Andrew Bogut, C, Utah
Ever since we wrote the article, Andrew Bogut is looking outstanding so far , two months ago, Bogut has been on an absolute tear in the NCAA, and is finally starting to get the credit he deserves in the national media as well. We've been extremely high on him since his very first televised game against Texas Tech in the preseason NIT at the beginning of last season, and many eyebrows were raised when we decided to put him at the #1 spot on our 2005 mock draft over a month ago. Well the Aussie hasn't disappointed us one bit. What looked like an outrageous proclamation when we made it and was ridiculed by some of our most loyal visitors and others, has looked like a brilliant prediction in hindsight.
Bogut has put a stranglehold on the #1 spot since then, and is only improving each game, showing us something new that we hadn't seen before nearly every time we see him play.
Bogut set a career high earlier this week with 33 points on just 14 shots (shooting an incredible 17-19 from the line), to go along with 16 rebounds, five blocks and three assists, in a win against Colorado State, and then came two points short of matching it just two days later in another win -- Utah's 16th straight -- against Wyoming, finishing with 31 points (11-16 FG) 13 rebounds and four assists. Both wins were against teams with decent NCAA big men.
Hakim Warrick, F, Syracuse
Staying big, Hakim Warrick has been around so long some people are probably starting to wonder if he's an assistant coach as well. But Warrick made a smart decision to return for one more year at Syracuse, where he now has the paint all to himself. So far this season, the stringbean power forward has shown remarkable toughness and a strength that belies his skinny frame. However, Warrick has a weakness, and that's the ability to get his shot off against a team determined to muscle him down low.
This week was no different. Against a game, but undersized, Villanova team, and playing in his hometown of Philly, Warrick put up a career-high 32 points on a stellar 10-for-14 shooting and grabbed seven offensive boards (12 overall) for good measure. Warrick was unstoppable in the post against the Wildcats, showcasing his array of head fakes, his excellent footwork on the blocks and his extremely long reach. But against Pittsburgh on Monday night, a squad whose defensive intensity could best be described as "pushy," Warrick struggled, shooting only 4-for-10 and launching two unsuccessful threes.
Warrick has impressed, though, with his overall game this season. His point totals are up this year, his turnovers down and his rebounding right on track. The thin man has pro game despite a lack of girth.
Wayne Simien, F, Kansas
In the preseason, Kansas was pegged as one of the top two or three teams in the country by practically every news outlet and preview publication, and with good reason. In addition to returning the core of an Elite Eight team, one that had been to two Final Fours in three years, the Jayhawks also had a consensus first team All-American candidate in the senior Simien, a bruiser whose penchant for short jumpers and double-doubles gives Kansas a chance to win the low post battle against any team in the country. Despite missing two weeks with injury, Simien has not disappointed, especially lately, as the punishing forward has laced them up and performed at a high level night in and night out.
Though Kansas went 2-1 in a three-game week last week, Simien was outstanding, averaging almost 23 points a contest to go along with 13 rebounds a game. In Monday's heartbreaking loss at Texas Tech, the senior played 47 long minutes. There was once a time when Simien's game had a 'tweener aspect to it, but not anymore. Despite the fact that many of today's college players allegedly hurt their draft status by sticking around in college, Simien has genuinely improved as a player, showing a better timing, stronger rebounding instincts and the intangibles of leadership and maturity that he simply didn't have three years ago. Averaging a double-double, the 6'8" Simien is a load in the paint, and yet he already flashes the midrange skills of a pro power forward, something crucial to his long term success and his draft stock. Grabbing some headlines with a National Title wouldn't hurt the senior's case much either.
Shelden Williams, C, Duke
Another big man with big numbers is Duke's Shelden Williams. If you've been tuning in since the beginning of the season, you would have read about how high we've been on this rebounding and shot blocking monster on the Daily.
Williams is having an outstanding season so far with Duke. He is the #1 reason why they've overachieved the way they have up until last week, with all due respect to Dick Vitale and J.J. Redick. Williams' 23 points (8-10 shooting) 16 rebounds and three blocks against Maryland represent just another day at the office for The Landlord this season. Him fouling out was the kiss of death for Duke and you could feel the relief from Maryland players as they began to dominate inside the paint in Williams' absence. In fact, this was the very first time Williams fouled out for Duke this year, an incredible feat considering the way he plays defense and the fact that he is basically the only big man threat Duke has had on their roster for much of the year. His minutes are up by over 30% this season because of this ability to stay out of foul trouble, it really wouldn't be a stretch to say that he has really come a long way this year.
Williams is tied with Bogut for the top spot on the list of NCAA rebounders this season. He is shooting a fantastic 60% from the field, and in my opinion should be getting a lot more touches than he does for Duke. You can almost see how frustrated he is by this, too. He is also third in the nation in blocked shots with just under four a game. As long as his measurements come out OK, he should be drafted at least as high as where we have him at the moment (20th) on the mock. From what we are hearing out of Durham and from people in the know, Williams is a lock to declare for the draft this year. Good workouts and measurements could put him in the lottery.
