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Looking To The 2015 NBA Draft: Centers

Our position-by-position look at the top NBA prospects returning to school next season concludes with the centers. There should be a bumper crop of behemoths in the college game in 2015, who will look to make their mark in a sport traditionally dominate by guards. Last season, Kentucky turned that logic on its head, riding a wave of NBA talent in their frontcourt all the way to the NCAA championship game, despite very inconsistent play from their perimeter players.

Next season will be no different, as John Calipari will have more size upfront than a lot of NBA teams. It’s not just Dakari Johnson and Willie Cauley-Stein, both of whom would have been first-round picks in 2014. Karl Towns, Trey Lyles and Marcus Lee, while natural PF’s, could all play C for most college teams. For Calipari, the trickiest part will be finding shots and touches for all his big men. Either way, Lexington will once again be a prime destination for NBA scouts. 

Top-5 Centers

Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky - Cauley-Stein was one of the more surprising decisions to return to school, given that he could have been a Top 15 pick and he is returning to a logjam in the Kentucky frontcourt next season. I’ve always thought he had a higher ceiling than Nerlens Noel - neither guy is all that skilled on offense, but Cauley-Stein is just as athletic and he’s much bigger (7’0 240). He can switch on the pick-and-roll and lock up guards already. If he develops a post game or a 15-foot jumper this off-season, watch out.

Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga - Karnowski hasn’t gotten a ton of publicity at Gonzaga - he backed up Kelly Olynyk as a freshman and played second fiddle to Sam Dower as a sophomore. However, despite their wealth of talent upfront, the Zags decided to run their offense through a bunch of 6’1 guards instead of the 7’0 300 monster at C. Karnowski is a massive human being with an incredible amount of skill for a guy his size. He averaged 10 points a game on 59% shooting - he needs more than 7 shots a game.

Dakari Johnson, Kentucky - Johnson is kind of the converse of Cauley-Stein. They both have the size to be NBA C’s, but while Cauley-Stein doesn’t have a ton of skill, Johnson doesn’t have a lot of athleticism. At 7’0 260, he has good touch around the rim and a decent post game, but he’s not very agile and his interior defense leaves a lot to be desired. If Johnson can cut some weight off his frame, return to school in better shape and improve as a rebounder and shot-blocker, he will be a lottery pick.

AJ Hammons, Purdue - Progress has been slow for Hammons, whose been stuck on rebuilding teams in his first two seasons in Purdue. Nevertheless, the physical tools are there - at 7’0 250, Hammons is solidly built and can move well for a player his size. He averaged 11 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks a game on 51% shooting as a sophomore. If he can improve those numbers as a junior and get Purdue back in the NCAA Tournament discussion, he will be a first-round pick next year.

Mamadou N’Diaye, UC-Irvine - I didn’t really know what to make of him until I saw him in person, when UC-Irvine played SMU in the NIT. I came away pretty impressed. He’s way more athletic and way more skilled than you would expect a 7’6 300 guy to be. If he was only 7’0, he would still be an NBA prospect. At 7’6, he changes the geometry of the game just by standing in front of the rim. He’s not the most compelling basketball player at this stage in his career, but neither was Roy Hibbert as a freshman.

Other names to watch:

Kaleb Tarczewski (Arizona), Joel James (UNC), Nnanna Egwu (Illinois), Nephawe Tshdizivili (New Mexico State)

2013 Holiday Tournaments (Part 2)

Today, I provide more odds for the early season events. Click here for Part 1 which discussed a possible Louisville vs North Carolina final. Here's a look at a possible Gonzaga vs Syracuse final and a possible Duke vs Arizona matchup.

CBE, Nov 25-26

 

Final

Champ

Texas

32%

11%

BYU

68%

37%

Wichita St.

85%

49%

DePaul

15%

3%

“I kind of get the feeling my girlfriend is cheating on me.”

“Yeah I know what you mean.” – Office Space

Everything seems to be going wrong for Texas. Javan Felix is injured. Players continue to transfer left and right. Jonathan Holmes is the only upperclassman on the roster. Skepticism abounds.

