Position Rankings: The Top 20 Centers

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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.

The Top 10

1. Cody Zeller, Indiana: Zeller is the best player in the country, so it would only make sense that he tops a list of best centers. He’s amazing to watch on the offensive end of the floor, particularly when he runs the court in transition, but he’ll make the jump to elite when he improves on the defensive end of the floor.

2. Jeff Withey, Kansas: Withey is the best defensive center in the country. Period. He led the nation — including Anthony Davis — in block percentage last year, and could very well do the same this season. He’ll anchor what should once again be an elite defense for the Jayhawks.

3. Gorgui Dieng, Louisville: Like Withey, Dieng is the anchor for what should be one of the best defensive teams in the country. He’s a terrific rebounder and shotblocker, but he needs to continue to develop his offensive repertoire to be more than a catch-and-dunk threat.

4. Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota: Mbakwe is an interesting case. He averaged a double-double in 2010-2011, and was doing the same last season before he tore his ACL. This offseason, he’s been dealing with a bunch of legal issues, and while they have all apparently been settled, that’s a lot of distraction for a college student to deal with.

5. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky: Noel is the x-factor in these rankings. He could very well end up being the best center in the country if everything falls into place, but there are a couple of issues I think could inhibit that. He’s not as offensively gifted as Anthony Davis. He has another center that he’ll be sharing front court minutes with in Willie Cauley-Stein. And I’m still curious how Kentucky’s roster eventually comes together. But John Calipari’s last three center recruits have gone on to be top five picks, so we’ll see.

6. Mason Plumlee, Duke: I think Plumlee puts it together this season, maybe not to the point that he’s a lottery pick, but enough so that he can anchor Duke’s front line. He was a very good — albeit it somewhat inconsistent — rebounder and shotblocker last year, so if his offense comes around, he could end up being elite.

7. Patric Young, Florida: An overwhelming physical presence, Young has yet to turn those God-given gifts into consistent production; he averaged just 10 points and six boards a season ago. Is this the year that he finally lives up to that potential?

8. Jared Berggren, Wisconsin: There may not be a more underrated big man that Jared Berggren. He’s sneaky-good defensively and a pick-and-pop threat that is a perfect fit for Wisconsin’s swing offense. Here’s the question for Berggren this year: how much of his success on the offensive end last season was the result of playing with Jordan Taylor? Because with Taylor gone and Josh Gasser injured, Wisconsin is going to need someone to step up offensively.

9. Jack Cooley, Notre Dame: The kid that looks like Luke Harangody’s little brother has a chance to be the Big East Player of the Year this season. Cooley is a big-bodied center that is excellent playing his role as space-eater, rebounder, and picker-and-roller in Notre Dame’s ‘Burn’ offense.

10. Steven Adams, Pitt: There are some folks that think Adams is still a year or two away from being a real contributor for the Panthers, but I think Adams will end up being quite good for Jamie Dixon’s club. With Tray Woodall and Trey Ziegler in the back court, the Panthers will have enough scoring. All they need out of Adams is effort; defensively, on the glass, cutting to the rim. You don’t need to have your skills developed to play hard.

The Next 10

11. Khem Birch, UNLV
12. Reggie Johnson, Miami
13. Alex Oriakhi, Missouri
14. Alex Len, Maryland
15. Brandon Davies, BYU
16. Mike Muscala, Bucknell
17. Richard Howell, NC State
18. Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona
19. Gregory Echenique, Creighton
20. Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky)

The Best of the Rest: Julian Boyd (LIU-Brooklyn), Alec Brown (Green Bay), Rakeem Christmas (Syracuse), DaJuan Coleman (Syracuse), Erik Copes (George Mason), Jamelle Hagins (Delaware), Jordan Henriquez (Kansas State), Colton Iverson (Colorado State), Vander Joaquim (Hawaii), Przemek Karnowski (Gonzaga), Deniz Kilicli (West Virginia), Alex Kirk (New Mexico), Zeke Marshall (Akron), Derrick Nix (Michigan State), Adreian Payne (Michigan State), Cameron Ridley (Texas), Andrew Smith (Butler), Josh Smith (UCLA), Brad Waldow (St. Mary’s), Mouph Yarou (Villanova)

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

VIDEO: Mixtape for North Carolina-bound Nassir Little

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Nassir Little is one of the most improved players in the high school basketball ranks, going from being a guy that was a borderline five-star prospect to being a potential No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and athleticism to burn, he has all the makings of being one of the switchable wing defenders that are en vogue in the modern era of the NBA.

Former UNC star Phil Ford has surgery for prostate cancer

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina says former point guard Phil Ford has had surgery for prostate cancer.

Team spokesman Steve Kirschner said Wednesday that Ford underwent the procedure Tuesday after he was diagnosed during his annual physical. Dr. Eric Wallen, the UNC physician who is treating Ford, says the cancer was caught early because Ford “has been proactive regarding his health.”

Ford played for Dean Smith in the 1970s and scored 2,290 points, a mark that stood as the school record until Tyler Hansbrough broke it in 2008. Ford also spent 12 seasons as an assistant to Smith after a seven-year NBA career in which he was the rookie of the year in 1979.

