Last season’s freshman class was absolutely loaded with talent, as shown by the seven players from that group taken in the NBA Draft lottery back in June. The star power doesn’t end with that group though, as this year’s sophomore group can lay claim to being the strongest class in the country; certainly at the top. This list includes a nice mix of guards and big men, with a couple of inside/outside studs as well. Keep an eye out as many of these individuals will likely end up on All-American lists at the end of the year.
Pick Six: Top Sophomores
CHN's Pick Six series highlights the Top 6 players by position, league, and class.
1. Blake Griffin - Oklahoma
There really wasn’t much debate with making this pick. Not only is Griffin the best returning player from his class, but he may be the best pro prospect in college basketball right now. The big, bruising, athletic specimen’s return to Norman completely changed the landscape of the Big 12 Conference this season. Rather than being a middle of the pack team, the Sooners find themselves ranked 12th in the pre season AP Poll. With his strength, finesse, soft touch and a devastating developing post game, Griffin is the best big man this side of Tyler Hansbrough, and certainly shows more upside in the long term. He just missed out on a double-double average last season, don’t expect that to be the case this year.
2. James Harden – Arizona State
There are plenty of reasons to love this old-school shooting guard. Harden has a very fundamental game, which is highly polished for a player at his stage of development. There are also few players in his class that can match his basketball IQ right now. Harden proved to be a go-to scorer in his first year with the Sun Devils and was an extremely efficient scorer, posting a 63% true-shooting percentage, good for third in last year’s freshman class. Team’s will be keying in on the budding star even more this season, but with his ability to read defenders and make decisions on the fly, there is no reason to think Harden wont post comparable or better numbers than he did last year.
3. Patrick Patterson – Kentucky
This beast in the middle will be the top big man in the SEC this season. Patterson’s game is still very much a work in progress but he shows tremendous flashes of ability with a soft hook shot and the decisions he makes cutting without the basketball. The scary thing is, at this point, he is so physically dominant; he almost doesn’t need a very refined post game to be a force. Few if any players in the conference can match Patterson’s strength, athleticism and explosiveness on the block. While he isn’t the biggest frontcourt player, listed at 6’8” 223, Patterson does a tremendous job of establishing position inside and pushing would be defenders around while he goes to work. He averaged just under 36 minutes per game last season, don’t expect that number to drop this year.
4. Patrick Mills – Saint Mary’s
The WCC managed to recruit some of the top talent in last year’s freshman class. Mills is an electrifying player who enters this season riding high from an impressive summer stint with the Australian national team, where he averaged 14 points in just 24 minutes of action. Mills’ game is built on speed. Whether it be in the open floor or the half court set, few players can match the point guard, particularly his devastating first step. He shows pretty good court vision and distributes the ball well, but clearly he is a shoot first guard. If he cuts down on the number of three-pointers he chucks up this season (nearly six per game last year) Mills should see an increase in his already solid offensive production.
5. Austin Daye – Gonzaga
This player has already gotten plenty of hype from me, so I won’t delve in much more. Daye poses the most tantalizing combination of size, athleticism and skill in the country this season. At 6’10” and possessing the ability to put the ball on the floor comfortably, attack the basket or shoot from the perimeter, there are few players who can boast this same combination. If the small forward can put it all together this season, not only are we looking at a potential All-American caliber player, but a lottery pick as well.
6. Andrew Ogilvy – Vanderbilt
What is there to not like about a 7-footer who dumps in 17 and 7 a night? Very little. Ogilvy was likely the biggest surprise out of last season’s freshman class, emerging as one of the top underclassmen big men in the country. The Aussie shows good mobility and excellent hands for a true center. His back to the basket game is clearly well developed and he shows outstanding touch with both hands, a rarity at the college level. While inconsistent, he showed that he can knock down the mid-range jumper when he chooses to face up on defenders. While Ogilvy could stand to benefit from getting stronger and a little quicker, there is no denying he is one of the most talented players in his class.
Next in Line: Jonny Flynn, Syracuse; Kyle Singler, Duke; Nick Calathes, Florida; James Anderson, Oklahoma State; DeJuan Blair, Pittsburgh
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