Inside the College Game: NCAA Top Returnees
By Adi Joseph
We won’t be topping last year’s freshman class anytime soon.
And with six of the best first-year players in the nation going straight from college basketball to the NBA draft lottery, it is easy to fall into the misconception that the one-and-done player is the newest fad set to ruin college basketball.
Well, maybe you haven’t looked but with outstanding talent from all around the nation returning we should be able to have yet another deep and talented pool of teams to make this year’s NCAA season more than worthwhile. And perhaps there are no Thad Fives (in fact, it’s now down to the Thad Two). And no, there probably won’t be another Kevin Durant to take over the college game in one swift move.
But for the second straight year a number of star players returned to the college ranks. And before I even bring up a bright freshman class, Let’s talk about who the best returnees in the nation are, from a position-by-position perspective.
[img_assist|nid=3770|title=Drew Neitzel|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=250|height=416]1. Drew Neitzel, Michigan State Sr.
In a season where you’re likely to hear people rave about the talents of the big, hyper-athletic freshman talents of point guards O.J. Mayo and Derrick Rose, Neitzel may wind up being the best player in the country, not only at his position but at any. Neitzel’s energy is one of a kind and his fire to win is nearly unrivaled. After increasing his scoring by 10 points-per-game last season, expect Neitzel to take a step back toward his role as a distributor this season, while continuing to carry a much more grown up Michigan State team this season.
2. Darren Collison, UCLA Jr. - Collison is a freakish athlete with great basketball instincts, and he will be the leader of a top tier UCLA team.
3. D.J. Augustin, Texas So. - Augustin was probably the best freshman point guard during the regular season last year.
4. Tyrese Rice, Boston College Jr. - With Jared Dudley gone, Rice could explode as the ACC’s leading scorer.
5. Sean Singletary, Virginia Sr. - Singletary decided to return to school, and in doing so, returned to the upper class of the nation’s point guards.
Honorable Mention: Dominic James, Marquette; Tywon Lawson, North Carolina; Eric Maynor, VCU; Jeremy Pargo, Gonzaga, Scotty Reynolds, Villanova; Edgar Sosa, Louisville; Ronald Steele, Alabama.
1. Chris Lofton, Tennessee Sr.
You won’t find a more feared shooter in the nation than the little man in orange. With Tennessee being seen as the top team in the SEC this season, it’s easy to see why Lofton would be a preseason player of the year favorite. He is the top returning scorer at a power-conference school this season, and with his cutthroat shooting ability there is no reason not to expect another high octane year for Lofton in Tennessee’s fun-and-gun offense. I think I just made Vol’s fans cringe by comparing their basketball team to anything related to Steve Spurrier.
2. Jamont Gordon, Mississippi State Jr. - Gordon will be playing off-ball more often this year, and he should be able to flourish as one of the SEC‘s top players.
3. Wayne Ellington, North Carolina So. - After living in the shadows a bit last season, Ellington seems poised for a breakout.
4. Jarel McNeil, Marquette Jr. - McNeal is one of the top defenders in the NCAA and gets it done on the offensive end as well.
5. Jaycee Carroll, Utah State Sr. - Carroll could give Lofton some competition as the best shooter in the country.
Honorable Mention: Dionte Christmas, Temple ; Stephen Curry, Davidson; Chris Douglas-Roberts, Memphis; Michael Flowers, Wisconsin; Anthony Goods, Stanford; Marcellus Kemp, Nevada; Derrick Low, Washington State.
1. Chase Budinger, Arizona So.
The goofy looking volleyball player may be the most talented returnee in the nation. With a natural jumper, incredible athleticism and great instincts, Budinger is a finely tuned offensive machine. And man, that athleticism is something to marvel at. The NBA called for Budinger, but he declined the opportunity to become a lottery pick in order to continue his schooling. And as Arizona’s only returning double-digit scorer, Budinger will have a lot of pressure on his shoulders in leading the Wildcats toward yet another NCAA Tournament.
2. Bryce Taylor, Oregon Sr. - Taylor was the best all-around player on Pac-10 Champs Oregon last season, and he could fly under the radar as one of the nation’s top seniors.
