Creighton Bluejays Doug McDermott drives on the Cincinnati Bearcats Justin Jackson during the second half of their second round NCAA tournament game in Philadelphia

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.

No. 11 Kentucky struggles before putting away Missouri

LEXINGTON, KY - JANUARY 21:  Bam Adebayo #3 of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrates against the South Carolina Gamecocks during the first half at Rupp Arena on January 21, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Kentucky won. That’s probably all the Wildcats need to take away from their time in Columbia, Mo.

Eleventh-ranked Kentucky defeated Missouri, 72-62, in a game that was an absolute slog for the Wildcats until the final minutes offered them some separation and reprieve from the feisty but undermanned Tigers.

Missouri led throughout much of the first half, but never held an advantage after halftime. Still, the Tigers were there lurking closely for much of the final frame, something their 7-20 record would suggest they were incapable of, even at home against Kentucky on a night where the Wildcats were about as sharp as the shape of basketball itself. Which is to say, not sharp at all.

Bam Adebayo was an absolute force on the interior for Kentucky. The freshman big had 22 points on 6 of 9 shooting from the floor and a 10 of 13 mark from the free-throw line. He also had 15 rebounds and three blocks. Missouri, like plenty of other teams before them, had no answer.

The question, though, for Kentucky this night was what kept De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk from being productive? The pair struggled from start to finish, combining to go 8 of 22 overall and 2 of 7 from deep along with five turnovers. Making matters even worse was Isaiah Briscoe’s night. He shot it fine (4 of 6) but had six turnovers in 23 minutes.

It just wasn’t pretty for the Wildcats.

Overall, Kentucky went 5 of 18 from deep and had 17 turnovers, allowing one of the SEC’s cellar dwellers to make things interesting until the Wildcats were able to put the Tigers at arm’s length in the final few minutes.

It’s certainly not an inspiring performance from Kentucky, but against Missouri on the road, it’s not exactly surprising to seem them come with something less than their best. It can probably be excused to circumstance rather than anything more serious.

For Missouri, it was a missed opportunity to add some sort of silver lining to yet another dismal season under Kim Anderson. The third-year coach probably wouldn’t have improved his job prospects much with a win over Kentucky – things have been too bad for too long for one game to move the needle – but it still would have been nice for Missouri after so much misery, you know? But, alas, the game ended like most of them have for the Tigers in recent years, with a loss.

Now, Kentucky heads into Saturday’s matchup against No. 13 Florida with the regular-season SEC title – and some pride – on the line. The Gators whipped the Wildcats by 22 in Gainesville earlier this month, and both teams will enter Rupp Arena with matching 13-2 SEC records.

Both teams will have two games remaining after Saturday, but it would appear to mere formalities for both. Whoever wins Saturday almost certainly will win the conference outright.

Cline’s 3-pointers lift No. 14 Purdue over Penn State

WEST LAFAYETTE, IN - JANUARY 21: Isaac Haas #44, Carsen Edwards #3, Caleb Swanigan #50 and Vince Edwards #12 of the Purdue Boilermakers react in the second half of the game against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Mackey Arena on January 21, 2017 in West Lafayette, Indiana. Purdue defeated Penn State 77-52. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Accustomed to dominating in stretches lately, the 14th-ranked Purdue Boilermakers found themselves on the other end of a big score and needed a savior against a gritty Penn State team on Tuesday night.

Enter Ryan Cline.

The guard scored six of his 11 points in overtime to lift Purdue to a 74-70 victory over the Nittany Lions in a game the Boilermakers led for just 9:16.

“It rarely happens where a team outplays another one, plays harder and they lose the game especially on their home court,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “Thank the Lord Cline knocked those two shots down.”

Cline’s consecutive 3-pointers secured his team’s sixth straight win and snapped the Nittany Lions’ four-game winning streak against Top 25 teams visiting the Bryce Jordan Center.

Vincent Edwards added 14 points, Isaac Haas chipped in 13 and Dakota Mathias scored 12 for the Boilermakers (23-5, 12-3 Big Ten) who trailed 33-29 at halftime.

Tony Carr scored 21 points, Lamar Stevens added 18 and Mike Watkins finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds for Penn State (14-14, 6-9). The Nittany Lions owned the paint, even against Purdue’s towering bigs — 6-foot-8 Caleb Swanigan and the 7-2 Haas — where Penn State owned a 46-12 edge.

But the Nittany Lions couldn’t get deep shots to fall. They finished just 2 for 18 from 3-point range.

“That was as hard as we’ve played all year,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “Proud of my team. However, there’s no more moral victories here. We’ve got to get some things done. We’ve got to close out games.”