Rodney Carney, F, and Darius Washington, PG, Memphis
It's deja vu all over again at Memphis, where John Calpiari's annual assembly of talented but erratic players has the Tigers once again on the bubble looking out, despite an overwhelmingly mediocre start to the year. After losing All-Headcase First Teamer Sean Banks for the year, the Tigers "shockingly" found their groove, culminating in a pasting of Louisville at Freedom Hall that had scoreboard watchers across the country doing a double-take.
Athletic forward Rodney Carney's ability to score in transition and to spot up in the halfcourt have proven immensely helpful to the Tigers in Banks' absence. No longer forced to wait for the ball to swing back to him, Carney has exploded in the past two weeks, displaying a willingness to score as well as a variety of ways to do so. Against Louisville, Carney was sensational, notching 24 points on almost 50% shooting, including three three-pointers. Then rangey 6'7" Carney followed that game with an even better outing in a crushing 30-point win over Tulane, scoring 28 points and going a perfect 8-8 from the line. Carney has the sort of long, lean athleticism that works well in NBA small forwards, and he can jump and dunk with the best college has to offer. Whether he can create his own shot on the next level with his mediocre ball-handling remains to be seen, however there's no denying that the departure of Banks is doing wonders for Carney's exposure after an initial slow start.
Freshman point guard Darius Washington Jr. began this season as a very fresh man, indeed. The lightning-quick Washington struggled to find his role in the opening weeks of the season, seeming to have a difficult time adjusting to passing the ball around rather than simply driving to the hoop and hoisting up jumpers on every possession. But lately, the Memphis waterbug has been spreading the wealth and finding his shot, which no doubt helps explain the Tigers' turnaround the past few weeks. While Washington has always had the goods to break a pressing team down, he manhandled Louisville's vaunted "smack 'em" press, swiss-cheesing the Cardinals to the tune of 25 points, five boards and five assists. His penetration into the heart of the Louisville defense shattered the Cardinals' game plan and left Memphis wings open for threes and short drives, only further proving the freshman's worth. Against Tulane on Saturday, Washington was even more efficient, dropping nine dimes to only two turnovers and shooting a cool 5-for-6 from the floor in a thirty point blowout.
Washington may get think about getting greedy and decide to test the pro waters after the season, but he's not ready. That said, the young Tiger has excellent range, a pro-caliber release without hitches, superior quickness and no end of guts. He's listed at 6'1", but that's generous. But regardless of his shortcomings, Memphis' resurgence into the NCAA dialogue coincides nicely with the maturation of the young point guard's game and his emergence as a legitimate floor leader.
Luther Head, G, Illinois
Speaking of floor leaders, last week in this space we talked about Illinois' Dee Brown and his effect on the Illini's thus-far undefeated season. Two weeks ago we spoke about playmaker extraordinaire Deron Williams. This week, as if to highlight why the Orange and Blue are so tough for opponents to figure out, we show you Brown's backcourt mate Luther Head, whose heady, unselfish play and excellent shooting touch have as much to do with the Illini's success as Brown's end-to-end dominance.
Head is a 6'3" shooting guard who has only really started to bloom in his senior season. The gutsy senior is shooting an amazing 42% from three-point range and possesses a sterling 2.2 to 1 assist-to-turnover ratio for the year. It cannot be overstated how important it is for Illinois to have what amounts to two scoring guards who can move the ball around on the floor most of the game. Head has an excellent dribble drive and is deadly if left open for a set shot. He has yet to show any type of real point guard skills, but his upside is considerable despite the fact that he is an NCAA senior.
Head's biggest improvement this year is that he is more lethal shooting after coming off a pick or off the dribble than he was a year ago. To illustrate his maturation as a player, in two hard-fought wins last week, Head hit four threes in a clutch win at Michigan and then drove the Illini to victory over Big Ten rival Wisconsin with 26 points, 12 of which came at the free-throw line. When the Badgers closed off his three-point shooting, Head didn't force the issue, instead he drove to the hoop and got fouled repeatedly in another huge win. For Illinois to not only entertain thoughts of going undefeated, but to challenge for the NCAA title, the ever-improving Head will have to continue his steady, efficient play. If his play thus far this season is any indication, he has every intention of doing just that.
Taylor Coppenrath, F, Vermont
Coppenrath was featured in this space last week as well, but he outdid himself with another awesome performance and deserves to be mentioned once again. This time the versatile big man scored 37 points on 13-of-24 shooting, and pulled down 13 rebounds for good measure. His draft stock is all over the board, but some scouts claim he will end up as a late first rounder when it's all said and done. We're not entirely sold on that at this point, but Coppenrath is making an awfully good case for himself.
