Ranking the Nation's Top 20 Centers for 2013-14 NCAA Basketball Season

C.J. Moore@@CJMooreHoopsCollege Basketball National Lead WriterOctober 28, 2013

Ranking the Nation's Top 20 Centers for 2013-14 NCAA Basketball Season

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    Michigan's Mitch McGary emerged as one of the best big men in the country during the NCAA tournament last year.
    Michigan's Mitch McGary emerged as one of the best big men in the country during the NCAA tournament last year.Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    Welcome to the positional rankings for the upcoming 2013-14 college basketball season. Consider this a cheat sheet to get familiar with some of the best players around the country. 

    We're starting with the centers, because it's the slimmest pickings in the middle. Getting the center label these days is almost an insult. Why be a center when you could step out to the three-point line as a "stretch 4?"

    Many teams play two power forwards up front and you'll find a lot of rosters without one guy listed at center. 

    So before you get peeved that the guy you thought should have been on this list isn't, you might want to wait for the power forwards to come out. 

    We'll release the top 20 guys at each spot and finish off with the top 100 players in the country. This is not a prediction of where each guy will go in the NBA Draft and the players have not been judged entirely off past accomplishments. The rankings were made based on value in the college game this season. Obviously, these are predictions.  

    Before we get to the 20 best centers, here's the schedule for the rest of the rankings. 

    Oct. 30: Power Forwards

    Nov. 1: Small Forwards

    Nov. 4: Shooting Guards

    Nov. 6: Point Guards

    Nov. 8: Top 100

    All advanced stats, unless otherwise noted, come from KenPom.com (subscription needed). 

20. Sim Bhullar, New Mexico State

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    Class: Sophomore

    2012-13 Stats: 10.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.4 bpg

    Why He's Here: Sim Bhullar is a mountain of a man at 7'5" and 350 pounds. He can barely get up and down the court, but he's so big and so difficult to defend that New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies has to play him as many minutes as he can.

    Last season as a freshman, Bhullar played only 24.4 minutes per game, and his numbers are pretty impressive when you average them out per 40 minutes: 16.6 points, 11.0 rebounds and 3.9 blocks.

19. Alec Brown, Green Bay

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    Class: Senior

    2012-13 Stats: 14.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.7 bpg, 1.2 apg

    Why He's Here: Alec Brown plays on a mediocre mid-major team, but his game is good enough to go against the big boys. Brown has one of the smoothest jumpers of any center in the country.

    He shot 42.9 percent from deep as a junior and has shoot above 70 percent at the free throw line throughout his career.

    Brown is also a good shot blocker, although he did take a step back last season in that realm. As a sophomore, he averaged 3.0 blocks per game and that dropped to 1.7 swats per game last year.

18. Chris Walker, Florida

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    Class: Freshman

    2012-13 Stats (High school): Not available

    Why He's Here: It's not a given Chris Walker will ever play this year. He's yet to enroll at Florida and the plan is for Walker to enroll for second semester and play the second half of the season.

    Even if he plays, Florida has so much depth and experience inside, Walker may never start. But there's also the chance Billy Donovan decides to go big with Walker and Patric Young and that the coach would have his best big man tandem since Al Horford and Joakim Noah.

    Walker is too athletic and too talented to leave off this list, and that could be Donovan's reasoning for giving him a chance once he's finally allowed to play.

17. Mike Tobey, Virginia

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    Class: Sophomore

    2012-13 Stats: 6.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 0.6 bpg

    Why He's Here: Mike Tobey was one of the most productive post players in the country last year among the guys who played limited minutes.

    In 13.9 minutes per game, Tobey was a high-usage big man, taking nearly one-third of Virginia's shots. In the five games Tobey played 20 or more minutes, he scored in double figures each time.

    Tobey has good hands and a really nice touch. He fits in nicely in Virginia's half-court style and should get more of an opportunity as a sophomore.

16. Dakari Johnson, Kentucky

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    Class: Freshman

    2012-13 Stats (High school): 17.0 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 4.3 bpg (via UK Athletics)

    Why He's Here: Dakari Johnson could be the only center on this list who comes off the bench. On another team with more opportunity, he would probably be ranked higher.

    The nice thing for Johnson and Kentucky is that Johnson will have time to develop and will not be forced into a role that is more than he can handle. If he does become the starter, move him way up this list, as it's not likely the 16th-best center in the country could beat out Willie Cauley-Stein.

15. Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona

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    Class: Sophomore

    2012-13 Stats: 6.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 0.7 bpg

    Why He's Here: Kaleb Tarczewski was ranked as the fourth-best prospect in the 2012 class by ESPN.com. So Tarczewski's freshman numbers could be looked at as a bit of a disappointment considering the hype that surrounded him when he arrived.

    That wasn't all Tarczewski's fault, however. The Wildcats had a score-first point guard in Mark Lyons and Tarczewski didn't get a lot of opportunities. This year the Wildcats will start pass-first point guard T.J. McConnell, and that could be huge for Tarczewski, who was effective when he would get opportunities.

