20 At The Top: SEC Player Rankings

Posted by zhayes9 on August 13th, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.

For the entire 20 At The Top series, click here.

As long as the coaching spectrum around the SEC remains stable, there’s little reason to believe that the conference should ever experience a disastrous season similar to what occurred three years ago when a 4-12 Georgia team won four games in four days to take the tournament crown. The main reasons: coaching and recruiting. Since that time, John Calipari replaced Billy Gillispie as the head honcho at Kentucky and has immediately pulled off previously unforeseen recruiting escapades. Mark Gottfried has been let go and young Anthony Grant with his string of success at VCU has a bright future. Jeff Lebo is gone for Tony Barbee, a Calipari disciple. Exit: Dennis Felton. Enter: Mark Fox, who has already lured a top-15 player for 2011 to Athens. Veterans Bruce Pearl and Billy Donovan can recruit and coach toe-to-toe with the best in the business. Kevin Stallings at Vanderbilt is one of the best X’s and O’s coaches around and just two summers ago talked John Jenkins into a commitment. Trent Johnson, Billy Kennedy, Rick Stansbury, Darrin Horn and John Pelphrey (right now his inclusion might be a stretch) are not exactly slouches either. This collection of intelligent, charismatic and successful coaches should keep SEC basketball respected somewhere in the vicinity of its football brethren for the near future.

Warren enters 2010-11 as the best player in the SEC

1. Chris Warren, Mississippi- Warren has been the focal point of an Ole Miss attack from the moment he stepped on the hardwood in Oxford and averaged 4.5 APG as a freshman. Warren now enters a crucial senior season on a Rebel team devoid of a reliable second option (unless freshman Demarco Cox is the real deal or Reginald Buckner makes the leap) with Terrico White leaving for the NBA and Eniel Polynice transferring. While these defections could lead to a season at the bottom of the SEC, Warren will have ample opportunity to show off his skill set scoring the basketball during a season where he could average 20+ PPG. Warren is a 40% three-point shooter and has sunk a trey in a school record 45 consecutive games, a mark good for third in SEC history. The 5’10 point guard excels in spot-up opportunities and can also explode to the tin in transition. While evaluators shouldn’t be too harsh to judge based on his lackluster supporting cast, Warren shows pro-ready court vision and he does  a tremendous job finding passing angles and setting up teammates for open opportunities. Although a bit undersized, Warren is a complete, refined point guard with leadership qualities and is my preseason pick to take home SEC Player of the Year honors.

2. Trey Thompkins, Georgia- I don’t believe it’s a stretch to say that Trey Thompkins is one of the most complete players in the nation. Asked to carry an extraordinarily heavy load in Mark Fox’s first year at the helm, the Georgia native responded with an 18/8 average, 48% FG, 76% FT and 38% 3pt. How many players average over eight rebounds per game and shoot 38% from behind the arc? Thompkins also saved his magic for the Bulldogs marquee games, scoring 20 vs. Georgia Tech, 21 vs. Illinois, 17/12 in the tight loss at Kentucky and 21 on 9-13 FG in the win over Tennessee. Thompkins has the ability to stretch the defense with a solid mid-range game that extends to the perimeter. He’s a gifted ballhandler, a 6’9 forward with guard skills, that can also utilize his frame to corral defensive rebounds at a superb rate. Thompkins now enters his junior season with expectations, albeit moderate, surrounding the Georgia program with sidekick Travis Leslie, Georgia Mr. Basketball Marcus Thornton and an under-appreciated secondary cast. The opportunity is there to become a national name.

3. Enes Kanter, Kentucky- Ever since I saw Kanter single-handedly take over the third quarter of a World Select Team game last April, I’ve been anticipating the day he’ll step on the Rupp Arena floor and star for coach Cal and the Wildcats. While he may not be as powerful, efficient or productive as DeMarcus Cousins, Kanter’s emergence shouldn’t result in much of a drop-off at the center position for Big Blue. Kanter is savvy and intelligent on the low block beyond his years. Watching his vast array of post moves and that indescribable feel for the game he possesses actually reminded me of the clips I’ve seen of a young Bill Walton at UCLA (slow down, I’m not saying he’s the next Bill Walton). Sprinkle in a growing mid-range jumper that Cousins didn’t have and you could have an even more complete player from the outset. One area where Kanter is the polar opposite of Cousins is demeanor, displaying a calm, steady head during his time on the floor. His eligibility remains slightly in limbo, but once Calipari gets this uber-talented Swiss/Turkish big man on the floor, college basketball fans will be amazed by his pure skill level.

4. Brandon Knight, Kentucky- Knight is the next in line of famous Calipari one-and-done point guards, from Derrick Rose to Tyreke Evans to John Wall and now Knight. While they were all thrust into the same position, their repertoires are actually quite varied. One could see Rose’s gift of court vision and passing ability beyond his years. Evans was lanky and needed the ball to be effective. Wall relied on penetration. What Knight has that these other top picks didn’t as college freshmen is the ability to explode for 35 points on any given night. Knight is a truly gifted scorer, whether it’s spotting up from deep, pulling up in the mid-range or relying on his quickness to explode to the rim. Much like Evans, there are questions surrounding whether Knight can run an effective point for Calipari as a freshman. Knight is more of scoring combo guard that needs a high volume of shots rather than a comfortable creator for teammates. Whether or not Knight is able to mature and grow in this area — and it would be stupid not to believe he’ll only improve from November to March — Calipari has another gem on his hands.

