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September 24, 2008

Skwara's mailbag: Who's best off the bench?

Got a question? Click here to send it to Skwara's Mailbag

The NBA has a sixth man of the year award. There's no equivalent in college basketball. Most conferences don't even hand out a "Best Sixth Man" award.

Yet most of the teams with a shot of going to the NCAA Tournament have a sixth man they rely on, and many teams would call their sixth man critical. Some provide an offensive lift. Some bolster the defense. Many are jack-of-all-trade types.

In this week's mailbag, we pinpoint the nation's elite sixth men and shed some light on some of those underappreciated reserves.

Bench all-stars

Gary from Jefferson City, Mo. : Who would make your all-sixth man team?

North Carolina small forward Danny Green would have to be my MVP. Green would start for any other team in the country, and his versatility would be a huge asset. Green carried the Tar Heels to a win at Duke last season, scoring 18 points, grabbing eight rebounds, blocking seven shots and making two steals.

Baylor's LaceDarius Dunn and Clemson's Terrence Oglesby would be the backcourt (although Oglesby may move into the starting lineup this season). Both are great shooters with great range. Dunn averaged 13.6 points last season, a remarkable number considering he didn't start a single game.

It's a lot tougher to find quality big men who come off the bench. Texas' Gary Johnson is a good one. Johnson is a little undersized but makes up for it with toughness and relentless effort. I also like Virginia Tech's J.T. Thompson for many of the same reasons.

The sixth man for my all-sixth man team it's only fitting there would be such a spot would be Tennessee's J.P. Prince. Another versatile player who can be plugged in at multiple positions, Prince was the SEC's sixth man of the year last season.

That group of six up could beat a lot of starting lineups in the high-major ranks.

Tourney team?

David Alfred from parts unknown: You have Miami ranked No. 27. How can there be 26 teams in the country better?

Because Miami still has the same holes as last season. The Hurricanes still don't have an inside scoring threat, and the loss of Anthony King, their leading rebounder and shot blocker, makes them even weaker on the inside. They also lack a No. 2 scoring threat to team with Jack McClinton.

The combination of McClinton, one of the nation's top outside shooters, and an experienced supporting cast will get the Hurricanes back to the NCAA tournament, and they may get out of the first round again. McClinton is capable of winning a game singlehandedly: He piled up 38 points in Miami's first-round win over Saint Mary's. But this is not a team that is built for a deep run in March.

Phoenix rising

Joe from North Prairie, Wis. : Wisconsin and Marquette seem like locks for the NCAAs. Any other teams from Wisconsin have a shot at the NCAA tourney?

There's only two other Division I teams in Wisconsin, but one does have a decent shot. Wisconsin-Green Bay is ranked No. 62 in our preseason rankings. Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the other in-state school, wasn't considered when we voted.

Yours truly did a full preview on the Phoenix. They return every starter from a 15-15 team. Normally that wouldn't mean a whole lot, but with Butler losing four starters, the Horizon League race will be wide open.

There are some other strong teams in the league, but the Phoenix has the ability to beat all of them. The key is getting tougher on defense. If that happens, the Phoenix could be dancing in March.

Unbreakable

Bill from Pittsburgh : You said last week that no one ever will break Pete Maravich's 44.2 scoring average in your last mailbag. Are there any other college records that never will be broken?

A lot of the records that UCLA set in the 1960s and '70s will stand forever; that includes winning seven consecutive national championships and winning 10 titles in 12 years.

There is far more parity these days, plus the NCAA tournament has more rounds. It's also much tougher to hold onto the top players since they usually bolt early for the NBA. Just winning back-to-back titles, as Florida did in 2005-06 and 2006-07, in this era is extremely difficult.

I can't see anyone coming close to Kentucky's 129-game home winning streak for the same reasons. The Wildcats did that back in the 1940s and '50s, when the game was far different and there wasn't nearly as much competition. (By the way, Georgia Tech ended that amazing streak, pulling out a 59-58 win at Kentucky on Jan. 8, 1955.)

NBA hopes?

Matt from Ashland, Ky. : How does Kentucky forward Patrick Patterson project for the NBA?

Patterson is one of those guys who could be dominant in college but won't be a great NBA player. Much of it has to do with size. Patterson is listed at 6 feet 8, but he's probably closer to 6-7.

That's not going to cut it for a big man in the NBA. Not unless Patterson happens to be an exception to the rule like Charles Barkley, and those odds are slim.

Patterson doesn't have much of a jumper and can't put the ball on the floor, so I doubt he can morph into an inside-outside guy either.

I do admire the way Patterson plays the game. Very few guys in college basketball go as hard. Patterson also is extremely strong and has a good amount of athleticism. All that will earn him a spot in the NBA. But I don't see him being anything other than a role player at the next level.

Andrew Skwara is a national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com. Got a question for Andrew's Mailbag? Click here to drop him a note.



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