He's leading Vermont to yet another NCAA tournament appearance, his third straight, and has his team on the verge of being ranked in the Top 25, a very impressive feat for a team from the America East conference. Whether Coppenrath is this year's Kyle Korver is up for debate, so we'd advise you to take a good look at him on ESPN2 at two PM EST this Saturday as his team travels to Nevada to match up with fellow sweet shooting big man Nick Fazekas.
Jordan Farmar, PG, UCLA
Farmar makes his debut here in this feature, and judging by the way he played against both Arizona teams this past week, it certainly won't be his last. From the few times we've seen him this year so far, it's not hard to tell that Farmar has NBA written all over him. He is already the best point guard in the Pac-10 as a freshman, showing fantastic playmaking ability and incredible confidence for an 18-year-old. He's the type of player that makes everyone around him look much better.
We had the chance to catch him twice this week on TV, and he put on a show both times. In the first game, Farmar scored 18 points (5-7 FG, 3-3 3P) to go along with seven assists in a win against Arizona State. The next game, he had a career-high 27 points (10-17 FG, 4-8 3P) with five assists and five rebounds against Arizona, taking UCLA on his shoulders, as Dijon Thompson was in foul trouble and having a horrible game.
Farmar is a natural born leader and has fantastic point guard skills, that much is obvious, but what really sticks out is the way he excels in the half-court offense, controlling the tempo and finding the open man. He also shows equally good skills scoring on his own by getting into the lane with a nasty crossover, or from the perimeter with a sweet stroke. UCLA has a great freshman class this year and they will be a force to be reckoned with next season in the Pac-10. Farmar needs at least another year of college if not two to really develop into the type of player we believe he can become, but he's well on his way to NCAA stardom and you'll be hearing an awful lot about him in the not too distant future.
Chris Thomas, PG, Notre Dame
Another prominent NCAA point guard emerged from the shadows this week, just in time for his team's NCAA hopes, too. Notre Dame's Chris Thomas has been having a horrendous season so far by his standards. In many ways the former Indiana Mr. Basketball has regressed from the player he was two years ago when he decided to declare for the draft as a sophomore, and if you asked him today off the record whether he regrets the decision to go back to school, he'd have a hard time saying "No."
That is beginning to change, though, based on this week alone, and for Thomas' sake, we can only hope he keeps it up. Notre Dame had two huge games and Thomas came up big in both, helping his team to a huge win over previously undefeated Boston College and coming extremely close to beating Pitt on the road as well.
Thomas had 19 points (6-10 shooting, 3-5 3 point shooting), nine assists, zero turnovers, and was perfect from the line, hitting some clutch FT's to take down B.C., and then followed that up with 16 points, seven assists, one turnover, four rebounds and was 4-for-5 from behind the arc in a heartbreaking loss on the road against Pitt.
Thomas still has a ways to go in proving that he is a true lead guard that is capable of running an NBA offense and finding the open man, as he still struggles to control the tempo and effectively execute the pick and roll. His shot selection has been questionable at times, and his outside shooting very streaky. He is definitely not a top notch athlete or defender (far from it actually), and with so many excellent young point guards in front of him already, Thomas has a lot of ground to make up in the draft.
Leading his team deep in the tournament might be the only way to salvage his stock if he doesn't play the way he did last week every single game from here on out.
John Gilchrist, PG, Maryland
What a crazy season this has been for Gilchrist and Maryland so far. They could easily be considered the most unpredictable team in the country at this point, pulling off an amazing feat by sweeping Duke, but also losing to Clemson and then NC State on their home floor.
Gilchrist is obviously a big part of both their success and their failure as the team's point guard and star. He's definitely had an up and down year, but he's really been scrutinized heavily by scouts, the media and even his coach, sometimes unfairly it seems. All this drama appears to have made Gilchrist into a much better player.
That was all laid to rest this weekend, though, when Maryland hosted their archrivals Duke and managed to beat them in overtime after the Blue Devils ran out of players down the stretch. Gilchrist was nothing short of fantastic for most of the game, coming up one assist shy of a triple double.
His style of play appears to be better suited for the NBA, where hopefully for him he'll be on a little bit of a longer leash, although coach Gary Williams does deserve serious props for developing Gilchrist into the player he is. Without the coach's input, Gilchrist would probably look a lot like Gilbert Arenas did for Arizona before he declared for the draft. While there is no doubt that the Maryland guard is a scorer (and a fantastic one at that), his point skills are definitely there and hopefully he will learn how to maximize both effectively at the next level when he is playing with better teammates.
Like Arenas, Gilchrist sometimes lets his emotions get the best of him, but you'd be hard pressed to find a guy that plays the game with more heart than he does, on both ends of the court. Predicting which NBA team takes which star NCAA one guard is going to be almost impossible to predict, as they are all so different in their styles of play and in their strengths and weaknesses. But Gilchrist will be getting strong consideration from all the teams in the draft if he continues to play the way he did on Saturday.