The 10 Most Polarizing Players in College Basketball

Avi Wolfman-ArentCorrespondent IIFebruary 4, 2013

The 10 Most Polarizing Players in College Basketball

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    When did you realize that the competitive success of 20-year-old basketball players had such a penetrating effect on your emotional state?

    Was it the time Chris Webber executed a slam-n'-stare over some flailing senior?

    What about that Christian Laettner turnaround miracle?

    Maybe you're new to the world of irrational sports-based anger. Maybe it was a put-back lay-up by "Psycho T" or a Joakim Noah post-block spasm.

    Either way you're here, reading a list about the teenagers and near-teenagers that evoke extreme temperamental responses from normally reasonable college basketball fans.

    You might have a sickness. We all might.

    But that won't stop us from clicking ahead, now will it?

10. Russ Smith, Louisville

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    What You Love About Him: Scary quick. Fearless shooter. Impish off-court personality.

    What You Hate About Him: A pesky pest of a human being (and defender). Serial interview bomber.

    In Sum: You don't earn a name like Russdiculous without being simultaneously amazing and irritating.

    Smith harasses ball-handlers, carves up defenses and generally drives everyone in his sphere of activity insane, including coach Rick Pitino.

    Quoth Pitino"When you coach Russ Smith,you have a nervous breakdown on every possession...He's not from a different country. He's from a different planet."

    Coach, we share your sentiments.

9. C.J. Leslie, North Carolina State

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    Why You Love Him: Amazing dexterity for his size. Runs fast break like a guard.

    Why You Hate Him: Inconsistent. Chronic underachiever. Girl's first name for last name.

    In Sum: Leslie has become the living embodiment of his team's frustrating inability to harness the talent of its collective parts. When Leslie is great, he's Tony-the-Tiger great. As the linked highlight clip will attest, his skills in the open court are almost unparalleled for a guy his size (6'9").

    All of which makes it harder to explain his two-point dud against Oklahoma State, or his six-turnover performance against Norfolk State, or his six-point, three-rebound game against Clemson.

    So much of the above could be mapped onto NC State, a blindingly talented team that, whether from lack of depth or lack of focus, seems unable to sustain a prolonged stretch of solid play.

    With two losses last week, the Wolfpack fell out of the top 25 for the first time this season.

8. Cody Zeller, Indiana

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    What We Love: Skilled big. Great facilitator.

    What We Hate: Doesn't project star quality. OH-VER-RATED *CLAP* *CLAP* *CLAPCLAPCLAP*

    In Sum: Entering this year, Zeller was the preseason pick for POY playing on the nation's preseason No. 1 team. So you knew haters were gon' hate.

    Naturally, folks began to question his ability to take over games late or his toughness inside or whatever other nit-picky flaw exists in Zeller's game. They began to whisper about how other players were more deserving of the hype, how Zeller was just a glorified put-back artist..

    Of course, none of this has anything to do with Zeller, whose only apparent sin was to have a great freshman year.

    But with the glory comes detractors, and the Indiana big man has a few.

7. Isaiah Austin, Baylor

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    Why You Love Him: Unique combination of size and skill. Kevin Durant-ish tendencies. Sweet glasses.

    Why You Hate Him: Doesn't have a real position. Skinny as a shadow. Stupid glasses.

    In Sum: This is a slide for the NBA draft nerds, all of whom seem to have different opinions on Austin's next-level prospects.

    Some see the seven-foot shooter as a nightmare guard at the next level. Others say he's too slight to do anything with his towering frame. Still others think both sides are playing a bit loose with their rhetoric.

    Baylor has been a bit out of the spotlight this season, but Austin should remain a hot topic of conversation well into the summer.

6. Dez Wells, Maryland

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    Why You Love Him: Great athlete and highly rated recruit getting a second chance as a late transfer to Maryland

    Why You Hate Him: Expelled from Xavier amid sexual assault allegations. Played instigator role in Xavier-Cincinnati brawl.

