8 Seniors Who Could Lead Their Teams to a Championship
Even in this era of one-and-done freshmen, many of the nation’s top college hoops contenders will have seniors front and center in the spotlight this season. It’s hard to argue with having a top-notch talent in your lineup who also happens to bring three years of hard-won experience to the table.
Mason Plumlee could easily have left Duke after last March’s season-ending debacle, but he’s back to lead yet another title contender for Coach K. The ACC’s most physical big man will provide vital interior muscle to pair with highlight-reel freshman Rasheed Sulaimon.
Herein, a closer look at Plumlee and seven more seniors who could have their teams cutting down the nets next March.
8. Richard Howell, N.C. State
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Mark Gottfried’s ensemble will all need to get their jobs done if N.C. State is to capitalize on its immense preseason promise, and that includes senior PF Richard Howell.
The biggest Wolfpack starter will need, at worst, to repeat his performance of a year ago, when he dominated the glass to the tune of 9.2 rebounds per game.
At 6’8”, 250 lbs, Howell will be outmatched physically in most of N.C. State’s key games, but if his rebounding can hold opposing offenses to one shot, he’ll have done his job.
He’s also not terrible at turning those boards into points, having scored 10.8 per game in his first year as a starter in 2011-12.
7. Christian Watford, Indiana
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
If favored Indiana does win the national title, the lion’s share of the credit will go to sophomore star Cody Zeller, but the Hoosiers won’t reach that pinnacle without a great performance from Christian Watford.
The 6’9” senior is Zeller’s right-hand man, finishing second on the team in both points (12.6) and rebounds (5.8) per game.
The sweet-shooting Watford’s ability to punish opponents who double-team Zeller will be vital to the IU offense, but his experience and level head will be just as critical.
With a freshman (Kevin Ferrell) at point guard and a sophomore carrying the bulk of the expectations, having a reliable senior to turn to in crunch time could make all the difference in a title run for Tom Crean’s squad.
6. Pierre Jackson, Baylor
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
For all that Pierre Jackson was Baylor’s leading scorer a season ago, the raw figure of 13.8 points per game doesn’t tell the whole story of what he meant to the Bears.
Jackson’s penchant for last-second baskets turned multiple near-losses into Baylor wins in Big 12 play, and there’s no teaching that kind of killer instinct.
Jackson is also an outstanding point guard, both on defense (1.8 steals per game) and offense (5.9 assists a night).
With Baylor reloading its frontcourt with highly-touted frosh Isaiah Austin and Ricardo Gathers, Jackson will have plenty of weapons to feed in 2012-13.
5. Mark Lyons, Arizona
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
As much attention as the nation’s third-best recruiting class is garnering in Tucson, coach Sean Miller scored just as big a coup in the transfer hunt.
Former Xavier guard Mark Lyons gives the Wildcats a top-flight perimeter scorer to go with the low-post weapons arriving in the freshman class.
Lyons poured in 15.1 points per game alongside Tu Holloway last season, draining 39.2 percent of his treys in the process.
The only catch for the Wildcats is that he’s a natural shooting guard being asked to run the point, and his 2.8 assists per contest a year ago don’t inspire so much optimism.
4. Kenny Boynton, Florida
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
The last man standing from Florida’s dazzling 2011-12 backcourt, Kenny Boynton is an immediate frontrunner for the SEC scoring title.
Already the seventh-leading point producer in Gator history, he should have little trouble capturing the school record in that department this season.
Boynton’s dazzling shooting ability—15.9 points per game, 40.7 percent accuracy from long range—will have a fine complement inside in the person of hardworking PF Patric Young.
With Boynton having helped the Gators reach back-to-back Elite Eights, he’ll also inspire plenty of confidence when the postseason lights come on.
3. Mason Plumlee, Duke
Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE
Duke would love to forget its final game of 2011-12, but don’t blame Mason Plumlee for the Blue Devil flop. The then-junior PF racked up 19 points on 9-for-9 shooting from the field, along with 12 rebounds, in the upset loss to Lehigh.
Back for his final year in Durham, Plumlee is eminently capable of putting up more big numbers after averaging 9.2 rebounds a night (albeit with a nondescript 11.1 points per game) last year.
With his power game and freshman Rasheed Sulaimon’s finesse, the Blue Devils will be a serious threat in the wide-open ACC.
2. Jeff Withey, Kansas
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Talented as Thomas Robinson was, Kansas’ trip to the national title game owed a lot to the country’s third-best field-goal defense (.380 shooting allowed).
Robinson is off to the NBA, but the heart of that defense remains in the person of seven-foot center Jeff Withey.
Withey ranked seventh in the country a season ago, blocking 3.3 shots per game.
With Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor gone, expect to see Withey's other stats, including mediocre averages of nine points and 6.3 rebounds a night, take significant leaps in his final collegiate season.
1. Peyton Siva, Louisville
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
No one player had more to do with putting Louisville in the 2012 Final Four than Peyton Siva. The 5’11” point guard gave the Cardinals their only semblance of a half-court offense with his 5.6 assists per game and timely forays to the rim.
Siva, also a fine defender who plucked 1.7 steals a night last year, will have a lot more help on offense this time around.
Don’t be surprised if both his scoring and assist numbers jump with some help from a healthy Wayne Blackshear and fleet-footed Russ Smith on the wings.