College Basketball Preview: Top 15 Power Forwards Entering the Season
After years of being decimated by early NBA departures, the power forward position could be in for a renaissance at the college level next season. Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger and Kentucky's Terrence Jones headline one of the best crops of post players college fans have enjoyed in a long time.
From scorers to shot blockers, there’s a top-notch power forward for every role heading into 2011-12.
Read on for a look at the 15 best players at what might be the nation’s most stacked position next season.
15. Kevin Jones, West Virginia
If West Virginia is going to improve on its No. 5 seed in last season’s tournament, Kevin Jones is going to have a lot to say about it. The rising senior led the Mountaineers with 7.4 rebounds per game and was second on the team with 13.1 ppg.
Jones and fellow senior Darryl Bryant will face an uphill battle in the perennially-stacked Big East, but Jones has the muscle to bang with any forward in the conference.
14. Travis McKie, Wake Forest
There weren’t many bright spots for the 8-24 Demon Deacons last season, but the emergence of freshman Travis McKie was one of them. The 6’7” McKie led Wake in scoring (13 ppg) and rebounding (7.7 boards a game) last season.
With a full season of experience under his belt, McKie is only going to get better next year. If junior PG C.J. Harris can improve on his 3.5 assists per game from a year ago, McKie’s numbers could really take off.
13. Mason Plumlee, Duke
With Duke’s top three scorers from last year all headed to the NBA, the burden will fall squarely on the broad shoulders of the Plumlee brothers to lead a rebuilt starting lineup. Of the two, rising junior Mason is the more established threat.
The younger Plumlee scored just 7.2 ppg last year while ceding touches to the Blue Devils’ more offensive-minded players, but he did amass 8.4 rebounds per game. If Plumlee can add some first-chance points to his regimen of put-backs, Duke’s offense will be in very good shape in 2011-12.
12. John Henson, North Carolina
A power forward in the old-school mold, John Henson isn’t a player who’s going to rack up big scoring totals. He averaged a pedestrian 11.4 ppg last season despite being one of the ACC’s tallest players at 6’10”.
The rising junior is a beast on the glass, though, having led last year’s Tar Heels with 10.1 rebounds per game. With Henson and center Tyler Zeller, North Carolina will once again have one of the biggest, strongest front lines in the country.
11. Mouphtaou Yarou, Villanova
The definition of a raw talent, Mouphtaou Yarou had one of the ugliest offensive games in the country last season and still managed to score 8.4 points a game. What kept him on the floor, though, was his outstanding toughness, averaging 6.9 boards and one block per contest.
Yarou doubled his scoring and rebounding outputs from his freshman to his sophomore season. His scoring could take nearly that big a jump again now that the Wildcats won’t have Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes eating up shots on the outside.
10. Thomas Robinson, Kansas
With the Morris twins gone to greener pastures, Thomas Robinson gets his moment in the spotlight in Lawrence. The 6’9” rising junior certainly looks to be up to the challenge.
Playing just 14.6 minutes a game behind the Jayhawks’ NBA-bound starters, Robinson still posted 8.0 points and 6.5 rebounds a contest. With senior Tyshawn Taylor to set him up, Robinson is poised for a monster season.
9. Renardo Sidney, Mississippi State
If Renardo Sidney’s off-court problems (including last December’s fight with a teammate) are finally behind him, he should be one of the SEC’s top performers in 2011-12. As a sophomore last season, Sidney put up 14.2 points and 7.6 rebounds per game for the Bulldogs.
With another talented-but-troubled standout, PG Dee Bost, expected to play a full season in Starkville, Sidney’s numbers could improve as defenses are forced to split their attention between MSU’s two stars.
8. Reeves Nelson, UCLA
In a Pac-12 that’s likely to be short on raw muscle next season, Reeves Nelson stands in sharp contrast. The 6’8” Nelson posted 13.9 points and 9.0 rebounds per game as a sophomore in 2010-11.
With Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt gone to the NBA, the Bruins will need (and likely get) more scoring from Nelson next year. He’s got a good shot at Pac-12 Player of the Year honors.
7. Robbie Hummel, Purdue
It’s going to be quite the anticlimax now that E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson are gone, but Robbie Hummel will have his senior season in West Lafayette. After missing all of last year with a torn ACL, Hummel is back to lead the Boilermakers one more time.
A punishing defensive presence, Hummel averaged 15.7 points and 6.9 boards as a junior in 2009-10. Once he shakes off the year’s worth of rust, expect him to be one of the Big Ten’s best players next season.
6. Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota
The Minnesota Golden Gophers didn’t have many bright spots in a 6-12 season in conference play, but Trevor Mbakwe was a notable exception. The 6’8” Marquette transfer led the team in scoring (13.9 ppg) and rebounding (10.5 per game) last year.
Mbakwe has impressed this summer as a member of Team USA at the World University Games, lending further credence to hopes of an even bigger year in 2011-12.
5. Alex Oriakhi, UConn
An archetypal glue guy, Alex Oriakhi’s rebounding and shot-blocking were instrumental in UConn’s national championship run. For the season, the 6’9” sophomore averaged 8.5 boards and 1.6 blocks per game, with 10 points thrown in as a bonus.
Oriakhi is unlikely ever to be a top-shelf scorer, but the other strengths of his game will make the Huskies’ interior defense the envy of most teams in the country next season.
4. JaMychal Green, Alabama
The star of Alabama’s run to the NIT title game, JaMychal Green is hoping for bigger things for the Tide next season. Green led Alabama in both scoring (16 ppg) and rebounding (7.8 per game) last year.
Despite winning the SEC West, Alabama was passed over for an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament. For the Tide to get over that hump this season, Green will need to play even bigger than he did in 2010-11.
3. Perry Jones, Baylor
There’s a bit of a semantic question here—is Perry Jones a power forward or a center?—but whatever you call him, he’ll be one of the country’s top talents next season. After passing on a surefire lottery selection to return to Waco, Jones can make himself a lot of money with another big year.
He’s already shown top-notch ability. Jones averaged 13.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per game as a freshman, and with LaceDarius Dunn gone, Jones has nowhere to go but up.
2. Terrence Jones, Kentucky
If Terrence Jones had left Kentucky after one season, he’d have been a surefire lottery pick. If he improves on his freshman performance in 2011-12, Jones could be the No. 1 pick next spring.
Jones keyed the Wildcats’ Final Four run a season ago with 16.5 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. With Brandon Knight gone, he’ll be the man in Lexington this season.
1. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
Jared Sullinger earned his Freshman of the Year honors. In a crowded class loaded with future NBA stars, Sullinger stood out by averaging 17.2 points and 10.1 rebounds per game and his .536 shooting percentage helped the Buckeyes finish third in the nation in that category.
With several key teammates returning (including classmate Aaron Craft at PG), the future looks bright for Sullinger. Expect another big year for the Buckeyes, and perhaps even an improvement on their Elite Eight finish of a season ago.