5. Jeffery Taylor, Vanderbilt- While the Swedish import didn’t improve much from his freshman to sophomore campaigns, most feel Taylor has the untapped potential to really take off this season and mold into a potential first round selection in the 2011 Draft. What jumps out most about Taylor are his length, perimeter defense and ability to get to the charity stripe (78th in fouls drawn per 40 minutes in the nation). He can lock up two or three positions on the floor and is a solid rebounder for a 6’7 wing. Taylor’s shooting must improve mightily as defenders really don’t have to pay attention to him beyond the three-point line. 1-11 from downtown on the season is quite poor for a small forward and Taylor can disappear for chunks of time in games. With Jermaine Beal and A.J. Ogilvy gone, the onus is on Taylor to become more of a consistent weapon and send Vanderbilt back to the NCAA Tournament to avenge last season’s disappointing finish.

Will Hopson make the leap to stardom?

6. Scotty Hopson, Tennessee- Hopson is a rare talent, someone that just needs to play at 100% for more than half of his teams’ possessions, the Matt Kemp of the SEC, if you will. Bruce Pearl is certainly hoping that it’s Hopson’s junior campaign where the light bulb clicks on and he molds into the can’t-miss talent only expected to spend one year in college coming out of high school. Hopson is an elite athlete with a versatile offensive game and great length. Hopson clearly has the athletic gifts to be more aggressive offensively, but he can become way too in love with hanging out around the perimeter and chucking up jumpers. The mid-range shot needs some fine tuning, but Hopson did post a respectable 45% FG as a sophomore. Still, there’s that feeling he can do more. Pearl hopes inconsistency and spotty effort is a thing of the past when November rolls around. He needs Hopson to step up since Wayne Chism and J.P. Prince are no longer singing Rocky Top. It’s entirely possible Hopson is just a late bloomer and the best is yet to come.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

20 At The Top: Pac-10 Player Rankings

Posted by zhayes9 on August 6th, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.

For the entire 20 At The Top series, click here.

“Banner season” probably isn’t the first phrase that comes to mind when describing the Pac-10 in 2009-10. Much bandied about as a potential one-bid league until Washington peaked in March with a conference tournament run, the Pac-10 was largely kicked to the curb as an inferior of their fellow BCS brethren. A mass exodus of high draft picks coupled with down spirals for normally contending programs resulted in only California vying for a spot in each Monday’s national rankings last season. Bad news for Pac-10 diehards searching for a comeback as soon as this winter: six of the ten All Pac-10 first team members are gone. Regular season champion Cal lost their top four scorers. Powerhouses UCLA and Arizona are not back to elite status yet. The prized incoming freshman changed his mind and bolted for Kentucky. While a conference as proud as the Pac-10 will surely reclaim its glory sooner than later (especially if a raiding of the Big 12 is inevitable), fans may have to hold off on these wishes another season. Still, intrigue does exist. Many feel that Washington is the clear favorite, but there’s question marks abound from that point on, making for what should be an unpredictable Pac-10 slate.

Thompson will become a household name this season

1. Klay Thompson, Washington State- Thompson heads into his junior season as many experts’ preseason pick for conference player of the year. A high volume scorer blessed with a picture perfect jumper, Thompson delivered to the tune of nearly 20 PPG and 17 20+ point performances. Forced into carrying his team on the scoreboard for long stretches- only Stanford’s Landry Fields utilized more of his teams’ possessions- was the only reason Thompson’s shooting percentages dipped a bit last season. He’s also an ace from the charity stripe and his excellent court vision goes unnoticed at times. Thompson could turn into the Evan Turner of the West Coast by season’s end in terms of his versatility, ball-handling and ability to play multiple positions while filling up the stat sheet. Adding some bulk, improving toughness and shaking off a late-season shooting slide are the only areas of improvement that jump out when it comes to this special talent.

2. Isaiah Thomas, Washington- The diminutive Thomas was expected to make a gigantic leap and lead Washington to a year-long stay atop the conference standings last season. Part of the reason Thomas’ sophomore campaign was labeled a disappointment by some when February rolled around was largely due to the expectations he established as a freshman. Luckily for the purple-clad UW fans in Seattle, Thomas played his best basketball late, scoring in double digits in his last 12 games, averaging less than two turnovers per game in his last seven contests and helping lead Washington to a surprising Sweet 16. Thomas isn’t a pinpoint shooter and he’s always been more of a scorer than point guard, but there are only a handful of players in the nation that play with more energy and toughness than the 5’9 Tacoma native. He’s fearless driving to the rim, has a strong frame for his size and the athleticism is jaw-dropping. Expect first team all-conference honors for Thomas as a junior.

3. Derrick Williams, Arizona- A freshman revelation for Sean Miller in his first season at the helm, the former USC commit established himself with an early 25/8 against Wisconsin in Maui and never looked back. Williams went on to surpass even the loftiest expectations as the conference’s rookie of the year: a 16/7 average, double digit scoring in all but three games and top-100 season nationally in true shooting percentage and effective FG%. Williams is a 6’8 versatile forward that lived at the free throw line, shooting 232 free throws last season. Developing his mid-range jumper even further would help disguise suspect athleticism, but Williams’ strengths has piqued the interest of NBA evaluators and the potential is there to lead the Pac-10 in scoring as a sophomore. His role will only expand with senior Nic Wise exhausting his eligibility.

