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Ranking The Tourney’s Top Centers
Posted By Tommy Beer On March 15, 2011 @ 4:45 pm In All,NCAA | No Comments
Whether it be the rise of the wide open floor and ball handling style that is AAU basketball, or the fact that skills once possessed by Lew Alcindor, Patrick Ewing or even Kevin McHale on the block have seemingly disappeared, the center position in college basketball is a tough position to gauge. In fact, the toughest thing to read when it comes to big bodies is footwork and foot speed. Can they play at a fast pace? What’s the difference between Hasheem Thabeet and Roy Hibbert, two Big East players on opposite spectrums of their careers? Even last year’s draft came down to minutiae as players in the 6’9 range like Derrick Favors and DeMarcus Cousins with bigger frames could spend time on the post and be considered "centers." And like in the case of Favors, Cousins and Cole Aldrich, as is most cases with bigs, the first year is a learning process that players need to work through.
Identifying centers who can compete right away at the next level is tricky, and because more veteran rosters have time to work and develop them, you generally see a drop off between the athletic standouts who sit atop draft boards, and the secondary less mobile albeit pretty athletic players slip. Last year Daniel Orton dropped as did players like Dexter Pittman (Texas), Hassan Whiteside (Marshall), Jerome Jordan (Tulsa), and Solomon Alabi.
There are always strength in numbers at the center position in Europe - who have aggressively flooded the market and are professionally ready - but here are a few NBA prospects to keep an eye on during the tournament. (Case in point is Enes Kanter from Turkey who was ruled ineligible by the NCAA and hasn’t played for Kentucky this season. He’s a virtual lottery pick as he has all the tools to be a great inside/out threat at the next level.)
Nikola Vucevic (USC) – 6’10, 240 lbs.
You may only get a quick glimpse of Vucevic if they don’t make it out of tomorrow’s play-in game versus Virginia Commonwealth, but what you will see is a patient, smart, polished post player. To that he has added a very neat mid-range jump shot and can stretch to the perimeter if he needs to, especially if he needs to find space off of pick-and-rolls. He’ll take the ball to the rim if you give him a step, something he wasn’t prepared to do a year ago. An efficient, low volume scorer up front is a valued commodity at the next level.
Festus Ezeli (Vanderbilt) – 6’11, 255 lbs.
What I love most about Ezeli’s game is his feel for the game and his ability to use his frame to get to the FT line. He managed 206 free throw attempts for the season. If he can improve from 65% this tournament watch out for the Commodores who may have the best guard in the tournament in John Jenkins. He takes pride in blocking shots, very much like Gonzaga’s Ronny Turiaf minus the rabid reactions and to me is the type of big body you want coming off an NBA bench.
Keith Benson (Oakland) – 6’11, 225 lbs.
Oakland University flew onto the map this year back in December by beating 7th-ranked Tennessee and almost upsetting Michigan State thanks to the play of Benson, who put 26 and 10 on the Volunteers in one of the biggest wins in school history. While his frame is a little slight at this stage, I’m impressed with his feel around the basket with jump hooks and his footwork to get into his rhythm to shoot them. Texas better be careful in that 13/4 matchup.
Jerai Grant (Clemson) – 6’9, 230 lbs.
Grant might be this year’s Jarvis Varnado in the sense that he takes great pride in blocking shots. Grant has NBA genes, as his father is Harvey Grant who had a solid career. People remember Grant for this, but he’s is an all-around solid option up front. He needs improve on his perimeter jump shooting for the next level, but I think he is poised to open some eyes this week and show the nation the lower teams in the ACC are no joke.
Mouphtaou Yarou (Villanova) - 6’10, 250 lbs.
Ironically, after one of his best career games where Yarou picked DePaul apart for 12 points and 15 rebounds, the Wildcats plummeted to a season ending 5 game losing streak. I like Yarou’s positioning on the court on both ends. He lurks on defense and finds the baseline mid-post area for dump offs from Nova’s guards. He’ll drop these on occasion, which is why the ball won’t find him. Can he handle the pressure of being the key to a Nova run? I find that unfair anyway, when the Wildcats score they can extend the defense and they haven’t shot well down the stretch. Every game that Yarou plays with confidence, it makes him that more attractive to NBA scouts and if Corey Fisher wants to play at the next level, he better feed his big man the ball, and make him better by showing more confidence.
Honorable Mention: Fab Melo (Syracuse), Tyler Zeller (UNC), Gary McGhee (Pittsburgh) and Yancy Gates (Cincinnati).
Make sure to check back as the tournament nears for Tommy Dee’s rankings of the tournament’s top guards and forwards! For more tournament coverage you can visit our 2011 March Madness headquarters. Coverage of the 2011 NCAA Tournament is sponsored by the United States Marines.
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