Ten Tuesday Scribbles…Posted by zhayes9 on February 16th, 2010
RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver ten permeating thoughts every week as the season progresses.
I like to mix it up here on Tuesday’s with my Scribbles column. Rather than the usual listing of ten players/coaches/programs catching my eye, I’m going to give this column a bit of a twist. My ten this week will attempt to rank the top ten conferences in America and highlight an underappreciated player residing in that conference. Sure, labeling someone as underrated can be completely subjective, but that’s the joy of having my own weekly column. And team success is not a factor, here; in fact, that’s what makes these players underrated on an individual basis. Let’s get right to it:
1. Big 12: Donald Sloan, Texas A&M– Most thought Derrick Roland’s crippling knee injury would devastate the Aggies both on and off the court enough to destroy their NCAA chances. Instead, Donald Sloan tossed on his Superman cape and carried the load in the absence of his best friend. The run began for A&M with a stunning road victory at a place where nobody wins- Missouri- coupled with a sweep of Texas Tech and a home win over fellow NCAA team Baylor sandwiched in the middle. Sure he struggled in the second half in A&M’s valiant effort vs. Kansas, but just ask head coach Mark Turgeon if Sloan has been the senior leader, the backbone, the constant force behind the A&M attack. Sloan has scored in double figures in every Big 12 game save a loss at Kansas State and even poured in three performances of 26+ points. His 18.2 PPG is good for third in the Big 12 and Sloan is shooting a cool 46% from the field, 78% from the line and 37% from three. The 6’3 senior ranks in the top-75 in the nation in fouls drawn per 40 minutes, meaning if a defender respects Sloan’s reliable mid-range shot, he can penetrate and get to the charity stripe as good as any offensive player in the Big 12. Cole Aldrich, James Anderson and Jacob Pullen may get more publicity, but Sloan is just as vital to his team on the offensive end of the floor.
2. Big East: Jamine Peterson, Providence– This high-flying Friar might be the most athletic player in the Big East outside of Stanley Robinson. I witnessed his athleticism first-hand during the late stages of a win at Northeastern early this season when, inbounding under their basket, Peterson leaped over two Huskies on an alley-oop dunk that iced the game for the Friars. His skill set is incredibly rare: a 6’6 redshirt sophomore that can score with ferocity in the paint, step out and drain a three (40 made on the year) and absolutely dominate the glass. Peterson and the rest of his Friar teammates do have a propensity to turn the ball over with extreme frequency, but Jamine more than makes up for it with his 18.9 PPG. His rebounding ranks even a notch higher as Peterson is just 0.1 RPG from averaging a double-double, ranks in the top-50 in offensive rebounding percentage and has two games this season with 20+ rebounds, including an otherworldly 29/20 effort vs. Rutgers in January. A suspect overall floor game and woeful free throw shooting percentage are the only facets of Peterson’s game hindering his quest towards becoming a top-flight Big East player. With two years left at the Dunk (appropriately named), I’d be willing to bet Peterson receives more and more love from the national media as he averages 20/10 and the Friars improve under Keno Davis.
3. ACC: Malcolm Delaney, Virginia Tech- Okay, the schedule hasn’t exactly been grueling, but Virginia Tech is just one of two ACC teams to reach 20 wins at this date. A big reason for the Hokies success has been Malcom Delaney and his ACC-leading 19.7 PPG. Delaney seems to save his ammo for quality opponents on Tech’s schedule. He dropped 32 points on 9-21 FG and 11-11 FT against defensive-minded Temple. He scored 31 points on 10-19 FG against pesky Georgia, a team that’s knocked off Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Illinois. He notched 27 points on 9-20 FG in a road win at Penn State. In ACC play, he’s scored 20+ at North Carolina, at Florida State and at Virginia, with a marquee performance coming in a huge win vs. Clemson in which Delaney scored 30 points and shot an incredible 23 free throws in 40 minutes (he made 20). Delaney is struggling a bit this season from deep, but the scoring 6’3 guard from Baltimore more than makes up for it with quickness, a quality mid-range game and an innate ability to get to the rim and convert. Delaney also has contributed to the Hokies success with 4.2 APG. If Virginia Tech does make the NCAA Tournament, he’s certainly a player to watch out for.
4. Big Ten: John Shurna, Northwestern– The mildly recruited 6’8 sophomore has stepped into a starring role in Evanston with scoring leader Kevin Coble sidelined for the season with a knee injury. One of the most improved players in the conference, Shurna has upped his scoring average by over 10 PPG, his rebounding totals by more than double to 6.5 RPG and even his assists have jumped to 2.5 per contest. With strong percentages from the field, the line and from three, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more steady and versatile player in the Big Ten. Shurna has certainly been a thorn in the side of current Big Ten leader Michigan State, torching the Spartans for a combined 60 points in their two meetings. Shurna has also scored 22 against Ohio State and 27 against Illinois, two teams likely headed towards an NCAA invite. Unfortunately, it appears the Wildcats loss at Iowa this past week may have been the nail in the proverbial coffin for Northwestern’s chances of breaking their NCAA Tournament drought, meaning you’ll likely have to catch Shurna gracing the hardwood in the NIT this March. Not that the Coble injury was a good thing, but Shurna has been able to blossom offensively in his absence. What does this mean for Wildcats coach Bill Carmody? The drought should come to an end in 2010-11 with Shurna and Coble teaming up for a full season.
