If you missed Part I of this list, where I ranked players No. 40-21, go ahead and click here. Today, let’s get to Part II.
First a quick refresher in how we go about ranking these players. Here are the criteria:
1. Competition Matters: My buddy Steve mentioned this last year and I liked it so much, I decided to keep it in, "AT I watched Northern Iowa last week, and it was a joke. It was a bunch of pale of 6'3 jump shooters running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Any team in the Big East would beat them by 50. And they're ranked No. 22 in the country! What a joke."
Granted, that Northern Iowa team ended up being No. 1 Kansas in the NCAA Tournament, and getting to the Sweet 16. But still, his point was clear: It's harder to get 21 points and 10 rebounds a night in the Big East than it is in the MEAC or America East. Sorry it's just true.
2. NBA Draft Positioning Does Not Matter: This isn't a list of who the best pure basketball talents are, or what a guy might be like in 10 years. It's based on what they're doing right now.
For example, Perry Jones might be the first overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft (for reasons that are still somewhat unbeknownst to me). Yet he’s playing for a team that’s 18-10 and might miss the NCAA Tournament all together. Would Baylor really be that much worse without him?
3. If Your Team Stinks, Your Value Suffers: It's great that you're getting your 20 and 10 every night. Seriously I'm happy for you. But if your team is 10-20, how important is what you're doing?
4. How Replaceable Are Your Stats: The example I used last year was Pitt, and I’ll do it again this year.
Look, I love Ashton Gibbs (you know, despite his Twitter deficiencies this past weekend). He’s smart and skilled, a team player, and the leading scorer for a Pitt club that’s been in the Top 10 all year. But he also missed three games in the middle of the season, and his team went 3-0, with two road wins against Top 25 teams immediately after he got hurt. Would the same have happened if Cory Joseph went down for Texas or William Buford for Ohio State? I don’t think so.
Obviously it’s not Gibbs’ fault that Jamie Dixon has set up a system where the next guy is ready to go when someone goes down. But it does have to be factored into these rankings.
5. While Stats Do Matter, This Is A List of Value. In Other Words, How Replaceable Is What You Do?: Again, let me give you another example.
Say you took a hardcore NBA fan that's never seen a Louisville game the entire season. If you showed them the stat sheet, Preston Knowles and Peyton Siva aren't really all that different. Knowles gets a few more points, and Siva more assists and steals. How could someone who's never seen Louisville play definitively say that one is better than the other?
Now, take that same logic, and ask a Louisville fan. They’ll tell you about all the little things that Siva does, splitting the defense, jumping passing lanes, creating shots for teammates. While they wouldn’t want to part with Knowles, they’d give up their first born to keep Siva. What Knowles does is somewhat replaceable. There might not be a guy better at his specific role than Siva right now.
With that said, let's get back to the list!
20) Brad Wanamaker, Pittsburgh:
One of the things that annoys me most about sports right now is that too often, we let raw statistics cloud our opinions too much. Yes they’re important, but are they more important than actually watching the games? I don’t think so.
And with that, I present you Brad Wanamaker. If you never actually watched Pittsburgh and just looked at the box scores after their games, you’d probably think that Ashton Gibbs was the most valuable player on that team. After all, Gibbs leads the team in scoring, is their best three-point shooter, and is one of the best free throw shooters in the country. Which is all well and good, except Wanamaker is more important to the team.
A couple things stood out recently. One, when Gibbs went down with a knee injury a few weeks ago, it was Wanamaker who stepped up and basically said, “I got this.” He went for 11-9-3 and 21 and 4 in road wins at West Virginia and Villanova. Sure in hindsight neither of those teams is great, but without Gibbs Pitt had a built in excuse to lose. Wanamaker just wouldn’t let them.
Also, I couldn’t help but notice that in Sunday’s loss at Louisville, Pitt kept going to Wanamaker down the stretch. He had three of their last four buckets in regulation, and assisted on the other. Yes Pitt lost in overtime, but they wouldn’t have even been there without Wanamaker.
Again, I’m not trying to deride the stat heads, because their work is important. But there’s no way that anyone can measure what Wanamaker for this team with some complicated statistical formula. Remember that.
19) Norris Cole, Cleveland State:
And right after making a big fuss about overvaluing guys based on stats, I’m going to do just that with Norris Cole!
