Early College Basketball 2012-13 Preview: The Nation's Top 10 Power Forwards
In the last preview slideshow, the small forward position seemed quite depleted.
Not so the power forward spot.
A list of the best power forwards in America could have been easily expanded to the top 20 with no names undeserving of the spotlight.
Players like Iowa's Aaron White, NC State's Richard Howell, Miami's Kenny Kadji, Memphis's Tarik Black and Illinois State's Jackie Carmichael, to name just a few, were considered for this list. Justifiable cases could be made for all of them and a few more, but even better things can be expected from the 10 ultimately selected.
10. Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota
Trevor Mbakwe was tearing up Minnesota's early opponents to the tune of 15 points, 10 rebounds and nearly two blocks per game over his first six games. Then, in the seventh game against Dayton, he crumpled with a torn ACL and missed the remainder of his senior season.
There's always a wariness that surrounds a player coming back from an ACL injury. Will he be anything close to the player that he was before?
As a Purdue supporter, I witnessed Robbie Hummel's strong senior season after his two ACL tears, the first of which occurred in Minnesota's Williams Arena. Without seeing Hummel's perseverance, I might be much more wary of Mbakwe.
It takes tremendous effort to play a lunch pail game like Mbakwe's. A player who can battle his way to 19 double-doubles as a junior has a chance to fight back into form, and it would be foolish to bet against Mbakwe.
9. Robert Covington, Tennessee State
In Tennessee State's season opener, Robert Covington was held to nine points by the defensive buzzsaw known as the Saint Louis Billikens. No one else managed to keep him that far down again.
Covington's true shooting percentage of 63.4 ranked in the top 50 nationwide, and as far as simple field goal efficiency, he was metronomic in his consistency.
Opponents held Covington below 50 percent shooting in only 12 of his 33 games and below 40 percent only three times. Both are extremely impressive figures for a player who scored approximately a third of his points from beyond the arc.
Covington scored 17 points and eight rebounds on February 9 when TSU ended Murray State's undefeated run. What would be a very strong game for 98 percent of players qualified as profoundly average by Covington's standards.
Covington finished in the Ohio Valley Conference's top five in points, rebounds, steals and blocks. A repeat season could see him become the Tigers' first NBA draft pick since Carlos Rogers in 1995.
8. Arsalan Kazemi, Rice
Arsalan Kazemi was 6'3" when this picture was taken at the 2009 FIBA Under-19 World Championships. Now he's 6'7" and using every inch effectively on the glass.
Even listed as a shooting guard for Iran's team three years ago, Kazemi managed to rip 61 rebounds in five games.
His pace at Rice hasn't been quite that torrid, but his 9.1 average as a freshman still qualifies as a slow year. He ranked in the top 10 nationally as a sophomore, then slid to 17th last season. Also, Kazemi's 2.1 steals per game ranked 30th in America and led Conference USA.
Not always a dominant scorer in Ben Braun's balanced offense, Kazemi should see a few more shot opportunities with guard Connor Frizzelle graduating. Kazemi shot 59 percent as a junior, and any extra shots will only aid the Owls' chances in C-USA.
Returning to the 15 points per game that he averaged as a sophomore may push Kazemi into the 2013 draft. If so, he could become only the second Iranian to compete in the NBA following in the illustrious footsteps of Hamed Haddadi.
7. Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee
Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin got a 6'8", 250-pound Christmas present when Jarnell Stokes spurned Memphis and Florida to become a Volunteer on December 22. Stokes suited up mere weeks later and proceeded to spur a surprising Vol run to second in the SEC.
Even though Stokes only played 30 minutes in three of his 17 games, he still finished third on the team in scoring and second in rebounding.
Stokes' impact on the boards was impressive, even in his limited run. His offensive and defensive rebounding percentages would have ranked seventh and third in the SEC respectively had he played enough games to qualify.
By late February, Stokes seemed to be hitting his stride, getting acclimated to Tennessee's offense and the pace of college basketball. He dominated LSU on February 29, producing 18 points on 9-of-10 shooting and adding seven rebounds.
Three days later, Stokes punished Vanderbilt to the tune of 11 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks, the latter one short of Tennessee's single-game record.
If a player can amass the sort of resume that Stokes did after walking in at midseason, imagine what a full offseason of Volunteer conditioning and Volunteer practices will do for him. A team that loses only two seniors isn't quite as likely to sneak up on the SEC as it did last season, and neither will the midseason acquisition.
6. James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina
James Michael McAdoo probably could have been a lottery pick in this summer's NBA draft despite minimal playing time and middling production when he did play. Next season though, with North Carolina's all-world frontcourt now in the pros, it's McAdoo's team if he wants it.
DraftExpress says of McAdoo, "His Tim Duncan-esque demeanor and his willingness to fit into a team setting can at times be characterized as passive." Being compared to Tim Duncan is rarely a bad thing, but the worst thing McAdoo can do next season is to be passive. He'll be the best player on the floor many nights, and he'll need to play like it.
Early on, he had solid games in blowouts against overmatched opponents like Nicholls State. By the end of the season, he was putting up a pair of double-figure games in the NCAA tournament.
The regional final against Kansas could have been his coming-out party as he dropped 15 points, four rebounds and two steals in only 19 minutes. Both of those steals were from picking the pockets of Kansas guards and streaking in for dunks—impressive perimeter defense for a 6'9" man.
Carolina has lots of veteran talent in its backcourt next season, but up front McAdoo is likely to be surrounded by youth. He'll need to do some heavy lifting, but if he does, Carolina could be playing for a Final Four trip again and McAdoo could be playing for the number one spot in the 2013 draft.