14. Chris Obekpa, St. John's

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    Class: Sophomore

    2012-13 Stats: 3.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 4.0 bpg, 0.9 spg, 1.1 apg

    Why He's Here: Chris Obekpa was the best shot-blocking big man in the country last year. Obekpa led the nation in shot block percentage—wiping away 15.8 percent of opponents' two-point attempts when he was on the court.

    On the offensive end, there's not a lot to Obekpa's game. He did not score in double figures once. Steve Lavin should be more than willing to sacrifice offense at that spot as long as Opekpa keeps swatting shots at such a high rate.

13. Josh Smith, Georgetown

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    Class: Senior

    2012-13 Stats (6 games): 5.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 0.5 bpg, 1.2 spg

    Why He's Here: Georgetown coach John Thompson III told ESPN.com's Andy Katz this summer that he's not sure that there's a better big man in the country than a "committed" Josh Smith, who got a waiver from the NCAA to play the entire year instead of sitting out the first semester.

    "He has the instincts and the physical tools to be better than any big man I've had," Thompson told Katz.

    There's a reason Thompson threw in "committed." His weight will always be a concern.

    When Smith has been in good enough shape to at least get up and down the floor, he has been a force. As a freshman, he averaged 10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds. His 19.5 offensive rebounding percentage that year ranked second in the country. 

    If Thompson could guarantee that Smith will be in shape, Smith would be in the top five of this list. 

12. Josh Scott, Colorado

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    Class: Sophomore

    2012-13 Stats: 10.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 0.8 bpg 

    Why He's Here: Josh Scott is a treat to watch if you enjoy fundamentally sound big men with an array of post moves. Scott is a smooth operator from the blocks and can score over either shoulder. 

    Scott, at 6'10" and 215 pounds as a freshman, needed to add some bulk and Colorado is listing him at 230 pounds this year. 

11. A.J. Hammons, Purdue

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    Class: Sophomore

    2012-13 Stats: 10.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.0 bpg

    Why He's Here: A.J. Hammons has the potential to be one of the Big Ten's best players. We saw that in some impressive performances against some of the Big Ten's best. He went for 20 points against Michigan State and 30 against Indiana. Unfortunately, both of those were blowout losses for the Boilermakers.

    There were other games as a freshman where Hammons would disappear. He scored only three points in a season-ending loss to Santa Clara in the CBI, for instance.

    To take the next step, Hammons needs to be more consistent.

10. Dwight Powell, Stanford

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    Class: Senior

    2012-13 Stats: 14.9 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.1 bpg 

    Why He's Here: Stanford's Dwight Powell was voted the Pac-12's most improved player last year after averaging only 5.8 points and 4.6 rebounds as a sophomore.

    The Cardinal, on the other hand, were disappointing a year ago, following an NIT postseason title in 2012 with a 19-15 record and second-round loss in the NIT.

    With all five starters returning, expectations should be higher this year, particularly because of Powell's presence. 

9. Joel Embiid, Kansas

12 of 20

    Class: Freshman

    2012-13 Stats (High school): 13.0 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 1.9 bpg (via KU Athletics)

    Why He's Here: Joel Embiid could be the center with the highest ceiling in the country. Simply take a look at DraftExpress.com's mock draft for proof. Embiid, who started playing basketball when he was 16, is projected to go as the No. 6 pick, the highest-ranked center.

    Right now, Embiid is a good shot-blocker with a developing offensive game. He can shoot all the way out to the three-point line and KU's coaching staff has worked with him a lot on his post moves this offseason. KU video coordinator Jeff Forbes told Bleacher Report Embiid has been studying video of Hakeem Olajuwon.

    Embiid has the potential to have a season similar to Michigan big man Mitch McGary's freshman year. Like McGary, he'll probably start the year coming off the bench, backing up Memphis transfer Tarik Black. By the end of the season, expect to see Embiid as the starter and a big part of KU's success.

8. Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga

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    Class: Sophomore

    2012-13 Stats: 5.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 0.3 bpg

    Why He's Here: Want the Kelly Olynyk, out-of-nowhere-to-become-an-All-American candidate for 2013-14?

    Look to Olynyk's replacement. Przemek Karnowski is an extremely difficult cover because of his height (7'1") and girth (305 pounds). The Polish big man also has good hands and soft touch.

    Last season he averaged 21.3 points per 40 minutes and made 56.7 percent of his shots. He also got to the free throw line at a high rate, drawing 6.1 fouls per 40 minutes.

    Karnowski's free throw shooting (44 percent) is one thing he needs to improve as a sophomore in addition to his stamina. If he can get that percentage up and can give Gonzaga 25-plus minutes per game, he could put up big numbers.

7. Alex Kirk, New Mexico

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    Class: Junior

    2012-13 Stats: 12.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.8 bpg

    Why He's Here: Alex Kirk is a throwback to the big, plodding centers we had once envisioned as the typical center. He's 7'0" and he doesn't jump or move particularly well, but those limitations do not hold him back because he has great fundamentals.  