But objectively, Texas doesn’t have to finish with a losing record in the Big 12. There are still five elite prospects on the roster in Holmes, Felix (when healthy), Cameron Ridley, Prince Ibeh, and newcomer Kendal Yancy-Harris. Barnes got the team to buy in on defense last year. A turnaround isn’t out of the question.

And yet people keep having the same discussion.

“I kind of get the feeling this is Rick Barnes last year.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.”

Meanwhile, the real story of this tournament should be a celebration of Wichita St.’s remarkable Final Four run. With the tournament being held in Kansas City, Wichita St. fans should make the short drive to celebrate another year of Fred Van Vleet, Cleathony Early, Ron Baker, and Tekele Cotton.

Legends Classic, Nov 25-26

 

Final

Champ

Pittsburgh

85%

51%

Texas Tech

15%

4%

Stanford

84%

42%

Houston

16%

3%

Here is a group of teams where I tend to disagree quite a bit with the national consensus.

First, I am not seeing enough (any?) love for Pittsburgh in the new ACC this year. Yes, the team lost Steven Adams to the NBA draft and several key players to transfer. Pittsburgh normally wins by having incredible depth and experience, and that doesn’t appear to be present on this year’s roster. But I think people are still under-rating this lineup. Talib Zanna may not have had the recruiting pedigree of some of the other Pitt forwards, but he has actually been the best Pitt forward the last two years. And James Robinson looked very solid as a freshman PG. If he has a typical sophomore leap, Robinson could take this team a long way. Don’t bet against Jamie Dixon.

Meanwhile, few people are giving much love to Stanford despite the fact that the team returns 84 percent of its minutes from last year. Stanford’s margin-of-victory in the Pac-12 was better than their late season record would indicate.

But the team where I really disagree with the national consensus is Houston. I have seen a number of people rave about this squad because the offensive talent is outstanding. Danuel House, TaShawn Thomas and Jherrod Stiggers were all efficient high volume scorers last year. Elite recruit Chicken Knowles is now eligible. And the team also adds former Top 100 recruit Baylor transfer LJ Rose. Houston is going to have an outstanding offensive team.

(The one caveat is LJ Rose. Despite his incredible athleticism, his shot-making and efficiency were extremely poor at Baylor. But this will be a good offense team even if Rose doesn’t produce.)

And yet there is a reason this team finished 7-9 in a mediocre CUSA last year, and it all has to do with the defense. In three years, head coach James Dickey’s highest rank on defense has been 241st in the nation. In the new American Conference, with stronger teams at top, the lack of defensive commitment will be exposed. An early season loss to Stanford in this tournament will just be the first step.

Gulf Coast Showcase, Nov 25-27

 

Semis

Final

Champ

Louisiana Tech

95%

81%

64%

NC Greensboro

5%

1%

0%

San Diego

71%

15%

7%

Illinois Chicago

29%

3%

1%

Wagner

76%

46%

15%

Stetson

24%

8%

1%

St. Bonaventure

62%

31%

8%

Southern Illinois

38%

15%

3%

The Gulf Coast Showcase lacks big name basketball schools, but I project Louisiana Tech as the CUSA champion and Wagner as the Northeast Conference champ and a finals matchup between those two schools could have key NCAA seeding implications.

Maui Invitational, Nov 25-27

 

Semis

Final

Champ

Arkansas

40%

11%

4%

California

60%

21%

9%

Minnesota

25%

12%

4%

Syracuse

75%

55%

34%

Chaminade

5%

0%

0%

Baylor

95%

43%

20%

Dayton

25%

10%

3%

Gonzaga

75%

47%

27%

The real star of these early season events is almost always the Gonzaga offense. The Zags have too many skilled offensive players and it just overwhelms teams early. Dayton, which struggled defensively last year, and Baylor, which often plays lackluster defense under Scott Drew, seem like clear victims on Gonzaga’s route to the final.

Meanwhile, Syracuse is the heavy favorite in the top of the bracket. California would probably provide the biggest challenge if they can get past a young but talented Arkansas squad. But even if the veteran PG Justin Cobb does his best to dissect the Syracuse zone, California just doesn’t have the depth in the paint to hang with Syracuse for 40 minutes.

