The Resurgence of the College Big

The adage has never changed.

The NBA is a man’s game, and college basketball is a guard’s game. The college game is riddled with scorers, scorers who are incapable of properly feeding entry passes into the post, or penetrating in order to create opportunities for an easy bucket off the block. Big men rely on perimeter players to allow them to make an impact on basketball games.  Guards bring the ball up the court, if they have no interest in feeding the post, the post stays hungry. Talented bigs have been frustrated for years by their lack of touches in the college game.

In fact, through yesterday’s games, just 25 players in Division 1 college basketball average six assists per game or more, which highlights that many of the same issues remain.  That lack of ball movement is not unique to this season, as evidenced by the presence of just six centers among the NCAA’s top 250 scorers last year.  None of those six played for schools in power five conferences.

That said, the tide appears to be turning for college bigs.  Thus far, you can find eleven centers among the top 250 in scoring, still obviously a small number, but nearly doubling last year’s totals.  Even more notable though, is the number of high-profile guys among that list.  Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas, and Duke’s Jahlil Okafor are listed, powering some of the elite programs in the country.  Kaminsky and Okafor specifically, are considered front runners for National Player of the Year, which would be a rare achievement for a post.  Anthony Davis won the award in 2011-12 (you can make arguments about his “big man” status), but outside of that, just Andrew Bogut in 2004-05, and Marcus Camby in 1995-96 and Tim Duncan in 1996-97 claimed the award for the big man brotherhood.

Even on a more broad scale, college front courts are starting to make a more pronounced impact on the college basketball landscape.  Checking out the current teams ranked among the top ten, they are riddled with teams that possess elite front courts.  Kentucky, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Duke are considered to be the four premier front courts in the nation, and coincidentally, they also own the top four spots in the current polls.  At #5 sits Louisville, led by another Player of the Year candidate in Montrezl Harrell, who while it would a stretch to call a center, is most certainly one of the best power forwards in college basketball.  At #6 comes Texas, who without Isaiah Taylor, have relied heavily on front court mates Myles Turner and Johnathan Holmes to lead the way.  Gonzaga sits at #9 in the current polls, and most consider them to be the team rounding out the top five in terms of quality front courts, as transfer Duke transfer Kyle Wiltjer and frosh big man Domantas Sabonis lead their team in scoring.

Even NBA draft projections are riddled with front court prospects.  ESPN’s Chad Ford shows a current Big Board that predicts six college big men (PF/C) to be lottery picks and an additional 8 college posts to be selected in the 1st round.  By comparison, the 2014 draft had just six big men selected in the first round, the 2013 draft had nine, and the 2012 draft boasted 12 college bigs.  In fact, should 14 college post players be selected as Ford projects, that would be the highest total in an NBA Draft first round since 1996.

So while guards will likely rule the college landscape more often than not, maybe, just maybe, we’ll see this game mold into a more balanced floor game, where regardless of size, a team’s most talented player will see ample touches.  Enjoy the season of the bigs, college hoops fans!