Versatility has become the hallmark of the forward position in the college game. Forwards are often the most athletic players on the court, possessing the size and strength to impose their will on opponents, along with the quickness and agility to blow by defenders and finish at the rim.
The following forwards possess these gifts and more. Let's preview the top forwards in college hoops heading into the 2012-2013 season.
1. Doug McDermott, Creighton - McDermott took his game to another level as a sophomore last season, averaging 22.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per tilt. McDermott shot an impressive 60.1 percent from the floor, including a blistering 48.6 percent from three-point land. A cerebral player who also shot 79.6 percent from the charity stripe, McDermott is a superb, efficient shooter who can score from virtually anywhere on the court.
2. Shabazz Muhammed, UCLA - Assuming he is deemed eligible to play, Muhammed should be one of the nation's most talented freshman this season. Muhammed is an aggressive, explosive scorer who is just as comfortable attacking the rim as he is with pulling up for a three-pointer. Muhammed has great court sense and instincts, displaying above-average passing skills with the strength and length to mix it up on the defensive end. A scorer first and foremost, Muhammed has the ability to make his mark on the game in a variety of ways.
3. LeBryan Nash, Oklahoma State - Nash is a physical specimen at 6-foot-7, 230. His size, strength and athleticism show NBA readiness. Nash is largely a post player and slasher, as he shot almost five free throws per game. However, his shot selection and long-range jumper need work, as he shot just 39.4 percent from the floor, including 23.5 percent from three-point land. His averages of 13.3 points and 5.0 rebounds per game were viewed as disappointing as a freshman for the Cowboys, and his passing needs work as well. Nash has all the physical gifts to succeed, but needs to show more polish and focus to reach his potential.
4. DeShaun Thomas, Ohio State - With Jared Sullinger and William Buford gone, Thomas becomes the focal point of the Buckeyes' attack. Thomas managed 15.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game as a sophomore, hitting 52.0 percent from the field. His standout NCAA Tournament should only boost his stock. The crafty lefty has a knack for scoring and vastly improved his shooting and shot selection last season, even developing into a reliable three-point shooter at 34.5 percent. Although not the greatest athlete, Thomas still showed his meddle on the offensive glass, as well. Thomas is limited as a defender, but his offensive game is polished and he could be a breakout star this season.
5. Solomon Hill, Arizona - Hill took his game to another level last season, managing 13.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. He shot more than 50 percent from the floor, including 39.4 percent on three-pointers. Hill showed a knack for drawing contact and getting to the free-throw line, nearly doubling his free-throw attempts per game from his sophomore campaign. A willing passer to boot, Hill actually led the squad in dimes from the small-forward slot. The leading returner scorer and rebounder for the Wildcats as well, Hill is a darkhorse for Pac-12 Player of the Year.
6. Christian Watford, Indiana - Watford took a backseat last season to freshman sensation Cody Zeller, but still had a productive junior campaign. The 6-9 forward averaged just 12.6 points per game, but increased his rebounding to 5.8 boards per contest. In addition, his long-range shooting has developed into a dangerous weapon, as he connected on a superior 43.7-percent of his treys. Watford needs to figure out how to stay more involved on the low block with the amount of attention Zeller demands, but the two form one of the most potent frontcourt combos in college basketball.
7. Adonis Thomas, Memphis - Thomas is a powerful, athletic player who can finish strong around the rim and jump out of the gym. He shot 48.6 percent from the floor with most of the attempts coming from in and around the painted area. Likewise, he hit 40.5 percent on his three-pointers, though he attempted just 37 as a freshman. His outside shooting needs work, and Thomas needs to gain more comfort in taking shots from the outside. Nevertheless, Thomas does not play outside of himself and knows his strengths. He is a team player with great discipline and character. He could explode as a sophomore.
8. Alex Poythress, Kentucky - Due to the mass exodus at Kentucky, Poythress will get major playing time off the bat for the Wildcats and coach John Calipari. Poythress is a standout athlete with an NBA body who plays above the rim. His shot remains inconsistent, and turnovers can plague him from time to time as often is the case with young players. Still, Poythress can create his own shot off the dribble, defend opposing small forwards due to his size, speed and quickness, and bang down low and hit the glass. He is another freshman stud for UK.
9. Otto Porter, Georgetown - Porter was not highly recruited out of high school but was a pleasant surprise for the Hoyas as a freshman. A tall, wiry small forward, Porter averaged 9.7 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Porter did most of his damage from inside the arc, while also hitting the offensive glass with reckless abandon. He could stand to gain a few more pounds of muscle to his frame, and his shot needs work from long distance. Likewise, Porter needs to work on creating his own shot off the dribble. However, his touch around the basket and his relative unselfishness in the offense make him a vital component of the Georgetown squad, and a solid fantasy contributor.
10. Erik Murphy, Florida - Considered a low-post threat when he came to Florida at 6-10, Murphy did most of his damage from beyond the three-point arc last season. Murphy hit 42.1 percent of his threes as a junior, shooting more than four bombs per tilt. He did improve his rebounding numbers, though they remained at 4.5 boards per contest, still a bit low for his size. With Erving Walker and Bradley Beal no longer helping in the backcourt, Murphy will be asked to shoulder an increased load, both inside and out, as he concludes his collegiate career at Gainesville for the Gators.
