Top Frontcourts....Insider Please
he adage that says the college game starts with the guards is true, but to win a championship you need strong frontcourt play. Having a low-post presence that draws a double-team puts tremendous pressure on the defense. If he's complemented by a versatile power forward or "stretch 4" who can run, score in the trail spot in transition and play in ball screens, it gives a coach great flexibility.
In evaluating the best frontcourts in college basketball, I took into account not just the individual players' potential and accomplishments, but just as importantly how the frontcourt players complement each other. In today's game, your big men must have the ability to affect the game on both ends. Elite frontcourt players can defend, are active, alert off the ball and can defend ball screens.
1. Florida Gators
The Gators have a deep and versatile frontcourt. They are led by one of the most physical and experienced big men in the country in Patric Young. He's a tremendous rim runner, has the ability to score on the block and is an excellent ball-screen player both offensively and defensively. He is joined up front by fellow senior Will Yeguete, a blue-collar power forward who, despite being undersized, is extremely efficient. Casey Prather is an active athlete who gave the Gators quality minutes at the end of last season.
Two transfers make the Florida frontcourt elite. Dorian Finney-Smith, a Virginia Tech transfer, has a unique skill set. At 6-foot-9, he has a floor game, is an instinctive rebounder (7 rebounds a game) and his length will make him an excellent defender in the Florida full-court pressure, half-court man and zone.
South Carolina transfer Damontre Harris is a 6-foot-9, 227-pound shot-blocker who rebounds basketballs out of his area. He will be excellent in the Florida defensive system. The X factor for the Gators' frontcourt is 6-foot-10 Chris Walker (ESPN Recruiting Nation's No. 12 recruit in 2014). Walker has the skill set of a small forward and can run the floor as well as any big in his class. Walker has not yet been cleared to play by the NCAA.
2. Syracuse Orange
Syracuse has a deep, athletic and experienced frontcourt led by C.J. Fair. Fair is as versatile a forward as there is in the country. As a freshman and sophomore, he was a complementary player. Now he is the focal point of the Orange, both offensively and defensively. He can play in isolation, out of a ball screen, is a relentless offensive rebounder and flies around in the Syracuse 2-3 zone.
Jim Boeheim has a number of players to complement Fair. The most underappreciated player for the Orange is senior Baye Keita. Kieta runs the floor, competes on the defensive glass and is active in the middle of the zone. He can cover both the high post and rotate down to trap the short corner.
Rakeem Christmas is a 6-foot-11 athlete who has shown signs of excellence. He is an instinctive shot-blocker -- one block every 10 minutes -- and is an improving offensive player.
DaJuan Coleman is big, extremely skilled and has great hands and feel for the game. He must finish better around the basket. The question is, where does he play in the zone?
The X factor for the Orange frontcourt is 6-foot-9 Jerami Grant. The sophomore is a hybrid forward with great length. He is an instinctive rebounder and has the ability to slash to the basket. Grant can use his quickness against bigger and more physical forwards.
3. Kentucky Wildcats
The Wildcats have a nice combination of youth and experience in their frontcourt. Sophomores Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress will be joined by 6-foot-9 freshman Julius Randle (Recruiting Nation's No. 1 power forward recruit), 6-foot-10 Dakari Johnson (No. 2-ranked center) and 6-foot-9 Marcus Lee (No. 9 power forward).
Poythress is an explosive athlete who must play with a greater sense of urgency. He is a high-percentage shooter (58 percent from the field last season) who has the ability to shoot the ball to the 3-point line (42 percent). He can play both forward positions.
Randle is the physical forward the Cats were missing last season. He is as comfortable on the block as he is making plays on the baseline. Randle is a relentless rebounder who is hard to keep off the glass. His toughness and mindset will make a huge impact on the Wildcats.
Johnson gives John Calipari depth and a big body. Johnson must run the floor but he has the potential to be a legitimate low-post player in time. Lee is the type of rangy forward Calipari has had success with in the past. He's long, active and skilled with a huge upside.
The X factor for the Cats' frontcourt is Kyle Wiltjer. If Wiltjer decides to return to Kentucky rather than transfer, he gives Calipari a stretch 4 who will open up the floor and is dangerous in spread ball screens.
4. Michigan State Spartans
Tom Izzo has one of the most unique frontcourt players in the country in Adreian Payne. He has the touch and range of a small forward with the size and strength of a post player. Izzo puts Payne in ball screens and post-ups as well as in the high post. He can play Payne at both the 4 and 5.
