Road to the Final Four at Ford Field: Top Wings in The Nation
Yesterday the guards were on display, but today it's time to recognize the best wings in the country. Without the wing or swingman, the guard wouldn't have a dangerous shooter to pass to or a slasher that forces defenses to collapse, leaving the guard open for three.
Most players on the list typically play the three or small forward position on the floor, but a few play the two and some can fill in at power forward if necessary.
1. 6'4'' Arizona State Sophomore, James Harden
A massive drain of Pac-10 talent means James Harden is the best player in the conference. He's also the best small forward in the country. Harden will easily be a top ten pick in next year's NBA draft should he declare himself eligible.
Few wings can match the Sun Devil's ability to score from wherever on the court. Harden is the best slasher to the basket, but the sophomore can also step outside to drill the three pointer. Harden hit an astounding 108 three-pointers as a freshman and nailed over 40 percent of the threes he took.
Harden's 17.8 scoring average should jump to close 20 points per game in 2009. Harden is also a stout defender, picking up over two steals per game. The front runner for Pac-10 Player of the Year will lead Arizona State into the NCAA Tournament.
2. 6'7'' Tennessee Junior, Tyler Smith
Like James Harden, Tyler Smith is the best player in his conference. The junior spent his first two seasons in the shadows of stars Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith, but 2009 will be the breakout campaign for Tyler Smith. He's an all-around solid player who led the Volunteers in rebounding and assists.
But Smith can also score. As Tennessee's third option last year, Smith still tallied 13.6 ppg after averaging 14.9 ppg his freshman year. The Tenessee small forward did increase both his field goal percentage and three-point shooting by almost ten percent.
In 2009, Coach Bruce Pearl will look to Tyler Smith for everything: scoring, rebounding, distributing the ball, defense, and most importantly, leadership.
3. 6'6'' Pittsburgh Senior, Sam Young
Preseason Big East Player of the Year, Luke Harangody, is going to have some competition for the postseason player of the year award from Pitt's Sam Young. The senior will provide the Panthers with loads of scoring and priceless senior leadership.
Young has the best face to the basket mid-range game in the country. His ball fakes keep defenders off balance, allowing Young to fire eight to ten foot jumpers at will. Young returns as the Big East's second leading scorer at 18.1 ppg.
4. 6'6'' Temple Senior, Dionte Christmas
Insert holiday joke here. Now that we're past that, Dionte Christmas will be the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year as the league's leading returning scorer and ninth best returning rebounder. Christmas is naturally a two-guard, but could see significant time as a wing with his solid size and Temple's depth at guard.
Christmas is an electric scorer who can put the ball in the basket from anywhere on the court. His three-point percentage dropped by a few percentage points last season and tighter defenses as well as a deeper three-point line could hurt Christmas' production.
Even if his range is slightly limited in 2009, the Owl will be on pace to win the league's scoring crown for the third consecutive season.
5. 6'10'' Gonzaga Sophomore Austin Daye
The nation's most improved player will be one of the tallest wings in the entire country. In a lineup that features a 6'8'' two guard (Micah Downs), a 6'10'' small forward doesn't sound too crazy. Austin Daye saw limited playing time in 2008, stepping on the court for less than 20 minutes per game.
The Bulldog still produced a slick 10.5 ppg and blocked 1.6 shots per game. Daye is also an efficient shooter, connecting on over 40 percent of his threes and almost 90 percent of his free throws. Assuming Daye plays 25-30 minutes per game, the super sophomore should score between 17 and 20 points per game.
6. 6'5'' UTEP Senior Stefon Jackson
One the nation's best unknowns, Stefon Jackson will help the Miners challenge Memphis as Conference USA champs. Jackson's a slasher who can play either the two or the three, but no matter what position Jackson is holding down, the UTEP wing will score at will.
Jackson returns as the conference's leading returning scorer at 23.6 ppg. He's not known for having a great shooting range; Jackson can hit a three, but mainly relies on putting the ball on the floor and using his athleticism to change the scoreboard.
7. 6'7'' BYU Senior , Lee Cummard
Few players have steadily improved over the past three years as much as BYU's Lee Cummard. The Cougar has significantly improved in almost every statistical category during each of his three years in Provo.
Cummard does all the little things, but can also really shoot. He's connects at a rate of 57 percent from the floor, 86 percent from the line and 47 percent from three. The senior will lead the Cougar's challenge to take down UNLV as conference kings.
8. 6'7'' Arizona Junior, Chase Budinger
There's not a lot of money or fame in volleyball so Chase Budinger chose to play basketball in college. It's a good thing he did because the Wildcat has elevated his game enough to be an NBA draft prospect. After flirting with the NBA draft during his first seasons in Tuscon, Budinger is back for a third season.
A tremendous leaper and all-around player, the Arizona wing with firey curly hair will look to improve his shot selection in order to increase his 17 ppg scoring average.
9. 6'6'' Louisville Senior, Terrence Williams
Athleticism should be Terrence Williams' middle name. Few players can run and jump as well as Williams, but also be as agile as the Cardinal small forward. Williams has thrown down some very memorable game changing dunks.
