College Basketball: Ranking the 12 Best Players of 2011-2012

Luke JohnsonContributor IIIJuly 6, 2011

College Basketball: Ranking the 12 Best Players of 2011-2012

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    Drum roll please: NFL locked out.

    Continue drum roll: NBA locked out.

    What now?

    College athletics.

    If you have never indulged on the momentary magic of college basketball, then I urge you to give in and let go in 2011-2012. A sport that offers both NBA prospects and over-achieving four year standouts glory on one of the world's biggest stages is seductively riling.

    With 350-plus teams vying for a shot as one of 68 in March, this ulcer-inducing excitement leaves fans fixed from October on. After the heated bouts of rivalry through conference pre and postseason, the mountaintop of memories culminate into madness.

    The tourney's one-and-done playoff format not only test the will of each and every team, but platforms Cinderella upsets all of us crave.

    Even better, we get the "one-up" into who, why, when and where on NBA Draft night. For that reason alone, the game itself should be the most celebrated fixture in the life of the American fan. This reconciliation is a needed bridge to increase awareness from the sports perspective.

    It also celebrates the college athlete who, with or without an NBA future, has a fruitful road ahead. Their experience in collegiate athletics is not only a physical barometer but a mental one as well.

     Learning in class is one thing, but learning to handle stress, network with teammates and respect authority is a valuable lesson learned in an extra-curricular environment.

    As we inch closer to this upcoming season, I have ranked the 12 best players of 2011-2012. "Best" is but an opining based upon many factors. To be fair to college basketball as a whole, I have decided to include player who may not have a sharp NBA future. Though they might not be NBA material, it does not mean they are not good from the standpoint of the college game. 

12: Keiton Page, Oklahoma St

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    Name: Keiton Page

    Class: Senior

    Position: Point Guard

    Height: 5'9"

    Weight: 160

    2010-2011 stats: 13.2 points, 89.4 percent free throw percentage

    With the exit of Kansas' combo sensation Josh Selby to the NBA draft, Keiton Page is now considered one of the top point guards in the Big 12. The stocky "mighty mouse," with a game similar to that of former Syracuse standout Gerry McNamara, is an over-achiever on every level of the game.

    A speedy long range gunner who plays with poise and a reckless abandon, Paige has increased his scoring numbers each and every season of his career from 8.6 his frosh season to 13.2 last year.

    Despite a dip in this three point production, the former high school standout who averaged 44.5 points as a senior should bounce back this season with a deeper Cowboy team.

    Adding incoming freshman scorer LeBryan Nash will ease tension off the under-sized guard and allow him to get the open looks he was accustomed to his first two years. 

    Travis Ford's captain is a dark horse candidate to win Big 12 player of the year and is primed for a Senior season Cowboy fans will not soon forget.

    Strengths: Free throw shooting, poise and conditioning

    Weaknesses: Size, shot selection

    NBA Draft Projection: Undrafted

11: Peyton Siva, Louisville

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    Name: Peyton Siva

    Class: Junior

    Position: Point Guard

    Height: 5'11"

    Weight: 180

    2010-2011 stats: 9.9 points, 5.2 assists, 3.1 rebounds, 2.0 steals

    In his sophomore season, Peyton Siva grew exponentially for Rick Pitino. His production value tripled in comparison to his freshman season, and the athletic tweener out of Seattle began to assert himself as the team's captain.

    With the departures of both Preston Knowles and Terrence Jennings, Siva takes on the lead roll as captain and as the Cardinals' go-to offensive force. A frenetic offensive player with the will to get to the hoop anytime he wishes is a tremendous finisher in traffic.

    Like Allen Iverson, the brash guard fears nobody and invites the aggressive body on body contract of the game.

    Most importantly, Siva proved his team orientation last season by finishing in the top five in the Big East in assist. Whether it be a dunk or a drop off in the paint, Siva's speed is a gift for any NCAA or NBA coach.

    Strengths: Speed, dribble game, does not fear contact, finishes close to rim, gets others involved

    Weaknesses: 15 foot and out jump shot, brash attitude, size, free throw shooting

    NBA Draft Projection: Early to mid second round

10: Robbie Hummel, Purdue

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    Name: Robbie Hummel

    Class: Senior (Red Shirt)

    Position: Forward

    Size: 6'8"

    Weight: 225

    2010-2011 stats: DNP

    For Robbie Hummel, a former lottery projected talent, just stepping on a basketball court is glory in and of itself. Undergoing two ACL surgeries on the same knee for back to back seasons warrants the 22-year-old's renewed perspective.

