Friday, November 4, 2011

2011-2012 Season Preview: Top 25 Centers

All week, we'll be breaking down the top players at each position in the college games. A few caveats. First, we're talking about how good these guys are as college players, not how well they project as a pro. Second, while it may be too much power for me, I am making the executive decision on what "position" a player is (and it may not necessarily be what he is listed as on a roster). Third, I love me a good argument, so if you think someone is too low or too high or the wrong position, leave a comment and let me hear about it.

Positional Rankings: PG, SG, SF, PF, C

To browse through the rest of our Season Previews, click here.

1. Jared Sullinger, So., Ohio State: What is there to say about Jared Sullinger that hasn't been said 1,000 times already this preseason? He's the single most dominating interior presence in the country. He's impossible to prevent from establishing position, he's got post moves when he doesn't catch the ball in front of the rim and he's the best positional rebounder in the country. Oh, and he lost 20 pounds of baby fat and got himself into better condition. He played over 30 mpg with that baby fat last season. This kid will be a monster this year.

2. Andre Drummond, Fr., UConn: Drummond and Sullinger are polar opposites on the center spectrum. Drummond is long, strong and absurdly athletic. He dunks everything he gets his hands on and is very good at facing up his man 15-17 feet from the basket. He can also knock down a three and has excellent vision and passing ability. But Drummond likely won't be the focal point of the UConn attack in the same way Sullinger will. Where everything that OSU does offensively centers around Sully, Drummond will likely be a (vital) cog in the UConn machine.

3. Tyler Zeller, Sr., UNC: There's an argument to be made that, behind Kendall Marshall, Zeller is the most important piece on this Tar Heel roster. Everyone knows that UNC's offense centers around their ability to push the ball in transition, but what made them so good in 2008-2009 was that, in the half court, they became a team that went inside-outside thanks to Tyler Hansbrough's ability to score on the block. I'm not saying that Zeller is as good as Hansbrough, but he does have an advanced post game.

4. Festus Ezeli, Sr., Vanderbilt: In terms of ability, Ezeli is a no-brainer being listed this high. He can rebound, he can block shots and he can score on the block. The problem? He'll be out for the first two months of the season thanks to a sprain of his mcl and pcl. Will he be in shape and have his timing when he returns, which will likely coincide with the start of SEC play?

5. JaMychal Green, Sr., Alabama: Green, who averaged 15.5 ppg and 7.5 rpg last season, is the horse on the block. He does the majority of his damage within 5-7 feet of the rim, scoring on post-ups, dump-downs and offensive rebounds. His go-to move on the block is a pretty jump hook that he can hit fairly consistently out to about 10 feet. At 6'8", Green is not an overwhelming athlete, but he does take up some space inside and is a capable rebounder. If there is any area where Green can stand to improve, its his face-up game. Its strange, really. For a guy that shoots 73% from the free throw line, Green is not a very good jump shooter.

6. Yancy Gates, Sr., Cincinnati: I'm expecting a big season out of Gates in 2011-2012. He's always had the physical tools to dominate at this level. He's a muscle-bound and physical 6'10" with quick feet and a soft touch around the rim. The issue with Gates has always been desire; he's never truly wanted to be good. That changed when he was suspended for a game last season, turning him into a guy that averaged 15.0 ppg and 7.9 rpg over the last ten games. He has reportedly lost a great deal of weight and gotten himself into terrific shape, which means that he should be continue that kind of production. If he does, there's a chance he could end up being the best big man in the Big East.

7. Trevor Mbakwe, Sr., Minnesota: Mbakwe is simply a workhorse. He's got good size and terrific athleticism for a power forward. He's strong and he's aggressive going after the ball. There's a reason that he averaged a double-double last season despite playing on a front line that also included Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III. We know what Mbakwe is, so to speak. The question is what he can be? Will he show up this year with some post moves? Can he be a guy that you can rely upon to dump the ball into on the block?

