In order to win a championship, everyone thinks guard play is necessary. That is true, but a team won't win without a solid frontcourt. If you have a post player that will get you a basket with the clock winding down, it gives you an advantage over smaller, guard-laden clubs. Rebounding and defensive stops down low will come easier if you have a good group of players in the paint. The best backcourts in the country will falter early in March without a solid duo or trio on the baseline. Who has the best frontcourts headed into the season? Starters in italics
1. North Carolina State (Brandon Costner, Ben McCauley, Gavin Grant, J.J. Hickson, Tracy Smith): Just like Washington State in the backcourt section, it’s odd to see NC State at the top of any rankings. However, it’s tough to find a team that has a better combination at the wing, combo forward, and post positions. Swingman Grant is a versatile performer who can do a little bit of everything. He is not a great shooter, but he gets to the basket well and he crashes the offensive glass. Costner is one of the best forwards in the country that no one talks about. He can play both inside and outside, scoring in a variety of ways and rebounding well. McCauley is one of the most efficient shooters in the country, and finishes well around the basket. Furthermore, he is a good rebounder and a solid passer. Hickson was one of the highest-ranked big men recruits, and will enable Sidney Lowe to come up with several different line-ups as the season goes on.
2. Stanford (Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez, Lawrence Hill, Taj Finger, Fred Washington): If the backcourt for Stanford provides any sort of consistent production, this group of frontcourt players will take care of the rest. Brook Lopez is a potential lottery pick who really came into his own down the stretch, and is very difficult to stop once he gets the ball in the paint. Defensively, he has long arms and good leaping ability to block shots. His brother, Robin, is a terrific shot-blocker and all-around defender who can also get baskets and rebounds in the paint. Hill is one of the best small forwards in the country, and is ready to become a national name. He can score in several ways, and is a good rebounder. Washington is a terrific passer and a solid rebounder who provides help on the wing.
3. California (Ryan Anderson, DeVon Hardin, Theo Robertson, Eric Vierneisel, Jordan Wilkes, Jamal Boykin): Another Pac-10 team led by a terrific frontcourt group, the Golden Bears are going to need another big season from Anderson and a healthy Hardin to make the NCAA Tournament. Anderson burst onto the scene last season and became one of the best freshmen in the country. He can score both inside and outside, and is also a very good rebounder. Hardin is very athletic and is a terrific shot-blocker and rebounder inside. If he is healthy, he has the potential to be one of the best big men around. Robertson is a good three-point shooter who will play more of a perimeter role than he did last year due to Hardin’s injury.
4. Louisville (Terrence Williams, David Padgett, Juan Palacios, Earl Clark, Derrick Caracter, George Goode): One of the deepest and most versatile frontcourts in the country. The Cardinals can go with a variety of looks and line-up options with this group. Williams is a versatile wing who is one of the better all-around players in the country—when he’s consistent. He goes through bouts of inconsistency with his shooting, but the rest of his game is terrific. Williams led the team in scoring, rebounding, and assists. Padgett and Palacios are both injury-prone seniors who are hoping to get through a full season. Padgett is a solid big man who can score efficiently with both hands, while Palacios is another versatile forward who can score and rebound. Caracter might be the most talented big man on the team, and is tough to stop around the rim. Clark is a match-up nightmare and could see time in the backcourt as well
5. Georgetown (Roy Hibbert, DaJuan Summers, Patrick Ewing Jr., Vernon Macklin): The Hoyas lose All-American Jeff Green, but don’t cry for the Hoyas. They still have Hibbert, the best center in the country by a long margin, as well as Summers, a developing combo forward who has a similar skill set to Green. Hibbert returned for his senior season, and could become the next dominant big man in a long line of Georgetown centers. He can score well around the basket, especially against smaller defenders, and is a terrific shot-blocker. He dominated towards the end of the season. Summers can do a variety of things, including shooting from long-range and taking players off the dribble. Ewing may start, but his energy and athleticism make him the perfect sixth man. Macklin is solid close to the goal.
6. North Carolina (Tyler Hansbrough, Deon Thompson, Alex Stepheson, Marcus Ginyard, Danny Green): It will be interesting to see how this group performs now that Brandan Wright and Reyshawn Terry are no longer in the fold. Hansbrough is one of the best players in the country, and is a player of the year candidate. He’s extremely productive around the basket, and he is a solid finisher. If he expands his offensive game, he will be unstoppable. Thompson played well last season when given the opportunity, and is primed for a big year. Ginyard and Green will split time on the wing. Ginyard is the team’s best defender, while Green is a solid two-way player. Stepheson provides depth down low.
7. UCLA (Kevin Love, Lorenzo Mata, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, James Keefe, Alfred Aboya): If Love develops into the player everyone thinks he will be, the Bruins will not miss a beat without Arron Afflalo. He is one of the best big men in the country, and will prove that from day one. He is the best outlet passer to come along in years, which will enable UCLA to run more. Love is also a strong finisher and rebounder who can hit the mid-range jumper. Mbah a Moute did not take the anticipated step last year, but is a tough match-up for opponents, and could see time at small forward this season. Mata is a banger around the basket who rebounds and does the dirty work. Aboya is a solid performer off the bench.
