College Basketball: Top 5 Players in the Country at Each Position for 2011-2012
Despite the return of Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes, the 2011-12 NCAA college basketball season will have its share of freshman sensations.
North Carolina will return a number of players that were expected to bolt for the NBA, including John Henson and Tyler Zeller, who alongside Barnes will likely push the Tar Heels to the top of the preseason rankings.
Some incoming freshmen are expected to shake things up as well.
This is a very strong class that has dispersed evenly among many of the top programs. John Calipari, Kentucky's head coach, has drawn in one of the best classes in the country yet again.
Let's preview next season and take a look at how the old and new will mix, and examine the top five players in the country at each position.
Point Guard: 5. Tyshawn Taylor, Kansas
The Kansas Jayhawks will take a large step back next season.
They will not be ranked within the top five all season and be selected as a preseason Final Four favorite. In fact, they may struggle to remain in the top 25 for extended stretches next season.
The team will be led by Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor. Taylor has been a solid contributor for a couple of very successful Kansas teams. Now, he has to play the role of scorer and leader for this young team. He may find himself playing off the ball quite often if Elijah Johnson emerges as a point guard.
Nonetheless, Taylor is going to be a nationally recognized name, playing for one of the biggest programs in the country.
Point Guard: 4. Maalik Wayns, Villanova
Maalik Wayns took some major steps in his sophomore season at Villanova, but he still has a lot to learn. He averaged 13.8 PPG and 4.5 AST on 39.9 percent shooting from the field.
Wayns was a leader on a Wildcat team that was horrid in the second half of the season. Part of the reason they struggled was Wayns's poor play. He only played well in a handful of games down the stretch, en route to a quick NCAA tournament exit in the first round.
This year, Wayns will look to establish himself as a more potent threat in the Big East.
Because of his experience, he'll be a coveted player once the 2012 NBA Draft rolls around.
Point Guard: 3. Kendall Marshall, North Carolina
Kendall Marshall got a lot of recognition last season when he took over from Larry Drew II as the starting point guard in Chapel Hill.
He has supreme court vision, but struggled to hit the outside shot last season.
This year, Marshall will continue to thrive because of the weapons he developed last season. He may not put up the biggest numbers at the point guard position, but will find himself near the top of the country in assists per game.
If Marshall works on his offensive game this summer, he will be a premier point guard next season for the NCAA's best team.
Point Guard: 2. Marquis Teague, Kentucky
Marquis Teague is one of the best point guard prospects entering college this season. He is the top rated point guard in the country, according to both Rivals.com and ESPN.com.
Jeff Teague's little brother definitely has primetime skills. This season, he will be entering a perfect situation to show them off. Brandon Knight and DeAndre Liggins have both entered the 2011 NBA Draft, yet Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb are still around to ease his transition.
John Calipari has lured in yet another astounding class of recruits, and Teague is a big reason that they are so highly touted.
He will play a big role for a talented Kentucky team, and will likely be a prized prospect in the 2012 NBA Draft.
Point Guard: 1. Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin
There's no denying that Jordan Taylor has all the intangibles of a great Big 10 point guard.
He is tough, can handle big-time situations, and plays great team defense.
Taylor plays for the Wisconsin Badgers, a program where players rarely put up impressive statistics. Taylor managed to anyway. As a junior, he averaged 18.1 PPG, 4.7 AST, and 4.1 REB.
He deserves to be part of the Preseason All-American team, and will be featured even more this season with the departure of Jon Leuer. Taylor's numbers could reach even greater heights, and considering what he did last season, that could be scary for the rest of the Big 10.
Taylor will prove this season that experience is what makes him the best point guard in college basketball.
Shooting Guard: 5. Brad Beal, Florida
The Florida Gators were built around veterans last season. They made a legitimate run in the tournament, but lost three big seniors with the departures of Chandler Parsons, Alex Tyus, and Vernon Macklin.
Florida returns its solid backcourt of Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton, which may limit the playing time of incoming star Brad Beal. Beal is ranked as the fourth best prospect of the incoming class by both ESPN and Rivals.com.
His talent alone will earn him playing time from coach Billy Donovan.