5. SEC: Trey Thompkins, Georgia– Along with Talor Battle of Penn State and Cory Higgins of Colorado, Thompkins stars in the all-Good Player Bad Team starting five. The 6’9 homegrown forward has been a stud from the first moment he stepped foot on campus for then-coach Dennis Felton and it’s continued under current coach Mark Fox. While some secondary players are beginning to take shape and contribute to a handful of upset wins in the pocket of Fox and his Bulldogs this season, Thompkins is the centerpiece of the offensive attack, and he knows it. Thompkins ranks in the top-30 in the nation in both percentage of possessions used and percentage of shots taken for his respective team. Fortunately for Georgia, he usually takes advantage of those possessions and shots. The versatile sophomore is averaging 17/8/2 on the season while shooting an efficient 48% from the field, 79% from the line and 43% from three. Thompkins is also remarkably consistent scoring-wise. During a month stretch from January 5 to February 6, he scored in the range of 17-24 points every single game. Thompkins and his emerging Bulldogs are a team nobody will want to face down the stretch and into the SEC Tournament.
6. Atlantic 10: Kevin Anderson, Richmond– As an entire team, Richmond should be receiving more publicity on a national scale with what the Spiders have accomplished this season- knocking off Mississippi State and Missouri on a neutral court, downing Florida when they were ranked and riding a six-game winning streak in a rough-and-tumble Atlantic 10 that may get five or six teams in the Dance. Leading that charge for the Spiders is a dynamic backcourt of Kevin Anderson and David Gonzalvez. Anderson is the primary scorer, a 6-foot junior that plays 91% of his teams’ minutes and contributes with nearly 18 PPG. His finest all-around performance may have come earlier in the month during a signature win over Temple in which Anderson dropped 29 points on 11-17 shooting. You know how there’s always one guy, one unheralded player that explodes every March and becomes a household name? Anderson could be that name.
7. Mountain West: Darington Hobson, New Mexico– Okay, most folks that follow college basketball on a regular basis know of Hobson’s work, but in general the Mountain West, whether it be because of their non-ESPN/CBS TV contract or an East Coast bias, doesn’t receive nearly enough respect for the quality of that conference. If not for the tremendous play of Jimmer Fredette, Hobson would be MWC POY in a landslide. What I love about him is his ability to help the Lobos win even when he’s not scoring. Take New Mexico’s tough win over Utah in OT this past weekend when Hobson went 1-10 from the floor. Rather than sulking about his shooting woes, Hobson grabbed 10 rebounds and dished out 11 assists in the winning effort. Hobson has compiled 10 games of double-digit rebounds as a 6’7 wing and is averaging 8.7 RPG on the season, ranking in the top-65 in defensive rebounding percentage. Hobson can also score, averaging over 15 per contest including a 29/12/6 line last week vs. San Diego State. Dropping dimes at a 4.5 per game rate also isn’t too shabby. Good luck finding a better all-around player in the West (that’s right, even Matt Bouldin can’t stack up to the mighty Hobson).
8. Pac 10: Klay Thompson, Washington State– One of Tony Bennett’s biggest recruits during his time at Pullman, Thompson has been able to explode under new Wazzu coach Ken Bone and his more liberal offensive philosophy. The 6’6 sweet-shooting guard now ranks second in the Pac-10 in scoring at 21.4 per clip and is also contributing with nearly five boards per game. Unfortunately, due to the woes as a conference and the struggles of Thompson’s Cougars this season, his name just isn’t mentioned enough with the elite scorers in college basketball. Thompson has scored 25+ points eight times this season including efforts of 33, 37 and 43 in a single game. He shoots 44% from the floor, 80% from the line and 36% from the stripe, and those last two numbers are actually down from his freshman season. Hopefully Thompson will be sticking around Pullman for another two seasons, allowing coach Bone to rebuild the program with players that fit his philosophy, and a trip back to the NCAA Tournament will be in order. Then the nation can see just how special Thompson really is.
9. Conference USA: Elijah Millsap, UAB– The turnaround of the Blazers under Mike Davis has quietly been one of the most surprising stories in college basketball this season. UAB was plastered with expectations a season ago led by Robert Vaden and Lawrence Kinnard, but flamed out early in the campaign and never fully recovered, eventually losing in the NIT first round to Notre Dame. This year, Davis has instilled a more defensive-oriented approach and, a year in which the Blazers were expected to finish near the middle of a mediocre Conference USA, they’re currently sitting in a respectable position for an at-large berth even if UTEP, Memphis or Tulsa takes the C-USA Tournament crown. At the forefront of this new approach has been Elijah Millsap, a hard-working, gritty junior that has returned this season to score 16 PPG and grab just over nine boards per contest, an incredible number for a 6’6 guard. He ranks third in the conference in offensive rating and top-40 in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage. Only three other players rank ahead of Millsap in that stat at a height of 6’6, two playing on small low-major schools and the other being Draymond Green of Michigan State. Millsap and the Blazers don’t simply try to outscore you anymore; rather, they crash the boards with ferocity, defend in the halfcourt and play a much more controlled game than what they featured a season ago.
10. Colonial: Charles Jenkins, Hofstra– 1,065 points, 286 rebounds, 197 assists and 95 steals. Those are Charles Jenkins career totals through two years as Hofstra’s go-to offensive playmaker. And that doesn’t even count this season, one in which Jenkins is averaging 19.4 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.7 APG and 1.9 SPG. Suffice to say Jenkins is one of the best mid-major players in America and, once again, someone who doesn’t receive nearly enough respect because of the struggles of the Pride to reach the NCAA Tournament under head coach Tom Pecora. Jenkins should have no problem finding success at the next level.