RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Upper Midwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 25th, 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.

Upper Midwest Region (MI, WI, MN, IA, NE, SD, ND)

  • Kalin Lucas – Sr, G – Michigan State.  Few elite players and certainly no other senior elite players will enter this season as more of an unknown quantity than Kalin Lucas. Coming off a solid junior season where he averaged 14.8 points and 4.0 assists per game, Lucas and the Spartans were poised for yet another run at the Final Four before a torn Achilles tendon in the second round against Maryland supposedly ended those hopes along with the possibility that Lucas might declare for the 2010 NBA Draft, already lacking in depth at the point guard position. We all know what happened instead (MSU rallied to yet another Final Four even without their starting point guard).  All indications point to Lucas having recovered from the untimely injury to near 100%, but we can’t help but wonder if his explosiveness, which already was a concern for NBA teams, might be compromised. Lucas is certainly fast enough when he gets going in the open court, but his first step has never been at the level of the other elite point guards he has been compared to and a potential reluctance to push off that torn left Achilles tendon may hinder that more. Despite the questions, Tom Izzo is certainly happy to have Lucas and his all-around skills and intangibles back in East Lansing—there are very few All-American point guards in BCS conferences that stick around for their senior season—and if Michigan State is going to make a push to yet another Final Four it will be Lucas who will again be the driving force. Having lost the enigmatic but explosive Raymar Morgan and equally enigmatic but troublesome Chris Allen, Izzo will expect Lucas to carry an increased offensive load while still distributing the ball to wings Durrell Summers and Draymond Green along with the talented Delvon Roe, who has yet to fulfill the promise he showed coming out of high school. If Lucas is able to meet those expectations, he could have a senior season much like one of his Spartan predecessors (Mateen Cleaves) that results in the Spartans cutting down the nets in Houston next April.

Lucas Returns For a Last Final Four Shot

  • Blake Hoffarber – Sr, G – Minnesota. Here’s the thing about Blake Hoffarber: he’s probably not the best player on this Minnesota team, maybe not even the third or fourth best player, but he is absolutely critical to their success, perhaps the most important player on the team in that regard. Guys like Al Nolen and Devoe Joseph, Ralph Sampson, III, and Colton Iverson, are all probably more talented and more complete players than Hoffarber, but last year’s Golden Gopher results tell the tale of a team that succeeded when Hoffarber succeeded and failed when he failed. In the 15 games in which Hoffarber scored ten or more points last season, Minnesota went 13-2; in the remaining 20 games when he scored less than ten, they were 8-12. The lesson is simple: Hoffarber needs to score for this team to be successful. And given that Hoffarber’s offensive game is almost entirely predicated on hitting spot-up threes, maybe the true impact player here should be Joseph or Nolen, getting Hoffarber good looks on drive-and-dish. Or maybe it should be Sampson and Iverson for sucking in defenders in the post or kicking out offensive rebounds that eventually find their way into Hoffarber’s hands. But the point remains, Hoffarber needs to get and hit threes for the Gophers to be successful. His offensive numbers tell the story well, as last season Hoffarber was the most efficient offensive player in the nation, but only used 14% of all Gopher possessions when he was in the game. He scored a total of 351 points last season, 255 of which came from behind the arc (at an impressive 46% clip, leading to an effective field goal percentage of 67.3%, good for fourth in the nation). Of the remaining 96 points, 28 came from the line, meaning he scored just 34 hoops inside the arc, less than one point per game. Basically, Hoffarber is the very essence of a pure shooter – you really don’t need to worry about him going around anybody and the only open looks he’ll create for teammates is when he draws defenders to him at the line and rotates the ball around the arc. Sure, he contributes a handful of rebounds a game and rarely turns the ball over, he passes pretty well and is a decent if unspectacular defender, but when it comes right down to it, he’s “just a shooter” – one of the best in the nation upon whom the Golden Gophers’ chances depend, but in the end, still “just a shooter.”

