Predicting the best frontcourts in the nation before a season can be tougher than correctly forecasting the stock market.
Most of college basketball's top big men turn pro after only a year or two, so it's tough to find frontcourts that combine experience and star power. You have to try to decide which freshmen will live up to expectations or which long-range projects will show the greatest improvement.
Yes, this is the type of endeavor that could make us foolish by the end of the season. But that didn't stop us from doing it anyway.
Key performers: Draymond Green (6-6/230, Jr.), Derrick Nix (6-9/270, Soph.), Adreian Payne (6-10/225, Fr.), Delvon Roe (6-8/230, Jr.), Garrick Sherman (6-10/240, Soph.)
The buzz: Michigan State must replace four-year starter Raymar Morgan, but it returns everyone else from a frontcourt that helped the Spartans lead the nation in rebound margin last season. The Spartans have one of the game's most versatile big men in Green, who averaged 9.9 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists last season. Roe is a former five-star prospect who could emerge as a big-time player if he can stay healthy for a full season. Nix and Sherman are former top-100 recruits who each averaged less than eight minutes per game last season, but they should have greater roles as sophomores. The Spartans also should get major contributions from Payne, the No. 20 prospect in the 2010 recruiting class. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has called Payne the most athletic big man he's ever had in his program.
Key performers: Freddy Asprilla (6-10/280, Jr.), Jordan Henriquez-Roberts (7-0/245, Soph.), Wally Judge (6-9/248, Soph.), Curtis Kelly (6-8/239, Sr.), Jamar Samuels (6-7/220, Jr.), Nino Williams (6-5/190, Fr.)
The buzz: The return of guard Jacob Pullen is the biggest reason Kansas State heads into the season as the Big 12 favorite, but Kelly and Samuels also offer plenty of cause for optimism. Kelly averaged 11.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.0 blocks last season, and he played particularly well in the NCAA tournament. Samuels averaged 11.0 points and 4.9 rebounds last season, when he was the Big 12's top sixth man. The Wildcats also should get a boost from Asprilla, a Florida International transfer and former Sun Belt freshman of the year. Judge's postseason performance offered indications the former five-star prospect could rebound from a disappointing freshman season. Kansas State might have ranked even higher if Dominique Sutton hadn't transferred to N.C. Central for family reasons.
Key performers: Harrison Barnes (6-8/210, Fr.), John Henson (6-10/210, Soph.), Justin Knox (6-9/240, Sr.), Tyler Zeller (7-0/250, Jr.)
The buzz: This ranking is contingent on Barnes living up to the hype and Zeller staying healthy for an entire season. Barnes, the No. 2 prospect in the 2010 recruiting class, has the potential to emerge as one of the nation's top players as soon as he begins his college career. Zeller has shown plenty of promise on the rare occasions when he has been healthy enough to play for the Tar Heels over the past two seasons. Henson had a disappointing freshman season, but his emergence late in the year indicated the five-star prospect is ready to live up to his promise. Knox is an Alabama transfer who should provide a physical presence in the paint.
Key performers: Joshua Hairston (6-7/210, Fr.), Mason Plumlee (6-10/240, Soph.), Miles Plumlee (6-10/245, Jr.), Kyle Singler (6-8/230, Sr.), Ryan Kelly (6-11/235, Soph.)
The buzz: Singler arguably is the nation's top returning player. The big man with perimeter skills was named the most outstanding performer in last season's Final Four. He's a fourth-year starter who has averaged 15.9 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.2 steals over the course of his career. Miles Plumlee made 24 starts last season and averaged 5.2 points and 4.9 rebounds. Mason Plumlee averaged 3.7 points and 3.1 rebounds after fracturing his left wrist before his freshman season. Both should have bigger roles this season. Kelly, a former five-star prospect, also should see more playing time after rarely leaving the bench last season. Hairston was the No. 56 prospect in the 2010 recruiting class.
Key performers: Bill Cole (6-9/215, Sr.), Mike Davis (6-9/225, Sr.), Tyler Griffey (6-8/235, Soph.), Meyers Leonard (7-0/240, Fr.), Jereme Richmond (6-7/205, Fr.), Mike Tisdale (7-1/250, Sr.)
The buzz: In this era of early entries, it's rare for a program to have two senior big men with the track records of Davis and Tisdale. Davis led the Big Ten with 9.2 rebounds per game and also averaged 10.7 points last season. Tisdale made 58.5 of his field-goal attempts and 83.9 percent of his free throws last season while averaging 11.9 points, 6.0 boards and 1.6 blocks. The Illini has 7-footers in Tisdale and Leonard, the No. 31 prospect in the 2010 recruiting class. Richmond is a former McDonald's All-American who can give the Illini athleticism at the wing. Cole made 22 starts last season and gives Illinois a big man who can shoot the 3-pointer.
