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June 8, 2012
Last Year's Top 100 Players
1 to 25

by Drew Cannon

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Last summer Drew came up with a preseason list of the top 100 players is Division I. So did CBS. Now Drew's looking at how well he and CBS did way back when by counting down a new top 100 based on actual performance in 2011-12.

Previously: 26 to 60, and 61 to 100.

25. PF Andre Roberson, Colorado, So. (Me: Honorable Mention; CBS: unranked)
Let me be the first to say it: Roberson could be an All-American this year. Now, I'm not ready to predict that he will be, but he should be in the conversation. Even including Thomas Robinson, it's not unreasonable to call Roberson the best rebounder in the country in 2011-12, and that at 195 pounds. He was a major defensive presence, scored inside, got to the line, and was even flashing a little bit of a three-point stroke. This dude can play.

24. PF Royce White, Iowa State, So. (Me: unranked; CBS: unranked)
Among the 80+ inches crowd, White's 35 percent assist rate was first in the nation by leaps and bounds -- second place went to Henry Sims' previously discussed 27 percent. That's really the story on White: He doesn't seem to fit in with everyone else. White was the point guard and the rebounder and the scorer but he hit just 50 percent of his free throws and he turned the ball over a lot. Then again he was playing with a bunch of guys who were just stand-still jump shooters and everyone was a transfer and he did take the Cyclones from nothing to the round of 32. I'll stick him here.

23. PG Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin, Sr. (Me: 3; CBS: 3)
Taylor's the best example on this list of a guy who maxed out his potential in 2010-11. We had no right to expect him to be able to recreate that year as a senior. You really couldn't claim that there were more than two players returning to college in 2011-12 were coming off better seasons, but Taylor just regressed a bit across the board and fell to No. 23. His turnover rate was under nine percent as a junior, and that's almost unrepeatable. That year he shot 43 percent on 175 threes (in the Wisconsin offense; that's like 5,000 threes in a regular offense), and that's tough to maintain for someone who isn't known for being a perfect-form shooter. Taylor had a great senior season, it's just that his junior year had raised expectations to outrageous heights.

22. SF John Shurna, Northwestern, Sr. (Me: 35; CBS: 61)
There aren't many 6-9 guys who rebound less than Shurna, and there certainly aren't any above him on this list. Shurna's numbers are more like those of a great 2-guard than what a great 4 would put up. He shot 48/44/75 (using 27 percent of the Wildcats' possessions), passed much better than he boarded, and rarely got to the line. The difference is that Shurna does knock away a shot or two on the defensive end. Northwestern came as close to an NCAA tournament berth as they have in a long time (they were 15-8 on February 10!), and Shurna was by far the biggest reason why.

21. PF Ricardo Ratliffe, Missouri, Sr. (Me: unranked; CBS: unranked)
Without Ratliffe, this Missouri team doesn't work. You can't go four guards and leave Steve Moore by himself in the middle and put up points the way the Tigers did. Ratliffe kept Missouri alive on the glass, made sure opposing bigs didn't bury them, and crushed defenses far too consistently to be left single-teamed. He shot a truly outrageous 69 percent from the floor while using 23 percent of the Tigers' possessions. The Norfolk State loss is what people will remember from Missouri's season, and that's too bad, because their offense was beautiful to watch. And it never would have worked without the big guy.

20. C Jeff Withey, Kansas, Jr. (Me: unranked; CBS: unranked)
I think most people will be surprised to see Withey's name sitting next to many of those around him. He was only a very good offensive player -- certainly very good but not Top-100-caliber, much less Top 20. But Withey was a very good rebounder, and his block rate was first in the country. And that's not first in the country, except for Anthony Davis; that's first in the country, period. Kansas's defense ranked fourth nationally, according to Kenpom. Withey's rim protection and rebounding were as big a reason for that as Cody Zeller's post play was for Indiana's fourth-place offense.

19. SG John Jenkins, Vanderbilt, Jr. (Me: 7; CBS: 9)
Jenkins shot fabulously, never turned the ball over, and kept Vanderbilt alive when Festus Ezeli was out. He was who we thought he was.

18. PG Isaiah Canaan, Murray State, Jr. (Me: unranked; CBS: unranked)
Just 11 players made more three-pointers than Canaan last year, and a mere 43 hit more free throws. Furthermore Canaan did that as a true point guard, running the show for a team that finished 31-2. It was a season for the ages; it's been 40 years since an OVC team had a season anything like that. I do think people are overestimating the Racers' 2013 prospects, though. Canaan is fantastic, but he certainly didn't do it alone. Four other players put up very impressive years: Ed Daniel, Ivan Aska, Donte Poole, and Jewuan Long. Only Daniel will be back this season.

