Basketball is a team game, but we can still identify and recognize outstanding individual talent.
This week, I decided to take a look at the best players in six categories: shooter, scorer, rebounder, passer, shot blocker and defender.
In analyzing the skills of college basketball's brightest stars, I took into account the player's role on his team, the talent he plays with and against, the way he's defended and what's expected of him.
Though I haven't had the opportunity to see everybody play in person, I've seen most, and feel comfortable making my case. Everyone can look at variables and statistics differently.
Who do you think are the best players in these categories? Drop me an email using the link at the bottom of the column.
Drew Neitzel, Michigan State: There are some guys who might be considered purer shooters, but when you consider his role and responsibilities for Tom Izzo's squad, it's hard to argue against the senior. Neitzel (14.1 ppg, 43.2 FG pct.) can go left or right and create his own shot. He's not a guy who just can make open shots. He can shoot from anywhere on the floor. Neitzel can play shooting guard or at the point. He's good from mid range to long range. Some guys have sweet spots. Not the case with Neitzel, who adapts to the way he's being defended. First runnerup is freshman Eric Gordon of Indiana. Gordon might end up being better than Neitzel, but doesn't yet have the extensive body of work.
BEST SCORER AND REBOUNDER
Michael Beasley, Kansas State: Beasley is a phenomenal talent. He is big, versatile, can shoot with range and beat people off the dribble. He is the only player in the college game who features that full repertoire from an offensive standpoint. Beasley (25.3 ppg, 12.4 rpg.) also has the great killer instinct you have to have as a scorer. Even as a freshman, he has a really good feel for how to play to his strengths. He doesn't take a lot of bad shots or force shots. His rebounding prowess makes him a rare combo. There have been guys who could score and rebound but it's been a long time since we've seen a guy as relentless at attacking the backboard as him. Rebounding is more about will than skill, and Beasley wants to go get the basketball on every possession. He has a great first and second jump. A lot of guys, if they don't get the ball on the first jump, they don't make the extra effort. Beasley reminds me a lot of Dennis Rodman. Comparisons could be drawn to Paul Millsap of Louisiana Tech and Kurt Thomas of Texas Christian.
Ty Lawson, North Carolina: The better your team, the less you as an individual have to do and the less opportunities you have to display your abilities. Lawson (14 ppg, 6 apg.) may not lead country is assists, but he is also playing with three likely NBA lottery picks. Being a great passer is not just making the great no look or hitting the home run. It's also the ability to make the simple pass, or what I like to call the hockey assist pass, that shows true court vision. Some guards want to dominate the basketball and be the guy who makes the delivery. Lawson can kick the ball in transition to allow teammates to make plays or swing it when defense is in rotation. He also knows when to get into the lane to penetrate and create. Lawson has best overall package of passing.
BEST SHOT BLOCKER
Jarvis Varnado, Mississippi State: Shot blocking is one of those few areas where numbers tell more of the story. Like rebounding, this is a will/skill statistic steeped in effort. You have to give credit to anyone who has double-figure blocked shots in multiple games, as does Varnado (7.1 ppg, 5 bpg.). He has a great knack for both blocking and altering shots. You also have to consider the competition he plays against. Mississippi State is in one of the premier conferences in America and Varnado's numbers are unbelievable. Those numbers constitute the most impressive stat or element I've seen this season. To be a great shot blocker, you have to have patience, balance and poise. This young man has them all.
Joey Dorsey, Memphis: Defensive prowess can be measured in many ways. Are you a guy who contains point guard penetration? Are you out on the wing with the responsibility of stopping your opponent's No. 1 scoring option? Or do you defend the paint? Dorsey is the picture of versatility, averaging 2.6 blocks and 1.3 steals a game with 11.2 rebounds. He takes opportunities away from opponents and gives them to his team. He is sort of the Ben Wallace of college basketball, putting his team in position to be successful. Dorsey's defense is hugely important to Memphis' chances of winning a national championship. Coach John Calipari and his teammates realize it as well. The most critical element for the Tigers could well be Dorsey's ability to defend in the paint.