Finding great talents standing seven feet tall in college basketball is a difficult proposition in the one-and-done era. Most players who have to duck through the door are already on NBA draft boards before they even see a college campus.
Many seven-footers are considered stiffs until they prove otherwise. Critics had little positive to say on Kansas center Jeff Withey until last season's dominant defensive effort. Some still don't, but those things happen.
Some big guys can block shots. Some are capable scorers. Some clean the glass with a fury.
The ones that can do more than one of the above usually aren't around long.
For that reason, there are freshmen included in this slideshow, which this writer is usually reluctant to do. However, players who have shown some modicum of ability in the college game are often rated higher.
These are the 10 best players in America listed above seven feet by their schools.
Alex Len didn't debut until 10 games into Maryland's season, and the 7'1" Ukrainian freshman hit the ground running against a string of low-profile opponents. When he dropped 12 points and 11 rebounds on NC State, however, it looked like the ACC had a new colossus to fear.
Over his next 18 games, Len disappeared. His averages finished at six points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocks a night. Coach Mark Turgeon had to work on simplifying Len's responsibilities and bulking up his 235-pound frame.
With a full offseason to manage those tasks, Len could stake his claim as the ACC's most dominant big man. Alternatively, he could return to the bench and watch 280-pound freshman Shaquille Cleare take over the Terps' pivot.
Either way, Len's development is the biggest storyline for Maryland basketball this season, literally and figuratively.
Aziz N'Diaye is the Senegalese equivalent to Alex Len. Both players arrived at their American universities rawer than a sashimi platter.
N'Diaye, however, has proven to be a somewhat quicker study than his East Coast counterpart. N'Diaye's defensive instincts and athleticism have excited Huskies fans and intrigued more impartial observers.
The Huskies outscored their opponents by 7.8 points per 40 minutes when N'Diaye was on the court, making him more important to last season's efforts than NBA draft picks Terrence Ross (5.9) and Tony Wroten (4.0).
N'Diaye ranked in the Pac-12's top six in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentages, and if he can avoid foul trouble (12 games of four or five fouls last season), he could be in the mix for an All-Pac-12 selection.
If USC big man Dewayne Dedmon can stay off the trainer's table, he could be a highly productive force in the Pac-12. Injuries to his right foot, right hand and left leg derailed a sophomore season that still had its share of highlights. At some points, the injuries were little more than nuisances.
Dedmon spent a month practicing with a cast or splint on his hand in the preseason, then dropped 16 points, eight rebounds and three blocks on opening opponent Cal State Northridge.
After a 15-point, eight-rebound, three-steal performance against South Carolina, Dedmon was expected to miss four to six weeks with a stress injury in his foot. He ended up missing one game but was limited in practice for several weeks.
Over his last five full games, Dedmon was averaging nearly 10 points and seven rebounds before tearing his MCL four minutes into a game against Colorado.
For the season, Dedmon averaged 7.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and shot 55 percent from the floor. Imagine what he can do when he can actually practice every day. USC fans should be salivating at the thought.
In sometimes atypical behavior for a 5-star top-50 recruit, Adam Woodbury has been earning praise from Iowa alumni and current teammates alike for a humble approach to the game.
Iowa center Gabe Olaseni, who will battle Woodbury for playing time in the post this season, told Hawk Central, “You couldn’t tell the difference between him and a walk-on. He’s always in the gym."
That work ethic helped the 7'1" Sioux City native earn MVP honors at the 2011 NBPA Top 100 All-Star camp. There, he was surrounded by high-profile talent, which helped him impress with what may be his greatest strength: his ability to pass out of a post double-team.
Joining an Iowa team that includes the likes of Devyn Marble, Melsahn Besabe and classmate Mike Gesell, Woodbury may post assist numbers more impressive for his position than his scoring or rebounding stats.
On the other hand, if defenses are overly careful not to sag onto him, there could be multiple double-doubles in Woodbury's near future.
Either way, as long as Woodbury's productive and the Hawkeyes are in the bubble conversation come March, Hawkeyes fans will certainly rally behind their home-state product.
If you're seeking a 2012-13 model of Cody Zeller, you shouldn't need to look much further than Arizona freshman Kaleb Tarczewski.
Unlike Zeller, Tarczewski comes in already standing seven feet tall, but like the Indiana star, Arizona's new pivotman is still growing. The Arizona Daily Star reports that Tarczewski has added 30 pounds to his frame since the beginning of summer.
Now weighing in at 250 pounds, Tarczewski was disappointed with his play on a team exhibition trip to the Bahamas. He recorded 16 points, 15 rebounds and three steals in 45 minutes over two games, did not block a shot and missed all six of his free-throw attempts.
August exhibitions aren't a sign of alarm, especially with a player who takes coaching as well as Tarczewski. Arizona fans are still anticipating the impact that he and his highly touted classmates can have this season.
