Big East 2007: Top Centers

February 2nd, 2007

Prior to the start of the 2006-2007 season, I ranked the conference’s returning centers, just as I did the players at the other four positions. At the time, there appeared to be a “Top 2” in Aaron Gray and Roy Hibbert, and a second level that included David Padgett, Darryl Watkins, and Randall Hanke (who is not playing this season). The rest of the players seemed to be one or two levels below these top five. The ranking did not include newcomers, such as freshman Hasheem Thabeet of UConn, transfer Kentrell Gransberry of USF, or juco transfer Hernol Hall, whom the NCAA subsequently determined had used up his eligibility in junior college and by playing for foreign professional teams.

So, at roughly the mid-point of the conference season are Gray and Hibbert ruling the paint as predicted? Have any newcomers supplanted these two talented performers? Have any other returning players elevated their games to elite status? Ranking the centers in the Big East is a considerable challenge because at least three questions must be addressed before even beginning such a daunting task.

For one thing, one must define the criteria one is using. Is the ranking based primarily on talent? Is it based on who has the best chance to move on to the next level after college? Or, does the ranking reflect players’ productivity?

One must also determine if the entire season to this point should be taken into consideration or just the conference portion of the season. One can easily make arguments for either approach.

Finally, the endeavor is made even more complex by the fact that quite a few individuals are playing the 5 spot primarily by default. A number of individuals, such as Adrian Hill at Rutgers, Dante Cunningham at Villanova, Luke Harangody at Notre Dame, and Marcus Sikes at Cincinnati, are really 4s but are playing the 5 because there is no other reasonable option for the 5 on their respective teams. In Cunningham’s case, determining whether he or Will Sheridan is the “center” often depends on match ups and occasionally switches from the offensive end of the court to the defensive. For the present ranking, the primary criterion is that the individual generally matches up on the defensive end with the other team’s 5.

Additionally, the ranking focuses exclusively on the conference season, not the entire season to date, primarily because coaches experiment a great deal during the non-conference portion of the schedule as they try to settle on their rotations. Also, the level of competition during the pre-conference segment of the season is sometimes suspect so that some glowing statistical performances are not as impressive as they may appear.

But most importantly, the ranking attempts to reflect the various players’ level of production, not their level of talent, athleticism, reputation, likelihood of a pro career, or any other factor. For “centers” the areas of greatest scrutiny in terms of “productivity” are scoring, rebounding, and shot-blocking. Assists and steals are bonuses and have less overall impact. Turnovers also have to be considered, so they are factored in as well.

To help assess “level of production,” I use the P-5 (Potential Point Production & Prevention Profile) score, which I devised a few years ago. The approach is simple: add points, rebounds, assists (times 2), steals, and blocks, and then subtract turnovers. This total is then divided by the number of minutes played.

For example, in eight conference games through January 28, Rob Summers of West Virginia scored 31 points, gathered 32 rebounds, dished out 6 assists, had 10 steals and 5 blocks, and committed 7 turnovers for a total of 83 points. This total is then divided by his total number of minutes (172) in those eight games for a P-5 score of .483. While the P-5 score does not totally determine each player’s ranking, it does strongly influence it.

First, let’s look at the top 10 scorers in conference games (through January 28) among those playing the 5:

1. Herbert Hill (Providence) – 19.9 ppg
2. Kentrell Gransberry (South Florida) – 15.5 ppg
3. Marcus Sikes (Cincinnati) – 14.0 ppg
4. Roy Hibbert (Georgetown) – 13.6 ppg
5. Aaron Gray (Pittsburgh) – 13.1 ppg
6. Ousmane Barro (Marquette) – 11.1 ppg
7. David Padgett (Louisville) – 10.6 ppg
8. Dante Cunningham (Villanova) – 10.0 ppg
9. Adrian Hill (Rutgers) – 9.9 ppg
10. Darryl Watkins (Syracuse) – 8.3 ppg

The top 10 rebounders at the 5 through the same date are:

1. Herbert Hill – 10.4 rpg
2. Kentrell Gransberry – 9.3 rpg
3. Aaron Gray – 9.1 rpg
4. Adrian Hill – 7.5 rpg
5. Ousmane Barro – 7.4 rpg
6. Darryl Watkins – 7.4 rpg
7. David Padgett – 6.6 rpg
8. Dante Cunningham – 6.3 rpg
9. Roy Hibbert – 5.7 rpg
10. Hasheem Thabeet – 5.0 rpg

Herbert Hill and Thabeet are the leading shot blockers with 28 apiece in 7 games, while Watkins has 27 blocks in 7 games. Hibbert is fourth with 14 in 7 games, while Gray has 13 in 8 games. No one else has amassed double-digit blocks to this point in conference play.

