About a week ago, I decided to name my top 100 players in Division I for 2012. I started off using the rudimentary projection system I outlined last week to get a handle on how good the incoming freshmen should be. Then I asked Dave Telep of ESPN.com to name the two "most college-ready" and "least college-ready" of every group of ten players in his Top 100. That got me started, but I wanted more inputs.
I also made it a point to wander around NBA Camp, asking the people there whether they'd pick Harrison Barnes or Jared Sullinger for just the 2012 season. I made a gigantic bracket including every player who's planning on playing D-I basketball this season that either won their conference player of the year award at a low-major, made a mid-major all-conference team, or started at a high-major in 2010 or 2011, plus a bunch of freshmen and Thomas Robinson types. Then I filled out the bracket, researching the guys I didn't know that well. Once there was a winner, I moved him out of the bracket and re-did the whole thing without him to get No. 2. I got to about 65 before I realized that I was putting nearly identical guys 10 or 12 spaces apart, so I tried to make a formula that fit what I was thinking (with points for making an All-Defense team, etc.), only it kept not working.
So today I have this list. And I spent way too much time putting it together. Even so, if you asked me why the No. 85 guy is above the No. 86 guy, I probably don't know for sure anymore. But it became clear to me that just talking about the Javon McCreas of the world was all I really wanted to do in the first place, regardless of whether anyone will do anything but skim my rankings.
Be that as it may, I like these rankings. I feel comfortable with them, even though a well-placed comment about Gilvydas Biruta would probably change where I think he should be, at least after the top five. I feel pretty good about my top five.
First, here are some guys who I think may completely explode, even though they didn't make my top 100: Damier Pitts (Marshall), Aaron Craft (Ohio State), Andre Roberson (Colorado), B.J. Young (Arkansas), Ryan Kelly (Duke), Allen Crabbe (California), Michael Glover (Iona), Bruce Ellington (South Carolina), Ken Horton (Central Connecticut State), Truck Bryant (West Virginia), Mouphtaou Yarou (Villanova), Keith Wright (Harvard), Kent Bazemore (Old Dominion), Chris Fouch (Drexel), Elias Harris (Gonzaga), Richard Howell (NC State), Bradford Burgess (VCU), Reggie Bullock (North Carolina), Abdul Gaddy (Washington), K.T. Harrell (Virginia), Josiah Turner (Arizona), Jayvaughn Pinkston (Villanova), Patric Young (Florida), Vander Blue (Marquette), and Adonis Thomas (Memphis).
So much for honorable mention. Let the countdown begin!
100. Pierre Jackson, Baylor (Jr., PG)
A 5-10 transfer from Southern Idaho Community College who led his squad to a JC national title in 2010, Jackson's listed No. 1 among incoming juco transfers by Brad Winton of JucoRecruiting.com, who compares him to Devan Downey. I really have no feel for how good Jackson will be -- this is, as much as anything, a reminder to myself to pay attention to incoming juco transfers, this year and in the future. Regardless, if this isn't the place to put Jackson, it shouldn't be wildly wrong.
99. Scoop Jardine, Syracuse (Jr., PG)
There are a lot of people who think Scoop has an overconfidence problem. Regardless of the validity of that assertion, Jardine is one of the better passers in the country and is a reasonably efficient scorer, even when taking on a heavy load in the Orange offense.
98. Robert Sacre, Gonzaga (Sr., C)
The Zags' seven-footer gets to the line at will and shoots over 80 percent there. Barring injury he'll finish his career in 2012 as the Bulldogs' all-time career blocks leader. There's a good argument for him to rank a little higher (some iterations of this list had him way too high -- like in the 50s high), but I keep looking at Gonzaga's 2011 schedule and cringing at the number of sub-200 Kenpom rankings.
97. James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina (Fr., PF)
McAdoo's ranked No. 5 overall by Telep. He'd rank higher than 97 on my list if I weren't afraid he'll get crowded out of the UNC frontcourt by Tyler Zeller and John Henson. The freshman could see his minutes stay awfully low even though he was named co-MVP of the McDonald's All-American game.
96. Will Barton, Memphis (So., SG)
Barton was a highly-rated incoming freshman who put together a strong season with one glaring weakness: He shot 147 threes at a 27 percent clip. Get that in check and he's higher on this list without improving at all.
95. Hollis Thompson, Georgetown (Jr., SF)
A year ago Thompson was a superefficient role player for the Hoyas, shooting 58 percent on twos and 46 percent on threes while using 16 percent of the team's possessions. The next step is to either expand his role or start drawing more contact.
