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.

Big 12 Preview: Death, taxes and Kansas winning the league?

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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 Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

When it comes to the Big 12 there’s been one constant in the standings of late: Kansas at the head of the pack. Bill Self’s program has won eight straight Big 12 regular season titles, and even with the departure of Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor it’s reached a point where you simply pick the Jayhawks to win the league until someone proves otherwise.

Seniors Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford and Jeff Withey will be asked to lead a large but talented group of newcomers, and if they can do that a ninth straight title is well within Kansas’ reach. But they won’t lack for challengers either, with Scott Drew’s Baylor Bears looking to be the team best equipped to take down Kansas. Point guard Pierre Jackson was one of the best lead guards in the country last season, and if the young bigs are ready to contribute Baylor will once again factor into the Big 12 race.

Kansas State has a new head coach in Bruce Weber but a number of their key contributors from last season are back, and there’s reason for optimism at Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and West Virginia as well. And if Iowa State can properly account for the many things that Royce White provided last season the Cyclones will be heard from as well. Here’s a look at the Big 12 in 2012-13.

Five Things to Know

1. Realignment. The Big 12 will once again be a ten-team league, but replacing Missouri and Texas A&M (both are now in the SEC) are TCU and West Virginia. West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins coached a season in the Big 12 at Kansas State before returning to his alma mater, and Trent Johnson takes over at TCU after coaching the last four years at LSU.

2. Only three players who made the league’s all-conference teams at the end of last season are back in 2012-13: Baylor point guard Pierre Jackson, Kansas center Jeff Withey and Kansas State shooting guard Rodney McGruder.

3. Texas Tech ended the Billy Gillispie saga this fall, with Chris Walker gets the promotion to interim head coach. Luckily for the Red Raiders forward Jordan Tolbert, who led the team in scoring and rebounding last season, returns for his sophomore campaign but it’s going to be a tough 2012-13 season for a team that doesn’t match up talent-wise in the deep Big 12.

4. Kansas returns three starters from last season’s national runner-up (Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford and Jeff Withey), but outside of those three the cupboard is bare from an experience standpoint. Freshmen Perry Ellis and Andrew White are two of the newcomers expected to contribute immediately and the same goes for Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor, who had to sit out all of last season for academic issues.

5. Oklahoma State still has the ability to be a promising team this season, thanks in part to the arrival of freshman Marcus Smart. But with Brian Williams (wrist) done for the season and J.P. Olukemi both recovering from a torn ACL and hoping to be cleared by the NCAA to play this season there are questions in regards to backcourt depth.

Impact Newcomers

Ben McLemore and Perry Ellis (Kansas)
The Jayhawks are going to need contributions from their freshmen in order to win a ninth consecutive Big 12 title, and McLemore and Ellis are two of the key first-year players. McLemore has the advantage of being a part of the program last season even though he wasn’t cleared to play, and the versatile shooting guard was a Top 20 prospect coming out of high school. Ellis was one of the top prospects in the 2012 class and should earn major minutes with Thomas Robinson now in the NBA.

Isaiah Austin and Rico Gathers (Baylor)
Baylor lost a lot in the paint from last season, but two of the reasons why the Bears are seen by many as Kansas’ biggest challenger are Austin Gathers. Austin is a 7-footer who is more comfortable facing up, and he’s got range out beyond the three-point arc. As for Gathers, his frame makes him an incredibly difficult match-up for opponents and should serve the Bears well this season.

Georges Niang (Iowa State)
Two of Niang’s high school teammates at both the Tilton School and BABC: Nerlens Noel and Wayne Selden. That led to far too many people overlooking the Cyclone freshman, who would simply go about his business in regards to both points and rebounds. Fred Hoiberg has himself a player who could eventually be an All-Big 12 player before his career ends.

Amath M’Baye (Oklahoma)
One thing that Oklahoma sorely needed last season was depth, especially in the front court. Enter M’Baye, who began his college career at Wyoming and is expected to have a significant impact in his first season of play at Oklahoma. As a sophomore the 6-9 M’Baye averaged 12.0 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, and he’ll form a nice partnership with senior Romero Osby inside.

Aaric Murray and Juwan Staten (West Virginia)
With Truck Bryant and Kevin Jones out of eligibility the Mountaineers needed players ready to step up. So how about two experienced transfers from the Atlantic 10? Murray, who began his career at La Salle, was a bit of an enigma at times in Philadelphia but there’s no denying his talent. And former Dayton point guard Staten is capable of hitting the ground running this season.