8. Arkansas (Sonny Weems, Charles Thomas, Steven Hill, Darian Townes, Michael Washington, Vincent Hunter): The Razorbacks have some of the best talent in the country, and this sextet of frontcourt players is a major reason why. Weems and Thomas are both tough match-ups for opponents due to their ability to play inside or out. Weems can knock down threes at an efficient clip, while Thomas is a very solid rebounder. Hill is one of the best shot-blockers in the country, while Townes is a productive scorer and rebounder. Washington is very athletic and started seeing more minutes late in the year.
9. Texas A&M (DeAndre Jordan, Joseph Jones, Bryan Davis, Chinemelu Elonu): Despite the loss of Antanas Kavaliauskas, the Aggies will still have a formidable duo up front with Jones and Jordan. Jones declared for the NBA Draft, but made the smart decision by returning to school. He is very strong and is difficult to stop once he gets position on the block. Jones also has a decent shooting touch from the mid-range. Jordan is one of the top incoming centers in the country. He can score inside, and is also adept at getting offensive rebounds and putbacks. Davis has shown flashes of his potential.
10. Kansas (Darrell Arthur, Sasha Kaun, Cole Aldrich, Darnell Jackson): The Jayhawks’ perimeter group gets most of the headlines, but don’t sleep on the frontcourt, either. Arthur is expected to become one of the best players in the country this season, after showing glimpses of his talent and ability last year. He is a very good shot-blocker and rebounder who can be tough to stop up front. Kaun provides a couple of baskets and rebounds per game, while Jackson is a banger and a terrific offensive rebounder. Aldrich is expected to see time right away, and could even start sometime this season.
Southern Illinois (Randal Falker, Matt Shaw, Carlton Fay, Tony Boyle): The Salukis lose two of their best players from the backcourt in Jamaal Tatum and Tony Young, but the frontcourt remains intact. Falker is a terrific defensive player who can also score around the basket. The 6-7 senior is one of the best players in the league. Shaw is a good inside-outside performer who creates match-up problems with his versatility. Fay, a freshman, will make an impact.
St. Joseph’s (Ahmad Nivins, Pat Calathes, Rob Ferguson): One of the best trios in the country, all three are capable of becoming all-league players. Nivins is one of the most underrated big men in the country, thanks to his ability to score the ball and block shots at the other end. Calathes can play a variety of positions and contribute in all aspects of the game. Ferguson can score well, both inside and out. If the Hawks get good backcourt production, they could be a tough out in March.
Memphis (Robert Dozier, Joey Dorsey, Shawn Taggart, Pierre Niles): Not as deep as the backcourt group, the Tigers’ frontcourt is a nice combination of size, athleticism, offense, and defense. Dozier needs to become more aggressive offensively, as he has a variety of skills that make him a tough match-up. Dorsey is one of the best centers in the country due to his shot-blocking and rebounding abilities. If he stays away from making inexplicable comments (see: Oden, Greg), he’s tough to outplay inside. Taggart and Niles will provide depth.
UAB (Robert Vaden, Walter Sharpe, Reggie Huffman, Lawrence Kinnard, Frank Holmes, Jeremy Mayfield, Keenan Ellis): The Blazers return all three starters—but each of them has a chance of not retaining that starting spot this season. That is due to the influx of several transfers, including Vaden (Indiana), Huffman (Junior college), and Sharpe (Mississippi State). Vaden is a good shooter who can play several positions and do a variety of things. Sharpe is a talented big man who will see time, while Huffman was a JC All-American who will make an immediate impact. Kinnard was a very solid player last season who can score inside and out, while Holmes played well at forward. If the returnees can mesh with the newcomers, the Blazers are going to be tough to beat.
Gonzaga (Josh Heytvelt, Austin Daye, David Pendergraft, Abdullahi Kuso, Theo Davis, Will Foster, Robert Sacre, Ira Brown): Considering only two of these players will likely start, Mark Few has an unimaginable amount of depth and options up front. Heytvelt is one of the best big men in the nation, as long as he refrains from unlawful activities, while Pendergraft and Kuso performed admirably last year in his absence. Daye is expected to make an immediate impact due to his 6-10 size and all-around abilities. The rest of the group will see time throughout the season.
Others to Watch
Kansas State: Michael Beasley and Bill Walker form one of the most talented duos in the country.
Xavier: Josh Duncan, C.J. Anderson, and Derrick Brown form match-up nightmares for opponents.
Connecticut: Very deep group, led by Jeff Adrien, hopes to improve on last year’s disappointing season.
Tennessee: The addition of Tyler Smith makes this group formidable. Wayne Chism is a tough inside-out guy.
Ohio: Underrated group nationally. Jerome Tillman and Leon Williams combined for 29 and 17 per game last season.
Auburn: Lots of experience and talent for the improving Tigers. Josh Dollard is primed for a break-out year.
Georgia Tech: Yellow Jackets have a variety of options up front, but they need consistent play to be successful.
Alabama: Richard Hendrix and Alonzo Gee form a very good frontcourt duo, but a third starter needs to emerge.
Arizona: Chase Budinger alone makes this group solid. Jordan Hill returns, and Jamelle Horne will be good.
USC: Taj Gibson is one of the best big men in the country, and frosh Davon Jefferson will make an impact.
New Mexico State: Justin Hawkins is versatile, while Herb Pope will start right away. Hatila Passos returns.
Washington: Jon Brockman is a very productive big man, and Quincy Pondexter should break-out this year.
Providence: Geoff McDermott is extremely versatile, and Randall Hanke returns after a redshirt.