Position Rankings: The Top 20 Centers

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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.

The Top 10

1. Cody Zeller, Indiana: Zeller is the best player in the country, so it would only make sense that he tops a list of best centers. He’s amazing to watch on the offensive end of the floor, particularly when he runs the court in transition, but he’ll make the jump to elite when he improves on the defensive end of the floor.

2. Jeff Withey, Kansas: Withey is the best defensive center in the country. Period. He led the nation — including Anthony Davis — in block percentage last year, and could very well do the same this season. He’ll anchor what should once again be an elite defense for the Jayhawks.

3. Gorgui Dieng, Louisville: Like Withey, Dieng is the anchor for what should be one of the best defensive teams in the country. He’s a terrific rebounder and shotblocker, but he needs to continue to develop his offensive repertoire to be more than a catch-and-dunk threat.

4. Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota: Mbakwe is an interesting case. He averaged a double-double in 2010-2011, and was doing the same last season before he tore his ACL. This offseason, he’s been dealing with a bunch of legal issues, and while they have all apparently been settled, that’s a lot of distraction for a college student to deal with.

5. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky: Noel is the x-factor in these rankings. He could very well end up being the best center in the country if everything falls into place, but there are a couple of issues I think could inhibit that. He’s not as offensively gifted as Anthony Davis. He has another center that he’ll be sharing front court minutes with in Willie Cauley-Stein. And I’m still curious how Kentucky’s roster eventually comes together. But John Calipari’s last three center recruits have gone on to be top five picks, so we’ll see.

6. Mason Plumlee, Duke: I think Plumlee puts it together this season, maybe not to the point that he’s a lottery pick, but enough so that he can anchor Duke’s front line. He was a very good — albeit it somewhat inconsistent — rebounder and shotblocker last year, so if his offense comes around, he could end up being elite.

7. Patric Young, Florida: An overwhelming physical presence, Young has yet to turn those God-given gifts into consistent production; he averaged just 10 points and six boards a season ago. Is this the year that he finally lives up to that potential?

8. Jared Berggren, Wisconsin: There may not be a more underrated big man that Jared Berggren. He’s sneaky-good defensively and a pick-and-pop threat that is a perfect fit for Wisconsin’s swing offense. Here’s the question for Berggren this year: how much of his success on the offensive end last season was the result of playing with Jordan Taylor? Because with Taylor gone and Josh Gasser injured, Wisconsin is going to need someone to step up offensively.

9. Jack Cooley, Notre Dame: The kid that looks like Luke Harangody’s little brother has a chance to be the Big East Player of the Year this season. Cooley is a big-bodied center that is excellent playing his role as space-eater, rebounder, and picker-and-roller in Notre Dame’s ‘Burn’ offense.

10. Steven Adams, Pitt: There are some folks that think Adams is still a year or two away from being a real contributor for the Panthers, but I think Adams will end up being quite good for Jamie Dixon’s club. With Tray Woodall and Trey Ziegler in the back court, the Panthers will have enough scoring. All they need out of Adams is effort; defensively, on the glass, cutting to the rim. You don’t need to have your skills developed to play hard.

The Next 10

11. Khem Birch, UNLV
12. Reggie Johnson, Miami
13. Alex Oriakhi, Missouri
14. Alex Len, Maryland
15. Brandon Davies, BYU
16. Mike Muscala, Bucknell
17. Richard Howell, NC State
18. Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona
19. Gregory Echenique, Creighton
20. Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky)

The Best of the Rest: Julian Boyd (LIU-Brooklyn), Alec Brown (Green Bay), Rakeem Christmas (Syracuse), DaJuan Coleman (Syracuse), Erik Copes (George Mason), Jamelle Hagins (Delaware), Jordan Henriquez (Kansas State), Colton Iverson (Colorado State), Vander Joaquim (Hawaii), Przemek Karnowski (Gonzaga), Deniz Kilicli (West Virginia), Alex Kirk (New Mexico), Zeke Marshall (Akron), Derrick Nix (Michigan State), Adreian Payne (Michigan State), Cameron Ridley (Texas), Andrew Smith (Butler), Josh Smith (UCLA), Brad Waldow (St. Mary’s), Mouph Yarou (Villanova)

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

Wichita State getting more national respect with non-conference scheduling

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Wichita State is starting to gain more national respect with regards to its non-conference schedule.

Since moving to the American Athletic Conference this spring, the Shockers have not only gained the benefit of being in a multi-bid league every year, but they’re also getting better teams to play them outside of conference play.

According to a report from Paul Suellentrop of the Wichita Eagle, the Shockers now have non-conference games scheduled with Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State this season. With Wichita State also playing in the Maui Invitational, it gives the Shockers plenty of opportunities to schedule quality opponents and improve its NCAA tournament seeding. And that’s before Wichita State starts conference play.

Although Wichita State was getting invited regularly to prestigious non-conference tournaments such as Maui or the Battle 4 Atlantis, they were having a tough time getting certain schools to book home-and-home series. The Baylor series signifies a small, but significant, change to how Wichita State might be able to do things now.

USC forward Bennie Boatwright returning for junior year

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USC has a chance to be really good next season as forward Bennie Boatwright announced that he’s returning for his junior season.

The 6-foot-10 forward put up 15.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game while shooting 36 percent from three-point range as his return means that the Trojans should be a major contender in the Pac-12 next season. Elijah Stewart also announced this week that he is returning as USC could start Jordan McLaughlin, De’Anthony Melton, Stewart, Boatwright and Chimezie Metu next season.

With Duke transfer Derryck Thornton Jr. also becoming eligible and McDonald’s All-American guard Charles O’Bannon Jr. entering the program, the Trojans are a potential top-10 team.