Other newcomers of note: F Will Clyburn and G Korie Lucious (Iowa State), C Aaron Durley (TCU), G Javan Felix and C Cameron Ridley (Texas), G L.J. Rose (Baylor), F Andrew White (Kansas).

Breakout Players

F Romero Osby (Oklahoma)
Osby averaged 12.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in his first season with the Sooners after starting his college career at Mississippi State. Even with the presence of M’Baye and senior guard Steven Pledger, Osby is talented enough to become an All-Big 12 player in his senior campaign.

C Jeff Withey (Kansas)
Withey is well-known, and his work on the defensive end was one reason why the Jayhawks were able to get to the Final Four. But with Robinson and Taylor gone there will be more on his plate offensively, something Withey prepared for this offseason. If Withey can adjust to the changes he’s a player who can earn All-America honors.

G Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State)
After Frank Martin left to take the head coaching job at South Carolina, there was some concern that Rodriguez would leave as well. But the point guard decided to remain in the Little Apple, and along with Rodney McGruder forms one of the best guard tandems in the Big 12. If Rodriguez can improve his turnover percentage (28% last season) there’s no doubt that the Wildcats can return to the NCAA tournament in Bruce Weber’s first season.

G Sheldon McClellan (Texas)
With J’Covan Brown gone who gets to assume the role of Texas’ primary scoring option on the wing? That will likely be McClellan, who averaged 11.3 points and shot 44.8% from the field in his freshman campaign. More will be asked of both he and Myck Kabongo as the Longhorns look to make a move in the Big 12 standings.

F Melvin Ejim (Iowa State)
No more Royce White, who was not only the Big 12’s top newcomer but also Iowa State’s leader in just about every statistical category. That’s an awful lot to replace and one player who will be asked to provide more is Ejim, who accounted for 9.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game last season. The Cyclones have other guys who can handle the distribution role (Korie Lucious being one) left vacant by White’s departure, but when it comes to rebounding Ejim should be first in line.

Coach under pressure: Travis Ford (Oklahoma State) 
To be fair Ford did lead the Cowboys to the NCAA tournament in each of his first two seasons in Stillwater. But if Oklahoma State were to miss the Big Dance for the third straight season with this group the natives may begin to ask questions. Unfortunately Oklahoma State lost their best perimeter defender in Brian Williams and there’s still no word on JP Olukemi’s appeal, but with the talent remaining Ford has a group that many will expect to earn an NCAA bid.

Player of the Year: PG Pierre Jackson (Baylor)  
Jackson hit the ground running in his first season in Waco, averaging 13.8 points and 5.9 assists per game in helping to lead the Bears to the Elite 8. With names such as Perry Jones III, Quincy Acy and Quincy Miller gone Baylor will be young inside, which likely means even more scoring responsibilities for Jackson on the perimeter. He’s more than capable of handling a heavier workload this season.

All-Conference Team 

G Pierre Jackson (Baylor)*
G Rodney McGruder (Kansas State)
G/F Le’Bryan Nash (Oklahoma State)
F Romero Osby (Oklahoma)
C Jeff Withey (Kansas)

Predicted Finish

1. Kansas– A lot of new pieces but three key veterans return, and at this point it’s difficult to pick anyone but the Jayhawks to win the conference
2. Baylor– The Bears lost an awful lot inside but the combination of a deep backcourt and some talented freshmen make Baylor the biggest threat to Kansas
3. Kansas State– Bruce Weber has a nice stable of talent at his disposal in his first season in Manhattan
4. Oklahoma State– the backcourt depth has taken a serious hit, but the presence of Marcus Smart, Le’Bryan Nash and Markel Brown make the Cowboys a tough out
5. West Virginia– Huggins has both Aaric Murray and Deniz Kilicli inside, and if Juwan Staten can mesh with the returning guards (including Jabarie Hinds) WVU will dance again
6. Texas– If the freshmen are able to contribute Rick Barnes has a team capable of finishing in the top half of the standings
7. Oklahoma– Lon Kruger wants his team play faster, and unlike last season the Sooners have the talent and depth needed to do so
8. Iowa State– Korie Lucious will run the point for the Cyclones, who will need to account for the departure of Royce White
9. TCU– Trent Johnson picked up a big win on the recruiting trail with Karviar Shepherd, but those wins will be few and far between on the court this season
10. 9. Texas Tech– Jordan Tolbert remaining in Lubbock may not be enough to get the Red Raiders out of the Big 12 cellar

