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July 25, 2011
D-I's Top 100 Players
1 to 10

by Drew Cannon

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Drew is counting down his top 100 players for 2012. Previously: 71 to 100, 51 to 70, 36 to 50, 21 to 35, and 11 to 20.

Before I reveal my top 10 players, I want to hand out my personal all-conference honors.

Preseason All-Conference Teams (alphabetical and entirely non-positional)
Do I really expect six (!) North Carolina players will be named various levels of All-ACC? Or that all four Florida guards will be named some kind of All-SEC? Well, no. But I do think those guys individually are more likely to make those all-conference teams than the next-best candidates.

ACC
First team: Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Reggie Johnson, Austin Rivers, Tyler Zeller
Second: Malcolm Grant, P.J. Hairston, C.J. Leslie, Durand Scott, Terrell Stoglin
Third: Kendall Marshall, James Michael McAdoo, Travis McKie, Mike Scott, J.T. Terrell

So, yeah, that's three Miami basketball players on the first two All-ACC teams. I left Johnson on the first team on the assumption that he'll be 100 percent for the start of the conference season. And as for that third team, from my chair there appears to be an unusually large drop off between the No. 14 player in the ACC and No. 15.

Big 12
First team: Laurence Bowers, Marcus Denmon, Perry Jones, Khris Middleton, Thomas Robinson
Second: J'Covan Brown, Michael Dixon, David Loubeau, Quincy Miller, J.P. Olukemi
Third: Pierre Jackson, Myck Kabongo, Rodney McGruder, LeBryan Nash, Ricardo Ratliffe

Big East
First team: Ashton Gibbs, Darius Johnson-Odom, Jeremy Lamb, Cleveland Melvin, Maalik Wayns
Second: Gilvydas Biruta, Jae Crowder, Kris Joseph, Sean Kilpatrick, Dion Waiters
Third: Chane Behanan, Scoop Jardine, Shabazz Napier, Alex Oriakhi, Hollis Thompson

Big Ten
First team: Draymond Green, Robbie Hummel, Jared Sullinger, Jordan Taylor, Deshaun Thomas
Second: William Buford, Tim Hardaway, Trevor Mbakwe, John Shurna, Christian Watford
Third: Melsahn Basabe, Aaron Craft, Jordan Morgan, Brandon Paul, Brandon Wood

Pac-12
First team: Jared Cunningham, Aaron Fuller, Jorge Gutierrez, Harper Kamp, Trent Lockett, Reeves Nelson, Terrence Ross, Joshua Smith, Josiah Turner, Tony Wroten
Second: Allen Crabbe, Nick Johnson, Josh Owens, Dwight Powell, Andre Roberson

Yes, I know the ten-player first team and five-player second team is dumb. Tell it to the Pac-12.

SEC
First team: Kenny Boynton, Anthony Davis, Festus Ezeli, JaMychal Green, John Jenkins, Terrence Jones, Tony Mitchell, Jeffery Taylor
Second: Brad Beal, Dee Bost, Bruce Ellington, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Doron Lamb, Trevor Releford, Mike Rosario, Marquis Teague, Erving Walker

What's almost as dumb as the Pac-12's ten-player first team and five-player second team? Eight-player first and second teams, courtesy of the SEC. To both leagues I say: Is there some gigantic problem with three five-player teams that I'm just not seeing?

Preseason Mid-Major POYs
A-10: Tu Holloway
Colonial: Kent Bazemore
C-USA: Arsalan Kazemi
Horizon: Ray McCallum
Missouri Valley: Kyle Weems
Mountain West: Drew Gordon
West Coast: Kevin Foster
WAC: Deonte Burton

10. Khris Middleton, Texas A&M (Jr., SF)
Khris Middleton is a complete player. He can shoot, he can pass, he gets to the free throw line, he scores inside, he rebounds, and he works on defense. Middleton is also really young for his class. I have him as my Big 12 Player of the Year, and if his supporting cast can be solid the Aggies will contend with Missouri and Baylor for the conference title. (Sorry, I just don't see it with Kansas right now. Maybe Bill Self has earned the assumption of excellence, but right now here's his projected starting lineup: Thomas Robinson (awesome), Tyshawn Taylor (solid), Jeff Withey, Travis Releford, and Elijah Johnson. Those last three were efficient in very limited time in 2011. If everything works out as planned, Self has a superstar and six role players, adding in freshmen Ben McLemore and Naadir Tharpe. If everything works out as planned. No one has yet proven they're prepared for their roles.)