Donovan will likely feature his guards this season, which will inevitably be the strength of this team. Beal, after adjusting to the college game, will turn into one of the top playmakers on a team that losing three of its top five scorers.
Shooting Guard: 4. Khris Middleton, Texas A&M
Khris Middleton began the year as a scoring force last season, leading the Texas A&M Aggies to a 17-1 start.
His numbers declined a bit throughout the season as he learned to grind through the Big 12 season. In his sophomore campaign, he scored 14.4 PPG on 45.2 percent shooting from the field and 36.1 percent from three. He also contributed to one of the best defenses in the Big 12.
In his junior year, Middleton will look to establish himself as one of the best players in the Big 12, and one of the best shooting guards in the country.
Shooting Guard: 3. Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut
Jeremy Lamb enjoyed the gift of playing alongside Kemba Walker during his freshman season at Connecticut.
He slowly developed into a second scoring option when Walker struggled.
Lamb was crucial to the Huskies' championship run. He scored double-digit points in the last 11 games of the season, including an impressive 24-point performance in the Sweet 16 against the number two seed, San Diego State.
It's a little tough to predict how Lamb will adjust to playing without one of the best scorers in the country on his side to ease the pressure. He will definitely find some success, but there will also be an adjustment period.
By the end of the season, Lamb will be considered one of the top shooting guards in the country.
Shooting Guard: 2. John Jenkins, Vanderbilt
John Jenkins is one of the most efficient shooting guards in the NCAA. Last season, as a sophomore at Vanderbilt, Jenkins averaged 19.1 PPG on 46.2 percent shooting from the field and 40.8 percent shooting from three point range.
His percentages are truly phenomenal, and his ability to explode for huge scoring games is something that every opponent must prepare for.
In his junior campaign this year, Jenkins will look to become a leader both on and off the court at Vanderbilt. He is the type of player that can turn into a very solid starting shooting guard in the NBA.
Still, he isn't finished proving to SEC foes that he is the best, most experienced shooting guard in college basketball.
Shooting Guard: 1. Austin Rivers, Duke
Austin Rivers, son of Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers, is a pure scorer that will play an instant role at Duke.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski has shown that the players that give his team the best chance to win will see the court the most, regardless of age or experience.
Rivers will win Coach K over very early, and become a favorite of the Cameron Crazies. He can score in a number of ways and may end up leading the Blue Devils in scoring.
Rivers will likely turn out to be a high lottery pick coming out of college, but for now, he'll prove that he's the best shooting guard in college basketball.
Small Forward: 5. Alex Young, IUPUI
Alex Young is probably a name that you haven't heard of yet.
Even so, Young has been putting up some of the most impressive numbers in the country over the past two years.
Last season as a junior at IUPUI, Young averaged 19.7 ppg and 6.4 rebounds on 47.6 percent shooting from the field.
He only scored over 30 points twice last season, meaning that en route to averaging 19.7 points per game, he was consistent on a day-to-day basis.
Young held up his scoring average by scoring double digits in all but one game last season.
He will continue to be a statistical monster this season, and may gain recognition as one of the best true small forwards in the country.
Small Forward: 4. Quincy Miller, Baylor
Baylor has yet another elite prospect on their hands to follow the arrival of Perry Jones.
Quincy Miller is a can't-miss recruit. He is ranked sixth overall in the ESPNU 100, and seventh in the Rivals 150.
Miller will join a Baylor team that currently mixes young talent with experienced veterans. Quincy Acy will help to stabilize the team after the loss of LaceDarius Dunn, and Jones will look to break out. Miller could be the third man in this frontcourt, making it one of the most dynamic trios in the country.
He will fit well at the small forward position alongside Acy and Jones, and show that he has top 10 talent before the 2012 NBA Draft.
Small Forward: 3. Mike Gilchrist, Kentucky
John Calipari is at it again.
Mike Gilchrist may be his most praised recruit in yet another phenomenal recruiting class for Kentucky. He is ranked third overall in both the ESPNU 100 and Rivals 150.
Gilchrist has the perfect body to be a dominant force at small forward next season.
