RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Mid-South Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 18th, 2010

For the second October in a row, we’re bringing you our RTC Impact Players series.  The braintrust has gone back and forth on this and we’ve finally settled on a group of sixty players throughout ten geographic regions of the country (five starters plus a sixth man) to represent the who and where of players you should be watching this season.  Seriously, if you haven’t seen every one of these players ball at least once by the end of February, then you need to figure out a way to get a better television package.  As always in a subjective analysis such as this, some of our decisions were difficult; many others were quite easy.  What we can say without reservation is that there is great talent in every corner of this nation of ours, and we’ll do our best to excavate it over the next five weeks in this series that will publish on Mondays and Thursdays.  Each time, we’ll also provide a list of some of the near-misses as well as the players we considered in each region, but as always, we welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments.

You can find all previous RTC 2010-11 Impact Players posts here.

Mid-South Region (KY, TN, MO, AR)

  • Brandon Knight – Fr, G – Kentucky. What on earth could Brandon Knight do to live up to what has preceded him? It’s not just that he’s been stood for membership along the Caliparian Derrick Rose-Tyreke Evans-John Wall axis, or that he’ll immediately be expected to live up to the ridiculous standard entailed by that little club. Yeah, that’s hard enough, but there’s something more. Last year’s Kentucky team wasn’t just about five first-round draft picks and an Elite Eight run. It wasn’t about the actual on-court achievements of Messrs. Wall, Cousins, Patterson, Bledsoe, and Calipari. It was what the season symbolized, a pronouncement that, after two years of weirdness under Billy Gillispie, Kentucky had returned to prominence in a major way, wasn’t likely to go anywhere for a very long time, and that deep tournament runs with big bad recruits were to be the norm once again. That’s quite a show to follow. Brandon Knight says he’s up for the challenge, and he might be right. Don’t let the 32.5 PPG average as a prep senior in Ft. Lauderdale fool you. Even though Calipari cautions people against comparing last year’s Wildcats to this year’s, since Knight has yet to play a single second of college basketball, something has to be used as a reference point right now. That said, Knight shares Wall’s second-most important attribute as a collegian, which is the ability to provide whatever’s needed. Scoring? Not a problem. Less emphasis on points and more on distribution? Consider it done. Help on the glass? Let’s do it. Defensive leadership? Fine. Another similar aspect is that while Wall was a genius at getting to the rim, taking contact, and finishing, Knight has this gift as well and will gladly take whatever’s waiting on him in terms of body blows, but he’s also likely to pull up at the edge of the lane to shoot his mid-range jumper or slip a pass to an open teammate before defenders know what happened. Finally, as for the most important thing Knight has in common with Wall? That’d be the commitment in the classroom. You might as well just go ahead and fill in the bubbles on Knight’s APR sheets. He arrives from high school riding a 4.3 GPA, which we’ll assume is based on an accelerated/AP scoring system. Unless that 4.3 is based on some screwy 9.0 scale from Florida that we don’t know about, anybody looking for an offseason scandal here is wasting their time.

Brandon Knight Will Take the Reins From Wall at UK

  • Will Barton – Fr, G – Memphis. Considered by many to be the top shooting guard in this year’s freshman class, Will Barton has already taken a rather interesting path on his way to Midnight Madness. First there was concern over whether he would be academically eligible for the coming season, which he ultimately overcame. Then there was his Twitter guarantee that the Tigers were going to win the national title, which upon questioning he defended by simply saying, “What was I suppose [sic] 2 [sic] say?” Now that Memphis appears to have gotten past all of the headaches (hopefully) it is time for Josh Pastner and Tiger fans to enjoy Barton’s many gifts. If they’re expecting another Derrick Rose they are going to be disappointed because Barton’s game is quite different from the one-and-done Tiger star — who technically never played at Memphis according to the NCAA — as Rose was more of a distributor whose athleticism and physical skills made him a legitimate scoring threat, whereas Barton is primarily a scorer who also distributes because of his athleticism and physical skills. Barton also lacks many of the complementary pieces that Rose had around him so don’t expect a repeat of the 2007-08 season for the Tigers, but Barton could lead them further than you would otherwise expect for a team that was weaker than recent Memphis teams even before the departure of Elliot Williams. Although Barton does not have range of some of the premier scorers of recent vintage like J.J. Redick or Stephen Curry, he does possess a solid outside shot, which he combines with a mid-range game that very few players at any level have, and an ability to get to the basket. What could potentially set him apart from  the likes of Redick and Curry is Barton’s ability to rebound and play defense. With that combination of skills and his potential for improvement (he is rail-thin right now, listed at 6’6” and 170 pounds coming out of high school) Barton could be the best player at Memphis since Rose and if he sticks around for a few years his name could be mentioned alongside Keith Lee, Elliot Perry  and Anfernee Hardaway as one of the all-time greats there.

