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July 18, 2011
D-I's Top 100 Players
21 to 35

by Drew Cannon

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Drew is counting down his top 100 players for 2012. Previously: 71 to 100, 51 to 70, and 36 to 50.

We're getting to the meat of the list now. There are only one or two names left that a reasonably obsessive college basketball fan might not know.

Top-100 players
6: North Carolina
5: Kentucky
3: Baylor, Connecticut, Florida, Miami, Missouri, Ohio State, Syracuse, Vanderbilt
2: Alabama, California, Marquette, Memphis, Michigan, Texas A&M, UCLA, Washington

Top 50
4: Kentucky
3: Florida, North Carolina, Ohio State, Vanderbilt
2: Alabama, UCLA

Top 25
3: North Carolina, Vanderbilt
2: Alabama, Kentucky, Ohio State

Only Vanderbilt has two top-10 players, but North Carolina has two in the top 11.

35. Orlando Johnson, UC Santa Barbara (Sr., SG)
Johnson is my highest-ranked player from a low-major league, and he may be even better than No. 35. He used fully 32 percent of UCSB's possessions and still shot percentages of 51/41/80. Johnson doesn't turn the ball over, was one of the better rebounders on the team, and got to the line regularly. It may be in his power to single-handedly take the Gauchos to the NCAA tournament.

34. John Shurna, Northwestern (Sr., SF)
Shurna is a really, really good offensive player. He used 24 percent of the Wildcats' 2011 possessions and shot percentages of 52/43/71. Turnovers were rare, he was the second-best defensive rebounder on the team, and he picked up a few blocks and steals. But Northwestern got abused by opponents inside the three-point line, and Shurna was the de-facto defensive 4 for much of that abuse. He has quick hands and is a smart zone defender, but he isn't built to handle guys like Minnesota senior Trevor Mbakwe or ex-Illinois forward Mike Davis man-to-man. It feels a bit unfair to blast Shurna's defense when, essentially, he's being asked to play out of position. That being said, to take the next step Northwestern basketball will have to address interior defense, because change is necessary. Now, speaking of Mbakwe....

33. Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota (Sr., PF)
Mbakwe's a beast of a rebounder who gets to the line constantly and shoots 58 percent on his twos. Blocks a shot now and then, too. Ranks here for a reason.

32. Brad Beal, Florida (Fr., SG)
There's a chance Beal ends up being the fourth guard on the Gators this year (behind Walker, Kenny Boynton, and Mike Rosario), but I think that the most likely situation involves three guards starting and Beal being one of the three. He can really shoot. My biggest fear with Beal is that he doesn't assert himself fast enough and Boynton, Walker, and Rosario just never pass him the ball.

31. Christian Watford, Indiana (Jr., PF)
No one that I've talked to seems all that excited about Watford's 2011, but as a sophomore he took on 28 percent of the offensive load for a major-conference team and was efficient about it. Watford kept turnovers to a minimum, made it clear that he was to be guarded on the perimeter, and hit 84 percent of his frequent free throws. If he could shore up that 44 percent two-point shooting, he'd be in good shape. And if Watford's really as strong a shooter as that free throw success implies, he could change the three-pointer from a tool to a weapon. Take care of both ifs and he would jump quite a few names on this list.

30. Javon McCrea, Buffalo (So., PF)
What, you don't know all the reserves for 8-8 MAC teams? As a freshman McCrea put up a 111 offensive rating while using 29 percent of possessions. (Though it's obviously apples and oranges, Jared Sullinger's equivalent numbers here were 120 and 27.) He was fifth nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, top-500 in assist rate, top-50 in block rate, top-100 in steal rate, and he made 63 percent of his two-point attempts. McCrea's no shooter (no threes attempted and 51 percent accuracy from the line, although he gets there regularly), and his turnover rate is average. Still, pay attention to Buffalo this year. Really. Especially if they realize McCrea should be starting.

29. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky (Fr., SF)
In the summer of 2009 Kyrie Irving, Jared Sullinger, Harrison Barnes, Brandon Knight, Tristan Thompson, Terrence Jones, Perry Jones, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were all at NBA Camp for four days. And, with a deafening lack of argument, the Most Promising Prospect Award went to Kidd-Gilchrist. His combination of terrifying athleticism and unwavering competitiveness is exceedingly rare. Both tools are elite, separately. Kidd-Gilchrist's scoring comes in the flow of the offense, though his long-range jumper leaves something to be desired. Money quote from Kidd-Gilchrist's ESPNU profile: "[Kidd-]Gilchrist takes defending and rebounding personally and wants to be the dominant player on the floor in all areas." A No. 29 ranking on this list pegs him as a second-team all-conference guy in an SEC that will be loaded at the top in 2012. Jumping to the first team or falling to honorable mention would be unsurprising. I would be surprised if he was better or worse than that range, though.

