Top 15 Centers in NCAA Hoops: Jared Sullinger and Other Potential Star Big Men

Mike HendersonCorrespondent IIApril 23, 2011

Top 15 Centers in NCAA Hoops: Jared Sullinger and Other Potential Star Big Men

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    Remember this guy in the adjacent photo?

    The center position in college basketball has changed.

    Many players that theoretically have the size to play on the block are now outside shooters, a product of how the game has changed at almost every level. So much so, that a lot of teams play without a true post player.

    There are a number of good post players, or centers if you will, in college hoops. It's tough to eliminate all outside shooters from being included in a list of top centers, but part of the criteria for the players on this list is that they have to do most of their offensive and defensive damage in and around the paint.

    Some of these players can, and do, step outside the paint from time to time, but because of their prowess down low they were included on this list.

    Incoming freshmen were not included in this list.

15. Gregory Echenique, Creighton

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    I'm not completely sold on Gregory Echenique just yet, but after spending roughly the second half of the season playing with the Blue Jays, Echenique could be much better next season.

    His numbers (10.5 ppg, 5.8 rbg, 1.8 bpg) were solid despite playing only 23 minutes per game. His minutes, and consequently his numbers, should increase with the departure of Kenny Lawson Jr., and he'll hep the Jays contend for next season's MVC title.

14. Eli Holman, Detroit

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    Holman put up big rebounding numbers (9.6 per game) to go along with nearly 12 points per contest last season.

    The Titans weren't as competitive in the Horizon as some (like myself) thought they might be, but with Ray McCallum Jr. returning as well as every other significant contributor from last year's squad, Detroit could very well be in the mix at the top of the league.

    Holman needs to continue to keep the glass clean for the Titans, as his points are complementary for a team returning five double-digit scorers.

13. Jordan Morgan, Michigan

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    This guy really impressed as a freshman last season, and became a dependable scorer and rebounder for the Wolverines.

    His numbers aren't overwhelming (9.2 ppg, 5.4 rbg) but his continued improvement over the course of the season gave Michigan a viable frontcourt option.

    While shooting a gaudy 63 percent from the field, Morgan will need to work on his free-throw shooting, where he averaged under 60 percent for the season.

12. Alex Oriakhi, Connecticut

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    Oriakhi can be maddeningly inconsistent offensively, but he does rebound and is very difficult to displace around the basket on defense.

    As his offensive game improves so should his scoring average, which was a decent 9.6 ppg this past season. His 8.7 boards and 1.6 blocks per game indicate his true value to the Huskies.

    He should get some more opportunities to score next season and has a realistic shot to average a double-double for the defending champs.

11. Bernard James, Florida State

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    James is not your typical college player. His story is well chronicled. 

    After six years in the Air Force and two years of community college, Bernard James, at the ripe old age of 25, played his first Division I college game.

    Yet, James is a veteran in every sense of the word.

    His 8.6 ppg, 5.9 rbg and 2.4 bpg were solid, and those numbers should improve this coming season. James is still somewhat of a basketball neophyte, since he picked up the game late as a 17-year-old.

    At 6'10" and 240 lbs, James could be the defensive backbone to another solid Seminoles team.

10. Robert Sacre, Gonzaga

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    Sacre's numbers (12.5 ppg, 6.3 rbg, 1.9 bpg) suggest that he is one of the premier big men in college.

    In addition to those stats, Sacre shoots 82 percent from the free-throw line, a stat this is not generally typical of seven-footers.

    But on some levels, it seems as though he can contribute more to his team, and he has had difficulty being consistent from game to game.

    With the loss of their top scorer Steven Gray, the Zags will need Robert Sacre to be at his best every night.

9. Mouphtaou Yarou, Villanova

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    Yarou has shown signs that he can become a dominant low-post presence, and this could be the year for him to do it.

    With major losses to their backcourt—Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes—the Wildcats will need to rely more on Yarou's game inside. His 8.4 ppg was fifth on his team this past season, while his seven-plus boards led Villanova.

    He'll need some help—as in someone to get him the ball—but Yarou will have every opportunity to prove himself this season.

8. Reggie Johnson, Miami

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    Johnson has declared for the NBA draft but has not signed with an agent as of yet.

    His return to the Hurricanes would give new coach, Jim Larranaga, a true inside option. Johnson averaged just under a double-double for the 'Canes last season (11.9 ppg, 9.6 rbg), and at 6'10", 300 lbs, he is the ultimate immovable object.

    Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott are returning to the team, so Miami could sneak into the top five in the ACC if Johnson returns.

7. Joshua Smith, UCLA

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    Smith is a true low-block player who dwarfs most defenders who attempt to guard him.

    As last season progressed, so did Smith. In 22 minutes per game, Smith contributed 10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds.

    With improved conditioning and an increase in minutes, Smith could be a double-double threat in every game.

6. Kenny Frease, Xavier

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    After off-season conditioning helped Frease drop twenty pounds, the seven-footer's scoring, rebounding and minutes saw a sharp incline.

    Other than Tu Holloway, Frease was arguably the Musketeers' most valuable player, and Xavier fans are hoping for at least an encore this coming season.

    Frease averaged career-highs in scoring (11.7 ppg) and rebounding (7.1 rbg), while playing close to 30 minutes per contest, which is about 12 more minutes than he played the previous season.

5. Aaric Murray, Transferring from Lasalle

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    Though he's not eligible to play next season, Murray should be an attractive prospect for a lot of schools.

    His numbers are outstanding—15.2 ppg, 7.7 rbg and 2.3 bpg—and he is a very versatile player for his size.

    Murray also shot 76 percent from the free-throw line, which was a ten percent improvement from his freshman season. He also knocked down an occasional three-pointer. 

    Murray will have potentially two seasons of eligibility, wherever he lands.

4. Festus Ezeli, Vanderbilt

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    A huge improvement from his sophomore to junior season elevated Ezeli's status as one of the top big men in the country.

    Though Vandy flamed out early in this year's NCAA tourney, yet again, optimism is high with the return of Ezeli, John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor; three potential pros who could lead the Commodores to a deep run in March.

    Ezeli's 13 points per game was almost quadruple his previous season's average, while his 6.3 rebounds per game was double that of his sophomore campaign.

3. Tyler Zeller, North Carolina

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    Zeller is one of those guys that plays the post but can also step out and make some mid-range shots, though he didn't do much of that last season.

    Along with Harrison Barnes, Zeller led the Tar Heels in scoring, averaging 15.7 points per game, while shooting 55 percent from the field. Zeller also chipped in with 7.2 rebounds per game.

    Along with Barnes and John Henson, each of whom will return to the Heels, Zeller should lead the North Carolina to a No. 1 preseason ranking.

2. Jordan Williams, Maryland

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    Although he declared for the draft, it is unclear if Williams will remain in it.

    The return to college of several other big men could be bad news for the Terps if they have to replace Williams' 17 points and 12 rebounds per game.

    If he does return, improving his lowly 57.5 percent foul shooting would increase his already outstanding scoring numbers.

1. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State

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    Sullinger chose to stay in school, apparently because he didn't like the way the season ended. But don't be surprised if he decides otherwise.

    Sullinger led a 34-3 team in scoring and rebounding as a freshman. He took 11 shots per game, which was second on the team, but you get the sense that his team could be better if he took 15 or 16 shots each night.

    If Ohio State can replace some of the perimeter scoring that Jon Diebler and David Lighty provided, they will be a top-five team again next year.