When Payne plays at center, Branden Dawson plays the power forward position. Dawson is an undersized 4 who is an attacking player, a hard cutter and a relentless rebounder. He averages two offensive rebounds a game. A hard driver, Dawson is an excellent finisher.
Alex Gauna, Matt Costello and redshirt freshman Kenny Kaminski add depth to the Spartans. Gauna and Costello are physical role players, defenders and excellent screeners. They are excellent complements to Payne when he plays at the 4.
The X factor for the Spartans is redshirt Kaminski. A skilled forward, Kaminski can make shots and stretch the defense.
5. Michigan Wolverines
Michigan has one of the best rebounders in the country in Mitch McGary. He grabs a rebound every two and a half minutes. McGary is an improving offensive player who can knock down a free throw-line jumper, but he's most comfortable playing off penetration and in ball screens.
Jordan Morgan is an experienced, capable backup who has excellent skills and is an alert defender. A below-the-rim player, Morgan is fundamentally sound.
Jon Horford adds depth while freshman Mark Donnal is a perfect fit for the Michigan system. The X factor for Michigan is Glenn Robinson III. Although the plan is to play the 6-foot-7 Robinson at the small forward position, I would not be surprised to see him play some 4. He is an excellent rebounder and has the length and athleticism to match up with most power forwards. The Michigan system is built on attacking matchups, and Robinson at the 4 is a difficult matchup in both ball screens and in isolations on ball reversal.
6. Virginia Cavaliers
Tony Bennett's Cavaliers are positioned to return to the NCAA tournament. Joe Harris is Virginia's best player, but the key to the Cavs making a run in the ACC will be the play of the frontcourt. Akil Mitchell (6-foot-8), Mike Tobey (7-foot), South Carolina transfer Anthony Gill (6-foot-8) and athletic Darion Atkins (6-foot-8) make up the ACC's deepest front line.
Mitchell affects the game in many ways in Virginia's motion offense. He can come off screens as well as be a screener. He is excellent in both the high post as well as playing on the baseline. An alert defender, Mitchell averages over a steal a game playing in the conservative Virginia defense.
Tobey gained valuable experience as a member of the U.S. gold medal-winning U-19 team. He averaged over 6 points in only 13 minutes a game. He is a skilled post player with excellent hands and footwork. If he improves his rebounding, he will be one of the ACC's best post players in the near future.
Atkins, 6-foot-8 and ultra-athletic, is a defensive stopper with an instinct to block shots. He is an alert defender and an active offensive rebounder.
The X factor for the Cavaliers is South Carolina transfer Gill. He reminds me of former Virginia first-team All-ACC forward Mike Scott. He can play facing as well as with his back to the basket. He has the size and skill to put a great deal of pressure on the defense. His game is a good fit for the Virginia system.
7. Stanford Cardinal
Stanford is poised to have a breakthrough season. Johnny Dawkins has an experienced backcourt in Chasson Randle and Aaron Bright, but the most important player for the Cardinal is potential first-round draft choice Dwight Powell. The 6-foot-10, 235 pound frontcourt player averaged almost 15 points and 8 rebounds a game while shooting 45 percent from the 3-point line. He is as complete a frontcourt player as there is in the country. He can play off a high-ball screen and is a threat to roll or pop for 3. Powell can drive the ball from the high post and is a consistent rebounder, averaging over 8 rebounds a game.
Josh Huestis is a 6-foot-7, 230-pound forward who can shoot the 3 while grabbing 9 rebounds a game. He averaged 10 points and shot 33 percent from the 3-point line. Huestis is an alert defender who averaged over two blocks a game. His strength and versatility is a nice complement to Powell.
John Gage and Grant Verhoeven add depth to the Cardinal frontcourt.
8. Marquette Golden Eagles
Marquette has a unique frontcourt in that it has a 565-pound, two-headed post in Davante Gardner and Chris Otule. The pair combined for almost 17 points and over 8 rebounds a game. Gardner has soft hands, is a good passer and is effective in the high post as well as the block. Jamil Wilson is the next in a long line of undersized 4s for the Golden Eagles. At 6-foot-7, 235 pounds, Wilson plays hard and is skilled. Wilson played his best basketball at the end of the season. He averaged 13 points a game in his last nine games.
The X factor for Marquette is Steve Taylor. Taylor is a 6-foot-7 hybrid forward with elite athletic ability. If he can contribute, it will give Buzz Williams tremendous frontcourt versatility.
