Predicting the Best 6th Men in College Basketball in 2014-15 Season
A great bench isn’t always a prerequisite for college basketball success, but that doesn’t mean any team is going to turn down a shot at an elite sixth man. Being able to throw in a pair of fresh legs to put quick points on the board or shut down the other team’s hot hand is a great way to turn the tide of a close game, especially in March when the long season has taken its toll.
One of the best reserve weapons in the country next year will be a player who’s already proven his worth to Arizona’s second unit: rising sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. The multi-position defensive stopper will be ceding his part-time starting spot back to a healthy Brandon Ashley, but that just means that he’ll be free to sub in against any opposing scorer or rebounder whom Sean Miller wants to contain.
Read on for more on RHJ’s prospects for his second year in Tucson, along with nine more of the most dangerous players projected to be coming off the bench for some of college hoops’ best teams in 2014-15.
10. Anthony Clemmons, Iowa
Graduation and the NBA have taken a bite out of the Hawkeyes’ untouchable 2013-14 depth, but there are still plenty of contenders for playing time in Iowa City.
Anthony Clemmons, one of 10 players on last year's roster to earn double-digit minutes, will benefit from the departures to show off his offensive firepower.
The backup to heady point guard Mike Gesell, Clemmons will see plenty of action in an offense that needs its floor general to be able to push the tempo at all times.
Although his skills as a distributor—much needed in Roy Devyn Marble's absence—have been his biggest asset thus far, he's also able to knock down shots given the chance. He hit 51.1 percent of his field-goal tries and 37.5 percent of his treys last year.
This spot would have gone to Clemmons' teammate Peter Jok, had he not just managed to get himself arrested again and suspended indefinitely.
9. Kris Jenkins, Villanova
At 6’6” and 255 pounds, Kris Jenkins isn’t far from being built like the former NFL defensive tackle whose name he shares. He’s also about as far from a traditional post presence as any player with his bulk you’ll ever see.
As a freshman, Jenkins attempted 118 shots as a Villanova reserve, 81 of them from beyond the three-point arc.
He’s an outstanding shot from distance (.370 from long range, .815 from the charity stripe), so even if he refrains from setting up on the low block, he’ll get plenty of chances in a trey-happy offense that loses top sniper James Bell.
8. Terrence Samuel, UConn
A late-season revelation for coach Kevin Ollie, Terrence Samuel will get a chance to show his freshman finish was no fluke.
Though he averaged just 9.0 minutes per game for the year, he played at least twice that many in three of the six NCAA tournament games during the Huskies’ title run.
Samuel’s stock in trade is top-notch defense, a commodity neither N.C. State transfer Rodney Purvis nor likely third guard Daniel Hamilton can match.
That skill will earn him plenty of minutes, and the athletic ability he showed in powering through postseason lanes (11 of 12 combined free throws against Villanova and Iowa State) will earn him substantial scoring numbers, too.
7. Monte Morris, Iowa State
As a freshman, Monte Morris played more than well enough behind standout DeAndre Kane to put himself in line for the senior’s job.
In Ames, though, depth chart expectations can change with all the speed of Fred Hoiberg’s high-octane offense, and Bryce DeJean-Jones’ arrival from UNLV leaves Morris looking at another year as a backup instead.
Even so, the 6’2” Michigan native is the best pure distributor on Hoiberg’s roster, a fact that should earn him plenty of minutes in an attack that led the nation in assists a season ago.
Morris piled up 3.7 of them a game (while shooting .406 from deep) last time around, and he’s only likely to improve with a year of experience behind him.
6. Shaqquan Aaron, Louisville
In one of the deepest recruiting classes in college hoops for 2014-15, Shaqquan Aaron is the headliner. The 6’7” small forward is a fearsome transition scorer who will be able to hit the ground running for always-aggressive Louisville.
Coach Rick Pitino, perennially a fan of versatile frontcourt talent, will also get plenty of mileage out of Aaron’s passing touch, a quality that will help mitigate the graduation of steady veteran Luke Hancock.
Wayne Blackshear’s experience will earn him the starting role at the 3, but Aaron isn’t giving up anything to the rising senior where explosiveness or potential is concerned.
5. Quinn Cook, Duke
Most teams in the country would be lucky to have any point guards with Quinn Cook’s resume. At Duke, the rising senior with two years of four-plus assists per game (and a heroic effort in last March’s loss to Mercer) won’t even crack the starting five.
Jones’ decision-making prowess and terrific defense will earn him the starting job, leaving Cook to provide experience and an underrated shooting touch (.371 from deep, .827 from the stripe) off the bench.
4. Theo Pinson, North Carolina
One of the most intense position battles of the offseason is on tap in Chapel Hill, where McDonald’s All-America teammates Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson are vying for one spot in the Tar Heels’ starting five.
Jackson, the more skilled jump-shooter, should have the inside track, leaving his classmate to clean up off the bench.
At a physical 6’6” and 190 pounds, Pinson becomes the scariest all-around athlete on Roy Williams’ impressive roster.
He’s a dogged defender and a potent scorer off the drive—as in the above much-replayed dunk over Kansas-bound Kelly Oubre Jr.—who will rack up highlights and stats in abundance thanks to Williams’ fabled fast break.
3. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona
Although Rondae Hollis-Jefferson acquitted himself well in replacing injured starter Brandon Ashley for last year’s Pac-12 champs, Ashley’s return leaves the younger forward headed back to the pine.
Hollis-Jefferson spent the first half of his freshman campaign showing just how much damage he could do in that capacity.
He's a pure stopper with a limited offensive game, though the Wildcats’ deep attack and the talent of point guard T.J. McConnell will get RHJ his share of points.
Had he joined the starting five, the hard-nosed rebounder would be a leading contender for Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, an honor that could easily go to the new star freshman on the block in Tucson, Stanley Johnson.
2. Cameron Ridley, Texas
It’s not easy to find a reason to bench an experienced 6’9”, 285-pound center who can score, rebound and play defense. Myles Turner is such a reason.
The freshman 7-footer is a one-and-done prospect even more secure than last year’s Big 12 revelation in the pivot, Joel Embiid of Kansas.
Turner’s arrival in Austin leaves Cameron Ridley—the best of many potent rising juniors on the Longhorns’ roster—without a spot in the starting lineup, but he’ll get his minutes.
With the power and skill he showed as Texas’ leading rebounder a year ago (and the clutch acumen it took to beat the buzzer in a March thriller against Arizona State), Ridley will be a terrifying second-unit weapon for Rick Barnes.
1. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
Defining a starting center at Kentucky is an exercise in futility, as last year’s Wildcats already used three former McDonald’s All-Americans in the role (Willie Cauley-Stein among them) and now add freshman Karl-Anthony Towns to that mix.
The best guess here is that the season will open as the last one closed, with Dakari Johnson opening the game on the floor and Cauley-Stein jumping in with energy off the bench for significant minutes.
The rising junior is the best low-post defender in college basketball, but his offensive game is lightyears behind those of Johnson and Towns.
Cauley-Stein is a phenomenal athlete who does his damage with fast-break points—even easier to pile up against tired foes—so if he can become even a competent half-court scorer, look for the monolithic Johnson to replace him on both the bench and this list.