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.

Report: Western Kentucky’s Lamonte Bearden staying in 2018 NBA Draft

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Western Kentucky guard Lamonte Bearden will stay in the 2018 NBA Draft after hiring an agent, according to a report from ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The 6-foot-3 Bearden just completed his redshirt junior season with the Hilltoppers as he averaged 11.8 points, 3.4 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game. A slippery guard with good size, Bearden shot 47 percent from the field and 82 percent from the charity stripe while also getting in the passing lanes for 1.7 steals per game.

Although Bearden has good size and athleticism at lead guard, his perimeter jumper has been inconsistent during his college career. He was 31 percent from three-point range (a career high) this past season. Starting his college career at Buffalo, Bearden helped lead the Bulls to the NCAA tournament before opting to play in Conference USA for Western Kentucky.

The Hilltoppers will certainly miss Bearden’s presence in their backcourt as the program has seven new players signed for next season.

USC makes a statement landing Class of 2019 four-star forward Isaiah Mobley

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USC ended a strong week of recruiting with another major statement on Friday afternoon as four-star Class of 2019 forward Isaiah Mobley pledged to the Trojans.

The second major Class of 2019 commitment for USC during the week, the 6-foot-9 power forward joins five-star big man Onyeka Okongwu. The Compton Magic teammates should be able to help replace the loss of Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu, with Mobley playing the skilled, floor-spacing Boatwright’s role and Okongwu providing the interior energy of Metu.

Having two highly-touted big men commit in the same week is huge for USC. And it looks like the start of even bigger things in a continually-evolving SoCal recruiting war against Pac-12 rival UCLA.

Landing both Mobley and Okongwu is significant for the Trojans for a number of reasons. As previously mentioned, both come from the famous Compton Magic grassroots program that runs on the adidas Gauntlet. While landing AAU teammates from a regional program is common for high-major programs of USC’s stature, the commitments signify that the Trojans are the ones with the biggest pull with the Magic at the current moment.

And the Magic used to get raided by UCLA.

In the past few years, the Bruins signed T.J. Leaf, Ike Anigbogu, Jaylen Hands and Jalen Hill from the Compton Magic. Now, it’s USC who looks to be in the driver’s seat recruiting the program.

The Trojans aren’t done, either.

Newly-hired USC assistant coach Eric Mobley is the father Isaiah Mobley, as well as five-star Class of 2020 big man Evan Mobley. As Rivals national recruiting analyst Eric Bossi noted in his story about Isaiah, “Barring something strange happening, look for the younger Mobley to join his brother and father by committing to USC within the next two weeks.”

That would mean the Trojans would have landed three top-30 caliber big men in the span of a few weeks. That allows the USC coaching staff to recruit other positions extremely hard. Outside of Kentucky, USC has arguably the best future recruiting status of any program in the country.

The Trojans have taken full advantage of UCLA letting go popular assistant coach David Grace. The Bruins are still pulling in top-100 prospects, as evidenced by Grant Sherfield and Jaime Jaquez’s commitments in the Class of 2019, but losing two Magic kids in a week to a rival has to sting.

Considering where USC was last fall with the FBI investigation, who saw this type of recruiting swing coming? Other programs involved in the investigation like Arizona, Auburn and Oklahoma State have landed solid recruits. They also haven’t pulled in nearly the high-level talent that the Trojans currently have committed.

Even amidst the uncertainty surrounding the FBI investigation, USC is still pulling in elite talent while beating local rivals. It’ll be fascinating to see if the Trojans can continue to recruit at this level as they try to fill out the rest of an important recruiting class.

USF signs Oklahoma State transfer Zack Dawson

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USF landed a major addition on Friday as the school announced the signing of Oklahoma State transfer guard Zack Dawson.

The 6-foot-3 Dawson is a former consensus top-100 prospect coming out of high school as he’ll have to sit out the 2018-19 season due to NCAA transfer rules. A native of the region, Dawson will have three years of eligibility remaining once he’s able to play again.

Dismissed from Oklahoma State on Dec. 14 for violating team rules, Dawson averaged 4.4 points and1.6 assists per contest as he only suited up in five games for the Cowboys. Once Dawson is eligible to play for USF, he gives the Bulls a potentially dynamic backcourt along with rising sophomore guard David Collins.

“We are excited to welcome Zack back home to Florida as a member of the Bulls family,” USF head coach Brian Gregory said in a release. “He is a dynamic and versatile guard who can impact the game in a variety of ways. Zack comes from one of the best high school programs in the state, South Miami High School, so he immediately brings a championship attitude here to the University of South Florida.”