Penn State led for all but 7:35 of regulation and by as many as 10 points midway through the first half. But they surrendered the lead on a dunk by Haas with 10:13 left. The Nittany Lions used a 10-2 run and four straight baskets from Carr to send the game into overtime where Cline found his shot.

BIG PICTURE

Purdue: The Boilermakers cooled off after a recent hot streak saw them dominate for large stretches of games. Purdue’s five-game winning streak entering the night included wins over Michigan State, Rutgers and Northwestern, all by at least 17 points.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions are still looking to eclipse their combined win total in January and February under Chambers. Penn State won six games for their best stretch in the two-month span a year ago and will have two more tries to surpass last year’s mark.

LOOSE GUARDS

Painter wasn’t happy with his guard play for much of the game. He sensed confusion from his backcourt and it cost them in the form of turnovers. Ten of Purdue’s 17 giveaways were committed by guards.

“Our guard play and overall ball control, there’s no question, there were times they were hesitant,” Painter said.

BIG MAN BATTLE

As Chambers spoke with reporters, he guessed Watkins was sitting in the locker room with nothing left in the tank.

“He’s exhausted in that locker room,” Chambers said. “He battled. He went toe-to-toe with a potential lottery pick and a potential first-rounder some day in Haas because I think Haas is a pro.”

Watkins was outmuscled in his first game against Purdue’s sizable forwards when he scored just six points and grabbed only three rebounds earlier this season. He had 12 rebounds in the first half — including three straight offensive midway through the first half — that brought the crowd to a roar when he finally drew a foul and made two free throws.

SHOT CLOCK ISSUE

A shot clock mishap cost the Nittany Lions a possession in overtime. With 13 seconds left and Purdue up 72-70, Haas took a jumper and missed close to the rim with the shot clock waning. It would have run out had Shep Garner not fouled P.J. Thompson immediately afterward, however.

Chambers said he thought Garner might have believed Haas’ shot hit the rim. Instead, Thompson made both free throws to put the game out of reach.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Purdue survived a scare and its place in the poll should remain safe.

UP NEXT

Purdue plays at Michigan on Friday.

Penn State travels to Minnesota on Friday.

VIDEO: Mizzou fans chant ‘Cal you suck’ during interview, Calipari ignores question about it

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 15:  Head coach John Calipari of the Kentucky Wildcats reacts against the Michigan State Spartans in the second half during the State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on November 15, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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This is so great and so awkward.

Let’s set the stage: No. 13 Kentucky played a pretty terrible half of basketball at Missouri, heading into halftime up just 31-30 after trailing late in the half.

Kentucky head coach John Calipari was clearly not happy about it and ripped his team in the halftime interview … while the Missouri student section chants “Cal, you suck,” which is completely audible on the broadcast. Laura Rutledge, the SEC Network sideline reporter, asks him about it, and he ghosts her.

Cal is not here for your jokes.

No. 13 Florida continues hot streak with win over South Carolina

Florida forward Devin Robinson (1) celebrates with guard KeVaughn Allen (5) as South Carolina guards PJ Dozier (15) and Hassani Gravett (2) walk up court after a play during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, in Gainesville, Fla. Florida won 81-66. (AP Photo/Matt Stamey)
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Things keep rolling for Florida, all the way to a nine-game winning streak and a de facto SEC regular season championship game in Lexington this weekend.

The Gators’ offense was lethally efficient and its defense stout in their 81-66 over South Carolina on Tuesday to likely end the Gamecocks’ long-shot SEC title aspirations while seriously bolstering their own chances.

Florida did its damage offensively in some of the most productive ways possible. The Gators connected from deep and converted from the free-throw line.  From distance, they were 9 of 19 (47.4 percent), and from the charity stripe, they were 22 of 27 (81.5 percent). That’s a winning formula almost every night out.

Maybe most encouraging for Florida was the return to dynamism of KeVaughn Allen. The sophomore guard had his best game in weeks, going 5 of 7 from the field – including 3 of 5 from distance – and got to the line for 14 attempts, making 13. Allen hasn’t been able to get to the free-throw line with a ton of consistency – his free-throw rate is only 23.7 – but he has shown some flashes of forcing his way there recently with 14 tonight and 10 a week ago at Auburn. If he can even approach those numbers with regularity, it’ll be a huge boon for the 87.5 percent free-throw shooter. It should be a priority for him.

The offensive outburst by Allen and the Gators at large was especially impressive coming against a South Carolina team that possesses one of the country’s stingiest defenses. The Gamecocks are typically great at making life at the 3-point arc difficult for opponents, but Florida shredded them there.

