College Basketball 2011-12 Predictions: Picking the Top 20 Players in the Nation

Ethan BackCorrespondent IApril 11, 2011

College Basketball 2011-12 Predictions: Picking the Top 20 Players in the Nation

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    The NBA Draft claims many of the top talents from college basketball, including a multitude of underclassmen.

    We often salivate at thoughts of players remaining in college for four years. Players like Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon could have just finished up their senior years. John Wall would only be a sophomore.

    While these thoughts are indeed intriguing, we should appreciate the players who do return and many of them continue to have success in the NBA after more lengthy college careers.

    This year, we will see many outstanding underclassmen leave the collegiate ranks for the NBA, but there will be plenty of talent still in the NCAA.

    Some stars are young, some will be seniors, but all of the following 20 players will have a chance to make a lasting impact for their respective teams in the 2011-12 season.

William Buford

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    CLEVELAND, OH - MARCH 20: William Buford #44 of the Ohio State Buckeyes shoots against the George Mason Patriots during the third of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Quicken Loans Arena on March 20, 2011 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory
    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    In the backcourt, the Ohio State Buckeyes will graduate Jon Diebler and David Lighty, two outstanding players. Their responsibilities will largely be shifted to William Buford who, along with Aaron Kraft, will thrive playing alongside Jared Sullinger.

    Buford has a very diverse skill-set and can score or dish when needed. Expect to see an increase in his assist numbers, mainly due to feeding Sullinger down low. His scoring could increase as well, but it is his  leadership abilities that will outweigh his numbers in importance, however good they are.

    Buford's worst performance as a junior came in his final  NCAA tournament game against Kentucky.

    He made just two of 16 shots, and had just nine points, two rebounds and one assist. His senior season will be one of redemption, and he will look to end his college career on a high note.

    2010-11 Key Stats: 14.4 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.9 APG, 84.3% FT

Keith Clanton

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    The C-USA is known mostly for the Memphis Tigers, but Central Florida could be solid with Keith Clanton and Marcus Jordan (Michael Jordan's son) next season. The Knights started off this past season as a ranked team, but things went terribly wrong in conference, as they finished 6-12.

    Clanton, however, can't be blamed, having put up several double-doubles and 20-point games. Jordan will be a nice complement to Clanton, who will be doing work down low. The pair will hopefully be able to keep UCF in the rankings next season.

    2010-11 Key Stats: 14.2 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 1.8 BPG, 1.0 SPG, 52% FG

Draymond Green

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    TAMPA, FL - MARCH 17:  Draymond Green #23 of the Michigan State Spartans reacts after he made a 3-point shot in the second half against the UCLA Bruins during the second round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at St. Pete Times Forum on March 1
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    If Draymond Green cannot close out his Michigan State career in a positive fashion, his name will be synonymous with underachieving amongst Sparty faithful.

    Yes, his stats have been solid, but beyond the box score, he has not played up to his potential.

    Green has the ability to be the best player on the court at all times, demonstrated by his triple-double against UCLA in the NCAA tournament. In too many games, however, he disappears and his field-goal shooting (42.6 percent) is inexcusably low.

    With the departure of Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers, Green will have to take on more responsibilities, whether he likes it or not.

    2010-11 Key Stats: 12.6 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 4.1 APG, 1.8 SPG, 1.1 BPG

Jordan Hamilton

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    TULSA, OK - MARCH 20:  Jordan Hamilton #3 of the Texas Longhorns dunks the ball against the Arizona Wildcats during the third round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at BOK Center on March 20, 2011 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Shot selection and free-throw shooting were two major concerns for Jordan Hamilton after his freshman season at Texas. This year, as a sophomore, he made drastic improvements in both field-goal shooting percentage and free-throw shooting percentage.

    The stats do a nice job of showing how much Hamilton has matured in the span of just two seasons. As a freshman, he looked lost on the defensive end at times and took shots out of the flow of the offense.

    As a sophomore, his rebounding and defense picked up, and he became a better teammate on the offensive end, resulting in an increase in his assist numbers.

    Hamilton could make a run at player of the year titles, both nationally and in-conference, and his Longhorns could make a deep run in March.

    2010-11 Key Stats: 18.6 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 2.1 APG, 77.9% FT

Tim Hardaway Jr.

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 20:  Tim Hardaway Jr. #10 of the Michigan Wolverines reacts while taking on the Duke Blue Devils during the third round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 20, 2011 in Charlotte, North Car
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Tim Hardaway Jr. will essentially play the same role for the Michigan Wolverines in this upcoming season as Darius Morris did last season.