However, who are the top “centers” in the league in terms of overall production? Well, it’s not Gray, and it’s not Hibbert. Instead, it’s a player who averaged fewer than 20 mpg last year as he basically split time in the middle with a more-widely known teammate.

1) Herbert Hill has scored 20 or more points in four of seven conference games, along with having games of 19, 17, and 12 points. He’s also had double-digit rebounds in four of the seven games with nine boards in two others, and he’s shooting 67.9% from the floor. Because of his quickness and athleticism, Hill is extremely difficult to match up with. In fact, he has dominated nearly every opponent he’s played against this season. P-5 = .937.

2) Aaron Gray has not been as dominant in some games as he could have, and probably should have, been. For example, in Pitt’s only conference loss (to Marquette) he had a respectable game – 16 points and 9 rebounds, but half his points came in the first five minutes of the game. He was pretty much a non-factor for most of the contest. Another reason he doesn’t qualify as #1 is that he’s shooting only 48.9% from the field, relatively low for a player who gets as many shots from five feet and in as he does. P-5 score = .842.

3) Kentrell Gransberry was pretty much an unknown quality coming into the season after transferring from LSU following two years of junior college ball. Since becoming eligible second semester, he has certainly made his mark as he’s performed like the star who led all juco players in the country in rebounding his freshman year. Besides scoring in double figures in all seven league contests, Gransberry is shooting 55.8% from the field. He is not the defensive force Hill is, or Hibbert or Watkins either, but he’s still become a major force in the conference. P-5 score = .849.

4) Roy Hibbert was my pre-season pick as the top center in the conference, but he hasn’t been consistent enough to warrant that title. In a four point loss to Villanova, he did not make a field goal, scored only two points, and had only three boards in 24 minutes. Get Hibbert the ball in the paint, and he’ll score as his amazing field goal percentage of 80.9% illustrates. However, he hasn’t been the force on the boards he could be. He’s had only one double-digit rebounding game and only one other with more than six boards. P-5 score = .835.

5) David Padgett has never quite achieved the level of dominance fans come to expect from a Top 10 high school recruit. He’s the only center in the league who played in the McDonald’s All-Star Game. This season he’s been plagued by inconsistency – scoring 2 points with 2 rebounds in 25 minutes against DePaul and scoring 4 points with 2 rebounds in 20 minutes versus Notre Dame on one hand, but scoring 19 points and 11 rebounds against UConn and getting 18 points and 9 rebounds versus Marquette. Still, the transfer from Kansas has, overall, had a relatively solid season despite being less than 100% as he recovers from injuries. P-5 score = .714.

6) Darryl Watkins has consistently been more of a factor on defense than on offense during his career at Syracuse. He is quick and athletic, but he still has not developed a go-to move. He’s had some nice games so far, including one double-double (14 points and 10 rebounds against Marquette). However, it’s the opponents’ shots he’s blocked and altered more than his points and rebounds that have earned him the #6 slot. P-5 score = .621.

7) Adrian Hill is in his first season as a regular starter for Rutgers. His career has been undermined by injuries until this season. With Byron Joynes out for the season, Hill stepped in and has done an excellent job, much better than any Scarlet Knight fans could possibly have expected. He is shooting 67.5% from the field and has scored in double figures in four of eight conference games. P-5 score = .697.

8) Ousmane Barro’s production has climbed during the conference season. He’s scored in double figures in five of his last six games, which included two double-doubles. In Marquette’s two conference losses, he scored only six points in one and seven points in the other. The bottom line is that when he plays well, Marquette has won; when he hasn’t, they’ve lost. P-5 score = .598.

9) Dante Cunningham’s offensive game has come alive the past four games. After scoring a total of 21 points in the first four games of the conference season, he has totaled 59 points in the last four. He is also a solid defender who has the unenviable task of matching up with players four to six inches taller than he is. If he keeps playing the way he has lately, his ranking at the end of the season will be considerably higher. P-5 score = .582.

10) Although his P-5 score is higher than Barro’s and Cunningham’s, Luke Harangody’s production has dropped significantly during the conference season, particularly in the last three games, in which he’s scored a combined total of 9 points. Plus the 6’8” freshman is shooting only 45.3% in league play, down from 52.2% during the non-conference portion of the season. He could be hitting the so-called “freshman wall.” Still, he has helped make the Irish a more physical, more dangerous team. P-5 score = .658.

Some of these players, such as the two Hills and Gransberry, have already far exceeded pre-season expectations. Others are producing at approximately the level many anticipated while a few others have fallen short of projected level of performance. Overall, the 5 position is still relatively weak compared to some other Big East positions, though it’s proven to not be quite as weak as initially perceived.