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College basketball big man ladder: Zach Edey on top, Kel’el Ware in the mix

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We’ve hit the heart of the college basketball season, and one of the predominant themes across the country is the success of big men, both traditional and some possessing more versatile skill sets. That’s why we at FOX Sports are presenting a monthly series, The Big Man Ladder, to showcase the top bigs across the sport and zone in on who’s shining in the post.

With name, image and likeness dollars only increasing throughout college basketball, it’s more beneficial for most of the trees across the country to stay rooted in this sport rather than go to the pro ranks, where they could get lost in the shuffle or spend plenty of nights in the G League. This is not a one or two-year type of trend, but rather a theme that should be synonymous with the sport. 

We have not seen a back-to-back national player of the year in college hoops since the great Ralph Sampson accomplished the feat three times from 1981-83. 

That four-decade-long drought will likely be broken this year by a certain superstar at Purdue, and it will mark the fourth consecutive year that the top individual award in college hoops is handed out to a player standing at 6-foot-10 or taller. 

Last year, five of the 10 players named to the first and second AP All-America teams played the center position (Zach Edey, Trayce Jackson-Davis, Drew Timme, Oscar Tshiebwe and Azuolas Tubelis).

What’s fun about big men flourishing in college basketball is that while some superstars are locked in on the ladder, others can emerge as the season goes on. We’ve added some new faces to the fold this time around, some of whom are at the mid-major level. But there’s no doubt who’s at the top of our list this season. 

Here’s the latest Big Man Ladder. 

1. Zach Edey, Purdue
Class: Senior
Height/Weight: 7-4, 300 pounds
Stats: 21.8 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 63% FG 

I think in many ways, we take for granted just how amazing the 7-4, 300-pound superstar hailing from Canada has been for Purdue, and all of college basketball. Since we last did an edition of the ladder, the Boilermakers own wins over Arizona, Illinois and Alabama. From going off for 35 points against the Crimson Tide to his 22-9-5 game against the Wildcats in the 1 vs. 2 showdown in Indianapolis, Edey has done it all against the best of the best. 

His streak of 67 consecutive games scoring in double figures leads the rest of the country by 30. 

Edey has helped lead Purdue to five wins over teams ranked in the top 11 of the AP Poll this season, which leads the country. No other team has more than two such victories. 

Yes, Purdue did suffer its second loss of the season to Nebraska on Tuesday night, but I’m not worried about Edey and his Boilermakers at all. You’re allowed to drop a couple of games on the road to March. What we are watching from Edey is generational at the college level. This research below from Evan Miyakawa sums his dominance up.

And to think, he only started playing basketball in his sophomore year of high school! 

From FOX Sports Research: 

  • Edey is currently one of two players in D-I to average 20.0 PPG and 10 RPG (Vonterious Woolbright)
  • Edey is currently the only player in D-I to average 20.0 PPG on 60% shooting
  • Edey has nine double-doubles this season, T-5th most of any player in D-I
  • Edey is up to 48 career double-doubles, seven shy of breaking the Purdue all-time record
  • Edey needs 136 rebounds to break the Purdue career record (1,148- Joe Barry Carroll), with 15 regular-season games remaining (excluding Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments).
  • Edey is the only D-I player to average 20 PPG, 10 RPG and shoot 73% from the free-throw line (Woolbright is shooting 71% from the FT line)

2. Hunter Dickinson, Kansas
Class: Senior
Height/Weight: 7-2, 260 pounds
Stats: 18.9 PPG, 11.9 RPG, 61% FG 

The Jayhawks are 13-2 on the season because their 7-2 Michigan transfer has come into the program, taken hold of the steering wheel and driven this blue blood to win after win. Dickinson delivered the game-winning bucket in Saturday’s 83-81 win over TCU, capping his seventh 30-plus point performance of the season.

What’s stood out to me about Dickinson is his growth as a 3-point shooter. As a freshman, he did not make a 3. He hit 21 as a sophomore, 24 as a junior and now, as a senior, he’s at 16 … for 31. Dickinson has gone 5-for-9 in the last three games from beyond the arc, and he’s posted double-figure rebounds in eight of his last 10 games. In five of those contests, he’s posted at least 13 boards. 