  • Marshawn Powell – Soph, F – Arkansas. In a 2009-10 season filled with inconsistencies and question marks for the Razorbacks, Powell stood out as a consistent bright spot. With John Pelphrey’s squad struggling through suspensions and injuries throughout the season, Powell stepped up early with 11 rebounds in each of his first two collegiate games, then poured in 29 points on 13 of 20 attempts from the field in his third outing in helping the Hogs sneak past Appalachian State. Sure, he had some moments where he very much looked like the freshman that he was (his five points and two rebounds while fouling out in 23 minutes against LSU on February 24 was clearly his low point of the year and he also had trouble with Kentucky’s big and talented frontline), but for the most part he proved to be a consistent force, averaging 14.9 PPG and leading the team with 6.7 RPG. This season, however, Powell’s frontcourt running mate Michael Washington has graduated, and mercurial point guard Courtney Fortson has moved on, leaving Powell and junior bomber Rotnei Clarke as the key returnees for Arkansas. Minus Washington, Powell, a somewhat undersized power forward at 6’7, will have to take on a bigger role on the glass, and he’ll almost certainly be called upon for more offensive production. Last season, Powell’s offense was raw, with hoops mostly coming around the rim, on putbacks or in transition, but he showed the type of talent that should allow him to improve his mid-range game and his offense off the bounce. He’s got excellent athleticism, a great first step and a pretty good handle for a four, but adding offense away from the rim will be a priority for him. And while he led the team in rebounding, given his athleticism, he is capable of improving his rebounding numbers. Defensively, he is not yet great, with some of that due to the fact that he sees a lot of larger competition, but without a doubt he needs to improve his effort and awareness on the defensive end, something that should definitely come with maturity and experience. Powell suffered a broken bone in his left foot in August, and while he was expected to be able to return by the first day of practice on October 15, he is being brought along slowly and isn’t quite ready to go full-speed yet. This could affect his conditioning early in the season, but the foot is not expected to be a long-term problem. While this Razorback team may still be a year away from becoming a major player in the SEC (with a top-five 2011 recruiting class waiting in the wings), they’ll definitely need Powell ready to go whole hog by the time conference play begins.
  • Kenneth Faried – Sr, F – Morehead State. If you walked into the middle of a conversation between two hoopheads about a 6’8, 225-pound forward/center hybrid from Newark, New Jersey who was third in the nation last year with 25 double-doubles and who played in the state of Kentucky, to figure out about whom they were talking you would probably, by reflex, begin mentally skimming John Calipari’s roster of Wildcats, then you’d move about 70 miles west and focus on Rick Pitino’s Cardinals. After a few wrong guesses, you may even consider heading farther west to Murray State, since perhaps they have a stat-sheet stuffer you hadn’t considered. The problem is, you went the wrong way when your deliberations left Lexington. You should have gone about 50 miles east to Morehead, Kentucky, and landed on Kenneth Faried at Morehead State University. If you’re just a casual college hoops fan, if the name sounds familiar then you probably watched the play-in game from 2009’s NCAA Tournament in which Faried shot 3-14 but still posted 14 points and 21 boards in pacing his Eagles to a win over Alabama State. A week earlier he had led MSU to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 25 years by averaging 17.3 PPG and 14.7 RPG (that is not a typo) on the way to the OVC Tournament title as a four-seed. And last year? How’s 16.9 PPG and 13.0 RPG for the season grab you? In fact, Faried has averaged 13.0 RPG for the last two seasons, ranking him third nationally in 2009 and second in 2010. His defense doesn’t suffer for his offensive prowess, though; he’s led his team in steals the last two seasons (1.9 SPG in 2009, 1.6 in 2010) and in blocks for all three of his years in Morehead (1.9 BPG in 2008-09 and 2009-10). Faried submitted his name for the NBA Draft after last season, but realized that one more year of banging out double-doubles couldn’t hurt his status, and he subsequently removed himself from consideration and returned to Morehead. He also wanted to complete the task of becoming the first person in his family to graduate from college. He’s currently predicted as an early second round selection in the current 2011 mock draft at NBADraft.net, but we’d be very surprised if there weren’t several NBA teams that ended up showing major interest in a four-year player with a reputation for being extremely coachable, a vocal leader who is actually into playing defense and a rebounding specialist whose talent in glass cleaning is so massive it can be seen from space.

