Predicting the 10 Most Improved College Basketball Players in 2012-13

Jesse KramerCorrespondent INovember 22, 2012

Predicting the 10 Most Improved College Basketball Players in 2012-13

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    Already this season, a number of returning players in college basketball have shown incredible signs of improvement.

    Players like James Michael McAdoo (North Carolina) and Michael Carter-Williams (Syracuse) have watched their statistics jump up with an increase in playing time, while centers Jeff Withey (Kansas) and Gorgui Dieng (Louisville) have polished their offensive games to become strong all-around players.

    Here is a list of the 10 players in Division I college basketball who will have improved the most from 2011-12 to 2012-13 when all is said and done.

James Michael McAdoo, So., North Carolina

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    James Michael McAdoo, although a highly touted recruit, played only 15.6 minutes per game as a freshman. His rookie season produced a modest 6.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game as he sat behind one of the best frontcourts in college basketball, made up of John Henson, Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes.

    Already, his sophomore year is becoming something special.

    McAdoo posted double-doubles in each of his first two games and then went for 18 points and nine rebounds against Long Beach State. He had some struggles against Mississippi State and Butler but finished the Maui Invitational with a strong showing against Chaminade with 18 points and 10 rebounds.

    The Tar Heels' game against No. 1 Indiana on Tuesday will be a good opportunity for McAdoo to showcase his talents against another of the top forwards in the nation, Cody Zeller.

Michael Carter-Williams, So., Syracuse

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    Michael Carter-Williams was a non-factor for Syracuse last season with only 2.7 points and 2.1 assists per game.

    Already this season, through three games, Carter-Williams has shown the ability to be Syracuse's top player.

    Against San Diego State, he posted 17 points, four assists and five steals before fouling out. He then accumulated six points, six rebounds, 11 assists and three steals against Wagner and 10 points, six rebounds, nine assists and four steals against Princeton.

    Carter-Williams has the talent to affect the game on both ends of the floor. He is the type of player that could lead the Big East in both assists and steals this season.

Jeff Withey, Sr., Kansas

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    Jeff Withey made himself known as a defensive presence last season. In addition to his nine points and 6.3 rebounds, he also averaged 3.6 blocks per game. Three times, he had nine or more blocks in a single game.

    Although there was not much need to improve his defensive game, there was a lot of room for improvement in his offensive game. The Jayhawks, who lost Thomas Robinson to the NBA, needed Withey to become an offensive force in the post, and so far, he has done a pretty good job of delivering.

    Through five games, Withey is averaging 13.8 points while shooting 54.3 percent from the field. On Tuesday against Saint Louis, he tied his career-high 25 points in addition to five rebounds and seven blocks. 

    Withey is becoming the more aggressive scorer that Kansas needs him to be this season.

Gorgui Dieng, Jr., Louisville

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    Similarly to Withey, Gorgui Dieng was great defensive last season. He averaged 3.2 blocks and 1.2 steals, but his offense was not always there, as he averaged 9.1 points.

    This year, he has developed from being mainly a defensive force to being a strong, all-around player.

    Dieng is averaging nine points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.3 blocks and 1.8 steals through four games this season, and that is in only 25 minutes, compared to his average of 32.8 per game last year. Once Louisville starts playing against tougher teams in games that won't end in blowouts, he will get more playing time and his numbers will likely jump up further.

    The most impressive improvement for Dieng this season has been his high-post game. He developed an elbow jumper during the offseason and has also become great at finding cutters from the foul line.

Kyle Wiltjer, So., Kentucky

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    Kyle Wiltjer sat on the bench for most of Kentucky's run to the championship last season. In the Wildcats' six NCAA tournament games, he averaged only 5.8 minutes per game.

    With most of the championship team either graduated or playing in the NBA, Wiltjer has been a veteran force for Kentucky despite only being a sophomore.

    Four games deep, he is averaging 14 points and 4.3 rebounds while making 54.2 percent of his three-point attempts.

    Although he was only mediocre against Duke and Morehead State, he had great games against Maryland and Lafayette.

    Versus the Terrapins, he had 19 points, six rebounds and three blocks while going 4-of-6 from beyond the arc, and against the Leopards, he had 23 points and made seven of his 11 three-point attempts. 

Larry Drew II, Sr., UCLA

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    Larry Drew II was, for the most part, a mess during his two-and-a-half years at North Carolina. He produced 8.5 points and 5.9 assists as a sophomore, but even then, his turnover rate was at 3.2 per game.

    At his new home in southern California, Drew is showing his ability to be a top point guard in the Pac-12.

    Through five games, Drew is averaging 5.4 points and seven assists, although his shooting percentage is at a mediocre 37 percent. Most importantly, his turnovers are down to 1.4 per game.

    His statistics clearly reflect the new level of comfort that he has found at UCLA, and this year, he should finally be able to live up to the expectations of being a Top 30 recruit out of high school.

Phil Greene, So., St. John's

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    Phil Greene received the least hype among St. John's freshmen a season ago, and it didn't appear that he deserved any. As a rookie, he averaged 7.6 points and three assists while shooting 35.5 percent from the field in 31.4 minutes per game.

    However, through five games this season, he looks like one of the top point guards in the Big East.

    Greene has done a great job of distributing and taking care of the basketball with 4.6 assists and only 1.8 turnovers per game. He has also become a better scorer, posting 14.6 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting, and he rebounds well for his size with 4.8 boards.

Erik Murphy, Sr., Florida

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    Erik Murphy's main role on last year's Florida team was a three-point shooter. Out of his 270 field-goal attempts, 140 came from beyond the arc.

    Murphy has remained a strong distance shooter at 50 percent so far this year, but the senior has also expanded his game. Overall, he is shooting 58.8 percent from the field, which is more than 10 percentage points higher than last season. In addition, he is averaging 1.8 assists and 1.3 steals per game, both career-highs.

    Against Florida's one Top 25 opponent of November (Wisconsin), Murphy posted 24 points and eight rebounds while shooting a perfect 10-of-10 from the field.

Alex Len, So., Maryland

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    Alex Len received limited playing last season. The seven-footer saw 21.2 minutes per game as a freshman, but he still put up some solid numbers, averaging six points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocks.

    Already this season, Len has shown that he will be one of the top big men in the ACC. After four games, he is averaging 17 points, 8.5 rebounds and three blocks while shooting 55.3 percent from the field and 80 percent from the charity stripe.

    Going up against the likes of Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein and the aforementioned Wiltjer in Maryland's season opener, Len posted 23 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks. 

Fran Dougherty, Jr., Penn

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    As the most unknown player on this list, Fran Dougherty remains under the radar despite averaging 19.8 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocks for Penn this season. He has scored 17 or more points in each of the Quakers' last five games, and in their one other game, he posted nine points and 11 rebounds.

    What makes his start to the season so impressive is how little of a factor Dougherty was during his freshman and sophomore seasons. Last year, in 16.6 minutes per game, he averaged only 4.5 points and four rebounds per game.