Outlook: The center position is probably the most balanced spot on the floor in this tournament. It certainly isn’t a weak spot for any of the Final Four teams, and it can be considered a strength for all but Butler. Like the small forwards, the centers are going to be an x-factor. Who stays out of foul trouble? Who is effective on the glass? Who is hitting their free throws? Things like that may end up determining some of these outcomes.
Ranking the Cs:
1) Jamie Skeen, VCU: Skeen may not be the best center out of this group. Hell, he may not even technically be a center. But when VCU has their best lineup on the floor, it is Skeen that makes them so dangerous. At 6’8″ and 235 lb, Skeen has the size to matchup up inside with just about any college big man. He can defend on the block, he can rebound the ball, and he also has a solid back-to-the-basket game. But where he is valuable for the Rams in on the perimeter. He is a very good three point shooter, which means that when he is on the floor with four guards, VCU can really spread the floor. It creates driving lanes and space in the paint when Skeen’s man covers him, but if Skeen’s man doesn’t come out, he’ll knock down threes the entire game.
2) Alex Oriakhi and Charles Okwandu, UConn: Oriakhi can be a dominating interior presence. When he is playing well, he’s a monster on the offensive glass. At 6’9″ and 240 lbs of solid muscle, Oriakhi just carves out space. His back-to-the-basket game is essentially limited to a drop step and a lefty jump hook that he can hit at a pretty consistent rate. On the offensive glass, he not only comes up with a lot of rebounds, but he keeps so many balls alive by tipping them back out to UConn’s guards. The problem? Oriakhi can disappear at times. Sometimes its due to foul trouble, but sometimes its simply just a lack of effort or focus. Okwandu is a legitimate seven footer, but he doesn’t provide much more than the occasional block, offensive rebound, and layup.
3) Josh Harrellson, Kentucky: The Kentucky center has been a revelation this season. Prior to this year, Harrellson played spot minutes for the Wildcats, spending as much time in the doghouse as he did on the court. The only reason he saw minutes early on this season was because Enes Kanter was not given eligibility by the NCAA. The only reason he is in shape is that John Calipari opted to run him through half hour conditioning sessions instead of kicking him off the team as the result of an inappropriate tweet earlier in the season. And through all of that, Harrellson has thrived. He’s scoring, he’s rebounding the ball, he’s beating people down the floor in transition. Harrellson is not that talented or athletic, but he works as hard as any big man in the country.
4) Andrew Smith, Butler: Smith came out of no where last season during Butler’s run to the title game when he played a number of crucial minutes against Kansas State. This year he has emerged as a solid low post threat and someone that can matchup, size wise, with bigger front lines. Smith will be at a bit of a disadvantage when Butler plays VCU — he won’t be able to matchup with Skeen on the perimeter — but if Butler advances to face UConn or Kentucky, Smith will be a crucial piece.
Future Pros: Alex Oriakhi appears to be the best prospect of this group. He’s the biggest, he’s the most athletic, and he has the most upside. He probably isn’t even going to be a lottery pick and may never go in the first round of the draft, but Oriakhi could one day end up playing a role similar to that of a Paul Millsap or a Brandon Bass.
Josh Harrellson and Jamie Skeen, both seniors, have an outside shot of latching on with an NBA team, but it will be a longshot. Harrellson has the size of an NBA center, but he is no where near athletic enough and does not have the kind of back to the basket game you look for. Skeen lacks some size and athleticism as well, but his ability to shoot is intriguing.
Essential to winning a title?: The center spot is going to be quite important to winning a title. Like I said earlier, this may end up being the x-factor position. Alex Oriakhi and Josh Harrellson can be difference makers for their respective teams. Jamie Skeen is the guy that makes VCU’s offense that dangerous. Andrew Smith’s size will be important, especially if Butler makes the final.