4. Jeremy Green, Stanford- Last season was the Landry Fields & Jeremy Green show for Johnny Dawkins and his Cardinal, two all-conference players that combined for almost 39 PPG and kept the team afloat. With Fields drafted by the New York Knicks, the onus now falls on Green and a duo of talented freshmen to boost Stanford towards the upper portion of the Pac-10 standings. Green improved mightily as a sophomore, more than doubling his scoring average and playing an effective second fiddle to Fields. His ten 20+ point games and establishing the single season Stanford record for threes were strong enough to earn second team all-conference accolades. There’s little doubt Green has the capability to score 20+ PPG as Fields accomplished, it’s other facets of his game that must improve- namely getting to the free throw line at a higher rate and improving extraordinarily low assist totals- in order for Stanford to climb out of the Pac-10 basement.

Will this be Malcolm Lee’s breakout season?

5. Malcolm Lee, UCLA- Lee is the player who I feel could make the biggest leap this season and finally tap into that potential that has scouts pegging him as a future first round selection. Thrust into directing the Bruin offense after Jerime Anderson flopped, Lee was learning on the fly and a disappointing overall campaign for UCLA masked some considerable steps forward for the jet-quick sophomore. There are flashes where it rings clear Lee can develop as a steady point guard, but the turnovers still can come in bunches and, although Lee loves to run in transition, his proficiency in half-court sets certainly needs work. His 6’5 frame will allow Ben Howland to play Lee at either guard position and he’s displayed a propensity to defend either 1’s or 2’s at the college level. It’s asking a great deal, but refine a questionable jumper while continuing to progress directing traffic and Lee could be the most improved player in this conference.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

20 At The Top: Big 10 Player Rankings

Posted by zhayes9 on July 30th, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.

For the entire 20 At The Top series, click here.

Just two seasons ago, the Big Ten was far from the premiere conference in college basketball. Yet Midwesterners that follow the conference religiously could be optimistic about the future. A number of super-talented sophomores permeated the eleven teams and those loyal fans knew that when this crop of players became seniors- should they stick around for four years- the Big Ten would be special again. A combination of  injuries keeping kids in school, consistently improving talent and teams looking for one last shot at cutting down the nets have created what should be the nation’s most competitive conference in 2010-11.

If healthy, Lucas is the best the Big 10 has to offer

1. Kalin Lucas, Michigan State- Last season was a mixed bag for Lucas, who battled leadership issues part of the season, excelled early in Big Ten play with clutch shots and witnessed his Spartans advance to another Final Four with the All-America candidate watching from the sidelines. Lucas is again dealing with a Michigan State squad that has aspirations of playing on the first weekend in April. A blur in the open floor that excels in transition, Lucas performs well in the team-oriented Spartan attack, although it might take a month or so for Lucas to ease back into tip-top shape. He’s a gifted floor general with outstanding court vision that loves finding teammates Durrell Summers and Chris Allen off screens for open threes. He’s also capable defensively and last year posted a career high 45% FG. There’s no debate who is the captain of this Michigan State ship, and both Izzo and Lucas would much prefer a smoother ride as a senior. If Lucas has an outstanding season and leads his team to a national title, expect the Mateen Cleaves comparisons to begin.

2. Robbie Hummel, Purdue- With Chris Kramer graduating, Robbie Hummel now takes the role as the heart and soul of a Purdue team that has similar expectations as rival Michigan State. Hummel’s ACL tear last February at Minnesota devastated the Boilermakers, and although they rallied to reach the Sweet 16, Hummel’s loss was a crushing blow on all fronts- scoring, rebounding, defense and leadership. Hummel could be cleared for full-contact basketball as soon as August, meaning he’ll soon team with JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore for another shot at glory. Hummel isn’t the most athletic forward on the planet, but he makes up for that with constant toughness, intelligence and effort on both ends. He excels in catch-and-shoot situations around the perimeter, generating good lift with a smooth stroke that can lead to first half performances like Ohio State witnessed last January. Hummel is a very productive rebounder grabbing almost seven boards a game at just 6’8 and only turned the ball over once every 30 minutes during his junior season. The Boilermakers need Hummel’s back and knees at 100% to cross the rugged terrain of the Big Ten and emerge as a favorite to cut down the nets in Houston.

3. Jon Leuer, Wisconsin- Leuer is another typical developed Wisconsin star in the making. He’s a tall, versatile, inside/outside scoring threat who rarely played as a freshman while learning the swing offense, yet gradually develops into an all-Big Ten player by his senior season. Jay Wright raved about Leuer’s game while coaching him at USA Basketball this summer, exclaiming he can shoot, pass, put it on the floor and has great size. Sounds like a complete player to me, and one that Bo Ryan is expecting to take on a larger role with Trevon Hughes no longer patrolling the Kohl Center hardwood. By all accounts, Leuer posted a very impressive junior season, nearly doubling his PPG production, grabbing six boards a game, shooting 52% overall and featuring a solid mid-range jumper. And in typical Wisconsin fashion, Leuer almost never turns the ball over or makes mental mistakes on the floor. His 43 points on 16-28 FG in Wisconsin’s two NCAA Tournament games showed the world his fractured wrist was a thing of the past. Much like Lucas and Hummel, if Leuer stays healthy, he’ll be a candidate for Player of the Year honors in the conference.