17. C Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure, Sr. (Me: 54; CBS: 54)
We knew Nicholson was something of an interior scoring force. I certainly wasn't prepared for him to make the leap from good to great as a rebounder/shot-blocker, however, and I even more certainly wasn't ready for him to single-handedly will the Bonnies to the NCAA tournament. They gave Florida State a real scare, too. Nicholson's name was tossed off as a very good player fairly regularly last season, but he should have been declared an elite big with more fanfare.

16. PF Robbie Hummel, Purdue, Sr. (Me: 12; CBS: 28)
I guess everyone was just kind of "over" Hummel after talking about him nonstop for two years, but he was absolutely tremendous in his belated senior season. He upped his usage rate, hit 38 percent of his nearly 200 three-point tries, and posted the highest defensive rebound rate in his career. And he scared the living daylights out of Kansas in round of 32.

15. SG Will Barton, Memphis, So. (Me: 96; CBS: 32)
I thought Will Barton would be this guy in two years, not one. All the turnovers and missed three-pointers just disappeared, replaced by rebounds and a much-improved shooting stroke. This caught me way off guard, but it also struck me as strangely apt. Player most similar to Barton on Kenpom? Kyle Singler.

14. SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky, Fr. (Me: 29; CBS: 16)
In my article ranking the freshman seasons of the ESPNU Class of 2011 Top 100, I went on a fairly energetic diatribe pushing Cody Zeller as undeniably better than Kidd-Gilchrist. And yet the more I think about it, the smaller the gap gets. MKG was the second-best offensive player and the second-best defender on the best team in the country, and he was only second-best in both categories because he was battling a certain Mr. Anthony Davis for each title. Zeller's more polished, and he was probably the most effective offensive freshman in the country last year. Kidd-Gilchrist was a bulldog: A force in transition, a consistent rebounder, and an unyielding defender (though Zeller was no slouch on D, either). I'd still take Zeller. (See below.) But I'm rescinding the confidence I had the last time I made this choice.

13. C Cody Zeller, Indiana, Fr. (Me: unranked; CBS: unranked)
Zeller's the highest-ranked player on this list who found himself unranked by both yours truly and CBS last year. He's also the second-highest ranked player here who'll be back in school in the fall. Zeller bucked the trend of big men ranked outside the top 10 struggling as freshmen. Like Chane Behanan, he was ranked highly because he was so productive already, rather than because of his strength and athleticism. I've got to remember that the trend is really not that big men don't work out, it's that production translates and so does nonproduction.

12. SG Marcus Denmon, Missouri, Sr. (Me: 28; CBS: 19)
Denmon turned the ball over on nine percent of his possessions and shot excellent percentages of 53/41/90. There weren't many frills to Denmon's game. He just took nothing off the table, ever.

11. PF Mike Scott, Virginia, Sr. (Me: 77; CBS: 100)
Scott's another one for the All-"trust the brief look" Team. He played ten games in 2010-11 before a season-ending injury, looking much improved from his 2009-10 self. Then he was even better as a super-senior. Scott was an excellent rebounder who shot 58 percent even though his bread-and-butter was the mid-range game. He got to the line, rarely turned the ball over, and used 30 percent of the Cavaliers' possessions. He made The Sporting News' third-team All-America squad, and he earned it.

10. C John Henson, North Carolina, Jr. (Me: 11; CBS: 8)
Henson dramatically improved his turnover rate and won the ACC Defensive Player of the Year award. No surprises here.

9. PG Damian Lillard, Weber State, Jr. (Me: 90; CBS: 84)
Lillard led the nation in PET score at 100.0, meaning if you surrounded him with replacement-level talent, you'd have an average collegiate offense. That's absolutely incredible. Only Reggie Hamilton made more free throws, and Lillard shot 89 percent from the line. He also ran the Weber State offense with ease, hit 41 percent of his threes and 52 percent of his twos, never turned the ball over, and hit the defensive glass like a forward. Lillard's something of an enigma since he played his career in the Big Sky and his the final game of his college career in the CIT, but I think NBA fans may climb on board quickly. If his college stats translate at all, he'll be a stud rookie.

