10 College Basketball Big Men on the Brink of Stardom

David Aldridge@davidmaldridgeFeatured ColumnistJune 22, 2013

10 College Basketball Big Men on the Brink of Stardom

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    2013-14 will be a big season for some big men in college basketball.

    Players like Nerlens Noel, Cody Zeller, Kelly Olynyk and Mason Plumlee are moving on to the NBA, meaning it's time for a new crop of college basketball big men to dominate.

    As the game continues to evolve, big men are being asked to do more. Whether it's running the floor, passing out of the post or hitting outside shots, a post player needs to have some versatility to be effective.

    Here are 10 college basketball big men ready to break out next season.

Akil Mitchell: Virginia

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    Akil Mitchell is a key piece for a Virginia team that has high expectations going into the 2013-14 season.

    The trio of Joe Harris, Justin Anderson and Akil Mitchell gives head coach Tony Bennett one of the most talented trios he's had during his time in Charlottesville.

    At 6'8", 230 pounds, Mitchell gives the Cavaliers a strong low-post presence who is a particularly strong rebounder and defender. He averaged 13.1 points and 8.9 rebounds last season as a junior, which earned him a spot on the All-ACC third team by ACC coaches.

    With the attention Joe Harris will likely draw from opposing defenses, Mitchell should get plenty of opportunities to score in the paint.

    If Virginia is able to do some damage in the ACC and make it to the NCAA tournament, Mitchell will be a big part of the reason why.

Alex Kirk: New Mexico

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    If there is a poster child for the classic big man, Alex Kirk is it.

    The 7'0", 250-pound center for the Lobos prefers to play with his back to the basket and features an effective hook shot with either hand.

    Kirk has struggled with injuries but helped lead New Mexico to a 29-6 record in 2012-13, averaging 12.1 points and 8.1 rebounds as a redshirt sophomore.

    With Steve Alford leaving New Mexico to become the head coach at UCLA, there were initial talks that Kirk would leave to join his coach as a Bruin.

    However, at this time, New Mexico's new head coach, Craig Neal, is moving forward with hopes that Kirk will be a Lobo again next season.

Isaiah Austin: Baylor

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    The Baylor Bears received great news in April when Isaiah Austin announced on Twitter that he would be returning for his sophomore season.

    Many expected the 7'1", 220-pounder from Arlington, Texas, to only be at Baylor for a year before moving on to the NBA, but he decided to return after an inconsistent freshman campaign.

    While Austin averaged 13 points and 8.3 rebounds last season, his thin frame caused him some challenges against more physical opponents.

    With an offseason to build his strength and put on some weight, he should be able to use his unique skills to capitalize even more next season.

Amir Williams: Ohio State

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    When Amir Williams arrived at Ohio State as a freshman in 2011, he was a 4-star recruit and McDonald's All-American who was expected to contribute immediately for the Buckeyes.

    Instead, he saw limited action behind Jared Sullinger and Evan Ravenel during his first season and then struggled with consistency last season, averaging only 3.5 points and 3.9 rebounds.

    Entering his junior season, Williams will have the opportunity to be the featured big man for the Buckeyes, and he will benefit from playing alongside Aaron Craft, one of the best floor generals in college basketball.

    The 6'11", 250-pound Williams is an imposing physical presence, and he should be able to use that presence to have a strong junior season.

Amile Jefferson: Duke

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    At 6'8", 195 pounds, Amile Jefferson didn't fit the mold of a college basketball big man during his freshman season.

    However, Jefferson has already added 20 pounds of muscle during the offseason, and he'll be counted on to be one of Duke's only low-post threats next season.

    With a 7'1" wingspan and quick feet, Jefferson had success as a rebounder and defender when he'd come off the bench to provide relief for Mason Plumlee or Ryan Kelly.

    Mike Krzyzewski has talked about using some untraditional lineups next season, which could be similar to what he's done with USA basketball in the Olympics, and Jefferson is a big man who will flourish in an up-tempo offense.

Dwight Powell: Stanford

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    With the pressure on Johnny Dawkins to get Stanford back to the NCAA tournament after a five-year absence, he will need Dwight Powell to be great for the Cardinal.

    Physically, Powell has the size of a big man at 6'10", 235 pounds. However, his skill set is more in line with a slashing forward. As a junior, Powell averaged 14.9 points and 8.1 rebounds while shooting 46 percent from the field last season.

    His production earned him an All-Pac-12 first-team selection, and he was also named the conference's Most Improved Player.

    Now, the Cardinal will need him to do even more. In order for Dawkins to keep his job, he needs Powell to become one of the best players in the country.

A.J. Hammons: Purdue

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    A.J. Hammons was one of the only bright spots during a difficult 2012-13 season for the Purdue Boilermakers.

    Last season, Hammons averaged 10.6 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks and was named to the Big Ten's All-Freshman team. Going into next season, Purdue fans should be excited about the potential of the 7'0", 259-pound center from Carmel, Ind.

    He's spending the offseason working on his game and competing against some of the best players in the country at the tryouts for the World University Games with Team USA basketball.

    If Hammons can deliver on the potential he's shown, many NBA executives will be drooling at an opportunity to pick him early in next year's NBA draft.

Kaleb Tarczewski: Arizona

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    Kaleb Tarczewski is a 7'0", 255-pound big man who can run the court, handle physical play, defend the low post and finish around the rim. Essentially, he's a big man coach's dream.

    Tarczewski struggled with consistency during the early part of his freshman season as a Wildcat but became more reliable as the season progressed and he adjusted to the college game.

    The chance to play with highly-touted incoming freshman Aaron Gordon means Tarczewski will have plenty of opportunities to operate on his own in the paint and make plays around the rim.

    And with his physical traits, plays for Tarczewski to finish at the rim usually mean very bad things for the opposition.

Mitch McGary: Michigan

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    The 2013 NCAA tournament was a coming-out party for Mitch McGary.

    He averaged 15.3 points and 10.7 rebounds in the tournament and gave the Wolverines great intensity while marching their way to the Final Four.

    Many thought McGary would cash in on his tournament success and declare for the 2013 NBA draft, but he elected to return to Michigan for his sophomore season. Now, McGary has an opportunity to go from being a bench player through much of his freshman season to one of the best players in America as a sophomore.

    With his high motor, impressive rebounding ability and improving offensive game, McGary will show next season that his success in the 2013 NCAA tournament was no fluke.

Willie Cauley-Stein: Kentucky

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    It's clear that Willie Cauley-Stein's head coach expects him to become a star next season.

    When talking about Cauley-Stein, John Calipari says, "He has a chance to be one of the better players that I've ever coached," which says a great deal.

    The 7'0", 244-pound rising sophomore averaged 8.3 points and 6.2 rebounds while shooting over 62 percent from the field as a freshman. Cauley-Stein also increased his productivity toward the end of the season after Nerlens Noel went down with an injury.

    The biggest question for Cauley-Stein will be whether he can follow in the footsteps of guys like Noel and Anthony Davis and become the dominant rim protector for the Kentucky defense.

    He's certainly athletic enough to handle the responsibility.