4. JaJuan Johnson, Purdue- The Indianapolis native enters his senior season looking to help lead Purdue to a national title and impress NBA scouts in the process. Johnson dabbled with the NBA Draft before electing to return to a loaded Boilermaker team as their anchor in the paint. When Johnson is motivated like he was during the NCAA Tournament, he’s an absolute force. Johnson has utilized his long wingspan and superb instincts to mold into one of the best pure shot blockers in the nation. His offensive repertoire has expanded significantly since arriving on campus both on the low block and in the mid-range game. He also picks up a good chunk of his points by attacking the glass and finishing pick-and-rolls. During a mid-January slump that included three straight Big Ten losses where Johnson scored a total of 18 points and took 19 shots, Matt Painter made it clear the team had to go back to the drawing board and re-evaluate. Most of that frustration was intended for Johnson, who would finally screw his head on straight and peak with a 24/7 at Ohio State and a 23/15 against Siena in March. The allure of capturing an NCAA title in his senior year should be sufficient for Johnson to play motivated.

5. Talor Battle, Penn State- Other than an NIT run as a sophomore, Battle’s name hasn’t been nationally recognized throughout his career, mostly because the Nittany Lions have mostly been mired in losing seasons. Big Ten followers know Battle all too well, probably because he’s torched their own team at one point or another the last three years. Battle will need some more help from his supporting cast if Penn State wants to shock the world and contend in what should be an ultra-competitive Big Ten. He’s a prototypical scoring point guard- evident by his 16.7 and 18.5 PPG the last two seasons- but does a capable job distributing the ball and finding open teammates. Ranking third in the Big Ten behind Evan Turner and Manny Harris in possessions used last season and playing 92% of his teams’ minutes, Battle is the focal point for Ed DeChellis’ offensive attack. When Battle has to put on the Superman cape and do everything, rarely do the Nittany Lions have the same success as when his teammates are also performing at a high level.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

20 At The Top: Big East Player Rankings

Posted by zhayes9 on July 23rd, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.

For the entire 20 At The Top series, click here.

There’s little doubt remaining that the Big East is the superpower college basketball league. When it’s pegged as the premiere conference prior to the season, it always seems to live up to the hype. When prognosticators predict its decline, it surprises us all and we’re left wondering why we underestimated the Big East again. Some team like Syracuse of last year emerges and elevates the conference to higher levels. Even with record-breaking seniors such as Scottie Reynolds, Luke Harangody and Da’Sean Butler moving on and lottery picks Wesley Johnson and Greg Monroe also departing, the Big East should be strong once again in 2010-11. The fight at the top will likely pit Villanova, Pittsburgh, Georgetown, Syracuse and a sleeper that’s yet to be determined. As I did with the ACC and Big 12, here are your top 20 players heading into next season in what could be a guard-dominated Big East:

In a close race, Freeman is the best of the pack

1) Austin Freeman, Georgetown- I had a difficult time ranking the top six in this list before ultimately settling on Freeman at the top spot for a handful of reasons, notably perimeter shooting, efficiency and basketball IQ. He had the least question marks and negatives to his game than any of the other candidates. Freeman emerged as a sharpshooting weapon in Big East play for an up-and-down Hoyas team. Some may credit his career high three point percentage on defenses keying on Greg Monroe, but 44% is still a fantastic total even shooting alone in an open gym. Freeman utilizes his strong frame to fight around screens for open looks and possesses a picture perfect shooting stroke. One has to be intelligent on the basketball court if you want to play for John Thompson III; Freeman limits his turnovers and ranked near the top of the Big East in both offensive rating and efficient FG%.  Where Freeman can improve during his senior year is using that frame to be more aggressive to the rim. Shooting under 100 free throws on the season isn’t going to suffice with the Hoyas lean frontcourt depth. Having an entire summer to deal and manage with his diabetes- a possible factor for his fading down the stretch last season- will certainly help to a degree.

2) Corey Fisher, Villanova- It’s now Corey Fisher’s team at Villanova. With Scottie Reynolds’ decorated four seasons a thing of the past, Fisher will play the lead role in 2010-11 for Jay Wright. The expectation doesn’t change perennially for Wright-coached teams along the Main Line: contend for the Big East crown. Fisher is a tough kid from the Bronx that should be able to shoulder such pressure. The 6’1 speedster has improved through each of his three seasons in Philly, bumping his FG% up to a solid 45% clip as a junior, remaining dependable at the charity stripe and greatly increasing his three-point shooting to  nearly 40%. His floor skills and court vision also lead me to believe he can handle running the up-tempo Nova attack and he continues to be a headache to try to defend. His spot-up jump shooting has always been a strength and Fisher also features a series of tricky floaters, up-and-under moves in the paint and an impressive dribble-drive repertoire. The only caveat: a five-minute suspension in Villanova’s first round NCAA Tournament game last March does bring maturity into question.

