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

AP photo

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.

AP photo

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.


source: Getty Images
Getty Images
  • 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.

Brunson scores 18 points, No. 8 Villanova beats Stanford

Jalen Brunson
Associated Press
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NEW YORK (AP) Villanova struggled to score and rebound on Thursday night.

The Wildcats’ defense was good enough to still get a win.

No. 8 Villanova compensated for offensive and rebounding struggles by forcing 23 turnovers in a 59-45 victory over Stanford in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tipoff.

“We played pretty good defense but couldn’t rebound with them,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “It was one of those nights we couldn’t make shots but hung in there defensively. Their rebounding was almost a difference maker but thank God it wasn’t.”

The Wildcats (5-0) advanced to face Georgia Tech in the championship game Friday.

Villanova won despite shooting 30.6 percent and getting outrebounded by a 55-35 margin against an opponent starting three players 6-foot-8 or taller. The Wildcats started one player taller than 6-6 but compensated for the size differential by holding Stanford to 26 percent from the floor.

“I didn’t think it would be this ugly on the boards but if we could have made a couple of shots it might not have been as ugly,” Wright said. “But I was proud the guys really grinded defensively.”

Freshman Jalen Brunson was one of few Wildcats not to struggle offensively and scored a career-high 18 points. Josh Hart added 10 points but was 4-for-13 shooting and combined with Ryan Arcidiacono to shoot 6 of 24, including 1 of 15 from 3-point range.

“I was doing what I always do,” Brunson said. “I try to play aggressive all the time. I saw they were backing off me a little bit so there is time for me to shoot and time for me to make other plays.”

Leading scorer Marcus Allen had 12 points but was 3 for 12 for Stanford (2-3). Dorian Pickens added 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Stanford lost its third straight by double digits and will face Arkansas in the consolation game. The Cardinal missed their first 15 shots of the game and their first eight attempts of the second half while falling behind by 16.

Stanford was within seven on a basket by Reid Travis with 6:34 remaining, but Villanova scored the next six points and finished the game with a 13-6 run.

“They’re a very good defensive team, they’re active and they made a lot of plays,” Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said. “The thing we did most was we turned the ball over 23 times, so that was disappointing.”


Villanova: Seven of Villanova’s school-record 33 wins came in New York last season. The Wildcats won twice in the Legends Classic at Barclays Center, beat St. John’s and Illinois during the regular season at Madison Square Garden and won three games there for the Big East Tournament championship. … Guards Arcidiacono and Hart combined to miss their first 11 3-point attempts. Arcidiacono came into the game shooting 44 percent from 3-point range while Hart entered at 45 percent. … Darryl Reynolds tied a career high with 19 minutes, getting most of those in the second half after Daniel Ochefu picked up his fourth foul.

Stanford: Thursday was Stanford’s 13th game in New York since 2011-12. Last year, the Cardinal appeared in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, beating UNLV and losing to eventual national champion Duke. … Stanford faced Villanova for the second time. The other meeting was a 96-70 Cardinal loss on Dec. 23, 1970. … Stanford missed 12 layups and tip-ins during the first half. … Allen hit his head on the court trying to deflect the ball on a layup by Hart. Dawkins said Allen was a little dizzy but didn’t think the junior would miss any time.


Villanova: Georgia Tech in the championship game on Friday.

Stanford: Arkansas in the consolation game on Friday.

Justin Robinson, Monmouth knock off No. 17 Notre Dame

King Rice
Associated Press
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Less than two weeks after they opened their season with an upset win at UCLA, Monmouth picked up its first-ever win over a team ranked in the AP Top 25.

Two Justin Robinson free throws with 3.6 seconds remaining proved to be the difference as King Rice’s Hawks upset No. 17 Notre Dame at the Advocare Invitational in Orlando, and the diminutive point guard was a problem for the Fighting Irish all night.

Robinson scored 22 points, with 14 of them coming from the foul line as Notre Dame’s guards struggled to keep the quick guard contained off the dribble. He was one of three Hawks to score in double figures, and their combination of depth and athleticism proved problematic for Mike Brey’s team. All five Notre Dame starters scored in double figures, with Demetrius Jackson’s 20 leading the way, but the lack of depth proved problematic as the game wore on.

Notre Dame didn’t get a single point from its bench, with Matt Farrell and Matt Ryan combining to play 28 minutes. That lack of depth not only cost Notre Dame Thursday night, but it’s something they’ll have to figure out if they’re to be a contender in the ACC. Jackson and Steve Vasturia ran into foul trouble against Monmouth, and the lack of a bench option capable of picking up the slack led to Monmouth building up a ten-point lead in the second half.

Notre Dame tried to account for that by slowing down the tempo, but in doing so they struggled to find quality looks against the Monmouth defense. And given the players at Rice’s disposal, it’s tough to slow the game down against a team that can get after you on both ends of the floor.

Monmouth entered this season with expectations of contending for a MAAC title alongside the likes of perennial favorites Iona and Manhattan, and their start to the season backs up that belief. With two players in Robinson and Deon Jones who have earned all-conference honors during their careers and a host of contributors that includes guards Je’lon Hornbeak and Micah Seaborn, this is a group to keep an eye on as the season wears on.

Because if they can earn a bid, Monmouth’s non-conference schedule will have them prepared for the NCAA tournament.