    For Boilermaker fans, the return of Hummel is bittersweet. Though they are welcoming to the kind and quiet kid out of Valporaiso, Indiana, they are left to wonder what could have been had he been healthy enough to team with last year's standouts E'Twaun Moore and JuJuan Johnson.

    Now that both Moore and Johnson have joined the NBA ranks, Hummel is thrust once again into the face of a still talented Boilermaker team. A rock solid team orientation makes Hummel the perfect player to coach. His ability to step out and knock down the mid range to three point jump shot, post on the block and crash the offensive glass makes him a one-of-a-kind talent.

    I expect to see similar numbers compared to his 2009-2010 season where Hummel posted 15.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 1.0 block, 90.2 percent from the free throw line and 36.4 percent from three.

    Strengths: Coachability, work ethic, inside-outside threat, free throw shooting, offensive rebounding

    Weaknesses: Health

    NBA Draft Projection: Late second round, undrafted

9: James McAdoo, North Carolina

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    Name: James McAdoo

    Class: Freshman

    Position: Power Forward

    Height: 6'8"

    Weight: 225

    2010-2011 stats: N/A

    Any time your name is kin to former NBA talent Bob McAdoo, all eyes and ears will be on you. For James, the game of basketball has always been easy.

    A 6'8" forward whose skill set has been compared to a more athletic version of Tim Duncan, McAdoo will  join a talented title favorite team in North Carolina where he, as a sub, can grow into his roll as a dominate big man.

    Playing in Roy Williams' balanced inside-outside set scheme will foster the No. 5 rated freshman's post game while still taking enough pressure off of him in order that a natural maturation may take place.

    Playing behind a rebounding presence like Tyler Zellar and a shot blocking sensation like John Henson is the perfect fit for the highly touted prospect. Gifted with an array of hook shots, bank shots and pull up 10 footers, expect big things from his ASAP.

    Strengths: Body control, stays out of foul trouble, rebounding, high vertical leap, array of post moves and good passer

    Weaknesses: Free throw shooting, undersized

    NBA Draft Projection: Top 10

8: Mason Plumlee, Duke

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    Name: Mason Plumlee

    Class: Junior

    Position: Forward

    Size: 6'10"

    Weight: 230

    2010-2011 stats: 8.7 rebounds, 7.2 points, 1.7 blocks

    Considered a draft prospect straight out of high school, the raw and athletic Mason Plumlee has taken the road less traveled by ignoring the NBA to continue developing his offensive game.

    Without question the kid gifted with a 40-plus vertical and a tenacious will to block shots is an elite defender. But what NBA execs still want to see is a go-to post move and an ability to stay out of foul trouble.

    Last season was not the type of offensive showing fans and NBA scouts wanted. After a strong start to the season, including a 25-12-5 game against Marquette, Plumlee faded from the ball and demoted his role to defensive specialist the remainder of the year.

    His long arms and active leaping ability make him an intriguing big man coming into the season. Considering Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler and Kryrie Irving are all gone to the NBA, Plumlee becomes a focal point on the offensive side of the ball.

    I wonder what type of boom we'll see from the giftedly erratic leaper.

    Strengths: Rebounding, nose for the ball, blocks shots

    Weaknesses: Lack of post moves, gets in foul trouble, poor free throw shooter

    NBA Draft Projection: Lottery to late first round

     

7: Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin

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    Name: Jordan Taylor

    Class: Senior

    Position: Point Guard

    Height: 6'1"

    Weight: 195

    2010-2011 stats: 18.1 points, 4.9 assists, 4.1 rebounds, 42.9 percent three point percentage

    The reigning second team All-American and first team Big Ten defense is a rock of a point guard in Bo Ryan's disciplinarian style of play. A breakout season in his junior year saw the three point aficianado's numbers double and his nationwide recognition grow.

    The early favorite to win the Big Ten Player of the Year award in 2012, Taylor will continue to be called upon to hit the big shots late. In multiple games last year, Taylor showed the world just how good he can be when called upon.

     In a come from behind win against the number one ranked Buckeyes, Taylor dropped 21 of his total 27 points in the final 15 minutes.

    Gifted with an NBA ready physique, Taylor for no reason has been caught in a vacuum. NBA scouts have steered clear of the controlled guard because of comparisons to former Duke standout Jay Williams. These fears are unwarranted, as Taylor will continue to raise his stock this season.

    Strengths: Three point shooting, physical brute, conditioning, all-around play, defensive stopper

    Weaknesses: Size and lack of speed.