    Scoring, passing and rebounding will all be necessary for the guard, and his only proven help down low will be Jordan Morgan, a tough soon-to-be sophomore.

    Hardaway Jr. is built for the challenge and his long frame will allow him to be a solid defender. One issue which has somewhat plagued Hardaway is that he needs to put on some more weight. At just 185 pounds, he could be out-muscled in the new-look Big Ten.

    Hardaway Jr. will probably have great stats, but the question for the Wolverines will be whether someone else can step up and give him some assistance. If not, he will be a one-man team.

John Henson

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    NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 25:  John Henson #31 of the North Carolina Tar Heels dunks against the Marquette Golden Eagles during the east regional semifinal of the 2011 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the Prudential Center on March 25, 2011 in Newark, New Jer
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    John Henson, the long, athletic, shot-blocking presence for the North Carolina Tar Heels, will have a terrific 2011-12 season. His impact was already made this past season, leading UNC to a 29-8 overall record and a Sweet 16 appearance.

    With a summer spent in the weight room, along with polishing his offensive game, Henson could be an absolute force come November and beyond.

    If he can strengthen his free-throw shooting, he will be much more dangerous in the clutch. Regardless, the Tar Heels should be grateful that such a talented big man is returning, as he will lead them to great heights.

    2010-11 Key Stats: 11.7 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 3.2 BPG, 50% FG

Tu Holloway

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    CLEVELAND, OH - MARCH 18: Tu Holloway #52 of the Xavier Musketeers handles the ball against the Marquette Golden Eagles during the second round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Quicken Loans Arena on March 18, 2011 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Pho
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Tu Holloway, the undisputed leader of the Xavier Musketeers, will return for his senior season. The X-Men should be very thankful, as he is capable of leading them in any statistical category on any given night.

    Holloway is perhaps the most well-rounded player in the collegiate ranks, and he does such an effective job at just 6'0", 185 pounds. Durability has not been a problem, as he played 38.4 minutes per game this season.

    Although the Musketeers are losing Jamel McLean and Dante Jackson to graduation, they will return a solid supporting cast around Holloway. Holloway will try to take them past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, where they were defeated this past season.

    2010-11 Key Stats: 19.7 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 5.4 APG, 1.4 SPG, 87% FT

John Jenkins

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    ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 11:  John Jenkins #23 of the Vanderbilt Commodores celebrates their win over the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the quarterfinals of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament at Georgia Dome on March 11, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. The Comm
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    It will be difficult to find a better scorer in the 2011-12 season than John Jenkins of Vanderbilt. The Tennessee native has been lighting it up ever since he put on a Commodores uniform and will be a top-five scorer nationally.

    If Jenkins can develop other key areas of his game, including ball-handling, passing and defense, he will be a lethal player in the SEC. He should be the favorite for SEC Player of the Year, but he won't win any defensive awards.

    His offense, however, might just be better than anyone else's in the nation.

    2010-11 Key Stats: 19.5 PPG, 3 RPG, 40.8% Three-Point Shooting

Darius Johnson-Odom

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    NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 25:  Darius Johnson-Odom #1 of the Marquette Golden Eagles walks away after a play against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the first half of the east regional semifinal of the 2011 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the Prudential
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Darius Johnson-Odom has been a model of consistency ever since he set foot on campus at Marquette. In his two years as a Golden Eagle, he has averaged double figures in points, and he has been an active leader on the court.

    Johnson-Odom will be one of the best, if not the best, guard in the Big East next year and has the ability to put up incredible numbers. Like many other players this year, he had his worst game of the season in his final game against the North Carolina Tar Heels, during the Sweet 16.

    Johnson-Odom shot two for nine in that game, finishing with seven points, which was a season low. As a senior, he will look to right the ship and certainly has all the talent that he needs to do so.

    2010-11 Key Stats: 15.8 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.4 APG

Kris Joseph

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    CLEVELAND, OH - MARCH 18: Kris Joseph #32 of the Syracuse Orange smiles after a play against the Indiana State Sycamores during the second round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Quicken Loans Arena on March 18, 2011 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Ph
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Kris Joseph had a great season in the tough Big East, leading Syracuse in scoring and finishing second in rebounding behind Rick Jackson. Next year, as a senior, he will look to lead the team in scoring again, while trying to rack up some more wins in conference.