3. Brandon Rush, Kansas Jr. - If Rush rebounds from an ACL injury which forced him to return to school, he should be one of the top players in the country.
4. Alonzo Gee, Alabama Jr. - Under the radar, Gee developed into a star for the Crimson Tide, one of the few positives to come out of last season’s woes.
5. Lawrence Hill, Stanford Sr. - After a strong junior campaign, Hill is poised to become one of the top players in the Pac-10 this season.
Honorable Mention: Josh Carter, Texas A&M; Joe Crawford, Kentucky; Paul Harris, Syracuse; Anthony Mason Jr., St. John’s; Josh Shipp, UCLA; Dajuan Summers, Georgetown; Terrence Williams, Louisville.
1. Ryan Anderson, California So.
I’d venture a guess that this is the most surprising pick of the day. Consider that players like Tyler Hansbrough and D.J. White are listed at center, and the choice may make more sense. But even so, Anderson is the collegiate Dirk Nowitzki. He’s impossible to stop on the college level because of his height and vast array of offensive skills, starting with a tremendous jump shot. He was the most underrated member of last season’s freshman class, but his 16.4 points and 8 rebounds per game speak for themselves.
2. Richard Hendrix, Alabama Jr. - Hendrix is a monster in the paint with imposing strength and great finesse moves, and he dominates the boards.
3. Darrell Arthur, Kansas So. - Arthur is the best NBA prospect returning to college, and will surely see a much increased role for Bill Self this season.
4. Jon Brockman, Washington Jr. - Similar to Hendrix, Brockman is a load down low and he’s very athletic as well as one of the hardest workers in the game.
5. Jeff Adrien, Connecticut Jr. - Believe me when I say Calhoun and Co. will not be missing the tournament this season, and Adrien will be a major reason why.
Honorable Mention: Taj Gibson, USC; James Gist, Maryland; Jordan Hill, Arizona; Joseph Jones, Texas A&M; Maarty Leunen, Oregon; James Mays, Clemson; Charles Rhodes, Mississippi State.
1. Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina Jr.
Hansbrough is the best player in the nation. He’s the frontrunner for any award he can win and a large reason that North Carolina is being seen as one of the top few teams in the country. Hansbrough’s a warrior, above all else. He battles in the paint with intensity and strength unmatched by any of his peers. And while his height, length and athleticism may lead to him never becoming much of an NBA player, he represents much of what is right in college basketball today. Expect another big season out of the big man.
2. Roy Hibbert, Georgetown Sr. - Hibbert bypassed an opportunity to be a lottery pick, and he now has a chance to leave his mark in the annals of Georgetown centers.
3. D.J. White, Indiana Sr. - White is perhaps the most skilled post player in the country, and freshman guard Eric Gordon should take some pressure off his shoulders.
4. DeVon Hardin, California Sr. - After an injury hampered him last season, expect Hardin to join the top ranks amongst the nation’s big men.
5. Josh Heytvelt, Gonzaga Jr. - Returning from suspension, Heytvelt should pick up right where he left off - scoring in a variety of ways from the post
Honorable Mention: Eric Coleman, Northern Iowa; Joey Dorsey, Memphis; Kentrell Gransberry, South Florida; Brook Lopez, Stanford; Jeff Pendergraph, Arizona State; Marreesse Speights, Florida; Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut.
The loss of Josh McRoberts could potentially kill Duke on the boards. They will need their more athletic wings, Gerald Henderson and DeMarcus Nelson, to get into the rebounding game if they want to succeed… Baylor may sneak up on people. Curtis Jerrells is an outstanding lead guard… Some breakout seasons to look forward to: Marreesse Speights at Florida, Jordan Hill at Arizona, Earl Clark at Louisville, and Stanley Robinson at Connecticut… UCLA’s inking of Jrue Holiday was huge because the Bruins could potentially lose a lot this season… If Javaris Crittenton had stayed at Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets would likely be a top ten team. But now Paul Hewitt has to find a point guard, or turn someone into one… The Big East should be able to regain the status of the best league in the land again this year, with the Pac-10 following close behind. The SEC and ACC were both significantly hurt by departures… I’ll see you in October with my preseason preview.