3) Kevin Jones, West Virginia- Jones has come a long way from two summers ago when his home state Syracuse Orange wouldn’t even offer him a scholarship. Now faced with the departure of Da’Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks, Jones knows head coach Bob Huggins is expecting him to be the featured offensive threat for the Mountaineers. A tremendously hard worker on and off the floor, KJ improved his game in every capacity from his freshman to sophomore campaigns and was an under-appreciated player nationally during West Virginia’s Final Four run. He was a huge factor in WVU finishing second in the nation in offensive rebounding, upped his three point percentage from 21% to 40% and his PPG more than doubled as a result. The 6’8 power forward plays bigger with a lengthy wingspan and tremendous energy. His turnover rate is also very small for an underclassman. Jones may never become a star due to his dribble penetration limitations and inability to create his own shot consistently, but there’s two years left of eligibility at Morgantown for him to prove more critics wrong.

4) Kemba Walker, Connecticut- Lost in the tumultuous season in Storrs was the marked improvement in Walker’s overall floor game, erasing what was a fatal flaw and continuing to excel in other areas. Walker put in tons of work last summer boosting a weak outside jump shot and it paid off tremendously when practices turned into games. His jump shooting both outside and inside the arc transformed from a liability to one that opposing defenses had to respect. With Jerome Dyson no longer hogging the ball on the perimeter and taking ill-advised threes, Walker will have to learn to balance being the depended offensive weapon for the Huskies and also limiting poor shot selection that tends to show up on occasion. One area of his game that doesn’t slump is his quickness from baseline to baseline that would make Ty Lawson blush. His court vision and passing ability are also strengths; after all, he did average 5.1 APG on a Connecticut team that often struggled to score en route to the NIT last season. While his smaller stature does allow bigger guards more room to elevate over him for shots, Walker makes up for that with quick hands and feet on defense, always primed for a big steal and bucket on the other end in the blink of an eye.

5) Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame- The most dependable Irish player last season will have to do even more in a rebuilding 2010-11 with Luke Harangody, Ben Hansbrough and Tory Jackson all departing. Abromaitis was quietly one of the most efficient players in the nation as a junior, a season in which he really came out of nowhere after redshirting the prior year. His basic stats were more than solid: 16.1 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 50% FG, 87% FT, 43% 3pt. But what if I told you Abromaitis ranked second in the nation in offensive rating among players who used 20+ percent of his teams’ possessions? Or that he finished second in the Big East in efficient FG% and among the top echelon in turnover rate? While those stats could go down during his senior season while defenses key on him more often, don’t lie and tell me those numbers didn’t at least sort of shock you coming from Abromaitis. He’s under-appreciated nationally but primed to make more of a name for himself this upcoming season. His 3.7 GPA in finance and First Team Academic All-America honor means more to me than an underage drinking arrest from last weekend.

6) Kris Joseph, Syracuse- Joseph is a player I expect to take off this season and eventually become a first round pick, especially with Wes Johnson and Andy Rautins’ departures opening up plenty of opportunities to shine. Joseph’s minutes doubled as a sophomore and so did his production. The physical tools are evident, and if the athletic Montreal native just adds some more bulk this summer, he could be an effective weapon at either the 3 or 4 spots for Jim Boeheim next season. Joseph loves to face up and beat his defender off the dribble or pull up for a reliable foul line extended jumper, although his range doesn’t extend much further out towards the arc. That athleticism and impressive motor also leads to plenty of free throw opportunities and there’s no reason to believe Joseph can’t average close to 7-8 RPG in 32-34 MPG for the Orange in his junior season. Whether it’s Joseph, Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche, Rick Jackson or one of the hyped freshman, someone must make a huge leap if ‘Cuse wants to repeat as regular season Big East champs. I’d put my money on Joseph.

Ashton Gibbs could be an all-Big East performer

7) Ashton Gibbs, Pittsburgh- There are flaws in Gibbs’ overall game: any time a guard averages 1.8 APG in just under 35 MPG, his skills as a distributor are probably not overwhelming. Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon may have to play Travon Woodall at the point more often than he’d like this season because of that very fact. Gibbs’ defense also isn’t superb. But few in the country can get as hot as Gibbs scoring the basketball. Blessed with a quick release and unlimited range, Gibbs will be the #1 weapon on a balanced Pitt scoring attack in 2010-11. The most improved player in the conference last season, Gibbs has the offensive repertoire to score nearly 20 points per contest for the Panthers. His three-point percentage of 44% as a freshman is much more likely to be repeated than his 39% clip of his sophomore year. There’s no doubt Gibbs can light it up on occasion, but scoring efficiency, as well as improvements in other facets of his game, will be necessary for Pitt to reach their first Final Four since 1941.

8) Jeremy Hazell, Seton Hall- Where to rank Jeremy Hazell was one of the biggest challenges I encountered making this list. I’ve seen him do some incredible things on the court, single handedly bringing the Pirates back from nearly insurmountable deficits when he finds the right shooting stroke. Averaging over 20 PPG in the Big East is nothing to sneeze at, even if that number is in large part a result of former coach Bobby Gonzalez’ high possession strategy. In a two game stretch against West Virginia and Syracuse last year, Hazell attempted 64 shots, so it’s fair to conclude he can win you games with his shot and lose you games at the same time. There’s seemingly no heat check for this senior. Hazell’s long wingspan and good hands make you think he could be a solid defender, but he often becomes lazy on that end. Hazell also needs to work on penetration and creating his own shot rather than relying on catch-and-shoot plays. He can become too predictable and easy to defend with such an unbalanced offensive game. Even if the defense picks up on that and he’s covered, it really doesn’t matter: Hazell will shoot anyway. Still, make no bones about it, his return to The Rock for a senior campaign gives new coach Kevin Willard a legitimate shot of dancing in March. He’s that explosive of a scorer.

