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May 8, 2007

The best off the bench: How did they fare?

You think ranking high school recruits is an inexact science? Try picking out the top sixth men in college basketball.

Memphis' Jeremy Hunt, arguably the nation's best reserve last season, didn't even crack our preseason list of the top 10. Hunt averaged 14.1 points a game, second most on a team that reached the Elite Eight and more than anyone on our list.

Hunt spent most of his college career battling injuries and was suspended for all of the 2005-06 season, only further complicating what is already a tough guessing game.

Out of the 10 players on our list, four played well enough to become starters while two others actually saw their playing time decrease.

We did hit on some picks. Florida guard Walter Hodge and center Chris Richard played valuable roles on the Gators' run to a second consecutive national title.

Pittsburgh's Sam Young, who topped our list, was one of the Big East's top reserves. Same goes for North Carolina's Marcus Ginyard in the ACC.

Here's a look at how each of the 10 fared:

1. Sam Young, Pittsburgh: This sophomore power forward didn't live up to the hype he generated with a promising freshman campaign. Young's stats actually took a slight dip, going from 8.1 points and 4.4 rebounds a game to 7.2 ppg and 3.0 rpg. Much of the blame can be placed on an early-season knee injury. Once healthy, he was very productive, scoring in double digits in eight of the Panthers' last 11 games, including a 15-point performance in their second round NCAA Tournament win over Virginia Commonwealth.

2. Danny Green, North Carolina: When a school like UNC brings back four starters and lands the nation's top-ranked recruiting class, somebody has to suffer. That was certainly the case with Green. The sophomore swingman played less than 10 minutes in six of the Tar Heels' last 12 games and wound up averaging 5.2 ppg. With guard Wes Miller and small forward Reyshawn Terry gone, don't expect that to happen again.

3. Walter Hodge, Florida: The Puerto Rican native didn't play as big a role as we expected, but that doesn't mean he didn't play his role well. Hodge shot 54 percent from the field (79-of-145) and 50 percent from 3-point range (34-of-68). What could he have done with more shots? With Lee Humphrey and Taurean Green exiting the Swamp, we'll soon find out.

4. Lewis Clinch, Georgia Tech: This sophomore guard might have had the best year of any player on this list, if he hadn't been suspended in December for violating school policy. He beat out Anthony Morrow (one of the ACC's top returning scorers) for a full-time job in the starting lineup and was averaging 13.2 ppg while shooting 47 percent from beyond the arc at the time. According to a school official, his status remains undetermined for 2007-08.

5. Mike Mercer, Georgia: A knee injury ended this former five-star recruit's season in mid-February, but by then he'd already emerged as one of the SEC's most versatile players. In his first year as a starter, the sophomore guard made an impact in nearly every phase of the game, averaging 13.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.3 apg and 1.7 spg.

6. Ronald Lewis, Ohio State: With the nation's No. 2-ranked recruiting class and five-star swingman Daequan Cook arriving at Columbus last fall, Lewis was expected to come off the bench again. Instead, the Bowling Green transfer moved into the starting lineup on day one and emerged as one of the top players in the 2006 NCAA Tournament. He averaged 21.7 ppg in the first four rounds and hit a clutch 3-pointer to force overtime in the Buckeyes' dramatic overtime win over Xavier in the second round.

7. Chris Richard, Florida: The 6-foot-9, 255-pound senior provided a valuable backup for Joakim Noah and Al Horford once again. The bulky veteran averaged 6.2 ppg and 3.7 rpg while shooting 69 percent (98-of-142) from the field. He put together the best game of his career in their 76-66 win over UCLA in the Final Four, scoring 16 points and making all seven of his field goal attempts.

8. Greg Stiemsma, Ohio State: After averaging 1.5 blocks in 11.7 minutes a game last season, it looked like this intimidating 6-11, 260-pounder might develop into a major defensive force. But the big man had a tough time earning a regular spot in the Badgers' rotation. He wound up playing less (9.9 mpg) and producing little (2.2 ppg and 1.6 rpg).

9. Marcus Ginyard, North Carolina: Nobody who came off the Tar Heels' lengthy bench played more than Ginyard, who averaged 16 mpg. He scored a modest 4.1 ppg, but his biggest contributions came on defense where he guarded a variety of positions and often was matched up with the opponents' best perimeter player.

10. Kevin Rogers, Baylor: Meet one of the Big 12's most promising big men and one of the nation's most underrated players. Baylor's 15-16 record masked some strong strides from the athletic sophomore, who grabbed a starting job and averaged 12.8 ppg and 7.6 rpg.

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.



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