5. DeShaun Thomas, Ohio State
As a freshman, DeShaun Thomas took a whopping 30.4 percent of the shots available when he was on the court. When he joined the starting lineup last season, his usage rate dipped as he deferred to Jared Sullinger and William Buford, but his efficiency was markedly improved.
Next season, the Buckeyes lose both Sullinger and Buford to the professional ranks, and there is no one left as proven a scorer as Thomas. Without the departed stars' 928 shots, Thomas may need a bionic arm to pick up the slack.
Thomas has experience taking over a game, scoring 19 in an early-season meeting with Kansas where Sullinger sat out with an injury. He also dropped 30 on South Carolina, 25 against Michigan and 26 against Cincinnati in the NCAA tournament.
Thomas' second meeting with Kansas at the Final Four didn't go so well. He shot a miserable 3-of-14 for nine points and he had four fouls in only 24 minutes.
The Buckeyes will get plenty of chances to find out which one is the real DeShaun Thomas, and it should surprise no one if he's among the nation's scoring leaders next season.
Even if it takes him more than 20 shots per game to do it.
4. Mike Moser, UNLV
Going into the November 26 meeting with North Carolina, UNLV forward Mike Moser and his team weren't quite on the national radar. By the end of the night, both were the talk of college basketball.
Moser struggled through a 5-for-15 shooting night, but ripped 18 rebounds over Carolina bigs John Henson and Tyler Zeller who totaled 15 combined. Moser also dished six assists before fouling out.
Moser went on to score 34 in his next game against UC-Santa Barbara, and did a tremendous job stuffing the stat sheet all season long. Late in the year however, Moser's shot began to suffer as defenses geared to stop him on the perimeter where he had become a little too comfortable.
Almost a third of Moser's shots were from three-point range, and he made 33.1 percent of them. By contrast, he made 51 percent of his shots inside the arc.
The Rebels' final two games of the season, both losses, were perfect illustrations. Moser shot a combined 9-of-30 against New Mexico in the Mountain West tournament and Colorado in the NCAA tournament. That included making only three of 13 shots from outside the arc. The two losses were by a combined nine points, which could have been easily made up with better shot selection from Moser and many of his teammates.
Moser dominates on the defensive glass, but isn't a superb offensive rebounder to this point. If he works more inside and gets those second-chance opportunities, he could average 18 points per game and UNLV could make a much deeper run in March.
3. Andre Roberson, Colorado
As a freshman, Andre Roberson averaged more rebounds per game (7.8) than points (6.7). As a sophomore, his scoring nosed in front, but not by much—11.6 to 11.1.
Roberson's rebounding average ranked him third in America, and most of those were yanked down over players of greater stature than his 6'7" and 210 pounds. It's likely that many of his 67 blocks—1.9 per game—also came against bigger players, illustrating Roberson's highly impressive athleticism.
Roberson's yet to establish himself as a primary scorer, but he may get that opportunity this year. The Buffaloes lose leading scorer Carlon Brown and 11-point man Austin Dufault, who accounted for nearly 700 shots.
Obviously, Roberson won't pick up all that slack, but if his role increases and he can maintain his 50-plus shooting percentage, a 15-ppg season is easily attainable.
Look for Roberson to make a serious run at another Pac-12 All-Defensive team honor, and Conference Player of the Year is a reachable goal as well.
2. Tony Mitchell, North Texas
Six games into Tony Mitchell's career at North Texas, he was averaging 10.3 points and 6.7 rebounds. Respectable numbers for a freshman, but not so much for a player who was being hyped as a potential NBA lottery pick. Some may have wondered what all the hype was about.
On January 5, South Alabama found out. Mitchell exploded for 34 points on 11-of-14 shooting from the floor and 9-of-11 from the foul line. Also, he added 16 rebounds.
Later, Mitchell had a similar game against Denver and brutalized Florida Atlantic for 22 points, 21 boards, five assists and six blocks.
Mitchell didn't quite qualify for the Sun Belt's individual stat rankings, but his averages would have led the conference in rebounding and blocks while finishing third in scoring.
His surprising return to UNT should be very disturbing for his Sun Belt opponents. Much like Jarnell Stokes, Mitchell can still improve with a full season of work.
North Texas loses only a couple of bench players from the 2011-12 squad and should be considered the team to beat in its final season in the Sun Belt.
1. Doug McDermott, Creighton
Players who play for their fathers can occasionally get a bad rap. Even Pete Maravich's numbers could be said to be artificially inflated by playing for his dad who ran the entire offense through Pete.
Doug McDermott is a large part of the Creighton offense, but not just because his father Greg is the Bluejays' head coach. The younger McDermott was untouchable in his efficiency and versatility last season.
McDermott was the only player in America to shoot 60 percent from the floor, 45 percent from three-point range and 75 percent from the free throw line. No one held him under 12 points and only Wichita State held him under 40 percent from the floor.
Want more sabermetric proof of McDermott's excellence?
His 65.3 effective FG percentage ranked him 12th in America, and his 67.8 true shooting percentage came in third.
The Bluejays' second-leading scorer Antoine Young has graduated which leaves McDermott, center Gregory Echinique and guard Grant Gibbs to try to equal last season's third-round finish in the NCAA tournament.
It doesn't sound possible, but McDermott's numbers could even improve this season, letting the casual fan know that a Creighton player getting national player of the year publicity is no fluke.
And it's not just because his dad force-feeds him the ball either.
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