9. Festus Ezeli, Vanderbilt (Sr., C)
John Gasaway has named Ezeli one the the nation's five most underrated players, and I agree. (I also co-sign John's choice of Arsalan Kazemi. My other three would be JaMychal Green, Nate Wolters, and, my crown jewel, Javon McCrea. Overrated? Every freshman above 25 on my Top 100 list.) Last year Ezeli shot 59 percent from the field and 65 percent from the line while rating near the top of the leaderboards in free throw rate. His block rate was an excellent 11 percent and his offensive rebounding was outstanding. The Commodores' biggest problem in 2011 was protecting the rim, and that was because Ezeli was doing most of the work there alone. Lance Goulbourne is a great defensive rebounder, but he can be overpowered. Ezeli's no John Henson on defense (even though his block percentage is nearly as high), but he's well ahead of Henson on the offensive end.

8. Austin Rivers, Duke (Fr., SG)
Rivers hits all four points on the Drew Cannon-approved Superstar Freshman Checklist. He's ranked near the top of every list, it's unanimously agreed that he's college ready, he's a guard, and he is the featured scorer on his team until further notice. In my admittedly few years, I've never heard an incoming recruit so consistently and effervescently described as a pure scorer. And that's something Duke very much needs for 2012 -- you may have noticed Rivers is the only Blue Devil on this list. If these rankings went to 150 or 200, four more probably would have slipped in: Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly, Andre Dawkins, and Seth Curry. Maybe Mike Gbinije would have found a spot near the end somewhere. But as it is I have three questions about Duke. Who's their second best player? Who's their best perimeter defender? And who's the point guard? The answers I'm getting right now (Mason Plumlee, Tyler Thornton, Tyler Thornton) are not the answers of a team that will make a national impact. Don't get me wrong, there probably isn't a team in the country with 12 players as good as Duke's. That's important, because it means the chances are fair that someone will step up and definitively answer my three questions. (For that matter, it may well be Mason Plumlee, Thornton, and Thornton that do so.) Still, it does need to be understood that these are not the Blue Devils of the past two years. I've seen them ranked No. 6 pretty consistently (behind North Carolina, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Syracuse, and Ohio State), and that's probably too high, for now.

7. John Jenkins, Vanderbilt (Jr., SG)
Jenkins really is a fantastic shooter. He's a lot like Ashton Gibbs, minus a year and plus a slasher game. With Jenkins, Ezeli, and Jeffery Taylor, Vanderbilt has a trio of weapons that only North Carolina can match. The Commodores were already a very good offensive team last year, and this year they return all five starters (Jenkins, Taylor, Ezeli, Brad Tinsley, and Lance Goulbourne) while adding highly-touted freshman guards Dai-Jon Parker and Kedren Johnson. The key for Vanderbilt to jump from "very good" to "as good as anyone but North Carolina and Kentucky" will be defense. Last year the trouble lay in forcing turnovers and protecting the rim. With a rotation this good it's tough to endorse any personnel changes, but those two defensive issues are serious ones. Vanderbilt hasn't been to the Elite Eight since 1965. If they want to return adjustments will have to be made.

6. JaMychal Green, Alabama (Sr., PF)
If you haven't already stormed off angrily because I ranked Kendall Marshall 40 spots below a MAC reserve or because I left Elias Harris off the list entirely, maybe me putting JaMychal Green this high will do the trick. But hear me out. Green was a force last year. No returning high-major player used more of his team's possessions than he did, but he still shot 51 percent on twos and made 74 percent of his nearly 200 free throws. Green ranks in the top ten returning SEC players (tempo-free) in blocks, steals, and offensive and defensive rebounding. His worst characteristic is either a turnover rate that's only slightly better than the national average or a tendency to end up in foul trouble. So I say: don't be fooled by the lack of fanfare. Green was a dominant big man in 2011.

