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October 23, 2006

Top sixth men supply spark off the bench

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The College Basketball Wire

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Every college basketball season you hear the line, "This guy would be starting for just about any other team in the country," from some color commentator.

That may be the case for the 15 guys on our list of the nation's top sixth men.

Many have played well enough to earn starting jobs, but they've become so valuable off the bench that their coaches prefer to keep them there.

They play a variety of key roles, from providing a quick offensive lift, to locking down an opponent's best perimeter player, to creating a low-post presence a few even do a little of each.

The line of who is actually a sixth man is so blurred that we didn't limit our search to only players who are the first to come off the bench for their respective teams (although anyone who started more than 10 games last season was ineligible). Most teams don't have someone that consistently fills that role or they have multiple players that do.

In fact, defending national champion Florida, North Carolina and Wisconsin all landed two players on the list.

Rivals.com 2006-07 Top Sixth Men
1. Sam Young, So., Pittsburgh, 6-6, 215
Expect a breakout season for this explosive power forward. Young showed plenty of promise in a limited role in his first season, averaging 7.9 points and 4.4 rebounds a game. He put together a double-double in his first start 14 points (7-for-8 from the field) and 11 boards versus West Virginia in the Big East Tournament. He also came off the bench to score 12 and help lift the Panthers past Kent State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Look for the Panthers to use Young and 7-footer Aaron Gray on the court together more. Young provides a good complement for the big man with his athleticism and ability to play facing the basket.
2. Danny Green, So., North Carolina, 6-5, 210
This multi-dimensional wing showed remarkable efficiency and versatility last season. Green didn't start a game and averaged just 15 minutes per contest, but still managed to average 7.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and led the team with 32 blocks. A solid free-throw shooter (80 percent), he also proved to be a 3-point threat (hitting 35 percent from beyond the arc. Green appears to have earned a starting job, but with his value as a reserve and the addition of so much talent in Chapel Hill the Tar Heels landed the nation's No. 1-ranked recruiting class in 2006 Roy Williams will likely keep making him the first player off his bench.
3. Walter Hodge, So., Florida, 6-0, 170
This native of Puerto Rico provided the offensive lift and the backcourt depth that helped the Gators make their national title run last season. An undersized shooting guard, Hodge uses a quick first step to consistently beat defenders off the dribble. He scored in double figures eight times in 2005-06, including a 10-point outburst in 14 minutes in a comeback win over rival Florida State. He's also shown good accuracy with his jump shot and solid shot selection, going 4-for-5 from the field against Ole Miss, 3-for-3 versus LSU and 4-for-5 at Kentucky.
4. Lewis Clinch, So., Georgia Tech, 6-3, 195
There is talk of a giant turnaround at Tech, which is coming off an 11-17 season, and the return of Clinch is one of the reasons why. The talented shooting guard from South Georgia showed flashes of being a go-to scorer last season, averaging 8.9 points per game. Clinch started eight games, but with the offensive spark he can provide from the bench - and a veteran team in place - coach Paul Hewitt will probably choose to keep him off the court for tipoff more often than not.
5. Mike Mercer, So., Georgia, 6-4, 185
This former five-star recruit immediately showed why he was ranked so high coming out of high school last season, emerging as one of the top young players in the SEC. Mercer was the Bulldogs' second-leading scorer (11.0 ppg) and averaged two steals per game despite starting just four times. Blessed with a lanky wingspan and great leaping ability, Mercer can create matchup problems and guard a handful of positions. If Mercer can improve his 3-point shooting, he might earn a permanent spot in the starting lineup. He shot just 29 percent from beyond the arc in 2005-06.
6. Ronald Lewis, Sr., Ohio State, 6-4, 200
The Buckeyes wouldn't have won their first outright Big Ten regular-season title in 14 years last season without this underrated transfer from Bowling Green. Lewis was the team's third-leading scorer at 11.2 ppg despite starting just six games. He excels at getting into the lane and drawing fouls. He attempted 137 free throws and made 108. Expect similar production this season. The Buckeyes lost four starters, but the arrival of the "Thad Five" the five prospects that make up Rivals.com's No. 2-ranked class will probably keep Lewis in the sixth man role.
7. Chris Richard, Sr., Florida, 6-9, 255
Any opposing post players who faced the Gators last season didn't necessarily like seeing Joakim Noah or Al Horford go to the bench. That meant they had to face this big-bodied big man who can be very tough to move from the paint. Few players can match Richard's size and strength, or his accuracy around the basket. He shot a remarkable 70 percent from the field (97-of-139) last season. The frontcourt depth he provides will play a significant role in the Gators' title defense.
8. Greg Stiemsma, Jr., Wisconsin, 6-11, 245
Can a reserve center with limited offensive skills be a key factor for a major program? If that program is Wisconsin and the center is Stiemsma, then the answer is an emphatic yes. The Badgers got off to a 14-2 start before the shot-blocking specialist stopped playing due to personal issues and academic problems (forward Marcus Landry became academically ineligible at the same time). Wisconsin went 5-10 the rest of the way. Stiemsma, who averaged a team-high 1.5 blocks in just 11.7 minutes per game, appears to have conquered his problems and looks ready to give the Badgers the low-post defender they'll need to win the Big Ten.
9. Marcus Ginyard, So., North Carolina, 6-5, 218
Ginyard started 14 games as a freshman, but he'll more than likely be coming off the bench in his second season. The addition of six freshmen, including three five-star recruits, means less court time for many of the key players who led the Tar Heels to a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament last season. Still, expect the versatile and energetic Ginyard - who can play three positions - to play steady minutes. He's also the team's best perimeter defender, a title that is greatly valued by coach Roy Williams.
10. Kevin Rogers, So., Baylor, 6-9, 235
Baylor is being pegged as a dark horse in the Big 12 thanks to the return of young players like Rogers. The athletic power forward from Dallas averaged 6.1 points and 4.0 rebound coming off the bench in the Bears' 17-game schedule last season. Expect Rogers' numbers to improve sharply with a full schedule. Still fairly raw, Rogers possesses great size and tremendous upside. If the Bears land a postseason bid, he'll be one of the key reasons why.
Best of the rest
11. Andre Allen, Jr., Memphis, 5-9, 205
12. Darnell Lazare, Sr., LSU, 6-8, 240
13. Darnell Jackson, Jr., Kansas, 6-8, 250
14. Marcus Landry, So., Wisconsin, 6-7, 215
15. Ryan Martin, Sr., Wichita State, 6-5, 230

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