10 College Basketball Players Whose Teams Need Them to Be Healthy and Fit

Bobby KittredgeContributor IIIOctober 3, 2012

10 College Basketball Players Whose Teams Need Them to Be Healthy and Fit

0 of 10

    The 2012-13 college basketball season begins in just over a month, and preseason rankings have begun to emerge. Sporting News released their rankings yesterday, and buzz around the nation’s top teams is sure to continue right up until the games begin.

    There is always much speculation prior to the season.

    Without fail, each year produces teams that fall far short of expectations.

    Often, it is the health or play—or lack thereof—of key individuals that can make or break a team’s season.

    Here is a look at 10 such players on some of the nation’s top teams that need to make sure they are ready to go when the season begins, and stay that way all season long, to help their squad stay among college basketball’s elite.

Maurice Creek, Indiana

1 of 10

    Three years ago, Creek was one of the top freshmen in the country, averaging 16.4 points per game to lead the Hoosiers in scoring. After 12 games his season was ended prematurely by injury.

    Where has he been since?

    Creek saw reduced playing time as a sophomore before another injury—a stress fracture in his knee that required surgery—ended his season after 18 games.

    He never even made it onto the court last season as a torn Achilles tendon in the fall forced him to redshirt the year.

    Indiana is one of the deepest teams in college basketball this year, so they might not need Creek, but a return to his freshman form and a feel-good comeback story if he can stay healthy for a season certainly would not hurt.

    In an interview with Inside the Hall in April, coach Tom Crean noted that Creek has not always been the hardworking gym rat that some of his teammates are. If he hopes to effectively contribute to arguably the best team in the nation, that is exactly what he has to become.

Lenzelle Smith Jr., Ohio STate

2 of 10

    Ohio State’s offense last season was carried by the high-scoring trio of Jared Sullinger, William Buford and Deshaun Thomas. Of those three, only Thomas remains, meaning that someone needs to fill the void in scoring.

    Aaron Craft, who was fourth on the team in scoring last season, functions more as a game manager from the point guard position.

    Then there’s Smith, who averaged about seven points in 25 minutes per game last season. He joins Thomas and Craft as the Buckeyes’ three returning starters and needs to be ready for an even greater role this year.

    Smith’s offseason work needs to have included not only preparing to play four or five more minutes per game than he did last season but also redefining himself as more of a scoring threat to stimulate an Ohio State team that may be offensively challenged.

Ryan Harrow, Kentucky

3 of 10

    Harrow should be ready to start contributing as starting point guard for the Wildcats after spending a year of the bench following his transfer from North Carolina State to Kentucky.

    He does have a year of work with coach John Calipari under his belt, and as UK recruiting news blog Next Cat points out, this will be the first time since 2006 that Calipari is working with a point guard that didn’t spend the previous season in high school.

    Still, Harrow has yet to play a game for Kentucky, and he’ll be asked to step in and run a Calipari team that, per usual, relies heavily on freshman talent. Hopefully the transfer has put in the work necessary to feel comfortable in that role.

Nerlens Noel, Kentucky

4 of 10

    Speaking of those Kentucky freshmen, Noel is the one that will have the most attention on him as he enters the season. At the top of his recruiting class, the 6’10” defensive phenom has drawn comparisons to Greg Oden and, naturally, Anthony Davis.

    But is he ready?

    His ability to score is a question, and like everyone else in his class, he has yet to play a game of college basketball. It’s a risk anyone—most especially Calipari and Kentucky—takes by relying on freshmen stars from the get go.

    Their job is to ensure that he is, in fact, ready to shoulder the load. Hey, it worked out just fine for Kentucky last year.

Mitch McGary, Michigan

5 of 10

    Another freshman that will be looked to for immediate production is Michigan’s Mitch McGary. Aside from redshirt junior Jordan Morgan, the Wolverines have almost no returning talent down low. McGary’s impact—whatever it may be—will be felt right away.

    Questions do surround the young 6’10” forward, mainly because of the slide his recruiting ranking underwent during his senior season. Once a 5-star recruit ranked as high as No. 2 in the country in the ESPN 100, McGary fell all the way to No. 27 and lost one of his stars.

    Will Michigan be able to rely on McGary to answer the call in the post, or will they be forced to look elsewhere in 2012-13? It all depends on what form the freshman is in when he takes the court in his first season.

Quinn Cook, Duke

6 of 10

    Cook should ran the show at Duke as a sophmore from the point guard position this season. In fact, he was supposed to do so as a freshman last year.

    Cook's inconsistent health kept him from fulfilling his potential and was a microcosm for the inconsistent Duke season that culminated in a shocking first-round upset at the hands of Lehigh in the NCAA tournament.

    His ability to come back stronger this season and stay healthy throughout it will play a large part in dictating Duke’s level of success.

Mark Lyons, Arizona

7 of 10

    Arizona gained valuable scoring and experience during the offseason in senior transfer Mark Lyons, who left the Musketeers of Xavier to join the Wildcats for his final year of eligibility.

    Lyons’ talent is not in question; he has proven himself at Xavier by way of three NCAA tournament appearances and last season’s scoring average of better than 15 points per game. For the veteran transfer it’s all about how well he can mesh with a new program and, as ESPN’s Eammond Brennan points out, quell concerns about his attitude.

    If Lyons enters the season with the mindset to put the team first and act as a selfless leader, he could do great things for Arizona. If his personal goals get in the way, the Wildcats will have to look for leadership elsewhere.

Rodney Purvis, North Carolina State

8 of 10

    North Carolina State expects big things from its squad this season, and a large part of that hinges on the immediate impact of No. 20 recruit Rodney Purvis.

    The Wolfpack got a scare when Purvis’ academic eligibility was called into question and the NCAA began reviewing his high school transcripts. The issue has since been cleared up, but it took until late September, which forced the young guard to miss his team’s exhibition trip to Spain.

    That trip would have been a valuable chance for Purvis to begin playing with his new teammates, and the freshman now has even more work to do in order to meet the expectations that have been set for him and for the Wolfpack. 

Alex Oriakhi, Missouri

9 of 10

    In another big offseason move, UCONN center Oriakhi left that messy program for a more stable and competitive situation at Missouri.

    The Tigers desperately need what Oriakhi can provide in terms of rebounding, so he’ll be expected to contribute immediately. He is stepping into big shoes as last year’s Missouri squad posted a program best 30-win season.

    Again, Oriakhi’s effectiveness will hinge completely on how hard he is working to gel with his new teammates and get accustomed to the program.

Marcus Paige, North Carolina

10 of 10

    Roy Williams has made the fast-paced, run-and-gun offense North Carolina’s trademark in recent years, which naturally makes the point guard position as important as can be. Last year’s floor general, Kendall Marshall, left for the NBA after the season, leaving a void at the position.

    Paige will most likely be asked to fill that role as a freshman, which calls two variables into play: He’s inexperienced and fresh off an injury. Paige suffered a stress fracture in his foot back in April that required surgery, but it was not expected to impact his arrival at UNC in June.

    The only way to address either one is for him to work his tail off until the season starts and then prove that neither the inexperience nor the injury will hold him back.