- Jay Bilas, College Basketball analyst
We are not yet done with the first quarter of the 2012-2013 college basketball season, yet several big men have set themselves apart as the most productive, efficient and effective players.
While others may have great future value at this and the next level, here are the five best and most effective big men in the nation to this point in the season. The players on this list have potential as well as current high-level productivity.
Few players in the country have come as far over the past four years as Mason Plumlee, who has been the best and most reliable player on the Duke roster this season. Plumlee has been a rock, and has been the most productive major-conference big man in the nation. After eight games, Plumlee has scored at least 16 points in every contest, and has averaged 19.6 points, 11 rebounds and 1.9 blocked shots per game, while shooting 65 percent from the floor and 76 percent from the line against the best schedule in the country to this point.
Plumlee has gone against the frontlines of Kentucky, Louisville, Minnesota and Ohio State and has been the best big man on the floor in each game. A career 55 percent free throw shooter, Plumlee would shy away from contact in the past. Now, as a reliable foul shooter, Plumlee seeks contact and is a much more aggressive and assertive offensive player. A good passer and rebounder, Plumlee is the now the player most fans and experts projected he would be. He just took the old-school route and did it on his own timeline.
Len has improved greatly as a rebounder and scorer, and has become a more confident and forceful player. Len is logging 26 minutes per game, and has been almost twice as productive in his minutes this season as opposed to last season, averaging 14.7 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.6 blocked shots per game while shooting 55 percent from the field. The 7-footer has a strong build yet is mobile, has great feet, is active in the post and can change ends. Further, his strength and stamina have improved so that he can be more productive in the same number of minutes.
Len is very good offensively, but has the most potential on the defensive end. Last season, he was the best shot-blocker in the ACC per minute played, and he has been almost as productive in that category playing more minutes this season. Len has shown terrific ability on both ends, and he is the type of big man who should keep improving.
Zeller is very efficient on the offensive end and has not fully shown how good he is going to be. His best attribute, and what sets him apart, is his ability to run the floor. At conversion, Zeller has been trained to take off, and he is usually two steps downcourt before his counterpart big has realized he's gone. In watching tape of him, it seems that the best scenario for an opponent during a change of possession is if Zeller gets the defensive rebound, as he is less likely to have an impact in transition.
In eight games, Zeller is averaging 15.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.4 blocked shots and 1.3 steals per game. He is shooting 63 percent from the field and 63 percent from the line in 7.0 free throw attempts per game. Zeller has great hands, understands angles in the post and does a really good job of making himself available. He can face up and drive it -- he does well to spin off contact and react to attacking defenders -- and he has the ability to hit a jump shot to range. The next step for Zeller is to become a more dominant rebounder. He is a good rebounder now, despite his short reach, but can be better on the glass. The best part of Zeller is that he is a great teammate who doesn't force anything. His productivity is not from volume shooting, but from his activity level.
Another in a long line of Canadian players in college basketball, Bennett has been arguably the best freshman big man in the country. Bennett is a power player who can get off the floor with force and finish in traffic. He is physically intimidating (6-8, 240 pounds), and has a knack for rebounding and scoring. Plus, he can step away or overpower defenders with deep post position.
After only six games, Bennett is leading UNLV in scoring, offensive rebounding and blocked shots, and he has shot twice as many free throws as the next Rebel on the stat sheet. Bennett is averaging 18.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocked shots per game while shooting 55 percent from the floor and 78 percent from the free throw line. He has made five 3-point field goals and half of his rebounds are offensive boards (averaging 3.8 offensive rebounds per game).
Withey is first and foremost a defensive presence, and therein lies his greatest value. He is a rim protector who blocks and changes shots. In Kansas' first seven games, Withey blocked 40 shots (a 5.7 blocks per game average). Withey (7-0, 235) is thin and lacks the bulk and strength to establish and hold low-post position, but he is a good offensive player who simply may not be a primary low-post scorer.
He is mobile and can operate effectively setting ball screens, but he is not a great finisher in traffic. Withey is averaging 14.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 5.7 blocks per game while shooting 59 percent from the field. As a shot-blocker, Withey leads the nation in both blocks per game and total blocked shots.