94. Alex Oriakhi, Connecticut (Jr., PF)
The only serious inside threat for the 2011 national champions, Oriakhi shot 51 percent on his twos while accounting for 18 percent of UConn's possessions. He should be a serious inside threat again, on both ends.
93. Travis McKie, Wake Forest (So., SF)
One of the more entertaining human beings in college basketball, McKie was the main bright spot on an extremely young Wake Forest team in 2011. He's solid across the board, though he could do with improving his three-point shooting.
92. Jordan Morgan, Michigan (So., C)
Morgan led all major-conference freshmen in effective FG percentage, making 63 percent of his twos. He shows promise as a rebounder and a defender as well.
91. Jean-Paul Olukemi, Oklahoma State (Jr., PF)
Olukemi was a high-possession interior scorer in 2011. His field goal percentages were nothing special, but his free throw rate was excellent and he hit 76 percent from the line.
90. Damian Lillard, Weber State (Jr., PG)
Lillard was redshirted after mid-December foot surgery. The deserving 2010 Big Sky Player of the Year put up a scorching 112 offensive rating on 33 percent possession-usage in a nine-game tear before his injury.
89. Reggie Johnson, Miami (Jr., C)
Permit me a word or two on Reggie Johnson.
I love Reggie Johnson. John Gasaway loves Reggie Johnson. But somehow Johnson was left off even the All-ACC third team. Apparently there's just something about big, lumbering slow guys that keeps people from recognizing how good they are.
Johnson's ranked this low on my own list only because I'm convinced I must be missing something -- statistically there isn't a huge gap between Johnson's 2011 and Robbie Hummel's 2010. My dad once said something to me about Brian Zoubek that I think applies to Johnson. When a human as large as Zoubek or Johnson gets a rebound, normal-sized people chalk it up to the fact that these players are enormous. Another possibility is that some enormous players also happen to be very good at basketball. Reggie Johnson is an animal, and it shouldn't matter how or why he's successful. He takes up so much space in the middle that it changes opposing offenses. His rebounding is fantastic. His footwork is underrated; he finishes in traffic; he gets to the line. There aren't 10 basketball players in the country I'm positive are better than he is, at this level, healthy. Without the torn meniscus, Johnson was in the 30s on this list, and I felt like that was low. This ranking puts him at a mid-December return -- and, honestly, I can't think of any player whose game depends less on quick knee-intensive movements.
88. Aaron Fuller, USC (Jr., SF)
Likely the best player on Todd Lickliter's final Iowa team, Fuller transferred to Southern Cal and is eligible this year. He stands just 6-6, but he's a great offensive rebounder and shot 52 percent on his twos.
87. Tony Wroten, Washington (Fr., PG)
Wroten was ranked a relatively ho-hum No. 16 by Telep, but it wasn't for a lack of talent. His vision is incredible, but he tries too often for the dazzling and projects for a high turnover rate. Both strong and quick, Wroten's an effective slasher but his jumper needs work. He could easily be much higher on this list -- or far from it a year from now.
86. Chase Stanback, UNLV (Sr., PF)
I've put Stanback in a lot of different places on this list over the last few days, but I settled on 86. UNLV's schedule last year was tougher than what quite a few major-conference teams played, and Stanback still put together an effective season in nearly every way. (Not to mention two years ago he made Mountain West All-Defense as a sophomore.) Stanback is a jack-of-all-trades and a good one, but not a true impact player. You can win a title with Stanback as your third-best player, and be awfully good with him as your second-best. If he's your best player, though, it may be an uphill battle.
85. David Loubeau, Texas A&M (Sr., PF)
Looks like this part of the list is loaded with experienced, workmanlike big men who get their 14-7 night in and night out. Loubeau fits right in.
84. Deonte Burton, Nevada (So., PG)
The WAC All-Newcomer team included four juniors and a freshman, and Burton was Newcomer of the Year -- he's miles ahead of the other sophomores in the conference. Good passer, low turnovers, and reasonable shooting percentages at 24 percent possession-usage. Gets to the line like few his size. Great athlete.
83. Khalif Wyatt, Temple (Jr., SG)
Wyatt didn't even start for the Owls last year, but he demonstrably outplayed everyone who did, with the exceptions of Ramone Moore and possibly Lavoy Allen. He shot percentages of 51/42/76 with a lot of shots from each area, rarely turned the ball over, and ranked in the top 50 nationally in steal percentage. Honestly, I don't understand how he stayed on the bench. I'd take him over Moore for sure this year.
82. Mike Muscala, Bucknell (Jr., C)
If I told you Bucknell has a stud big man, you would picture Mike Muscala exactly. He's probably a little bit better than that hypothetical center all-around, and he has a better jump shot, but the changes are minor. He won the Patriot League Player of the Year award in 2011, and he's better than the POYs from most conferences on the level of the Patriot.
