College hoops in the DMV: Big men on campus

College hoops in the DMV: Big men on campus
October 18, 2011, 2:10 am
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By Benjamin Standig
CSNwashington.comThe start of CSNwashington's college basketball 2011-12 preview looks at the forward, centers and the frontcourt options around the area...Maryland: Alex Len (7-1, C, Fr.)Additional frontcourt options: James Padgett (6-8, F, Jr.), Berend Weijs (6-10, C, Sr.), Ashton Pankey (6-9, F, Fr.)Once leading scorer and rebounder Jordan Williams announced he was putting his wide-bodied self into the NBA Draft process, any hopes of making the NCAA Tournament this season seemingly went with him. Then Icelandic forward Haukur Palsson chose to take his talents overseas and nobody could figure how to grant Dino Gregory another year of eligibility (just teasing on the latterI think). That left a collection of four unproven players up front; Padgetts 3.3 points and 8.7 minutes per game topped the returning choices.One of them (Ashton Pankey) missed all but one game last season due to injury and none started a single game.That is why you cannot downplay the significance of Len, a skilled Ukrainian center with international experience, coming to College Park. Making any assumptions without seeing him play in the ACC let alone against UNC Wilmington, Marylands first opponent would be foolish, but there have been enough hints to think he has the goods. Now the question is when (or if?) doesLen officially becomes a member of the program. First-year coach Mark Turgeon said he was pleasantly surprised by his interior options considering the doom and gloom cast over the frontcourt, dubbingPankey the best rebounder on the roster. That's great, but for the Terps to be good enough for the postseason, they badly need Len.Georgetown: Hollis Thompson (6-8, F, Jr.)Additional frontcourt options: Nate Lubick (6-8, F, So. ) Henry Sims (6-10, C, Sr. ), Otto Porter (6-8, F, Fr.)When it came to scoring last season, the Hoyas frontcourt took a backseat to three guards capable of shouldering the offensive load most nights. Now that Austin Freeman and Chris Wright have graduated, along with center Julian Vaughn, more looks will be available to all. Expect Thompson to take advantage. The perimeter-oriented scorer with deep range Thompson dropped 26 points in Georgetowns NCAA Tournament loss against VCU started 22 games last season and showed a willingness to take shots late in games. His confident style Hollywood put his name into the NBA draft before returning - should benefit a team loaded with 10 combined freshmen and sophomores, but improved shot selection is also required for him to reach the next level.The makeup of last seasons roster frequently put Thompson inside on both ends of the court, but the addition of four 6-8 or taller freshman should allow him to play in a more natural situation.The explosive Porter could play his way into the starting lineup and the athletic freshmen - including guard Jabril Trawick - will have the Hoyas playing above the rim. Or at least not under it as was frequently the norm last season.Things could get awkward with Coach John Thompson III should his volume shooting inclination takes over, but an improved Hollis Thompson might be able to play his way into earning All-Big East honors.George Mason: Ryan Pearson (6-6, F, Sr.)Additional frontcourt options: Mike Morrison (6-9, FC, Sr.), Erik Copes (6-8, C, Fr.)Led by thepower-packed Pearson, the Patriotsremain aCAA heavyweight despite the loss of coach Jim Larranaga, top scorer Cam Long and assist leader Luke Hancock.Pearson isnot the only viable frontcourt option, but the most proven offensively.After scoring 14.2 points and topping the Patriots with 6.7 rebounds per game, the New York City native enters the season as a leading CAA Player of the year candidate. His shooting range improved dramatically last season 40 percent from beyond the arc but his comfort level increases the closer he is to the basket.That is why it will be interesting to see how new coach Paul Hewitt utilizes his talents. Last season Pearson played primarily at power forward, but shifting to a more perimeter role will allow him to the share the court with Morrison and Copes, a top-60 recruit.George Washington: Dwayne Smith (6-6, F, Jr.)Additional frontcourt options: David Pellom (6-8, F, Jr.), Nemanja Mikic (6-8, F, So.), John Kopriva (6-8, F, Fr.)How first-year coach Mike Lonergan works around the Colonials sizable hole at center will be a significant factor, but he has workable assets at the forward positions.Smiths rugged style plays bigger (5.1 rebounds) than his listed height and the streaky scorer(9.3 ppg) can produce from all angles. The Colonials will need him to improve upon his 40 percent shooting from the field; limiting himself to a mid-range-and-in offensive game would be best until he can consistently knock down 3-pointers. Smith shot 31.6 percent from beyond the arc last season, but only 21 percent (8-for-38) over his final 16 games. Kopriva, originally headed to join Lonergan in Vermont, is the sleeper for frontcourt minutes as his high-energy style is already generating buzz within the program.Virginia: Mike Scott (6-8, F, Sr.)Additional frontcourt options: Assane Sene (7-0, C, Sr.), James Johnson (6-9, F, RS-Fr.), Darion Atkins (6-8, F, Fr.)What ended the Cavaliers outside shot at reaching the NCAA Tournament last season is what has some projecting them into this years field of 68: Scotts return from two ankle surgeries.The power forward was playing at an all-ACC level leading the Cavaliers in points (15.9) and rebounds (10.2) before his season ended after only 10 games. Granted an extra year of eligibility, the back-to-the-basket scorer returns for a final season as the Cavaliers look to move off the .500 bubble they have lived just over and under in Bennetts two seasons.Virginia Tech: Victor Davila (6-8, C, Sr.)Additional frontcourt options: J.T. Thompson (6-6, F, Sr.), Dorian Finney-Smith (6-8, F, Fr.), Cadarian Raines (6-9, F, So.)Replacing everything guard and leading scorer Malcolm Delaneygenerated for the Hokies will be a sizeable feat. Replacing the production delivered by forward and double-double machine Jeff Allen will be even more daunting. Davila, who averaged 13.5 points in two wins over Maryland last season, is the most known commodity of the returning bunch (7.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg). With Allen and is 9.7 rebounds having departed from the equation, Davila needs to consistently assert his presence on the boards, as he did against North Carolina State with a season-high 13 rebounds. The energetci Thompson returns after missing last season with an injury.Finney-Smith, a top-25 national recruit, will battle Jarell Eddie for the small forward role.American Charles Hinkle (6-5, F, Sr.)Once the Vanderbilt transfer became eligible after the first semester, he showed flashes of the player Eagles coach Jeff Jones previously described as the best on the team, in practice anyway. Hinkle played 23 minutes and scored eight points in his Eagles debut against UMBC , but his production tailed off as the season moved along. Over the final four games and with the Eagles making a run at the Patriot League's one NCAA Tournament bid, Hinkle played a total of 24 minutes with seven points. Without Vlad Moldoveanu (graduation) and Stephen Lumpkins (professional baseball), the Eagles will need the star practice player to show up for the games themselves.Howard: Mike Phillips (6-7, F, Jr.)Much has been made of the Bisons impressive incoming class, but they already have an interior stud on the roster. The Bisons leading scorer Phillips (12.9 ppg, 7.2 rpg) scored 21 points against Virginia and produced seven double-doubles last season.