(Quick side note on Cole: I find it incredible that in an era where we have 32,000 HD channels and can see Charlie Sheen’s Today Show interview on YouTube five minutes after it happened, how is it possible that I can’t find a single Cleveland State game on my cable package anywhere? Can someone explain that to me??)
Anyway, if you don’t know about Cole, what you need to know is that essentially, if you were starting a college hoops fantasy league, he might be the No. 1 overall pick. On the year, he’s averaging 21 points, six rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.2 steals and shoots 83 percent from the foul line. And while he’s had monster games all year, Cole is probably best known for that ridiculous 41 point, 20 rebound, nine assist game he slapped up a few weeks ago. Did I mention he’s a 6’1 guard?
I don’t know if Cole has enough help around him for Cleveland State to get to the NCAA Tournament. All I know is, if they do get there, I’ll be absolutely terrified to have them in my bracket.
18) Jordan Williams, Maryland:
I’m sorry, but I just can’t bump Jordan Williams down this list because his team is struggling. Maybe it’s because us Connecticut guys have to stick together, I don’t know. But I won’t do it.
Williams is averaging 17 points and just under 12 boards a game, numbers that are even more impressive considering that he’s literally double-teamed just about every time he touches the ball. As a matter of fact, I think you could make a pretty strong case that given what Williams does, and how little he has around him, he might have the most impressive stats of any big man in college hoops right now.
17) Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin:
16) Jon Leuer, Wisconsin:
Ok, ok, I know. Every year I get sucked into overrating Wisconsin’s players, and every year I end up getting burned come NCAA Tournament time. What can I say, I just can’t hit myself. It must be Bo Ryan’s dreamy blue eyes. Still, I like these two too much to put them any lower on this list.
Obviously everyone knows Taylor because of his epic 27 point, six assist game against Ohio State, when he did everything short of self popcorn at halftime and clean toilets after the game. Then again, that’s pretty much what he’s done all year, putting up 17 and six a night, numbers which are even more impressive considering the…umm…how do I put this nicely… “leisurely,” pace of play most teams use in the Big Ten.
Yet as good as Taylor is, I can’t put him any higher on this list than Leuer. There really just aren’t that many guys in college basketball that are a 6’10, can shoot threes, make 85 percent of their foul shots, and are pretty much a guaranteed 18 and nine every time they step on the floor.
I admit that I like Taylor’s game more, but he just isn’t more valuable to this particular team. Which is what this list is about.
15) John Jenkins, Vanderbilt
14) Tu Holloway, Xavier
Two volume scorers who I saw recently and thought to myself “Man, when did that guy get this good?” Neither can quite put up points over extended periods of time like Jimmer Fredette does, but after him, these are the two who can get hot over a four or five possession time frame, put up 10 points in the blink of an eye, erase a deficit or add to a lead and in general, just give an opposing coach a heart attack. Good times.
(Speaking of which, I heard an incredible stat during Sunday’s Xavier-Dayton game. Did you know that of every team in college basketball, there are only two that have made the Sweet 16 in each of the last three years?
Any guesses as to who they might be? One is Michigan State, which makes total sense, but the other is…Xavier. Would you have ever guessed that in a million years?)
13) Dwight Hardy, St. John’s:
Hardy’s an interesting guy in the sense that for most of the season I just wasn’t drinking the Kool-Aid. Yes he had been good, but what has made St. John’s special this whole season is how they’ve put together all their great wins as a team. How they’ve got 10 seniors coming together as one with the goal of making that first NCAA Tournament. Wouldn’t singling out Hardy kind of take away what’s made that team special all year?
Either way, after watching St. John’s a few more times, I’ve come full-circle on Hardy. While I don’t think he’s the best pure basketball player in the Big East, or even most valuable, I do think that he has the ability to score in the most ways. He can score off the dribble. From the three-point line. By hitting a pull-up jumper. Watching Hardy against Villanova the other day, the guy literally did whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted to do it. I hate using the term, “Man against boys,” but that’s exactly what it was. And it’s not like Villanova is the Sisters of the Poor or something.
The coolest thing about Hardy is that he seems to be getting better each and every week. I fully expect him to continue to improve, and maybe even have a D’Sean Butler-esque coming out party in the Big East Tournament (if he hasn’t had one already). I get the feeling that if I made this list after Championship Week, he might even crack the Top 10.