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Top 25 Countdown: No. 10 Baylor Bears

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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 Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 30-8, 12-6 Big 12 (t-3rd); Lost to Kentucky in the Elite 8

Head Coach: Scott Drew

Key Losses: Perry Jones III, Quincy Acy, Quincy Miller

Newcomers: Isaiah Austin, Ricardo Gathers, LJ Rose, Chad Rykhoek, Taurean Prince

Projected Lineup:

G: Pierre Jackson, Sr.
G: Brady Heslip, Jr.
F: Deuce Bello, So.
F: Ricardo Gathers, Fr.
C: Isaiah Austin, Fr.
Bench: LJ Rose, Fr.; AJ Walton, Sr.; Cory Jefferson, Jr.; J’Mison Morgan, Sr.; Gary Franklin, Jr.

Outlook: Baylor is coming off of a weird season. They won 30 games and made it all the way to the Elite 8 before losing to the eventual national champions. But anyone you ask will tell you that the Bears were an utter disappointment last year. That’s what happens when you have a front line that includes Perry Jones III, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy and spend the season on the outside looking in when it comes to the conversation for the elite teams nationally.

Think about it like this: Baylor went 1-6 against Kansas, Missouri and Kentucky last season and finished 29-2 against the rest of the country. That trip to the Elite 8? It consisted of wins over No. 14 South Dakota State, No. 11 Colorado (who finished sixth in the Pac-12), and No. 10 Xavier, who disappointed all season long and beat Lehigh to make the Sweet 16.

So why should we trust a team that disappointed for all of 2012 and saw four of its top six scorers leave?

It’s simple: Pierre Jackson.

Believe it or not, Jackson actually led the Bears in scoring last season while finishing third in the Big 12 is assists and second in steals. He may stand just 5-foot-10 on a good day, but he’s as athletic as any back court player in the country. He can get into the paint and finish amongst the trees, he can drive to create and he can hit threes. Defensively, his diminutive size and his quickness make him a pest on the ball.

That’s all well and good, but the reason that I think Jackson can carry this team is that he wants to be ‘the man’. Last season, it was Jackson with the ball in his hands at crunch time and Jackson who was taking last-second shots. The problem, however, was that everyone — including the Baylor coaching staff — wanted, expected and hoped that PJ3 would eventually figure it out and live up to his immense potential. I think that hindered Jackson, but with a young team sitting squarely on his shoulders this year, I’m expecting big things. I think he’ll have a senior season similar to that of Jacob Pullen and Sherron Collins.

Jackson will have plenty of backcourt support. Junior Brady Heslip is one of the most dangerous shooters in the country, knocking down threes at a 45.5% clip last season. AJ Walton and Gary Franklin are veterans that can score but are turnover prone, and their minutes may get taken by freshman LJ Rose is Rose can perform well. Baylor played some of their best basketball last season when they went with a three-guard set, and that may be the case again this season. One guy to keep an eye on this year will be Deuce Bello, a 6-foot-3, former top 50 shooting guard. Bello is renowned for his dunking ability, but the rest of his game is still catching up to his athleticism.

The good news for Jackson is that, once again, Scott Drew has brought in a talented recruiting class. It’s headlined by a pair of big men that could very well slide into Drew’s starting lineup. The biggest name is the biggest player on the roster, 7-foot-1 Isaiah Austin, a top ten recruit nationally. Austin is similar to PJ3 is that he’s a perimeter-oriented player, with the handle and range of a two-guard. The knock on his throughout his high school career was that he wasn’t tough enough to play in the paint at a high level, but there are signs that he addressed that before he graduated.

And even if he didn’t, the Bears will have some muscle around the basket. Ricardo Gathers is a bullying, 6-foot-7 forward from Louisiana that was a four-star recruit. Joining them up front will be junior Cory Jefferson and senior J’Mison Morgan.

Predictions?: This season hinges on two things for the Bears: how much of an impact those freshmen big men will have and just how good Pierre Jackson truly is. If Jackson has a Big 12 Player of the Year caliber season and Austin and Gathers both end up being good enough to deserve consideration for all-Big 12 honors, Baylor will be one of the best teams in the Big 12.

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

Big 12 coaches name Baylor’s Pierre Jackson preseason player of the year

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With practices just over a week away conferences are beginning to release their coaches and media polls for the upcoming season.

