The 10 Best NCAA Hoops Players.Who's the better shooter - Adam Morrison or J.J. Redick?
Who's the best point guard in the country - Dee Brown or Rajon Rondo?
Who's the best pro prospect in college basketball today?
All valid questions. And all will likely be answered as the NCAA basketball season heads into the stretch drive. With conference play under way and March Madness an outlet pass away, it's time to get serious about college hoops.
With the season now in full swing, a look at the "Who's Who" is in order. Although some familiar faces sit atop the polls (Duke, Connecticut, Michigan State), several smaller programs (Villanova, Memphis) are making their mark and it appears the landscape of men's college basketball is shifting. But which players are responsible for the change? Who should sports bettors be looking towards in March when elite players rise to the occasion in the NCAA Tournament?
From Adams to Aldridge, take a look at the Top 10 stars of the college hardwood:
Adam Morrison, F, Gonzaga Bulldogs:
When comparisons to Larry Bird come pouring in after your sophomore season, you know you're a special player. And that's exactly what this 6-8 native of Spokane, Wash., has evolved into.
Now in his junior year at Gonzaga, Morrison is one of the most dynamic players in college basketball. His ability to score in a variety of fashions had him leading the nation with 27.8 points per game entering the new year. As the driving force behind the Bulldogs' rise in the Associated Press poll, Morrison has seen plenty of attention from opposing defenses. Still, he's been able to score with ease. This season, Morrison has hung two 43-point outings on ranked opposition - the first on Nov. 22 against Michigan State in the semifinal of the Maui invitational; the second versus defending Pac-10 champs Washington on Dec. 4.
Off the court, the lanky small forward has become a role model for children with diabetes. His ongoing battle with the disease was documented in a five-page Sports Illustrated article and was a topic of a segment on ESPN's The Season.
Known for his outstanding mid-range game and fiery competitiveness, Morrison has shot onto NBA scouting radars. An honorable mention All-American last season - and a likely Wooden Award candidate as NCAA player of the year this season - his ability to flat-out score and off-the-charts basketball IQ has made Morrison one of the most coveted prospects in college hoops.
Dee Brown, G, Illinois Fighting Illini:
Part of the three-headed monster (along with current NBAers Luther Head and Deron Williams) that led the Fighting Illini to the NCAA title game a year ago, Brown resisted the allure of professional basketball this summer. He returned to Champaign for his senior year and has gotten his orange-clad Illinois teammates off to a flying start.
In what many predicted to be a down year for Illini basketball, Brown has re-established himself as one of the premier point guards in the NCAA as his team continues to defy pundits. The undisputed floor general for No. 6-ranked Illinois, Brown leads the team in minutes, assists and steals, and is second in scoring with 14.2 points per game.
Arguably the fastest player in college basketball, Brown brings a combination of hustle and desire that is downright contagious. A consensus first-team All-American in 2005, Brown appears set to join former teammates Head and Williams in the NBA at the conclusion of his senior campaign.
J.J. Redick, G, Duke Blue Devils:
The accolades seem to be constantly pouring in for the Roanoke, Va., product. Widely regarded as the most natural shooter in college basketball, Redick has backed up that claim with laser-like precision from the free-throw line. This year - in what he considers an "down season" for charity-stripe accuracy - Redick is knocking them down at an 87.3%, well below his career average of 93.8%.
His prowess behind the arc is just as impressive. Redick entered 2006 second in the nation in three-point shooting (44.4%) and third in scoring (25.3 ppg). His outstanding performance got the Blue Devils off to a 12-0 start, which put them atop both the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls.
The reigning Rupp National Player of the Year, Redick has been the recipient of numerous individual awards during his storied Duke career. Yet there remains an elusive title that he has not been able to capture - a NCAA Championship. That accomplishment will be the goal for his senior season, which would be a fitting score for one of the most accurate shooters the college game has ever seen.
Hassan Adams, G/F, Arizona Wildcats:
The rise to prominence for Adams has been steady, culminating with an impressive senior season in 2005-06. Arguably the most athletic perimeter player in the college game, this 6-4 leaper is a total package - skilled enough to handle any of the guard positions, yet physically capable of guarding taller and stronger forwards.
Averaging 20.8 points and 6.7 rebounds, Adams has carried an inconsistent Arizona team - still stung by the NBA departures of Channing Frye and Salim Stoudamire - to a Top 25 ranking. With his solid offensive contributions, his defensive efforts often go unnoticed - they shouldn't. Adams ranks in the Top 20 nationally in steals and blocks an unusually high number of shots for a guard.
Adams has the kind of game that should be easily adaptable at the professional level. His physical skill set allows him to take advantage of numerous mismatches in defensive assignments - he is able to overpower smaller opponents, with the quickness and leaping ability to maneuver past larger ones. He will be a candidate for the Pac-10 Player of the Year, and if Arizona can further move up the rankings, could have an outside shot at the Wooden Award.
LaMarcus Aldridge, F, Texas Longhorns:
At 6-10 and 237 pounds, Aldridge is quickly becoming one of the most dominant big men in college basketball.
A McDonald's All-American at Seagoville High in Dallas, Aldridge initially entered the 2004 NBA draft but withdrew in time to maintain his eligibility and enroll at Texas. His freshman campaign in Austin was curtailed just 16 games in when Aldridge suffered torn cartilage in his right hip that ended his season.
