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Rising Star: Gonzaga Junior Kelly Olynyk

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(credit: William Mancebo/Getty Images)

(credit: William Mancebo/Getty Images)

By: Mark Chalifoux

Gonzaga has a history of busting brackets but the Bulldogs now find themselves in the role of the hunted as Gonzaga became No. 1 in the AP poll for the first time in history. It’s been a crazy season of college basketball and for Gonzaga to hold it’s spot at the top and make a serious dent in the tournament, they will need Player of the Year candidate Kelly Olynyk at the top of his game.

It’s easy to see why he’s excelled at the college level. Olynyk is a 7-foot tall center with an exceptional offensive game. Scouts praise his “polish”, which is code for “he scores more than we would’ve thought.” He’s not an overwhelming force in the paint (his rebound numbers, 7 per game, attest to that) but his 69 percent field goal percentage proves his effectiveness. He leads Gonzaga in scoring at 17.7 points per game and there are few players in the college realm that can contain him.

His critics accuse his numbers of inflation due to playing in a less-than-elite conference, but Olynyk has scored ably against the best competition Gonzaga has faced this year, averaging 14 points per game against the three ranked opponents the Bulldogs faced this season.

Olynyk has taken the college basketball world by surprise this year given that he’s coming off of a redshirt season. He will likely enter the NBA draft after the season and is projected to be a mid-first round pick. Scouts think he’ll be a good, but not great, player at the next level.

They love his craftiness in the post and think he can be a serviceable scorer in the NBA. 7-foot centers that can score will always have a home in the NBA, but his athletic limitations (and his defense) will prevent him from being a star.

Kelly Olynyk steak and dunk:

Mark Chalifoux is a college basketball contributor for CBS Local Digital Media and can be reached at mark.chalifoux@gmail.com and @markchalifoux on Twitter.

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