Key performers: Marcus Morris (6-9/235, Jr.), Markieff Morris (6-10/245, Jr.), Thomas Robinson (6-9/237, Soph.), Jeff Withey (7-0/235, Soph.)
The buzz: Marcus Morris was overshadowed by Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich last season even though he actually may have outplayed them. Now that Collins and Aldrich have completed their college careers, Morris should start receiving more acclaim. Morris averaged 12.8 points and 6.1 rebounds as one of the nation's most improved players. His twin, Markieff, added 6.8 points and 5.3 rebounds off the bench last season. The Jayhawks also should get a boost from Withey, a 7-footer who could miss the start of the season after breaking a bone in his right foot last month. Robinson is a former four-star prospect who averaged 7.2 minutes per game last season.
Key performers: C.J. Fair (6-8/203, Fr.), Rick Jackson (6-9/240, Sr.), Kris Joseph (6-7/210, Jr.), Fab Melo (7-0/244, Fr.)
The buzz: Syracuse lost a couple of key components in NBA lottery pick Wes Johnson and Arinze Onuaku, but the Orange still have plenty of talent in the frontcourt. Joseph was the Big East's sixth man of the year last season and seems read to make the leap to stardom. Jackson averaged 9.7 points and 7.0 rebounds as Syracuse's starting power forward. Syracuse might rank even higher on this list if 7-footer DaShonte Riley hadn't suffered a stress fracture in his right foot that likely will keep him out for the season. Riley's injury puts more pressure on Melo and three-star prospect Baye Moussa Keita to contribute in their freshman seasons. Melo, the No. 16 prospect in the 2010 recruiting class, seems ready for the challenge.
Key performers: Vernon Macklin (6-10/240, Sr.), Erik Murphy (6-10/229, Soph.), Chandler Parsons (6-10/215, Sr.), Casey Prather (6-6/195, Fr.), Alex Tyus (6-8/220, Sr.), Patric Young (6-9/245, Fr.)
The buzz: Parsons showed a flair for the dramatic last season by hitting buzzer-beaters against N.C. State and South Carolina. After averaging 12.4 points and 6.9 rebounds last season, he heads into his senior year as one of the nation's top returning wings. Tyus averaged 11.8 points and 6.9 rebounds last season, while Macklin averaged 10.6 points and 5.5 boards in his first season after transferring from Georgetown. Florida should get an immediate impact from Young, the No. 27 prospect in the 2010 recruiting class. Young has an SEC-ready body and should provide plenty of rebounding and shot blocking from the start of his career. Murphy averaged 9.1 minutes per game last season and could become a solid rebounder. Prather is a small forward who can slash to the rim and plays good defense.
Key performers: Brian Carlwell (6-11/300, Sr.), Kawhi Leonard (6-7/225, Soph.), Tim Shelton (6-7/245, Jr.), Malcolm Thomas (6-9/220, Sr.), Billy White (6-8/235, Sr.)
The buzz: San Diego State returns just about everybody who helped them rank 10th in the nation in rebound margin last season. Leonard earned first-team All-Mountain West honors as a freshman and averaged 12.7 points and 9.9 rebounds to lead the Aztecs in both categories. Thomas was a second-team All-MWC performer who averaged 10.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.5 blocks. White, a three-time All-MWC selection, has made 61.7 percent of his shots and leads all active NCAA Division I players in field-goal percentage. Carlwell is an Illinois transfer who provides plenty of beef off the bench. Shelton is attempting to come back from a knee injury that ended his 2009-10 season prematurely.
Key performers: Dallas Lauderdale (6-8/255, Sr.), Jared Sullinger (6-9/280, Fr.), Deshaun Thomas (6-6/230, Fr.), J.D. Weatherspoon (6-7/210, Fr.)
The buzz: We admittedly are putting plenty of faith in the upside of a freshman-laden frontcourt, but we just can't overlook the Buckeyes' wealth of talent, even if it's unproven. Sullinger is the No. 5 prospect in the 2010 recruiting class and already has enough bulk to deal with the physical grind of Big Ten competition. Sullinger's a probable lottery pick in next year's draft if he chooses to turn pro. Thomas, the No. 22 prospect in the 2010 class, gives the Buckeyes another physical presence who can crash the boards. Weatherspoon and Sullinger were Columbus (Ohio) Northland High School and AAU teammates, so they already are familiar with each other's games. These freshmen join a frontcourt that also welcomes back Lauderdale, a senior who led the Big Ten last season with 2.1 blocks per game.
