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Top 30 big men: Lighter on his feet, Sullinger rules the paint

by | CBSSports.com College Basketball Blogger
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We've come to our final list of positional rankings for the 2011-12 season. We wrap it up with the big boys today.

(If you've missed any, we've got that handy link box to the left to guide you to all of our rankings. I've loved the correspondence on Twitter, by the way. Keep sending me your love letters and advice; some of these rankings are bound to be brutal by mid-February. I deserve the ribbing, but send along your disapproval to the other guys too. Parrish loves a good Twitter fight.)

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You might think I'm foolish for assembling this kind of list, since the college-has-no-big-men cry has gained traction in the past decade. But taking into account power forwards and true centers, I really didn't have a problem getting to 30. In fact, keeping out a few players, like Yale's Greg Mangano (someone getting NBA looks), was a little tough.

A storyline to follow this season: Five teams have legitimate frontcourts -- or at least they should. UConn, Mississippi State, Kentucky, North Carolina and UCLA all have more than one player on this list. I love that, because having competent big play and getting it from two guys give the game a dynamic it sorely lacks for years at a time. If the aforementioned schools can get serious production from their 4s and 5s, it's going to be a lot of fun to watch.

Guards and wings offer a lot of flash and speed and so many other things, but nothing creates matchup problems on both sides of the floor like one or two 6-9, 245-pound guys that actually know how to play the game. You can't teach size, but if you can learn to wield it the right way, few can stop you.

Here are the game's 30 best power players in the paint.

Top 15 big men
1. Jared Sullinger (So., F, Ohio St.)
It couldn't be anyone else in the top spot. I don't need to wax poetic on Sullinger's game, because you know it well by now. My thing is, can you believe how good he is for a big, when he so clearly plays below the rim? He's like Barkley in a way. I wonder whether the weight loss will change his game. If it does, I'd imagine that's a good thing, even if he's giving up weight in the paint.

2. Perry Jones (So., F, Baylor)
On a national scale, Perry Jones doesn't have that much cache yet. Fans of the game and NBA scouts know all too well just how much potential he has, though. His decision to come back to Baylor, I thought, was among the most shocking in an offseason that saw plenty of lottery picks bypass the draft. (That decision's looking pretty good right about now.) I think Baylor wins the Big 12 and Jones puts up silly-good numbers.

3. Thomas Robinson (Jr., F, Kansas)
We're high on Thomas Robinson because he's as reliable a big man outside of Sullinger as you can ask for. He'll be the Big 12 Player of the Year if Kansas overachieves. Expecting T-Rob to will the Jayhawks to three or four more wins than they probably deserve. Classy guy -- the perfect player for this year's Kansas team.

4. Anthony Davis (Fr., F, Kentucky)
Has the ultimate combination of height, speed, athleticism. Everything. Carries a complete toolbox. I have no idea how Kentucky's frontcourt gets defended against this year, or how people attack it. Unfair that Calipari gets both Davis and Terrence Jones to work with.

5. John Henson (Jr., F, North Carolina)
Henson blocked more than 11 percent of opponents' shots last season, which is particularly impressive when you take into account just how terrified so many teams were to go inside against UNC. They'd much rather shoot long, get back on defense and avoid getting killed in the secondary break. What I'm saying is, when John Henson puts his hand in the air in Chapel Hill, you can see it from Washington, D.C.

6. Terrence Jones (So., F, Kentucky)
Jones had an amazing breakout month last November, then he plateaued a bit, and then he became John Calipari's favorite whipping boy. I'm guessing some newbie frosh will take over the tongue-lashing treatment this year. Jones, a lefty, needs to develop some serious to-the-right moves to become nearly unstoppable at the high-major level.

7. Tyler Zeller (Sr., F, North Carolina)
It's great to look back, think of Zeller as a freshman, then realize what he's become. Awesome ability all over the floor for Roy Williams' team, but Zeller's the kind of piece every coach wants. Big man with great hands, post moves, can run adeptly in a high-powered offense. He's also a tough son of a gun.