81. Chane Behanan, Louisville Fr., PF)
Behanan's usually listed at 6-7, but that's probably generous. There's just an unspoken understanding that a high-major big man must be at least that tall. And Behanan is certainly a high-major big man. At No. 27, Dave Telep has Behanan ranked lower than any other freshman I talk about, but the Louisville forward is absolutely college-ready. I'm testing my recently-published Tier Projection theory under this logic: Big men underperform as freshmen not because they are big men, but because they are ranked highly despite a lack of polish. I picture it like this: If 40 percent of Americans are over six feet tall, 0.25 percent are over 6-6, and one percent are polished basketball players, we're going to end up with a much higher number of polished guards than big men. But the most valuable of those big men will still be just as valuable as the most valuable guards, so they end up being ranked accordingly. All of which is to say that Chane Behanan was ranked No. 27 because he is really about 6-5 or 6-6 and not because he can't score in the post in the Big East tomorrow. Or so I claim with this ranking of him.
80. Shabazz Napier, Connecticut (So., PG)
Last year I would have told you that Napier was the fourth-most important member of UConn's title team, and that it was a distant fourth. Now I think I was underestimating his ability to force turnovers (No. 34 nationally in steal percentage) and overestimating his own turnover problems. That plus a youth boost pushes him over Oriakhi here.
79. Terrence Ross, Washington (So., SF)
Highly rated out of high school, Ross was outstanding in one area that can be difficult for scouts to catch: He rarely turned the ball over. There are prospects every year who are clearly terrible decision-makers, and they're noted. In a category like turnovers, though, where you can only demonstrate success by more and more possessions without failure, it's extremely difficult to separate yourself from the gaggle of five thousand players scouts see. Ross's 55 percent two-point shooting and respectable long-range performance are why he was rated highly. The added bonus of an 11 percent turnover rate is why he cracks my top 100 for 2012, even though he didn't have a starting job in 2011.
78. Keith Clanton, Central Florida (Jr., C)
Teammate Marcus Jordan got more ink than Clanton, but the latter was the former's equal on the offensive end and his superior on defense, blocking six percent of opponents' shots and pulling in 19 percent of available defensive rebounds.
77. Mike Scott, Virginia (Sr., PF)
Scott was very good as a junior in 2010, but before his early January ankle injury in 2011, he was truly outstanding. If he's that player, he'll rank higher on this list by season's end. If he's still the guy from 2010, he'll rank lower.
76. Trey Zeigler, Central Michigan (So., SG)
Zeigler shouldered easily the heaviest load of any freshman (32 percent of the Chippewas' possessions), but he only shot percentages of 41/33/57. There's every chance he cuts down his usage a bit, improves a bit, and truly dominates MAC competition that won't have an answer for him athletically. But an offensive rating of 87 isn't helping your team, no matter what team that is. Zeigler's got talent on offense and was a disruptive defender last year. My expectations are high.
75. Quincy Miller, Baylor (Fr., PF)
Miller would probably rank higher on this list if he hadn't missed the majority of his senior season with a torn ACL. He's got all the talent in the world, and it's certainly possible he'll break into a loaded Bears frontcourt despite the presence of Perry Jones, Quincy Acy, Anthony Jones, and J'mison Morgan.
74. Dion Waiters, Syracuse (So., SG)
Per possession, Waiters' season was almost identical to teammate Brandon Triche's, but Waiters is a year younger and forced a bunch of extra turnovers on the defensive end. I wouldn't be remotely surprised to look back at the end of 2012 and see Waiters as the Orange's best player.
73. Harper Kamp, California (Sr., C)
Kamp was a strong enough all-around player a year ago to make second-team All-Pac-10. There's every reason to believe he can do it again in the Pac-12.
72. Michael Dixon, Missouri (Jr., PG)
Dixon's a steady point guard, a lockdown defender, and an excellent free throw shooter. He could do with settling for easier shots to improve that 41 percent two-point shooting, even if it cut down on his trips to the free throw line a bit. Dixon's the first of three guys in the high 60s and low 70s whose potential I openly doubted in high school. Shows what I know.
71. Casper Ware, Long Beach State (Sr., PG)
Ware lost out (rightfully) to Orlando Johnson for Big West Player of the Year last year, but won it (rightfully) back in 2010. Among low-major conferences only the Summit League boasts two better players. Ware's a great slasher, a very good shooter, and a smart passer. Plenty of high-major programs are doing worse in the point guard department.
Drew Cannon is a college student and a regular contributor to Basketball Prospectus. Follow him on Twitter at @DrewCannon1.
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