College Hoops 2011-12: Jared Sullinger, Harrison Barnes and the Top 25 Players
With the May 8 withdrawal date looming, college basketball fans, players and coaches wait anxiously to see who will be back with their teams and who won't.
Some high-profile players have already made their intentions known. North Carolina became an instant national title contender when Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and John Henson announced they were returning to the Heels.
Others, such as Kawhi Leonard of San Diego State, Jordan Hamilton of Texas, Kemba Walker of Connecticut and Kyrie Irving are gone, having hired agents and thus ending their college eligibility.
In less than a week, we'll all know for sure who's going and who's staying.
The players that comprise this list are all ones who I feel will be playing in college next season. There may be a couple who end up staying in the draft, in which case some shifting of the players on the list would be necessary.
Similarly, I've excluded players that I don't feel will be back. For example, arguments could be made for either Tobias Harris or Scotty Hopson, or both, to be on the list but I just don't see them returning to that situation in Tennessee.
There are different reasons for including a player on a "top whatever" list. And sometimes it isn't always the players from the big schools that get the notoriety.
25. Mike Scott, Virginia
Injuries derailed what was turning into an outstanding season for Scott and a solid one for the Cavaliers.
Scott was averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds per game before the ankle injury forced him to miss the last 21 games of the season.
The good news for Virginia is that he was granted a medical redshirt and will return for a fifth year. A return to last year's early-season form could mean a move up in the standings for the Cavs.
24. LeBryan Nash, Oklahoma State
Putting untested freshmen into lists like these is always a bit like throwing a dart, but Nash is one of the top wing prospects in the country and should adapt easily to Travis Ford's up-tempo style.
Nash is a physical wing who does most of his damage going to the basket—going through or over people.
The Cowboys need production from him right away so he will see minutes early. Given his size and athleticism, he shouldn't disappoint.
23. Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure
Toiling in relative obscurity for the Bonnies, Nicholson has quietly turned into one of the top performers in the tough Atlantic-10 Conference.
Nicholson led the A-10 in scoring, averaging nearly 21 points per game. He added just over seven rebounds per game as well, which landed him in the top 10 in the conference.
With last-second game-winning shots against Buffalo and St. John's in consecutive games, he helped a young Bonnies' team gain some confidence heading into the conference schedule, where they finished with an 8-8 mark and gained an invite (albeit, a brief one) to the CBI.
22. Ramone Moore, Temple
The leader of a very good Temple team will return for his senior season after brief consideration of testing the NBA draft waters.
Moore was solid (15.2 points per game) and clutch, delivering a season-high 30 in an early-season upset of Georgetown and a combined 40 in two NCAA tournament games. In a narrow win over Penn State, he scored 17 second-half points. Against San Diego State, he scored 17 in a double-overtime loss.
With many key players returning, Moore should lead the Owls back to the NCAA tournament.
21. C. J. McCollum, Lehigh
Two years ago, as a freshman, McCollum led a highly-competitive Mountain Hawks team into a first-round NCAA game against the Kansas Jayhawks.
McCollum and company kept the game close before succumbing to the Jayhawks' depth. But McCollum didn't disappoint, scoring 26 points and impressing virtually everyone who watched the game.
This past season was not quite as successful for Lehigh, but McCollum stood out again. He led the Patriot League in scoring and steals and was third in rebounding (7.8 per game)—the latter an unusual stat for a 6'3" guard.
20. Iman Shumpert, Georgia Tech
Playing on a bad team, even in a good conference, doesn't usually get you too many headlines.
Shumpert led the Yellow Jackets in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals.
This is sometimes overrated on a weak team, but Shumpert has improved dramatically in the past two seasons, to the point that he is still considering remaining in the NBA Draft. He is currently projected as an early second-round pick.
Included in Shumpert's accomplishments this season was the fourth triple-double in Georgia Tech history when he scored 22 points, had 12 rebounds and recorded 11 assists in a win over Virginia Tech in January.
Shumpert was a second-team All-ACC pick and was also picked for the All-Defensive team.
19. Festus Ezeli, Vanderbilt
The 6'11", 250-pound center gave the Commodores a much-needed inside presence last season, after averaging just 12 minutes of playing time the previous season.
Ezeli's learning curve is on a steep rise, though. He averaged 13 points, six rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game in just over 23 minutes per night.
Foul trouble was the issue for the big man as he was disqualified five times and had four fouls in nine other contests. If he can continue to develop and learn to play without fouling, he could become a legitimate stat-sheet stuffer.
18. JaMychal Green, Alabama
Green was a big reason the Crimson Tide experienced a huge turnaround last season after an inauspicious start to the year.
