NBA-DRAFT.COM top 65 College Teams (#10 - 6)
The countdown continues with 10 and heads to 6.....
After getting dismantled by Ohio State and then losing to in-state foes UCF and Jacksonville in non-conference play, we, along with many others, counted out the Gators. But after that home loss to Jacksonville, Billy Donovan got his team together and through three more non-conference games and a challenging SEC slate, Florida went 16-3, including key wins over Kentucky, Vanderbilt (2x), Georgia (2x), Tennessee (3x) and Xavier. With its entire frontcourt graduating, Billy Donovan will have to count on one of the most talented four-guard rotations in the country and some defensive minded bigs for a different look in 2011-12.
Last season, SEC Player of the Year Chandler Parsons seemingly did it all- accounting for scoring, hitting the glass, handling and distributing the ball. His versatility will be greatly missed, as will the rebounding (20 per game) that is lost by the starting frontcourt. Center Vernon Macklin was one of the best finishers around the rim, while Alex Tyus had the explosive athleticism to break out at any time.
Patric Young, a big, wide-shouldered center has one of the toughest jobs in the country coming in with high expectations with his own talent, but also the responsibility of replacing Macklin and Tyus. In limited action as a freshman, the 6'9" forward rebounded at a high rate on both sides of the ball and was a more intimidating presence guarding the rim than any other Gator.
Young spent this summer working with Team USA's U-19 team- ending up as the team's second-leading rebounder (6.8 per game) and connecting on staggering 72 percent of his field-goal attempts. In the most telling matchup against Lithuania's frontcourt featuring Jonas Valanciunas, Young led Team USA to the win with his best game of 15 points and 7 rebounds. If Florida wants to challenge the likes of Vanderbilt and Kentucky in the SEC East, Young needs to live up to this NBA lottery-potential.
Erik Murphy, a junior, is more of a versatile offensive talent than the raw Young, possessing the skills to score around the rim and step outside with his soft jump shot. Backups Casey Prather and Will Yeguete don't give Donovan much depth to work with.
The backcourt features four standout guards- two holdovers from last season's squad, one transfer and one top-ranked freshman. The two starters expected back in the rotation are a pair of undersized trigger-happy guards, Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker; each put up better than 200 3-point attempts last season. Adding to the perimeter frenzy is Mike Rosario, former Rutgers' top-scorer; Rosario averaged 16.7 points per game as a sophomore Scarlet Knight, putting up his own 239 3-point field-goal attempts. As if the team needed another perimeter scorer, Bradley Beal comes to Gainesville as the second-best shooting guard in the incoming class with NBA aspirations. At 6'4", Beal is the tallest of all of the guards also comes in with the reputation as the best shooter.
With all of these shooters on the roster, center Patric Young could put up some ridiculous rebounding numbers this season in Florida as he leads the team back the Elite 8.
This Memphis team could have Final Four hopes or they could crash and burn in a similar fashion to Baylor last year. And what I mean by that is that the point guard play is so shaky, the potential for success is there if Joe Jackson can control the tempo and limit turnovers, but there is also the potential for disaster if he cannot. With injuries and transfers highlighting last season early-on, Josh Pastner hopes to have that all behind him as almost every contributor returns as do some talented freshmen.
This summer as the starting point guard for Team USA's U-19 team that finished fifth overall, Jackson led the team to the second-highest team scoring mark at 87 points per game. But then again, his assist-to-turnover ratio was hardly celebrated (1.2 ratio), and his 5.6 turnovers/40 minutes were among the tournament's highest rates; last season, Jackson had a similarly poor turnover rate as a freshman with the Tigers and Josh Pastner can only hope Jackson can learn to play at different speeds to set up wings Will and Antonio Barton and Wesley Witherspoon.