This is a really nice pickup for the Bulls, as they utilized a local transfer to help bolster the roster. Landing top-100 kids out of high school is going to be tough until USF boosts its basketball credibility. But getting a former top-100 player on the transfer market is a solid approach to building the Bulls into a respectable threat.

Michael Porter Jr.: ‘I’m the best player in this draft’

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The more I think about it, the more that Michael Porter Jr. is becoming the most interesting prospect at the top of the 2018 NBA Draft.

As a high school senior, he was considered by many to be the top player in the class, a 6-foot-10 combo-forward with a lethal three-point shot, NBA dunk contest athleticism and the versatility to, one day, be a multi-positional defender that would seamlessly fit into fit into the modern NBA.

But his one and only season at Missouri was derailed by back surgery, and that has allowed the rest of the class of 2017 to shine while we have focused on everything else that comes with drafting Porter. The reputation that he had for the majority of his high school career of being soft. The intel that was coming out of Missouri, that he was cocky and arrogant and something of a bad teammate. Questions about whether or not he is truly a wing or a four, more like a more athletic Lauri Markkanen.

When the only thing that we’ve had a chance to see this season is an out-of-shape Porter struggling in postseason games, it shouldn’t really be a surprise that his hype train has derailed.

“I know without a doubt that I’m the — I played against all these guys, they’re all great players — but I’m the best player in this draft,” Porter told ESPN. “And I just can’t wait to show what I’m capable of.”

And therein lies the conundrum for any team drafting him.

I have little doubt that Porter is going to be able to score and score a lot in the NBA. I think he and Bagley are the safest bets to average 20 points at the NBA level before their rookie contract runs out.

But putting up points and playing on winning basketball teams are not one and the same. For a ten-year stretch after his rookie season, Rudy Gay averaged at least 17.2 points while making the playoffs once during that stretch. Is that what Porter is going to turn into at the next level? Or will be find a way to become the kind of NBA defender his athleticism says he should be and, by the time he signs his first contract extension, end up the player that Paul George is?

The mitigating factor here is that Porter is going to do a fantastic job in every interview he has. He’s an intelligent, charismatic and articulate kid that is going to be able to sell himself. The red flags that he has aren’t going to show when he’s sitting down in front of NBA general managers.

They would have shown up — or been written off — if there was a season’s worth of game-tape available, but there isn’t. What that means is that scouts are going to have to decide whether or not Porter, who by all accounts had a very impressive senior season in high school, is that player or the one that had the reputation for being soft for years before that.

And all of that is going to come after the doctor’s have a chance to examine his back to see if the surgery he underwent fixed what was wrong, or if this is the kind of situation where a recurrence is likely.

The result is the widest range for any player at the top of the draft.

He could sell someone on taking him as a top four pick. He could also slide his way down to the Knicks at No. 9 or the 76ers at No. 10.

Which is what makes him the most interesting prospect at the top of this draft.

P.J. Washington ‘definitely going back to school’ without first round guarantee

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Kentucky forward P.J. Washington is one of the handful of players that currently finds themselves in the tenuous position of having their name in the NBA draft pool without having a clear picture of where, exactly, they are going to end up getting picked.

Will they be a late-first round pick? Will he be an early second round pick? Will he even be drafted at all?

Washington told reporters at the NBA combine this week that, if he’s a first round pick, he’ll be heading to the NBA. If he only gets a second round guarantee, he’ll be returning to school.

As we detailed last week, getting selected in the second round does not mean a player is destined to end up being broke his first year out of school. In the last six drafts, only one college player picked in the top ten picks of the second round (31-40) did not receive a guaranteed contract. In the 2017 NBA Draft, every college player selected in the top 50 received a guaranteed deal of at least one year, and Thomas Bryant was the only player whose one-year guaranteed deal was at the league minimum.

That doesn’t mean that Washington should leave Kentucky if he’s going to be a second round pick. If he returns to school, becomes a 42 percent three-point shooter (and can make free throws) and proves that he’s more versatile defensively than he was his year, then he could move up into the first round in a weaker 2019 draft.

It’s a risk for him, financially, to leave after this year if he doesn’t get that first round guarantee. It’s also a risk to return to school, where the best-case scenario isn’t always what happens.

I don’t envy the decision he has to make, but I am glad that Washington will have every chance in the world to be informed about the decision.