He led the Tide in scoring, rebounding and blocks as Alabama made a run to the NIT final.
With the return of Tony Mitchell and Trevor Releford, coach Anthony Grant is hoping for bigger and better things from his team in 2011-12. Green did not submit his name for consideration in the NBA Draft and will be counted on to lead Bama to a different tournament next season.
17. Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota
After personal issues delayed Mbakwe's college career at Minnesota, he was able to shake off the rust of nearly two years without game competition and make it known that he was one of the top power forwards in the Big Ten.
Mbakwe led the Gophers in scoring (13.9 points) and rebounding (10.5 rebounds) on his way to recording 19 double-doubles. He had nine rebounds in four other games as well.
With one season of eligibility remaining, look for Mbakwe's numbers to go up, if only slightly. Any increase in his rebounding stats will be huge.
16. Will Barton, Memphis
Barton led an up-and-down Memphis team back to the NCAA tournament and despite the loss to eventual Elite Eight-participant Arizona, the season was successful considering the youth that (youthful) coach Josh Pastner was dealing with.
Barton declared when he signed with the Tigers that they would win a national championship. While that may have been boastful, they will be better this season and, individually, Barton's numbers should improve.
He was the only Tiger to average double digits in scoring (12.3 points), led the team in steals and was second in rebounding.
15. Draymond Green, Michigan State
A do-it-all small forward who is asked to guard the post, bring the ball up on occasion and distribute from the top of the key, Green is an invaluable member of the Spartans.
With point guard Kalin Lucas gone, they will need Green more than ever next season.
It's not like they didn't need him this past season. Really, he was the only bit of tape that held them together enough to make the Big Dance.
Green led the team in rebounding (8.6), assists (4.1) and steals, chipping in 12.6 points per game, second on the team to Lucas.
14. Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut
Lamb came of age in the NCAA tournament, taking on a starring role alongside Kemba Walker as the Huskies rolled to a national championship.
With Walker gone, more of the load—offensively and in terms of leadership—will be strapped on Lamb's back.
Lamb averaged a respectable 11 points per game in his freshman season, but 16 in six NCAA tournament games, including 24 against a very good San Diego State team. What is more astounding is that he shot 58 percent from the field overall and 62 percent from three-point range in the tourney.
He is going to receive a lot of attention next season but the experience from this year suggests he will be up for the challenge.
13. John Jenkins, Vanderbilt
One of the most prolific three-point shooters in the country, Jenkins opted to return to Vanderbilt along with teammates Festus Ezeli and Jeffery Taylor.
Jenkins led the Commodores with 19.5 points per game and shot 41 percent from the three-point line. He also shoots close to 90 percent from the charity stripe.
High hopes have followed Jenkins, Taylor and Ezeli back to Nashville for the 2011-2012 season.
12. Tu Holloway, Xavier
There was really no reason, other than the play of Tu Holloway, for Xavier to finish the A-10 schedule with a 15-1 record.
Yes, they did get bounced in the first (second?) round of the NCAA tournament but Holloway was one of the top point guards in the country and one of the most consistent.
He averaged just under 20 points per game while dishing out 5.4 assists and collecting five rebounds per contest.
With his return, the Musketeers will once again be battling for the A-10 title.
Their lone conference loss last season? A four-point setback to 2-14 Charlotte. Go figure.
11. Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin
When Jordan Taylor scored 21 points in the second half of the Badgers win over then-undefeated Ohio State, it underscored what most already believed. Taylor was one of the top point guards in the country.
Not only does he not turn the ball over, he makes clutch shots and runs the maddeningly efficient Wisconsin offense artfully.
Taylor's running mate, Jon Leuer, is gone so this season could be a trying one unless Bo Ryan can find some support for Taylor (that is, someone else who will make shots).
But Ryan usually does.
10. John Henson, North Carolina
Henson became the type of consistent force this season that the Tar Heels envisioned when he arrived at Chapel Hill.
Along with Harrison Barnes and Tyler Zeller, Henson returns to the Heels for his junior season with one goal in mind - win a national championship.
Henson's numbers (11.7 ppg, 10.1 rbg, 3.2 bpg) were huge improvements from a freshman season where he struggled. Included in last season's jump, were 11 games in which he blocked five or more shots, five games where he grabbed 15 or more rebounds, and 18 double-doubles.
A more consistent scoring touch would be great but his rebounding numbers could be crazy this season.
9. Tyler Zeller, North Carolina
Zeller was the top scorer for the Elite Eight participants, averaging just under 16 points per game, while grabbing seven rebounds as well.
A good interior game and a great ability to run the floor will provide Zeller with opportunities to exceed those numbers, especially with the return of every significant player from this year's team and a much more cohesive start to the season.
