2012-2013 Preview: Top 15 Frontcourts

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of The Lists we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

1. Kentucky:
Bigs: Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Kyle Wiltjer

It took me a little while to come to this conclusion, but in the end, I think this is a pretty obvious choice. Everyone knows about Nerlens Noel at this point, and while he may not be the second coming of Anthony Davis, he will be a force defensively. But what a lot of people may not realize is that Alex Poythress may end up being the best front court player for the Wildcats this season. And Will Cauley-Stein? He’s a former high school receiver that stands seven-feet tall. Don’t forget about former top 25 recruit Kyle Wiltjer, either.

2. Indiana:
Bigs: Cody Zeller, Christian Watford, Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Will Sheehey, Jeremy Hollowell, Derek Elston, Peter Jurkin

Regardless of who is on the rest of the roster, the simple fact that Cody Zeller is a Hoosier means that Indiana needs to be up at the top of this list. He’s the Preseason Player of the Year. It only makes sense. But throw in sharp-shooting, stretch-four Christian Watford, veteran energy guy Will Sheehey and a trio of talented and athletic freshmen, and Tom Crean has plenty of front court talent at his disposal.

3. UNLV:
Bigs: Mike Moser, Anthony Bennett, Khem Birch, Carlos Lopez, Quintrell Thomas, Demetrius Morant

You know you have a good front line when there is a legitimate concern about having enough minutes to go around to keep the players happy. How deep are the Rebels? Quintrell Thomas is their fifth big man, and he began his career at Kansas. Mike Moser and Anthony Bennett are potential lottery picks, while Khem Birch was a top ten recruit in the Class of 2011. The key will be if Moser and/or Bennett can make the transition to the perimeter.

4. Louisville:
Bigs: Chane Behanan, Gorgui Dieng, Montrezl Harrell, Luke Hancock, Zach Price

Gorgui Dieng has come a long way in his time on the Louisville campus, to the point that he belongs in the conversation with Jeff Withey when it comes to the nation’s best defensive center. Along side Dieng, the Cards have a pair of big-bodied, athletic power forwards in Chane Behanan and Montrezl Harrell. And don’t forget playmaking small forward Luke Hancock, who will be one of the nation’s best incoming transfers this season.

5. NC State:
Bigs: CJ Leslie, Richard Howell, TJ Warren, Jordan Vandenberg, Thomas de Thaey

There are a lot of people that doubt CJ Leslie, and they aren’t necessarily wrong. But he is an athletic, 6-foot-8 junior that averaged 14.7 points and 7.3 boards as a sophomore, and if things go well, he could end up being an all-american this season. Leslie’s not alone, either, as Richard Howell came very close to averaging a double-double last season and TJ Warren is a versatile scoring machine.

6. Tennessee:
Bigs: Jarnell Stokes, Jeronne Maymon, Kenny Hall, Dwight Miller, Yemi Makanjuola

A lot of this depends on Jeronne Maymon’s health. He’s had two knee surgeries and plays the game with such aggressiveness and intensity, that whenever he suits up, he re-tweaks it. So head coach Cuonzo Martin has decided to hold Maymon out of practice for a while. But when he’s healthy? Maymon and Stokes will make up one of the toughest and most physical front lines in the country.

7. Wisconsin:
Bigs: Jared Berggren, Sam Dekker, Mike Bruesewitz, Ryan Evans, Frank Kaminsky, Zach Bohannon

We know about the kind of player that Jared Berggren is offensively, as he averaged 10.5 points and shot 37.2% from three last season. But Berggren was also one of the most underrated defensive centers in the country a year ago. When combined with Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans, the Badgers have a chance to be as good defensively as they have up front in a long time. And that’s before you mention Sam Dekker, a top 20 recruit whose versatility is perfect for Bo Ryan’s swing offense.

8. Florida:
Bigs: Patric Young, Erik Murphy, Will Yeguete

Patric Young is a physical freak, a 6-foot-7 professional wrestler with the jumping ability of an NFL wide receiver. But two years into his college career, he’s still an athlete and not a basketball player. That should change this year, and it will be helped with Erik Murphy stretching the floor with his shooting ability. Will Yeguete was Florida’s sparkplug a season ago with his ability to defend.

