RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Lower Midwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 21st, 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.

Lower Midwest Region (OH, IN, IL)

  • Shelvin Mack – Jr, G – Butler. There were times during Butler’s superb run to the national championship game last season where you’d be excused if you thought Shelvin Mack, a 6’3 guard with icewater in his veins, was the best player on the floor.  In BU’s first round NCAA game against  UTEP, his explosive 18-point second half where he drained five threes in the first eleven minutes fueled a 22-4 blitz that awakened his sleepwalking team and drove the Bulldogs into the second round (and beyond).  He also added four boards, four assists and a couple of steals in that one just for kicks, but it was seemingly like that all season long.  While Horizon League POYs Gordon Hayward (2010) and Matt Howard (2009) garnered most of the publicity, Mack quietly went about his business of doing whatever was needed to win games — 25 points against UW-Milwaukee; 7 rebounds against K-State; 8 assists against Northwestern and Green Bay; sticky defense every night out.  And win Butler did, to the tune of 25 victories in a row and an unprecedented march to play Duke for the title.  Neither the Bulldogs nor Mack will sneak up on anyone this year, especially after a summer with USA Basketball where the stocky junior opened the eyes of NBA scouts and his peers by earning a spot on the USA Select team ahead of such notable guards as Jimmer Fredette, Jacob Pullen, LaceDarius Dunn, Scoop Jardine, William Buford and Scotty Hopson.  Go ahead — check any preseason all-american list and you’re likely to see quite a few of those names on it.  If anyone actually believes that Butler was a one-year flash in the pan, they haven’t been paying attention.  It’s very difficult for any school to make the Final Four in a given year, but the Bulldogs with Mack leading the way along with Howard and a cast of other returning players, will once again be in that conversation.  Sometimes you just know  when a player is a winner — he has that little extra something that doesn’t always show up in the box score yet you know he’ll find a way to get it done?  That’s Mack, a true example of the “Butler Way” if ever there was one.  All-American forward Gordon Hayward will be missed, but  we have absolutely no doubt that Butler will again be a top ten caliber program in 2010-11 in large part due to the heretofore overlooked glue player whose time has come to take the spotlight.

Butler's Heart & Soul Returns to Indy (AP/P. Sakuma)

  • E’Twaun Moore – Sr, G – Purdue. Less than a week ago Purdue was one of the three favorites along with Duke and Michigan State to win the national title this coming April, but a Robbie Hummel ACL injury later and everyone has been talking about another lost season for Matt Painter and the Boilermakers. However there is still some hope in West Lafayette that comes in the form of E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson (Moore, Hummel, and Johnson were part of a loaded Boilermaker recruiting class in 2007). As talented as Johnson is it will be Moore and his all-around brilliance that will have to be driving force behind the Boilermakers if they are to make a push for the Final Four, of which they are still capable even with the loss of Hummel (to injury) and Chris Kramer (to graduation). Coming off a season where he was first team All-Big Ten and honorable mention AP All-American and an off-season where both he and Johnson briefly flirted with entering the NBA Draft before deciding to come back for their senior year, Moore will be expected to increase his scoring load and pick up some of the defensive slack created by the departure of Kramer. On the offensive end, Moore averaged 16.6 points per game providing the Boilermakers with their most explosive offensive threat since the days of Glenn Robinson while adding 2.7 assists per game, a figure that may not need to increase as the Boilermakers should be bolstered by the full-time return of Lewis Jackson. However it is the other side of the ball where Moore will really have to step up. Although he averaged a respectable 1.5 steals per game Moore was not expected to exert himself significantly on the defensive end as he had Kramer taking on the tougher defensive assignments and being an all-around Steve Wojciechowski-like pest to help create opportunities and cover up for the mistakes of others on the defensive end. To get the Boileramakers back to the Sweet 16, which they got to last year without Hummel, and beyond Moore will have to step around his all-around game while still maintaining his scoring even as teams continue to put an increased focus on him during their game-planning.

