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November 8, 2011

Fox: Ranking the best inside-outside duos

Connecticut spent parts of last season almost as a one-man show with eventual national player of the year Kemba Walker, but the Huskies didn't become national titlists until others joined in on the fun.

Sophomore guards Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier appear to be budding stars, but a key reason UConn won the national title was the inside-outside duo of Walker and Alex Oriakhi.

Oriakhi had double-digit rebounds in four of Connecticut's six NCAA tournament games and a double-double in the title game against Butler.

A good inside-outside duo can be the foundation for any elite team, and the teams at the top of our list are no exception. Ohio State, North Carolina, Kentucky and Syracuse are near the top of the preseason polls, and in addition to overall talent, they have something else in common: One great guard and one great big man who work together to form the backbone of the team.

Here are our picks for the top inside-outside duos for this season.

[ Related: Rivals.com Countdown to Tipoff ]

TOP INSIDE-OUTSIDE DUOS

1. OHIO STATE
The duo: Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft
The buzz: After averaging 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds, Sullinger was the undisputed national freshman of the year and a consensus first-team All-American. Had he left for the NBA draft, he would have been one of the first picks. Undoubtedly, he was a major reason the Buckeyes won 34 games. Craft arrived with less fanfare than Sullinger, but he was huge as a freshman point man. He played starter's minutes off the bench, and averaged 4.8 assists and played solid defense.

2. NORTH CAROLINA
The duo: Tyler Zeller and Kendall Marshall
The buzz: North Carolina has ample talent on its roster, especially in the frontcourt. Harrison Barnes and John Henson could listed instead of Zeller. But Zeller is a 7-foot center who does most of his damage in the low post, so he is the pick here. Zeller led the Tar Heels in scoring at 15.7 points per game and averaged 7.7 rebounds. Zeller also led the ACC in field-goal percentage (54.7 percent). The key to Tar Heels season, though, was the emergence of Marshall; the team took off once he became the starter in January. He's not a prolific scorer, but he doesn't need to be on this team. Marshall led the ACC in assists, and UNC was 17-3 after he took over at point guard.

3. KENTUCKY
The duo: Terrence Jones and Marquis Teague
The buzz: A new-look Kentucky frontcourt will be deeper and more talented with five-star freshmen Anthony Davis and Kyle Wiltjer stepping in for Josh Harrellson. Jones' experience will be a valuable asset on another freshman-laden Kentucky team. He is physical and athletic, and knows how to carve out space in the lane. He needs to work on his shot selection and not take as many 15-footers. Teague, another five-star freshman, has been described as having similar qualities to John Wall and Brandon Knight; he's quick as well as being a pass-first point guard.

4. KANSAS
The duo: Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor
The buzz: This duo's progress of Robinson and Taylor is vital to Kansas' success. Robinson came off the bench last season to spell Marcus and Markieff Morris starting, but he should step into the lead role this season. Robinson averaged 7.6 points and 6.4 rebounds in just 14.6 minutes. Taylor has loads of potential and has had to fight for time in some crowded backcourts. He averaged 9.3 points and 4.6 assists last season. Expect both numbers to go up this season, especially the point total.

5. SYRACUSE
The duo: Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine
The buzz: Rick Jackson was a classic inside presence last season, averaging a double-double. But he's gone and Syracuse won't be experienced in the middle, so more will be needed from Joseph. A slasher who has 3-point range, Joseph averaged 14.3 points and 5.2 rebounds last season. Jardine fared well in his first season as the starting point guard; he averaged 12.5 points and had 205 assists. Syracuse is counting on both to improve on those numbers.

6. VANDERBILT
The duo: Festus Ezeli and John Jenkins
The buzz: Jenkins is one of the nation's best 3-point shooters, converting 100 of them last season at a 40.8 percent clip. He has picture-perfect form and great range. Meanwhile, Ezeli is one of the SEC's best inside players, averaging 13.0 points and blocking 87 shots. He has made huge strides the past two seasons, and if makes similar strides this season, he should average a double-double. Ezeli has been suspended for the first six games for a violation of the NCAA's illegal-benefits rule.

7. DUKE
The duo: Mason Plumlee and Austin Rivers
The buzz: Mason is the best of the Plumlee twins and averaged 7.2 points and 8.4 rebounds in 25.6 minutes last season. He should be Duke's top big man, but the Blue Devils have a deep backcourt. Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins are returnees, but Rivers - the No. 1 freshman in the recruiting class - should take an immediate starring role with his ability to score and distribute.

8. CONNECTICUT
The duo: Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb
The buzz: In a two-month period, Drummond went from being criticized for choosing to stay in prep school to earning Big East preseason newcomer of the year notice. Drummond was the No. 2 player in the 2012 class after he announced he would stay in prep school for another this season. He changed his mind and enrolled at UConn in August. He's a physical presence who is at home in the low post. Lamb developed into a great second option to Kemba Walker last season. Now, it's his turn for a breakout season.

9. VILLANOVA
The duo: Mouphtaou Yarou and Maalik Wayns
The buzz: Villanova coach Jay Wright has said Wayns could impact his team individually more than any player he has had in a while. If he makes a jump from his sophomore season to his junior season like he did from his freshman season (6.8 points per game) to is sophomore year (13.8), that's a real possibility. Wayns' next step is improving his shooting (39.9 percent from the field) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.6-1). Yarou, a 6-10 center, is looking to build off last season (8.4 points, 7.1 rebounds), and his solid performance during Villanova's European tour lends hope that will happen.

10. ALABAMA
The duo: JaMychal Green and Trevor Releford
The buzz: Green has been a consistent force on three Alabama teams that had their ups and downs. Green has averaged at least 10.3 points and 7.2 rebounds each season. He's an athletic presence on both ends of the court, and he is one of the best frontcourt defenders in the nation. Trevor Releford took hold of the point guard job as a freshman and averaged 11.0 points and 3.4 assists. He is jet-quick with the ball, and should have more help in the backcourt this season.

11. MISSISSIPPI STATE
The duo: Renardo Sidney and Dee Bost
The buzz: Noticing a trend? The SEC has a number of top-flight duos. Sidney has had a checkered past, but he seemed to get in the groove late last season. He averaged 13.5 points and 8.0 rebounds in SEC play, and he has the talent - if not necessarily the intensity - to average a double-double this season. Bost is one of the SEC's best distributors, leading the SEC with 95 assists - 29 more than anyone else in the league.

12. NEW MEXICO
The duo: Drew Gordon and Kendall Williams
The buzz: Gordon missed the first nine games last season after transferring from UCLA, but he acclimated quickly once he became eligible, averaging a double-double (13.0 ppg, 10.5 rpg). In 25 games, he scored in double-figures 22 times and led New Mexico in rebounding 21 times. Williams was the Mountain West's freshman of the year. He gets a lot of attention for his defense and his passing ability (4.0 assists per game), but he's also a solid rebounder and an underrated offensive player with 3-point range (42.6 percent from beyond the arc).

TOP LOW-MAJOR INSIDE-OUTSIDE DUOS
Iona G Scott Machado and F Mike Glover; Weber State G Damian Lillard and F Kyle Bullinger; Long Beach State G Casper Ware and F T.J. Robinson; Belmont G Ian Clark and C Mick Hedgepeth; UT San Antonio G Melvin Johnson III and F Jeromie Hill.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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