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Brian Mull | | September 6, 2016

Big men with a soft touch to watch this season

A sharpshooting big man is a valuable weapon on the basketball court.

For proof, look no further than Mike Krzyzewski, who has won more games than any college coach, led Duke to five national championships and the U.S. to three Olympic gold medals.

From Danny Ferry to Shane Battier to Kyle Singler, coach K has always found elite, versatile forwards who can stretch the defense. Jayson Tatum, a 6-8 freshman, could fill the role for the Blue Devils this season as they pursue a sixth national championship.

In this era of “small ball” where most teams only have one low post scoring option on the floor, coaches value the face up forward who can fill it up from long range. Their presence and shooting ability generates space for their teammates to drive and create offense.  

A big man doesn’t have to step out beyond the 3-point arc to sting the defense, either. Brice Johnson’s mid-range touch fueled North Carolina’s march to the national title game last April. On the season, 62 percent of the 6-10 forward’s 435 field goal attempts were considered 2-point jump shots per He connected on 46 percent. Such accuracy combined with elite rebounding earned Johnson consensus first-team All-American status and prompted the Los Angeles Clippers to select him in the first round of the NBA Draft.

Opponents would be wise to keep these big men closely covered this season, wherever they roam.

V.J. Beachem, Notre Dame

Versatility powered the Fighting Irish’s dynamic, balanced offense last season.

With inside-outside scorers like Beachem, a 6-8 forward, coach Mike Brey’s squad reached the Elite 8 behind the nation’s sixth most efficient offense, per Beachem was third in the ACC in 3-point shooting (44.4 percent), swishing 2.4 per game. He also hit a respectable 41 percent on 2-point jump shots.

Matt Donlan, Youngstown State

  Youngstown State forward Matt Donlan led the Horizon league in 3-point shooting a year ago.
In his first season with the Penguins, the 6-7 forward from Australia led the Horizon League in 3-point shooting (46.3 percent), which was fourth in the nation. He drained 82 3-pointers and also made 22 consecutive free throws. Detroit felt the brunt of Donlan’s long range skills on Jan. 2nd when he sank a half-dozen trifectas against them. 

Kenny Kaminski, Ohio

  Ohio's Kenny Kaminsky made quite an impact with the Bobcats after transferring in from Michigan State.

After spending two seasons at Michigan State, the 6-8 forward made his debut season count at Ohio. The redshirt senior drilled 83 3-pointers for the Bobcats, connecting on 36 percent. He can get hot in an instant. There were eight games last season where he hit at least five shots from beyond-the-arc. The Bobcats are favorites in the MAC this season and will rely on Kaminski, who also hit 87 percent of free throws.

T.J. Cline, Richmond
It’s not surprising that Cline, a 6-9, 235-pound senior forward, is a skilled basketball player. His father played for the Washington Generals (foil of the Harlem Globetrotters) and his mother, Nancy Lieberman, is one of the best female college basketball players in history. In just two seasons, Cline has become one of the best players in the Atlantic 10. Not only is he a terrific passer (28.1 assist rate), he hit 45 percent of 2-point jumpers and 37 percent of 3-pointers to average 18.3 points per game on a top 50 offense.

Alec Peters, Valparaiso

He explored the NBA and other options, but Peters decided in June to return to Valpo for his senior season, instantly making the Crusaders the favorites to repeat in the Horizon League. 

  Valparaiso Crusaders forward Alec Peters (25) helped lead his team all the way to the NIT Finals in 2016.
The 6-9 forward made 91 3-pointers last season (44 percent) to steer Valpo to 30 wins and the NIT finals. Peters also shot 85 percent at the free throw line and pulverized foes inside the arc for 123 baskets. He was fourth in the nation in offensive rating among players using at least 20 percent of their team's possessions.

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Luke Petrasek, Columbia 

It was a memorable season for the Lions with 25 wins and the College Insider Postseason Tournament crown — thanks to a 73-67 win over UC Irvine. Petrasek was a central figure in the lineup at 6-10, where he not only protected the rim but also provided offense all over the court. 

  Columbia forward Luke Petrasek (33) kept teams honest with his performance from the 3-point line in 2015-16.

He hit 45 3-pointers (44 percent) and while he rarely took a 2-point jumper, he made 41 percent of those attempts. The Lions hope he keeps rolling after scoring in double figures in three of the four CIT games.

Derek Willis, Kentucky

  Kentucky's Derek Willis (35) showed good poise from deep with increased minutes in the offense.
During the John Calipari Era, the Wildcats have relied on instant impact freshmen to contend for championships and lofty national rankings. Willis bucked the trend, as a developing veteran whose participation and production increased significantly during his junior season. After playing 114 minutes in his first two seasons in Lexington, the 6-9 forward played 596 last season and emerged as the best 3-point shooter in the SEC (35 of 70 in conference action).

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