The true center in college basketball is a rarity these days. The game that used to be dominated by giants of the paint is now all about up tempo play, the fast break, and hybrid players that can start at multiple positions. That isn’t to say that the great post players of the game are no longer in existence, it’s just that many of these big men have started to add more versatility to their game or are simply just more athletic than their predecessors. Here is a look at the best of the bigs in college hoops this season.
Pick Six: Top Centers
Throughout the week, check back for articles highlighting the Top 6 players at each position. Tomorrow we’ll be rolling out the Top 6 at shooting guard.
1. B.J. Mullens – Ohio State
That’s right, the first newcomer to top one of the positions lists. Not only is Mullens arguably the top freshman in the country this season, he could wind up being the top pick in the NBA Draft come June. Standing a legitimate 7-feet and possessing a freakishly explosive vertical jump, Mullens has the physical attributes that could allow him to dominate the Big Ten right away. His hands are excellent and he has a nicely developing post game, though much of it still relies on his athleticism around the rim. Perhaps most intriguing at this point about the youngster is his ability to step away from the basket and still be an effective scorer. Mullens exhibits a very smooth jumper that almost no one in college basketball will be able to contest on a regular basis. His game is still very much a work in progress as he is still learning how to completely utilize his physical gifts. Mullens will have to show more enthusiasm on defense than he did at the high school level in order to be an impact player on the other end of the floor as well.
Stats: DNP Freshman
2. Hasheem Thabeet - Connecticut
The tremendous improvement that Thabeet showed from his freshman to sophomore seasons was almost enough to put him atop this list. Another monster of the middle, the junior stands 7’3” with an enormous wingspan, and packs 260 pounds onto his frame. He runs the floor surprisingly well for a player of his size and shows great explosiveness around the rim; it’s a given he will dunk if given the space. His post game is very far from being finished, as he still attempts less than six shots per game. His footwork is raw and he lacks any real pivot moves, though he does have the ability to finish with contact inside, a major plus. Defense is where Thabeet really makes his mark. His man-to-man coverage isn’t great, due to his lack of upper body strength, but his shot blocking abilities make him a game changer on this end of the floor.
Stats: 10.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 0.4 apg
3. Andrew Ogilvy – Vanderbilt
What a freshman season for the Aussie. Ogilvy burst onto the scene in the SEC as probably the most fundamentally sound center in the country. His footwork is phenomenal, and he has the ability to light it up with a jump hook that he can consistently hit with either hand. His overall offensive repertoire in the post is very impressive and his quick feet make him a difficult match up for most big men. What hinders Ogilvy though is a lack of great athleticism. He isn’t very explosive, so in many situations where he would be better suited elevating over defenders for an easy score, he looks to draw contact or finish with a finesse move off the glass instead. He doesn’t have a face up game with the ball at this point, but look for that to continue to develop in the upcoming seasons. The biggest key for Ogilvy this season will be staying on the floor; he struggled with foul problems last season.
Stats: 17.0 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.2 apg
4. Jordan Hill – Arizona
Despite being a real impact player for the Wildcats last season, Hill managed to go largely unnoticed by most of the country. The junior posted averages of 13 point and 8 rebounds in 29 minutes of work while shooting an outstanding 62% from the field, the 13th best mark in the country. Hill’s back to the basket game is still a work in progress, as it is for many big men at this level, but he shows some nice promise with a right-handed jump hook, and has proven to be a fairly effective passer out of the post. He needs to work on reading when double teams are coming and how to avoid them. Hill showed great improvement in his range from last season, showing the ability to step away from the basket more often. While his handles aren’t great at this point, he exhibits an outstanding first step for a frontcourt player, able to beat most big men on a regular basis to the basket where he shows a soft touch.
Stats: 13.2 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 0.8 apg
5. Jeff Pendergraph – Arizona State
Another player having flown under the radar for the last couple of seasons as a result of other talented big men in the Pac-10, the senior could finally emerge this season as one of the top centers out west. Pendergraph has great physical attributes: a solid 6’9” 230-pound frame and well above average athleticism. He has a nicely developing post game, highlighted by a right-handed jump hook that he hits regularly thanks to his soft touch. Pendergraph as a whole is a very efficient low post scorer, connecting on nearly 60% of his shot attempts last season. The biggest wrinkle he has added to his game over the years is the ability to catch and shoot from mid-range, able to knock down the open 15-footer on a fairly regular basis now. Pendergraph is a tough defender inside, but ASU primarily goes with a zone look, so he isn’t in too many one-on-one situations. A slight bump in his rebounding numbers this season would be a big boost to the Sun Devils.
Stats: 12.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 0.9 apg
6. Jerome Jordan – Tulsa
Jordan is a mid-major big man just waiting to be noticed by a larger audience. A 7-footer who moves well, the junior had an inconsistent year for the most part, but turned things on down the stretch, posting three double-doubles in his last six games, and had an impressive 17-point, 9-rebound, 4-block performance against Memphis in his last game. Jordan shows flashes of some nice post moves, particularly a strong drop step and a developing hook shot that could prove to be nearly impossible to stop if perfected. His game is still very raw though and will need a lot more polish. Defensively Jordan was a shot blocking machine last year, finishing 5th in the country at 3.7 per contest. He has great mobility as already mentioned and shows a real knack for timing his jumps to contest shots.
Stats: 10.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 0.8 apg
Next in Line: Luke Nevill, Utah; Josh Heytvelt, Gonzaga; Taj Gibson, USC; Cole Aldrich, Kansas; Aron Baynes, Washington State.
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