Predicting the Best 7-Footers in College Basketball for the 2014-15 Season
The meek may inherit the Earth, but the tall are going to control the court.
College basketball is looking at a bumper crop of towering talent in 2014-15, with one of the best groups of 7-footers in recent memory set to dominate this upcoming season.
The projected top centers in the country are a mix of experienced veterans, rising underclassmen and promising newcomers, all of whom are expected to play a big role for their respective teams. And as was the case with 2013-14 standout big men Isaiah Austin and Joel Embiid, a big year down low may lead to rising draft stock.
Check out our ranking of the 10 best 7-footers heading into the 2014-15 season.
(NOTE: School years listed are as of the 2014-15 season.)
10. Dallin Bachynski, Utah
Height, weight: 7'0", 258 pounds
The younger brother of former Arizona State center Jordan Bachynski, Dallin Bachynski has been used sparingly in his first two seasons with Utah after a transfer from Southern Utah. But for his senior year, there could be a lot more playing time in store, especially with the Utes looking to become a more complete and balanced team.
Dallin isn't nearly as adept of a shot-blocker as his brother, averaging less than one swat per game last season, but his offensive numbers are quite good considering his limited playing time. He averaged 6.8 points and 4.9 rebounds in 18 minutes per game in 2013-14, shooting 62 percent from the field and 78 percent from the free-throw line.
9. Karl Towns Jr., Kentucky
Height, weight: 7'1", 248 pounds
The lone freshman on this list, Karl Towns Jr. is a 5-star recruit from New Jersey who will give Kentucky three players over seven feet tall that should contribute this season. Rated as the fifth-best prospect in the class of 2015, the Gatorade National Player of the Year comes in with a lot of hype but will still have to fight for playing time.
Towns had six points, five rebounds and two blocks in 19 minutes in the McDonald's All-American game and added another nine points, seven rebounds and three assists in the Jordan Brand Classic. Facing the top competition of his age group in both games, Towns showed he's ready to compete at the college level.
8. Dakari Johnson, Kentucky
Height, weight: 7'0", 265 pounds
Dakari Johnson only managed 14 minutes per game in his first college season, stuck behind a stacked lineup of Kentucky studs. But that average jumped to more than 21 minutes per contest during the Wildcats' run to the NCAA title game, as Johnson became much more of a low-post force than he'd showed during the regular season.
For the year, Johnson averaged only 5.2 points and 3.9 rebounds, but he showed a bright future in the postseason that included a career-best 15 points against defending champion Louisville and a shooting accuracy (he was 17-of-26 in Kentucky's final four games) that will keep him in the rotation for solid minutes next season.
7. Amida Brimah, Connecticut
Height, weight: 7'0", 217 pounds
There were many times during Amida Brimah's freshman year that he showed the kind of rawness that comes with having only played basketball for four years. But then there were the times his athleticism and skill picked up that showed he was a fast learner.
Brimah averaged 4.1 points, 3.0 rebounds and—most importantly—2.3 blocks per game for Connecticut's NCAA championship team, doing all that in just 16.2 minutes per game. He wasn't much of a factor during the NCAA tournament, but throughout the season, he had flashes of promise that lead the Huskies to believe he'll continue to improve with more time on the court.
6. Mamadou Ndiaye, UC Irvine
Height, weight: 7'6", 290 pounds
The tallest player in Division I last season—as well as this upcoming year—Mamadou Ndiaye was a tower of rejection who soared far above most of UC Irvine's opponents, especially those in the size-deprived Big West Conference.
Ndiaye was tied for ninth in the nation last season with 3.12 blocks per game, but despite the major size advantage, his offensive game didn't maximize that edge. Despite shooting 70.7 percent from the field, Ndiaye only averaged 8.0 points per game along with 6.2 rebounds, logging just 21 minutes per contest. He never took more than nine shots in a game, as the Anteaters weren't able to get the ball inside to him on a regular basis.
5. A.J. Hammons, Purdue
Height, weight: 7'0", 251 pounds
A.J. Hammons has been a consistent contributor for Purdue in both of his college seasons, a standout on both ends of the court, and that production and dependability nearly led him to pursue an NBA career early.