The big draw in Maui would be a Syracuse vs Gonzaga final. Even if Gonzaga’s Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski played sparingly last year, both appear to have the size and shooting touch to be zone busters from the top of the key. And with Syracuse relying on a smaller defense now that 6’6” Michael Carter-Williams has left for the NBA, there may be fewer deflections than last year. Gonzaga could have a favorable matchup.

If this game were being played with several days rest, I could see Gonzaga pulling the mini-upset. But the Syracuse zone is just so hard to prepare for on short-rest. And the big question with Dower and Karnowski isn’t their offense, but whether they can defend a dominant Syracuse frontcourt that includes bruisers like DaJuan Coleman, emerging stars like Jerami Grant, and all-around dominant forces like CJ Fair. Syracuse is the favorite.

NIT, Nov 25 and 27

The NIT is the only true 16 team bracket, but with two non-D1 teams competing, I didn’t feel like projecting the early rounds. Suffice to say that Rutgers is not the clear favorite to emerge from its initial 4 team bracket. It helps that Rutgers is at home, but I would call their potential second round game with Drexel a near coin flip. While Rutgers has only one elite efficient offensive player (in Myles Mack), Drexel has two efficient high volume scorers (in Frantz Massenat and Damion Lee), and I would not be surprised if the Dragons make it to Madison Square Garden.

But assuming the four “host” teams make it, here is how I see the Final Four odds:

 

Final

Champ

Arizona

88%

48%

Rutgers

12%

2%

Alabama

24%

8%

Duke

76%

42%

Alabama head coach Anthony Grant is such a good defensive coach that his teams always have a chance to pull an upset. And I’ve raved before about Rutgers starting lineup, especially now that Pitt transfer JJ Moore received a waiver and is eligible immediately. But most basketball fans are drooling over a possible Duke vs Arizona final. The chance to see super-freshmen Jabari Parker and Aaron Gordon in action is well-worth the price of admission. That said, this game is about a lot more than Parker and Gordon:

The Underrated Club: Duke’s Quinn Cook and Arizona’s Nick Johnson.

Cook is a dominant passer, a near 40 percent three point shooter, and he made nearly 90 percent of his free throws last year. He is the traditional Duke upperclassman who seems like he has been starting forever and he is just a junior. If you are Kentucky or Kansas you would be begging to have a veteran floor leader like Cook on your team this year.

Meanwhile Nick Johnson is a former Top 25 recruit who substantially improved his shooting last year and continues to be an under-rated passer. The scouts will be grading everyone else in the lineup, while Johnson is the one making all the smart plays to help Arizona win.

The Need to See Him in Action Club: Duke’s Andre Dawkins and Arizona’s TJ McConnell

Dawkins has been a phenomenal outside shooter in his career at Duke. But after he red-shirted last year for personal reasons, I need to see his energy level and defensive intensity. Seth Curry is gone, so the starting two-guard spot would appear to be his for the taking. But is he ready to be the aggressive scoring leader this team needs?

Meanwhile, TJ McConnell was a dominant PG at Duquense, but the Pac-12 is a step up in competition from the A10.  And Arizona has a lot of talented players who want the ball. Whether McConnell can keep everyone happy with his ball distribution while guiding a winning team remains to be seen. I hope McConnell gets the ball in crunch time against Duke, because I would love to see how he responds to the big stage.

Other players we need to see in action include Mississippi St. transfer Rodney Hood for Duke, and Gabe York for Arizona. York barely played last year but the high school scouts raved about his lethal scoring, and he will almost certainly be a key back-court reserve this season.

The Breakout Big Man Club: Duke’s Amile Jefferson, Alex Murphy and Marshall Plumlee vs Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley.

Arizona’s sophomore big men have a lot more potential, but they were less tantalizing then promised last year. That might not mean anything. Post players often take a little more time to develop. Realistically, Arizona should have a huge strength and rebounding advantage, but the Arizona players need to make that happen. If Duke’s Amile Jefferson is the best paint player on the floor in this matchup, Arizona’s preseason ranking may not be warranted.