Will Barton's may be just as important as Jackson's for the Tigers to finish atop a competitive C-USA again (five of the last six Conference tournament championships). A long, athletic wing with NBA potential, Barton struggled mightily shooting the ball (42.8 percent from the field, including 26.5 percent from behind the arc). He settled for shots out of his range or contested jumpers too often, limiting his effectiveness as a slasher and overall scorer. His brother, Antonio, proved to be more valuable to the team with his 44.2 percent 3-point shooting clip.
Alongside the Bartons on the wing, is one-time NBA lottery-potential filled Wesley Witherspoon. Lengthy and athletic, Witherspoon has the physical tools of being selected in the first-round, but his game, is slowly developing behind.
What really has Tigers' fans excited is their two frontcourt pieces- sophomore Tarik Black and freshman Adonis Thomas. Given Black's girth and sheer strength, he is one of the most dominating rebounders and shot-blockers around. If Pastner can curb Black's foul troubles, Black could greatly improve upon last season's 9 points and 5 rebounds per game. Thomas is pretty much the complete opposite player of Black, but will complement him nicely; a versatile talent that can play either the 3 or 4 due to his quickness and athleticism His strength makes him a matchup nightmare for small forwards while his skill set makes him too quick for power forwards to handle.
Pastner has a great young team on his hands that he can no doubt improve as the year goes on, but this is also a squad with a number of questions in the lineup.
And the Cardinals begin the stretch of "Big East" dominance, which is soon to be ACC dominance. But for now, let's preview Louisville and it all begins with defense. Rick Pitino's squad really dug in on defense- holding opponents to the 12th best effective field-goal mark (44.5 percent), while forcing the 30th best turnover rate, highlighted by one of the nation's top theft percentages. Simply put, with their pesky guards and athletic big, they could guard the perimeter and the paint effectively. Their D kept them in games and will continue to do so with three returning starters and five more rotational players plus a talented freshman class.
Before we get started, Louisville was exceptional winning close games, especially early-on, winning 7 of eight games decided by five points or less, but lost three of their final five games, all three decided by three of less points.
Replacing a team's top scorer is never easy and we aren't taking anything away from Preston Knowles, but Louisville is in good shape with sharp-shooter Kyle Kuric, and point guard Peyton Siva returning as do guards Chris Smith and Mike Marra. The most important pieces may be a pair of four-star shooting guards in the first season, Wayne Blackshear and Kevin Ware. Blackshear comes in with great hype after being named a high school all-american in his senior season; he is an aggressive scorer who can handle the ball a bit and really push it in transition.
Even though Terrence Jennings technically counts as a starter lost, he never quite fit in with Rick Pitino and the coach and locker room are better off. Lengthy and athletic 6'10" forward Gorgui Dieng is one of the best rebounders in the country in his limited time as a freshman and he has the ability to improve Louisville's defense even more so as an interior presence. The frontcourt has depth and a versatile talent in Rakeem Buckles- a 6'8" 4 with the ability to score in the low post, knock down shots from the perimeter or bang down low and fight for a rebound. His role is safe with two low-post scoring bigs- Chance Behanan and center Zach Price. With Dieng suffering through foul trouble at times, the frontcourt depth will play a critical role in the success of this year's Louisville Cardinals.
Never has a team had so much talent and yet, they are still considered the clear-cut second-best team in the conference and that's not only the story with Duke, but one more team in our top ten still to come as well. With its top three players departing, Coach K will have to rely upon a talented incoming-freshman class and the development of key personnel on from last year's roster.
Facing much of the pressure to replace ACC Player of the Year Nolan Smith and No. 1 overall draft pick Kyrie Irving, is Austin Rivers, the top recruit according to numerous scouting services. Rivers is a multi-skilled offensive force by any definition with his deep, almost unguardable 28-foot range on his jump shot, but also his ability to keep his defender off-balance in putting the ball on the floor and take it strong to the rim or pull-up from 12-15 feet out. Pairing him up with Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins, two perimeter-oriented guards with deep range gives Duke a trio of shooters matched by no one. But, the biggest challenge facing the group will be to replace the playmaking and distribution of Irving and Smith. Freshman Quinn Cook will be an upgrade over returning point guard Tyler Thornton and should earn some minutes in a four-guard rotation.