Bill Self called him the most dominant big he’s ever coached on the offensive end of the floor, and Dickinson has been as advertised. Not to mention, he’s one of the most compelling personalities in college hoops. Love him or dislike him, you can’t talk about college basketball without Dickinson, and for that matter, the blue-blood Jayhawks, who are seeking their second title in three years. 

From FOX Sports Research: 

  • Dickinson is fourth in D-I in rebounding at 11.9 RPG, while his 18.9 PPG average is 12th among all Power-6 players
  • Dickinson is one of five players in all of D-I averaging 18 PPG and 10 RPG (Edey, Woolbright, Dillon Jones, Enrique Freeman)
  • Dickinson has nine double-doubles this season, T-5th most of any player in D-I
  • Dickinson is the only player in D-I to record multiple games with 20 rebounds this season
  • Dickinson is one of five players in Division-I to have a game with 20 points and 20 rebounds (Armando Bacot, Freeman, Michael Imariagbe, Aboubacar Traore)

3. Joel Soriano, St. John’s 
Class: Senior
Height/Weight: 6-11, 255 pounds
Stats: 17.3 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 65% FG 

With nine double-doubles on the season, and 34 in the last two seasons, the St. John’s superstar possesses the second-most in that category in that span to only Edey. Soriano has risen to No. 3 on the list because he’s been so consistent, and the Red Storm are red-hot, having won 10 of their last 12 games. 

In wins over Butler and Villanova, the latter of which marked the Johnnies’ first win at The Pavilion since 1993, Soriano combined for 34 points and 20 rebounds. The fifth-year senior is in the best shape of his life, and he’s the face of the Rick Pitino’s rebuild in Queens. Beyond the court, he has great leadership ability and attitude. 

From Fox Sports Research: 

  • Soriano is the only player in the Big East averaging 10.0 RPG
  • Soriano is one of three Power-6 players to average 17 PPG and 10 RPG (Dickinson, Edey)
  • Soriano is one of three players in D-I with 12-plus games of 10-plus points and 9-plus rebounds (Woolbright, Freeman)
  • Soriano scored at least 10 points in every game this season and 15-plus points in 11 of his 16 games
  • Soriano shot 50% or better in every game this season, including 60% or better in 12 of 16 games
  • Soriano is one of three players in a Power-6 conference to be 6-11 or taller and average 15 PPG and 10 RPG on 49% shooting from the floor and 36% shooting from 3 (Fardaws Aimaq, Dickinson)

4. Armando Bacot, North Carolina  
Class: Senior
Height/Weight: 6-11, 240 pounds
Stats: 14.5 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 52% FG 

The goal this season in Chapel Hill was for redemption to be achieved. Hubert Davis has a group that’s off to a great start, as UNC is 12-3 and picking up steam behind Bacot, the program’s all-time leading rebounder. 

In road wins over Pittsburgh and a top-20 Clemson team, Bacot combined for 30 points, 26 rebounds, five blocks and four assists. The Tar Heels are one of only three teams ranked in the top-15 in both KenPom adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency (Duke and Auburn). Bacot’s 2,027 career points now rank fifth all time in Tar Heels history, and he’s at 1,496 rebounds and counting at the top of the program charts. 

From FOX Sports Research: 

  • Bacot is one of five players in all of Division-I to have a game with 20 points and 20 rebounds (Dickinson, Freeman, Imariagbe, Traore)
  • Bacot is one of 13 players in D-I to record a game this season with 20 or more rebounds
  • Earlier this season, Bacot broke the UNC career record for offensive rebounds (passed Tyler Hansbrough- 482), currently at 522
  • Bacot is one of two D-I players to average 10 RPG and shoot over 78% from the free-throw line (Jones)
  • Bacot is one of four ACC players with five or more double-doubles (Norchad Omier, Kyle Filipowski, Quinten Post)

5. PJ Hall, Clemson
Class: Senior
Height/Weight: 6-10, 238 pounds 
Stats: 18.9 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 53% FG

The Tigers have dropped three games in a row and are 11-4 on the season, but that does not take away from the fact that Hall is still putting up the type of numbers you’d expect from a guy who tested the NBA Draft waters and elected to come back to school. 