The Big 12 picked its preseason Player of the Year on Thursday, and for the second consecutive season the choice is a Baylor Bear.

Senior point guard Pierre Jackson, who was a second team All-Big 12 and Honorable Mention All-America selection last season, is the coaches’ choice to win Big 12 Player of the Year in 2012-13.

Jackson averaged 13.8 points and 5.9 assists per game for the Bears, who reached the Elite 8 for the second time in three years (and in both instances they lost to the eventual national champion).

But of the five players named to the coaches’ preseason All-Big 12 team Jackson wasn’t one of the three unanimous selections.

Those were Kansas center Jeff Withey, Kansas State guard Rodney McGruder and Oklahoma State guard/forward Le’Bryan Nash. Texas sophomore point guard Myck Kabongo rounded out the team.

The honorable mention selections for the preseason All-Big 12 team are: forward Isaiah Austin (Baylor), guard Elijah Johnson (Kansas), forward Romero Osby (Oklahoma), guard Steven Pledger (Oklahoma), guard Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State) and guard Sheldon McClellan (Texas).

Smart was also the pick for Preseason Freshman of the Year honors, and Oklahoma forward Amath M’Baye (transfer from Wyoming) was the coaches’ Preseason Newcomer of the Year selection.

But back to Jackson for a moment, as being named preseason Player of the Year wasn’t the lone honor he received on Thursday.

With Perry Jones III, who was the preseason choice to win Player of the Year heading into last season, Quincy Acy, Quincy Miller and Anthony Jones all leaving Baylor will rely on some young talent inside.

But Scott Drew can take solace in the fact that he’s got one of the nation’s best running the show.

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

The impact freshman of the 2012-13 season

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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.

Every season since the NBA implemented the one-year rule, college basketball fans have been treated to a plethora of freshman that jump on the scene and immediately make their presence known. Some stay for only one year, some stay for more. Here’ a list of players you may and may not know, but all are equally deserving of your attention when it comes to making an impact for their teams during the 2012-13 season.

THE ONES YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT

Alex Poythress – Kentucky

-Not the Big Blue Big Man you were expecting, huh? We’ve all heard about Nerlens Noel, from his raw offensive skill set to his Anthony Davis-clone defensive abilities. If that’s the case, Noel will get all the on-court attention from opponents, allowing Poythress to have a chance to get some spotlight. He’s got the penetration game and the build (6-8, 200) that screams “the next great John Calipari-coached combo forward.” With all the other incoming talent, he’s going to have to battle for buckets, but if you look at the skills coming in, the measurables and Cal’s history, Poythress fits the mold to possibly be another lottery pick out of Kentucky.

Kyle Anderson – UCLA

-No, this isn’t because Shabazz Muhammad isn’t eligible yet. He may be getting all the publicity, but the one thing Ben Howland’s best UCLA teams had were pass-first players he could rely on — Jordan Farmar, Darren Collison — which makes Anderson so crucial. He was by-far the best passer of the 2012 class and if he has a legitimate freshman campaign he’s probably only going to last for one season, anyway. He’s got the frame at 6-8, 215 and the vision to find anyone on the court. If he can average 6-8 assists and keep all those weapons — assuming Muhammad gets cleared — happy, he’ll be the reason Ben Howland gets deep into March.

Marcus Smart – Oklahoma State

-Teamed with LeBryan Nash, the 6-3, 200-pound Smart may be the missing piece for the most potent 1-2 punch in the  Big 12. The Cowboys aren’t long on guard depth this season, so expect Smart to start and play a lot of minutes, which in turn means he’ll have to minimize turnovers. He could be the difference between an NIT or an NCAA Tournament berth. I fully expect a first-team All-Big 12 season from him.

Perry Ellis – Kansas

-No one can replace Thomas Robinson. But someone has to fill his spot, and that’s probably going to have to be Ellis, ready or not. The 6-8, 225-pounder is going to be the relief to what might be the most bruise-filled season in Jeff Withey’s career. Ellis can do everything that T-Rob did, only obviously on a more raw level. There’s no better option at power forward. Could contend for as much as second-team All-Big 12.

Isaiah Austin – Baylor

Another tall, lanky power forward with wing skills that coach Scott Drew can find infinite uses for. It’s the cornerstone of the Drew attack and whoever is in that spot is almost guaranteed to be in the NBA after college under Drew (Quincy Acy, Perry Jones III, Ekpe Udou). Austin is this year’s lucky future millionaire. The 7-0, 210-pounder has such a skill set that some pundits were calling him a top pick if had been eligible for the 2012 Draft. He’s going to have to fill those voids left by Acy and Jones and is expected to use that length to catch a ton of lobs from Pierre Jackson.

