Jock Landale

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2017 NCAA tournament: Here are nine big men that can carry their teams to a Final Four

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One of the great things about the 2017 NCAA Tournament is that there will be a number of great big men taking the floor all over the field.

There are one-and-done NBA Draft prospects, senior veterans, sophomore All-Americans, juniors coming off of career seasons. It’s a wide variety of players on this list, but they are all low post studs who you need to see during the next few weeks.

While many of these guys are playing on teams that expect to make deep tournament runs, there are other elite bigs who might only last for a round or two.

Make sure to catch these guys if you can.

Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: The man known as Biggie as much for his frame (6-9, 250 pounds) as his game (18.5 points and 12.6 rebounds per game), Swanigan might be the premier big man in the country. His production is immense and consistent as he’s registered 26 double-doubles on the season along with four 20-20 games. After spending last year as somewhat of an understudy to A.J. Hammonds, Swanigan this year has emerged as a national player of the year candidate as the numbers he’s put up are not only huge, but they’re also not a product of tempo inflation. The Boilermakers are in the middle of the pack in terms of pace, and Swanigan’s efficiency numbers are all strong, especially his 33.3 defensive rebounding percentage, which ranks third nationally.

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin: Happ is much in the same mold as Swanigan, if not quite the voracious rebounder but certainly skilled, effective and a serious difference-maker on the defensive end. Happ is putting up 13.9 points and 9.1 rebounds per game while shooting 58.2 percent from the field. His offense extends beyond just scoring, however, has he’s an adept distributor and excellent on the offensive boards. Wisconsin may be entering the NCAA tournament having just fought off a late-season skid, but Happ is as good and reliable as they come.

Power Rankings 1-68 | Duke deserved a 1 seed | Committee got bubble right

REGIONAL BREAKDOWNS: East | Midwest | South | West

Johnathan Motley, Baylor: The latest in a long line of length, athletic big men at Baylor under Scott Drew, Motley has had a brilliant season that helped push the Bears to No. 1 in the country at one point and his draft stock into the first round. The 6-foot-10 junior is putting up 17.3 points and 9.9 rebounds per game after averaging 11 and 5 a year ago. He’s one of the most relentless offensive rebounders in the country, and rarely does a game go by without a tip dunk from him. He and fellow Baylor big Jo Lual-Acuil anchor Baylor’s amoeba zone that will undoubtedly be difficult for teams unacquainted with it to crack this month.

Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame:  Colson is a big by position only, as at 6-foot-5, he doesn’t fit the typical definition. His size, though, doesn’t preclude him from putting up big numbers in the post, as he’s averaging 17.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. He’s ultra-crafty and possesses basketball IQ in abundance. He’s more than capable of beating teams inside (54 percent shooting on 2s) and outside (40.7 percent on 3s) while also being a better rebounder and shot blocker than his size and limited athleticism would suggest possible.

Mike Daum, South Dakota State: You may not know the name now, but after a Daum-inant performance against No. 1 Gonzaga in the first round, you’ll probably find yourself Daum-anding a Daum-onstration on why he’s so Daum-aging to a defense. He scored 51 points in a game earlier this year and went for 35 points and 12 boards in the Summit League title game. That should be worth some free Daum-inoes after the game.

Jock Landale, St. Mary’s: The Gaels have largely been overshadowed, not only nationally by in their own conference, by Gonzaga, and Landale’s fantastic season has been underappreciated. The 6-foot-11 junior is shooting 60.9 percent from the floor, averaging 16.8 points along with 9.3 rebounds per game. His is a name to know well this month.

Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga: The man is a mountain. At 7-foot-1 and 300 pounds, there are few college players that can counter Karnowski’s size, but that’s not the only way he’s able to be effective. He’s a 60.1 percent shooter, yes, but Karnowski’s true talent is his ability to pass. Given his girth, teams frequently send double-teams his way, but they are often proven ineffective and he’s able to first diagnose them and then able to beat them with his vision and deftness at moving the ball. His size and ability is one piece of what makes the Zags so seriously good.

Angel Delgado, Seton Hall: Delgado is another double-double machine on this list, averaging 15.3 points and 13.1 rebounds per outing. He ranks in the top-12 in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage nationally, per KenPom, while playing major minutes for a big. He doesn’t offer the same level of rim protection as some of the other players on this list, but his rebounding eliminates opportunities for opponents while creating them for his team.