12) Peyton Siva:
As I’ve mentioned many times on this site, I love Twitter. I get my news from Twitter. It’s where a lot of my opinions are formed. And because of, I’ve gotten the opportunity to meet a lot of really cool people. I’m honestly not sure where I’d be as a professional without it.
The only problem I really see with Twitter though, is that with the instantaneous nature of it, people tend to react to things without really thinking them through. And believe me, I’m no exception. I even said the following about Siva on Twitter during a UConn-Louisville game back on February 19:
I dont care what the stats say, Peyton Siva is one of the five best college basketball players Ive seen all year. Should be an All-American
Now was that comment a bit over the top? Of course. Too hyperbolic? Umm, yeh I’d say it was. And after I said it, a few people rightfully called me out on it.
Still, I stand by the genesis of the argument, which is that stats can’t fully define Siva’s value. This is a guy that does so many things that don’t show up in a box score: Jumping passing lanes, deflecting and tipping passes, getting into the lane and finding open teammates, and a bunch of other stuff. You know how baseball has an advance metric for “runs created?” Well I’d love to see how many points Siva “creates” over the course of a game, with his passing, defense, whatever.
Also, since I obviously can’t coherently speak on Siva (He’s my 2011 college basketball man-crush), here are a few additional notes on him in no particular order:
- As many of you know (since I mention it every chance I get), I’m a UConn fan. And as a UConn fan, I’ve seen every game Kemba Walker has played in his career. There are only two guys who have been so quick with the ball that Kemba couldn’t stay in front of them defensively. One was John Wall. The other was Siva. I feel like in the grand scheme of things, that’s important.
- When I made my wild “All-American,” comment about Siva, one person rightfully said “Louisville is 19-7 (at the time). With that many losses, how important could he really be?"
Which is a good point, except I would argue that at the very least, Siva is almost single-handedly responsible for two Louisville wins: In the West Virginia game and first UConn game. How many players can you definitively say swung two games by themselves this year? A half a dozen? Less?
- Finally, the knock on Siva is that at times he plays out of control. That’s true. But I’ve got to ask, isn’t playing out of control the whole point of what Louisville is trying to this year? Yes Siva commits close to three turnovers a game. But how many does his style of play create on the other end?
The real simple question with Siva is the following: Given what’s around him, and what Louisville is trying to do, is there a point guard anywhere in the country that’d be a better fit for them? I’d say no.
11) Ben Hansbrough:
I’ve got to be honest. With all the sports I consume, pretty much nothing surprises me anymore. There are too many blogs, too many websites, too many TV shows with sports writers yelling at one another, for anything to slip through the cracks. Which is what has made Hansbrough’s season so refreshing: Nobody saw it coming.
How could you? This was a guy that spent the first two years of his college career as a spot up jump shooter at Mississippi State, and even in his first year at Notre Dame last year was just Notre Dame’s third leading scorer, and spent most of his time in the the big, pudgy shadow of Luke Harangody.
Well this year, Hansbrough has transformed himself into one of the three or four most complete guards in the country. He can score in a million different ways, whether it’s from three-point land, off the dribble, or on a nice little floater that I’m pretty sure he bought off Craigslist (Seriously, where did he get that thing from?). Hansbrough’s also getting to the line more, is an improved defender, and definitely wins the award for most gushing comments from announcers centering around themes like, “Yeh I walked into the gym at 8:00 this morning, and Hansbrough had already put up 200 shots! Nobody….I mean nooooo-body works harder than this guy.”
And while that’d usually be reason for me to chime in with a bad joke, I just can’t. After all, he is the poster boy for the old saying your parents used to use, that “If you just work hard, good things will happen.” It seems so.
Ultimately, I think Bill Raftery said it best during Monday night’s Notre Dame-Villanova game, when he mentioned, “To play at this level, you’ve got to be possessed. And he’s possessed.” That’s the best way I’ve heard Hansbrough described yet.
10) Derrick Williams, Arizona:
I know what you’re thinking, “How can Derrick Williams only be No. 10 on this list?” Well remember, this isn’t list isn’t about a guy’s NBA prospects. Only how important he is to his team right now..
