Steve Megargee Rivals.com College Basketball Staff Writer
Our search for the next Ashton Gibbs continues today. Only this time, we're looking for the frontcourt version of the Pittsburgh star.
We started this two-day series of players poised for a breakthrough season Wednesday by citing the progress Gibbs made last season. Gibbs made our list of potential breakthrough players last summer, and he responded by emerging as one of the nation's most improved performers as he led Pittsburgh to its ninth consecutive NCAA tournament.
The list we released Wednesday included 12 guards who could follow Gibbs' example by maturing into featured performers after spending their previous season coming off the bench. Today we focus on frontcourt players in similar situations.
Anyone who started half his team's games, averaged 10 points or played as much as 25 minutes per game wasn't eligible for consideration. We also didn't want to include freshmen, transfers or anyone who sat out the 2009-10 season with an injury. This list instead focuses on guys who could enter the spotlight this year after spending much of last season on the bench.
The buzz: The Saints need someone other than Ryan Rossiter to produce offense as they attempt to replace departed starters Ronald Moore, Edwin Ubiles and MAAC player of the year Alex Franklin. Anosike, the brother of former Tennessee women's star and current Minnesota Lynx center Nicky Anosike, has the unenviable task of filling Franklin's shoes and, consequently, should significantly upgrade his 2008-09 averages of 2.7 points and 3.4 rebounds. Rossiter averaged 7.9 points and 10 rebounds in 2008-09 after averaging 1.9 points and 2.9 rebounds a year earlier. Siena's chances of winning a fourth consecutive Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title could depend on whether Anosike has a similar rise in production.
The buzz: Buckner made just eight starts last season, yet he still ranked third in the SEC at 2.1 blocks per game. Buckner, the No. 29 prospect in the 2009 recruiting class, set a school record with 64 blocks. He also averaged 4.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 17.3 minutes while shooting 57.8 percent from the field. Buckner almost certainly will move into the starting lineup this season as the Rebels replace DeAundre Cranston. Buckner actually posted higher scoring and rebounding averages than Cranston while backing him up last season.
The buzz: Scott moved into the starting lineup late last season and helped spark Notre Dame's run to the NCAA tournament. Scott made only nine starts, but he delivered three double-doubles and averaged 10.1 points and 7.7 rebounds during those nine games. Scott will need to build on that late-season momentum as the Irish face the challenge of replacing All-America forward Luke Harangody. Cooley looks a bit like Harangody, though nobody expects him to match his production. Cooley played only 5.3 minutes per game as a freshman, but he showed some toughness when his playing time increased during a three-game stretch against NCAA tournament teams Louisville, Pittsburgh and Georgetown after Harangody got injured.
The buzz: A.J. Ogilvy's decision to enter the NBA draft after his junior season leaves Vanderbilt relying on two other international players to man the middle. Ezeli, a 6-foot-11 center from Nigeria, made six starts last season and averaged 3.8 points and 2.6 rebounds in 12.4 minutes per game as a redshirt freshman. Ezeli was named Vanderbilt's most improved player, but he needs to improve even more for the team to match its 2009-10 success. Tchiengang, a 6-9 forward from Cameroon, made one start last season and averaged 3.4 points and 2.5 rebounds in 11.6 minutes per game. Tchiengang struggles with foul trouble and doesn't score much, but he also is fearless enough to play well against solid frontcourts. Tchiengang scored seven points and pulled down eight rebounds in a home game with Kentucky last season, though he also fouled out of that game after playing just 19 minutes.
The buzz: Fitzgerald's move into the starting lineup late in his freshman season represented one of the lone bright spots for Oklahoma amid its late-season collapse. Fitzgerald started the Sooners' final seven games and delivered a 14-point performance against Kansas State and a 16-point outburst against Kansas during that stretch. He finished his freshman season with averages of 4.8 points, 2.0 rebounds and 15.7 minutes, but his late-season performance provides the best measure of his upside. Oklahoma needs a big season from Fitzgerald as it deals with the early exit of Keith "Tiny" Gallon, who chose to enter the NBA draft after his freshman season.
The buzz: Henson arrived in Chapel Hill as the No. 5 prospect in the 2009 recruiting class, but he struggled to live up to that ranking in his freshman season. Henson, who was 6-10 and 195 pounds last season, lacked the physical maturity to deal with the grind of ACC basketball and averaged just 5.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and 15.8 minutes while making 12 starts. Henson showed signs of progress late in the season as he averaged 10.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in the Tar Heels' first four NIT contests before struggling in the championship game loss to Dayton. Now that he's had a year to strengthen his body and his game, he should get more opportunities to showcase his athleticism. The Heels need Henson to play much better. Although they have added five-star prospect Harrison Barnes, their frontcourt lacks depth following the departures of Ed Davis, Deon Thompson and the Wear twins (Travis and David).
The buzz: Johnson, a 6-10 center, came of age late in his redshirt freshman season as he carried Miami to an improbable appearance in the ACC tournament championship game. Johnson averaged 13.7 points and 8.0 rebounds in three ACC tournament games, including a 22-point effort in a first-round upset of Wake Forest. Johnson averaged 6.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 13.6 minutes as a freshman, but his ACC tournament performance suggests he's capable of much more. Johnson likely will replace departed four-year starter Dwayne Collins in the lineup.
The buzz: Kilicli had to sit out the first 20 games of the 2009-10 season because he had played on a Turkish team that included a professional player. After he finally became eligible, he struggled to adapt and didn't play more than 13 minutes in a game all season. Kilicli should have a much greater role this year now that he will have a full season with his teammates. His 6-9, 260-pound frame gives West Virginia a bruising post presence that should come in handy in the Big East. Kilicli and Kevin Jones could team to give WVU a formidable rebounding tandem.
The buzz: The Yellow Jackets have plenty of uncertainty in their frontcourt now that likely lottery pick Derrick Favors and potential first-round pick Gani Lawal have entered the draft and Zachery Peacock has completed his eligibility. That giant hole should create a giant opportunity for Miller, a 6-11 redshirt freshman. Although he didn't play last season, Miller scored 1,444 points and led Loganville (Ga.) Christian Academy to a 71-2 record in his high school career. Oliver also should be ready for an expanded role, though he is more of a wing than a post player. Oliver made only five starts last year, but he averaged 7.1 points and led the Yellow Jackets in 3-pointers made (63) and attempted (166).
The buzz: Plumlee showed plenty of promise in December and January. He scored 18 points in a win over Penn and also reached double figures against Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. But his playing time dipped late in his freshman season, and he didn't play more than 15 minutes in any of Duke's NCAA tournament games. For the season, he averaged 3.7 points and 3.1 rebounds in just 14.1 minutes. Plumlee, a 6-10 sophomore, figures to inherit a much greater role this season as Duke attempts to replace Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas in the frontcourt. Plumlee and his older brother, Miles, will try to help Duke maintain the rebounding dominance that helped spark the Blue Devils to the 2010 national title.
The buzz: Stewart and Woods came off the bench most of last season, but they should earn more playing time this season as the Demon Deacons attempt to replace four departed starters, including forward Al-Farouq Aminu and center Chas McFarland. Stewart, a 6-7 sophomore forward, averaged 7.3 points, 3.2 rebounds and 17.1 minutes during a freshman season that included a 17-point performance against Gonzaga and a 16-point effort against North Carolina. Stewart led the Demon Deacons in 3-pointers made (43) and attempted (116) last season. Woods, a 6-11 junior center, arrived at Wake Forest as the No. 20 prospect in the 2008 recruiting class, but he has struggled to live up to that ranking. He started each of Wake Forest's first six games last season, but he made only three more starts the rest of the way and averaged 4.6 points and 3.2 rebounds in 13.3 minutes.
The buzz: Yarou arrived at Villanova last season as the No. 10 prospect in the 2009 recruiting class, but health problems caused him to have a difficult transition to the college game. He missed seven weeks of the season after being diagnosed with hepatitis B. Yarou moved into the starting lineup for Villanova's last six games, and he scored in double figures in three of them. He kept Villanova's season alive by collecting 17 points, eight rebounds and three blocks in an NCAA tournament first-round overtime victory over Robert Morris. Yarou averaged 4.5 points and 3.7 rebounds per last season, but he could mature into one of the Big East's top frontcourt performers if he stays healthy for an entire season.