One could argue that as basketball has evolved, having someone to protect the rim on the defensive end of the floor is actually more important than having a low-post brute on offense.
With more of an emphasis on floor spacing than ever, a defensive anchor is crucial. Defenses can easily be exposed by the bevy of talented, slashing guards college basketball has today without one. On the flip side, owning an elite rim protector can help plug other leaks a perimeter defense may encounter over the course of a possession.
So, with that in mind, here are seven guys that will make opponents think twice before taking the ball to the rack this season.
C Amida Brimah – Connecticut
Brimah ranked second in blocked shots per game last season with 3.5, but one could argue that he was actually the most effective rim protector in all of college hoops last season.
Why? Well, for starters, he swatted those 3.5 shots in just 26.5 minutes per game. Therefore, he blocked 5.28 shots per 40 minutes, good for tops among all players who logged at least 20 minutes per game last season.
UConn is no stranger to having elite rim protection in the past – Emeka Okafor, Hasheem Thabeet and Andre Drummond immediately come to mind. If Brimah can stay out of foul trouble this season and get some more burn, he’ll become a household name for fans and opposing teams in the AAC.
F BeeJay Anya – North Carolina State
The stat that was referenced before – blocks per 40 minutes – really shows how magnificent of a shot-blocker Anya is. The junior logged only 19.4 minutes per game last season, but he certainly made the most of them. He rejected 2.64 attempts in that span, which was good for 5.44 blocks per 40 minutes.
Anya must improve the other aspects of his game to earn more playing time – most notably, he needs to display more of a feel for the game on offense. But if Anya can act as a pick-and-roll diver and remain active on the offensive glass, it’s going to be hard for Mark Gottfried to keep him off the floor.
C A.J. Hammons, Purdue
With all things considered, Hammons is the most accomplished player in this group. He’s so much more than a rim protector, but he’s pretty darn good at that, too. The 7’0”, 261-pounder stuffed 2.88 shots per game last season, and Purdue suffered defensively without him on the floor.
On the season, the Boilermakers surrendered 98.3 points per 100 possessions. With Hammons on the floor, that mark dipped to a stingy 92.7, per sports-reference.
And perhaps the most impressive stat of all – Hammons’ block percentage last season was 12.3, meaning he swatted 12.3 of opponents’ two-point field goals while he was on the court. I’m no statistician, but that’s a heck of a lot of field goals.
With Hammons, fellow giant Isaac Haas and touted freshman power forward Caleb Swanigan, Purdue is going to be awfully tough to crack defensively in 2015-16.
C Vashil Fernandez – Valparaiso
Speaking of block percentage, only two players posted a higher mark in that category than Fernandez last season: Brimah and Reggie Lynch, who will have to sit out this season after transferring from Illinois State to Minnesota. Fernandez sent back 14.1 percent of all two-point field goal attempts when he was on the floor last season.
Valparaiso has dominated the Horizon League ever since Butler left, so perhaps it’s not a surprise that Fernandez hasn’t topped 25 minutes per game as a member of the Crusaders. But something tells me it’s going to be very difficult to keep such a dynamic defensive presence off the hardwood in 2015-16.
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C Kennedy Meeks – North Carolina
Note that this is a list about ‘rim protection.’ Not just shot-blocking. Meeks has impressive shot-blocking totals – he erased 1.2 opposing chances in only 23 minutes per game last season. But perhaps more importantly, he has a knack of altering shots near the rim. And the numbers reflect it.
Opponents scored just 95.4 per 100 possessions with Meeks on the floor for the Tar Heels, second on the team to Brice Johnson (94.9). Every other Tar Heel sans J.P. Tokoto posted a mark higher than 100 last season.
UNC is looking like one of the most complete teams in the land for 2015-16, and Meeks is the backbone of what should be an improved defense from years past.
F Jordan Bell – Oregon
Bell was just a freshman last season, and at 6’8”, 225 pounds, he’s not as large of a human as most of the people on this list. And yes, this list is filled with large humans.
So how does Bell manage to make life difficult for opponents? Through athleticism and uncanny anticipation. Bell swatted almost three shots per game last year in less than 24 minutes of action, but more importantly, the Ducks were lost without him on the defensive end of the floor.
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Oregon finished 209th in the country in defensive rating last season, allowing 102.7 points per 100 possessions. With Bell on the floor, that number plummeted to 95.8. He was first on the team by a mile in that category. For the sake of Oregon’s defense and NCAA Tournament hopes, expect to see a lot of Bell in 2015-16.
C Nate Maxey – North Carolina Central
You’ve probably never heard of Nate Maxey. After all, he logged just 194 total minutes as a freshman last season for North Carolina Central. He averaged 1.5 points, 1.8 rebounds and attempted just 22 field goals.
But dig deeper, and there's a number that jumps off the page. He (somehow) still averaged 1.7 blocks per game in 7.8 minutes. That’s good for 8.66 blocks per 40 minutes. 8.66. Small sample size, obviously, but not even Anthony Davis, Ben Wallace or Hakeem Olajuwon is touching that number.
Let’s just hope Maxey plays a lot more this season to test out if that metric is remotely sustainable.