2013-2014 Season Preview: The Top 20 Big Men

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

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

Basketball has five positions, but the way that the sport has grown, particularly at the collegiate level, has produced hybrid players, unusual roster makeups and far too many teams with players that don’t fit into a typical positional category. Few teams actually field a traditional starting five, which is why CBT decided to make our positional rankings reflect that.

We will be ranking:

The final installment of our Top 20 player rankings focuses on the big men, and for all the talk of college basketball being a “guard’s game” post presences are a necessity if a team’s going to win a national title. With NBA Draft eligibility rules being what they are, national champions more often than not have at least one elite big man. Some are bruisers who do the majority of their work inside, while others possess the ability to step out on the perimeter and score as well.

Here’s our list of the Top 20 big men in college basketball:

1. Julius Randle (Kentucky): The 6-foot-9 freshman has the build of a pro already, and the talent is there as well. Incredibly difficult to stop around the basket, Randle is also capable of knocking down perimeter shots. Given how difficult it is to match up with Randle, it’ll be interesting to see how John Calipari utilizes the most talented player on his star-studded roster.

2. Doug McDermott (Creighton): The senior forward, who averaged 23.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game last season, will be in the Big East and national Player of the Year discussions in his senior campaign. With range well out beyond the three-point line, McDermott shot 54.8% from the field and 49.0% from three in 2012-13.

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3. Mitch McGary (Michigan): McGary’s (7.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg) played his best basketball at the most important time of the year for the Wolverines, who reached the national title game for the first time since 1993. The 6-foot-10 big man averaged 14.3 points and 10.7 boards in the tournament.

4. Aaron Gordon (Arizona): Gordon’s an elite athlete who finishes above the rim with authority. If Gordon’s able to consistently knock down perimeter looks in addition to his ability to score inside, look out. The key? Gordon needs to embrace being a big man at the college level.

5. Montrezl Harrell (Louisville): Harrell, a role player for last season’s national champions, is expected to play a starring role for the Cardinals as a sophomore. Harrell (5.7, 3.6) is a very physical interior player, and he was dominant at times with the United States Under-19 team in this past summer’s World Championships.

6. Adreian Payne (Michigan State): Payne’s been a tantalizing player for much of his time in East Lansing, and he began to show signs of putting it all together during the latter portion of his junior season. Payne, who averaged 10.5 points and 7.3 boards per game last season, can also knock down perimeter shots when left open. Consistency is the key for Payne.

7. Isaiah Austin (Baylor): The 7-foot-1 Austin may be one of the most skilled players in the country, as he can handle the ball on the perimeter as well as score from just about anywhere on the floor. The question for Austin (13.1 ppg, 8.3 rpg), who’s healthy following offseason shoulder surgery, is whether or not he’s better equipped to handle physical play on a nightly basis in the Big 12.

8. Jarnell Stokes (Tennessee): Pound for pound one of the strongest players in America, Stokes averaged 12.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game without Jeronne Maymon (knee) available to help him out in the paint. With Maymon healthy, look for Stokes to be even better as a junior.

9. Cory Jefferson (Baylor): Jefferson went from being a role player to being an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection. Currently fifth in school history in blocked shots for a career (117), Jefferson (13.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.9 bpg) shot 61% from the field as a redshirt junior.

10. Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky): Cauley-Stein (8.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.1 bpg) was one of the bright spots in what turned out to be a tough season for the Wildcats. An excellent athlete, the 7-foot big man was an SEC All-Freshman Team selection and he’s expected to play a starring role for Kentucky this season.