Rick Pitino has a stud that's never supplied the gaudy numbers, but Willams is the ideal glue guy. He can slide up and down the lineup guarding a variety of opposing players.
10. 6'5'' Clemson Senior, K.C. Rivers
Few teams have underperformed the past two seasons as much as Clemson has, but the Tiger's struggles haven't been because of senior wing K.C. Rivers. He's a dangerous shooter who can also crash the glass.
Rivers spends the majority of his time away from the basket; a Rivers' drive is almost as rare as a Clemson NCAA Tournament win. The senior didn't shoot a free throw in 17 games last year which is probably a good thing since the Tiger is only a 67.7 percent free throw shooter.
11. 6'6'' USC Freshman, DeMar DeRozan
The first freshman to make the list is so talented, the Trojans needed to recruit two star guard Lil' Romeo to get potential superstar DeMar DeRozan to commit to USC. DeRozan and Romeo Miller came as a packaged deal in order to get DeRozan to dawn a Trojan uniform.
The talented freshman is a multi-faceted scorer who isn't afraid to take a punishment in the paint or show off his impressive range.
12. 6'8'' Georgetown Junior, DeJuan Summers
If the Hoyas want to come close to the level success they've enjoyed the past two years, DeJuan Summers has to become an elite small forward in the Big East. After seeing modest success as GU's third option last year, Summers is poised to be the Hoyas' leading offensive force.
His numbers are deceiving (11.1 ppg and 5.4 rbp), but Georgetown plays a very slow, methodical brand of basketball that doesn't produce a lot of eye-popping statistics.
13. 6'4'' Syracuse Junior, Paul Harris
Few players have benefited from the NBA's age limit as much as Syracuse's Paul Harris. The 'Cuse small forward seemed destined for the NBA, but came to the school and found out he had a lot of work to do. Harris is a physical specimen and the best 6'4'' rebounder in the country, but has struggled with his jump shot.
An extremely talented defender and finisher, Harris is limited by his height and is typically forced out to the perimeter where his jumper is slowly improving. A consistent jump shot which SU fans saw glimpses of is the only thing that keeps Harris from scoring 16-19 ppg.
14. 6'4'' Duke Junior Gerald Henderson
Several players fall into the same category of superior slashers as James Harden and Stefon Jackson. Duke's Gerald Henderson is one of them. A slightly below average three-pointer shooter, Henderson gets to the basket with ease in the halfcourt set, but is also a scary good finisher in transition.
Like many of the top wings in the country, a consistent jump shot is the only thing preventing Henderson from being an absolute superstar.
15. 6'8'' Purdue Sophomore Robbie Hummel
Purdue is young and very talented. The player who leads the youthful group of Boilermakers is sophomore Robbie Hummel. He can handle the ball as well as most point guards as well as jack a three with the best of them, but at 6'8'', Coach Matt Painter uses Hummel as a wing.
The Boilermaker will be an integeral part of a team poised to reach the Final Four.
16. 6'7'' Texas A&M Senior Josh Carter
It's not too often a 50 percent three-point shooter regresses by 12 percent in a single season, but Josh Carter saw a tremendous drop in his long range accuracy in 2008. Once Acie Law graduated, Carter faced opposing team's best defenders which definitely hurt his shot.
If coach Mark Turgeon can work with Carter to get him open looks, he could be looking at an All-Conference performer.
17. 6'6'' Virginia Tech Senior A.D. Vassallo
Few players launch threes as often as A.D. Vassallo, but with his long distance capabilities, Vassallo has all the right to put up each one of the 215 three-pointers he attempted in 2008. The senior's propensity to shoot translates into a smooth 16.9 ppg scoring average.
After an NCAA Tournament snub in 2008, Vassallo will shoot the Hokies into the NCAA Tournament.
18. 6'6'' Oklahoma State Sophomore James Anderson
In a conference filled with outstanding freshmen last year, James Anderson didn't always stand out. But a lack of Big 12 big names means it's time for the sophomore to stand out.
The Sooner led his team in scoring as a freshman and returns as the conference's fifth best scorer.
19. 6'7'' Tennessee Freshman Scotty Hopson
Bruce Pearl has a problem, albeit a great problem to have, but a problem nonetheless. What is he to do with a senior who's the best winger in the country and a freshman who enters Knoxville as a tremendous talent, but also a wing?
The solution? Put senior Tyler Smith at the two and newcomer Scotty Hopson at the three. Hopson is a prolific scorer who by the end of the year will probably be flirting with the top five.
20. 6'6'' Siena Junior Edwin Ubiles
The MAAC gets some love finally with Edwin Ubiles. One of two conference Player of the Year candidates for the Saints, Ubiles emerged as a solid scorer his sophomore season.
The junior put up 17 ppg while shooting 52 percent from the field and 42 percent from three. Ubiles dramatically improved his three point shooting from his freshman to sophomore season by 15 percent.
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