Now is Williams the best player in the Pac-10? Yes. Could he be the No. 1 pick in the next NBA Draft? Absolutely. Could you make the case, that if you were creating a team from scratch, and could take anyone in the country, he’d be your first pick? I’d say so. But Arizona is probably looking at a 5-6 seed in the tournament. He just isn’t more valuable than the nine guys in from of him, including…
9) Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State:
To me, Leonard has the most unique skill-set of anyone in college basketball. He’s a 6’7 power forward that looks and plays like he’s 6’10 because of his length. He’s comfortable taking people off the dribble and shoot 3’s, yet is also in the Top 10 nationally in rebounding. Honestly, I can’t ever remember a player like him. You know the phrase, he’s “A mystery, wrapped in a riddle, inside an enigma,” or whatever it is? Well that’s Leonard. If you had to describe him in one sentence to someone who’d never seen him play, could you?
On a side note, Leonard also wins the award for most random, funny quote I heard about a guy, when Yahoo.com writer Jeff Eisenberg said on a podcast last week, “An opposing coach told me he has hands the size of toilet seat covers.” I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I’m pretty sure it’s a compliment.
8 Jordan Hamilton, Texas:
Poor Jordan Hamilton. If I’d done this list two weeks ago, he’d probably have cracked the top five. Unfortunately it doesn’t take a math wiz to see the correlation between Texas losing three of their last four games, and Hamilton going 15 of 58 in those games. Again, I’m no genius (as you’ve probably figured out by now), and even I can put two and two together there.
At the same time, this is a season long list, and there’s just absolutely, positively no way to deny what Hamilton has done this year. As I mentioned in previous columns, he was among the worst “me first,” guys in all of college hoops last year; someone who jacked up shots like he was getting paid commission on them, and was also equal parts allergic to passing and indifferent on defense. To be quite frank, there wasn’t a lot to like about Hamilton’s game.
Well to his credit, this year Hamilton looked in the mirror and realized that he had to change what he was doing. The story of him apologizing to each of his teammates before the season is now legendary, but talk is cheap, and to his credit, Hamilton has backed it up. He’s reinvented himself as a guy who gets his points, but does it within the flow of the offense. He’s also one of the Longhorns top rebounders, and maybe their most underrated passer and defender.
Look, I’m not going to try and defend Texas’ swoon recently, because it has been bad. But for 75 percent of the year, they were one of the best teams in the country, and Hamilton was their best player. That means something.
7) Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker has a distinct disadvantage from everyone else on this list. With me being a UConn fan, I almost know too much about him. And having seen every one of his games this season, my bias is probably subliminally making me list him a few spots lower than he should be. Still, there’s a basis behind putting him at No. 7.
Obviously, at the beginning of the year, his impact on his team was immeasurable. Kemba literally put the young guys on his back, and took them to heights that they absolutely, positively wouldn’t have reached without him. It isn't an exaggeration to say that there’s a zero percent chance UConn would’ve won the Maui Invitational without him.
And it was because of Kemba’s presence that the team is where it is right now. Forget all the points Kemba scored in those early wins. What’s most important is that just having him there allowed the young guys, the Jeremy Lamb’s and Shabazz Napier’s, to develop at their own pace. I can’t even imagine what an emotional wreck they’d be right now if Walker hadn’t been there to hold them up over those first 15 games or so.
Here’s the thing though: Kemba’s presence did allow those young guys to mature at their own pace. Lamb, Napier, Roscoe Smith, whoever are now Big East caliber players. They’re ready for the wars. And with defenses now focusing on Walker, Kemba hasn’t been great of handing the reigns over to them. I don’t think it’s because he’s particularly selfish, as much as he still thinks his teammates need him to carry them at crunch-time. Which they don’t. Walker has almost become like a mother unwilling to say goodbye to her kid on the first day of kindergarten.
And that’s the weird paradox that UConn has been in of lately. Believe me, I watch their games, and for all the wins Walker was responsible for earlier in the year, he has been equal parts responsible for a few losses recently. Two games in specific stand out: The first Louisville game and the second Marquette game, and each played out the same way. With defenses focusing on Walker, it was UConn’s young guys that carried them through about 36 minutes, and built a nice lead heading into the closing stretch. Then for two or three straight possessions, Walker felt like he had to take over, took a couple bad shots, and all of a sudden that lead was erased, with UConn eventually losing both games in overtime. Now obviously Walker wasn’t solely responsible for those losses. But you can’t give him a free pass either.
