College Basketball: Top Juniors

November 17th, 2008


In this day and age of one and done phenoms, it is rare to see a large group of talented upperclassmen. While this years crop of juniors is very strong at the top, the talent quickly dwindles once you get below the top 20-25 players; at least when comparing this class to the freshman or sophomores. Luckily this list will only be dealing with the best of the best from the juniors. While some of these players were stars before they even suited up for their first college game, some have built their reputation over the years and have climbed to the top of their class.


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1. Stephen Curry - Davidson


When it’s all said and done, he won’t be the best pro player on this list, he wont even be the highest drafted; but for now Curry is king. The Wildcats’ sharp shooter captivated the nation last year with one of the greatest individual performances in NCAA Tournament history and will likely continue to post gaudy numbers this year (if his 41 points in Davidson’s first exhibition game are any indication). Few players can match his shooting prowess at this level and his non stop movement off the ball makes him a nightmare for defenders. Even with teams focusing almost all of their attention on Curry this season, he’ll still likely manage to torch many of his opponents.


2. Hasheem Thabeet – Connecticut


While Thabeet has already proven to be a game changing force, this selection is mainly a potential pick. The 7’3” shot blocking machine showed tremendous flashes last season and if he has gotten stronger in the off season and improved his post game, Big East opponents better watch out. The Husky big man has more than enough potential to emerge as the top defensive player in the country this year, and with his frame and length, if he puts it together offensively, could be a go to force inside.


3. Luke Harangody – Notre Dame


His game may not be pretty, in fact more often than not it isn’t, but you simply have to respect a 20 and 10 season in the Big East. Harangody is a bruising force inside, with an almost immovable frame, great hands and a soft touch. He almost always seems to know where he is in relation to the basket and just finds a way to get his points night in and night out. More than anything though, you have to love the effort that the big man gives each and every time out on the floor despite the physical beating he takes. It’s been said before, but he is the next closest thing to Tyler Hansbrough.


4. Chase Budinger – Arizona


This high-flyer could have left for the NBA after each of the last two seasons, but opted to return. This year will likely be his last, but could also be his best. There isn’t a player in the Pac-10 with a better combination of athleticism and a perimeter skill set than Budinger. His ability to connect from the perimeter or mid-range has definitely improved since his freshman season and now is a consistent threat to beat teams from the outside. Of course, if team’s play him to shoot he can burn them with a solid first step and do serious damage in the lane with his 40-inch vertical leap. In all, Budinger is a devastating perimeter player who will see his name on All-American lists at the end of the season.


5. Tyler Smith – Tennessee


The SEC has plenty of young talent this season, but it’ll be the upperclassmen Smith who stands above them all as the conference’s top player. The junior does a little bit of everything, rebounding well from his position, and proving to be a solid passer. His shooting numbers improved dramatically from his freshman to sophomore seasons, and with his quickness is a constant threat to attack the basket. Defense is Smith’s bread and butter, showing the ability to guard multiple positions. He has very good lateral quickness, great length and a high basketball IQ on this end of the floor. While the Vol’s have plenty of talent this season, Smith will be the key to how far they go come March.


6. Earl Clark – Louisville


Statistically, Clark will never completely jump off the page due to the number of weapons Louisville trots out each night; that doesn’t mean the junior isn’t a big time inside/outside presence. Clark brings a great physical package to the floor, with good length, quickness and athleticism. Much of his game centers on his dribble drive game; he has a nice first step and solid handles, able to attack with either hand. Clark’s jump shot has improved during his career but certainly still needs some work before it is a consistent weapon. Clark has also shown some nice flashes of ability when he catches the ball on the block. He may not even be the best player on his team this season, but Clark will certainly be one of the top juniors in the country.


Next in Line: Wayne Ellington, North Carolina; Gerald Henderson, Duke; Damion James, Texas; Ty Lawson, North Carolina; Greivis Vasquez, Maryland; Derrick Brown, Xavier



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