9. Arizona Wildcats
The Wildcats are long, athletic and physical up front. Sophomore Kaleb Tarczewski, at 7-foot, 255 pounds, gives Arizona a legitimate low-post player. He has an NBA body and size, and is a physical defender and rebounder. He must develop a go-to move to take his game to the next level.
Sophomore Brandon Ashley is a 6-foot-10, 235 pound skilled forward. He has the skill set of a small forward and the size of a power forward. He must rebound the ball more consistently.
Incoming 6-foot-8 forward Aaron Gordon is as explosive a freshman as there is in college basketball. A great finisher, Gordon runs the floor and attacks in transition. The X factor for the Cats is freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Jefferson is a small forward with the size and strength to play the power forward position. He has the versatility that fits well in Sean Miller's system. He reminds me of former Wildcat Solomon Hill.
10. Louisville Cardinals
Louisville's frontcourt will be void of an elite shot-blocker in Gorgui Dieng, but make no mistake about it, this is an athletic, hard-playing frontcourt. Chane Behanan, Montrezl Harrell and Stephen Van Treese have a nice combination of size, strength and athleticism.
Behanan's play in the second half of championship game showed a glimpse of the impact he can have on the game. A physical, relentless rebounder with a feel to score around the basket, Behanan has the ability to take over a game. Despite being undersized -- 6-foot-6, 250 pounds -- he plays through contact, is explosive in the scoring area and is hard to keep off the glass.
Harrell was a pivotal part of the Cardinals' championship run. He is longer than he is tall and plays bigger than his 6-foot-8 height. I expect he will play the center position for the Cardinals. Harrell runs the floor and is impossible to keep off the glass. An improved face-up player, he showed the ability to knock down the 17-foot jump shot in the U-19 world championships.
The X factor for Louisville is Van Treese. He gives the Cardinals a different look. At 6-foot-9, 245 pounds, he gives the Cardinals an experienced backup. Although he lacks the mobility of Harrell, he is a solid low-post player with good hands. He takes up space and plays to his strengths. An alert position defender, Van Treese has a good feel for Louisville's defensive system.
Honorable mentions: Colorado, New Mexico
Arizona should be at least top 5. They have 3 future NBA players in their frontcourt. MSU and Michigan can't say that.
but adrian payne has a better game than all of the arizona bigs. AZ big men seems to be getting a lot of recognition off athleticism and highschool hype
Payne has a better game right now for sure but the next 3 best players are all members of the U of A Wildcats...you missed my point about the depth of their frontcourt...I conceded the fact that Payne is better but one man doesn't make a team. MSU will be good this year but Gary Harris has a lot to do with that....my point is U of A will be just as good without nearly the guard play that MSU will have.
First of all, I think the article was about front courts next year, not future possible NBA players. Second, both MSU and U of M made it deep in the tournament because of Adrienne Payne and Mitch McGary respectively. (Burke was obviously U of M's best player and leader, but they wouldn't have gotten anywhere without MccGary). IMO I think both could be lotto picks next year.
I know both players are very good...but if we are looking at the all around depth of the frontcourts U of A should be over MSU for sure. They have Aaron Gordon coming in who will be a stud at PF. They have Tarczewski coming back for his sophomore season and he should be much improved...it usually takes 7 footers time to develop. Then Rondae Jefferson who is one of the best defensive SF's around. He can do everything but shoot and is a great playmaker for a kid that is 6-7. If Grant Jerrett would have come back I would have said they had an argument for the #1 frontcourt.
Michigan you could argue is better with McGary who had a great tourney...but his #s aren't really much better than Tarczewski. Glenn Robinson III is a stud and will be a lottery pick so I can see the ranking.
MSU however has Payne ,who I'm very high on, and not much else. Dawson is an undersized 4 who plays with great energy but isn't all that skilled. Payne might be the first senior drafted next year but I only see him on the fringe of the lotto at best. Outside of CJ McCollum (who probably would have left school early if he played at a bigger school) the next senior taken this year was Mason Plumlee at 22. Only 3 Seniors were taken in the first round so while seniors are great for college the NBA scouts almost hold it against you.
I know this is about the NCAA season and not NBA projections but either way Zona is stacked up front. They don't have near the backcourt talent that MSU does but I would be willing to bet they will be a Final Four contender off the strength of the bigs.
The depth Florida and Syracuse have up front is mind boggling.
The Florida-UK matchup will be one to watch, especially if Chris Walker gets cleared.