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Who's College Basketball's Best Wingman?

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Wingmen are crucial to the ever-developing game of basketball: as the lines between positions blur, three guard lineups become more and more popular.  Players, in college and the NBA, are prized for their ability to guard more than one position (see combo guards like John Wall or swing-men like Gordon Hayward).  Versatility is crucial when defending everything from set plays to John Calipari's dribble-drive (just ask West Virginia, who beat Kentucky's colonel with an entire team of "positionless" players in the Elite Eight last season).

That said, the Big 12 has been arguably the most fertile ground for college wings in recent years: sure, other conferences have had good wings recently, but the Big 12 has been consistently loaded since 2006-07 when Kevin Durant (possibly the ultimate NBA wingman, even though he mainly played the four in college) was picked second overall.  Other wings since then include: Julian Wright (Kansas), Michael Beasley (K-State), Brandon Rush (Kansas), Xavier Henry (Kansas), James Anderson (Oklahoma State), and Craig Brackins (Iowa State).

That's a fairly impressive crew--all were drafted in the first round between 2007 and 2010.  Surprisingly, the entire All-Big 12 Wingmen team hails from outside of Kansas (thanks to Dominique Sutton's transfer and Xavier Henry's departure for the NBA).  

All-Big 12 Wingmen:

  1. Alec Burks (Colorado)
  2. Jordan Hamilton (Texas)
  3. Kim English (Missouri)
  4. Cory Higgins (Colorado)
  5. Mike Singletary (Texas Tech)

Explanations and top 10 national players after the jump.

1.  Alec Burks (Colorado)

Burks is a 6'6 sophomore who averaged 17.1 points, five rebounds, and 1.8 assists a game during his freshman campaign.  If you read Big12Hoops regularly, you should know we're really excited about his sophomore season prospects.  Additionally, he was incredibly effective, shooting 53% from the floor (35% beyond the arc).  There's no doubt in my mind he'll be an offensive monster this season: his height makes him a  tough matchup for shooting guards, and his speed and perimeter skills trouble small forwards.  Burks is a darkhorse to win Conference Player of the Year this season.  Yes, he'll be competing with Kansas State's Jacob Pullen, Baylor's LaceDarius Dunn, and Kansas' Marcus Morris, but he also has the opportunity to take a struggling team to entirely new heights (something nearly impossible for Pullen, Dunn, and Morris to do during the regular season).  Burks is the real deal.

2.  Jordan Hamilton (Texas)

Jordan Hamilton is a scoring machine.  At 6'7 he's an ideal wing with a sweet stroke from the outside.  Last season, Hamilton (and the entire Texas team for that matter) struggled with the "team" aspects of basketball: he was prone to take ill-advised jumpers (lowering his shooting percentage and effectiveness) instead of passing or creating a better shot.  I felt like he was a decent finisher last season, when he took the ball to the rim.  If he can develop confidence in his finishing abilities, Hamilton can really up his efficiency and lead Texas back to relevancy this season in the process.

3.  Kim English (Missouri)

You could argue that Kim English is a true shooting guard, but I'd disagree.  At 6'6 English's size is part of what makes him so effective on the perimeter.  As Missouri's leading returning scorer, the pressure will be on English's shoulders during his junior season to help the Tigers contend at the highest level in the Big 12.  English is known as a sharpshooter, shooting 37% from downtown last year, but--if he wants to join the true elite--he'll need to expand his game as a better finisher around the rim.

4.  Cory Higgins (Colorado)

Higgins is the other side to Colorado's double edged sword: last season he averaged 18.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 2.4 assists a game.  If Burks didn't cause enough matchup problems for the Buffaloes' foes, a second top-tier wingman certainly does.  Higgins is returning for a senior season (which could be Colorado's most successful in years), where he and Burks will be expected to make up for an under-sized frontcourt.  While I don't expect Higgins numbers to rise like Burks, I expect he'll be a more efficient player this year.

5.  Mike Singletary (Texas Tech)

Mike Singletary is a terrific scorer.  If you don't believe me, ask Texas A&M (in 2009 he put up 29 straight points en route to 43 total to beat the Aggies in the Big 12 Conference Championship).  Singletary is 6'6 forward returning for one last shot to take Pat Knight to the Big Dance (possibly saving his job in the process).  If he can improve his three point shooting and take the Red Raiders to the tourney, don't be surprised if Singletary gets a shot in the NBA.

**Author's Note: Tony Mitchell (Missouri) was left off because of eligibility questionsRoyce White (Iowa State) was left off, as his eligibility hasn't been fully resolved either.

NATIONAL WINGS:

1.  Harrison Barnes (UNC)

Pretty much everyone is singing Barnes' praises.  He's arguably the most talented (and polished) incoming recruit; he's smart; he's humble.  Apparently Barnes has it all: Gary Parrish even chose Barnes to be National Player of the Year.  That's pretty big considering John Wall couldn't win it last season.  

2.  Kyle Singler (Duke)

It's hard to argue with reigning Final Four MOP in the second slot.  I question ranking Barnes higher than Singler (since he hasn't played in a college game yet), but I'm going to stick with it.  Singler will be an integral part of a Duke team that should start the season consensus #1.

3.  Jeff Taylor (Vanderbilt)

If he can find a way to hone his slashing abilities, Jeff Taylor could put Vandy in the the thick of things in the hotly contested SEC East.

4.  Alec Burks (Colorado)

5.  Elias Harris (Gonzaga)

Last season Harris averaged 15 points and 7 rebounds a game.  But you should expect his scoring to increase with Matt Bouldin gone.  As the Bulldogs' leading returning scorer and rebounder, Harris will be important in living up to the team's top 15 expectations.

6.  Kawhi Leonard (San Diego State)

Could it be two mid-major stars in a row?!?!  Leonard was freshman of the year in a deep Mountain West last season, earning MVP honors in the Mountain West Conference tournament.  Players often make their biggest jumps between their freshman and sophomore seasons, and Leonard could help the Aztecs win what's looking like another stellar year in the Mountain West.

7.  Kris Joseph (Syracuse)

Joseph had a great sophomore season with Syracuse, averaging 11 points and 5.5 rebounds a game in less than 30 minutes.  Syracuse's Big East title hopes lie with Joseph and five-star recruit Fab Melo.

8.  Durrell Summers (Michigan State)

Summers is one of the most frustratingly inconsistent players in NCAA basketball.  When he's on, he's nearly always the best player on the floor, but he tends to disappear for large stretches of the game.  Izzo (and anyone who's seen him play) will be expecting greatness, or at least consistency, from the most talented Spartan.  He averaged 11.3 points and 4.7 rebounds a game last season.

9.  Jereme Richmond (Illinois)

Draft Express calls Richmond "the Swiss army knife of this USA basketball team" because of his versatility and overall talents.  Richmond, a 6'6 freshman, should play a pivotal role on this year's Illini squad.  With McCamey coming back, Illinois should be very strong this year.

10. Jordan Hamilton (Texas)

**Author's Note: Robbie Hummel (Purdue) would clearly have made this list (probably 3rd if I had to guess) if not for his tragic re-injuring of his ACL.

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