8. SF Jae Crowder, Marquette, Sr. (Me: 64; CBS: 99)
I don't know why I'm so surprised Crowder was this good. I can't think of anything that he did specifically that surprised me. I knew he was a great defender. I knew he could outrebound his height. I knew he could slash and get put-backs and shoot and never turn the ball over. I guess I just assumed he couldn't do it all, as perfectly, again, at 6-6. I should have felt better sliding him in around 20 or 30.

7. PF Kevin Jones, West Virginia, Sr. (Me: unranked; CBS: 62)
Jones ranked No. 10 nationally in minute percentage and 11 in turnover rate. He was one of the 100 best rebounders in the country and he hit 59 percent of his twos. Jones could have ranked even higher on this list, but his 27 percent three-point shooting and low free throw rate held him back. It's tougher to hold his team's 14 losses against him when you realize how much trouble his teammates had scoring. Darryl Bryant was definitely the second-best option for the Mountaineers, and he made 41 percent of his twos and 31 percent of his threes.

6. C Tyler Zeller, North Carolina, Sr. (Me: 15; CBS: 13)
We knew Zeller was a supremely polished post scorer. I didn't realize he would make such strides as a rebounder. We just saw a fantastic season from a guy who really improved every year he was in college.

5. PF Doug McDermott, Creighton, So. (Me: 66; CBS: 39)
I was skeptical of the accolades some of the USA U-19 players were getting last summer from across the ocean. I tend to be wary when we watch a small group of players, then rate them against their peers who didn't have the same chance to demonstrate their own growth. But McDermott, almost singlehandedly, has made me much more comfortable doing this in the future. He really did everything. He shot 63/49/80, which is just so stupid-good that I don't know what to add in the way of comment. McDermott was a great rebounder, and he never turned the ball over. Creighton's offense ranked fifth, nationally, according to Kenpom, though their defense ranked No. 178. Antoine Young graduates, but I'm going to postulate that the Bluejays will have the nation's No. 1 offense this year. Everyone else is back, and CU adds one of my favorite recruits in the country, sharp-shooter supreme (and borderline away-from-the-ball genius) Isaiah Zierden. If Creighton could get anyone but Gregory Echenique to put some pressure on their opponents to score, they'd be in fabulous shape. McDermott's the highest-ranked player on this list who'll be in college again this fall. Here's the top five: McDermott, Cody Zeller, Canaan, Withey, Roberson. We could be in for a weird, weird year, what with all the loaded mid-majors and with those five as our reigning superstars. Three of those guys go to Creighton, Murray State, and Colorado, in case you forgot. So be ready for that.

4. PF Jared Sullinger, Ohio State, So. (Me: 1; CBS: 1)
One of four players who finished the season as a first-team All-American by all four major voting outlets, Sullinger generated little excitement following up a first-team All-America freshman season. He was still awfully good, even if the only huge change was that he gained some range on his jumper.

3. PF Thomas Robinson, Kansas, So. (Me: 40; CBS: 6)
Oops. This one was easier than I made it look. At least I wrote this: "You could sell me on putting Robinson up around 25; I just get uncomfortable doing that with someone who played so little." Even so, I ranked Robinson behind fellow 2010-11 freshman non-starter Deshaun Thomas, who played similar minutes. Generally, the guys who scared me because I thought their sample sizes were too small proved to me that the sample sizes were plenty. I didn't have a question mark to throw out for Robinson except, "What if he's just been playing over his head?" I won't miss on someone for that reason ever again.

2. PF Draymond Green, Michigan State, Sr. (Me: 14; CBS: 27)
Take a look at Michigan State's roster from last year. Now pretend Draymond Green's not on it. How do they score? How do they rebound? How do they defend half the players in America? How are they distributing the ball? I barely get how they did all that without Green, but the fact that they were an entirely deserving No. 1 seed is a credit to how much he did for that program. I'd feel bad ranking him second, except that Anthony Davis is first and he really, really, really deserves to be first.

1. C Anthony Davis, Kentucky, Fr. (Me: 21; CBS: 7)
Last summer I thought there was too big a chance that Davis would disappear at times. In case you didn't notice, this wasn't an issue. He was just better than everyone else. The gap isn't a chasm, but there most certainly exists a gap. I have a spreadsheet tracking every award that I care about: National Player of the Year, All-American, National Defensive Player of the Year, National Freshman of the Year, NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player, Conference Player of the Year, All-Conference, Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Conference Freshman of the Year, Conference All-Defense, Conference All-Freshman. Davis won all of them. And the national championship. What more could you want?

Drew Cannon is a regular contributor to Basketball Prospectus. Click here to see Drew's other articles. 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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Premium Article Playoff Prospectus (06/07)
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