To go along with today's feature story on the return of the dominant shot-blockers, here’s my list of the nation’s best. If your favorite guy is missing from the list, let me know (@MedcalfByESPN or firstname.lastname@example.org). But this is not just based on raw numbers. Efficiency is certainly a factor.
Could Nerlens Noel end up being the best swatter in college next season? Yes. In fact, probably. But it's hard to put him No. 1 five months before Midnight Madness.
Jeff Withey (Kansas): He finished the year No. 1 on Ken Pomeroy’s block-percentage chart (a rate determined by an opponent’s two-point attempts) and is the top returning shot-blocker entering the 2012-13 season, after a phenomenal Final Four that concluded with a record for blocks in a single NCAA tournament (31). With Withey inside, Kansas should remain on its Big 12 perch next season.
Gorgui Dieng (Louisville): Withey and Anthony Davis dominated the headlines in March. But Dieng (3.2 blocks per game), a 6-foot-11 sophomore from Senegal, was a very talented shot-blocker, too. He offered a sneak preview in New Orleans by blocking four shots in the national semifinals against Kentucky. Next season, however, he’ll be a star for a top-5 program.
Nerlens Noel (Kentucky): I’ve never seen a high school player dominate his peers the way Noel did during the Peach Jam AAU tournament last year. He’s a special talent. Anthony Davis claims Noel is the better shot-blocker between the two of them, and that’s not a crazy concept. It’s just scary for every team that’s scheduled to face Kentucky next season.
C.J. Aiken (St. Joseph’s): In a 10-point victory over No. 22 Temple in February, Aiken scored five points. But his five blocks were vital in that upset. You have to appreciate the fact that Aiken is still raw in many ways. I saw him live in Philly a few years ago and watched a bunch of St. Joe’s games this season. And I think he’s on the cusp of emerging on the national radar with his high-octane defense (3.5 blocks per game). Growing every year.
Isaiah Austin (Baylor): Another special talent. He’s so athletic and versatile that he played some point guard on the AAU circuit. Austin, a McDonald’s All-America center, averaged 5.0 blocks per game as a senior in high school. He’ll have a similar impact in the Big 12 next season, probably his only year as a collegiate player. His 7-foot-1 frame hasn’t filled out yet but his length and shot-blocking will be a problem for the rest of the conference.
Zeke Marshall (Akron): He’s an under-the-radar defensive force. But the MAC knows all about his shot-blocking skills. Mississippi State’s Arnett Moultrie had one of his worst games of the season against the Zips due to Marshall’s defense. The 7-footer blocked 2.9 shots per game. And he altered even more.
Rhamel Brown (Manhattan): Here’s why you have to love advanced statistics: Brown, a sophomore at Manhattan last season, averaged 2.4 blocks per game for the Jaspers. But he finished second behind Withey on Pomeroy’s block percentage rankings. He’s only 6-foot-6, but Brown disrupts offenses at a high level.
Steven Adams (Pittsburgh): Yes, another freshman on the list. Another guy who hasn’t competed in a collegiate game yet. But I think Davis’ success last season means these youngsters earn early credit on potential alone. This 7-footer has been a beast on the AAU and prep circuits. The standout from New Zealand also has international experience. So he’ll be a young veteran for a Pitt team that needs his physical presence inside. Adams has the athleticism to be a great shot-blocker at this level.
Hunter Mickelson (Arkansas): As a 6-foot-10 freshman on a lackluster Razorbacks squad, Mickelson averaged 2.3 blocks in 17.1 minutes per game. He’s an efficient defender who was fourth in the SEC in blocks per contest. And he finished fifth on Pomeroy’s block percentage chart. He’s still raw but the future seems bright for Mickelson.
Damian Eargle (Youngstown State): First, he has the best name on this board. But he’s an equally talented defender who squeezed 3.7 blocks out of his 6-foot-7 frame. Youngstown State struggled in most Horizon League stat categories but the squad led the conference in blocked shots thanks to Eargle, who was a junior last season.