College basketball: Big man spotlight focuses on low-post play, rebounding

These days college basketball is dominated by guards. They come in all shapes and sizes, they love to get out in the open court, and boy do they like to shoot the rock. 

It may be an unfortunate truth in some fans’ eyes, but gone is the day and age when back-to-the-basket play reigned supreme. And given the trends at play, it may recede even further from view before it makes a resurgence. That’s the impact that the lure of the 3-point arc has had on both the collegiate and professional ranks, but C’est la vie

However, if you’re a college basketball fan yearning for the methodical footwork and constant contact that only post-up basketball can provide, there are a few guys out there who still opt to mix it up the old-fashioned way — AKA free-throw line area and in.

So dive on in and chew things over from NCAA.com’s weekly tasting menu of big men samplings.

Bam Adebayo, freshman, 6’10”, 260 lbs, Kentucky Wildcats (10-1)

24.7 minutes, 12.6 pts, 7.9 reb, 0.9 ast, 1.6 blk; 54.5 FG percentage

Kentucky Wildcats forward Edrice "Bam" Adebayo (3) has been a solid addition to the UK frontcourt.

Mark Zerof | USA TODAY Sports Images

Kentucky Wildcats forward Edrice “Bam” Adebayo (3) has been a solid addition to the UK frontcourt.

For all the attention and praise heaped on the guards under the tutelage of head coach John Calipari at Kentucky, the most intriguing piece of the puzzle in the mix this season is the team’s freshman pivot Edrice “Bam” Adebayo. Most older fans probably remember “Bam” as the catchphrase used by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, but let’s be blunt here — Adebayo is way spicier than anything that Lagasse is cooking up these days.

What separates Adebayo from the rest of the pack is not only his athletic ability but also his extremely well-built frame. Simply put, in most cases he can overpower or just simply out jump defenders at this level. It may not be the drop-step moves or post-up finishes that most associate with frontcourt play, but rest assured he makes some noise in the paint. UK also has a penchant for playing a number of guards and swingmen around a lone frontcourt player, which gives Adebayo a good amount of room to operate around the rim when he’s in the lineup. 

He’s logged double figures in nine of the team’s eleven games so far (along with three double-doubles) and has already taken over the spot as the team’s top big man. However, his usage rate is likely to jump as the season progresses. He may not be at the top of the scouting report with some of the other firepower that Kentucky boasts, but Adebayo is more than capable of dominating stretches of the game on both ends of the floor because of his extreme athletic ability.

Comfort level when he has the rock: Grab the TUMS because he’s bringing some spice

Tim Kempton Jr., senior, 6’10”, 245 lbs, Lehigh Mountain Hawks (5-5)

32.4 minutes, 22.8 pts, 10.4 reb, 1.4 ast, 1.4 blk; 56.9 FG percentage

Tim Kempton Jr, the 6'10" pivot from Arizona, had 13 double-doubles a year ago. He has six so far this year.

Frank Victores | USA TODAY Sports Images

Tim Kempton Jr, the 6’10” pivot from Arizona, had 13 double-doubles a year ago. He has six so far this year.

When it comes to the offensive side of the ball for the Mountain Hawks of Lehigh, most of the offense runs through the 6’10” senior from Scottsdale, Arizona. And with good reason, as the upperclassman is averaging a double-double (22.8 ppg, 10.4 rpg) to set the pace for head coach Brett Reed. Kempton has raised his points and rebounds per game averages by more than five points and nearly a full rebound a night since his junior season a year ago, but some might consider his type of play to be a bit vanilla. 

Nonetheless, the main goal for Kempton is putting the ball in the hoop. That doesn’t mean he won’t bust out an occasional highlight reel dunk or two — if presented with the opportunity. What makes a real difference for Kempton Jr. is an above-average ability to finish around the rim with both hands and through contact. In keeping with the basketball trends du jour, he has sprinkled in an outside shot as part of his arsenal. However, that should not belie the fact that this big man’s bread and butter is working in the paint with deft footwork and a soft touch.

A season-high 31 points (9-13 shooting) and 18 rebounds in a Dec. 10 victory over Mount St. Mary’s is also evidence of his ability to dominate a ballgame without requiring an inordinate number of touches. A year ago he had 13 double-doubles in 29 games, and so far through 10 games in the 2016-17 season he has six such games. At this point in his career, there’s little that the senior frontcourt star hasn’t seen. He’s like a basketball smorgasbord, giving basketball fans a bevy of treats to choose from night in and night out. The best part is this buffet is calorie-free, so enjoy.

Comfort level when he has the rock: Cool as crudités

Tyler Davis, sophomore, 6’10”, 270 lbs, Texas A&M Aggies (7-3)

24.1 minutes, 15.2 pts, 7.8 reb, 1.7 ast, 1.3 blk; 62.9 FG percentage

Texas A&M center Tyler Davis (34) is leading his team in scoring following some departures from a year ago.

Troy Taormina | USA TODAY Sports Images

Texas A&M center Tyler Davis (34) is leading his team in scoring following some departures from a year ago.

The Aggies of Texas A&M are trying to adjust to life with center Tyler Davis as the focal point of the offensive game plan. Few teams in the country boast a big man that can match Davis’ size or skill set, and even fewer teams have a defensive scheme that can take Davis out of the game entirely. Herein lies the intrinsic dilemma of basketball: You can’t teach size. In that same vein, Davis — the Texas native — gives head coach Billy Kennedy an instant mismatch he can exploit on any given night.

Only time will tell how the Aggies adjust to the competition of the SEC slate, especially with the team’s first true road game coming at Kentucky on Jan. 3., but the team’s success will likely rest on the big man’s broad shoulders. He’s like college basketball’s version of your grandmother’s chicken noodle soup — no frills, just good solid sustenance for all your basketball faithful. All metaphors aside, one of the biggest problems facing Davis and the Aggies is the roster changeover from a year ago, which included a bevy of scoring and ball handling options that left for graduation. No one is bemoaning a player completing his matriculation, but someone has to get Davis the ball on the low block.

And when they do it’s been working for the Aggies, as Davis is doing every bit he can to act the part of a prime time post presence. Beyond the physical attributes, which certainly bode well in a post-up set, Davis benefits immensely from premier positioning when he sets up on the block. The biggest tradeoff with a big man is usually the agility factor, but Davis works as hard as any big in college basketball to find the prime real estate he is looking for down around the block. Add in some great hand-eye coordination and a soft pair of hands, which are always a help when facing double or even triple coverage, and you have yourself one tough piece of beef to cover in the low post.

Comfort level when he has the rock: Might need a little more seasoning