After a lengthy rehabilitation, the silky-smooth big man got back on the court and has established himself as an elite forward. Averaging double figures in both points (17.5) and rebounds (10.5 - ranked 12th in the nation) for the No. 15 Longhorns, Aldridge has drawn comparisons to the Toronto Raptors' Chris Bosh for his ability to score in and out of the paint while continuing to be a serious rebounding threat on the offensive glass.
Texas came into this season as contenders to Duke for the top team in America. After a slow start (which included a 97-66 thrashing at the hands of the Blue Devils on Dec. 10), the Longhorns seem to be rounding into form. That improvement can be attributed to the development of their super sophomore.
Randy Foye, G, Villanova Wildcats:
One of the more memorable stories from the 2005 NCAA Tournament was the revival of Villanova basketball - highlighted by a Sweet 16 appearance. Although the Wildcats' run in the tournament ended with a heartbreaking 67-66 loss to eventual champs North Carolina, they sent notice of their impending ascent.
The star of the show has been Foye, who has returned for his senior season as the Wildcats look to re-establish Villanova as one of the elite programs in the country. From his 28-point outburst against UNC last spring to being the on-floor leader of an undefeated team this year, Foye's growth as a player has scouts drooling over his potential.
During his four-year career, Foye has upped his scoring each season, culminating with the 20.3 scoring average he carried into 2006. A solid rebound (5.8) and assist (4.2) player, Foye is considered to be one of - if not the - best combo guard in the country.
Maurice Ager, G, Michigan State Spartans:
A phenom in Crockett High School in Detroit, Ager didn't have to leave the state to find success at the college level. Now a senior at No. 7 Michigan State (12-2), the guard is being looked upon to lead the Spartans to a repeat Final Four appearance.
As a junior, Ager averaged 14.1 points while playing just over 26 minutes per game. This year, the 6-5, 202-pound guard is playing nearly 10 minutes more per game and has responded in kind, averaging 22 points.
The Spartans' early-season classic with Gonzaga - a 109-106 triple-overtime loss on Nov. 22 - was the perfect showcase for Ager. He put up a career-high 36 points and sent the game into overtime with a three-pointer - his fifth trey in the final 7:10 - at the buzzer.
After his mediocre junior campaign, Ager was considered a marginal NBA prospect. That has changed. His efforts in the early part of his senior season have moved him up several draft boards. Look for the Spartans to make another deep tourney run in March, and for Ager to parlay that success into consideration for a top NBA draft spot.
Rajon Rondo, G, Kentucky Wildcats:
Rondo burst onto the scene last year when - as a 19-year-old freshman point guard - he led the Wildcats to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. Displaying composure and ball-handling skills uncommon in such a young player, Rondo's performance in the tournament gave great hope to the Bluegrass faithful moving forward.
This season, Rondo has not disappointed by leading the No. 19 Wildcats (9-3) in points (15.1), rebounds (8.2), assists (5.3) and steals (2.0). The sophomore sensation has become his team's MVP and, quite possibly, the best player in the Southeastern Conference. The rebounding numbers simply jump off the page - at 6-1, Rondo is nearly doubling the output of his 6-8 teammate, forward Rekalin Sims.
NBA scouts are all over what many consider to be the best young point guard in college basketball. If Rondo can continue to carry such a heavy load, catch a look at the Wildcats in March - it might be the last time you see him in a Kentucky uniform.
Rudy Gay, F, Connecticut Huskies:
Long, athletic and polished, Gay is the kind of player that makes NBA scouts sit up and take notice.
Gay attended Archbishop Spalding High School in Maryland, where he was named a 2004 Parade Magazine All-American. The accolades have continued at Connecticut. In 2005, Gay was named the Freshman of the Year by the Sporting News. Described as a coach's dream, Gay has developed into an elite college athlete who loves the game and thrives on unselfish play.
At 6-9, 220-pounds, Gay excels in the low post, but is far from one-dimensional. Though not often called upon to light it up from outside, he shot above 46 percent from three-point range in his freshman year. However, his biggest strength is his desire to win. College scouts often note his passion for the game and the fact he seems to work harder than everyone else on the court.
This year, Gay is leading his No. 2 Uconn Huskies thanks in large part to his all-around game. Averaging 15.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists, he will be a major factor come tournament time, and is regarded as a consensus Top 5 NBA draft choice when he decides to declare.
Ronnie Brewer, G, Arkansas Razorbacks:
The only member of the coaches 2005 All-SEC first team who returned to the court for the 2005-06 college season, Brewer has become both the heart and soul of the Arkansas Razorbacks and one of the most feared players in the conference in what is shaping up to be a tremendous junior season.
A 6-7 guard, Brewer possesses the all-around game that makes him an absolute nightmare to guard, and to be guarded by. He's the SEC's second-leading scorer at 18.3 points per game and leads the conference in steals per game. His defensive prowess has earned him recognition on the national scale as well - his 43 steals as of Jan. 4 this season were the second most in the country.
It appears as though his preseason nomination as Blue Ribbon's SEC Player of the Year has vaulted him into elite status. After gaining seven pounds for his junior season, Brewer has gone out and logged extensive playing time at point guard, shooting guard and small forward, racking up nearly 33 minutes per game. Projected by many to be a Top 10 NBA draft pick upon declaration, Brewer will be a player to watch for the remainder of this season, and in the future.
Remember, the 10 best college players in the country all have one wish - to be the one hoisting the national championship trophy at the end of the season. Chances are that in the madness that comes each March, one of these players will keep his poise and propel his teammates to the pinnacle of their sport, making fans - and more than a few sports bettors - happy.
by Calvin Ayre.