RTC 2009-10 Impact Players: Lower Midwest RegionPosted by zhayes9 on October 13th, 2009
Ed. Note: the previous posts in this series (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Atlantic South, Deep South and Mid-South) are located here.
It’s time for the sixth installment of our RTC 2009-10 Impact Players series, the group of rust belt and farming states that we like to call the Lower Midwest. 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?
Lower Midwest Region (OH, IN, IL, IA, NE, KS)
Ed. Note: for the purposes of our analysis in this region, Butler was considered a high-major program.
Cole Aldrich – Jr, C – Kansas. Much like North Carolina one October ago, Kansas appears to be the unanimous selection to begin the season atop every poll and ranking. One of the main reasons for such accolades is the continued improvement of Cole Aldrich, the Kansas double-double machine in the post. Remember the national semifinals against UNC in 2008 when Aldrich burst onto the scene recording eight points, seven rebounds and four blocks in a then career-high 17 minutes? That was the night college hoops fans first saw what Aldrich can provide for Bill Self and his Jayhawks. In a full season of play, Aldrich and guard Sherron Collins were the anchors behind Kansas’ surprising run to a #3 seed and a Sweet 16 berth in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Cole Aldrich and a pretty good player named Blake Griffin were the only players in the Big 12 to average a double-double in 2008-09. Speaking of stats, Aldrich’s triple-double in the second round against Dayton – 13/20/10 blks- was the first recorded triple double in KU’s illustrious basketball history. Aldrich led the conference in blocks with at 2.7 BPG, finished second in rebounding at 12.4 RPG, second in FG% at 60% and tenth in FT% at an impressive 79% for a 6’11 center. Aldrich possesses great length, a high motor and displays the fundamentals under the basket that Self loves. The insane talent around Aldrich this season will only put less of a load on his shoulders as the big man can rely on Collins for the clutch outside shot, Xavier Henry on the wings, Thomas Robinson on the block or Tyrel Reed to knock down the long-range three. But the pressure will be on Aldrich to provide a post presence that simply cannot be matched in the Big 12 (sorry Dexter Pittman). If he achieves his potential, a national POY award isn’t out of the realm of possibility for Kansas’ prized junior center.
Craig Brackins – Jr, F – Iowa St. Craig Brackins won’t get half the airtime this season as any of the other high-major names on this list, but he could end up becoming the best player of the group when it’s all said and done. It’s not as if Brackins came out of nowhere – he was a five-star recruit out of Brewster (NH) Academy in 2007, and he turned down offers from Indiana and Pitt, among others – but, when you play in the Big 12 and your team is generally an afterthought (4-12 in 2008-09), it’s tough to get noticed. But noticed he got on Jan. 24th in a nationally-televised home game against the defending champion Kansas Jayhawks. Brackins sliced and diced the vaunted Jayhawk defense for 42/14 in a losing effort that had Bill Self afterwards stating that the lanky center could be the “best player in the country today.” That single game may have put the Iowa State star on the casual fan’s radar screen, but it’s not like Brackins wasn’t tearing it up against everyone else too: 32/16 against N. Iowa; 28/17 against Jacksonville St.; 38/14 against Houston; 25/13 against Nebraska. The all-Big 12 first teamer nearly averaged a double-double for the season (20.2 PPG and 9.5 RPG) despite seeing hard and fast double-teams every time he touched the ball. It was widely presumed that Brackins would jump into the NBA Draft last summer after such a spectacular season; after all, projections for him of the lottery and mid-first round were prevalent. However, Brackins said that he had some unfinished business to attend to at ISU (meaning, getting the Cyclones to an NCAA Tournament), and he returned to what should be an improved squad with 6’7 juco transfer Marquis Gilstrap’s arrival on the blocks and a solid returning backcourt of Diante Garrett and Lucca Staiger. The only true weakness he has exhibited so far in his career is his 28% from beyond the arc, but with more firepower on the team this year he may be less inclined to feel like he has to do it all (Brackins attempted 37% of ISU’s shots last year). Regardless of how the team’s season plays out in 2009-10, there should be no doubt that Brackins is on the short list of best post men in America. With another year of seasoning under his belt at the collegiate level, however, we could be looking at a top five pick next June. Don’t flip the channel so quickly if you see that Iowa St. is playing on the tube this year – it may be one of your few chances to see one of the best big men in the country.