11. Elias Harris, Gonzaga - 13.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg
12. CJ Fair, Syracuse - 8.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg
13. De'Mon Brooks, Davidson - 15.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg
14. Wayne Blackshear, Louisville - 2.5 ppg, 1.4 rpg
15. CJ Aiken, St. Joseph's - 10.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg
1. Cody Zeller, Indiana - Zeller is considered by many to be the best player in the nation heading into this season. A polished post player with underrated athleticism, Zeller commands the ball down low and will have his way with just about any opposing defender on the block. Much like his older brother Tyler, he runs the court extremely well and can finish around the basket in a variety of ways. He shot an absurd 62.3 percent from the field as a freshman, as well as 75.5 percent from the free-throw line. Zeller is not afraid to shoot the mid-range jumper, either. At 7-0, 240, Zeller has excellent size, comes from a basketball family and has a high basketball IQ. In sum, his combination of size, skill and instincts make him among the elite talents in the NCAA.
2. Tony Mitchell, North Texas - As a freshman for the Mean Green in 2011-2012, the former Missouri commit dominated the Sun Belt to the tune of 14.7 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.0 swats per game. Mitchell shot 56.7 percent from the floor, and even connected on 18-of-41 three-pointers. An NBA-caliber talent, Mitchell is likely headed to the League after this season because of his frame, strength and outstanding jumping ability. He should have another terrific campaign as North Texas attempts to make the NCAA Tournament for the third time since 2007.
3. Mike Moser, UNLV - A tad undersized for power forward, Moser still averaged a double-double for the Runnin' Rebels with 14.0 points and 10.5 rebounds per tilt. He has a non-traditional skill set for the position as well, with the ability to run the floor and push the ball in transition, while remaining among the most active rebounders in the country. He may end up as a small forward at the NBA level, but that will require a bit more consistency with his jump shot. However, he certainly possesses the physical attributes and motor to be successful regardless of future slot.
4. James McAdoo, North Carolina - The chief beneficiary of the mass exodus from UNC might just be McAdoo, the nephew of former NBA great Bob McAdoo. A fearless athlete, McAdoo played spotty minutes off the bench as the Tar Heels frontcourt was dominated by Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Harrison Barnes. As a result, it took McAdoo almost the entire season to look comfortable on the floor. However, he will get plenty of minutes this season to show his fluidity on both ends of the court. McAdoo's offensive game remains raw, as he continues to develop consistency in his post moves as well as his jump shot. This is largely a ranking based on potential, but McAdoo's build, determination, quickness and opportunity should make him a chic name on the national scene.
5. C.J. Leslie, NC State - Leslie showed greater efficiency from the floor as a sophomore, shooting 52.5 percent en route to 14.7 points per game for the Wolfpack. He got to the charity stripe 5.5 times per contest, though he shot just 59.6 percent from the line. A standout rebounder at 7.3 boards per tilt, inconsistency has been the hallmark of Leslie's game thus far, as he can look like a superstar on some occasions, while getting lost in the shuffle otherwise. His quickness, agility and explosiveness allow him to impact the game around the rim, though he lacks the polish of other elite power forwards.
6. Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota - A double-double machine, Mbakwe missed the majority of last year due to a torn ACL. He has boom or bust potential, as he was also recently reprimanded for an offseason DWI and will begin the season coming off the bench. Mbakwe tallied double-digit points and rebounds in four of the Golden Gophers' first seven games last year before succumbing to injury. The year prior, he posted 19 double-double efforts. As long as he can stay on the court, Mbakwe has the ability to be wildly productive. However, there is certainly some risk due to his history.
7. Mason Plumlee, Duke - His older brother is in the NBA, and so is dynamic point guard Austin Rivers. That means it's Mason's turn to shine, as the senior forward averaged 11.1 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.6 blocks per game last season. Largely a complementary player on offense in the past, Plumlee will have to show he is more than just a dunker or slasher, as his jumper has been almost non-existent in his collegiate career. His struggles from the free-throw line are also well-documented, limiting his scoring numbers. Still, he's a versatile threat around the basket on both ends of the floor.
8. Andre Roberson, Colorado - Without much fanfare, the undersized Roberson has been extremely productive for the Buffs. The 6-7 bulldozer averaged a double-double with 11.6 points and 11.1 rebounds as a sophomore. Roberson is a superior defender who blocked 1.9 shots and stole 1.3 passes per game last season. Roberson is not much of a scorer, though he possesses a bevy of athletic talent, playing above the rim. He has hustle, muscle and determination, though the lack of a jump shot puts a ceiling on his offensive game.
9. Jarnell Stokes/Jeronne Maymon, Tennessee - The two-headed monster at the power forward slot for Tennessee will put tons of pressure on the interior defenses of opposing teams. Stokes averaged 9.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per game for the Vols as a freshman; meanwhile, the more senior Maymon managed 12.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per tilt. Both are on the short side but weigh more than 250 pounds, giving them the size to dominate under the basket. Maymon's game is not surprisingly a bit more polished, and he has shown the penchant for getting to the free-throw line. Still, Stokes has a lot of upside and the tandem should be a formidable pair for UT in the SEC.
10. Patric Young, Florida - Physically, Young is a freak. He is colossally strong with unbelievable leaping ability. Due to these talents, he shot a standout 61.8 percent from the floor, finishing around the rim with tenacity. On the downside, Young shot just 59.3 percent from the charity stripe and could still become a better rebounder. Despite the physical gifts, he managed just 6.4 rebounds per contest. Young plays as more of a complementary player on the offensive end as he cannot create his own shot, and he has not been able to become a shot blocker despite otherwise solid defense. If his skill level ever catches up to his frame, he could be a nightmare for opposing squads.
11. Chris Gaston, Fordham - 17.1 ppg, 9.9 rpg
12. Brandon Davies, BYU - 15.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg
13. Keith Clanton, UCF - 14.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg
14. Jack Cooley, Notre Dame - 12.5 ppg, 8.9 rpg
15. Chane Behanan, Louisville - 9.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg
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