year of the post player. Here’s an early ranking of the top forwards and centers heading into 2011-12.
1. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State, sophomore – The Buckeyes will enter the season as a national title favorite thanks to the return of Sullinger, who was arguably the nation’s top freshman last year. His selflessness and high basketball IQ make everyone around him better.
2. Anthony Davis, Kentucky, freshman – Some recruiting analysts believe that the 6-foot-10 Davis – and not Duke’s Austin Rivers – is the No. 1 overall prospect in the Class of 2011. He’s a bit skinny at 190 pounds, but that won’t stop him from becoming a force during his one year at Kentucky.
3. Perry Jones III, Baylor, sophomore – Jones shocked fans with his decision to return to school instead of entering the NBA draft, where he would’ve been a top five pick. His numbers – and confidence – will increase now that trigger-happy guard LaceDarius Dunn has graduated.
4. Tyler Zeller, North Carolina, senior – The 7-foot Zeller boasts one of the most impressive skill sets in the country. He can score in the paint and on the perimeter, he knocks down clutch free throws and he runs the court extremely well for his size. At times, he could be more assertive.
5. John Henson, North Carolina, junior – Henson’s shot-blocking ability makes him one of the top defensive forces in the country. But he matured a lot on the offensive end as a sophomore and should make even greater strides in 2011-12, which will likely be his final season as a collegian.
6. Quincy Miller, Baylor, freshman – A threat both inside and on the perimeter, Miller is generally regarded as one of the top five players in the Class of 2011 and a surefire lottery pick in next year’s draft. He missed his senior season of high school because of a torn ACL.
7. Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota, senior – One of the nation’s most underrated players, Mbakwe posted 19 double-doubles last season while averaging 13.9 points and 10.5 rebounds. Not bad for a guy who had sat out the previous two seasons.
8. Renardo Sidney, Mississippi State, junior – Overshadowed by Sidney’s off-court issues last season was how well he played down the stretch against top-flight opponents. If Sidney gets in shape and keeps his head on straight, he’ll be a first-round draft pick.
9. Draymond Green, Michigan State, senior – The 6-foot-7, 230-pound Green was one of the few bright spots for a Spartans squad that nearly missed the NCAA tournament last season. Now more than ever, he needs to step up as a leader.
10. Thomas Robinson, Kansas, junior – Robinson likely would’ve been a first-round selection had he entered the NBA draft. But he’ll have the chance to blossom into a lottery pick now that Marcus and Markieff Morris are gone.
11. JyMychal Green, Alabama, senior – The team leader in points, rebounds and blocks, Green guided the Crimson Tide to the NIT championship game last season. With Trevor Releford and Tony Mitchell also returning, Alabama should be back in the NCAA tournament next spring.
12. Festus Ezeli, Vanderbilt, senior – Ezeli may have been the nation’s most-improved player last season, when he averaged 13 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in just 23 minutes. Next year he’ll be one of the top threats for a Vanderbilt team with legitimate Final Four hopes.
13. Mason Plumlee, Duke, junior – The Blue Devils need more out of the highly skilled Plumlee, who was once regarded as a future NBA lottery pick. He averaged 7.2 points and 8.4 rebounds last season. In fairness, an injury to point guard Kyrie Irving likely caused Plumlee’s numbers to dip.
14. Alex Oriakhi, Connecticut, junior – Kemba Walker commanded most of the headlines, but the Huskies wouldn’t have won last season’s NCAA title without the 240-pound Oriakhi, who averaged 9.8 rebounds during the tournament.
15. Josh Smith, UCLA, sophomore – After a somewhat slow start, Smith scored in double figures in 14 of his last 18 games as a freshman last season. After a full offseason of intense conditioning, Smith could turn into a beast in 2011-12.
16. Mike Scott, Virginia, senior – Scott missed the final 21 games of last season because of an ankle injury. But before that he was averaging 15.9 points and 10.2 rebounds as one of the few bright spots for the rebuilding Cavaliers. The NCAA granted Scott a medical redshirt.