Lauri Markkanan, Arizona: The freshman 7-footer’s big season helped the Wildcats not only stay afloat by thrive early in the season with Alonzo Trier sidelined, and he’s established himself as quite the draft prospect. The most appealing aspect of his game is the 43.2 percent he shoots on the more than four 3-point attempts he averages per game. He’s no slouch on the boards, either, averaging 7.1 per game.

College Basketball’s Most Improved Players

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It really shouldn’t be all that much of a shock that Luke Kennard tops the list as the nation’s most improved player.

The 6-foot-6 shooting guard has been the best player on the roster for Duke this season, a team that is ranked in the top five by everyone with a valid a opinion and ranked No. 1 by the savvy forward-thinkers. He’s averaging 20.0 points, 6.1 boards and 3.3 assists and has been Duke’s best player in their four toughest games this season; against Michigan State, Rhode Island, Kansas and Florida, Kennard is averaging 23.8 points.

What’s surprising about Kennard’s season isn’t that he became an effective college basketball player – he was a McDonald’s All-American, he averaged 11.8 points last season, and he scored more points in high school than a guy named LeBron James – but that he’s been able to dominate like this on a team that has a chance to win a national title. That’s how good he’s been for Duke this season. Playing without Jayson Tatum for seven games, with a banged-up Grayson Allen and without Harry Giles III, Kennard’s has made Duke look like they could win the ACC and make the Final Four even if they never get back to full health.

He went from being the third-best player on a two-man Duke team as a freshman to this. Who saw that coming?

2. Manu Lecomte, Baylor: Lecomte was a good player at Miami during the 2014-15 season. Not great, but a solid piece for a good team. After sitting out last season at Baylor, he’s managed to play his way into being one of the best point guards in the Big 12 and one of the biggest reasons that the Bears are currently sitting in the top five of both polls. Lecomte’s averaging 13.9 points this year, and although his scoring has been somewhat inconsistent, he’s played well in Baylor’s big games. But the truly notable improvement has been in his ability to create offense for his teammates. Lecomte is averaging 5.3 assists after averaging 1.8 assists as a sophomore with Miami, and that playmaking was the biggest question mark that Baylor had entering the season.

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3. Semi Ojeleye, SMU: Ojeleye is a former four-star recruit that played a season and a half at Duke, so it’s not like this is a guy that never had any ability. We just never saw it featured at the college level, and now that we have, he’s proven to be worth the hype he had in high school. Having taken advantage of a season-and-a-half as a redshirt, he’s averaging 17.8 points and 7.6 boards on the year while, as a 6-foot-7 forward with elite athleticism, is shooting 41.5 percent from three. The Mustangs are still trying to find their footing after the Larry Brown fiasco this summer, but Ojeleye has turned into a really good piece to build around and one of the best players in the AAC.

4. Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame: Colson is generously listed at 6-foot-6, he isn’t an elite athlete and he’s a power forward, a front court weapon who does most of his damage in the low- and mid-post. And yet, he’s turned into the best player on Notre Dame and, along with Matt Farrell (who is much-improved in his own right), is the biggest reason the Irish appear to me much better than we expected. He’s averaging team-highs of 16.5 points and 10.8 boards this season and, at the least, deserves a mention in all-american consideration. Is anyone more underrated than Mike Brey when it comes to developing talent in his program?

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 10: Bonzie Colson #35 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish attempts a shot as Donte DiVincenzo #10 of the Villanova Wildcats defends during the first half of a college basketball game at Prudential Center on December 10, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. Villanova defeated Notre Dame 74-66. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Bonzie Colson (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

5. Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s: Saint Mary’s has found their next great Australian, and that’s Landale. He was super-efficient in limited minutes as a sophomore, but the 6-foot-11 Landale has been playing at like all-american this season for the Gaels. He’s averaging 18.4 points and 8.5 boards while shooting 67.4 percent from the floor as the anchor in Randy Bennett’s offensive attack.

