October 26, 2011

Fox: Preseason Frontcourt Unit Rankings

The 2011 NBA draft class was one of the weakest in recent memory. Part of the reason lies in the high number of sophomore big men who are expected to be college stars this season.

Ohio State's Jared Sullinger, Baylor's Perry Jones, North Carolina's Harrison Barnes and Kentucky's Terrence Jones would have been high draft picks had they declared.

Each of the quartet talked about staying in college to refine their games, but you can expect to hear opposing coaches say they would much rather have had those big men leave for the NBA.

Here's our rundown of the top frontcourts for 2011-12. In assembling the countdown, we considered talent, production and overall depth.

By the end of the season, three members of North Carolina's frontcourt could be first-team All-ACC - and maybe more. Harrison Barnes needed some time to hit his stride last season. By the second half of the season, he arguably was North Carolina's best player. Over the last 18 games, he averaged 19.7 points and the Tar Heels reached the Elite Eight. John Henson has the length to make him a defensive anchor. He averaged a double-double (11.7 points, 10.1 rebounds, plus 3.2 blocks). Seven-footer Tyler Zeller starts at center (15.7 points, 7.2 rebounds) and runs the floor well. If that's not enough, North Carolina adds two five-star freshman forwards in James McAdoo and P.J. Hairston.
The Wildcats have a frontcourt loaded with potential NBA talent. Thanks to the return of Terrence Jones, the UK frontcourt has Final Four experience, too. Jones (6-9/252) can score from almost anywhere on the court (15.7 points per game last season) and averaged 8.8 rebounds. Kentucky added the top two big men in the 2011 class in Anthony Davis (ranked second) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (ranked third). John Calipari already has compared to Davis to Marcus Camby, and Kidd-Gilchrist has the length to be a disruptive player on the defensive end. Kyle Wiltjer rounds out a signing class that included three five-star forwards. If there's any weak spot, it's the lack of a true center.
The worst news for the rest of the Big Ten may have been Jared Sullinger spurning the NBA draft. The consensus national freshman of the year, Sullinger helped the Buckeyes to a 34-3 season, averaging 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds. And here's a scary thought: Sullinger dropped some weight, added some muscle and says he's more mobile. The Buckeyes are looking for a breakout season from Deshaun Thomas. He was a five-star freshman last season, but came off the bench on a veteran team. He's a natural scorer looking to improve his efficiency as a sophomore. The Buckeyes add three four-star freshmen - Amir Williams, Sam Thompson and LaQuinton Ross.
Baylor has talent galore in its frontcourt. The question is how much the Bears will produce. Perry Jones was a highly touted freshman expected to be a one-and-done player. He averaged 13.9 points and 7.2 rebounds. He's an excellent mid-range shooter for a 6-11 guy. He should have more scoring opportunities with G LaceDarius Dunn gone. Quincy Acy is a hard worker who averaged 12.4 points and 7.6 rebounds. Anthony Jones also has a nice shot (8.5 points per game). Those three alone would be enough to make Baylor's frontcourt formidable. Then the Bears add Quincy Miller, the seventh-ranked player in the class of 2011.
The Bruins should have a size advantage over most of their Pac-12 opponents. Reeves Nelson averaged 13.9 points and 9.1 rebounds and isn't afraid to throw his body around. Josh Smith may be one of the nation's most intriguing players. He can dominate in the paint (10.9 points, 6.3 rebounds in 21.7 minutes). But his weight - he's listed at 305 pounds - always will be worth watching. The frontcourt adds depth with the arrival of David Wear and Travis Wear from North Carolina. Brandon Lane and defensive specialist Anthony Stover give the Bruins more depth.
The Huskies' frontcourt got a major boost in August when Andre Drummond changed his mind and signed with Connecticut. He had said he was going to spend another season in prep school. Drummond could be a dominant big man on a team used to having dominant big men. Alex Oriakhi has his ups and downs last season but still averaged 9.6 points and 8.7 rebounds. UConn coaches are looking for more consistency from Oriakhi. Roscoe Smith started last season as a freshman, but he was more of a role player. Niles Giffey and Tyler Olander had their moments, and could be much improved as sophomores.
Vanderbilt's frontcourt has a foreign flair, with Festus Ezeli from Nigeria and Jeffery Taylor from Sweden. Ezeli is Vanderbilt's best pro prospect after making giant strides last season and averaged 13.0 points and 6.8 rebounds. Taylor was second on the team in scoring (14.7 points) and assists (2.4) and third in rebounding (5.5). He also is a standout defender, but he lacks consistency. Lance Goulbourne is a valuable role player who led the Commodores in rebounding (7.3 per game). Steve Tchiangang provides reliable depth.
C Robert Sacre continues to improve and averaged 12.5 points and 6.3 rebounds last season. He's a solid defender and has the potential to be more dominant. Elias Harris was one of the most surprising freshmen in the nation two years ago, but his production slipped last season as he dealt with an early-season injury. Sam Dower was a force at times late last season, highlighted by a 21-point game against Saint Mary's. Kelly Olynyk is a solid player off the bench.
The Crimson Tide has the top frontcourt duo of any SEC team outside of Lexington. JaMychal Green has been remarkably consistent since his freshman season, and he finished last season averaging a career-high 15.5 points and 7.5 rebounds. Tony Mitchell emerged as Green's near-equal with a breakout season (15.2 points and 7.2 rebounds) as a sophomore. The Tide need newcomers to provide depth. Moussa Gueye is a 7-foot junior college transfer, and physical freshman Nick Jacobs was a top-100 center.
The Aggies had two breakout players in the frontcourt last season in Khris Middleton and David Loubeau. Middleton was a stat-sheet stuffer, averaging 14.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.2 steals. Loubeau considered entering the draft but stayed in school after averaging 11.8 points and 5.0 rebounds. His rebound total needs to improve. Ray Turner is an athlete looking to reach his potential. Beyond those three, the Aggies are looking for youth to step up. Sophomore Kourtney Robertson made the most of his time off the bench. Daniel Alexander will be a contributor after redshirting.
The Bulldogs' long wait for Renardo Sidney finally ended last season. He averaged 16.8 points and 8.0 rebounds in his last eight games. This season, he'll team with athletic UTEP transfer Arnett Moultrie. At UTEP, Moultrie (under coach Tony Barbee, now at Auburn) averaged 9.8 points and 6.7 rebounds with 70 blocks. Freshman Rodney Hood ranked 16th in the class of 2011.
Trevor Mbakwe averaged a double-double (13.9 points, 10.5 rebounds), but remains underappreciated nationally. He's great on the offensive glass. Ralph Sampson III has tantalized with his potential the past three seasons, but he has yet to put together a consistent, full season. This is his final chance. Rodney Williams (6.8 points, 3.5 rebounds) is a solid complementary player, and depth could be an issue.
Creighton, Drexel, Duke, Louisville, Michigan State, New Mexico, Northwestern
Oral Roberts, Belmont, UT Arlington, Harvard, Tennessee State

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David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com, and you can follow him on Twitter.


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