On the other hand, Duke needs to hope that some of its young forwards are ready. I don’t view Josh Hairston as a legitimate long-term option against elite teams, especially now with Jabari Parker providing stretch-4 minutes. If Hairston is playing major minutes, Duke is the team with frontcourt problems.

The Other Freshmen Club: Arizona’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson vs Duke’s Matt Jones and Semi Ojeleye

Duke’s so deep that I haven’t even discussed Rasheed Sulaimon or Tyler Thornton yet. So I don’t expect Duke’s freshmen to make a huge impact right away, even if they are Top 40 recruits. But Mike Krzyzewski will play his best players. And if Ojeleye or Jones play well enough in practice to deserve minutes, they will get them. The real eyes will be on Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Despite playing the same position as Aaron Gordon, I suspect that Hollis-Jefferson and Gordon will play quite a bit together this year. What I most want to see is whether they put in the defensive commitment. Together their length and athleticism could drive teams crazy with tipped passes, blocks, and steals, but only if they put in the effort.

Cancun Challenge, Nov 26-27

 

Final

Champ

West Virginia

83%

15%

Old Dominion

17%

1%

St. Louis

35%

27%

Wisconsin

65%

57%

If you like watching car crashes, St. Louis vs Wisconsin might be for you. The Billikens are an exceedingly gritty defensive squad without much offensive skill. And Wisconsin is a slow-paced defensive juggernaut of its own. The presence of emerging sophomore Sam Dekker and the return of Josh Gasser from injury may give Wisconsin enough offense to pull away in this one, but if this game is 54-50, that might be high scoring.

Team-By-Team Gold Medal Winners

Since the United States began to allow professional players on their Olympic roster for the 1992 Games, there have been 63 NBA players to win Gold Medals. The United States has won the Gold Medal in five of the six Olympics, accounting for 60 of the players, while there were three NBA players on Argentina when they won in 2004.

The following team-by-team list tallies the Gold Medal winners at the time of their respective games.

The Utah Jazz have won the most Gold Medals with six, followed by the Thunder/Sonics with five, Bulls, Lakers, Heat and Knicks with four.

The Bobcats, Grizzlies, 76ers and Wizards have yet to have a player win a Gold Medal.

Atlanta Hawks (0)

Boston Celtics (1): Larry Bird (92)

Brooklyn Nets (1): Deron Williams (12)

Charlotte Bobcats (0)

Chicago Bulls (4): Michael Jordan (92), Scottie Pippen (92), Scottie Pippen (96), Andres Nocioni (04)

Cleveland Cavaliers (1): LeBron James (08)

Dallas Mavericks (1): Jason Kidd (08)

Denver Nuggets (3): Antonio McDyess (00), Carmelo Anthony (08), Andre Iguodala (12)

Detroit Pistons (3): Grant Hill (96), Carlos Delfino (04), Tayshaun Prince (08)

Golden State Warriors (1): Chris Mullin (92)

Houston Rockets (1): Hakeem Olajuwon (96)

Indiana Pacers (1): Reggie Miller (96)

Los Angeles Clippers (1): Chris Paul (12)

Los Angeles Lakers (4): Magic Johnson (92), Shaquille O’Neal (96), Kobe Bryant (08), Kobe Bryant (12)

Memphis Grizzlies (1): Shareef Abdur-Rahim (00)

Miami Heat (4): Tim Hardaway (00), Alonzo Mourning (00), Dwyane Wade (08), LeBron James (12)

Milwaukee Bucks (2): Ray Allen (00), Michael Redd (08)

Minnesota Timberwolves (3): Christian Laettner (92), Kevin Garnett (00), Kevin Love (12)

New Orleans Hornets (2): Chris Paul (08), Anthony Davis (12)

New York Knicks (4): Patrick Ewing (92), Allan Houston (00), Carmelo Anthony (12), Tyson Chandler (12)

Oklahoma City Thunder/Seattle Super Sonics (6): Gary Payton (96), Vin Baker (00), Gary Payton (00), Kevin Durant (12), James Harden (12), Russell Westbrook (12)

Orlando Magic: Dwight Howard (08)