  • Chris Wright – Sr, F – Dayton. Usually when you hear how a college basketball player primarily described as a “great athlete,” it’s a reflex to immediately think, “So what’s wrong with his basketball skills?” We all know that player. Incredibly quick, ridiculous vertical, creative dunker. And then there’s the downside — bad temper, no handle, can’t shoot outside of two feet, has hooves for hands. Then, there are players like Dayton’s Chris Wright. His athletic gifts were obvious since high school, but there was no glaring immaturity, no bad hands, no baggage. Just potential. This is not to say that his basketball skills are now fully formed; the shooting mechanics need some fine-tuning, the ability to put the ball on the floor and score needs some improvement, and so on. But Chris Wright would probably be the first person to tell you these things, and he’ll probably be the first guy in the gym each day working on them. That’s who he is. Everyone from his college coaches to NBA advisors and general managers loves to talk about how grounded and mature he is and all were impressed with how he handled the process of flirting with the NBA over the summer. Despite his selection to the Atlantic 10’s first team last year and the fact that he led his Flyers in scoring (13.7 PPG), rebounding (7.3 RPG), and blocks (1.4 BPG), all while playing just 28.4 MPG (oddly, also a team high), he listened to the authority figures who told him that a return to Dayton for his final season would help his NBA readiness and he subsequently returned to school. And what’s he told everyone about coming back as a Flyer for the fourth year? “I can’t wait for next year.” Between the NBA Draft withdrawal and the Dayton autumn, Wright made a stopover with a little group of guys called the NBA Select Team that got to practice with the NBA players preparing for the FIBA Championships. In other words, he was the best player on his college squad last year, was first team all-conference, got to spend the summer working out with NBA advisors and receiving honest recommendations about his game, got to improve those skills against a group of world champion group of NBA stars, and he’s got a great attitude about his upcoming final year of college? Flyer fans — and certainly Dayton head coach Brian Gergory — have every reason to therefore be excited, too. Oh, and it’s not like that pure athleticism of his has just been fading away. Everyone knows about his powerful, highlight reel, high-flying dunks (his 68 of them last year was a school record), and even though we’re ready to see how those aforementioned basketball skills have improved, we’re also looking forward to some serious slams again this year. He might be the best in the college game at it.
  • Jared Sullinger – Fr, F – Ohio State. If you’re looking for somewhere other than Tobacco Road to find your preseason national freshman of the year pick, look no further than the Midwest. Columbus, Ohio is where you’ll find hometown hero Jared Sullinger, prepping for his much-anticipated Buckeyes debut three and a half year after his commitment. There’s a reason why most publications have Ohio State pegged to perform at nearly the same level as one year ago, when Ohio State had the services of one National Player of the Year Evan Turner and finished tied for first in the Big Ten. The addition of Sullinger provides the Buckeyes with the most complete big man in the entire 2010 class. His effort on the glass is otherworldly. Sullinger uses his tremendous hands, bulk and an unwavering effort to snatch every rebound in his vicinity. Does Thad Matta need some scoring after relying on the one-dimensional Dallas Lauderdale? Sullinger can do that, too. He has an excellent touch around the basket, bullies through contact in the paint and even has the ability to step out to 16 feet and sink a jumper. Once Sullinger has his opponent deep in the post, there’s an extremely high chance the Value City Arena will be adding two points for the home team. Defense shouldn’t hinder Sullinger’s minutes, either. Most evaluators believe he won’t be a detractor to the Buckeyes on that end of the floor due to his wide body and understanding of defensive concepts. Depending on how long the Columbus native remains under the tutelage of Matta, some scouts even believe he can be the next Tyler Hansbrough, utilizing an unconventional and ultra-productive style to win game after game for the Buckeyes. His basketball IQ is positively Duncan-esque for an 18-year old and Sullinger has done nothing but win championships at the high school level.  With Jon Diebler, William Buford, David Lighty and talented newcomers DeShaun Thomas and Aaron Craft joining him in Columbus, it won’t be too long until the big-bodied Sullinger is claiming his own share of victories at the collegiate level, as well.

Sullinger Could Be This Year's Cousins (AP/T. Gilliam)