Even with the loss of Kyle Singler, Duke's frontcourt is in good shape, but they will certainly miss his combination of size, versatility and shooting. They have the size inside to score around the rim with the three Plumlee brothers- all above-average finishers around the rim and strong rebounders as well; Mason, the most athletic of the three, has the best NBA potential and uses his size and quickness to hit the offensive glass and block and alter shots on the defensive end. Adding depth to the family frontcourt is Ryan Kelly, a perimeter-based stretch-the-floor 4-man. Kelly is coming off of an excellent summer on the team's trip to China. Josh Hairston was not skilled enough to make the rotation as a freshman and faces an uphill battle again as a sophomore.
Adding versatility to the team, Coach K has two of the top small forwards in the country coming in as incoming freshmen- there's the athletically-gifted and fundamentally-sound Michael Gbinije and a combo-forward Alex Murphy, with the size and skills to play inside or out.
Even as the second-best team in the ACC in the pre-season polls, Duke still has a chance to make a deep March run behind a veteran and experienced coach, some sweet-shooting guards and versatile big men.
Yes, we know Vanderbilt has lost in the first round of each of the last NCAA Tournaments, but we have a feeling this year is different. Returning talent has a tendency to become overrated in the number of starters sense, but Kevin Stallings has three stars returning, potential All-SEC players in John Jenkins, Jeff Taylor and Festus Ezeli and that will put Vandy in contention.
Despite his limited basketball background, the 6'11", 260 pound Ezeli is still developing and learning the game and that's a scary thought. He has an NBA-ready body and put up NBA caliber numbers in limited time as a junior; he scored 13 points, collected 6.3 rebounds (second-best on the team) and a team best mark blocks (2.6), despite seeing the least amount of action of the five Commodore starters (23.0 minutes per game). His rebounding and block rates were amongst the nation's best. Ezeli is strong, powerful and has a nice touch around the rim, shooting nearly 60 percent a year ago, and getting to the line at an extremely high rate (216 times- once every 3.5 minutes). If he continues to improve his low-post scoring, he has All-American and NBA lottery potential.
Speaking of All-American, Vanderbilt has John Jenkins at shooting guard, the SEC scoring champion a year ago with his deadly offensive arsenal; extremely effective inside the arc (54.2 percent on 2-point field-goal) as he his outside (40.8 percent), Jenkins also has the ability to get to the foul line and connect (86.9 career mark). Jenkins does most of his damage as a spot-up shooter, where efficient point guard Brad Tinsley and slasher Jeff Taylor create opportunities by drawing the defense and kicking out. Taylor is the second, sometimes third offensive option where he often relies on creating space with his dribble or scoring by cutting the through the lane. He has NBA size and athleticism, but his perimeter game is still lacking behind, but generally improving (19.2 percent as a freshman and sophomore; 34.5 percent as a junior on more than twice the attempts). If Jenkins can become more a perimeter threat, Vanderbilt has Final Four potential, but that's a big if right now.
Stallings will have more depth and better role players than in years past with senior starter Lance Goulbourne, a potentially dominating rebounder (7.3 in 25 minutes per game), but also versatile senior forward Steve Tchiengang. Sophomores Rod Odom and Kyle Fuller are a year older, but their role could actually diminish with a pair of four-star, top 100 guards coming into the rotation.
The key to this year's team is the senior leadership, yes, as four starters are seniors and the fifth, is a junior, but the real key is turnovers. Vanderbilt did an adequate job taking care of the basketball on the offensive end and an atrocious job forcing turnovers on the defensive end. With experienced perimeter players on the wing and an interior presence like Ezeli on the backline, Vanderbilt should not be afraid to take some risks.