Powering their way to the top
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Thomas Robinson showed just how valuable an elite power forward can be as he led Kansas to within one game of the national title last season. Let's take an early look at the power forwards expected to thrive in 2012-13:
DOUG MCDERMOTT - Having already accomplished more in two years than the majority of college basketball players accomplish in four, McDermott became the first player in Creighton history to be named a First Team All-American by the Associated Press last year. McDermott also became the first sophomore in history to be named the Larry Bird MVC Player of the Year after averaging 22.9 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. He set single-season school records with 801 points, 307 made field goals, and 48.6 percent accuracy from three-point range while leading the Bluejays to the third-round of the NCAA Tournament. Prior to signing to play at Creighton for his father Greg, McDermott was offered just three scholarships despite playing with Harrison Barnes, who was one of the most heavily recruited players in the nation. He has made all the teams that neglected him during his prep career pay by blossoming into the most complete power forward in college basketball.
AARIC MURRAY - After two impressive years at La Salle, Murray decided to transfer to West Virginia. After sitting out last season, the former Explorer will be an adequate replacement for the Big East's leading scorer and rebounder, Kevin Jones, whose college career concluded last season. Murray averaged 13.7 points and 7.2 rebounds per contest, earned an Atlantic 10 Conference All-Rookie selection, and he ranks second in La Salle's history with 143 career blocks. The 6-10 menace in the middle stated his main reason for transferring was to develop into an NBA player under WVU head coach Bob Huggins.
C.J. AIKEN - Saint Joseph's rebounded from two sub par seasons to earn a spot in the 2012 NIT. Aiken was a huge factor in the turnaround and could lead the Hawks to even greater heights next season. Phil Martelli has coached some elite talent during his 17-year tenure at SJU, but Aiken is arguably his most complete power forward. The 2012 Atlantic 10 Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Aiken led the league and finished fifth in the nation with 3.53 blocks per game. However, his skill set is far from one dimensional as he has also demonstrated the ability to score both inside and out. If Aiken can improve his consistency on offense and on the glass, he could become an intriguing NBA prospect.
JAMES MICHAEL MCADOO - North Carolina is still expected to have a very strong team next season despite losing multiple players to the most recent NBA Draft. McAdoo was stuck behind first-rounders John Henson and Tyler Zeller on the Tar Heels' depth chart last season, but the former blue chip recruit will be "the man" for UNC this time around. His athleticism and natural talent were on display during his freshman season, showing that he has what it takes to be a star, but he was a little too timid early on. Down the stretch however, McAdoo emerged as the future of the team. The budding second-year player will need to add some strength to become a dominant player, but all indications are he is going to have a breakout season as a sophomore.
MASON PLUMLEE - Duke will be one of the toughest teams to play once again next season, and this senior forward will be one of the primary reasons. Plumlee averaged 10.9 points and 9.1 rebounds as a junior in the perimeter-based Blue Devils' offense due to his tremendous motor and athleticism. Although Duke was knocked out of the NCAA Tournament in its first game by Lehigh, Plumlee's 19 points on a perfect 9-of-9 shooting to go with a dozen rebounds made it clear he was not at fault. This Plumlee flirted with the idea of foregoing his final year and entering the NBA Draft, but he decided to return to Durham for a chance at another national title. The graduation of his older brother Miles, and the loss of star guard Austin Rivers as well, will give him an even bigger role this winter.
ELIAS HARRIS - Gonzaga's reign as one of the top mid-majors in the country will continue next season with Harris back for his final year. The German combo forward was good enough to be a second-round draft pick and also had multiple offers from professional European clubs, but he ultimately elected to return for one more run with the Bulldogs. Harris is a physical rebounder, and he also has the ability to knock down shots from the outside. As a freshman, he averaged 14.9 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, but his scoring numbers have dipped in each subsequent season. Harris, who has played with Germany's Senior National Team, pulled down a career-high 8.5 rebounds per game last season.
O.D. ANOSIKE - Although Siena finished with a disappointing 14-17 overall record in 2011-12, Anosike still managed to make a name for himself. The Saints' power forward led the nation with 12.5 rebounds per game and recorded 23 double-doubles, which was the second most in the NCAA behind Thomas Robinson. Anosike also showed noticeable improvement offensively this past year, as his sophomore scoring average of 8.9 ppg grew to 15.0 ppg. His excellent statistical resume' is even more impressive when you factor in that every opposing team's main focus was to stop him. Siena's star was named to the All-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference First Team and will be a favorite to win the league's Player of the Year honor next season.
TONY MITCHELL - Not often is a Sun Belt Conference player projected to be an NBA Lottery pick, but Mitchell garnered that much attention last season as a freshman at North Texas. The Mean Green's star forward averaged a double-double consisting of 14.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per contest after becoming eligible at the start of the second semester. Mitchell was slated to play his college ball at Missouri, but transferred to North Texas due to academics. An extraordinary athlete who can score from anywhere on the court, Mitchell has the body (6-8) to cause matchup problems for just about every opponent. Despite being projected as an early first-round draft pick, a coaching change in Denton was enough to convince him to return for his sophomore season to mature as a player. As a result, keep an eye on UNT as it could develop into one of this year's surprise teams.
ROBERT COVINGTON - Tennessee State was the only team to beat Murray State during the regular season in 2011-12, and Covington was the catalyst of that upset. The Tigers' talented forward produced 17 points and eight rebounds to help end the Racers' reign as the last undefeated team in Division I. Covington's strong performance against MSU was consistent with his season averages of 17.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. He scored in double figures in every game after being held to nine points in the season opener against Saint Louis. His relentless play guided TSU to a 20-13 overall record and an invite to the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament. Covington is once again poised to help make the Tigers a team most opponents should fear next season.
TREVOR MBAKWE - Minnesota's chances of a trip to the NCAA Tournament took a huge hit when its star forward suffered a season-ending ACL injury in just the seventh game of the 2011-12 season. Luckily for coach Tubby Smith and his squad, Mbakwe was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA which will make Minnesota a much better team at both ends of the court this season. The 6-8 forward averaged a double-double consisting of 13.9 points and 10.5 rebounds per game during his junior season, and was leading the Golden Gophers in scoring and rebounding last year before being sidelined. Mbakwe, who will be entering his sixth season of college basketball, originally began his career with Marquette and then spent a season playing at Miami Dade Community College.
MIKE MOSER - After failing to crack UCLA's lineup as a freshman in 2009-10, Moser became a fixture for the 26-9 UNLV Runnin' Rebels last season. The 6-8 forward wasted no time in making a splash as he scored 20 points and grabbed 20 rebounds in his debut in the desert. Moser thrived in Dave Rice's up-tempo system and finished the season as one of only two players in the Mountain West Conference to average a double-double (13.7 ppg, 10.2 rpg). His strong sophomore campaign landed him a spot on the All-MWC First Team and helped him win the league's Newcomer of the Year award. UNLV had one of the best recruiting classes in the nation this year, which will take some pressure off Moser and allow him to continue his development.
Honorable Mention - Arsalan Kazemi (Rice), Jarnell Stokes (Tennessee), Andre Roberson (Colorado), Jamelle Hagins (Delaware), Cleveland Melvin (DePaul), Jack Cooley (Notre Dame), Erik Murphy (Florida), Alex Oriakhi (Missouri), C.J. Leslie (NC State), Christian Watford (Indiana), Anthony Bennett (UNLV)