    In Sum: Wells had a hellish freshman season at Xavier, beginning with his critical role in the infamous Xavier-Cincinnati brawl and ending with his expulsion from the university last summer due to a "serious violation" of the school's student conduct code. The violation stemmed from a sexual assault charge that never went to court, leading Hamilton County prosecutor Joe Deters to call the school's decision "fundamentally unfair."

    Wells received a waiver from the NCAA allowing him to forgo the usual one-year transfer penalty and suit up for Maryland this year. So far, the high-flying wing is averaging 12.2 points per game while also receiving his fair share of flak from opposing fans.

    So, is Wells a falsely accused man getting his long-overdue shot at redemption or a criminal skirting punishment?

    Depends on who you ask.

5. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky

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    Why You Love Him: Defensive freak show. Stuffs the stat sheet. Makes a handful of highlight-reel plays every game.

    Why You Hate Him: Can't shoot. Really can't free-throw shoot. Not Anthony Davis.

    Nerlens Noel was the consensus top recruit in the class of 2012, a distinction that invites all manner of opinion.

    The Massachusetts native is the best defensive player in the country just 21 games into his college career, but for some folks that isn't enough.

    Those folks tend to rail on about Noel's underdeveloped offensive game and hone in on his hideous free-throw form.

    They also like to point out how good his predecessor, Anthony Davis, was.

    Because that's a fair benchmark.

4. Mason Plumlee, Duke

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    Why You Love Him: Fearless athlete. Tireless post menace. Duke's best player.

    Why You Hate Him: Belongs to the Plumlee clan. Duke's best player.

    In Sum: To sign with Duke is to tacitly embrace the fact that many people will wish you well...and many more will wish you ill.

    Success breeds contempt, y'all.

3. Michael Snaer, Florida State

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    What We Love: End-of-game dagger specialist. Possessed of great confidence

    What We Hate: Average player hiding behind veil of clutch shots. Cocky as all hell.

    In Sum: No player in the college game has a better reputation for clutch shooting than Snaer, whose game-winner against Maryland last Saturday was his fourth such shot in the last two years.

    Detractors will note that he's shooting a paltry 40 percent from the field, a statistic that somehow coexists with statements like...

    "[At LeBron's camp], I think we did one-on-one drills one time. I just straight destroyed people. So I mean, at that moment, I just knew, in my opinion, I'm the best guard in the country, the best two-guard in the country, in my opinion. Any guy would say that of course. But, like I said, you ask any of the guys that were down there [in] that drill with me and who laced up and went against me -- I can give you references if you want — but they'll tell you, 'Yeah, I couldn't guard him and nobody down there could.'"

    If I'm a Seminole fan, I love it. If I'm a fan of the team that's playing Florida State, I'm gritting my teeth into stumps.

2. Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA

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    Why You Love Him: Fantastic scorer. Great energy. Obvious lottery-pick talent.

    Why You Hate Him: Avoided NCAA penalty on a technicality. Owns a Gucci backpack.

    In Sum: As the second-ranked recruit in the class of 2012, Muhammad was always going to be a target of criticism. 

    That criticism got a booster shot when Muhammad missed the first three games of the season due to an NCAA investigation regarding whether or not he received impermissible benefits. 

    The case was then dropped (and Muhammad reinstated) when the loudmouth boyfriend of an NCAA investigator openly crowed about Muhammad's guilt during a plane trip.

    As you might imagine, plenty of folks find the circumstances surrounding Muhammad's reinstatement a bit unsavory.

    Add to that his talent, and he's an obvious lightning-rod player.

1. Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss

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    What You Love About Him: Shot-chucking glory hog. Rabid trash talker. A-Plus hater-baiter. Twitter phenom. Redeemed JUCO transfer with law-breaking history.

    What You Hate About Him: See above.

    In Sum: This list was made for a player like Marshall Henderson. Either you love his swaggering on-court persona and candid on-record interviews.

    Or you hate it.

    Just try to remember it's only a game, okay?