9) Chris Wright, Georgetown- Wright and fellow Hoya Austin Freeman will form one of the best 1-2 backcourt punches in the nation next season. Fairly inconsistent for most of his junior season, Wright really turned on the jets in March, scoring in double figures every game and probably would have garnered Big East Tournament MVP honors had Da’Sean Butler not gone all Superman again. He was also the only one seemingly interested in preventing Georgetown from being embarrassed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Wright has a strong body and is a sneaky good athlete. His jumper has been just average throughout his Hoya career, but the solid mechanics gives evaluators hope it can drastically improve as a senior. Wright excels defensively, providing JTIII with max effort on every possession and is a reliable free throw shooter, an imperative strength for a point guard. The Hoyas won’t have much in the way of backcourt depth after Wright, Freeman and Jason Clark unless freshman Markel Starks makes an impact right away, so 35-37 MPG may be in the cards again for Wright.

10) Gus Gilchrist, South Florida- An ankle injury in mid-December derailed Gilchrist’s sophomore season, but prior to the injury there were few more productive big men in the conference. The inside force working alongside dynamite scorer Dominique Jones, Gilchrist scored 18 or more points and grabbed seven or more boards in six of the Bulls first eight games. Utilizing a huge 6’10, 235 pound frame to bully over defenders, containing Gilchrist was certainly a chore for his overwhelmed opponents. Still, it’s worth noting that none of those opponents reached the NCAA Tournament, and when Gilchrist did return from the injury in mid-February, his statistics dipped substantially against Big East foes save a 21/6 against woeful Providence. It’s far from a sure thing Gilchrist takes the Big East by storm as the number one option in Tampa. He absolutely has the capabilities, the body and the potential, though. Great size, toughness and physicality in the paint all help Gilchrist, but it’s rounding out his game with a  constantly improving shooting stroke that has USF fans drooling over what could be a breakout season.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

20 At The Top: Big 12 Player Rankings

Posted by zhayes9 on July 16th, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.

For the entire 20 At The Top series, click here.

The Big 12 enjoyed a remarkable 2009-10 season, rivaling only the monstrous Big East for the ever-changing label of top conference in the land. Kansas spent a large majority of the season atop the national rankings, Texas escalated to a #1 spot before falling flat on their face, Kansas State was a top-ten squad that reached the Elite 8, Baylor exploded late to join K-State in the Elite 8, Texas A&M recovered from the Derrick Roland injury to put together a successful campaign, James Anderson led Oklahoma State to big wins and Missouri continued to be dangerous. With numerous impact seniors and juniors no longer residing in the conference and expansion put on the back burner, 2010-11 could be a bit of a down year in terms of elite teams and extraordinary talent. Continuing our Friday series of the top players in each conference heading into next season (my ACC top 20 from last week), here’s a look at the cream of the crop in the Big 12:

Pullen is the preseason favorite for B12 POY

1) Jacob Pullen, Kansas State- With backcourt mate Denis Clemente exhausting his eligibility, the onus is on Pullen to carry the strongest load of any team with Final Four expectations next season. I’d deduce the 6-foot sharpshooter has the chops to take on such an assignment. Pullen has an outgoing personality, displayed great leadership qualities last year and is always anxious to improve his game. His fearless shooting stroke and unlimited range really set Pullen apart. He peaked last year on the grand stage of the NCAA Tournament, scoring 62 points combined on 13-24 from behind the 3-point arc against BYU and Xavier. With Clemente no longer around to take shots, Pullen could average over 20 points per contest and put together a strong candidacy for first team All-America. The question mark regarding Pullen is his ability to run the point. He worked primarily off screens and isolations at K-State last season and will need to show more than just shooting guard skills at 6’1 to take the Wildcats to even greater heights.

2) Marcus Morris, Kansas- Assigned more of a supporting role with Cole Aldrich, Sherron Collins and Xavier Henry around, Morris and incoming frosh Josh Selby are now assigned to make sure Kansas continues to bypass any semblance of rebuilding. Despite being more of a role player, Morris managed to be supremely efficient playing just 61% of his teams’ minutes. The 6’9 forward ranked in the top-100 in offensive rating and efficient FG%. He’s also an outstanding offensive rebounder nationally where a committed Morris won’t be denied snagging key second chances. His fundamentals are constantly improving from defensive effort to a confident face-up game and even a mid-range jumper that’s showed increasing range. Scary news flash for the Big 12: there’s still plenty of room for the young Morris to grow as a player. He should be a force next season in a starring role, averaging around 18/9 per game and molding into the most dominating forward in the conference.