Coach Matt Painter told Nathan Baird of the Indianapolis Star that Hammons ultimately decided to return to the Boilermakers after getting feedback that he'd be no better than a late second-round pick and could go undrafted. It was probably a smart decision, because 44 underclassmen have declared for the NBA draft and there are only 60 draft slots.
Instead, Hammons will look to improve on his sophomore year numbers, which saw him average 10.8 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game. The scoring and rebounding were almost identical to what he did as a freshman, though his blocking and field-goal percentage (51.1) were both better than in his first season.
4. Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga
Height, weight: 7'1", 296 pounds
Przemek Karnowski was one of those diamond-in-the-rough finds that Gonzaga has become known for, the product of Bulldogs assistant Tommy Lloyd spotting the big man from Poland while attending the U17 World Championships in Germany in 2010 to watch future Gonzaga guard Kevin Pangos.
Incredibly raw at first, and still a bit from time to time, Karnowski is developing into a physical player who knows how to throw his sizable frame around. Moved into the starting lineup as a sophomore, he averaged 10.4 points and 7.1 rebounds while shooting better than 59 percent from the field.
Karnowski had a double-double in both of Gonzaga's NCAA tournament games, and with another year of seasoning (not to mention another round of solid nonconference competition that Gonzaga likes to schedule), he could vie for All-America honors.
3. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
Height, weight: 7'0", 244 pounds
The least heralded of Kentucky's 2012 recruiting class, Willie Cauley-Stein has also stuck around longer than most recruits have during John Calipari's run of loading up on freshman phenoms. And while he hasn't put up the kind of numbers to warrant going pro early, he's been a solid contributor in both seasons who's shown consistent improvement.
Cauley-Stein averaged 6.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.9 blocks last year as a sophomore, and while the scoring was down, his presence on defense became more enhanced. An ankle injury caused him to miss Kentucky's final three games, and though it still made the NCAA final, his absence was felt on the defensive end.
Back for a third year in the Wildcats' system, Cauley-Stein will be in as tough of a fight as ever for minutes in a crowded frontcourt thanks to another talented recruiting class and an inordinate amount of returning contributors. When he does get into games, though, look for Cauley-Stein to tap into his experience to make major contributions.
2. Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona
Height, weight: 7'0", 235 pounds
A starter since he arrived in Tucson, Kaleb Tarczewski has patrolled the paint for Arizona in 71 of its 72 games the past two seasons with a blend of bothersome defense and a slowly evolving offensive game that shows quite a bit of touch for a big man.
Tarczewski made a huge leap on the offensive end this past season, increasing his production by 50 percent to 9.9 points per game. He improved his shooting percentage from 54 to 58 percent, while at the free-throw line, he went from 63 to 75 percent.
Though still needing to get stronger, Tarczewski remains a fixture in Arizona's lineup. He's proven to be a disruption on defense and one of the more dependable scorers among 7-footers.
1. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
Height, weight: 7'0", 234 pounds
With a nickname like "The Tank," you'd think Frank Kaminsky would have more of an imposing physical presence. Instead, he's got some of the most finesse seen out of a college 7-footer in years, and thus he is the best player above that benchmark currently in Division I.
Kaminsky was an unheralded player in high school and went mostly unnoticed through two little-used seasons at Wisconsin before exploding onto the scene as a junior in 2013-14. He averaged 13.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game while shooting nearly 53 percent from the field, an accuracy that's even more impressive when you consider more than a quarter of his shots came from three-point range.
That's what made Kaminsky one of the game's most hard-to-stop players last season, the fact that when he'd move outside, he wasn't doing so just to set up a screen or rotate defenders. He was looking for a shot, and he made nearly 38 percent of those threes. When defenders would guard him close, Kaminsky would show off very impressive agility to drive to the basket.
Kaminsky wasn't exactly a slouch on the blocks, either. But the added bonus of an outside touch keeps him head and shoulders above the rest of the game's 7-footers.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP