RTC 2009-10 Impact Players: Mid-South RegionPosted by rtmsf on October 7th, 2009
Ed. Note: the previous posts in this series (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Atlantic South and Deep South) are located here.
It’s time for the fifth installment of our RTC 2009-10 Impact Players series, the group of landlocked states that produce some really good basketball players – the Mid-South. Each week we’ll pick a geographic area of the country and break down the five players who we feel will have the most impact on their teams (and by the transitive property, college basketball) this season. Our criteria is once again subjective – there are so many good players in every region of the country that it’s difficult to narrow them down to only five in each – but we feel at the end of this exercise that we’ll have discussed nearly every player of major impact in the nation. Just to be fair and to make this not too high-major-centric, we’re also going to pick a mid-major impact player in each region as our sixth man. We welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments where we left players off. The only request is that you provide an argument – why will your choice be more influential this season than those we chose?
Mid-South Region (KY, TN, MO, AR, OK)
James Anderson – Jr, F – Oklahoma St. An obvious and unanimous choice for our Mid-South list, James Anderson cannot be blamed if he has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder right now. Let’s see: he’s the third-leading returning scorer in the Big 12 for the upcoming season; last year the guy averages 18.2 points, 5.7 boards, shoots over 48% from the field as well as over 82% from the line and 41% from beyond the three-point line… and he gets left off the Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 list. Anderson has coolly acknowledged his surprise at this slight, and we think he’s well within his right to do so. No doubt this will provide motivation for the versatile forward as he embarks upon his junior season for a Cowboys squad that needs him in the leadership role. Gone are Byron Eaton and Terrel Harris, leaving only Anderson and Obi Muonelo in terms of returning double-digit scorers. That’s over 27 points a game for which to compensate, so Anderson will get the touches, without question. Last year was the first trip to the NCAA Tournament for Oklahoma State in the last four years, and despite the aforementioned losses, Cowboy fans are most assuredly expecting another bid this season. If it’s going to happen, it will be on Anderson’s shoulders. We know that making our Impact Players list for the Mid-South region isn’t the same as making the preseason Wooden Award Top 50. But at least we can say… hey James… we got your back, man.
Patrick Patterson – Jr, F – Kentucky. Patrick Patterson didn’t need a ton of motivation to return for a junior season in Lexington. The potential NBA riches were surely enticing, but with the news of John Calipari’s hire and subsequent commitments of a recruiting class for the ages, Patterson found himself in a spot where another season at Kentucky may mean a national championship, a far cry from the tumultuous two campaigns he spent in the Bluegrass State under the tutelage of Billy Gillispie. Patterson is a physical specimen in the paint for Kentucky and coach Cal has to be absolutely salivating at the thought of pairing Patterson and diaper dandy DeMarcus Cousins there to complement John Wall, Darius Miller and Eric Bledsoe on the perimeter (just think if Jodie Meeks had stuck around). Patterson nearly finished with a double-double last season at 17.9 ppg and 9.3 rpg, including a dominant 22/15 performance at future #1 seed Louisville, a 19/16 vs. Miami and 21/18 vs. Auburn. In fact, Patterson led the SEC with 15 double-doubles in 2008-09 and was the only player in the conference to finish in the top five in scoring and rebounding. A wildly underrated part of Patterson’s game is his 77% ft to go along with an efficient 60% from the field overall. Most NBA scouts think Patterson will only get stronger and continue to improve with another season in college, a scary thought for opposing SEC coaches and forwards, and a delightful proposition for Calipari. The 6’8″ big man already possesses an NBA-ready frame, a beast on the blocks that loves to bang inside and fight for any rebound in his vicinity. If Patrick Patterson gets the ball deep, he will score. Period. And with John Wall, possibly the top point guard in the nation this season, making those entry passes, Patterson should be able to average a double-double for Kentucky, only adding to the 1,000+ points he’s already totaled as a Wildcat. Barring injury (which isn’t a certainty as PP battled a stress fracture in his ankle in 07-08), Patterson seems about as surefire as anyone in the country to earn national accolades this season. But with realistic hopes of a Final Four at Kentucky for the first time in Patterson’s career, it won’t be about personal accomplishments for the determined forward; it’ll be all about wins.