High shooting percentage numbers (55 percent from the field) could be even higher next season.
8. Marquis Teague, Kentucky
If past history serves as any reminder, Teague will merely be awesome for the Wildcats.
Yes, Brandon Knight is not gone for sure, but he will be. And Teague will be there to pick up the slack.
According to both Jerry Meyer of Rivals.com and Scout, Teague has great handle, can change speeds, score and distribute equally well.
The scouting services differ as to his ability to finish but with the players around him, he may not need to provide a lot of scoring.
7. Jordan Williams, Maryland
Williams name remains in the draft, which has to be unnerving for Terrapins' fans. Five days until they'll know for sure.
With a huge frame and a nice touch around the basket, Williams can be unstoppable in the paint. His averages of 17 points and 12 rebounds per game underscore how dominant he can be. His point total would be higher if it wasn't for his paltry 57.5 free throw percentage.
Nevertheless, Williams is a beast in the paint. With the departure of three seniors who played big minutes for Maryland last season, the loss of Williams too, would be extremely difficult to overcome.
6. Quincy Miller, Baylor
Miller came to Baylor as part of a package deal that included high-flyer Deuce Bello, but the former is clearly the catch for the Bears this season.
Listed as an elite prospect by all scouting services, Miller is a 6'9" forward who essentially plays the three, facing the basket and attacking the rim. Teamed with Perry Jones III, a player with a similar style, the Bears will be a matchup nightmare for whomever they play.
It's hard to imagine Miller, with the lineup he is walking into, not having an outstanding season.
5. Perry Jones III, Baylor
So with no further ado, here is Perry Jones III.
It was more than surprising that Jones returned at all, considering the way the season ended (suspension) and the way next season will begin (suspension). Throw in the fact that at 6'10" and equipped with the ball-handling skills of a guard, Jones would have easily been a lottery pick in this year's NBA draft.
While his 14 points and seven rebounds per game were not overwhelming, one has to understand that he played with LaceDarius Dunn, who never met a shot he wouldn't take.
If the Bears find someone (Walton, Heaslip, Jackson, Franklin) to distribute, Baylor could be looking at an NCAA tournament run similar to (or better than) 2010, when they reached the Elite Eight.
4. Anthony Davis, Kentucky
Another freshman tabbed as an "elite" prospect, Davis can play multiple positions, rebound and block shots.
Like most freshmen, he will need to add some bulk to his 6'9", 190-pound frame, but has an incredibly high ceiling and will more than likely spend only one season in college.
The question that arises (for three years now, anyway) at Kentucky, is how fast can the young players gel? This, more than anything, will determine how fast Davis's profile will rise.
3. Austin Rivers, Duke
With the departure of their top three scorers, Duke will look to top recruit Austin Rivers to fill some of the void.
Great with the ball and blessed with NBA shooting range, Rivers will be the face of a new version of the Blue Devils which will feature a number of good prospects.
Rivers is rated as the top overall prospect in the class of 2011. The 6'5" guard will need to be all that for Duke to rival North Carolina in the ACC.
2. Harrison Barnes, North Carolina
Like Perry Jones III, Barnes made the surprising decision to return to college and forego the riches of the NBA, for at least one year anyway.
An up-and-down start to last season made many reconsider the All-American status given him in the pre-season. But by mid-season, Barnes began to heat up and ended in a virtual tie with Tyler Zeller as the top scorer for the Elite Eight-bound Tar Heels.
Without the slow start, Barnes will average over 20 points per game this season, and could approach the ten rebound mark as well.
Carolina might never be in a better spot to make a title run and they'd better hope to do it this year with Barnes - because next year he'll be gone.
1. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
This is probably not much of a surprise.
Sullinger was arguably the best player in the country last year, leading the Buckeyes to a 34-3 record before a crushing loss to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen ended their title hopes.
Apparently, that was all the motivation Sullinger needed to return to Ohio State. Though the Bucs lose David Lighty and Jon Diebler, the return of William Buford, Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas - and another stellar recruiting class - will have them back at the top of the Big Ten.
Sullinger is dominant in the block, rebounds well and is a decent foul-shooter as well. His 17 ppg and 10 rbg averages should go up in 2011-12.
The front-runner for national player-of-the-year, Sullinger will grace (bruise?) the college courts for only one more year.
In no particular order:
Darius Morris, Michigan
Peyton Siva, Louisville
John Shurna, Northwestern
Tony Mitchell, Alabama
Dee Bost, Mississippi State
Jabari Brown, Oregon
Reeves Nelson, UCLA
William Buford, Ohio State
Marcus Denmon, Missouri
Josiah Turner, Arizona
Shabazz Napier, Connecticut
Joshua Smith, UCLA