    NBA Draft Projection: Early to mid second round 

6: Jeremy Lamb, UConn

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    Name: Jeremy Lamb

    Class: Sophomore

    Position: Guard-Forward

    Height: 6'5"

    Weight: 180

    2010-2011 stats: 11.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 36.8 percent three point shooting

    Jeremy Lamb, a First Big East Rookie Team member, played second fiddle to Kemba Walker his entire frosh season. It was not until the Huskies tournament run to title success that Lamb asserted himself as more than just a role player.

    Named to the Final Four team, Lamb averaged 16.2 points and 4.8 rebounds while shooting 58.0 percent from the field in the March tournament.

    A long and lean guard/forward, Lamb is both a defensive game changer and a solid mid-range shooter. He proved in the tournament that he is gifted with a grit to carry his team in big game moments and is able to crash the offensive glass.

    Strengths: Athleticism, maturity level, mid-range pull up game, defensive game changer

    Weaknesses: Can go extended minutes without scoring, body control

    NBA Draft Projection: Mid to late first round

5: Perry Jones III, Baylor

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    Name: Perry Jones III

    Class: Sophomore

    Position: Power Forward

    Height: 6'11"

    Weight: 220

    2010-2011 stats: 13.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, 54.8 percent field goal percentage

    In the early part of Perry Jones' rock star career, the path has been a bit bumpy. And though the freakish athlete is an enigma from both a fan and critic's perspective, the long athletic leaper has perhaps the highest ceiling of any on this list.

    Lack of motivation was the biggest demon to Jones Frosh season. Despite his aloof and guarded personality, indecisiveness in big games and uncoachable attitude, the forward still boasted numbers that ranked him second on the team in scoring and first in rebounding.

    After a slow start, Jones finished the second half of the season strongly scoring 20-plus five times in his last 15 games. In Big 12 Conference play, Jones averaged 16.6 points per game. Lack of touches might have been the reason for the fluid big man's lack of motivation in the early parts of the season.

    Now with LaceDarius Dunn gone, the kid compared to Tracy McGrady can thrive as Baylor's focal point.

    Strengths: High field goal efficiency, long, fluid, can face the basket and take other bigs off the dribble

    Weaknesses: Motivation, apathetic personality, desire to call for the ball, poor shot blocker

    NBA Draft Projection: Top five

4: Terrence Jones, Kentucky

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    Name: Terrence Jones

    Class: Sophomore

    Position: Forward

    Height: 6'8"

    Weight: 245

    2010-2011 stats: 15.7 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 1.1 steals

    Perhaps no other freshman player carried himself like Jones. The confident combo forward with a wide body and extremely long reach was a key cog and co-leader with Brandon Knight in the Wildcats final four run last year.  

    Best when he is taking bigs off the dribble and getting to the rack, Jones at times fell too much in love with the three point shot. His erratic outside shooting touch caused the talented big man to fade in big moments.

    After starting the season red hot—scoring 20-plus in three of his first five games—Jones amassed that total just four times the rest of the year.

    In the tournament, he looked a bit uncomfortable and shied from contact. His inconsistent free throw shooting could be the reason the kid from Oregon relied too heavily from the outside.

    But overall, Terrence had a brilliant freshman season, and now, as the focal point in Kentucky, is an early favorite to win Player of the Year honors.

    Strengths: Dribbling, speed, long reach, wide body, blocks shots, great offensive rebounder, array of hook shots in the key

    Weaknesses: Falls in love with the three point shot, inconsistent free throw shooter, sometimes aloof

    NBA Draft Projection: Lottery

3: Anthony Davis, Kentucky

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    Name: Anthony Davis

    Class: Freshman

    Position: Forward

    Height: 6'10"

    Weight: 200

    2010-2011 stats: N/A

    Anthony Davis is the newest addition to John Calipari's hot bed of talent. The number one overall recruit is a gifted 6'10" shot blocker with an array of low block moves and an ability to pass out of the post.

    Davis moving alongside Terrence Jones, gives the Wildcats the most formidable front court in all of hoops. Gifted with an unreal wing span and timing on his offensive put backs, Davis is a stat filler and arguably the most all-around freshman in the last three years.

    Most impressive of any of his attributes is his ability to guard smaller players on the perimeter. Growing six inches from his sophomore season to his junior season in high school gave the lanky forward the mental capacity to play all five positions on the court.

    Without question, Davis is a perfect fit in the Wildcats frenetic team defense.

    Strengths: Timing on jump, top notch shot blocker, vertical leap, unselfish passer, can guard all-five positions

    Weaknesses: Weight and because of such can get pushed around in the post

    NBA Draft Projection: first pick overall

2: Jared Sullinger, Ohio St.