Tyler Smith – Sr, F – Tennessee. Tyler Smith is the classic NBA tweener, which is why we’re still talking about him. The truth of the matter is that if Smith were a mere two inches taller than his 6’7 frame, he’d already have been a lottery pick by now for some hapless NBA outpost in Sacramento or Memphis. But the reality is that he’s not 6’9 and isn’t likely to get there anytime soon, so his decision to return to school for his senior year to refine his perimeter game is a considered one. He can already do just about everything there is to do on the basketball court – he scores, rebounds, passes, and defends (inasmuch as any Vol defends anyone), and he is also very surehanded with the ball, as his 1.6 A/TO ratio attests (third-best forward in the SEC). No, the two-time SEC first teamer who has led UT to 52 wins in two seasons in Knoxville really only has one weakness, and it is that he has yet to prove to the NBA that he can consistently drain the outside shot. In three years of collegiate ball, Smith shot it the best (38%) when he was one of a multitude of scorers on the 31-win UT team from 2007-08. But when he’s more of an offensive focal point, as in his freshman year at Iowa (25%) and his junior year at Tennessee (29%), he struggles from deep. As you may have heard, UT returns 99.7% of its minutes from last season’s somewhat disappointing campaign, and their core nucleus of eight players is solid at every position (if completely suspect on defense). If Tyler Smith wants to truly impress the scouts for the 2010 draft, he should use his impressive work ethic – the kind that gets him rebounds over bigger opponents - to challenge his team’s defensive efforts through action. It is that kind of leadership (along with some improved marksmanship) that will allow Smith to shed his tweener label and sneak into the late first round next summer. If all of those things happen, Tennesee could be in for a very big year under Mr. Smith.
John Wall – Fr, G – Kentucky. The Great Wall. That’s one of the various nickname candidates bouncing around Lexington for the presumptive freshman phenom that has UK supporters collectively pacing the floor as they pensively wait for basketball season’s arrival. While that nickname might be more befitting of a big man – not that Wall is small at 6’4″ – the hype couldn’t be any more massive, and has reached O.J. Mayo-like levels at this point. This of course includes Wall having been long-anointed with the #1 position on nbadraft.net’s 2010 mock draft. What with the hiring of John Calipari and his dribble-drive motion offense (evidently tailor-made for Wall), and the fact that solid and consistent play at the point guard position has been lacking at UK for the past couple of seasons, Wildcat fans see Wall’s arrival in Lexington as part of a harmonic convergence of sorts. They may be right. Wall is the top cat in a freshman class that, when considering the recruiting gurus’ rankings, compares with Michigan’s Fab Five class of 1991, and he (along with the rest of the team) has one major thing going for him that nobody’s talking about: anything will seem better than the last two years of slow, slovenly offense and almost non-existent perimeter defense they exhibited under Billy Gillispie. In other words, despite the hugeness of the Kentucky program and all its history and tradition, Wall and the rest of the Wildcats (both old and new) don’t have much to live up to in the short term. If you were a gigantically-hyped high school star, and specifically a top-rated point guard, this was the year to come to Lexington. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all hype. We’ve seen amazing things from Wall in all-star games, pick-up games, high school footage, etc. We all know he’s going to be ridiculous. It’s no tremendous leap of faith to say that. But he’s really put himself in a perfect situation here. He’s in the right place at the right time, playing for a perfectly-suited coach on the biggest stage. We know what’s predicted, we know he’s capable of feats on the level of Rose, Mayo, Love, or Beasley, or even higher. The rest is up to him. Man, is it going to be fun to watch.
Willie Warren, Soph, G – Oklahoma. Could the best scoring guard in the country reside in Norman, Oklahoma? Willie Warren probably thinks so. So does this so-called expert. Returning for a sophomore campaign for coach Jeff Capel and Oklahoma is the superbly confident and supremely talented Warren, who one could argue is the top pure shooter in all of college basketball for 2009-10. Warren burst onto the scene with back-to-back 30+ point scoring outputs against Rice and Arkansas last December (on 23-39 shooting, 11-20 3pt combined) and officially exploded onto the scene in a primetime game in Austin against Texas (the Blake Griffin concussion game) in which Warren put the Sooners on his back with a 10-20 FG, 6-12 3pt, 27-point shooting clinic that kept #2 Oklahoma in the game. Along with the ability to make literally any shot on the floor, NBA scouts love Warren because of his quick first step, exceptional athletic ability and length, along with an edge of confidence that you cannot teach. While Warren is considered a “combo” guard, his court vision and passing ability does need significant improvement (3.1 apg), especially if Tommy Mason-Griffin cannot handle point guard duties immediately and Warren is needed to lead the offense in 2009-10. Warren also has a reputation for forcing poor shots, but the talented guard did shoot 47% from the field as a freshman, a solid number. With his ability to get to the rim with an array of moves and that unlimited range, I’d expect that number at about 50% with, quite possibly, 20 ppg this season. Expect Warren to have a chair reserved in the green room at the 2010 NBA Draft, as a first team All-American spot is a very realistic possibility.
Jerome Jordan (MM) – Sr, C – Tulsa. You’d be hard pressed to find a player in all of college basketball who has come further in three years than Tulsa’s 7’0, 245 lb center. The long and physically imposing Jamaican barely saw action during his freshman year at Tulsa, averaging a mere 3/2 in eight minutes per game. Despite having gone to high school with uber-sprinter Usain Bolt, running hard really wasn’t Jordan’s thing, and his lack of conditioning and understanding of what it takes to play basketball at a high level was apparent. Still, by the end of his first year, he was showing signs of improvement and he followed it up with a breakthrough sophomore season where he became a regular starter en route to a 11/8/4 blks season that earned him a spot on the CUSA all-defensive team and the CUSA all-tournament team. He followed that up with last season’s 14/9/3 blks and a spot on the CUSA first team, along with the watchful eyes of every NBA scout who covets size with good footwork and a knack for blocking shots (i.e., everyone). Jordan was projected as a late first-round selection in the 2009 NBA Draft, but he opted to return to Tulsa, which has head coach Doug Wojcik giddy. Given all the turmoil and change that went on at Memphis, and with four starters returning including the very talented guard Ben Uzoh, the Golden Hurricane is poised to move atop the CUSA standings and show the world that Bolt isn’t the only graduate of William Knibb High School who knows how to run.
Honorable Mention. Jermaine Beal, Vanderbilt. Donald Boone, Arkansas St. Wes Channels, Austin Peay. Wayne Chism, Tennessee. DeMarcus Cousins, Kentucky. Courtney Fortson, Arkansas. Kenneth Faried, Morehead St. Adnan Hodzic, Lipscomb. Kwamain Mitchell, St. Louis. Steven Moore, Arkansas-Little Rock. Obi Muonelo, Oklahoma St. AJ Ogilvy, Vanderbilt. Steffphon Pettigrew, W. Kentucky. JP Prince, Tennessee. Roburt Sallie, Memphis. Samardo Samuels, Louisville. AJ Slaughter, W. Kentucky. Jerry Smith, Louisville. Mike Smith, ETSU. Jeffery Taylor, Vanderbilt. Danero Thomas, Murray St. JT Tiller, Missouri. Ben Uzoh, Tulsa. Michael Washington, Arkansas. Kyle Weems, Missouri St. Elliot Williams, Memphis. Desmond Yates, MTSU.