Sherron Collins – Sr, G – Kansas. It only feels like Collins has been a Jayhawk for a million years. The truth is that you have been hearing his name as the spark plug point guard for KU for only three seasons, and the odds are better than even that you will hear his name enough in the upcoming season that it will feel like another three seasons. The 5’11” concoction of speed and power has been a key player in Bill Self’s rotation from the moment he stepped on campus. As a freshman, he made the Big 12 all-rookie team after averaging 9/3 in a loaded future-pro-filled lineup. The next season he was the Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year as he provided 9/3 again in steady dosage, including the famous falling-down assist to Mario Chalmers that allowed KU to tie Memphis and send the game to overtime in the 2008 national title match-up. (Sidenote: Collins also had a key steal and subsequent three in the final two minutes that facilitated the KU comeback, allowing that shot to matter.) Last season, after his team was gutted by NBA departures, he only took on the role of team captain, raised his averages to 19/5 and became an AP third-team All-American. Did we mention that KU is 91-16 (.850) with three Big 12 regular season titles, two Big 12 Tourney titles, and one national title since Collins matriculated? Or that Kansas is preseason #1 on everybody’s poll this year? It seems impossible for a program of Kansas’ stature, but if KU makes another run to the national championship this season, Sherron Collins will most likely go down in the annals as the winningest player in the history of the program and, along with Cole Aldrich, become their most decorated player ever (no other Jayhawk has won two national titles). With experience, size, speed and skill in droves, Bill Self’s team has few peers in talent; but he might just hold the trump card that nobody else in America has. A short, stocky point guard with the heart of a lion who has already performed and succeeded on the game’s biggest stage.
Luke Harangody – Sr, F – Notre Dame. I can’t help but absolutely love Luke Harangody. As a fan of gritty, fundamental, hard-nosed basketball, what’s not to adore about this kid? While a certain four-year center from North Carolina has received a heavy dose of the publicity the last two seasons, nobody has been as productive on the court as Harangody, the 6’8 forward that averaged a double-double in the Big East as a sophomore and junior. Many thought Harangody could not come close to topping his sensational sophomore campaign in which he became the second player in Big East history to lead the conference in both scoring and rebounding, but the big man was even more productive in 08-09, totaling 23.3 PPG and 11.8 RPG on 46% FG shooting. Granted his form isn’t one to teach at youth camps, but Harangody makes his free throws at a steady rate (78%) and even drained 14 three-pointers last season as his shooting range continues to improve. Get this: From December 31 to February 4, Harangody finished each of those Big East contests with a double-double and his lowest scoring output in one of those games was 24 points against top five powerhouse Connecticut. He put up 60 points in two games against Louisville’s stingy defense and elite big men such as Earl Clark and Terrence Williams. While Harangody may not be blessed with the athleticism or pure talent as some of his competitors for Player of the Year around college basketball this season, nobody will outwork him on the blocks to gain position. Coach Mike Brey is surely ecstatic to have Harangody back for a fourth season in South Bend, and coupled with outstanding guards Tory Jackson and Ben Hansbrough (you just can’t avoid that name), Notre Dame should reverse last year’s disappointing finish with an NCAA berth. For Gody, 25 points and 13 rebounds per game is not out of the question.