Key performers: Richard Howell (6-8/261, Soph.), C.J. Leslie (6-8/206, Fr.), DeShawn Painter (6-9/227, Soph.), Tracy Smith (6-8/255, Sr.), Scott Wood (6-6/177, Soph.)
The buzz: Leslie and Smith could carry the Wolfpack into the NCAA tournament for the first time in Sidney Lowe's five-year coaching tenure. Smith ranked seventh in the ACC in scoring (16.5) and ninth in rebounding (7.3) to earn second-team All-ACC honors last season. He led the ACC in field-goal percentage (.524). Leslie, the No. 14 prospect in the 2010 recruiting class, brings extraordinary athleticism along with the ability to play either small forward or power forward. Although he's listed as a forward, Wood does much of his work from beyond the 3-point arc. He shot 63-of-169 from 3-point range last season while starting all 36 games for the Wolfpack. Howell averaged 4.9 points off the bench.
Key performers: Jared Berggren (6-10/235, Soph.), Mike Bruesewitz (6-6/220, Soph.), Ryan Evans (6-6/210, Soph.), Tim Jarmusz (6-6/205, Sr.), Jon Leuer (6-10/228, Sr.), Keaton Nankivil (6-8/240, Sr.)
The buzz: Leuer averaged 15.4 points, 5.8 rebinds and 1.6 blocks while shooting 52.2 percent from the floor last season despite missing nine games with a fractured left wrist. Leuer played guard before a late growth spurt moved him to the frontcourt, and his perimeter background is evident in his multifaceted game. He is underrated nationally. Nankivil is a returning starter who made major strides last season to average 8.1 points and 4.7 rebounds. Jarmusz is a swingman who played solid defense and took care of the ball while making 27 starts last season. Evans is another swingman who is known for his defensive prowess. Berggren and Bruesewitz are big bodies who can do the needed inside dirty work. This group doesn't feature as much star power as other frontcourts on this list, but the three seniors provide plenty of experience and are ideal fits for Bo Ryan's system.
3 OTHER FRONTCOURTS TO WATCH
GONZAGA: Mangisto Arop (6-6/208, Soph.), Sam Dower (6-9/248, R-Fr.), Elias Harris (6-7/245, Soph.), Kelly Olynyk (7-0/238, Soph.), Robert Sacre (7-0/260, Jr.)
BUZZ: Harris is one of the best big men in the nation; he was a revelation as a freshman last season and should be an 18-point/nine-rebound-per-game guy this season. Sacre has the tools but must develop consistency; he can be a force in the low post. Olynyk is a good athlete who can hit from the perimeter. Dower is expected to provide an athletic presence in the paint.
TENNESSEE: John Fields (6-9/222, Sr.), Kenny Hall (6-8/215, Soph.), Tobias Harris (6-8/226, Fr.), Jeronne Maymon (6-7/258, Soph.), Brian Williams (6-10/272, Sr.), Renaldo Woolridge (6-9/212, Jr.).
BUZZ:The Vols lost Wayne Chism and J.P. Prince off an Elite Eight team, but the arrival of Harris, one of the top 20 freshmen in the nation, should help mitigate that. He is an offensive-minded big man. Williams has shown big-time ability in spurts and must develop more consistency. Field is a transfer from UNC Wilmington who adds defense. Hall underachieved a bit as a freshman last season but has the physical tools.
WICHITA STATE: Gabe Blair (6-8/235, Sr.), J.T. Durley (6-8/236, Sr.), Aaron Ellis (6-9/208, Sr.), Ben Smith (6-5/215, Jr.), Garrett Stutz (7-0/256, Jr.).
BUZZ: This is a deep and experienced group. Durley is the best returnee, and Stutz came on at the end of last season. Blair is a high-energy guy off the bench. Smith is a touted JC transfer expected to provide an offensive boost.
3 LOW-MAJOR FRONTCOURTS TO WATCH
The one big man to watch from each of these teams is in bold type.
AMERICAN: Riley Grafft (6-11/200, Jr.), Stephen Lumpkins (6-8/225, Jr.), Vlad Moldoveanu (6-9/215, Sr.), Tony Wroblicky (6-10/220, Fr.)
MORGAN STATE: Ameer Ali (6-4/230, Sr.), DeWayne Jackson (6-8/210, Soph.), Rodney Stokes (6-10/225, Sr.), Kevin Thompson (6-9/240, Jr.)
OAKLAND: Keith Benson (6-11/230, Sr.), Will Hudson (6-9/235, Sr.), Corey Petros (6-9/243, Fr.), Drew Valentine (6-5/225, Soph.)