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October 19, 2006

Small forwards provide matchup issues

Preseason Top 25
Preseason SG rankings
The College Basketball Wire

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Looking for a common theme among the national title contenders in college basketball? Check out the small forward position.

Defending national champion Florida, North Carolina, Kansas and Georgetown - which take up the top four spots in Rivals.com's preseason top 25 - all have players ranked among our top 20 small forwards.

So do No. 7 LSU (Tasmin Mitchell) and No. 9 Wisconsin (Alando Tucker).

Most of those teams also feature some of the nation's premier guards and big men, but their small forwards are growing more and more valuable.

They are often the only player on the roster with the versatility to play well on the inside and outside consistently. Small forwards can create matchup problems and make sure they don't face one. A strong player at the No. 3 spot can help cover up just about any weakness.

Corey Brewer, who sits at No. 2 on our list, did all of those things for the Gators last season as they made their surprising march to the school's first national title. The wiry wing impacted nearly every phase of the game, giving Florida a do-everything weapon that few opponents could match.

Rivals.com 2006-07 Preseason Top Small Forwards
1. Alando Tucker, Sr., Wisconsin, 6-6, 205
Don't tell anyone in Madison that Greg Oden is the best player in the Big Ten. Badger fans have grown to think very highly of Tucker, the only first- or second-team All-Big Ten performer to return from last season. Armed with a 38-inch vertical leap and a penchant for doing plenty of damage in the paint, the fifth-year senior has raised his scoring average every season. He averaged 19 points per game for the Badgers in 2005-06. He also attempted a school-record 233 free throws and hauled in 5.7 rebounds per game. Tucker will get a chance to emerge as a national star in his final college season. Wisconsin returns every key player and has the surrounding pieces needed for a deep postseason run.
2. Corey Brewer, Jr., Florida, 6-9, 185
The Gators' big men - Joakim Noah and Al Horford - will be higher draft picks, but their classmate may be more valuable. That's because no player on any team may be more versatile. An inside-outside threat who is also a superb defender, Brewer averaged 12.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.6 steals a game. He was also voted the SEC's Co-Defensive Player of the Year last season. When the Gators get back to the NCAA Tournament, expect them to rely on their lanky wing. He scored in double figures in five of six games in the tournament last season. Brewer made a key shot late in the second half to give the Gators a lead and push them past Georgetown into the Elite Eight.
3. Jared Dudley, Sr., Boston College, 6-7, 225
Expect this battle-tested veteran to emerge as one of the top candidates for the ACC's Player of the Year award. Dudley will be getting more touches and more shots with the departure of Craig Smith, who was one of the league's top big men last season. Even with Smith as the first offensive option last season, Dudley put together an impressive stat line: 16.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg and 3.1 apg. The four-year starter is an expert at getting into the lane and drawing contact. He went to the free-throw line 21 times (and made 18) against Wisconsin-Milwaukee in an NCAA Tournament game.
4. Al Thornton, Sr., Florida State, 6-8, 220
If the true measure of a player's worth is how he fares against top competition, then Thornton may deserve to be higher on this list. The Perry, Ga., native scored a career-high 37 points at then-No. 15 Boston College on Jan. 14. He matched that point total at then-No. 2 Duke in an overtime thriller on Feb. 4. Thornton wound up averaging 23.7 points (his season average was 16.9) in the six games against opponents that reached the NCAA Tournament. Bigger numbers could be on the way. The Seminoles will be relying on Thornton more than ever - particularly on the inside - because center Alexander Johnson left early for the NBA.
5. Jeff Green, Jr., Georgetown, 6-9, 235
Any list of the nation's top frontcourts must include the Hoyas and this former Big East Rookie of the Year. Green provides an ideal complement for 7-2 center Roy Hibbert. Green also creates a matchup problem for most opponents. Extremely athletic and a 3-point threat, the three-year starter is comfortable maneuvering all over the court. Green can guard several positions, excels in transition and also possesses the strength to be a force on the boards. He averaged a team-high 11.9 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists last season.
6. Brandon Rush, So., Kansas, 6-6, 210
No player on this list may be more athletic or posses more potential. Rush, who is an extraordinary leaper, last season became the first freshman to earn first-team All-Big 12 honors. He was also the only first-year player to ever lead the Jayhawks in scoring (13.5 ppg) and rebounding (5.9 rpg). Rush is also an accurate shooter from beyond the arc. He made 47 percent of his attempts from 3-point land (50-for-106). Since Kansas' roster includes six other five-star recruits, Rush probably won't put up All-American type-stats. However, he could play the key role in a national title run.
7. Morris Almond, Sr., Rice, 6-6, 215
The best player in Conference USA doesn't reside in Memphis anymore - not since Almond's decision to pull out the NBA Draft. A former role player, Almond emerged as a prolific scorer and put up some gaudy numbers down the stretch last season. The senior scored 30-plus points in six of his last nine games. In two games against SMU he scored a total of 68 points. Don't be surprised if Almond puts together a few bigger scoring nights this season. There aren't many solid defenses in C-USA, and Almond will be playing to increase his draft stock.
8. Nick Young, Jr., USC, 6-6, 200
Southern Cal is being called a dark horse in the Pac-10. The return of Young is the biggest reason why. Only one other Trojan (star Harold Miner) scored more points as a sophomore, and Miner was never as a big a force on the glass. Young, a powerful wing who can be tough to keep out of the lane, provided steady production all season long in 2005-05. He averaged 17.3 points and 6.6 rebounds a game as a sophomore. Young could be poised for an even bigger campaign. With guard Gabe Pruitt (16.9 ppg) academically ineligible until mid-December, Young will be expected to carry the Trojans for the first few games.
9. Kevin Durant, Fr., Texas, 6-9, 225
Durant may be the favorite to win National Freshman of the Year. Not only is Rivals.com's No. 2-ranked recruit from the class of 2006 blessed with great physical gifts, he also has tremendous offensive skills. Durant will also be playing for a program that lost all of if its starters and more than 90 percent of its scoring from last season. He has shooting range well beyond the NBA 3-point line, and will be counted on to be a major scoring threat immediately. Expect Durant to emerge as the Longhorns' new leader. He'll have pro scouts salivating by midseason.
10. Malik Hairston, Jr., Oregon, 6-6, 200
If the end of last season is any indication, this former five-star recruit might play his way into the first round of the NBA Draft. The Detroit native scored 20 or more points in his last three games of the Pac-10 tournament. He averaged 15 points, 4.7 rebounds and shot 38 percent from 3-point range for the season. In 2006-07, Hairston's production will be pivotal for the job security of Ducks coach Ernie Kent. Oregon's leader is on the hot seat following a losing season.
Best of the rest
11. Marcus Williams, So., Arizona, 6-7, 205
12. Cartier Martin, Sr., Kansas State, 6-7, 220
13. Tasmin Mitchell, So., LSU, 6-7, 230
14. Chase Budinger, Fr., Arizona, 6-7, 205
15. Courtney Lee, Jr., Western Kentucky, 6-5, 200
16. Chris Douglas-Roberts, So., Memphis, 6-6, 190
17. Demetris Nichols, Sr., Syracuse, 6-8, 212
18. Reyshawn Terry, Sr., North Carolina, 6-8, 232
19. DeAngelo Alexander, Sr. Charlotte, 6-5, 227
20. Josh Peppers, Sr., Central Florida, 6-5, 205

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