9. Missouri:
Bigs: Alex Oriakhi, Laurence Bowers, Earnest Ross, Ryan Rosburg, Stefan Jankovic

For my money, Alex Oriakhi is the most important transfer in the country. He was the best defensive big man in the country for a solid month when UConn won their 2011 national title, and I think that he’ll revert back to that form and become the anchor for this Missouri team. If Laurence Bowers is healthy, he becomes Missouri’s most versatile player and their best NBA prospect.

10. Kansas:
Bigs: Jeff Withey, Perry Ellis, Kevin Young, Justin Wesley, Jamari Traylor, Landen Lucas, Zach Peters

Jeff Withey was the best defensive center in the country last season, and that includes Anthony Davis. Hopefully, he’s added a bit to his offensive repertoire this year. It will be interesting to see who starts alongside him. Kevin Young is an active rebounder, but he’s too up and down. Perry Ellis is the best of four talented freshmen bigs on the roster.

11. Baylor:
Bigs: Isaiah Austin, Ricardo Gathers, Cory Jefferson, J’Mison Morgan, Chad Rykhoek

Here’s the question that may end up determining Baylor’s season: is Isaiah Austin the second coming of Perry Jones III, or is he cut from the same cloth as a guy like Dirk Nowitzki? Because with Gathers and Jefferson on the roster to beat up opposing front court players, Austin can stretch the floor on the offensive end while providing a shot blocking presence on defense.

12. Creighton:
Bigs: Doug McDermott, Gregory Echenique, Ethan Wragge

Everyone knows Doug McDermott is an all-american, and he’s the perfect fit for the Bluejays offensive system. He can score on the block and he’s a knock-down shooter when he’s left open on the perimeter. But people may not know how important Gregory Echenique is in the paint. He’s a shot blocker and a rebounder for a team that needs all the shot blocking and rebounding it can get.

13. Duke:
Bigs: Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly, Alex Murphy, Marshall Plumlee

Mason Plumlee has always had potential, but he hasn’t quite figured out how to use it yet. He was a good rebounder and defender for stretches last season, but he also had some bouts of inconsistency. Can he become a force in the paint, on both ends of the floor, this year? The combination of Alex Murphy and Ryan Kelly will give Coach K some versatility along the front line.

14. Syracuse:
Bigs: CJ Fair, James Southerland, Rakeem Christmas, Baye Keita, Jerami Grant, DaJuan Coleman

Right now, Syracuse looks like their front line will end up being better on the defensive end of the floor than on the offensive end of the floor. But CJ Fair has all kinds of promise and James Southerland can shoot the lights out. Can DaJuan Coleman be an offensive threat in the paint?

15. Miami:
Bigs: Reggie Johnson, Kenny Kadji, Julian Gamble, Erik Swoope, Garrius Adams

Reggie Johnson is a double-double waiting to happen, and that’s before he dropped down to — seriously, down to — 290 pounds and starting hitting threes. And don’t forget about Kenny Kadji, a stretch-four that really came on midway through last season.

Best of the Rest: Arizona, Davidson, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, North Carolina, North Texas, Ohio State, Stanford, West Virginia

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

The Seven Biggest Final Four Storylines

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1. Gonzaga’s chance to win a national title: To me, this is the most fascinating part of the Final Four, and it’s not because Gonzaga needs to win to make the statement that they are an elite college basketball program. I don’t believe that to be true or a fair assessment of what they are right now. The Zags are a perennial top 15 team, they’ve reached 19 straight NCAA tournaments and won in 16 in those 19 dances, they recruit McDonald’s All-Americans that are talented enough to go one-and-done and they currently start an All-American point guard that began his career playing for arch-rival Washington.

They’re doing just fine.

What would make this story so incredible is the rags-to-riches ride that Gonzaga is on. 25 years ago, Gonzaga was thought of as the worst job in the WCC. They don’t have a natural recruiting base — Spokane is basically in Idaho, it ain’t Seattle — and there weren’t facilities in place to set that program apart from any other in the league. They didn’t reach an NCAA tournament until 1995, but by 1999 they were in the Elite 8, they reached the Sweet 16 in back-to-back years after that, and the rest is history. They went from a high school gym to an arena that holds 6,000 people and is a bucket-list destination for all college hoops fans. They went from not having a weight room to chartering flights for recruiting trips.

