College Basketball's Top 15 Centers Going into the New Season
The upcoming college basketball season will see schools across the country rely heavily on their centers to achieve success, which made ranking the best at the position a challenging endeavor.
The first obstacle I encountered was trying to identify who, in fact, is a center. With so many teams running three guards and various zone schemes, the line between forward and center has become almost nonexistent. I decided to be as literal as possible. Even if someone stands 6’10” and spends most of his time in the paint, unless he is officially listed as a center, said athlete did not make the list (even that is easier in theory than in practice).
This means guys like Cody Zeller (who would have been number one) and Mason Plumlee will not appear in the coming slides.
My second major struggle was determining which incoming freshmen deserved to be ranked higher than the upperclassman. The 2012 Class is loaded with highly regarded centers. ESPN named five in their Top-8 recruits, six in the Top-15 and 11 in the Top-40.
Lastly, the difference in conference talent and style of play made this far more than a statistically driven product. The No. 15 player has vastly superior numbers than our third spot, but five rebounds in the Big Ten carry more clout than 10 in the SoCon.
Lists like this are far from an exact science, so please let your opinions be heard below.
Let the rankings begin.
Just kidding—one more slide before we get to it.
With so much talent at the position, there were inevitably those who missed the final cut. Here are, in no particular order, additional players who received consideration:
A.J. Hammons (Purdue), Shaquille Cleare (Maryland), Tony Parker (UCLA), Adam Woodbury (Iowa), Jeff Withey (Kansas), Willie Cauley (Kentucky), Josh Scott (Colorado), Prince Ibeh (Texas), Mitch McGary (Michigan) and the losers of No. 9 and No. 8 (this will make sense when you get there)
15. Mike Groselle, Citadel
Regardless of competition, it’s hard to ignore the 16.7 PPG and 9.6 REB which Mike Groselle averaged in the 2011-12 season to go along with 0.6 blocks (also best on the team), 1.8 assists (third) and 1.4 steals (first).
The Bulldogs won only six games last year, but it’s hard to fault their center.
At 6’8” and 230 pounds, Groselle may never make it to the NBA but he should be even better in his senior season.
14. Jordan Bachynski, Arizona State
Jordan Bachynski closed out the otherwise-disappointing 2012 ASU campaign in good form.
He averaged 10.1 points, six rebounds and two blocks over the school’s final 13 games. Bachynski is now a junior and should see a significant spike up from his 17.4 minutes/game last year.
Sun Devils point guard Jahii Carson will be a boon to the developmental process of “one of the top post players in the league” according to ESPN’s Jason King. Carson was one of the best point guards in the Class of 2011 but sat out last season after being named academically ineligible.
13. Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga
If you try to find Karnowski in a Class of 2012 recruiting list, you won’t.
The 7’0”, 280-pound Polish beast averaged 13.2 points and 6.2 rebounds at the U-19 World Championships last summer.
Karnowski is one of the biggest unknowns coming into the upcoming season but many of the nations’ college basketball writers are fond of what they have seen. ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla compared Karnowski to Marc Gasol (although it’s probably just because he’s European).
12. Amir Williams, Ohio State
Amir Williams boasts the least impressive collegiate statistics of any upperclassman on this list but I expect big things from him in 2012-13.
Jared Sullinger was OSU’s best player last year and Williams would have been wise to soak up everything he could from the first round selection.
But Williams’ situation will be different than that of the previous Buckeye center. The school’s best and most important player is junior forward Deshaun Thomas. Ohio State has the potential to be one of the best programs in the country if the two can mesh.
11. Khem Birch, UNLV
Only Andre Drummond was better received than Khem Birch among high school centers by ESPN in 2011.
Birch is a bit undersized (6’9”), but my biggest concerns about him pertain to his arrival at UNLV. His dedication has to be questioned.
It took only ten games with Pittsburgh for Birch to decide he had enough. As much as UNLV fans will love Birch, Pitt supporters will have equal disdain.
However, Las Vegas will have the potential to be absolutely dominating this season, and that stems from their bigs. Mike Moser is a legitimate preseason All-American candidate. The top power forward of the incoming freshman class, Anthony Bennett, rounds out the group. With so much talent, Birch cannot receive the constant double teams that will surely plague many of the guys on this list.
10. Cameron Ridley, Texas
Cameron Ridley is the No. 8 recruit in ESPN’s Top 100 and one of two top centers claimed by Texas this year (along with Prince Ibeh). He is a traditional center with traditional height (6’10”).
At the moment, Ridley is better regarded for his defensive contributions than for his offensive ones, although his ESPN scouting report states, “He finishes drop off above the rim... [and] plays with great energy and makes the most of his post touches.”
Like many elite high school players, the biggest questions about Ridley concern his strength and conditioning.
Playing alongside point guard Myck Kabongo will put Ridley in a position to become an impact player in the always-physical Big 12.