Bruce Pearl: ‘Good chance’ Auburn returns four players testing the waters

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Bruce Pearl told reporters on Monday that there is a “good chance” that his Auburn program will return all four of the players that are currently testing the waters of the NBA draft.

“I think there’s a good chance they’re all going to consider coming back,” Pearl said. “There’s a chance they’re all going to come back, but that’s been the case since the beginning.”

“I just feel as we get closer to the deadline and they gather more and more information, I think that chance improves. It would not surprise me, still, to see a couple of them stay in.”

Those four players are Mustapha Heron, Austin Wiley, Bryce Brown and Jared Harper. Brown was the leading scorer for the Tigers last season, while Heron was arguably their best player and Harper a steady floor general that is the piece that holds everything together. Wiley did not play after he was ruled ineligible as a result of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. If he returns he will be eligible to play the 2018-19 season.

Heron will be the most interesting decision of the four. A former McDonald’s All-American, when he declared for the draft last month, he announced that he intended to sign with an agent. But he has told reporters in the last week that he never actually signed and is still “50-50” on whether or not he will return. He was not invited to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last week. Wiley was, but he did not make enough of an impression to earn himself a first round guarantee. Brown and Harper are very unlikely to be drafted, but both juniors will get feedback from NBA teams on what they might need to do to play their way into the league.

Auburn is coming off of a year where they shared the SEC regular season title with Tennessee, but they struggled down the stretch of the season after Anfernee McLemore suffered a gruesome ankle injury. As it stands, under the assumption that Heron and Wiley are gone, we currently have the Tigers ranked as a top 15 team in the country in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

With Heron and Wiley back, however, Auburn will have the pieces to make a case as one of college basketball’s five best teams next season.

Forward Lance Thomas transferring from Louisville

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With Anas Mahmoud out of eligibility and Ray Spalding having made the decision to enter the 2018 NBA Draft, new Louisville head coach Chris Mack had some holes to fill in the front court ahead of his first season at the helm. There’s now another departure to account for, as it was announced Tuesday afternoon that 6-foot-8 forward Lance Thomas has decided to transfer.

Thomas, who will have three seasons of eligibility remaining at his next school, appeared in 12 games for the Cardinals last season and averaged 2.2 points and 1.3 rebounds in 4.2 minutes per game.

Losing Thomas may not appear to be a big deal based upon his production as a freshman. But, given the combination of player departures and misses on the recruiting trail this spring it can also be argued that Louisville is not in a position where it can afford any more personnel losses.

Louisville is now down to four scholarship players in the front court, wings V.J. King and Jordan Nwora and forwards Malik Williams and Steven Enoch, with Enoch eligible after sitting out last season after transferring in from UConn.

Williams made 12 starts as a freshman, averaging 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds in 10.6 minutes per game, with King averaging 8.6 points per game and Nwora 5.7 points per game. Enoch played in 29 games at UConn during the 2016-17 season, averaging 3.4 points and 2.3 rebounds in 12.1 minutes per appearance.

Four-star wing Romeo Weems commits to DePaul

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DePaul landed its first verbal commitment in the Class of 2019 Tuesday afternoon, as four-star small forward Romeo Weems announced that he will be a Blue Demon. Weems, who attends New Haven HS in New Haven, Michigan, picked DePaul over Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Oregon and is considered by most major scouting services to be a Top 50 prospect in the 2019 graduating class.

The 6-foot-6 Weems plays his grassroots basketball for The Family on the Nike EYBL circuit, averaging 15.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game this spring. Weems also has experience playing for USA Basketball, as he was part of the Under-16 team that won the FIBA Americas U16 title last year. Weems will also be part of the training camp from which the Under-17 team will be selected next month in preparation for this summer’s FIBA Under-17 World Championships.

DePaul managing to land a commitment from a prospect of Weems’ caliber, a versatile wing who can defend multiple positions while also being productive offensively, could be the shot in the arm that Dave Leitao’s program so desperately needs if they’re to improve their standing within the Big East.

Since making the move from Conference USA in 2005, DePaul has finished above .500 in a season just once (20-14 in 2006-07) with that also being the only time in which the Blue Demons finished above .500 in Big East play (9-7). Since Leitao, who led DePaul to its most recent NCAA tournament in 2005, returned for his second stint at the school the Blue Demons have gone 29-65.

Getting out of Allstate Arena and moving to the new Wintrust Arena ahead of last season was an important move for the DePaul program, but it’s been clear that the rebuild won’t be a “quick fix.” Bringing in a talent of Weems’ caliber should help DePaul moving forward, with the key now being to recruit well enough to ensure that the talented wing has ample help when he arrives on campus next year.

Among the players currently on the roster who will have eligibility remaining in 2019 are guards Devin Gage and Justin Roberts and wing Darious Hall, who will sit out the 2018-19 season after transferring to DePaul from Arkansas. Hall appeared in 35 games for the Razorbacks this past season, averaging 5.1 points and 3.1 rebounds in just under 15 minutes per game.