They went from the bottom of Division I to the pinnacle of the sport. Completing that journey with a national title would only be fitting.

2. North Carolina’s redemption run, Roy Williams one of the greatest ever?: One year ago, North Carolina was on the receiving end of one of the most soul-crushing title game defeats ever. In any sport. To erase a 10-point deficit in the final five minutes against Villanova, hitting a miracle three with 4.7 seconds left to tie the game, only to have it disappear with one Kris Jenkins jumper is brutal.

But the Tar Heels, despite losing Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson, are right back in the Final Four as the favorite to win the title. And if they do win, it may be time to start calling Roy Williams one of the greatest college basketball coaches of all-time. As in top five. Think about it like this: If Roy cuts down the nets again, he’ll have won three national titles in a 12-year span and become one of just six men — John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski, Adolph Rupp, Jim Calhoun, Bob Knight — to win that many rings and one of just three to do so in the modern era of college basketball, since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

He’s won eight ACC titles in the last 14 years compared to Coach K’s three. He’s been to five Final Fours in the last 14 years and nine total, the fourth-most of all-time. Most think of Williams as a coach that just rolls the ball out there, but maybe it’s time we starting giving him credit for being one of the greatest to ever do it.

3. Frank Martin has South Carolina in the Final Four: While Gonzaga is the mid-major program in this Final Four, the “outsider” so to speak, the program that doesn’t belong here is South Carolina. The Gamecocks have little to no basketball history to speak. This is just their fifth Final Four since 1974. Prior to this season, they had never won back-to-back games in the NCAA tournament. They lucked into Frank Martin because this was a comfortable landing spot when he wanted out of Kansas State because he didn’t get along with his boss.

And now Martin, who is an underdog in his own right, is just two games away from winning a national title. Who would’ve thought that any of that was possible?

4. West Coast is back!: For the first time since 2008, we have a team from went of the central time zone playing in the Final Four; two, actually. That also means that we may end up getting our first national champion that’s further west than Kansas since Arizona won the title in 1997. Mike Bibby was the point guard of that team. His son was a freshman at South Florida this year. It’s been a while.

5. Dana Altman’s handling of the Oregon rape case: Altman probably should have been fired three years ago. The basics: days before the start of the Pac-12 tournament, three Oregon players — Brandon Austin, Damyean Dotson and Dominic Artis — were accused of sexual assault by a female student at the university. Two of those players played in the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments, although Altman claimed he did not know details of the investigation — the allegations, the accused, etc. — only that there was an investigation, so he did not suspended his players.

Two months later, the graphic details of the allegations were released in a police report, and the three players were dismissed from the program. It also should be noted here than Austin was brought into the program despite having a previous sexual assault allegation hanging over his head, a fact that Altman also claimed ignorance of.

Altman will be asked about this.

(Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

6. The one-and-done factories aren’t in the Final Four: Duke got bounced in the second round. UCLA and Arizona lost in the Sweet 16. Kentucky and Kansas went out in the Elite 8. Markelle Fultz, Dennis Smith Jr. and Jarrett Allen didn’t make the tournament. Miles Bridges and Jonathan Isaac lost in the first weekend and no one thought much of it. Given just how loaded this freshmen class was, i’s a pretty surprising result that there are no one-and-done stars in the Final Four.

There are a couple of freshmen that may have the opportunity to turn pro this spring — Gonzaga’s Zach Collins and North Carolina’s Tony Bradley — but those two played their way into being potential first round picks coming off the bench. They weren’t recruited as one-and-dones.

What does this say about the one-and-done culture?

Probably nothing beyond the fact that Kentucky lost on a buzzer-beater and Kansas played like Kansas State against Oregon. But it is worth noting.

7. Can North Carolina win a title while waiting for the NCAA to rule on them?: This is probably going to end up being the elephant in the room every time that Roy Williams steps up to the podium to speak this week. As you are probably well aware, the UNC athletic department has been mired in a scandal involving fake classes that helped keep athletes eligible for what feels like a decade. Due to legal battles regarding the Notice of Allegations, the case has been pushed back and pushed back and pushed back again. At this point, I think that the sun will burn out and Jim Boeheim will retire before we actually get an answer here.

Here’s the better question: If Williams wins a title this season, will this be his curtain call?