He will not be without help, as Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb return to lead the young team. There are also two other top 10 recruits joining him in Anthony Davis and Marquis Teague. Gilcrhist's advantage is that, with the departure of DeAndre Liggins, there is no true small forward currently at Kentucky to compete for his playing time.
This will give Gilchrist every chance he needs to show his elite ability.
Small Forward: 2. Kris Joseph, Syracuse
Kris Joseph may not turn out to be an impact player in the NBA, but that doesn't change the fact that he's a great college player.
He has steadily improved in his time at Syracuse, and will continue to build on his past success as he approaches his senior season. Last season, playing in the Big East, Joseph averaged 14.4 points and 5.2 rebounds. He shot 45.6 percent from the floor and 36.6 percent from three point range.
Joseph is very efficient, and scores within the offense very well.
He will need to step up his game even more this season, without Rick Jackson to attract defenders down low.
Joseph will prove to be the best true small forward in the Big East in 2011-12, and one of the best small forwards in the country.
Small Forward: 1. Harrison Barnes, North Carolina
Last season, Harrison Barnes had to deal with astronomical expectations that were far from realistic. He was the first freshman to be named to the AP Preseason All-American team, and was even compared to Michael Jordan by the media.
Barnes was projected as the automatic first overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft until he struggled mightily early on at North Carolina, including a dismal 0-for-12 performance against the Minnesota Gophers.
He slowly began to excel as the expectations lowered, and will be able to handle pressure situations much better this season as he did late last year.
There is no question Barnes is the most talented small forward in the country. This year, he'll show it for the entire season.
Power Forward: 5. Thomas Robinson, Kansas
With the Morris twins leaving Kansas for the NBA, the Jayhawks will need to find some new sources for points in the paint. Thomas Robinson will be Bill Self's main source for scoring down low.
Robinson had some games last season that made NBA scouts very excited about his future. He showed that he's developed his post game, improved his ability to finish around the rim and has become more patient defensively.
There were times that he took over the reins from the Morrris twins last season and shifted the momentum of a game single-handedly.
This year, he'll be featured alongside Tyshawn Taylor, and will have the opportunity to prove that he would have been a starter last season almost anywhere else in the country.
Power Forward: 4. JaMychal Green, Alabama
Maybe it's because he plays in the SEC.
Maybe it's because Alabama's basketball program is overshadowed by football.
Maybe everyone has just been blind to how talented JaMychal Green truly is.
Green has been putting up great numbers since arriving at Alabama three years ago. As a freshman, he averaged 10.3 points and 7.6 rebounds. Green has continued to develop into an all-around player. Last season, he averaged 15.5 points and 7.5 rebounds, adding 2.1 blocks and 1.4 steals.
The fact that he can consistently score and still average the defensive numbers that he does is impressive. Green needs more credit for his contributions, and he may finally get the national attention he deserves in his senior campaign.
Power Forward: 3. Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota
Trevor Mbakwe is one of those really good college players that has limited natural talent, but produces at an elite level anyway by outworking everyone else.
Mbakwe does not have a low-post game. There were some embarrassing moments last season when he received the ball on the block. His footwork is pretty terrible, but that's something he can work on.
The Gophers had a colossal collapse last season, but it wasn't due to a lack of effort from Mbakwe.
He was the only consistent big man on the team, making a difference defensively and on the boards, where most of his points come from.
Last season, he averaged a double-double with 13.9 points per game and 10.5 rebounds.
This year, he might turn into another Kenneth Faried, and quickly improve his draft stock for 2012.
Power Forward: 2. John Henson, North Carolina
John Henson, along with his teammate Harrison Barnes, was constantly moving on NBA draft boards through the 2010-11 season. Barnes, however, saw his stock drop, while Henson inched upward toward the top 10.
There are some things that Henson does terribly. For example, he shoots 47.9 percent from the free throw line. Still, he makes up for it with effort on the boards and defending the rim.
Henson played a key role in the comeback of the North Carolina Tar Heels last season. He averaged 11.7 points and 10.1 rebounds, and was seventh in the country at blocking shots with 3.2 per game.
Henson is a key contributor on what will be the best team in college basketball next season. If he had more touch on the offensive end, he might be considered the best power forward in college basketball.
