Drew is counting down his top 100 players for 2012. Previously: 71 to 100, and 51 to 70.
It's really difficult to claim someone left off this list entirely deserves to be ranked above someone in the top 50. While it's not crazy to argue that Aaron Craft or Rodney McGruder should be somewhere in the 60s, you would have quite the uphill battle claiming that Augustus Gilchrist or Mouphtaou Yarou should be above Cleveland Melvin. That's not to say no one outside this top 100 will crack the year-end top 50. In fact I fully expect 15 players, give or take, in that top 50 are unranked now. It's just that you'd need some information that I don't have to make your case for one specific player.
Anyway, if you're trying to peek ahead at who's ranked where, I'll throw you a clue. Here's a conference breakdown of my top 100.
Number of players in top 10/25/50/100
Big Ten (2/5/9/12)
Big East (0/2/5/15)
Big 12 (1/2/4/11)
Big West (0/0/1/2)
Big Sky (0/0/0/1)
50. Gilvydas Biruta, Rutgers (So., PF)
For whatever reason many of the Big East's best freshmen last year were unheralded as recruits. Even Jeremy Lamb was unranked in some places. Biruta was probably the second best Big East freshman during the regular season, and better than Lamb. He shot 55 percent inside the arc, grabbed 13 percent of offensive and 18 percent of defensive rebounds, shot 72 percent from the line at a high free throw rate, and created plenty of chaos defensively. I barely saw him play as a freshman, but he's made it clear that I'll need to watch him a lot as a sophomore.
49. Cleveland Melvin, DePaul (So., PF)
DePaul may have only won one conference game in 2011, but there was certainly reason for hope in conference Freshman of the Year Melvin and freshman point guard Brandon Young (who was in consideration for these rankings). Among Big East players only Providence's Marshon Brooks, Villanova's Maalik Wayns, and West Virginia's Casey Mitchell put up higher offensive ratings than Melvin's 104 while using as many possessions. At the time the award was presented (the day the Big East tournament tipped off), Melvin deserved to be Big East Freshman of the Year over even Jeremy Lamb.
48. Ray McCallum, Detroit (So., PG)
There really isn't another player like McCallum in the country. He was a McDonald's All-American in 2010, went to a mid-major to play for his dad, and was immediately successful as a freshman, making second-team All-Horizon. This year I expect him to be one of the elite mid-major players in the country. There are only eight guys outside the major conferences ranked above him on this list. He doesn't have any real weaknesses, but improving his shooting stroke could make him legitimately unstoppable in the Horizon.
47. Reggie Hamilton, Oakland (Sr., PG)
Keith Benson stole the headlines in Oakland County a year ago, but Reggie Hamilton had a legitimate claim to the title of best player on that team. He shot an outrageous -- especially for someone standing 5-11 -- 62 percent on his twos, noticeably better than Benson's 56 percent, while hitting 37 percent of his 221 three-point attempts. Hamilton added a 34 percent assist rate and 84 percent free throw shooting, numbers Benson didn't approach. Benson was probably still the better player due to his outstanding defense and rebounding (whereas Hamilton's defense and rebounding were good and nonexistent, respectively), but it's impressive that this topic was even open for discussion.
46. Erving Walker, Florida (Sr., PG)
I think we may have reached the point where we are undervaluing small guards. If I'm watching a high school game I'll write off a 5-8 kid unless he makes it completely impossible not to take him seriously. Take a look at this list of every player since 2005 who was ranked by Dave Telep despite being listed at 5-10 or under: Andre Young, Tweety Carter, Phil Pressey, Dominic James, Shabazz Napier, Damier Pitts, Jerome Randle, Nic Wise, Isaiah Thomas, Devan Downey, Jai Lucas, Bruce Ellington. None of these guys were ranked above number 40, and, generally, about one in four guys in the 41-100 range make all-conference teams. But six of those 12 (Downey, Randle, Thomas, James, Carter, Wise) made high-major all-conference teams in their careers. Not to mention Pitts projects to be All-C-USA this year, and Napier and Ellington should make all-conference by the time their careers are done. Honestly, even Andre Young and Phil Pressey have real shots at making a team at some point (leaving only Jai Lucas as someone who'll have a tough time making one). If you push this line up to 5-11, this dynamic doesn't change. Of the 11 new players in the set (which now includes seven top-40 guys), Ty Lawson, Sherron Collins, Denis Clemente, Corey Fisher, and Tommy Mason-Griffin have already made all-conference teams, and Ryan Harrow, Trevor Releford, Joe Jackson, and Peyton Siva certainly shouldn't be written off any time soon. It filters to the lower levels, too -- nearly ten percent of the last five Sun Belt, SoCon, A-Sun, and Big South all-conference teams were listed under six feet.
