Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Some of the most exciting freshmen entering the college ranks this coming season are frontcourt performers.
Highlighted by Duke's Jahlil Okafor, the 2014-15 class appears to have plenty of strength in the paint. With that said, the top post players in the country are not all looking forward to their first run to March. Here is a peek at the best power forwards that will be battling down low this winter.
Montrezl Harrell (Louisville) - There was a time last March when the Cardinals, and not the hated Wildcats in Lexington, were the team that seemed destined to make a run to the Final Four. No player was bigger, both in stature and importance, to that hype than Harrell. The 6-foot-8 forward was an absolute monster on the inside, bullying players on defense, attacking the glass with fervor and finishing around the rim with surprising touch. Harrell was a freshman member of the 2013 national championship squad, but he really came into his own as a sophomore, averaging 14 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. He also connected on 60.9 percent of his shots from the field, although the bulk of those baskets came right around the rim. Harrell began to show a bit more touch on mid-range jumpers as the season wore on and it is an area he will likely be trying to polish in the offseason. Improving as a free-throw shooter is also a necessity. He netted just 46.4 percent of his chances from the charity stripe in 2013-14. With Russ Smith gone, Harrell will be asked to take on more of the scoring load. If he can become more efficient across the board, teams might not be able to stop him.
Jordan Mickey (LSU) - When LSU head coach Johnny Jones and Mickey held a press conference in late April, it appeared as if the freshman phenom was going to announce a quick end to a promising college career. Fortunately for LSU fans and Jones himself, Mickey decided to hang around in Baton Rouge for at least one more year before entering the NBA Draft. For a program that hasn't gone dancing since 2009, having a talent like Mickey back is a huge boost, especially considering the trajectory the Tigers are on. They won 18 games in 2012, 19 in 2013 and 20 last season. Playing no small part in last year's improvement was Mickey -- the 6-8 forward finishing second on the team in scoring (12.8 ppg) and was the leader in rebounding (7.9 rpg) and blocked shots (3.1 bpg). His ability to get his hands on opposing field goal attempts is perhaps his greatest strength. A great leaper with a huge wingspan, Mickey not only led LSU in blocks, but the SEC as well. He also tied for eighth in the country in that department. Mickey will not have frontcourt mate Johnny O'Bryant III with him this season, so expect his offensive importance to expand while he continues to provide elite defense.
Bobby Portis (Arkansas) - Mickey will have his hands full when the Tigers take on Arkansas, with the Razorbacks featuring a standout power forward of their own in Portis. Like Mickey, Portis was also a freshman during the 2013-14 season, but he definitely didn't play like one. The 6-foot-11 forward saw time in all 34 games for the Razorbacks, averaging 12.3 points and 6.8 rebounds each time on the floor. He was also able to block 1.6 shots per game, while showing quick hands even when shots were not being taken, snagging a steal per contest as well. Despite those impressive numbers, Portis did have some consistency issues, especially at the offensive end. He shot below 50 percent from the floor in each of Arkansas' last six games, including their run in the NIT. For a player that takes the majority of his shots within the 3-point arc, being able to finish is imperative. However, with a year of experience at the collegiate level under his belt, Portis should show a ton of improvement as a sophomore, and that is a promising thought for the Razorbacks.
Perry Ellis (Kansas) - With NBA first round picks Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid getting most of the buzz for last year's Kansas squad, there wasn't much attention paid to the rest of the roster. That meant a bulk of the country missed out on the impressive play of Ellis. The 6-foot-8 forward was relegated to All-Big 12 Third Team status, despite ranking second on Bill Self's team in scoring (13.5 ppg), while collecting 6.7 rebounds per game as well. Ellis had to do much of the heavy lifting down low once Embiid was slowed by an injury down the stretch. The sophomore buckled a bit under the pressure, especially during a 3-of-10 shooting effort in the Jayhawks' loss to Stanford in the NCAA Tournament, but he also showed flashes of brilliance, scoring 30 points against Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament semifinals, and posting a 14-point, 13-rebound effort in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Ellis will be challenged by the arrival of highly-touted freshman Cliff Alexander, but if he handles that as well as he handled working with Embiid, there should be no drop-off in production.
Alan Williams (UC Santa Barbara) - The term "box score stuffer" is thrown around a bit too frequently nowadays. However, there are certain players who fit the description perfectly, and Williams is one of them. Although he plays in the less-regarded Big West Conference, his eye-popping numbers are impossible to brush aside. In 2013-14, Williams netted 21.3 points, secured 11.5 rebounds and swatted 2.4 shots per game. Most college coaches would be happy with a player that showed such exemplary skills in one of those categories, but Bob Williams is lucky enough to have a player that excels in all three. The 6-foot-7 forward led the Big West in both scoring and rebounding, and not by small margins. He tallied more than three points more per game than the next best scorer in the league, and was the only player in the conference to average more than nine boards a contest. For all his efforts, Williams was named Big West Player of the Week a league-record six times before collecting the conference's player of the year award. He is hands down the best player, let alone power forward, in the Big West, as well as one of the best in the country.
Honorable Mention: Brandon Ashley (Arizona), JayVaughn Pinkston (Villanova), Josh Scott (Colorado), Aaron White (Iowa), Shawn Long (Louisiana), Chris Walker (Florida), Kennedy Meeks (North Carolina) and Ryan Anderson (Arizona)