Again, I don’t want to sound unappreciative for the fact that Walker is on my team. But I don’t want to take away from how far the young guys have come too. They’re ready to take on more of a role, and Walker needs to let them have it.
6) JaJuan Johnson, Purdue
Ok, so after a 40,000 word Kemba Walker manifesto I just wrote, all you need to know about Johnson is this: He’s the most complete big man in college basketball. His offensive game is somewhere between 100,000 times and infinity times better than it was last year. He rebounds. He blocks shots. He’s the emotional leader of a Top 10 team. And he’s got a cool name, which ultimately, can’t really hurt things (I’m convinced that if my mom had named me “JaJuan,” or “DaJuan,” or “Amare,” instead of “Aaron,” it would’ve increased my chances of being a Division I basketball player. Then maybe I wouldn’t be sitting here writing lousy 5,000 word college basketball articles. Anyway, what was I saying again? Oh yeh, JaJuan Johnson, right).
Let me put it to you like this: Obviously Purdue misses Robbie Hummel, who has missed this entire season with injury. But say Hummel had played, and Johnson had been hurt all year. There’s absolutely no way this team would 24-5. That’s what you need to know.
5) Markieff Morris, Kansas:
4) Marcus Morris, Kansas:
Is this ranking a bit too high? Maybe. At the same time, the Morris twins are key cogs on a team that’s 27-2, almost certainly a No. 1 seed, and the likely Big XII regular season champion. Are there any two big guys in college basketball that you could replace them with who'd make Kansas better? I say not.
While we’re here, a few more things. First off, when the hell did these guys learn to shoot threes? Both are all-of-a-sudden legitimate threats, and with that ability, it stretches the defense, and opens up the paint, leaving whoever is playing in the post (usually the other brother) in a one-on-one situation. In the big scheme of how fluid Kansas’ offense is, you can’t underestimate that. Also, I think you could make the case that they’re the two best passing big men in college basketball.
And oh yeh, did I mention Kansas is 27-2!! See why I have them so high on the list?
3) Jared Sullinger, Ohio State:
If you read Part I of these rankings (and if you haven’t, well shame on you!) you might remember me mentioning that Sullinger has taken a slight step back the last couple weeks. It’s barely noticeable, but it did happen. Call it the Curse of Miley Cyrus if you please.
But still, I can’t put him any lower than No. 3. For one, he’s the best player on the best team in college basketball right now. Which struggling or not, still means a whole lot of something.
More importantly, Sullinger is the missing piece of the championship puzzle in Columbus.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to take away anything from the other Buckeyes. Ohio State would still be a Top 25 team without Sullinger, and probably a Top 15 team as well. But having Sullinger in the paint and commanding double teams, really does make everything easier on the rest of the team. It opens up William Buford and Aaron Craft to take people off the dribble, and allows Jon Diebler an easier time to catch and shoot on three’s.
So while Sullinger might have been No. 1 if I’d done this list a month ago, No. 3 is just fine. He’s the most valuable player, on college basketball’s prohibitive favorite.
2) Nolan Smith, Duke
Anyone who followed Smith this offseason knew that he’d be good. But I don’t think anyone (short of Mama Smith herself) thought he’d be this good. At least I didn’t.
Simply put, with Kyrie Irving going down, Smith has been the rock of this team. He scores when he needs to score, dishes when he needs to dish and is the best defender Duke has. And even as a Duke hater, I can’t help but appreciate that the guy plays his best in their biggest games. You know, like that 34 points he put against North Carolina a few weeks ago.
And ultimately, the bigger question is, if Nolan Smith had disappeared into thin air in October and had never played a game for Duke this season, where would they be? My guess is not a good place.
1) Jimmer Fredette, BYU:
First of all, let’s clear the air: If Saturday’s win over San Diego State proved anything, it’s that Jimmer isn’t doing everything by himself. Jackson Emery, Noah Hartstock and Charles Abuou would play, and contribute on any team in the country. Same with Brandon Davies, even though he’s no longer with the team.
But would BYU be 27-2 without Jimmer? Would they be in the discussion for a No. 1 seed? Would they be all the talk in the sport right now?
The answer is no.
Which is why he was the most valuable player in college basketball. He’s truly irreplaceable.
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