3) Cory Higgins, Colorado- Few college hoops fans know much about Higgins. Playing three seasons for an irrelevant Colorado team in a conference loaded with big-name, successful programs will do that to you. I expect the Buffs to make more noise nationally in this upcoming season under new coach Tad Boyle, and the biggest reason is Higgins. The talented guard averaged nearly 20 PPG and shot close to 50% from the field in a junior year where stopping Higgins and freshman Alec Burks was the game plan for every opposing coach. Higgins has a quick first step, can explode to the rim and feels comfortable drawing contact and getting to the charity stripe at an outstanding rate where he shoots 83%. One of the candidates to lead the Big 12 in scoring next season, Higgins is a name to look out for even if the Buffaloes are not able to turn their program around in 2010-11. With Higgins on his last hurrah and Burks flirting with the NBA Draft, this could be their last chance for a good while.

4) LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor- Dunn made the prudent decision to return to Baylor for his senior season for another shot at the Final Four and the chance to move his draft stock even higher. Even with a funky shooting form, Dunn can light up any gym with his remarkable scoring abilities. In fact, Tweety Carter can thank Dunn for providing him with such astounding assist totals last season. Dunn could very well be the most potent shooter in the nation in 2010-11, an athletic talent that can catch fire at any moment. Dunn’s game has, on occasion, shown its ugly side — uninterested effort on defense, three straight years of more turnovers than assists, too much of a “streetball” mentality — but overall Dunn provides more positives for Scott Drew and Baylor than negatives. With Carter and Ekpe Udoh gone and Perry Jones no lock to become Superman, Dunn will need to refine his complete game rather than just play spot-up shooter and float around the perimeter for Baylor to reach another regional final.

It wouldn't surprise anybody if Dunn led the B12 in scoring

5) Perry Jones, Baylor- Even if he’s around for only one season, Jones has the chance to make the greatest impact of any Bear since Vinnie Johnson was dropping 24 per game in Waco. Jones is 6’11 with a  7’2 wingspan but plays more of a Lamar Odom/Tracy McGrady-style small forward, flashing advanced perimeter skills and the ability to pull up from mid-range with confidence. He’s at his peak when attacking the basket and can be absolutely unstoppable when motivated. Jones still has plenty of growth ahead of him on the defensive end of the floor and tends to disappear without the ball in his hands, but Scott Drew has to be incredibly anxious to start working with this kid and tap into that potential. The ceiling is unlimited and Jones is a near-lock to go in the top 5 in the 2011 NBA Draft.

6) Alec Burks, Colorado- Colorado fans are probably still wondering what would have happened if Burks, who was cleared by doctors but not at 100 percent, had played with a sprained left knee in an overtime home loss to top-ranked Kansas. The ultra-talented freshman turned out to be quite the recruiting coup for former headman Jeff Bzdelik and is returning to team with Cory Higgins for a campaign that they hope ends in the Buffs first NCAA berth since 2003. Burks scored over 17 PPG, shot 54% from the field and scored in double digits in every game as a rookie. I could probably just stop there. A late bloomer to scouts and evaluators, Burks possesses solid size and athleticism for a shooting guard, can fly to the rim, flashes decent court vision and shows the stroke to be a capable outside shooter in the near future. Adding some strength this summer would suit Burks extremely well.

7) Kim English, Missouri- He’ll never put up tremendous scoring totals because of the Tigers’ system and balanced attack, but if any player can anchor the Missouri attack next season, it’ll be the poetic and tweet-loving English. Known for sleeping in the Mizzou practice facility to get shots in before class, English has the skills to explode onto the national scene as a junior. English has rarely seen a shot he didn’t like and, for the amount of times the ball leaves his hands, a 39% FG% probably needs to move up a few ticks. Still, the 6’6 Baltimore native shows impressive three-point range and plays the role of another pest in Mike Anderson’s own version of 40 Minutes of Hell.

8) Josh Selby, Kansas- Bill Self won an intense recruiting battle for the former Tennessee commit Selby, ranked nationally as one of the top high school point guards in the nation. Other than Harrison Barnes and maybe Kyrie Irving, Selby has the most responsibility on his plate from Day One in Lawrence, stepping into Sherron Collins’ shoes as the on-court leader of the Jayhawk attack. If talent is any indication, Selby should be able to handle that demanding role. Selby possesses great body control and flies to the basket, but defenders must respect his deep shooting range and Selby has the ability to pull up for a leaning jumper at any moment on the break. That quickness and explosiveness could, in some ways, be an upgrade to Collins, and three-point poppers like Brady Morningstar and Tyrell Reed will still receive plenty of open looks with Selby flying around. Even with the typical freshman lumps, he’ll likely be a double-digit scorer right away and make an immediate impact on the Allen Fieldhouse hardwood.

9) Curtis Kelly, Kansas State- A former promising Jim Calhoun recruit, Kelly has found a home in Manhattan and is thriving beautifully. He impressed me just as much as any big man in last year’s NCAA Tournament and still has plenty of room to grow and expand his budding post game. Kelly averaged 12/6 on 57% FG playing with a busy Wildcat front line, but his 21 points in their Sweet 16 marathon win over Xavier is where I saw Kelly truly shine. The lanky southpaw has a nice face-up game but can also bang low in the post and shows spurts of tremendous skill. Maintain that aggressiveness both scoring and on the boards over 30 minutes of action and Kelly could form quite the inside-outside 1-2 punch with Jacob Pullen.