Bacot jumped him on the ladder because he struggled against the UNC big man, but before Saturday’s loss to the Tar Heels, Hall had posted at least 17 points in five consecutive games. He has scored at least 20 in half of Clemson’s games, and is the only ACC player to stand at 6-10 or taller and average at least 18 points per contest. 

What needs to change for him to rise back up the ladder? His scoring and rebounding are the best they’ve been in his four-year college career, but his 3-pointers have taken a dip from 40 to 35%.

But overall, Hall is having an incredible season.

From FOX Sports Research: 

  • Hall is second in the ACC in scoring at 18.9 PPG and fourth in field goal percentage (53%)
  • Hall is one of three players in the ACC averaging at least 18 PPG and 6.0 RPG (Post, Omier)
  • Hall is one of two players in D-I averaging at least 18 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 2.0 APG and 2.0 BPG (Post)
  • Hall is one of three ACC players averaging at least 18 PPG and 6.0 RPG on 53% shooting or better (Filipowski, Omier)
  • Hall is one of three ACC players averaging at least 16 PPG, 6.0 RPG on 50% shooting and 34% shooting from 3 (Post, Filipowski)

6. Kyle Filipowski, Duke
Class: Sophomore
Height/Weight: 7-0, 248 pounds
Stats: 17.4 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 2.9 APG 53% FG 

The Blue Devils have won seven straight, and the 7-foot sophomore continues to lead them in scoring and rebounding, with his latest performance coming in a 22-point road win at Pittsburgh on Tuesday night. Filipowski notched 26 points, his sixth 20-plus point performance this season, along with 10 rebounds to complete his fifth double-double of the season. 

His footwork, coordination around the rim and balance are really impressive, and it’s led to him making a big sophomore leap. Last year, Filipowski shot 58% on attempts at the rim. This season, he’s up to 64%.

The sophomore big man has also grown as a perimeter shooter with improved form, increasing from a 28% shooter from beyond the arc to 37% this season. 

From FOX Sports Research:

  • Flilpowski is one of two 7-foot Power-6 players averaging 17 PPG and 8 RPG on 50% shooting and 37% shooting from 3 (Dickinson)
  • Filipowski is one of three ACC players averaging 16 PPG, 6 RPG on 50% shooting and 34% shooting from 3 (Post, Hall)
  • Filipowski is one of four players in D-I to record five or more games this season with 25 points and seven rebounds (Edey, Jaedon LeDee, Michael Ajayi)
  • Filipowski is one of four ACC players with five or more double-doubles (Omier, Bacot, Post)

7. Drew Pember, UNC Asheville
Class: Senior 
Height/Weight: 6-11, 215 pounds
Stats: 20.5 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 3.5 APG, 49% FG 

Last year, Pember scored the most points in any Division I game with 48 and became the first Big South player to lead the league in points, rebounds and blocks in a season. That’s why the fifth-year senior, who is tallying close to 20 points per game and shooting almost 50% from the floor this season, occupies the No. 7 slot on our big man ladder. Pember’s versatility and feel for the game stand out, as he’s also a great passer. He can stretch the floor as well, posting 25 triples while shooting 34% from 3-point range.

Over his last four games, Pember has increased his totals to 29.2 PPG, including a 36-point showing in a loss to High Point. Starting his career at Tennessee before transferring to the Bulldogs, Pember is one of the great fifth-year senior stories in college hoops and has just kept getting better and better. A finalist for the Lute Olsen (Top Player in Division I) and Lou Henson (Top Mid-Major Player) awards, Pember is right on track to be in the mix again this season. He is the first player in Big South history to be named Preseason Player of the Year, Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and Tournament MVP in the same season. 