9. Patric Young, Florida
And winner of most borderline center to be included on the list goes to…Patric Young, who is listed as an “F-C.”
Florida employs a system that makes finding one true center difficult. Erik Murphy could also be considered this team’s center. The two had very similar numbers last year (10.2 PTS, 6.4 REB, 1.1 AST, 0.8 BLK for Young; 10.5 PTS, 4.5 REB, 0.9 AST, 1.1 BLK for Murphy).
Why does Young get the edge? Because he is young. The numbers above come from his sophomore season while Murphy took three years to produce on such a level. Young is already a step ahead.
8. Syracuse’s Starting Center
If you look at what the recruits have said about Syracuse’s frontcourt, the school should have one of the best combinations of big men in the country.
Christmas averaged about 11 minutes per game last season playing behind Fab Melo. He was effective (2.8 PPG, 2.9 REB, 0.8 BLK) but, for someone of his caliber, 'Cuse may have expected a bit more.
Will Christmas be the starter? Probably. Keep in mind that Fab Melo played just 9.9 minutes per game his freshman year. If Coleman does beat him out, though, it will be because he is the No. 8 center in the country.
7. Steven Adams, Pittsburgh
How do you handle the surprising departure of your 5-star center? Get another one! Steven Adams might be even better than Khem Birch—or at least I think he will be.
ESPN scouts have some rave reviews about Adams.
He has broad shoulders, long arms, quick feet and excellent hands for a big man… Where Adams is at his best is at the defensive end. In fact, he may be the dominant defensive player in the Class of 2012.
With a few more members of said class still remaining, that is some seriously high praise.
6. Aaric Murray, West Virginia
The La Salle transfer averaged 13.7 PTS, 7.2 REB and 2.3 BLK in two years with his previous school. Now in a big-time program, Murray’s ability to carry over that success will determine West Virginia’s ability to make and advance in the NCAA Tournament.
It will also determine whether Murray plays in the NBA.
What is scariest is that Murray played only four years of organized basketball prior to his freshman year at La Salle.
5. Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona
After receiving offers from Kansas, Kentucky and UNC, Kaleb Tarczewski finally settled on Arizona. The No. 4 overall player in ESPN’s Top-100 may actually put up the best numbers of any freshmen center.
He is described by ESPN as, “an explosive and powerful finisher,” “an excellent area rebounder” and a player “becoming more and more immovable in the paint.”
UCLA is going to be very, very strong this year but a good freshman performance from Tarczewski will restore the legitimacy of the Pacific Conference.
4. Isaiah Austin, Baylor
Isaiah Austin is not the prototypical center. I drew parallels between him and Kevin Durant a month ago.
He can dribble, sprint down the court, block shots and drive to the hoop like a small forward. All of this and more prompted ESPN scouts to name him as, “the most talented player in the 2012 class.”
At this point in the rankings, the hierarchy is really more about what one wants out of a center than a judgment of skill. Aside from his small frame, it is hard to find any reason for Austin to fall short of making a significant impact in what may be his only year of college ball.
3. Jared Berggren, Wisconsin
Jared Berggren played under seven minutes per game and averaged 2.4 points as a sophomore. Last year, he made drastic improvements (10.5 PTS, 4.9 REB, 1.7 BLK). Berggren’s total blocks were the second highest in the Big Ten.
He will be even better as a senior.
Freshman small forward, Sam Decker, will spread defenses to the perimeter and open some space in the post. Berggren’s game, however, expands beyond the paint. He shot 37 percent from three in the 2011-2012 season. His most notable performance came in the Sweet 16 where Berggren connected on all three of his long-range attempts.
2. Gorgui Dieng, Louisville
His article from January ranked the 10 best centers in college basketball at the time, and of all the players on the list, only Gorgui Dieng is back this year.
Louisville guards, Peyton Siva and Russ Smith and sophomore Chane Behanan are going to draw a lot of attention this season. Dieng, who is one of my early candidates for Defensive Player of the Year, might outperform them all. He averaged nine points and nine boards as well as 3.2 blocks in 2012.
1. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky
Yes, I am naming someone who has never played a minute of college basketball the best at his position, and it all starts with John Calipari.
Comparisons are going to be made between Nerlens Noel and Anthony Davis for the entirety of the 2012-13 season. It’s not fair, but you can’t say the phenomenon doesn’t make sense.
They are both terrific shot-blockers and passers. Like Davis, Noel will be able to capitalize on his athleticism in Kentucky’s offense. Being surrounded by a smorgasbord of top recruits doesn’t hurt either.
Will Kentucky be the best team once again? It’s hard to say. I struggle to recall any team in recent basketball history that would have been able to stop last year’s bunch from reaching the national title.
Regardless, the Wildcats will have the best center in college basketball once again.