As Anthony Davis reminded everyone last season, a dominating star on the low block can be an express route to the national championship. Davis is gone to the NBA, but there are plenty of talented players left at the college level to vie for his spot as the country's best post presence.
One of the most impressive in that group is Davis’ opponent from the national title game: Kansas center Jeff Withey. The shot-blocking specialist is poised to keep the Jayhawks’ D among the country’s best during his senior year in Lawrence.
Read on for more on Withey and the rest of an elite eight of the best centers and power forwards in the college game for 2012-13.
For a player coming off a season-ending ACL injury, Trevor Mbakwe has an unbelievable upside. The last time the Golden Gopher star played a full season, he led the Big Ten with 10.5 rebounds per game.
Mbakwe is also a valuable offensive weapon who scored 13.9 points a night in that same 2010-11 campaign. He’s at his best when he can get to the rim, where his strength and leaping ability make him one of the country’s most explosive dunkers.
The core of the matchup zone that carried Louisville to the Final Four, Gorgui Dieng is a shot-blocker above all else. His 3.2 rejections per game placed him eighth in the nation a season ago.
The 6’10” Dieng is also a terrific rebounder who grabbed 9.1 boards per contest. He’s still pretty raw offensively, but he came up with enough put-backs and fast-break finishes to score 9.1 points a game.
A breakout star in 2011-12, Mike Moser will be even more dangerous with a year of experience leading his new team. The UCLA transfer led the Rebels with 14 points and 10.5 rebounds a night last year.
The 6’8” Moser is also an aggressive defender who piled up 1.0 blocks and 1.9 steals per contest a season ago.
Even in what will be a crowded Rebel frontcourt—featuring not only star freshman Anthony Bennett but also transfers Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith—Moser’s agility and skill will make him stand out.
The 2012 recruiting class brings a surprising number of true seven-footers to the table around the country, but none with more potential than Isaiah Austin.
The gem of Scott Drew’s freshman class is an astounding athlete with the mobility to play any frontcourt position at 7’0”, 210 lbs.
Austin will likely have his most consistent impact on defense, where his dominating shot-blocking ability will dovetail beautifully with Drew’s penchant for zone defenses.
Offensively, he can score anywhere from the low block out to the three-point line, but if he falls in love with his perimeter game too much, he can squander his size advantage.
The best chance Kansas has of returning to the Final Four this season—and it’s a good one—is to rely on the smothering defense that served the Jayhawks so well last season.
After allowing the third-lowest shooting percentage in the country (38.0), KU is a good bet to lock down opposing offenses again with seven-footer Jeff Withey back to patrol the paint.
Withey placed seventh nationally with 3.3 blocks per game, and he should be at least as tough in his senior season.
With the long shadows of Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor removed, Withey should also get a chance to improve dramatically on his averages of nine points and 6.3 rebounds a night from last year.
If he hadn’t been buried on the bench as a freshman, James Michael McAdoo would be in the NBA by now. Even in just 15.6 minutes a night, he left little doubt as to his sensational athletic ability or his pro credentials.
McAdoo is a 6’9” PF who will fit perfectly in North Carolina’s light-speed fast-break offense. His leaping ability and length also make him a serious factor as a rebounder, and at 230 lbs, he won’t be easily pushed around in the paint.
There isn’t a player in the country under more pressure to excel than Anthony Davis’ successor, and Nerlens Noel gives every indication of being up to the challenge.
The 6’10” freshman, ranked as the nation’s No. 1 recruit, looks like an even better player at the start of his college career than the brilliant Davis did.
Like Davis, Noel is a game-changing shot-blocker whose killer instinct will give the Wildcats a first-class defense.
However, the agile Noel is a more skilled, more fluid offensive weapon than Davis was when he arrived in Lexington, particularly when it comes to his passing touch.
The biggest improvement a college basketball player makes in his career typically comes between his freshman and sophomore seasons.
Considering how good Cody Zeller already was as a freshman, he could wind up as the best player to wear an Indiana uniform since Steve Alford.
The seven-foot Zeller did everything well in keying the Hoosiers’ surprise Sweet 16 season, racking up 15.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 1.4 steals per game.
With a year of experience and a stacked lineup around him, he’s a favorite for both national Player of the Year honors and a national title shot in his sophomore campaign.