Evan Turner – Jr, F – Ohio St. He was solid as a freshman, and as a sophomore the Ohio State Buckeyes’ Evan Turner was forced to grow up even more quickly than anticipated seven games into last year’s schedule when teammate David Lighty broke a bone in his left foot and was lost for the remainder. Already flourishing at his small forward position, Turner had to take on more of a power forward mentality to make up for the loss of Lighty. And what a job he did. He didn’t just lead the team in scoring, he led the entire Big Ten with 17.3 PPG. That’s just the beginning; the guy simply does everything. He was the team leader in RPG (7.1), APG (4.0), three-point shooting (44%), and SPG (1.8). That’s in addition to shooting over 50% from the field and 79% from the free throw line, all while playing almost 37 minutes a game (ranking him 39th nationally). He also recognizes his role as a leader in the locker room and on the floor; in an interview with Fox sports’ Jeff Goodman last month he noted that, after Lighty’s injury last year, “I went from having my hand held to holding other peoples’ hands.” So now, having played shooting guard and small forward through high school and his freshman year at OSU, and assuming a power forward’s role last year, what’s next for the 6’7, 215-pound Turner? Point guard, of course. I’m not kidding. Neither is Thad Matta. That’s where he had Turner playing most of his minutes during a recent team trip to Canada. One last thing — you might notice that the 215 pounds I mention above is about 15 pounds heavier than he was listed at last year, and it’s not because he’s been ordering the deep-dish at Adriatico’s. With his classic “tweener” height at 6’7″, one of the few knocks on Turner is that he needs extra bulk to be physically ready for the NBA, and he’s made it a point in the off-season to develop it. He’s projected at 15th in the 2010 NBA draft, but let’s not talk about that right now. Yeah, Turner’s got great game and is fun to watch, we all know that. But after some difficulty adjusting to college life, Turner is now famous on the OSU campus (and in Columbus as a whole) for the fantastic attitude he brings to life as a college student and as the leader of a true contender of a basketball team. He’s one of those “great teammates” who makes the sport better the longer he’s in it. It’s no wonder he finds himself on the Wooden Award Top 50 list and an all-america candidate.
Osiris Eldridge (MM) – Sr, G- Illinois St. Missouri Valley conference connoisseurs will not be at all surprised to see Osiris Eldridge as the mid-major representative on our Impact Players list for this region. After being tabbed as the Valley’s post-season tournament MOP last year and an all-conference first-teamer for the second straight year, he was recently named as the conference’s pre-season Player of the Year by the folks at the Blue Ribbon Yearbook. Eldridge took a couple of points off of his PPG average last year (15.8 to 14) in an effort to become a more complete player, a mission he accomplished as evidenced by an increase in his rpg, apg, and spg averages as compared to the previous year. Most impressive was the work he did to become even better on the defensive end of the floor; the MVC cognoscenti noticed, and selected him to the MVC’s defensive first team last year. This past summer he declared for the NBA Draft but didn’t hire an agent, using the time to get some feedback from NBA types about his game overall and on how he can improve his draft stock (this was probably the plan all along), since he’s currently projected as a late second-rounder. When one thinks of Illinois State basketball the only name that really comes to mind is Doug Collins. The basketball court at Redbird Arena bears his name and he’s the only retired jersey in the place. Eldridge has led ISU to 49 wins over the past two seasons and Redbird supporters don’t see any reason to expect anything but improvement on their 24-10 record and NIT appearance from last season. If he can help lead them to The Dance and himself into the NBA, who knows? Maybe someday soon they’ll be making room for another jersey to hang with Collins’.
Honorable Mention. Darion Anderson, N. Illinois. Armon Bassett, Ohio. Derek Brown, Xavier. Todd Brown, Wright St. William Buford, Ohio St. Denis Clemente, Kansas St. Kevin Coble, Northwestern. Norris Cole, Cleveland St. Jordan Crawford, Xavier. Mike Davis, Illinois. Jon Diebler, Ohio St. Kevin Dillard, S. Illinois. Jordan Eglseder, N. Iowa. Tony Freeman, S. Illinois. Robert Glenn, IUPUI. Clevin Hannah, Wichita St. Gordon Hayward, Butler. Xavier Henry, Kansas. Matt Howard, Butler. Robbie Hummel, Purdue. Tory Jackson, Notre Dame. JaJuan Johnson, Purdue. Jarrod Jones, Ball St. Adam Koch, N. Iowa. Robert Kreps, UIC. Shelvin Mack, Butler. Sam Maniscalco, Bradley. Harry Marshall, Indiana St. Romain Martin, E. Illinois. Demetri McCamey, Illinois, E’Twaun Moore, Purdue. Jacob Pullen, Kansas St. Chris Singletary, Kent St. Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati. Tyshawn Taylor, Kansas. Deonta Vaughn, Cincinnati. Chris Wright, Dayton. Josh Young, Drake.