The Most Difficult College Basketball Players to Match Up with in 2014-15
In college basketball as in the NBA, some players are able to create mismatches no matter who tries to guard them. Even with the likes of Jabari Parker and Cleanthony Early off to the pros, there are plenty of stars remaining in the college ranks who have the physical tools or unexpected skill sets to keep any defender back on his heels.
One of last year’s biggest success stories, Frank Kaminsky, poses an inside-outside threat on par with Parker or Early. Now heading into his senior year, the Wisconsin center is too tall for perimeter defenders, but he's too skilled a shooter for big men to handle.
Herein is a closer look at the challenges posed by Kaminsky and the rest of the 12 most intimidating matchups in the college ranks for the 2014-15 season.
Bobby Portis, Arkansas
Even on a team loaded with impressive dunkers, Bobby Portis stands out for the elevation he gets on an already towering frame.
The 6’10”, 242-pound forward also brings muscle to complement his agility, keeping slower opponents from being able to push him off the block.
Portis’ offensive game is short on polish, but few defenders can stay in front of him well enough to exploit that situation.
Then, too, the rising sophomore is likely to return to Fayetteville with more skill to complement his explosiveness, hardly an encouraging prospect for SEC big men.
Jahlil Okafor, Duke
Sometimes the toughest players to handle are the simplest ones to explain. Jahlil Okafor is a pure low-post center in the Dwight Howard mold, but that knowledge won’t be much comfort to the big men trying to stop him.
At 6’10” and 265 pounds, Okafor can overwhelm most collegiate post players with his sheer size. The ones who can handle that will be hard-pressed to keep up with the freshman’s impressive array of fakes and countermoves with his back to the basket.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
As 7-footers go, Willie Cauley-Stein is unusually easy to contain in the half-court, hence his paltry 6.8 point-per-game scoring average. The trick is to make sure he has to play in the half court.
Despite his length and muscular 244-pound frame, Cauley-Stein (a former high school wide receiver) is stunningly fast in the open floor.
He’s the best transition weapon of any college center, and there isn’t a player in the country who can both equal his speed and contest his dunk attempts when he gets a look at the rim.
Deandre Mathieu, Minnesota
It will come as no surprise that opposing teams have little trouble finding a defender big enough to guard 5’9” Deandre Mathieu. Finding a defender small enough, though, is a stiffer challenge.
The diminutive Mathieu, who excelled after transferring from Morehead State, is the quickest guard in college basketball.
With his ball-handling prowess and low center of gravity, he makes it nearly impossible for a defender to steal the ball from him—and almost as difficult to keep him out of the lane when he decides to drive to the basket.
Cliff Alexander, Kansas
Very few college big men have the raw power to bang with Kansas freshman Cliff Alexander. Those who do are going to be hard-pressed to keep up with the electrifying power forward in the open floor or soar high enough to contest his slams.
Alexander stands 6’9” and 240 pounds, but it’s his vertical leap as much as his strength that makes him a highlight-reel dunker. If he can develop the confidence in his finesse game that KU coach Bill Self often brings out in his big men, watch out.
Jordan Mickey, LSU
Pending the development of towering freshman Elbert Robinson, LSU may well need to play Jordan Mickey at center for much of 2014-15.
Although the 6’8” forward doesn’t have much height for the position, playing against bulkier pivot men will only accentuate the mobility that made him one of the SEC’s most impressive newcomers a year ago.
As a freshman, Mickey averaged 12.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and a gaudy 3.1 blocks per game while sharing the frontcourt with veteran Johnny O’Bryant III.
His extraordinary quickness and leaping ability let him play far bigger than his listed size, and his skill in the face-up game lets him keep slower defenders on their heels.
Rashad Vaughn, UNLV
Big guards can present the same height-advantage worries as towering centers, especially when they also feature top-notch quickness. That’s the concern facing UNLV opponents this season, with the Rebels adding celebrated freshman Rashad Vaughn.
The Minnesota native is a big-time physical specimen at 6’6” and 200 pounds, but he’s as tough to stop off the dribble as a player four inches shorter.
He’s also a serious three-point threat, meaning that defenders of any size have to pick their poison: Stay in his face to stop the trey or back off to keep him from slashing to the rim.
Georges Niang, Iowa State
Georges Niang’s anemic rebounding numbers—4.5 boards per game last year—owe far more to playing alongside Dustin Hogue and Melvin Ejim than to any lack of power on his own part.
His strength and 6’7” height forces the opposition to put a post player on him, and that’s where the trouble starts. In his two years with the Iowa State Cyclones, Niang has developed into one of the best point forwards in the country.
When he catches the ball on the wing, slow-footed opponents have to choose whether to try to cut off his dribble or let him pick apart the D with jump shots and precision passes.
Stanley Johnson, Arizona
On another team, 6’6”, 225-pound Stanley Johnson might well be pressed into service at power forward.
Instead, the freshman will get to stay at his natural small forward spot on the loaded Arizona front line—and that’s bad news for the small forwards of the Pac-12.
Johnson’s blend of quickness and power lets him overrun most defenders who try to stay in front of him off the dribble.
Even with a suspect jump shot, he has so much athletic ability (and such good scorer’s instincts) that he’ll be among the most productive freshmen in the country next season.
Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
With Isaiah Austin’s career at Baylor completed, Frank Kaminsky stands alone as the standard-bearer for perimeter-shooting centers.
The long-armed 7-footer hit 37.8 percent of his treys last year, and opponents who can even pretend to contest his shots are well outside their comfort zones when playing defense at the arc.
As Kaminsky showed in March, he’s very capable of doing his scoring in the paint, too. His deftness with a hook shot makes life even tougher for big men who do have the foot speed to challenge him outside.
Chris Walker, Florida
When it comes to NBA-caliber athletes, Chris Walker is as impressive a specimen as there is in the country.
Walker stands 6’10” and 220 pounds, much of which must be devoted to the springs that let him jump over hapless opponents hoping to defend him at the rim.
Walker’s agility and speed are nearly a match for his leaping ability, helping him get into position to sky for points in the paint.
Considering the highlight reel he compiled in just 87 minutes of playing time as a freshman, he’s in for a phenomenal sophomore campaign.
Myles Turner, Texas
Myles Turner has more potential as an offensive weapon than any player in college basketball for 2014-15. The closer he comes to reaching that potential, the tougher he’ll be for any opposing defender to contain.
The 7’0”, 240-pound freshman has an outstanding low-post game with both finesse and power in his favor.
More worrisome for opposing coaches (and big men), he’s just as comfortable lobbing three-pointers from the outside, and he even has the agility and quickness to put the ball on the floor from the perimeter.