TEN MORE NAMES TO KNOW

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  • 11. Le’Bryan Nash (Oklahoma State): It can be argued that Nash should be listed with the wings, but his versatility allows the Cowboys to use him in a variety of ways. He’s already a handful off the dribble and on the block, but he needs to be a better shooter.
  • 12. James Michael McAdoo (North Carolina): Anyone’s guess as to how long P.J. Hairston will be out of the lineup, but regardless of the shooter’s status, McAdoo needs to be a key figure for the Tar Heels this season.
  • 13. Alex Kirk (New Mexico): A good argument could have been made for Kirk winning Mountain West Player of the Year last season over teammate Kendall Williams. Kirk posted averages of 12.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game in 2012-13.
  • 14. Jerrelle Benimon (Towson): The reigning CAA Player of the Year was outstanding for the Tigers in 2012-13, posting averages of 17.1 points and 11.2 rebounds per game.
  • 15. Joel Embiid (Kansas): Embiid’s received high praise from many and he’s yet to play a college game. A bit raw offensively, Embiid will likely do the majority of his damage on the defensive end to start the year.
  • 16. Augustine Rubit (South Alabama): Rubit’s a bit underrated nationally, but the fact of the matter is that he was one of the nation’s most productive big men last season. The Sun Belt Player of the Year averaged 19.4 points and 10.5 rebounds.
  • 17. Dwight Powell (Stanford) : Powell’s expected to have a big year for the Cardinal after averaging 14.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Powell earned first team All-Pac-12 honors and was named the league’s Most Improved Player.
  • 18. Juvonte Reddic (VCU): The last line of defense for the Rams, Reddic emerged as the Atlantic 10’s best big man in 2012-13, averaging 14.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.
  • 19. Akil Mitchell (Virginia): Tony Bennett’s big man is one of the most underrated players in the ACC. He averaged 13.1 points and 8.9 boards as a junior and should be a major part in Virginia’s push for an ACC title.
  • 20. Ryan Anderson (Boston College): Anderson is a major reason that BC is expected to surprise a lot of people in the ACC. He averaged 14.9 points and 8.0 boards as a sophomore.

Illinois lands important commitment from four-star Class of 2017 guard Mark Smith

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Illinois landed a very important Class of 2017 commitment on Wednesday as guard Mark Smith pledged to the Illini.

The 6-foot-4 Smith was previously a Missouri commit for baseball, but some issues with his arm caused him to look back into basketball last summer. A native of Edwardsville, in the St. Louis metro area, Smith came out of nowhere to win the Illinois Mr. Basketball award as a senior this season as he averaged 21.9 points, 8.4 assists and 8.2 rebounds while becoming a consensus national top-100 prospect.

Rivals rates Smith as the No. 52 overall prospect in the Class of 2017 as he could come in and earn immediate minutes at Illinois next season at either guard spot.

This is a very important commitment for head coach Brad Underwood and the Illini as the new head coach was able to hold off some elite programs like Kentucky and Michigan State for Smith’s services.

Northwestern gets commitment from Boston College transfer A.J. Turner

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Northwestern landed a transfer on Wednesday as former Boston College wing A.J. Turner pledged to the Wildcats, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

The 6-foot-7 Turner just finished his sophomore season with the Golden Eagles as he averaged 8.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. A well-rounded wing who also shot 37 percent from three-point range, Turner will have to sit out one season due to NCAA transfer regulations before getting two more years of eligibility.

With Scottie Lindsay and Vic Law only having limited time left in Evanston, Turner provides a bit of insurance on the wing for the Wildcats for the future as he’s a proven rotation player coming from the ACC.

Oakland’s Greg Kampe hosting charity golf event with big-name coaches

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Oakland head coach Greg Kampe hosted a successful charity event for cancer research two years ago by allowing people to bid online to play a round of golf with some of college basketball’s best coaches.

Kampe is back again this year as he’s hoping to eventually raise $1 million for the American Cancer Society.

According to a report from Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press, Kampe has 11 high-profile names that fans can play with this year.

  • Tom Izzo, Michigan State
  • Frank Martin, South Carolina
  • Rick Barnes, Tennessee
  • Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
  • Chris Holtmann, Butler
  • Kevin Willard, Seton Hall
  • Greg Kampe, Oakland
  • Stan Van Gundy, Detroit Pistons
  • Steve Lavin
  • Fran Fraschilla
  • Bill Raftery

Fans can find more details about the auctions and all of the details here.

The minimum bid is $15,000 per coach. A “buy now” bid of $24,000 is also available.