8. Andrew Nicholson, Sr., St. Bonaventure: Nicholson is easily one of the best players in the country that you've never heard of. He led the Bonnies to their first winning season since 2002 as a junior and has them in position to finish well into the top half of the A-10 this year. At 6'9" with a 7'4" wingspan, Nicholson has developed a very well-rounded post game, which is why he was able to average over 20 ppg despite facing double and triple teams on a nightly basis. Expect more of the same this season, and if he proves to be a better rebounder and defender -- and has shown an effort to get himself into the gym and bulk up his 220 lb frame -- he'll likely end up being a first-round pick as well.

9. Drew Gordon, Sr., New Mexico: One of the best big men in the country as a high school senior, Gordon never found his rhythm at UCLA. But in Steve Alford's uptempo offensive system, Gordon flourished. After becoming eligible in December, Gordon finished the season as one of the best big men in a conference with a number of quality front court players. On the season, he averaged 13.0 ppg and 10.5 rpg. While his rebounding numbers may end up taking a hit if Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow see a jump in production as sophomores, Gordon should become a productive offensive force. He will have had a year to learn the system, Steve Alford will have had an offseason to figure out how to run an offense through Gordon and with Dairese Gary gone, someone on the Lobos is going to have to become the offensive focal point.

10. Robert Sacre, Sr., Gonzaga: Sacre has slowly developed into a very good center at this level. While his numbers are somewhat skewed due to playing in the West Coast conference, he has had his fair share of exposure in quality non-conference games. Sacre's biggest asset is, simply, his size. He's excellent at establish post position and has a variety on moves on the block. He's also a very good rebounder, especially on the offensive end of the floor, and knows how to use contact to draw fouls and get to the line.

11. Quincy Acy, Sr., Baylor: Acy may be the best pure athlete on this list. He's strong, extremely explosive and has one of the best second-jumps in the country. He blocks a lot of shots and he gets a lot of rebounds for Baylor. He's also probably the most prolific -- and ferocious -- dunker in the country.

12. Tarik Black, So., Memphis: While Joe Jackson and Will Barton are getting all the attention, Black may end up being the best sophomore on the Tiger roster this season. Coming in with virtually no hype as a freshman, Black managed to work his way into the starting lineup and averaged over nine points and five boards. And he did that despite being out of shape. After working out with Frank Matrisciano all summer, expect a monster year out of this sophomore.

13. Harper Kamp, Sr., Cal: A 6'8" senior, Kamp always seems to be a bit undersized and overmatched athletically, but he's skilled and fundamental on the block. He knows how to get position, he's got some crafty moves on the block and he finishes the chances he gets. He'll need to be more of a banger inside this year as the Bears lost their most physical interior presence to graduation.

14. Reggie Johnson, Sr., Miami: Johnson caught a bad break over the summer and tore his meniscus, which required surgery. He'll be out until December, so the question that every Miami fan will be asking is whether or not Johnson returns in shape. If he does, he's a double-double machine that will anchor the paint for a Miami team with one of the most underrated back courts in the country.

15. Josh Smith, So., UCLA: Is he in shape or not? That's the only question that you need to answer with Smith. When he's in shape, he's impossible to handle on the block due to his strength, his soft hands and his innate ability to establish position. If he can stay on the court for 32 mpg, he's a virtual certainty to average 15 points and 10 boards. The problem is that he only manages to play 15-20 mpg because, frankly, he's fat.

16. Greg Mangano, Sr., Yale
17. Patric Young, So., Florida
18. Keith Wright, Sr., Harvard
19. Brandon Davies, Sr., BYU
20. Mouphtaou Yarou, Jr., Villanova
21. Cody Zeller, Fr., Indiana
22. Arnett Moultrie, Jr., Mississippi State
23. Mike Muscala, Jr., Bucknell
24. Bernard James, Sr., Florida State
25. M. Plumlee, Fr/Jr/Sr, Duke

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