Kentucky fans flood Facebook page of official John Higgins’ company with negative reviews

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Unhappy with how John Higgins performed at his part-time job, Kentucky fans did their best trash him at his full-time gig.

The Facebook page of the referee’s Omaha-based roofing company was flooded by Big Blue Nation with negative comments and reviews after they were displeased with the official’s work in the Wildcats’ Elite Eight loss to North Carolina.

Not only did fans leave obviously fake and vulgar comments on the page, they also deluged it with one-star reviews to drive down its average significantly.

Once again, the Internet is struck by its proportionality problem. What could be considered a silly bit of online pranking by a small minority suddenly turns into an avalanche of nastiness that could do real damage to someone’s life, business and family, given the importance of social media for companies in 2017. It becomes cruel when it reaches a level like this.

When there’s so many general complaints about the state of officiating in college basketball, it’s also not helpful to do something like this to one of the referees generally considered to be one of the country’s best. It’s not exactly a glowing endorsement for prospective future officials to follow the career path if it brings this level of negative attention to you off the court.

Report: North Carolina to miss out on NCAA events through 2022 if HB2 not addressed by Thursday

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North Carolina is in danger of losing out on hosting NCAA events through 2022 if the state does not make changes to HB2, the controversial so-called “bathroom bill” by Thursday afternoon, according to the leader of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance.

“I have confirmed with a contact very close to the NCAA that its deadline for HB2 is 48 hours from now,” Scott Dupree, the head of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, said, according to the Raleigh News & Observer. “If HB2 has not been resolved by that time, the NCAA will have no choice but to move forward without the North Carolina bids.”

“The NCAA has already delayed the bid review process once and has waited as long as it possibly can, and now it must finalize all championship site selections through spring of 2022.”

The NCAA, as it reminded North Carolina last week, is making its determinations on hosts for events from 2018-2022 this week. There was movement last week at the North Carolina statehouse for a compromise on the bill, but that apparently stalled out, the News & Observer reported, though there remain efforts to make progress on a pact.

Should lawmakers not reach an agreement in time, the state’s flagship basketball programs will be without an NCAA tournament home-court advantage that they have often enjoyed. HB2 just this past year moved the first and second rounds out of the state and to South Carolina, where No. 2 seed Duke lost to the seventh-seeded Gamecocks in their home state.

Clearly, there’s much more to consider here than NCAA tournament implications, but it’s another reminder of the economic impact the bill has made in North Carolina. This week, The Associated Press estimated it will cost the state $3.76 billion over a 12-year period.

Baylor’s Freeman to graduate and transfer

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Baylor is losing one of its contributors over the past three seasons.

Al Freeman, a 6-foot-3 guard, will graduate and transfer to another school, the Bears announced Tuesday.

“Al has been a tremendous student-athlete and made great contributions to our program over the last four years, and we’re thrilled that he’s going to complete his degree at Baylor,” Bears coach Scott Drew said in a statement. “He’ll always be part of the Baylor family, and we’ll be rooting for him as he continues his career.”

Freeman, who redshirted his freshman year due to a broken wrist, started 57 games during his career in Waco and averaged 8.6 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. He was a full-time starter as a sophomore, but made just 22 this past season and saw his minutes slashed.

As a graduate transfer, the Charlotte native will be immediately eligible at his next program for his final collegiate season.

Xavier sophomore Edmond Sumner declares for NBA Draft

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Xavier sophomore Edmond Sumner has declared for the NBA Draft and is expected to sign with an agent.

“First let me start by saying these three years at Xavier have been the best of my life,” Sumner said in a statement. “I have certainly been presented with some ups and downs but they have only served to make me a stronger person. This decision was very hard for me because of the love I have for X. After weighing my options with my family, I have decided to enter the 2017 NBA Draft, fulfilling a lifelong dream. I want to thank Coach Mack and the rest of the staff for believing in me and giving me a chance when no one did! I’ll always be grateful for that. Xavier Nation I will always love you!”

Sumner, a 6-foot-6 point guard with dynamic athleticism and first round potential that averaged 15.0 points, but he is coming off of a torn ACL that he suffered in January. He’s likely to be a second round pick in this year’s NBA Draft.

This is a big loss for the Musketeers, but it’s one that they planned for. After his eruption last season, most expected him to put his name in the draft this season.