    The Orange went 12-6 in conference, but with the development of Fab Melo and the arrival of an elite class of freshmen, Syracuse could have an even better season.

    Syracuse failed to advance to the Sweet 16, and Joseph played less of a role than he probably would've liked.

    He only took seven shots, connecting on five, en route to just 10 points against conference-rival Marquette. He played below his abilities and will have higher aspirations next year, both individually and for his team.

Jeremy Lamb

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    HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 04:  Jeremy Lamb #3 of the Connecticut Huskies dunks the ball against the Butler Bulldogs during the National Championship Game of the 2011 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at Reliant Stadium on April 4, 2011 in Houston, Tex
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    With Kemba Walker heading to the NBA, there is no doubt that Jeremy Lamb will lead the Connecticut Huskies in scoring in the upcoming season. The 6'5" soon-to-be sophomore has a soft shooting touch, long frame and solid on-ball defending abilities, which will allow him to succeed in the Big East.

    Defenses will focus more on Lamb without Kemba, so he will probably need to put on a few more pounds this summer to take the physical beatings that the Big East serves up on a nightly basis.

    Lamb will have to take the ball to the hoop more often, along with creating more for his teammates. Along with Alex Oriakhi, Lamb and his Huskies will have a chance to go far next year, but winning another NCAA championship is very doubtful.

    2010-11 Key Stats: 11.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.6 APG, 48.7% FG

Shelvin Mack

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    HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 04:  Shelvin Mack #1 of the Butler Bulldogs with the ball while taking on Connecticut Huskies during the National Championship Game of the 2011 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at Reliant Stadium on April 4, 2011 in Houston,
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Shelvin Mack is no longer a name that will be overlooked in college basketball. He has already played in two NCAA tournament finals, coming up short each time.

    In the upcoming season, Mack will be without both Gordon Hayward and Matt Howard, so he will have the bulk of the scoring responsibilities. His teammates are mostly young, but diverse, and Butler has a legitimate post presence in Andrew Smith. Along with Khyle Marshall, the Bulldogs' frontline should get by in the Horizon League.

    If the Bulldogs plan on making another NCAA tournament run, they will live and die by the play of their superstar, Shelvin Mack.

    2010-11 Key Stats: 16.0 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.4 APG

Trevor Mbakwe

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    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 10:  Trevor Mbakwe #32 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers dunks against the Northwestern Wildcats during the first round of the 2011 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 10, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana
    Chris Chambers/Getty Images

    Trevor Mbakwe has gone through way too much off the court. He transferred from Marquette after his freshman season, wound up at Minnesota two years later and has recently dealt with legal issues.

    On the court, Mbakwe's play is not nearly as turbulent, as he was a near guarantee for a double-double in every game this season. His Golden Gophers were ranked early on in the season but lost 10 of their last 11 games, eliminating their postseason chances.

    With Ralph Sampson III and two incoming ESPNU 100 shooting guards, Minnesota should succeed next year, but most of the leadership responsibilities will fall on Mbakwe's shoulders, as one of three seniors on the team.

    2010-11 Key Stats: 13.9 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 58.2% FG

Ray McCallum

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    Ray McCallum plays in the Horizon League, alongside Shelvin Mack of Butler. They are the two of the top  guards, and possibly players, in the league.

    McCallum was a highly recruited player out of high school and decided to play at a lower-prestige school under his father, Ray Sr. The transition to college wasn't smooth at first, but his play picked up and he became a more consistent contributor towards the end of the season.

    The 2011-12 season could be McCallum's final one in college, and he could be a lottery pick in the NBA Draft in two years. For now, however, he will be looking to bring a Horizon League title to the Titans of Detroit.

    2010-11 Key Stats: 13.5 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 4.9 APG, 1.6 SPG

C.J. McCollum

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    OKLAHOMA CITY - MARCH 18:  CJ McCollum #3 of the Lehigh Mountain Hawks drives against the Kansas Jayhawks during the first round of the 2010 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Ford Center on March 18, 2010 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  (Photo by Ronald Ma
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    C.J. McCollum, the star of the Lehigh Mountain Hawks, is a legitimate NBA prospect. He can create his own shot effectively and he has proven he can play against top competition, as displayed by the then freshman in a first-round matchup with Kansas in the NCAA tournament.

    His supporting cast will be relatively weak, but after being a priority for defenses in his first two seasons, McCollum will be up to the task as a junior.

    Maybe he will get some national recognition, as he could lead the nation in scoring.