10) Mike Singletary, Texas Tech- Much like Higgins and Burks, Singletary doesn’t receive much national publicity because of his team’s recent success compared to the likes of Kansas, Texas and Texas A&M. Make no mistake about it, though: Singletary can play with the best of the conference and leads a number of key returners back to Lubbock for a run at the Big Dance. Singletary first made headlines when he dropped an otherworldly 29 straight points for the Red Raiders in one Big 12 Tournament game as a sophomore. He only improved as a junior: 15.0 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 2.3 APG, but struggled with jump shot inconsistencies, making up for those off nights by living at the free throw line.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

20 At The Top: ACC Player Rankings

Posted by zhayes9 on July 9th, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.

For the entire 20 At The Top series, click here.

Over the next six Fridays this summer, I’ll have the honor of taking you through the top 20 players in each major conference in college basketball. The list is a combination of many factors:  production, expectations, ceiling, skill set, statistics, efficiency, basically anything under the sun that a college basketball fan like myself obsesses over during the dog days of summer. Hopefully healthy debate is opened up in the comments section. Without further ado, here’s my ACC edition:

1) Kyle Singler, Duke — Singler will top many prognosticators’ preseason national player of the year rankings, and his decision to return for a senior campaign at Duke instantly vaulted the Blue Devils to repeat-or-bust expectations. With a more guard-oriented transition attack planned for Duke this season, Singler will only see his scoring opportunities skyrocket and he’ll be the centerpiece of what should be a ferocious offensive attack. He’s a tremendous competitor, can make shots in spurts and will have another full season at the collegiate level to adjust to the small forward position.

2) Harrison Barnes, North Carolina — Barnes seemingly has no flaws on the basketball court and has the potential to make the type of impact Evan Turner had on Ohio State during what will be Barnes’ one and only season in Chapel Hill. He’s the favorite to go #1 overall in the 2011 Draft — a silky smooth shooter with a confident mid-range game and a fantastic attitude/basketball IQ to boot. Barnes will have to deal with the unparalleled expectations of resurrecting one of the premier programs in the sport.

3) Nolan Smith, Duke — Smith has come a long way since being demoted to the bench in favor of Elliot Williams midway through his sophomore season. If anything, Smith will prove even more lethal this season playing alongside Kyrie Irving in a transition attack and Kyle Singler on the wing. He could top 40% with his three-point shooting and is also the type of poised floor leader that Coach K adores. He’s an undersized 2-guard at 6’2, but played the position last year when Jon Scheyer ran the offense and it didn’t seem to deter Duke come March.

4) Kyrie Irving, Duke — Irving is the truest and most refined point guard at his age that scouts have seen in years. The biggest Duke recruit since the Paulus/McRoberts combo entered Durham, Irving immediately has the responsibility of running the offense of the defending national champs. Blessed with innate court vision and basketball IQ, Irving can also score in bunches, thrives in transition and is especially productive in a pick-and-roll game. Think a reincarnation of Jay Williams, although Irving will only be around for one season.

5) Malcolm Delaney, Virginia Tech — Delaney enters the season as the hands down favorite to win the ACC scoring title. The combo guard is comfortable both slashing to the basket and shooting threes, although we’ve seen his outside shooting numbers plummet the last two seasons in Blacksburg. The main reason Delaney went off for 12 25+ point performances during his junior year is an incredible ability to get to the free throw line (32nd in nation in fouls drawn per 40 minutes) where he knocks down 85% of his freebies.

6) C.J. Leslie, NC State — Leslie surprised the college basketball world when he spurned John Calipari and decided to save Sidney Lowe’s job in Raleigh. He instantly becomes the best player on an intriguing Wolfpack squad that will look to climb out of the ACC cellar. Leslie is insanely skilled and loves to run where he can show off his athleticism. The perimeter shot needs work and Leslie tends to lose focus, but Lowe reeled in a special talent with a very high ceiling.

7) Chris Singleton, Florida State — Singleton has all of the physical gifts and athletic ability to dominate and should transition to the next level as a 6’8 small forward with the wingspan to defend power forwards. As for the college game, it remains boom-or-bust for Leonard Hamilton’s most talented and most frustrating player. As a prime example, Singleton sandwiched 22 and 23 point performances with a two point showing during ACC play last season. Free throw shooting and a mid-range game also need improvement.

8) Mason Plumlee, Duke — With Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas moving on, the younger Plumlee brother should have more room to shine as the primary option in a somewhat thin Duke frontcourt. The jury’s out on whether he can match the rebounding and toughness that Zoubek provided, but the athletic spurts that Plumlee showed last season lead me to believe he can become deadly on the boards. He does have considerable development in terms of a low-post offensive game.

9) Tracy Smith, NC State — Smith flew way under the radar last season on a downtrodden NC State team, but should see more publicity this winter with an improved supporting cast. Smith scored in double figures in all but two games during his breakout junior campaign in which he averaged 17/7 as the centerpiece of any opposition’s game plan. Now aided by C.J. Leslie, Ryan Harrow and Lorenzo Brown, Smith has the chance to enter the vernacular of more casual college basketball fans.

10) Tyler Zeller, North Carolina — A near-seven footer with a smooth mid-range jumper, Zeller just needs to stay healthy for a full season to maximize his potential. Extend Zeller’s stats from last season per 35 minutes and he was a near double-double performer. Zeller and incoming frosh Barnes could create some serious matchup problems for ACC competition.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story