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October 21, 2006

Season offers perfect storm for college centers

Preseason Top 25
Preseason PF rankings
The College Basketball Wire

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Great centers don't last very long in the college game.

The lure of the NBA is the most overpowering post move of all. When you consider the ridiculous sums of money that soon will be thrown at the players atop this list, you can't blame them for trading in morning classes and bus trips for first-class air travel and bling-bling.

Actually, college basketball is lucky to have the first four guys on this list. Numbers 1-3 easily could have entered April's NBA Draft and been high first-round picks. Freshmen Greg Oden and Spencer Hawes would have been high picks, too, had they been allowed to enter the draft.

For this year, and maybe for this year only, it's the Year of the Big Man in college basketball. It's the perfect storm, a convergence of great players staying in school and impact high schoolers entering the ranks.

Ohio State has North Carolina and Florida on its schedule this season. The Tar Heels feature top-ranked center Tyler Hansbrough. Florida is led by second-ranked Joakim Noah. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, Oden probably will miss both games. He is recovering from wrist surgery and isn't likely to play January.

Noah and LSU's Glen "Big Baby" Davis will clash Feb. 24 in Baton Rouge, La.

Here is the list of Rivals.com's top 20 centers for the 2006-07 season:

Rivals.com 2006-07 Preseason Top Centers
1. Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina, So., 6-9, 245
The Rivals.com National Freshman of the Year burst on the scene and was dominant from the start. He averaged 18.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. He led the ACC in offensive rebounding. He added 38 steals, played solid defense and carried the Tar Heels on his back. Hansbrough had a 40-point outburst in a home win over Georgia Tech, and he scored in double figures in all but one of UNC's games.
2. Joakim Noah, Florida, Jr., 6-11, 232
Noah made a quantum leap from his freshman to sophomore seasons, going from a virtual afterthought who averaged fewer than four points per game to morphing into one of the most dominant big men in college basketball. He carried the Gators to the national title with one of the best individual efforts in the history of the NCAA Tournament: In the six games Noah averaged 16.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.8 blocks and 3.2 assists per game. He can run, he can finish, and he passes better than you'd think.
3. Glen Davis, LSU, Jr., 6-9, 289
Nobody enjoys life more than "Big Baby." While he might put a smile on John Brady's face, he makes other coaches reach for their pacifiers. Davis averaged 18.6 points and 9.7 rebounds. He posted 19 double-doubles last season, including a stretch of eight in a row. Davis also can shoot it from the outside, but with his body and tenacity on the offensive glass he does most of his scoring where he should in the paint.
4. Greg Oden*, Ohio State, Fr., 7-0, 280
If you're asking how a freshman can make this list at No. 4 you haven't been paying enough attention to the prep basketball scene. Oden would have been the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft had the league not imposed an age limit. The new rule is a boon for the Buckeyes. They may only have Oden for one year, but what a year it should be. As a senior he averaged 22 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks per game. He'll be a defensive presence from the outset, and his offense won't be far behind.
5. Roy Hibbert, Georgetown, Jr., 7-2, 283
The big man's game still is developing, but he has a huge upside. In only 24 minutes per game last season (too often due to foul trouble), he averaged 11.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. If he can manage to stay on the court a little longer, it's not hard to imagine him averaging 15 points and eight boards. In a second-round blowout of second-seeded Ohio State in the NCAA Tournament, Hibbert had 20 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks.
6. Aaron Gray, Pittsburgh, Sr., 7-0, 270
Gray's game dramatically improved last season. He took his scoring average from 4.3 points to 13.9 points and his rebounding average from 2.8 to 10.5. He's never going to be a player who can create his own shot, but he is growing in the knowledge of how to use his size - particularly on the glass. Gray had a 20-rebound effort against Marquette, including nine on the offensive end.
7. Jason Smith, Colorado State, Jr., 7-0, 240
Smith won't be just a West Coast secret after this season. Coaches around the country and NBA scouts are well aware of his skills. He posted six double-doubles last season en route to averaging 16.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game. He's quick off his feet and is a disruptive force on defense. The only concern at this point is that he needs to add some muscle to an otherwise slight frame.
8. Spencer Hawes, Washington, Fr., 6-11, 225
Hawes ranked behind only Greg Oden among the nation's prep centers a season ago. Rivals.com listed him as the No. 8 overall prospect in the country. He led Seattle Prep to a state title, averaging 19.9 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.1 blocks and 3.0 assists per game. "Hawes has very advanced post moves which he can finish with right- or left-hand jump hooks," Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer said. "He also has perimeter skills. He does need to get stronger."
9. James Hughes, Northern Illinois, Sr., 6-11, 217
Hughes was the Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year despite averaging fewer than 20 minutes per game. He blocked 40 shots last season to average 1.6 per game. He shot .582 from the floor en route to finishing with 9.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. Hughes has an intriguing upside, but obviously needs to put on some weight and work on his conditioning despite his slender frame.
10. DeVon Hardin, California, Jr., 6-11, 235
Hardin continues to fill out his frame while maintaining excellent athleticism. He bumped up to 23-plus minutes per game last season and posted averages of 7.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. He had five double-doubles, including a 23-point, 14-rebound performance against Northeastern.
Best of the rest
11. Trent Plaisted, BYU, So., 6-11, 240
12. Randolph Morris, Kentucky, Jr., 6-11, 259
13. Luke Nevill, Utah, So., 7-1, 265
14. Ian Vouyoukas, St. Louis, Sr., 6-10, 270
15. David Padgett*, Louisville, Jr., 6-11, 245
16. Dwayne Curtis, Ole Miss, Jr., 6-8, 280
17. Coleman Collins, Virginia Tech, Sr., 6-9, 240
18. Ra'Sean Dickey, Georgia Tech, Jr., 6-10, 250
19. Bryant Dunston, Fordham, Jr., 6-8, 233
20. Joey Dorsey, Memphis, Jr., 6-9, 260
* - out until at least January because of injury

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