5. Tu Holloway, Xavier (Sr., PG)
Holloway won Atlantic 10 Player of the Year honors, and easily. He was also the only non-senior named to the A-10 All-Defense squad. Purely in terms of the strength of his 2010-11 season, it's tough to argue that any returning player in the nation outside of Jared Sullinger and Jordan Taylor outplayed Holloway. And, though he's my preseason Mid-Major Player of the Year, don't let the "mid-major" tag color your view of his performance last year. Xavier's schedule was as tough as what Alabama, Kansas, Texas A&M, or UCLA played. Holloway's a fantastic distributor whose greatest scoring strength is getting to the free throw line, where he shoots 87 percent. If he's going to be a first team All-American, however, he does need to progress because Barnes and Terrence Jones certainly will and the All-America hype train will be driven by the freshmen with the fastest starts. Holloway's open-court scoring isn't quite where I'd like it to be in a top-five talent, but all things considered 'he's only a very good scorer" and "he has to actually improve" are pretty weak complaints.

4. Terrence Jones, Kentucky (So., PF)
Jones's decision to return for his sophomore year surprised me more than any other player's. The lefty made first team All-SEC, was high on every draft board, and spent his freshman year under John Calipari. It seemed like a given he'd be playing NBA ball this November (or at least waiting for the lockout to end). But fresh off co-leading a young team to the Final Four, he's still at UK. Jones is a very good rebounder who can get to the line and rarely turns the ball over. His shooting percentages last year were just 47/33/65; if he lives up to this billing it'll be because those numbers improve. He projects to have significantly scarier frontcourt mates in 2012, where the departed Josh Harrellson and DeAndre Liggins will be replaced with top-3-ranked freshmen Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis. Defenses won't be able to key in on Jones like they could last year. With a little more help and slightly smarter shot selection, he should be SEC Player of the Year.

3. Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin (Sr., PG)
Taylor led Division I in assist-to-turnover ratio in 2011, placing second nationally in turnover rate and finishing comfortably in the top 100 in assist rate. He shot 43 percent on 175 three-pointers and 83 percent on 185 free throws -- and of course that's an even heavier offensive load than it sounds due to Wisconsin's glacial pace. He made noticeable contributions on the defensive boards and received an All-Defense nod from the Big Ten. The one question mark with Taylor's game is shooting inside the arc, where he has some issues finishing and doesn't shoot quite well enough from mid-range (despite taking a lot of mid-range jumpers). Really, though, the argument for Taylor comes down to this: Last year, he had a higher offensive rating than Jared Sullinger while using more possessions. And he made the All-Defense team while Sullinger didn't. It's tough to come up with a reason to rank him below number three.

2. Harrison Barnes, North Carolina (So., SF)
If I went with my gut I'd probably put Barnes at the top of this list. Luke Winn has a couple of graphs that explain the Barnes-over-Sullinger argument faster than I can. Based on offensive rating and possession percentage, Barnes rates with Jeffery Taylor, Jared Cunningham, Draymond Green, and Darius Johnson-Odom. There were times last season when Barnes looked timid, mechanical, and frustrated. Ranking him here is an acknowledgement that those times existed, but the overwhelming majority of his adjustment period was mental rather than physical. And since he was mentally fine at the end of 2011, the improvement was entirely real. Jeremy Lamb's late-season surge, by contrast, felt like a young player just starting to click on all cylinders. I wouldn't think it unreasonable to claim that Lamb just got hot at the time everyone's eyes were on him. If Lamb is no better than a second-team all-conference performer, I'd understand. If Barnes is no better than that, I'll be floored.

1. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State (So., C)
Since 2000, five freshmen have been named first team All-Americans. In their would-be sophomore seasons, Kevin Love, Michael Beasley, Kevin Durant, and John Wall were all in the NBA. In his first season as a pro Love finished in the top 10 in the league in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. Beasley and Wall made first team All-Rookie. Durant was Rookie of the Year. In other words all of them were successful right away in the NBA. And Sullinger is still here. That's why I ultimately couldn't talk myself into putting him anywhere but No. 1.

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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Can He Bounce Back? (07/26)

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