THE ONES YOU’RE NOT TALKING ABOUT

Jordan Burgess – VCU

Burgess, 6-4, 210, will step into a loaded roster and has the expectations to fill his older brother Bradford’s shoes. He was the no. 100 player in Scout.com’s 2012 rankings and by all accounts, he’s got the exact same skill set that helped his older brother lead the Rams to a Final Four and two CAA tournament championships. He already knows what Shaka Smart expects.

C.J. Ford – Murray State

Murray State can’t survive on Isaiah Canaan alone, and that was supposed to be a question answered by Zay Jackson. But now Jackson appears to be facing a tough road back after being suspended following an incident this summer. Enter Ford, 6-1, 180, who has the tools to help fill the void left by the graduation of guards Jewaun Long and Donte Poole.

Semaj Christon – Xavier

He had a high-enough recruiting ranking to get his publicity, but unless you were a hardcore Recruitnik, Christon wasn’t a name up there with the Noels and Muhammads of 2012. If there ever was a freshman that I’d have to bet my life on to play early and often, Christon is most definitely it. Mark Lyons gets dismissed, heads to Arizona. Dez Wells gets expelled, he’s off to Maryland. Then freshman Myles Davis was declared a Prop 48, so Chris Mack will need the 6-3, 182-pound point guard to adjust quickly. It wouldn’t shock me to see Christon play in the 33-36-minute range in 2012-13.

Nick Osborne – Loyola-Chicago

I took to Twitter to find a name or two I hadn’t thought of, and @Title_BU reminded of Osborne, who was first-team all-state in Indiana and rated as high as the no. 2 player in the state. He’s got the size (6-8, 220) to toss people around in a conference like The Horizon League and in signing with a team that went 7-17 overall and 1-17 in conference, he’s going to be a central part of the Ramblers rebuilding efforts under Porter Moser.

Danuel House – Houston

This was a bit of a coup for third-year coach James Dickey. House was a high-major recruit that was supposed to be a get for an Arizona, Missouri or Georgetown. But the 6-7, 195-pound House stuck with the Cougars and he’s the big name in their 2012 recruiting class. There’s a huge logjam behind Memphis in Conference USA and if there’s a player that doesn’t play for the Tigers that can challenge for conference Freshman of the Year, it’s House.

NAMES TO WATCH: SOME OBVIOUS, SOME NOT SO MUCH
Archie Goodwin, Kentucky; Nerlens Noel, Kentucky; Sam Dekker, Wisconsin; Mitch McGary, Michigan; Anthony Bennett, UNLV; Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA*; Shaquille Cleare, Maryland; Montrezl Harrell, Louisville; Kris Dunn, Providence; Rodney Purvis, North Carolina State; Gary Harris, Michigan State; Langston Morris-Walker, Oregon State; Kellen Dunham, Butler; D.J. Balentine, Evansville; Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State; E.J. Reed, Long Island.
*Yet to be declared eligible by NCAA.
David Harten is the editor of The Backboard Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

Memphis native Leron Black commits to Scott Drew and Baylor

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Scott Drew grabbed his first commitment from the Class of 2014 Monday, as Memphis native Leron Black pledged his named to Baylor, according to John Martin of the Commercial Appeal.

Black, a Top-25 prospect, continues Drew’s recent recruiting successes, which include a 2012 class that features Isaiah Austin, Ricardo Gathers, and LJ Rose.

“At first it was the religion,” Black told ESPN.com. “Then, second of all it was the basketball. They’ve been to the Elite Eight the past two years and this year they sent three players to the NBA. When I was on campus the academics were real good.”

“When I went on the unofficial, it was great,” Black continued. “It looked good and it’s the biggest Baptist school in the country and I’m a big Christian.”

At 6-7, 215 pounds, Black is another athletic forward that Drew can insert into his system, running the floor and attacking in transition.

Baylor finished 30-8 last season, including 12-6 in the Big 12, before losing to eventual national champion Kentucky in the Elite 8.

Though Perry Jones III, Quincy Miller, and Quincy Acy have left the team, point guard Pierre Jackson returns after averaging 13.3 points and 5.8 assists per game last season.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_