NCAA: Anthony Bennett Storms Into Top 10
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
Follow @Yannis KoutroupisYannis Koutroupis
The conversation over who the best freshman NBA draft prospect in the country is can no longer exclusively include UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad, Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel and Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart. It’s not due to a lack of production, it’s simply that UNLV’s Anthony Bennett has established himself as one of the best players in the country overall, regardless of class, and is undoubtedly a new one-and-done candidate to keep a close eye on.
The Rebels are currently 11-2 with Bennett’s 19.2 points and 8.8 rebounds leading the way. Standing 6’8 and 240 lbs, he possesses a NBA-ready frame that allows him to really have his way in the paint. He does a really good job of utilizing his strength around the basket to finish through contact and bully his way to rebounds.
What makes Bennett really intriguing as a prospect and a nightmare to cover is his versatility. He’s a very skilled player with a nice handle and the ability to hit the occasional three pointer. Right now he loves the three pointer more than it loves him, hitting at a 31 percent clip, but he’s still a threat that must be respected by defenses.
Bennett’s rise comes on the heels of four 20+ point nights in his last six games. His best performance during that time came against California, who he worked to the tune of 25 points and 13 rebounds in a 76-75 victory. What makes Bennett’s play even more impressive is that it’s come while Mike Moser, an experienced NBA prospect in his own right, has been in and out of the lineup with an injury. As defenses have keyed in on him even more with Moser out, all they’ve discovered is that he still isn’t any easier to stop.
Right now Bennett is at the level where only he can stop himself by settling a little bit too easily offensively rather than working for a closer and better opportunity.
In a draft class like this where there aren’t many players who teams have fallen in love with for good, spots in the top 10 are very much there for the taking and for now Bennett has taken one.
Looking deeper into his future as a draft prospect, there will be some concern over the fact that he is on the smaller side for a power forward. There’s also the possibility that he could be groomed into a small forward since he is such a versatile player. While lack of size wouldn’t be an issue there, he doesn’t really have the game of a true perimeter player at this point of his career.
If Bennett can measure in with an above average wingspan, that would go a long way in alleviated concerns over only being 6’8. A good wingspan measurement was key in helping the Chicago Bulls get over Elton Brand’s lack of size before drafting him number one overall in 1999. Coincidentally, Brand is also the person who Bennett currently gets compared to the most.
Bennett recently matched up against North Carolina, who features fellow potential lottery pick in James Michael McAdoo on the frontline. Bennett finished with 15 points on 6-16 shooting from the field while grabbing 13 rebounds. McAdoo went for 13 points (5-13 FG), nine rebounds and three assists as his team earned the 79-73 decision.
Bennett will match up against some other noteworthy prospects once Mountain West play begins soon, but like all prospects his best opportunity to cement himself as a top pick will come during the NCAA Tournament.
Gonzaga Turning Heads: Although a mid-major by definition, Gonzaga gets as much respect nationally as any of the high-major programs across the country. Bulldogs head coach Mark Few has built them into a powerhouse that has to be feared year in and year out. They’re also a consistent producer of professional talent.
The Bulldogs are coming off of an impressive 69-68 victory over the Oklahoma State Cowboys on the road that has a lot of people asking how good can this Bulldogs team be? There is a large contingency of people who are already deeming this team Few’s best ever without any hesitation.
The Bulldogs have started the season off impressively at 13-1. Red shirt junior big man Kelly Olynyk has come into his own and surprised many by becoming the Bulldogs’ leading scorer with 15.7 points a night. He’s also averaging 6.5 boards a game. Elias Harris continues to be steady and Gary Bell Jr and Kevin Pangos simply play Coach Few’s style of basketball. They fit perfectly into his system and have been instrumental in their success this season. Freshman center Przemek Karnowski is contributing in his first year with the program and is someone to keep an eye on as their next potential star.
The Bulldogs’ preconference slate of games did not contain many nights off as usual. They always play a tough schedule and this year they faired very well against it, picking up notable wins against West Virginia, Clemson, Oklahoma, Kansas State and Baylor.
They are currently ranked number 10 in the country with just a few tough tests ahead. They’ll take on their West Coast Conference rivals on Jan. 10 in St. Mary’s. They are clearly the better team on paper this year, but that game always brings out the best in both teams so you never know what can happen. They also will travel to Butler on Jan. 19 for an out of conference matchup that could have a sizeable impact on Gonzaga’s seeding for the tournament.
With all the success that Few has had at Gonzaga, the one thing really missing from his resume is a national championship. This could be the team best equipped to change that, though.