Following decommitment, four-star recruit makes eye-opening remarks about Ohio State

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Ohio State lost a four-star recruit on Wednesday when in-state Class of 2018 wing Darius Bazley opted to open up his recruitment.

As a rising senior who is just finishing his junior season of high school, Bazley’s decommitment isn’t going to immediately hurt the Buckeyes next season. But the 6-foot-7 wing’s comments about why he opted to open up his recruitment are pretty jarring.

In a story with Adam Jardy of the Columbus Dispatch, Bazley opened up about why he decommitted from Ohio State. Bazley’s eye-opening remarks include how the Buckeyes might not get him ideal NBA exposure and how Ohio State might miss the NCAA tournament in his freshman year.

“I was excited when I first got the offer,” Bazley said to Jardy. “Ohio State is still a great place. It’s nothing against the school or anything, but my one ultimate goal is to get to the NBA and I just didn’t feel as confident as I did when I first committed that Ohio State was one of those schools that could get me there. At the end of the day I’ve got to perform no matter where I go, but I think there’s other schools out there that could put me on a bigger stage and in a better position to show those NBA scouts when I get to college what I can do.”

Bazley also didn’t appear to be pleased at the recruiting class coming into Ohio State for the Class of 2017, which is the class that is coming in this season. Remember, Bazley is a Class of 2018 recruit who still has to finish his senior season.

“Ohio State, they didn’t make the NCAA Tournament this year,” Bazley said to Jardy. “They didn’t even make the NIT, which is unfortunate, but I looked into the recruits they have coming into next year, they didn’t look too good for the future. So I felt like when my class came in, yeah, we would’ve been OK, but good enough to make the tournament? I don’t know. I just felt as if I was to de-commit, actually take my time, figure everything out it would just be a lot better.”

Ohio State was once one of the major destinations for one-and-done players a decade ago so these remarks are very surprising. D’Angelo Russell was a top-five pick in the NBA Draft only two years ago, and while the Buckeyes might not be as successful in recent years as they once were, they still get plenty of national exposure with regards to producing NBA talent.

The NCAA tournament comments might carry some more weight though. The Buckeyes have missed the NCAA tournament in two consecutive seasons and things are also looking difficult for them to reach the Big Dance for next season. If Bazley wants to play in the NCAA tournament, then I could understand him wanting to open things up and explore more options.

Still, you don’t often see a player make comments like this about a school after decommitting–especially a program with as much national exposure as Ohio State. Bazley is likely going to face some heat for his remarks, but if those are his true feelings about a future life decision, then he should explore what else is out there.

Nevada gets transfer commitment from Omaha forward Tre’Shawn Thurman

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Nevada continues to build its roster through transfers as the Wolf Pack added Omaha forward Tre’Shawn Thurman on Thursday.

The 6-foot-7 Thurman will have to sit out one season before playing his senior season but he is coming off of a very good campaign for the Mavericks. The versatile forward put up 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while shooting 49 percent from the field.

One of the Summit League’s better players the last two seasons, Thurman should be a solid rotation forward for Nevada as he has a chance to be a breakout player with one more year of development. If Thurman can improve his 25 percent three-point shooting then he could be a major factor for Nevada.

D-League salaries, two-way contracts increase NBA Draft early entries

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Yesterday, I wrote a piece about how it’s dumb to criticize players for entering the NBA Draft without costing themselves their collegiate eligibility when the NCAA’s new NBA Draft rules are specifically designed for said players to be able to do that.

In that column, I mentioned that D-League salaries are on the rise and that the NBA’s new CBA instituted something called “two-way contracts,” and I wanted a chance to elaborate and clarify a couple of the points that I made.

Let’s start with the “two-way contracts,” which NBA teams each get two of. They are essentially a retainer that those teams can place on younger players they want to be the 16th and 17th men on their roster, holding their rights as they bounce between the D-League — where they will likely spend the majority of the year — and the NBA. The catch is that those players have to have less than three years service as a professional, and the point of it is to provide a financial incentive for younger players with the potential to reach the NBA to remain stateside while allowing those NBA teams to develop them.

That financial incentive is fairly large, as well: Two-way players will make $75,000 guaranteed and will be able to make up to $275,000, depending on the amount of time they spend with the NBA team.

That means there are an extra 60 jobs this season that can end up paying players with less than three years of professional basketball experience upwards of a quarter-of-a-million dollars.

That’s not a bad starting salary.

The other point that I wanted to address is the rising D-League salaries which, technically, will not be rising. There are still going to be Tier A and Tier B players, who make $26,000 and $20,000 respectively. But the NBA has something called affiliate players, which each of the now-25 NBA teams with a D-League affiliate can pay up to $50,000 for training camp. NBA teams are allowed a maximum of four affiliate players, who will still make their $26,000 salary from their D-League team.

In other words, that’s 100 more jobs available in the United States where a professional basketball player can make $76,000, and that’s before you consider that the five NBA teams that do not yet have a D-League affiliate will still have to play players to get them into training camp.

That $76,000 is not a life-changing amount of money. Neither is the $275,000 that a two-way contract can pay. But it’s a pretty damn good paycheck to make for an entry-level job into the industry that you always dreamed of being in.

Athletes have an unbelievably small window where they can capitalize monetarily on their gifts.

If a 21-year old sophomore decides that he wants to continue to develop his game and chase his NBA dream by making $76,000 as a D-League player, is that really all that crazy?

After all, 135 of the 450 players, or 30 percent of the roster spots, on NBA’s opening night were taken by guys that had spent time in the D-League.

There’s more than one way to make a dream come true.