The 2011-2012 NCAA season is already highly anticipated and one of the major reasons why is all of the talented freshmen who decided to stay in school for their sophomore year. It's not very often that prospects turn down a guaranteed spot in the lottery like North Carolina's Harrison Barnes and Ohio State's Jared Sullinger did. We can partially thank the lockout in the NBA for that.
However, there was more to their choice than just the possible work stoppage in the NBA. They felt like they could benefit from another year of development in college. The allure of competing for a national championship was key as well.
As mentioned in our breakdown of the top incoming freshmen, there is a chance that we see the age limit to enter the draft increased. It's highly unlikely, though, that the requirement is more than two years. So, here's a look at the premier sophomores in the country who we could be seeing the last of in the NCAA next season.
Harrison Barnes (North Carolina) - 6'8, 210 lbs. Small Forward
During the second half of the season Barnes found himself and finally started to play like the player who was ranked as the top high schooler in the 2010 recruiting class. By then, though, Duke point guard Kyrie Irving had surpassed him as the number one prospect in the draft. Barnes stayed with the hopes of regaining that top spot and adding a national championship to his résumé.
With a year of experience under his belt and one of the best supporting casts in the country, Barnes is one of the favorites for Player of the Year honors. He's in a great position to accomplish his goals and appears to be putting in the necessary work this summer as well.
Jared Sullinger (Ohio State) - 6'9, 280 lbs. Power Forward
A few of the teams picking high in this past draft are still disappointed with Sullinger's decision to stay in school. There's no way he would have slipped out of the top eight, in fact he may have even gone as high as three to the Utah Jazz or four to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
This summer Sullinger has been working on slimming down, increasing his range and improving his ball-handling skills. That's vital if he's going to hang with the new-age power forwards that are becoming so prevalent in the NBA. Sullinger has his work cut out for him on being better than last season after posting up 17 points and 10 rebounds a game on 54% shooting from the field.
Perry Jones (Baylor) - 6'11, 235 lbs. Small Forward/Power Forward
The tail end of last season served as a very big reality check for Jones. With Baylor's tournament life on the line he failed to rise to the occasion like his team needed him too. He was just mediocre as they went 2-6 to finish the year, missing out on the tournament. He was just a spectator for the final game of the year due to being suspended by the NCAA for receiving impermissible benefits.
As a sophomore Jones has to take matters into his hands more and start playing winning basketball. While that partially entails being more assertive offensively, being more aggressive on the boards and defensively are just as important. With his talent there isn't an aspect of the game he shouldn't have a major impact on.
Terrence Jones (Kentucky) - 6'8, 244 lbs. Small Forward/Power Forward
When NBA personnel told Jones at Kentucky head coach John Calipari's combine that he could potentially be a top ten pick if he returned, it was far from a guarantee and Jones shouldn't have taken it as such. In a draft class as loaded as next year's is supposed to be, it's going to be far easier for him to play his way out of the top ten than in.
As a sophomore Jones cannot afford to be as inconsistent as he was last year. He'll need to finish the year much stronger and assume the leadership role on the Wildcats.
Patric Young (Florida) - 6'9, 245 lbs. Power Forward
When it comes to the eye test, Young passes with flying colors. He's got nice size for the power forward position, is brutally strong and a real finisher around the basket. Yet, somehow he only managed to average three point and three rebounds as a freshman. He did only play 17 minutes a night, but the expectations were for him to be much better even in limited minutes.
Young's sophomore year is all about putting together his incredible set of tools. He's shown some intriguing flashes with USA Basketball U19 team during the summer. If he can carry that over into the Gators' season, his freshman year will become nothing more than an afterthought chalked up as a development/adjustment year.
Joshua Smith (UCLA) - 6'10, 305 lbs. Power Forward/Center
With Sullinger earning most of the headlines last year, Smith's improvements and noteworthy play really flew under the radar. He's a dominating physical presence just like Sullinger, but is not yet as effective or skilled as the Buckeye. His potential is nearly as immense, though.
Smith is on track to be a standout in '11-'12 and a future pro as long as he remains committed to his conditioning and developing his low post game. Staying out of foul trouble is also very important as he was quite plagued with it as a freshman.
C.J. Leslie (N.C. State) - 6'8, 206 lbs. Small Forward/Power Forward
Like most freshman, consistency wasn't a strength of Leslie's. He spent time at both forward positions and looked like a dominating player at times, but then there were other times where he just blended in like someone who wouldn't ever play basketball again after receiving their degree.
With a raw offensive game, Leslie has to show more polish as a sophomore if he's going to be on his way to the league. It'll also be time to start getting comfortable at one position in particular. Right now he looks better suited to play inside due to his lack of a reliable jump shot or dribbling skills.
Kendall Marshall (North Carolina) - 6'3, 186 lbs. Point Guard
The Tar Heels really took off last year when Marshall took over at point guard. The true playmaker gave them exactly what they needed to take their game to the next level and going into next season the position clearly belongs to him.
With so many great weapons around him, Marshall should be amongst the nation's leaders in assists. He's a pass-first guard, but when he does look to score he needs to be more efficient. That will help NBA teams accept his athletic limitations.
Jeremy Lamb (UConn) - 6'5, 185 lbs. Shooting Guard
At the beginning of the year Lamb looked like a project who was going to provide UConn with minimal help throughout the season. At the end he was one of the hottest shooting guard prospects in the land who played an intricate role in the Huskies' run to the championship.
Lamb opted against leaving while his stock was hot, knowing that a much bigger role awaited him as a sophomore. With Kemba Walker, who is now a member of the Charlotte Bobcats, gone the Huskies are once again going to go into the season with little expectations. If Lamb helps them shock the world once more, he'll see his stock continue to climb.
Doron Lamb (Kentucky) - 6'4, 195 lbs. Shooting Guard
Next year Lamb is going to be living every collegiate shooter's dream. He's going to be playing with two dominating big men in Jones and Anthony Davis and a stellar playmaker in Marquis Teague who will really make his life easy. He'll be the recipient of regular open looks from beyond the arc. At times it will probably almost seem like he's not being guarded at all due to all the attention his teammates are going to garner.
Lamb isn't just a three-point shooter, though, that's just his most reliable weapon right now. He's got a solid all-around offensive game and should be able to build nicely on his solid freshman campaign.
Tim Hardaway Jr. (Michigan), Doug McDermott (Creighton), Augustine Rubit (South Alabama), DeAndre Kane (Marshall), Will Barton (Memphis) and Terrell Stoglin (Maryland).
Yannis Koutroupis is a senior NCAA and NBA analyst for HOOPSWORLD. You can follow him on twitter.
Read more NBA news and insight: http://www.hoopsworld.com/Story.asp?...#ixzz1RisoztTd