6. Kyron Cartwright, Providence: Ed Cooley has always centered his offensive attack around his point guard. That’s just how he likes to play. Whether it’s Kris Dunn or Bryce Cotton or Vincent Council, Cooley’s has always demanded that his point guards carry a heavy load. The biggest question we had with the Friars this season was who would take on that role this year. Well, we have an answer now: It’s Kyron Cartwright, a player that few outside of the Big East diehards would have heard of entering the season. Cartwright is averaging just 8.8 points on the year, but he’s fifth in the country posting 7.7 assists per night, an incredibly important number for the better-than-we-thought Friars because of the lack of weapons this team has offensively. The fact that he’s doing so while averaging significantly fewer turnovers than Kris Dunn did as a starter is notable as well.

7. John Collins, Wake Forest: Before the season, who would have predicted that Collins would develop into the best player on Demon Deacons? Playing just 24 minutes a game, Collins is posting 18.0 points and 10.7 boards and has already collected six double-doubles on the season, including five in his last five games.

8. Tacko Fall, UCF: The 7-foot-6 Fall is so much more than just a super-tall dude that found his way onto a basketball court. He’s averaging 13.8 points, a nation’s-best 13.1 boards and 2.6 blocks in just 28 minutes a night. He’s running the floor, he’s scoring on post touches and he’s doing it all while staying out of foul trouble, which can be an issue for someone his size. The next step? Improve on that 34.1 percent free throw shooting before Hack-a-Tacko becomes a thing.

9. Kyle Washington, Cincinnati: Washington is another guy who took advantage of a redshirt year and a new environment. After struggling to find minutes in his two seasons at N.C. State, Washington has turned into the best player for the Bearcats, averaging 16.1 points and 8.0 boards for Mick Cronin’s club, who appear to be the favorite in the AAC and are ranked in the top 25.

10. Obi Enechionya, Temple: Enechionya has developed into a real life NBA prospect. He’s turned into Temple’s go-to guy, averaging 18.6 points on the season, but what makes him such an intriguing player is a unique aspect of his skill-set: At 6-foot-10, he’s shooting 49.2 percent from three (while attempting more than six per game) and blocking 2.9 shots a night. No player has averaged three made threes per game and 2.9 blocks per game in a season since 1993, which is as far back as I can find data.

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 11: Isaiah Briscoe #13 of the Kentucky Wildcats dribbles the ball up court against the Hofstra Pride in the first half of the Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival at Barclays Center on December 11, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Isaiah Briscoe  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

TEN MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • 11. Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky: Briscoe has been terrific this season for Kentucky, but it’s hard to rank him in the top ten of this list when the single-biggest flaw in his game – his perimeter shooting – hasn’t gotten much better.
  • 12. Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State: Evans has developed into one of the best point guards in the country, but it’s tough to figure out where to rank him because we saw this coming before he got injured at the end of last season.
  • 13. Ben Lammers, Georgia Tech: The bright spot in what will likely be a long Georgia Tech season, Lammers is averaging 15.8 points, 10.8 boards and 4.6 blocks, which leads the country. He averaged 3.6 points and 4.0 boards as a sophomore last year.
  • 14. Khyri Thomas, Creighton: We knew how good Mo Watson Jr. and Marcus Foster would be. I don’t think many expected Thomas to average 13.3 points, shoot 53.3 percent from three and develop into Creighton’s best perimeter defender.
  • 15. Esa Ahmad and Nathan Adrian, West Virginia: The biggest reason that West Virginia hasn’t taken a step back with what they lost last year? Ahmad and Adrian are playing at a borderline all-Big 12 level.
  • 16. Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina: Thornwell has turned into one of the best non-Kentucky players in the SEC this season. Check this line: 18.7 points, 6.7 boards, 4.1 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.3 blocks, 48.3 percent on threes. Now he just has to get back from suspension.
  • 17. JaCorey Williams, MTSU: It’s tough to know just how much of this is opportunity and the level he’s playing at, but Williams has gone from averaging 4.5 points at Arkansas to averaging 19.0 points for one of the nation’s most dangerous mid-majors.
  • 18. Kyle Kuzma, Utah: We expected Kuzma to take a step forward this season, and while his scoring numbers aren’t quite as high as I thought they would be, his averages of 15.8 points, 10.3 boards and 3.3 assists for a young Utah team are impressive.
  • 19. Reid Travis, Stanford: Travis came off of injury to be the best player for Stanford this season, averaging 17.7 points and 9.4 boards.
  • 20. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: Swanigan has played his way into all-american consideration, but he’d be higher on this list if his turnover issues hadn’t popped up of late. He has 13 giveaways in his last two games.