28. Marcus Denmon, Missouri (Sr., SG)
Denmon had a lot in common with Ashton Gibbs last year. Both were big-time shooters (though Gibbs was better), both never turned the ball over (though Denmon had the lowest turnover rate in the country), and both were extremely efficient scorers who took an average load of the offense (while most of the players in this section of the list are instead reasonably efficient while using a lot of possessions). The biggest differences were Pitt's far greater success against a much better schedule and Denmon's higher efficiency inside the arc -- and there's an argument to be made that Denmon's clearly a better defender as well. I'm not saying Denmon's the better player (obviously, since I've ranked him lower than Gibbs). But I do think that if you swap Gibbs and Denmon before last season, Denmon's the one with hype coming into 2012.

27. Kyle Weems, Missouri State (Sr., SF)
Weems is just a really good across-the-board player. He shot 53/40/79 with plenty of attempts in all three areas, put up some impressive defensive rebounding numbers, kept turnovers to a minimum, and was disruptive on defense (even if there's room for improvement on that end). Weems is the only returning starter for the Bears and his role will be forcibly expanded. We'll see if he can continue to be such a complete player when he doesn't have someone to take the spotlight off him.

26. Kenny Boynton, Florida (Jr., SG)
Erving Walker was a smidge better than Boynton a year ago, and this ranking is all about Boynton having an extra year to fulfill his potential and a higher ceiling to reach toward. Mostly Boynton will need to adjust to a suddenly overcrowded backcourt after a season where he and Walker were regularly accused of shot-jacking. That adjustment will have to include either shooting fewer or making more threes, because teams with a guard hitting 33 percent of 242 treys have some hoops to jump through to make the a deep run in the NCAA tournament, even if it worked out just fine for Florida a year ago.

25. Jorge Gutierrez, California (Sr., PG)
Harper Kamp is more of a scorer for the Bears, and Brandon Smith is the real point guard, but Gutierrez is likely their best offensive player. Most of his scoring value comes from his ability to get to the line and shoot 80 percent there. He's a good passer, and his high usage rate excuses his shaky shooting to some degree, but his defense is what separates him from his teammates. Gutierrez was deservedly Pac-10 All-Defense last year and is in the early running for the inaugural Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.

24. Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State (So., SF)
The nation's highest-rated 2011 reserve, there may not be five returning players who had better per-possession offensive seasons than Thomas. Defensively he started the season entirely uninterested and ended it sort of uninterested. But he can flat out score.

23. Jared Cunningham, Oregon State (Jr., SG)
Cunningham does just about everything passably well, and two things really well. He was fifth in the country in steal percentage (backed up by a Pac-10 All-Defense nod), and he was No. 20 in free throw rate, while making 78 percent from the line. Cunningham was only a sophomore, and a high-major sophomore who is half-decent across the board probably cracks this list even without the steals and free throws. Basically he has two elite skills, a lot of space for improvement, and no glaring weaknesses. I expect him to be the best Oregon State player in years.

22. Tony Mitchell, Alabama (Jr., PF)
I've heard less hype about Alabama's two stars (Mitchell and a teammate to come who will most certainly be described by others as "ranked way too high") than any other major-conference players in this top 22. But Mitchell shot 58 percent on his frequent twos and was a solid rebounder and defender. Expect a jump in stature with an improved team.

21. Anthony Davis, Kentucky (Fr., PF)
Obviously I don't wildly disagree with Gary Parrish's preseason All-American teams: I have seven of his ten players in my own top ten, and Davis carries the lowest ranking of any of the three Parrish players that I omitted. I do think, though, that people are beginning to give too much credit to impact freshmen before they step on campus. Of the top-5 talents from the recruiting classes of 2006 through 2010, college basketball reaped seven All-Americans (Jared Sullinger, DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, and Kevin Love), six all-conference selections (Tyreke Evans, Harrison Barnes, Derrick Rose, Eric Gordon, O.J. Mayo, and Brandan Wright), seven high-major starters (Avery Bradley, Jrue Holiday, Samardo Samuels, Derrick Favors, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Hawes, Ty Lawson), three high-major nonstarters (Byron/B.J. Mullens, Josh Selby, John Henson), and two guys who never played in the NCAA (Brandon Jennings and Enes Kanter). That's a high bar. More than half of those 25 guys were all-conference. But I see way too much potential in the Derrick Favors route to put Davis much higher than 21. Don't get me wrong, Davis is a serious talent with tons of upside. I think he's ready to play and contribute in the SEC right now. Davis was a guard less than two years ago, and he still has legitimate guard skills. He's a scary defender. It's just that I've seen him on teams with less talent than the 2012 Kentucky Wildcats will have, and on those teams he's been forgotten on offense for long stretches. If Davis demands the ball and takes a measure of control of this UK team, he'll have a tough time staying off the All-America list at the end of the year. But there's a very real chance that he doesn't, even though he could easily find himself an integral member of an NBA rotation in 18 months. My expectations for Davis are high, it's just that everyone else's have gotten really, really high. Of the last five No. 1-ranked entering freshmen, just one became a freshman All-American: Greg Oden.

Drew Cannon is a college student and a regular contributor to Basketball Prospectus. Follow him on Twitter at @DrewCannon1.

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Drew Cannon is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Drew by clicking here or click here to see Drew's other articles.

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