Philadelphia 76ers (0): (Iguodala was member of 76ers until semifinals of 12 Olympics)

Phoenix Suns (3): Charles Barkley (92), Charles Barkley (96), Jason Kidd (00)

Portland Trail Blazers (2): Clyde Drexler (92), Steve Smith (00)

Sacramento Kings (1): Mitch Richmond (96)

San Antonio Spurs (3): David Robinson (92), David Robinson (96), Manu Ginobili (04)

Toronto Raptors (2): Vince Carter (00), Chris Bosh (08)

Utah Jazz (6): Karl Malone (92), John Stockton (92), Karl Malone (96), John Stockton (96), Carlos Boozer (08), Deron Williams (08)

Washington Wizards (0) 

Colleges

The below list accounts only for Olympic Gold Medals since 1992.

Duke and UCLA have had three separate Gold Medalists, while Cal has had three by counting Jason Kidd’s two wins.

Alabama: Antonio McDyess (00)

Arizona: Andre Iguodala (12)

Arizona State: James Harden (12)

Auburn: Charles Barkley (92), Charles Barkley (96)

California: Shareef Abdur-Rahim (00), Jason Kidd (00), Jason Kidd (08)

Central Arkansas: Scottie Pippen (92), Scottie Pippen (96)

Connecticut: Ray Allen (00)

Duke: Christian Laettner (92), Grant Hill (96), Carlos Boozer (08)

Indiana State: Larry Bird (92)

Georgetown: Patrick Ewing (92), Alonzo Mourning (00)

Gonzaga: John Stockton (92), John Stockton (96)

Hartford: Vin Baker (00)

Houston: Clyde Drexler (92), Hakeem Olajuwon (96)

Kansas State: Mitch Richmond (96)

Kentucky: Tayshaun Prince (08), Anthony Davis (12)

Illinois: Deron Williams (08), Deron Williams (12)

LSU: Shaquille O’Neal (96)

Louisiana Tech: Karl Malone (92), Karl Malone (96)

Marquette: Dwyane Wade (08)

Memphis: Penny Hardaway (96)

Michigan State: Magic Johnson (92), Steve Smith (00)

Navy: David Robinson (92), David Robinson (96)

North Carolina: Michael Jordan (92), Vince Carter (00)

No College: Kevin Garnett (00), Kobe Bryant (08), Dwight Howard (08), LeBron James (08), Kobe Bryant (12), Tyson Chandler (12), LeBron James (12)

Ohio State: Michael Redd (08)

Oregon State: Gary Payton (96), Gary Payton (00)

St. John’s: Chris Mullin (92)

Syracuse: Carmelo Anthony (08), Carmelo Anthony (12)

Temple: Pepe Sanchez (04)

Tennessee: Allan Houston (00)

Texas: Kevin Durant (12)

UCLA: Reggie Miller (96), Kevin Love (12), Russell Westbrook (12)

UTEP: Tim Hardaway (00)

Wake Forest: Chris Paul (08), Chris Paul (12)

2012 West Coast Conference Power Rankings

Saint Mary's, Gonzaga and BYU were atop the WCC both in the standings and power rankings.

Top NCAA Coaches Of Past Five Years

There are a lot of complicated ways to evaluate college coaches, but in this edition we look at the coaches with the best per possession numbers over the last five years.

The Census: RealGM's NCAA Rankings For Dec. 5

Aaron Craft, Jared Sullinger and Ohio State were ready to trounce on the No. 1 slot in RealGM's rankings if not for an Anthony Davis block.

The Census: RealGM's NCAA Rankings For Nov. 28th

Kentucky at No. 1, North Carolina drops to No. 4, while Saint Louis, Harvard, San Diego State and Creighton enter RealGM's rankings.

Reviewing Nike Hoop Summit 2011

Unlike the McDonald's All-American Game which includes some good but not great high school players, the Nike Hoops summit showcases only the absolute top recruits.

Best Individual Games Of 10-11 NCAA Season

Jared Sullinger, Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette have each had some of the best single games in the country this seaosn.

Conference Rankings (End Of Jan. Edition)

As we have commonly seen in recent seasons, the Big East has been the deepest conference in the country.

 

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