College basketball: 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.
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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 hoop-math.com. 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 KenPom.com. 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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).