    2010-11 Key Stats: 21.8 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 2.1 APG, 2.5 SPG

Jared Sullinger

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    NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 25:  Jared Sullinger #0 of the Ohio State Buckeyes reacts after a point against the Kentucky Wildcats during the east regional semifinal of the 2011 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the Prudential Center on March 25, 2011 in Newark,
    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Jared Sullinger will be the preseason favorite to win every player of the year award in college basketball. His game is complete and he is wise beyond his years. The will-be sophomore had a great freshman season for the Ohio State Buckeyes, and looks to stay true to his word by returning for a second year.

    Sullinger isn't the most athletic player, but he uses his 6'9", 280-pound frame to abuse weaker defenders and he's a double-double machine. His touch from the free-throw line is feathery, his post moves are fun to watch and he is a selfless teammate.

    Sullinger has lived up to all the hype surrounding him as he entered college. Fans across the nation should appreciate his choice to return to college, for it is rare to see a player of his caliber return to school.

    2010-11 Key Stats: 17.2 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 54.1% FG

Jordan Taylor

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 24:  Jordan Taylor #11 of the Wisconsin Badgers reacts after missing a basket against the Butler Bulldogs during the Southeast regional of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at New Orleans Arena on March 24, 2011 in New Orle
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Wisconsin's offense is slow-paced and, quite frankly, predictable. These two factors make Jordan Taylor's job all the more difficult.

    Despite the constraints of Bo Ryan's offense, Taylor still manages to put up solid stats and lead the Badgers to victories. It is very possible that he will be an All-American in the upcoming season, but he will have to carry the load and fill the void left by Jon Leuer.

    If the past has any influence on this season, Taylor will lead the Badgers to more wins than they should have and he will shine as an individual in the process.

    2010-11 Key Stats: 18.1 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 4.7 APG, 42.9% Three-Point

Tristan Thompson

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    TULSA, OK - MARCH 20:  Derrick Williams #23 of the Arizona Wildcats goes up for a shot against Tristan Thompson #13 of the Texas Longhorns during the third round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at BOK Center on March 20, 2011 in Tulsa, Oklaho
    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Tristan Thompson had a great freshman season, one in which he played like a veteran. As a sophomore, he will be expected by Texas to do much of the same and perhaps take on a bigger offensive role. If he works on his offense and develops one or two go-to moves, he will be a force on that end of the court.

    Defense, however, is Thompson's specialty. He is an elite shot-blocker already, and he is a pesky on-ball defender. The Longhorns are known for their rebounding prowess, and he contributes greatly to this attribute with his elite presence on the boards.

    With Thompson and other key players returning, Texas has a solid shot at winning it all next season.

    2010-11 Key Stats: 13.1 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 2.4 BPG, 54.6% FG

Maalik Wayns

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    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 08:  Maalik Wayns #2 of the Villanova Wildcats dribbles the ball against the South Florida Bulls during the first round of the 2011 Big East Men's Basketball Tournament presented by American Eagle Outfitters at Madison Square Garden o
    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    With the departure of the two Coreys (Fisher and Stokes), along with Antonio Pena, much of the offensive duties for the Villanova Wildcats will be put on Maalik Wayns.

    Something tells me that he won't mind.

    In his sophomore season, Wayns was third in scoring for the Wildcats, but his shooting percentages were poor. At slightly under 40 percent from the field and under 30 percent from downtown, he will need to improve both of these numbers.

    The Big East is a tough, defensive-minded conference and opposing teams will focus on Wayns even more next season. A summer of work and another year of maturity should allow him to become an offensive force in the elite conference.

    He also has the potential to become a top on-ball defender.

    2010-11 Key Stats: 13.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.2 SPG

Tyler Zeller

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    NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 27:  Tyler Zeller #44 of the North Carolina Tar Heels in action against Josh Harrellson #55 of the Kentucky Wildcats during the east regional final of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Prudential Center on March 27, 2011 in N
    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Tyler Zeller, who will be paired up with John Henson at North Carolina, probably did not imagine playing four years in a Tar Heels uniform. Highly touted out of high school, Zeller did not flourish immediately but has matured over a three-year span.

    Zeller's moves down low have become impeccable. He converts at the free-throw line and takes care of the rock.

    Point guard Kendall Marshall will undoubtedly rack up assists all year long.

    Returning for his senior year, Zeller will be nothing short of stellar. North Carolina will be explosive with him down low and will be tough to beat. Season No. 4 should be a special one for No. 44.

    2010-11 Key Stats: 15.7 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 54.7% FG