Power Forward: 1. Terrence Jones, Kentucky
Terrence Jones began his freshman season at Kentucky as a phenom.
While Brandon Knight fell back into the shadows, Jones jumped into the spotlight and became a national sensation. The comparisons to Lamar Odom had NBA scouts foaming at the mouth, and he founds himself in the top five on most NBA draft boards.
Then, as the season progressed, Jones swapped roles with Knight, settling into a role as a solid contributor on a good team.
Still, he finished will impressive numbers, putting up 15.7 points per game and averaging 8.8 rebounds.
With the departure of Knight, Jones will have the chance to get back into the national spotlight. Although he'll be more of a small forward/power forward combination in the NBA, Jones will be the best player at the power forward position in the 2011-12 college basketball season.
Center: 5. Festus Ezeli, Vanderbilt
Coming into college, Festus Ezeli was what is considered in today's game as a "project." He arrived on campus at Wake Forest out of Nigeria with an NBA body, but no fundamentals to speak of.
Ezeli struggled in his first two years on the court, average no more than four points per game.
Last season, however, he broke out, averaging 13 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.6 blocks.
At 6'11, 255, he has the body of an NBA center and is slowly developing his skills.
He will prove to be one of the bigger surprises this season, playing at a level that warrants recognition as one of the top centers in the country.
Center: 4. Joshua Smith, UCLA
Joshua Smith is a big man. Actually, "gargantuan" might be a better word to describe him.
Smith was a prized recruit for Ben Howland last year. He's a player that has all the ability a big man would ever need, yet at the same time lacks the maturity and stamina to be dominant.
Still, toward the end of the season, Smith proved he's on his way to becoming a dominant force in the college game.
He finally learned how to produce consistently toward the end of the year. Smith ended up with season averages of 10.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, and shot 55.5 percent in only 21.7 minutes per game.
Those numbers are pretty impressive, and if Smith continues to build stamina, expect more commanding play this upcoming season.
Center: 3. Tyler Zeller, North Carolina
Tyler Zeller might be the unsung hero on this North Carolina Tar Heels team.
For most of the 2010-11 NCAA season, he was the best player on the roster. In fact, Zeller is the reason they stayed above the water until the rest of the crew began to play at a high level.
Zeller is a big-time college player with a big-time move. His jump-hook over his left shoulder is one of the most automatic shots in college basketball today.
Last year, he managed to average 15.7 points and 7.2 rebounds while playing in a star-studded lineup.
At 7'0'', 250 lbs., Zeller has the true size of an NBA center.
In the college game, he can use his size to be dominant at times, earning him the honor of third best center in the country.
Center: 2. Perry Jones III, Baylor
Perry Jones III was a virtual lock to be a top five pick if he would have stayed in the 2011 NBA Draft.
Instead, he hastily committed to returning to Baylor.
This was a smart move. He has a number of things of work on, and needs more time to mature before he enters the professional ranks.
Still, that does not change that he's ready to blow people away on the court this season.
Last season, he averaged 13.9 points and 7.2 rebounds. The most disappointing statistics that stands out is his measly 0.9 blocks per game. With his athleticism, he should be sending shots into the third row on a consistent basis.
Jones will play power forward or small forward in the NBA, but is mostly featured at center by Scott Drew.
It's likely that he ends up in the 2012 NBA Draft, so Jones will certainly attempt to make a lasting impact on NCAA basketball before he leaves.
Center: 1. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
Jared Sullinger, like Perry Jones III, was a high-end NBA prospect when he firmly committed to returning to school for another year.
After Ohio State's crushing loss to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen, Sullinger was very emotional and immediately broke the hearts of NBA general managers that were hoping to draft him.
This year, Sullinger will be the face of college basketball. He was one of the best players on arguably the best team throughout last season, and has already establish himself in the national media.
Without Dallas Lauderdale, Sullinger will log a lot more minutes at the center position for coach Thad Matta. His ability to use his body in the paint to establish position, rebound, and score in a number of ways makes him the best center in college basketball.
Ranked as the best center in college basketball, he might be the best player at any position this season.
With another year of high expectations in Columbus, we'll enter year two of seeing Mr. Sullinger every time the television is turned on.