8. Trevor Mbakwe (Sr., F, Minnesota)
No one on this list is as undervalued -- except maybe Andrew Nicholson -- as Mbakwe. Part of that is because the Gophers don't get on national TV all that much. Mbakwe grabbed nearly 11 boards per game last year. He's easily the second best big man in the Big Ten.

9. Andre Drummond (Fr., C, Connecticut)
The only reason Drummond isn't higher -- and seeing as how many think he's already the No. 1 pick for the 2012 draft, having him ninth is pretty silly on our part -- is because he's got to prove it. Drummond took plays off at the prep level. He's also a great ball-handler for his size, but I'm thinking Jim Calhoun's going to anchor him seven feet and in. Will he become a supreme force on offense playing back-to-the-basket basketball?

10. Reeves Nelson (Jr., F, UCLA)
Nelson is one of the most reliable guys for field goals in the nation. He plants himself down there and bruises with the best of them. I'm not as high on him as Goodman and Parrish, but we have more egregious rankings in our database than Reeves Nelson as the 10th best big man in the country. The worst thing about his game is the Reeves Sleeve.

11. Draymond Green (Sr., F, Michigan St.)
Probably the most versatile player on our listed. If you wanted to call Green a wing, plenty wouldn't argue with you. Amazing passer and runs the floor deceptively well. I love his game because he feels like a throwback. If every major team had a player like Green, our sport would be tremendous to watch.

12. Patric Young (So., F, Florida)
There he is, there's the beast. The man-child. The reason Florida will be a ranked team all season long. It's going to be really fun to watch Young roll through teams while the Gators' four guards fight over shots. They'll miss a lot, and Young will do the dirty work on the boards. With Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin gone, he owns the paint this year.

13. JaMychal Green (Sr., F, Alabama)
Blocked 8.2 percent of opponents' shots last season. Green is a monster around the iron, and he's also got a formidable post-up game. Guessing his draft stock, which is late first/early second right now, will move up to the teens by the end of the year.

14. Alex Oriakhi (Jr., F, Connecticut)
Very versatile and should have a breakout season, even on a stacked Huskies team. Oriakhi developed a jump shot in the offseason. Wonder if Jim Calhoun will let him use it every now and then. The UConn big man should create the best frontcourt duo in the nation with Drummond flanking him.

15. Josh Smith (So., C, UCLA)
Smith can be a top-five big man if he gets his weight under control and fully realizes his potential. Only Renardo Sidney (ranked below) is more frustrating when it comes to the work-ethic/talent-ceiling dichotomy. By the way, even with all this, he had the second best offensive-rebounding rate (19.2) in the nation last year.

The next 15
16. Tarik Black (So., F, Memphis) 21. Drew Gordon (Sr., F, New Mexico) 26. Mouphtaou Yarou (Jr., C, Villanova)
17. Festus Ezeli (Sr., C, Vanderbilt) 22. Kevin Jones (Sr., F, West Virginia) 27. Javon McCrea (So., F, Buffalo)
18. Andrew Nicholson (Sr., F, St. Bonaventure) 23. Doug McDermott (So., F, Creighton) 28. Arnett Moultrie (Jr., F, Mississippi St.)
19. Keith Wright (Sr., F, Harvard) 24. Brandon Davies (Jr., F, Brigham Young) 29. Renardo Sidney (Jr., F, Mississippi St.)
20. Michael Glover (Sr., F, Iona) 25. Robert Sacre (Sr., C, Gonzaga) 30. Yancy Gates (Sr., F, Cincinnati)
2011-12 Season Preview
DateFeatureDateFeature
Oct. 13Preseason Top 25 (and one) Nov. 1Top freshmen
 Projected NCAA tournament field Nov. 2Top transfers
 Goodman and Parrish bracket picks Nov. 3Under the radar players
Oct. 14Team profiles: 'Cuse | UConn | UK | UNC Nov. 4Breakout players
Oct. 17Preseason All-Americans Nov. 5Best shooters
Oct. 18Top 100 players Nov. 6Best defensive players
Oct. 19Positional rankings: Point guards Nov. 768 things ...
Oct. 20Positional rankings: Wing men Nov. 8Ranking the preseason tourneys
Oct. 21Positional rankings: Big men Nov. 950 can't miss games
   Nov. 10Coaches on the Hot Seat
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