Like Zeller, Tarczewski is preparing to bring back a traditional power that has fallen off of its perennial NCAA tournament status. Don't be surprised if, also like Zeller, Tarczewski is getting some All-America votes at season's end.
Zeke Marshall is a video gamer by heart, a computer information science major at Akron. He didn't start playing basketball until he was in eighth grade, and only then it was by his mother's prodding.
Some people learn quickly.
Both NBADraft.net and Draft Express currently have Marshall as a late second-round pick in their 2013 mock drafts. He's already Akron's all-time leader in blocks, ranking in the top 20 nationally in that category the last two seasons.
Offensively, the Zips have a balanced system that saw seven players average at least seven points per game last season, so Marshall isn't likely to blossom into a 20-PPG man overnight. Still, games like his 17-point night against Northwestern in the first round of the NIT suggest that the potential is there.
Marshall made a strong improvement in his shooting stroke last season, evidenced by his free-throw percentage increasing from 58.1 to 70.6.
Akron opens the season in Puerto Rico against an Oklahoma State team that is long on talent but short on size. Marshall could have a chance to overpower the smaller Cowboys and open a few eyes on an ESPN network. By season's end, he may be more than the MAC's best-kept secret.
Two years into his college career, 7'1" center Alec Brown has twice rewritten a page in the Wisconsin-Green Bay basketball record book.
Before Brown arrived, no one had blocked more than 47 shots in a season. As a freshman, Brown swatted 67 (2.1 per game), then bettered himself with 89 as a sophomore (3.0 per game, ranking 10th nationally).
Brown was also among the Horizon League's top 10 in scoring and rebounding, but if he is to make noise nationally, he'll have to have more games like the 22-point, 14-rebound, five-block effort he produced in a loss to Marquette.
Adding muscle to his 225-pound frame will serve him well in those efforts. Brown struggled against the shorter but stronger Mike Scott and Assane Sene of Virginia, who held him to nine points and three rebounds last November.
The Phoenix have return matchups with Marquette, Virginia and Wisconsin this season, and Brown's production in those games will be pivotal to UWGB's hopes of pulling some upsets.
Baylor coach Scott Drew is becoming very accustomed to rebuilding his frontcourt after NBA defections. With Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller leaving early for the pros, Drew has openings to play talents like McDonald's All-American Isaiah Austin.
The nephew of longtime NBA big man Isaac Austin, Isaiah's game has been compared to that of Perry Jones, for good and bad. Austin has an 18-foot range on his jump shot, is a competent ballhandler and is considered a laid-back personality.
The latter trait gave scouts pause on Jones, and only time will tell if Austin carries a similar albatross with him to the pros.
Like Anthony Davis, Austin was a guard before a seven-inch growth spurt over the course of a year. Those skills may have translated better for him than for Davis, who had only one year to get used to his new length. Austin's growth began in middle school.
Austin may struggle with fighting in the post, as he still only carries about 210 pounds on that seven-foot frame. Still, opponents may be forced to experiment with a zone defense or else have their big men end up as YouTube laughingstocks as Austin breaks their ankles.
Baylor fans need to enjoy Austin while he's in Waco. He's not likely to be there long.
Jeff Withey had played fewer than six full games' worth of minutes when the 2011-12 season began. He and the equally unproven Thomas Robinson entered the season as Kansas's most important players, leading to multiple predictions that the Jayhawks were headed for a rare down year.
They finished the season in the NCAA championship game, and Withey frustrated the national player of the year, Kentucky's Anthony Davis, into a 1-for-10 shooting performance. Withey also set a tournament record with 31 blocks in his six games, two more blocks than Davis.
Two separate times last season, Withey fell one block short of a big man's triple-double, then stuffed 10 shots in the tournament against NC State.
This season, Kansas will have a strong recruiting class headlined by Perry Ellis and redshirt Ben McLemore, but Withey will be one of the veteran leaders. His defensive credentials are the best in America.
Now, Rock Chalk Nation waits to see if the seven-foot former beach volleyball player can assert himself offensively. If he can become a consistent 13- to 15-point scorer, Withey could garner All-America support at season's end.
The following statement is absolutely terrible news for the rest of college basketball:
Cody Zeller is still growing.
Listed at 6'11" as a freshman, the game's best returning sophomore is now listed at an even 7'0" on his official Indiana roster page.
His game is growing, too. Coach Tom Crean indicated to WDRB Louisville that Zeller has spent the summer working on his jump shot and ball-handling. Crean said, "He's handled the ball this spring and summer as much as (guards) Jordan Hulls and Victor Oladipo."
A guy who shot 62 percent from the floor is likely to see that figure drop a point or two if he spends more time on the perimeter. If he expands his effective range, however, opposing defenses will be forced to savor those empty possessions when they happen.
Considering Zeller's abilities and those of the team around him, there may not be too many to enjoy.