    A year ago, Kirk returned to the court after redshirting the previous year because of back surgery and put up solid numbers. He can score from the blocks and has range out to the three-point line, where he made 10-of-36 shots last season.

6. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky

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    Class: Sophomore

    2012-13 Stats: 8.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.1 bpg

    Why He's Here: Willie Cauley-Stein is the second Kentucky center to make the list, and even though he's a returner who figures to be a first-round draft pick following this season, his spot in the starting lineup is not a given. That speaks to the potential for Dakari Johnson and the ridiculous frontcourt depth John Calipari has assembled.

    Cauley-Stein is a great athlete with potential to be a great shot-blocker and good finisher around the rim, similar to what Nerlens Noel was last year. He lacks the instincts of Noel but has comparable athleticism. 

    Cauley-Stein finished last season with solid numbers once he was given the opportunity to be the starting center when Noel's season ended prematurely. Over UK's final 12 games—nine of which were played without Noel—Cauley-Stein averaged 10.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and had 27 blocks.

    Those scoring numbers could be close to the ceiling offensively for Cauley-Stein unless he develops more of a post game. Either way, he's a good fit for Kentucky because Calipari has enough scorers that he doesn't need a skilled center. He needs someone who can protect the rim and run. That's Cauley-Stein.

5. Patric Young, Florida

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    Class: Senior

    2012-13 Stats: 10.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.6 bpg

    Why He's Here: Patric Young is never going to be a big man who puts up huge numbers. The reason Young is so valuable and so high on this list is his defense.

    The Gators were one of the best defenses in the country last season, and Young's value showed up in their two-point defense. Florida held opponents to 41.8 percent inside the arc, the best mark of Billy Donovan's coaching career.

    And it's not like Young is a liability in the post offensively. He has a nice jump hook and can score when it's needed, but he'll show his worth on the defensive end and as an intangibles guy.

4. Isaiah Austin, Baylor

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    Class: Sophomore

    2012-13 Stats: 13.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.7 bpg

    Why He's Here: Baylor's Isaiah Austin is the most gifted offensive center in the country.

    Austin can shoot the three, he can score over either shoulder and has a nice mid-range game. If the best centers in the country played Horse, Austin wins no problem. 

    The one issue Austin faced as a freshman was that he allowed thicker guys to push him off the blocks and he floated to the perimeter too often. It's kind of an eye-opener when a 7'1" guy attempts 90 threes. 

    Austin still put up respectable numbers as a freshman, but Scott Drew would probably like to see his field goal percentage (45.9) go up as a sophomore.

3. Adreian Payne, Michigan State

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    Michigan State's Adreian Payne dunks over Duke's Rasheed Sulaimon in a Sweet 16 loss.
    Michigan State's Adreian Payne dunks over Duke's Rasheed Sulaimon in a Sweet 16 loss.Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

    Class: Senior

    2012-13 Stats: 10.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.3 bpg 

    Why He's Here: Adreian Payne is a picturesque modern big man. He's an athletic freak. He has range out to the three-point line, where he shot 38.1 percent last year. He's probably the fastest center in the country. 

    Yet Payne has never made the leap from a good player to a great one. The Spartans have enough talent around Payne that his numbers from a year ago would probably suffice this year as well. Even if his production doesn't meet what our eyes tell us they should be, he's still one of the best centers in college basketball. 

2. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville

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    Class: Sophomore

    2012-13 Stats: 5.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 0.7 bpg

    Why He's Here: Montrezl Harrell is similar to the hyped freshmen coming in. He's slotted here based on potential. Harrell is relatively unproven at this point, but he has a ton of upside based off his athleticism and length.

    Harrell also unveiled there's more to his game than just leaping ability this summer for the United States' U-19 team. Harrell showed off some nice post moves in that tournament and put up solid numbers as the starting center, averaging 10.6 points and 3.7 rebounds in 18 minutes per game. His best game came when it mattered the most, in the championship against Sebria where he put up 17 points, four rebounds and four blocks. 

    Harrell has an important spot to fill in Louisville's lineup, as Gorgui Dieng's defense was one of the key ingredients to a national title. But if Harrell lives up to his potential, the Cardinals could be even better off this year at the center position. 

1. Mitch McGary, Michigan

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    Class: Sophomore

    2012-13 Stats: 7.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.1 spg, 0.7 bpg

    Why He's Here: Is Michigan going to get the guy who averaged 15.3 points and 10.7 rebounds per game in the NCAA tournament or the backup big man who looked unspectacular for most of the regular season? 

    The assumption is the first guy is going to show up, and that's a pretty good bet. McGary has one of the best motors in college basketball, and he figured out where he fit in Michigan's offense in the NCAA tournament. 

    The only question going into the season will be whether McGary can produce numbers similar to his tournament performance without Trey Burke setting him up. How good McGary is could depend a lot on how good freshman point guard Derrick Walton is for Michigan. 

    Even if McGary's scoring numbers don't live up to expectations, his rebounding ability, effort and defense make him the most valuable center in the country.


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