Each round includes the following, according to the event’s website:

Up for auction will be 11 spectacular packages, featuring a private dinner with elite basketball coaches and VIPs, a one night stay at MotorCity Casino Hotel on Sunday, June 4, and an afternoon of golf on Monday, June 5 at Oakland Hills Country Club on the South Course. The winning bidders and their two guests will round out the foursomes with their selected VIP: Rick Barnes, Mick Cronin, Fran Fraschilla, Chris Holtmann, Tom Izzo, Greg Kampe, Steve Lavin, Frank Martin, Bill Raftery, Stan Van Gundy, or Kevin Willard.

There are a lot of great selections to choose from for this sort of thing, but I can’t imagine a better afternoon than playing golf with Bill Raftery and a few friends. There are some other tempting choices on this list, but that’s the one I would have to jump at.

If you think 137 players declaring for the draft is stupid, you’re probably stupid

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The NBA Draft’s full early entry list came out on Tuesday afternoon, and there were 137 underclassmen listed on it.

137.

For 60 spots in the NBA Draft, only 30 of which guarantee you a contract in the NBA.

And that’s before you factor in the 45 international players that also declared for the NBA Draft, as well as the crop of seniors — Josh Hart, Monte’ Morris, Jaron Blossomgame, Alec Peters — that are going to end up hearing their names called. All told, there are going to be roughly 200 players competing to be one of the 60 people that end up getting drafted on June 22nd, and you don’t have to be any good at math to realize that 200 is a much, much bigger number than 60.

This unleashed a torrent of bad takes on the decision of these players.

And bad may not be doing those takes justice.

Because the bottom-line is this: You cannot paint the decision on whether or not to go pro with a broad brush.

For some players, making money of any kind is something they need to do to support their family, whether it’s what they’ll get with a first round guarantee, the $75-100,000 they’ll get for making a training camp roster to subsidize their time in the D-League while teams develop them or the money they can make in the D-League or overseas. You don’t know what their financial situation is. Maximizing their ability to capitalize on every available dollar they can make off of their athletic gifts may be more important than working towards a degree.

And it’s worth noting here that a guaranteed contract isn’t the only way to make a living in professional basketball. To say nothing of the money that can be made overseas or the number of second round picks and undrafted players that make guaranteed money — which is more than you probably realize — it needs to be noted that D-League salaries are getting a bump this year with the new CBA.

The NBA has also instituted something new called a “two-way contract”. Without getting into the legalese, it’s essentially a retainer worth well into the six figures that they will be able to give to two players that will allow them to retain that player under contract while sending them between the D-League and the NBA roster. In a sense, it creates an extra 60 NBA roster spots for players that have 0-3 years worth of professional basketball on their résumé.

Some players are simply declaring without signing with an agent because they want to get feedback directly from NBA personnel on what their professional prospects. Some will hear that they need to return to school to work on their body, or work on their jumper, or mature as a person to be able to handle everything that comes with being a professional. Others will be told they’re going to make a lot of money by staying in the draft, or that they need to go back to school because, frankly, they are not professional basketball players. Not getting invited to the NBA combine is a pretty good indication of where you stand in the eyes of NBA teams.

Still other players are putting their name into the draft to leave their options open should they be recruited over by the program they are a part of. Take Frank Jackson, for example. If he can return to school and thrive as Duke’s point guard, maybe he turns into a top 20 pick. But what happens if Trevon Duval, the best point guard in the Class of 2017 and a top five pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, picks Duke? Would it be in Jackson’s best interest to come back to Duke when he won’t be playing the position that he needs to learn to play to turn himself into a lasting NBA player?

Jackson, like the roughly 100 underclassmen that have declared without an agent, has until May 24th to make his decision on whether or not he will keep his name in the draft. Until then, he can return to school without damaging his eligibility.

The entire reason that the NCAA changed their rules to allow players to test the waters is so that they can make the most important decision of their lives with as much information as humanly possible. This thing exists for the sole purpose of allowing the kids to have as much knowledge about their options as possible.

And that is exactly what these kids are doing.

So the idea that this rule, or players taking advantage of that rule, however high that number may be, is a bad thing is stupid.