Faried is a Beast Inside the Lane

  • Jeffery Taylor – Jr, F – Vanderbilt. Jeffery Taylor is one of those players whose statistics doesn’t match the production, whose ceiling has yet to be reached, whose finest days are ahead of him. There are a multitude of reasons why NBA scouts are drooling over the continued growth of Taylor, a junior expected to make a considerable leap this season and aid the Commodores in their pursuit of a fourth NCAA bid in five seasons. With the early departure of A.J. Ogilvy and the graduation of point guard Jermaine Beal, the onus is on Taylor to avoid the inconsistencies and periodic milk carton appearances that have plagued his first two seasons in Nashville. Taylor’s unbelievable skill level has peeked through in glimpses, such as the 26 points on 7-11 FG he dropped on rival Tennessee or the 19 points on an efficient 8-11 FG against SEC foe Ole Miss. His offensive repertoire clearly needs refining, but he often excels in utilizing his strong frame to attack the basket on penetration. In fact, the ultra-athletic wing finished #78 in the nation in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. The conundrum with Taylor is that the intensity, drive and commitment to be a consistent performer are not always evident. When challenged, he’s fantastic, capable of carrying the Commodores for stretches on both ends of the floor. When he puts his head down and makes it perfectly clear to any opposing defender that he will get to the rim, Stallings has a near-unstoppable force on his hands. We suspect another summer of development, prodding, maturity and refinement of a spotty jump shot, plus the departures of Beal and Ogilvy, will aid Taylor in boosting his game to that next level NBA scouts fantasize about. Taylor’s true value shines on the defensive end of the floor, where Stallings has in his arsenal a phenomenal wing defender that can guard three or four positions and is perfectly capable of locking down the best scorers in the SEC this season from Chandler Parsons to Ravern Johnson to Scotty Hopson.  His combination of length, athleticism and quickness is rare in the college game and an enormous reason Taylor has those NBA scouts projecting such a bright future. Stallings and his legions in Nashville aren’t worried about Taylor’s future, though. They’re focused on the present and the realization that they may only have this special talent at their disposal for one more season. Not too much is holding this Swede back from big-time stardom.
  • Scotty Hopson (6th) – Jr, F – Tennessee. If Scotty Hopson ever gets his athletic gifts to work in tandem with a semblance of a basketball IQ, he’ll be the best player in this region by a long margin.  To date, however, Hopson has only been able to show occasional flashes of brilliance (17/4 against Kansas; 20/4 against Florida) peppered with an astonishing ability to disappear (one point against Middle Tennessee; 3/5 TOs against Ohio State).  The key word with Hopson ever since he came out of high school in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, has been potential.  Few collegiate wing players have his size (6’7), length, quickness and explosiveness near the rim; the problem has been harnessing all of those things in a positive way.  Thus far in his career, Hopson has been just as likely to wow us with a ridiculous drive resulting in a soaring dunk as he is to jack up a horrible off-balance shot that has virtually no chance of going into the basket.  His sophomore year was better than his first in that regard, as he increased his scoring (12.2 PPG) and rebounding averages (3.4 RPG) in a few additional minutes per game while converting at a slightly higher clip (44.5%).  Still, he takes way too many threes given his ability to get into the lane (40% of his total shots) and doesn’t hit enough of them (33.3%) to justify quite so many bombs from deep.  Additionally, he’s an absolute train wreck at the foul line (career: 60.4%), which makes us wonder if he avoids more forays into the lane partially due to a lack of confidence at the stripe.  With all of these negatives, Hopson is still a matchup nightmare for most teams in the way that former SEC star Tayshaun Prince once was — he’s got guard skills in a forward’s body.  If he can continue to develop his game — tighten up his handle; improve his jump shot selection; get his FT% above 70% — he’ll be an all-SEC forward for as long as he remains at Tennessee.  The only question is whether the light bulb will finally click on this season or if Hopson is destined to become one of those players for whom it never quite illuminates.

Near-Misses

  • Enes Kanter * – Fr, F – Kentucky. According to everyone who has seen Kanter play, the 6’11 Turkish import has all-American potential assuming he ever sees the court in a Kentucky uniform.  Since it’s difficult to know how the NCAA will handle his case, we’re putting him here.  But make no mistake — Kanter could be the difference between a Final Four run and a second round knockout for Calipari’s Cats.
  • Kwamain Mitchell * – Jr, G – St. Louis. Mitchell just learned last week that he would be suspended from SLU for the fall semester, but if he meets certain criteria he could be back in a Billiken uniform by January.  The 5’10 blur with the ball averaged 16/3/3 APG last season in a second team all-A10 campaign, and will certainly make a major difference to Rick Majerus’ squad if he can get back in 2011.

Others Considered (* denotes injury or suspension)

  • Rotnei Clarke – Jr, G – Arkansas
  • Anthony Campbell – Jr, F – Austin Peay
  • Ian Clark – Soph, G – Belmont
  • Tommy Hubbard – Sr, G – ETSU
  • Terrence Jones – Fr, F – Kentucky
  • Adnan Hodzic – Sr, F – Lipscomb
  • Josh Slater – Sr, G – Lipscomb
  • Peyton Siva – Soph, G – Louisville
  • Joe Jackson – Fr, G – Memphis
  • Jelan Kendrick – Fr, F – Memphis
  • Kim English – Jr, G – Missouri
  • Kyle Weems – Jr, F – Missouri State
  • Isaiah Canaan – Soph, G – Murray State
  • BJ Jenkins – Sr, G – Murray State
  • Isacc Miles – Sr, G – Murray State
  • Tobias Harris – Fr, F – Tennessee
  • John Jenkins – Soph, G – Vanderbilt
  • Steffphon Pettigrew – Sr, F – Western Kentucky
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