  • JaJuan Johnson – Sr, C – Purdue. Triple-J’s development from his freshman season to his senior year has been extraordinary.  There were times during his first year in West Lafayette where it appeared the 6’10, 220-pound manchild would never be able to harness his size and athleticism.  Those worries were eased during a breakout sophomore season where he learned to stay out of foul trouble (his fouls committed per 40 minutes dropped by nearly half) and developed enough stamina to stay on the floor and active in the Boilers’ sticky defense.  Last season his minutes continued to rise, as did his scoring (15.5 PPG) and rebounding (7.2 RPG) in his second all-Big Ten campaign while Purdue appeared dead-set on its first Final Four appearance in three decades.  Robbie Hummel’s injury in late February ended that talk, but a closer look at the production of this team reveals that it’s often Johnson’s performance who seems to determine the Boilermakers’ outcome.  During a miserable three-game stretch in early Big Ten play last season, Johnson was offensively stymied by Wisconsin (7 points), Ohio State (4 points) and Northwestern (7 points) — all losses.  Matt Painter called out his big center publicly after the third loss for a lack of toughness, and it worked.  Johnson upped his production to 17.8 PPG and 7.8 RPG over the next ten games, and Purdue didn’t lose again until after Hummel hurt his knee at Minnesota.  That experience of playing without Hummel during the closing stretch of the season (the Boilers went 5-3 but still clawed their way to the Sweet Sixteen) will be what Johnson and company draw from going into 2010-11.  Despite the loss of Hummel, there’s a prevailing sentiment that Matt Painter’s team will still be very good, and it’s incumbent upon Johnson and his fellow senior E’Twaun Moore (above) to realize that potential.  These two players have spent parts of two seasons playing without Hummel completely or a less-than-100% Hummel (during his back injury), so they should be accustomed to not having him on the floor; it’s simply a matter of getting past the mental hurdle of a fallen teammate and realizing that nobody gives asterisks for unfortunate injuries.  We think Johnson will assert himself to the point where he is spoken of as one of the dominant big men in the entire country this season; and with Moore taking care of the perimeter and Painter handling the sidelines, we ultimately believe that Purdue will be just fine.
  • Demetri McCamey (6th) – Sr, G – Illinois. Demetri McCamey is one of those guys who can give opposing coaches headaches. Unfortunately, he is also prone to giving his own head coach a migraine or two. First the good: after spending his first two seasons at Illinois as something of a combo-guard with Chester Frazier running the point, McCamey took over as the full-time floor general last season, and by many metrics, he succeeded with flying colors. He led the nation in assists per game last season in addition to leading his own squad in scoring, and seemed to get more and more comfortable in his new role as the season went on, notching ten or more assists six times in his last 13 games. He’s got a good looking jumper and hits it at a pretty good rate with range out to three (34% last season). He’s not the quickest point and isn’t going to beat many good defenders off the dribble on a regular basis, but is a strong guard at 6’3 and 200 pounds and uses his strength and excellent ballhandling to get good position and get his shot, while remaining aware of potentially finding teammates for easy looks. And, despite his lack of terrific foot quickness, he is generally a solid instinctual defender and a good rebounder for a guard. And perhaps McCamey’s best quality is his ability and desire to improve his game from year to year. Last season was a huge step forward for him, proving that he could be a lead guard capable of keeping all of his teammates involved, while still finding his own offense when appropriate.  However, the key question for McCamey continues to be his maturity level. All too often, when McCamey struggles on the court, he has the tendency to get frustrated and pout and allow it to affect the amount of effort he puts out. He is still prone to bad shots and playing out of control at times and he definitely needs to cut his turnovers.  While he was a bit better in this area last season, he still had a couple of meltdowns as the season progressed, leading to some run-ins with head coach Bruce Weber. In the end, a point guard is not just measured by his scoring and assist averages, but also by his team’s win/loss record and McCamey will need to curb his erratic behavior as a senior in order for the talented Illini to win their first NCAA Tournament game since 2006. Not only is McCamey counted on for his play on the court, but he’ll need to be a team leader and display the maturity expected of a senior point guard for the Illini to live up to their potential.

Near-Misses

  • William Buford – Jr, F – Ohio State. Buford played Robin to Evan Turner’s Batman last season in Columbus, but the 6’5 guard’s impact shouldn’t be overlooked.  In fact, Buford’s sophomore numbers (14.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.1 APG) appear eerily similar to the 2010 NPOY’s sophomore campaign.  He should break out in a big way this year.
  • Maurice Creek – Soph, G – Indiana. Creek was off to a superb national-honors type of freshman year (16.4 PPG, 3.8 RPG) before his knee blew out in a late December game against Bryant.  His 31 points including five threes against Kentucky was an early-season eye-opener.  If he’s back to 100% this year, consider him the foundation of IU’s renaissance.

Others Considered (* denotes injury or suspension)

  • Zeke Marshall – Soph, C – Akron
  • Taylor Brown – Jr, F – Bradley
  • Sam Manalscaco – Sr, G – Bradley
  • Matt Howard – Sr, F – Butler
  • Yancy Gates – Jr, F – Cincinnati
  • Norris Cole – Sr, G – Cleveland State
  • Chris Johnson – Jr, F – Dayton
  • Colt Ryan – Soph, F – Evansville
  • Alex Young – Jr, F – IUPUI
  • Justin Greene – Jr, F – Kent State
  • John Shurna – Jr, F – Northwestern
  • Tim Abromaitis – Sr, F – Notre Dame
  • DJ Cooper – Soph, G – Ohio
  • Jon Diebler – Sr, G – Ohio State
  • David Lighty – Sr, G – Ohio State
  • Ceola Clark – Jr, G – Western Illinois
  • Vaughn Duggins – Sr, G – Wright State
  • Tu Holloway – Jr, G – Xavier
  • Mike Davis – Sr, F – Illinois
  • Mike Tisdale – Sr, C – Illinois
  • Verdell Jones – Jr, G – Indiana
  • Christian Watford – Soph, F – Indiana
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