45. Reeves Nelson, UCLA (Jr., PF)
Nelson and Josh Smith have something of an interesting arrangement: Smith takes care of the offensive boards (20 percent, Nelson: 9) and Nelson covers the defensive side (23 percent, Smith: 14). This is especially strange from Smith's standpoint, since only about one in every 40 players gets more rebounds on the offensive end, and a difference that large is truly rare. But onto Nelson: I shouldn't be reinforcing the lack of Reeves Nelson hype. He's really, really good. Nelson made 60 percent of his twos, rebounded well on both ends, and would be a lock All-Pac-12 first-teamer (though I have him as the fifth member of that team, anyway) if he got better from the free throw line.
44. Nate Wolters, South Dakota State (Jr., PG)
Probably the toughest rank on this whole list, because SD State's schedule last year was so very bad. The next worst schedule of anyone ranked was probably Mike Muscala's at Bucknell, but at least the Bison played Villanova, Marquette, Richmond, and Boston College (and Connecticut in the NCAA tournament). By contrast three of the Jackrabbits' four toughest games were against Summit League rival Oakland. Even so it's clear that Wolters should rank in here somewhere, it's just not clear where. I'm giving him the edge over Hamilton as the best player in the Summit for 2012 largely because of the one-year age gap, but both of them had outstanding 2011 seasons. Wolters used 30 percent of his team's possessions and posted a higher offensive rating than any returning player in the country who used more than 28 percent. He's a great shooter, a great passer, and a great slasher who never turns the ball over. One last note: South Dakota State finished No. 25 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency but No. 292 on D. They got absolutely smoked from behind the three-point line, and Wolters was at least part of the problem there.
43. Doron Lamb, Kentucky (So., SG)
When I talked about Terrence Ross (No. 79) I noted that one skill it's tough for a scout to catch is extreme avoidance of turnovers. Another is three-point shooting, though not to the same extent. You run into the kid who shoots great from flat feet in workouts, the kid whose shot looks goofy but goes in, the kid whose shot is actually goofy but it's sure going in today, and all kinds of cousins of all of the above. That's why I was excited to learn that the Nike EYBL AAU league was keeping full stats this season. I haven't seen them in their entirety (if I do you'll certainly be hearing from me), but what little I did see made one thing very clear: There's a rising senior in Minnesota named Isaiah Zierden (son of Wizards assistant Don Zierden) who is a freak shooter. He made 40 percent of his threes while shooting nearly nine per game in the early going of the EYBL. Zierden is generally regarded as a good shooter, but I haven't heard anybody rave about him, and that's my point. It's tough to pick out which kid is consistently making threes because you're judging them off five or six shots a game. Lamb was sometimes considered streaky or worse from beyond the arc in high school, but he was only two makes from hitting 50 percent of his 140 three-point attempts in 2011. A role expansion would normally be in order, but Marquis Teague, Terrence Jones, and Anthony Davis will probably leave Lamb the Wildcats' fourth offensive option. He'll just be the best one of those in the country.
42. Trent Lockett, Arizona State (Jr., SG)
ASU's incoming freshman Jahii Carson is making some waves right now as the only member of the U-19 USA team who has yet to play college basketball, but even with Carson's arrival Lockett projects to have an enormous role in the Sun Devil offense this year. Three starters graduated, leaving just Lockett and sophomore Kyle Cain. Lockett does most of his damage around the basket (including grabbing an impressive 15 percent of available defensive rebounds), and could do with improving his outside shooting, but 2012 will be about how efficient he can continue to be as he takes on a larger offensive load.
41. Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette (Sr., SG)
DJO is just a rock solid 2-guard. He shoots good percentages (48/36/71), takes a pretty big chunk of the Eagles' shots, and is smart with the ball.
40. Dee Bost, Mississippi State (Sr., PG)
Once his eligibility was regained at the beginning of January, Bost earned his spot on the All-SEC second team, although this year a combination of young talent returning and an influx of top-five freshmen force me to push Bost down to my preseason All-SEC third team. Mississippi State's early season schedule was just awful last year, which means that Bost's personal strength of schedule is actually really good. That's why someone who put up an 100 offensive rating on 28 percent of possessions as a junior is appearing at No. 40.
39. Thomas Robinson, Kansas (Jr., C)
He played less than a third of his team's minutes so he's not on any of the Kenpom leaderboards, but, technically, Robinson has the highest defensive rebounding percentage and second-highest offensive rebounding percentage of any returning player nationally. Plus he shot 60 percent from the floor, blocked his share of shots, and used 27 percent of the Jayhawks' possessions when he was on the court. He gets to the line too often to shoot only 51 percent from there, but that's his only real weakness. You could sell me on putting Robinson up around 25; I just get uncomfortable doing that with someone who played so little. (Then again there are still two 2011 nonstarters yet to be unveiled on this list.)
38. William Buford, Ohio State (Sr., SG)
Buford was a key piece of the Buckeyes' terrifying perimeter shooting in 2011, and he's really one of the better scorers in college basketball right now. I'd love to see him get to the line more because he never misses from there, and it's odd that his FTA/2FGA is only 0.24 -- a figure that places him in the lowest five percent of Division I players. There can't be many players in that group besides Buford with so many two-point attempts and such a high FT percentage. (About that terrifying perimeter shooting: When I remembered that the other pieces of this machine were Jon Diebler and David Lighty, and that Thad Matta also had Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas, and Aaron Craft at his disposal, I had to go re-check how Ohio State ever lost in the tournament. Well, here's your answer. That looks like the last traces of a plane that flew across the country and then got hit by an asteroid.)
37. Kevin Foster, Santa Clara (Jr., PG)
Santa Clara produced WCC Players of the Year in 2007 (co-POY Sean Denison) and 2009 (John Bryant), but they haven't made the NCAA tournament since the Steve Nash days. Maybe that can change. This year the Broncos return two very solid players in Marc Trasolini and Evan Roquemore in addition to Foster -- and Foster should be a lot better than anyone else in the West Coast. Last year Santa Clara went 24-14 against a decent schedule, so this could be "the" year for the Broncos. Either way I'll be watching Foster every chance I get. He shot 380 threes last year and still made 37 percent of them. Jimmer Fredette shot 313 threes and Andrew Goudelock shot 322, and nobody else put up more than 300. Foster still found time to post the highest assist rate on the team, take over 200 shots from inside the arc, and put up over 200 free throws (of which he made 80 percent). And Santa Clara didn't even play that fast.
36. Maalik Wayns, Villanova (Jr., PG)
Wayns has largely the same resume as Foster, minus the shooting (Wayns was 27 percent on 118 threes, although his good free throw shooting suggests improvement to come) but compiled against a Big East schedule. Something interesting: Wayns and the now-graduated Corey Fisher both ranked in the top 60 nationally in assist rate, but Villanova ranks somewhere near the middle of the pack in assists per field goal. Basically no one else on Villanova was ever credited with an assist. Ever. Fisher and Wayns dominated the ball to the point that Fisher's departure means Wayns will have to change his game. I could see Wayns handling the ball constantly this season. If that happens, and especially if Wayns isn't prepared to be a solo ballhandler, this ranking will be on the high side and Villanova could be in trouble.
Drew Cannon is a college student and a regular contributor to Basketball Prospectus. Follow him on Twitter at @DrewCannon1.
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