From FOX Sports Research: 

  • Pember is one of two players in D-I to be 6-11 or taller and average 19 PPG, 7 RPG and shoot 33% from 3 (Dickinson)
  • Pember leads the Big South in scoring at 20.5 PPG
  • Pember is the only player in the Big South to average at least 16.0 PPG and 7.0 RPG

8. Ryan Kalkbrenner, Creighton
Class: Senior 
Height/Weight: 7-1, 270 pounds  
Stats: 15.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 65% FG 

We’ve become conditioned to watching Kalkbrenner serve as the lynchpin for the Bluejays on both ends of the floor in recent years, primarily defensively, as he is one of only 11 players in Big East history to be named a two-time recipient of the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year award. This season, it’s been no different for the 7-1 big man from Florissant, Missouri, who has notched a combined 42 points and 21 rebounds in the last two games for the Jays.

Kalkbrenner ranks third among all active college basketball players with 237 blocks, and his nine games with five or more blocks make him the only Creighton player since the program joined the Big East in 2013 to accomplish that feat multiple times. 

Kalkbrenner’s instincts and overall efficiency are exceptional. Get this, courtesy of Creighton’s notes: He has made 568 of 856 career shots, putting him at 66.4% overall. That places the senior center fourth in NCAA history among players to make 500 or more field goals and at least four field goals per game.

From FOX Sports Research: 

  • Kalkbrenner is one of just six 7-footers in college basketball to make four or more 3-pointers in a game this season (Carlton Linguard, Post, Filipowski, Branden Carlson, Steven Crowl)
  • Kalkbrenner is one of just five Big East players averaging at least 15 PPG and 7 RPG (Baylor Scheierman, Devin Carter, Bryce Hopkins, Soriano)
  • Kalkbrenner Is one of two Power 6 players to be 7-1 or taller and average 15 PPG, and 7 RPG on 60% shooting from the floor and 25% shooting or better from 3 (Dickinson)

9. Kel’el Ware, Indiana
Class: Sophomore  
Height/Weight: 7-feet, 242 pounds   
Stats: 14.7 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 56% FG 

The potential NBA first-round draft prospect, Ware posted a 13-point, career-high 17-rebound performance in Indiana’s 66-57 defeat to Rutgers on Tuesday. The 11-5 Hoosiers have had some struggles because of a lack of perimeter offense, but Ware has had a solid season. His length and athleticism give him the upside to keep rising on draft boards, and sequences like this one below show just how special of a talent he could be at the next level.

Ware has also shown his defensive prowess, tallying nine blocks combined in the last five games. With a 7-for-19 mark from 3-point land on the season, Ware can shoot the 3, but it’s not a strength quite yet. His footwork and timing around the rim have been impressive, and that’s allowed him to take over games on the interior with four 20-plus point performances this year. 

From FOX Sports Research: 

  • Ware is one of two Big Ten players to average 14 PPG and 9 RPG this season (Edey)
  • Ware is one of seven Power 6 players to average 14 PPG and 9 RPG this season (Edey, Dickinson, Soriano, Bacot, Aimaq, Omier)

10. Fardaws Aimaq, California
Class: Senior 
Height/Weight: 6-foot-11, 245 pounds 
Stats: 14.9 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 2.1 APG, 49.2% FG

We’ve got a new addition to the ladder, because in Mark Madsen’s first year leading the Bears, he brought in his former star at Utah Valley, Aimaq, to lead Cal. The 25-year-old Aimaq is on his fourth college stop, missing the majority of last season at Texas Tech with an injury. Two years ago, the 6-11, 245-pound big man was second in the country to only Oscar Tshiebwe with 13.6 rebounds per game and his 27 double-doubles were tied for the fifth-most in a single season in NCAA history.  

Now at Cal, Aimaq has five games this season with at least 14 boards, including two of the last four contests. His tenth double-double came this past Saturday night, as he tallied 13 points, 14 rebounds and three assists to help the Bears past UCLA, 66-57. It marked Cal’s first victory at Pauley Pavilion since 2010. 

Aimaq’s 10 double-doubles on the season rank third in the country. 

From FOX Sports Research: 

  • Aimaq is the only player in the Pac-12 averaging a double-double (excludes N’Faly Dante, who has only played in one game)
  • Aimaq is one of seven Power 6 players to average 14 PPG and 9 RPG this season (Edey, Dickinson, Soriano, Bacot, Ware, Omier)

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.

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