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    Name: Jared Sullinger

    Class: Sophomore

    Position: Power Forward

    Height: 6'8"

    Weight: 250

    2010-2011 stats: 17.2 points, 10.2 rebounds, 54.8 percent field goal percentage

    Sullinger was the most decorated freshman big all of last season, and he earned that honor by out-performing most big men of any class all around the country.

    A tenacious rebounder with a real nose for the ball, Sullinger is an efficient scorer down low and a somewhat polished free throw shooter.

    His wide body and shoulders, low center of gravity and impeccable footwork give him the the perfect low block arsenal. Sets of hook shots, drop step-crab dribbles and 10 foot glass banks are the reason this teddy bear is not so nice on the court.

    If there are any concerns from NBA scouts, it would be his lack of explosion around the rim. Drawing comparisons to Mike Sweetney—former forward from Georgetown—have caused the speculation.

    But there shouldn't be. Sullinger is still growing into his frame, and with a diet and workout regiment, could mend this explosive gap.

    Strengths: Wide body, footwork, body control, low center of gravity, good free throw shooter, efficient scorer, unselfish

    Weaknesses: Explosion around the rim, questionable conditioning

    NBA Draft Projection: Top five

1: Harrison Barnes, North Carolina

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    Name: Harrison Barnes

    Class: Sophomore

    Position: Forward

    Height: 6'8"

    Weight: 210

    2010-2011 stats: 15.7 points, 5.8 rebounds

    No recruit in 10 years captured the American audience like Roy Williams super-frosh Harrison Barnes. Barnes is arguably the most gifted all-around athlete to be introduced on the national stage since LeBron James.

    Blessed with a perfect forward's frame, "The Black Falcon" can both get above the rim and knock down the mid-range jump shot.

    Perhaps it was this pressure that caused Barnes to struggle early in the 2010-2011 season. In two losses to Minnesota and Vanderbilt, Barnes shot just 4-for-24 from the floor.

    Such performances caused pundits all across the country to shout "overrated." But it would not be long till Barnes broke through the early jitters and set the College Basketball world on fire.

    It was his 40-point outburst against Clemson in the ACC tournament that solidified the expectations. Barnes guard-like quickness is an asset many forwards do not have. His ability to draw contact in the air and finish is another strength to his already dangerous arsenal.

    This offseason, the decorated Tar Heel is working out with Chris Paul in order to improve his ball handling, stop and pop pull up game and three point shooting. When all these three things join in with Barnes game, he will be completely unstoppable.

    Strengths: Mid-range game, explosive finisher, quickness, body control, ability to draw fouls

    Weaknesses: Dribbling, three point shooting, ability to pull up in the open court

    NBA Draft Projection: Top three

Honorable Mention: Best of the Rest

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    Erving Walker, Guard, Florida: Don't be fooled by his tiny 5'9" frame, Walker is a streaky shooter who can get into to the key and cause havoc.

    Josh Smith, Center, UCLA: One of the widest bodies in America, Smith has the tools to develop into an offensive force. Poor conditioning causes Smith to get into foul trouble.

    Wil Barton, Guard, Memphis: Barton is still far too raw to be Josh Pasten's go-to-guy. But his freakish athleticism is something a coach cannot teach. With a better perimeter game, Barton could be an early favorite for Conference USA Player of the Year honors.

    Wil Buford, Guard, Ohio St: Burford is the perfect example of what staying in school can get you. A great 6'5" muscular frame is the reason Buford is now turning NBA scouts onto to his slashing talents.

    Doron Lamb, Guard, Kentucky: With Brandon Knight gone, Lamb is now the perimeter focal point in Kentucky. Can he improve his three point shooting?

    John Henson, Forward, North Carolina: The lengthy shot blocker lacks a real offensive game to truly impress NBA scouts. His leaping ability and open floor explosiveness are the reasons the league is still interested.

    Tyler Zeller, Forward, North Carolina: Zeller is not an athletically gifted player. But he is like former standout Tyler Hansborough who knew how to make up for things with a high work ethic and rebounding aggressiveness.

    Draymond Green, Forward, Michigan st.: Green is a one-of-a-kind point forward who affects every facet of the game. This year will be his one shot to prove to the world he is also a perennial scorer.

    Orlando Johnson, Guard, UCSB: Johnson is the most unknown talent in all of College hoops. The two-time Big West leading scorer is in a league of his own. Two game winners last year and multiple 30+ showings are an appealing prospect for NBA teams looking for a second round steal.