Top 10 Thursday: The Most Indispensable

July, 5, 2012
7/05/12
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Last week’s NBA draft disrupted some of the top college programs in the country. But multiple squads maintained the core of their rosters. Or they added new stars and regrouped with an equally potent pack of high-level recruits.

But all might be lost without the following returnees and additions. Here’s my list of the Top 10 Most Indispensable Players in the country.

[+] EnlargeDoug McDermott
Eric Francis/Getty Images Doug McDermott averaged 23.2 points and 8.2 rebounds for Creighton last season.
In order …

  1. Doug McDermott (Creighton) -- Few casual fans knew his name prior to the 2011-12 campaign. But McDermott became a star after averaging 23.2 ppg and 8.2 rpg. The Bluejays are the favorites to win the Missouri Valley, and they’ll enter next season as a nationally ranked squad with McDermott back. He’ll be even more essential next season, as the team tries to replace the production of Antoine Young (12.5 ppg, 4.5 apg). But the first-team All-American candidate will keep Creighton on the national radar. The 6-foot-7 forward is the most indispensable player in the country based on his contributions to the Jays and how he affects their national standing.
  2. Cody Zeller (Indiana) -- Tom Crean has the pieces to win a national championship: a top-10 recruiting class and a fleet of veterans. Zeller, however, is the building block that’s helped the Hoosiers return to the upper echelon of the game. The Final Four/national title chatter stems from Zeller’s presence and his decision to play another year of college basketball. He averaged 15.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.2 bpg and 1.4 apg -- and Crean claims he’ll display more versatility next season. The Hoosiers can’t live without him.
  3. Peyton Siva (Louisville) -- Louisville’s run to the Final Four was one of the great surprises of the 2011-12 season. The Cardinals had to overcome a season plagued by injuries to advance to the sport’s final stage. Siva’s leadership -- on and off the floor -- was a crucial element in that rally. He averaged 1.7 steals for the nation’s No. 1 defense (per Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings). He dished out 5.6 assists per game, too. The Cardinals, a top-5 squad entering next season, relied on him last season, and they’ll need him again next season. He’s vital.
  4. Trey Burke (Michigan) -- When Burke (14.8 ppg, 4.6 apg) announced his return to the Wolverines, he turned the program into a national title contender. Glenn Robinson and Mitch McGary anchor one of the Big Ten’s top recruiting classes. Tim Hardaway Jr. is back, too. But Burke is the nucleus. He’s the guy that can elevate the Wolverines throughout the regular season and in March, when it will matter most. He was one of the top freshmen in the country last season. Next season, he’ll be the most essential player for a Wolverines team that could win the Big Ten and possibly reach Atlanta.
  5. Shabazz Muhammad (UCLA) -- Prior to national signing day, UCLA had potential. Kyle Anderson was an immediate boost for a squad that could have used his versatility last season. But projections for the Bruins changed when Muhammad -- the No. 2 recruit in the 2012 class, according to ESPN.com -- chose UCLA. The explosive 6-6 wing is a top-3 player in most 2013 mock drafts. And he’s capable of lifting the Bruins to top-10 status and beyond next year. With Muhammad, the Bruins could win the Pac-12 and compete for a national crown. He makes the Bruins relevant again.
  6. Jeff Withey (Kansas) -- Last season, many doubted Kansas’ ability to win another Big 12 title. Then, the Jayhawks won another Big 12 title -- their eighth consecutive crown. The losses of Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor have fueled similar questions about KU's potential for next season. But Withey is back. And that means the Jayhawks possess one of the nation’s top shot blockers (3.6 per game). His defense was as vital as Robinson’s contributions during the NCAA tournament. If he expands his offensive game, he’ll be an All-American center and possible lottery pick by season’s end.
  7. Nerlens Noel (Kentucky) -- Anthony Davis was a special player. But his successor, Noel, is a gem, too. He’s a 6-10 NBA prospect with the defensive abilities to lead the nation in blocks in his first -- and (probably) only -- year of college basketball. He’s surrounded by another Kentucky roster filled with future NBA first-round picks. But he’s the key to UK’s goal of defending its national title in Atlanta. Last season, the Wildcats had the No. 9 defense per Pomeroy’s ratings. They will maintain that status with Noel in the middle. If he develops on offense -- he’s very raw -- the Cats could end the regular season as the favorites to win the crown. Again.
  8. Aaron Craft (Ohio State) -- Another year in the Big Ten. Another battle at the top of the conference. Indiana should be the preseason favorite to win the league. But Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State will be in that mix, too. The latter of which lost Jared Sullinger, but Craft is the kind of point guard that can make any roster click. He’s an efficient distributor (4.6 apg). And he’s still America’s top perimeter defender (2.5 spg). Yes, the Buckeyes need Deshaun Thomas to embrace his new role as the center of the offense. But Craft is still the most important player on that team. The Bucks are not elite without him.
  9. Patric Young (Florida) -- Young showcased his potential in spurts last season. His averages of 10.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg and 0.8 bpg were solid, but next season he could be a beast for a Gators squad that should vie for the SEC crown. The 6-9 forward didn’t get enough touches, because he played with so many guards who loved the 3-ball -- and loved the ball in general. Florida’s backcourt is stacked again, but if the Gators find Young more often, he could develop into one of the nation’s top big men.
  10. Pierre Jackson (Baylor) -- Jackson is one of college basketball’s acquired tastes. There’s certainly a chaotic element in his approach to the game. The quick 3s. The incomprehensible runners. But his indispensability is undeniable, especially for a Baylor team that lost Quincy Miller, Perry Jones III and Quincy Acy to the NBA. The Bears, however, won’t fall off the map. Brady Heslip is back. And Isaiah Austin is one of the top incoming freshmen in America. But they’ll live and die by whatever Jackson (13.3 ppg, 5.9 apg, 1.8 spg) brings each night. For Baylor fans, that’s probably exciting and a little scary. But they need him.

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