Converting from the 3-point line certainly helped cover for the absence of 6-foot-11 center John Egbunu, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week. Devin Robinson picked up the most slack inside, blocking three shots and grabbing six rebounds, and South Carolina wasn’t really able to do much damage on the offensive glass.

With its defense taking an atypical beating, South Carolina’s offense exhibited the issues that have plagued it all season long. The Gamecocks were 3 of 14 (21.4 percent) from 3-point range, and the lack of threats along the arc shrunk their spacing and allowed Florida to harass them inside. If the offense is going to be stifled – which it probably will be more often than not with an average effective field goal percentage ranked outside the top-300 nationally – the defense has to be elite, which it was far from against Florida.

South Carolina now finds itself in a bit of a precarious, if manageable, position. The Gamecocks have lost three-straight, not something a team that is doesn’t have a 100 percent secure position in the NCAA tournament. Yes, South Carolina has a solid resume, but this is sliding in the wrong direction at the worst time. The good news is that the final three games of the regular season – vs. Tennessee, vs. Mississippi State and at Mississippi – are wholly manageable. The bad news is a stumble against any of those teams isn’t going to be looked upon with much favor by the selection committee.

The big picture for Florida is much rosier. The Gators, as noted above, are steamrolling through the final stretch of the season. They’re staking their claim to a top-three tourney seed, and will have a chance to come very close to claiming regular season SEC superiority Saturday as well.

Florida, which blasted Kentucky 88-66 earlier this month, travels to Rupp Arena to take on the No. 11 Wildcats. Both teams will be sporting 13-2 conference records (assuming Kentucky gets by/doesn’t implode at Missouri tonight) with two games left on the schedule after Saturday in which they’ll both be heavy favorites. Even if Kentucky can’t leave Columbia with a win (pause for laughter), a conference championship – whether outright or shared – will be on the line.

It might not garner the same fervor as the one played in December at the Georgia Dome, but there’s going to be a heck of an SEC title game this weekend.

No. 9 Baylor holds on 60-54 over Oklahoma to stay in 2nd

WACO, TX - JANUARY 17:  Head coach Scott Drew of the Baylor Bears in the first half at Ferrell Center on January 17, 2017 in Waco, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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WACO, Texas — Johnathan Motley had 21 points with 16 rebounds and No. 9 Baylor ended a two-game slide with a 60-54 victory over Oklahoma on Tuesday night to remain in a tie for second place in the Big 12.

Baylor almost blew all of a 15-point lead in the second half, and held on even after not making a field goal in the last 6 minutes

Oklahoma used a 21-8 run to get within 49-47 on Jamuni McNeace’s jumper with 9:21 left. But Manu Lecomte then hit consecutive 3-pointers for the Bears, though those were more than 2 minutes apart and their last field goals.

The Bears (23-5, 10-5) stayed even with No. 12 West Virginia and Iowa State in the conference standings with three games left in the regular season. Baylor’s Big 12 title hopes likely ended with a 67-65 home loss Saturday to No. 3 Kansas (24-3, 12-2).

Kansas, which is home Wednesday night against TCU, is one win from guaranteeing at least a share of its 13th consecutive Big 12 title.

Kameron McGusty had 13 points to lead the Sooners (9-18, 3-12), and was the only one of seven players who scored in their big run to make multiple baskets. His 3-pointer started the big spurt.

Lecomte finished with 11 points, while Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. had 11 points and nine rebounds for Baylor.

Oklahoma’s only lead in the first half came when Rashard Odomes converted a three-point play for a 3-2 lead only 45 seconds into the game. Motley made a tying free throw right after that before Lual-Acuil’s jumper made it 5-3.

The Sooners had scoring droughts of 5 and 3 minutes in the first half, when Lecomte, Lual-Acuil and King McClure all had 3-pointers in an 11-0 Baylor spurt that made it 22-7.

BIG PICTURE

Oklahoma: Lon Kruger will have to wait until another game for a chance to get his 600th career victory. After an NCAA Final Four appearance last season, these young Sooners, with 11 underclassmen and less than two weeks after losing senior Jordan Woodard to a torn ACL, still have some work to do to avoid the team’s first last-place finish in the Big 12.

Baylor: The Bears again made things much harder on themselves than necessary, though they did hold on to win this time. After taking a 41-26 lead early in the second half following a 3 by Motley, the Bears couldn’t build on that momentum and were in a struggle for much of the second half. Baylor was outscored 8-0 in the last 3 1/2 minutes of their home loss to Kansas on Saturday.

UP NEXT

Oklahoma: Home against Kansas State, the alma mater of Kruger, a two-time Big Eight Player of the Year for the Wildcats in 1973 and 1974.

Baylor: At Iowa State on Saturday. The Bears beat Iowa State 65-63 in their first Big 12 home game Jan. 4.