NCAA: Biggest Impact Seniors
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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There’s no denying the preference given to younger players in the NBA Draft, just ask former Duke Blue Devil Kyle Singler. No matter how many points are scored and games are won throughout the course of a four-year career, it’s simply a negative now and days for a NBA prospect to stay in school that long.
Four years of footage is a lot to analyze and nitpick. What really hurts the seniors, though, is the notion that they have peaked and don’t have much in terms of upside. With how much talent there is going to be in the 2012 draft, this senior class has a lot of work cut out for them in order to be considered for anything other than a second round pick. However, there are a handful of players with the potential to rise above all the negatives that come with doing things the old school way and be amongst the first 30 selected. Here are a look at those players and the top ten seniors overall:
Tyler Zeller (North Carolina) – 7’0, 250 lbs. Center
Health was not on Zeller’s side his first two years as a Tar Heel. It wasn’t until last season that he finally managed to play a full year. During that time, though, he was an intricate part of Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams’ attack, posting up 15 points and seven rebounds a game.
Zeller has gone from being non-existent on the NBA radar to a potential first round pick. As long as he’s developed his base to hold his spot better on the block and worked on his face up game he should stay there. Staying healthy is obviously also very important.
Jeff Taylor (Vanderbilt) – 6’7, 225 lbs. Small Forward
From day one Taylor has been a high-impact player for the Commodores. He averaged 12 points as a freshman and worked his way up to 14 as a junior, while remaining relatively efficient in doing so. He shouldn’t be confused as a three-point shooter by anybody, but he has made some noteworthy strides in this aspect.
Taylor possesses the athleticism of a pro and could have justifiably declared for this past draft and likely been a first rounder. The overall talent in the 2012 class could bump him down a few spots, but Taylor has a clear place in the league barring a disastrous senior campaign.
Kris Joseph (Syracuse) – 6’7, 210 lbs. Small Forward
Receiving his biggest role yet as a junior, Joseph stepped up and answered the call for Coach Boeheim. He put up 14 points, five rebounds and two assists nightly while shooting 40% from deep and a much-improved 36% from deep. Going into the ’11-’12 season he’ll be one of the top players in the incredibly-talented Big East Conference.
The 2-3 zone that is a staple of the Syracuse basketball program may yield great success on the court, but it always creates questions about how well their players can defend man-to-man at the next level. Joseph has to do a lot to minimize those concerns and show that he can keep improving as a spot up shooter.
Tyshawn Taylor (Kansas) – 6’3, 185 lbs. Point Guard
It’s been quite a bumpy ride for Taylor, a combo guard in college likely to play primarily at the point in the pros, since joining the Kansas program in 2008. At times Taylor has looked like a first round pick who could have left for the draft whenever he wanted, then at others he seemed better off looking for a transfer to another school.
The situation at Kansas positions Taylor to go out on a high note as long as he can help keep them in contention for the national championship. He’ll have the ball in his hands more to create for his teammates, which he did an excellent job of last year. Proving to be an NBA-ready point guard will go a long way to erasing some of Taylor’s tough times in the past.
Festus Ezeli (Vanderbilt) – 6’11, 255 lbs. Center
A relative unknown as a freshman and sophomore, Ezeli really exploded on the college basketball scene as a junior. After averaging just three points and two rebounds in his career prior, Ezeli scored 13 points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked two shots a night in ’10-’11.
Blessed with the body of a pro and the height of a true center, the late-blooming Ezeli is going to have a lot of eyes on him during his senior year. He needs to make the most of that attention and be sure to stay on the floor rather than on the bench in foul trouble. With the experience he has now, Ezeli should look more comfortable than ever.
Yancy Gates (Cincinnati) – 6’9, 265 lbs. Power Forward
There aren’t many big men in the country who can handle Gates on the low block when he imposes his will like he should. The big man has had many dominant stretches throughout his career, but his inconsistency has been one of the main reasons why he’s remained in school rather than the pros.
Towards the end of last season Gates played some of his best basketball. Continuing on that tear is important if the Bearcats are going to have a big year that propels Gates up draft boards. To be considered worthy of a first round pick Gates must rebound better (averaged 6.9 in 2010-2011) than he ever has.
William Buford (Ohio State) – 6’5, 205 lbs. Shooting Guard
Over the last three years Buford has been the source of steady production for the Buckeyes. His improvement from year to year has left a lot to be desired, though. While doing a bit of everything, Buford has actually regressed statistically in some areas. His jump shot is still by far his strongest weapon, evident by the 44% he shot from distance this past year.
With his stock seemingly at a plateau as a mid-second round pick, Buford needs a big senior season to change it. He’ll have the big fella and future lottery pick Jared Sullinger inside to make his life easier. He needs to capitalize properly, otherwise his next stop could be overseas than the NBA.
Andrew Nicholson (St. Bonaventure) – 6’9, 225 lbs. Power Forward
A very well-kept secret up to this point, Nicholson will demand attention and spotlight as a senior. The product of Mississauga, Ontario is likely to be one of the nation’s top scorers with the intent to end his career as a Bonnie on a high note.
In ’10-’11 Nicholson averaged 20 points, eclipsing 30 points on five different occasions – including a career-best output of 44 points against Ohio in a December victory last year. If he can improve his defense he has a chance at being the Norris Cole of next year’s draft.
Tu Holloway (Xavier) – 6’0, 185 lbs. Point Guard
It’s scary to think where the Xavier Musketeers would have been last year without Holloway and his 19 points, five rebounds and five assists a game. They relied on him heavily due to all the turmoil they encountered. He did a great job of putting the team on his back and leading them to success more nights than not.
At 6’0 without great athleticism Holloway is going to have to backup his junior year with an even bigger senior season. Scouts are going to be paying a lot of attention to how he fares against top-ranked competition, the consistency of his jumper and his assist-to-turnover ratio, which could stand to improve.
JaMychal Green (Alabama) – 6’8, 228 lbs. Power Forward
There’s no reason why Green shouldn’t be one of the most productive big men in the SEC next season. He’s improved yearly and now has plenty of experience under his belt. Adept at playing inside, Green should at least be good this season for the 15 points a night he provided last year.
In order to send his stock upward he’ll need to block shots like he did last year and become a more active rebounder. The points will come; Green needs to concern himself more with all of the other things. Also equally important is avoiding the foul issues that have so often plagued him.
Honorable Mention: Wesley Witherspoon (Memphis), Quincy Acy (Baylor), Ashton Gibbs (Pittsburgh), Kevin Jones (West Virginia) and Chris Johnson (Dayton).
Yannis Koutroupis is a senior NCAA and NBA analyst for HOOPSWORLD. You can follow him on twitter.