By Jon Rothstein
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JEFF WITHEY, KANSAS
THE SKINNY: A year ago, Withey was a little used reserve that barely played. Now? He might be the biggest key for the Jayhawks to have a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. With both Marcus and Markieff Morris bolting for the NBA after last season, there was an immediate void to fill in the Kansas front court and Withey has seized it to the max. Sporting a nastiness on the glass and an adept ability to block shots, the 7-footer has anchored Bill Self’s baseline next to superstar power forward Thomas Robinson.
HENRY SIMS, GEORGETOWN
THE SKINNY: The key each and every year to John Thompson III’s offense is a big man that can initiate things out of the high post and Sims has stepped into that role seamlessly for Georgetown. After spending the first three years of his career as a marginal contributor, the Baltimore native has taken a massive leap in his production as a senior after spending the better part of the NBA lockout playing pickup ball with former Hoyas big men Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert. If this team advances to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, it can point to the improvement of Sims as a major reason why.
SCOTT MACHADO, IONA
THE SKINNY: Has the best point guard in the country made that much of a jump? You better believe it. Leaner, quicker, and stronger than he was 12 months ago, Machado has developed into a lethal threat from the outside in addition to being a premier play maker and defender. The 6-foot-1 senior is now shooting over 40% from 3-point range, 80% from the free throw line, and just under 50% from the field. It’s those type of numbers that Machado hopes will propel he and Iona to the one place he hasn’t been during his storied four-year career in New Rochelle — the field of 68.
GARRETT STUTZ, WICHITA STATE
THE SKINNY: 7-footers are a rarity in mid-major basketball and maybe that’s what makes Stutz so special. An ancillary piece during the Shockers run last season to the Postseason NIT Title, Stutz has nearly doubled his averages in points and rebounds from a year ago while single handedly becoming the focal point of Gregg Marshall’s offense. His presence is a big why Wichita State will be a trendy pick to win multiple games when the brackets are released on Selection Sunday.
CHASE TAPLEY, SAN DIEGO STATE
THE SKINNY: The afterthought of last year’s magical season in Southern California, Tapley is now one of the major reasons why the Aztecs have remained in the national spotlight. After being known as the “fifth” starter on last year’s team that reached the Sweet 16, Tapley refined his outside shot and now has a bigger role in the San Diego State offense. His emergence is a major reason why Steve Fisher is being mentioned as a legitimate candidate for National Coach of the Year.
JUVONTE REDDIC, VCU
THE SKINNY: After enjoying a breakout game last year against Purdue in the NCAA Tournament, Reddic has hit the ground running for the Rams as a sophomore. Often used as VCU’s only legitimate big man on the floor, Reddic has expanded his offensive repertoire to feature a silky, smooth face up game as well as a plethora of moves over either shoulder in the low post. If Reddic continues at the same trajectory, he’ll have a chance to make a lot of money somewhere in two years time.
FAB MELO, SYRACUSE
THE SKINNY: Over hyped as a freshman, Melo has been dominant as a sophomore. The monster big man is the focal point of the Orange’s vintage 2-3 zone and has a set of shoulders that stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Keep in mind that Jim Boeheim’s team is still perfect with their 7-footer in the lineup, as their only blemish came when Melo missed the Orange’s trip to Notre Dame.
FRANTZ MASSENAT, DREXEL
THE SKINNY: Many people in college basketball aren’t familiar with this lefty guard — but they will be by mid March. The Dragons’ sophomore floor general is the major reason why Bruiser Flint’s squad has the inside track to win the CAA regular season title. After struggling to score the ball accurately as a freshman, the 6-foot-4 Massenat has been near flawless in his second season, shooting 47.3% from 3-point range and 44.4% from the field.
C.J. WILLIAMS, NC STATE
THE SKINNY: One thing the Wolfpack desperately needed this season was a glue guy and they found just that in Williams. After barely contributing for the first three seasons under former coach Sidney Lowe, Williams has found new life under Mark Gottfried. The 6-foot-5 wing has emerged into a double figure scorer and is a major reason why NC State is on the bubble in the final month of the college basketball season.
GORGUI DIENG, LOUISVILLE
THE SKINNY: No longer considered “raw” or a “project”, Dieng has emerged as one of the better big men in the Big East. While he still needs to tighten up his outside shot, the 6-foot-10 sophomore is a lethal shot blocker and relentless rebounder. Dieng’s evolution as a player is similar to that of former NBA big man Nazr Mohammed, who played for Louisville coach Rick Pitino when he was at Kentucky.
Who would you add as No. 11? Sound off below…