  • Jimmy Butler – Sr, F – Marquette. Jimmy Butler has waited his turn to be in this position. The face of the Marquette basketball program heading into the 2010-11 campaign, Butler has moved up the food chain, earned the utmost respect from his teammates and his coach, and is primed to become one of the top contributors in the Big East during his senior season. He humbly accepted his role as sixth man on the Wes Matthews and Jerel McNeal-led Golden Eagles as a junior college transfer. He  selflessly allowed the spotlight to shine on future first round pick Lazar Hayward during a stellar junior season in which the 6’7 Butler averaged nearly 15 PPG. Now, with his collegiate career reaching its twilight, it’s the soft-spoken, lead-by-example Butler that has to take this proud program by the horns and lead Marquette to its first Sweet Sixteen since Dwyane Wade was cutting down the nets in Minneapolis. Good luck finding a more complete and refined player in the conference this season. He’s efficient, ranking first in the entire country last year in offensive rating for players that used at least 20% of his teams’ possessions while only turning the ball over roughly once every 34 minutes. He’s aggressive, finishing eleventh in the nation in free throw rate and converting 77% of those attempts in both of his full seasons in Milwaukee. He’s versatile enough that head coach Buzz Williams played his second-leading scorer at either forward position, and, due to the undersized nature of Marquette’s roster a season ago, Butler can even hold his own at the center spot. He’s an effective rebounder, grabbing 6.4 RPG last season, almost doubling his total from his sophomore season. Most of all, Butler is the uninhibited team leader of a Marquette squad that’s a mixed bag of junior college transfers, incoming freshmen and program veterans, someone that Williams entrusts with keys to the program during a season where the Big East is as wide open as ever. Since he arrived from Tyler JC, Butler has been considered one of the most underrated players in college basketball among those in the sport’s inner circle. We expect even the most casual fan to know his name in short order.
  • Jon Leuer – Sr, F – Wisconsin. Trust in Jay Wright. The man has won a few games at the collegiate level, has the unwavering respect of his peers, and is the face of a wildly successful Big East program. Wright had a chance to coach Jon Leuer this summer at USA Basketball and said this about the skilled forward when asked who’s been the standout performer at camp: “He’s really good…He’s got great size, he puts it on the floor, he passes it, he can shoot it. He’s just a ballplayer.” This isn’t a partial Grateful Red supporter irrationally praising his favorite Badger. This is one of the best coaches in the business confirming the excitement around Madison for Leuer’s senior year. It wasn’t too long ago that Leuer was a lanky guard from Minnesota. Heck, it wasn’t too long ago that he was only playing single-digit minutes and averaging 2.9 PPG. But that’s the beauty of playing under Bo Ryan and buying into his system of development. You won’t see players with one-and-done mindsets in Madison. Instead, the freshmen learn from the seniors, the swing offense is ingrained and the improvement in four years under Ryan is plainly evident. Just ask Mike Wilkinson, Alando Tucker, Marcus Landry or Trevon Hughes. Leuer is the next star in that assembly line of Badger four-year performers. He’s a perfect weapon for Ryan’s system — a 6’10 versatile scorer that can operate down low and is proficient at hitting the open mid-range jumper. Despite a broken wrist that kept him out of game action for nine games of his junior campaign, Leuer led the perennially overachieving Badgers in points, rebounds and blocks. Due to Leuer’s late-arriving growth spurt, he possesses numerous guard skills simply uncommon for a 6’10 forward, including adept ball-handling skills and even the ability to stun the opposition with an occasional three pointer. With an impressive summer under his belt, Wright isn’t the only coach that expects Leuer to take off during his senior season and complete that four-stage development that exemplifies the Wisconsin Way.

Jon Leuer May Not Be Recognizable to Everyone, But He Should Be

  • Keith Benson – Sr, C – Oakland. It’s not hyperbole to suggest that Keith Benson could be the best mid-major player in the country during the 2010-11 season.  He has had a remarkable three-year career thus far at Oakland, developing from a gangly 6’11 string-bean who averaged a mere seven points per game in his senior year of high school to a dominant post presence capable of dropping 28 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in the NCAA Tournament against one of the nation’s most bruising front lines (Pittsburgh).  Because of his wiry but athletic frame, the redshirt senior has developed an ability to turn and face the basket with his offensive game, a versatile weapon that most collegiate defensive schemes have trouble preparing for.  The projected second-round pick in next year’s NBA Draft  led his team last season to both the Summit League regular season and tournament titles, earning league POY and honorable mention all-america honors in the process.  If his senior year approaches anything near his 2009-10 numbers of 17.3 PPG, 10.4 RPG and 3.3 BPG, expect to see one of the best players in Summit League history to show up on several all-america teams such as this one.  The big question for Benson will be whether the loss to graduation of a couple components of the most successful class in Oakland history (Johnathan Jones and Derick Nelson) will enable him to get the ball and produce in the spots to which he’s become accustomed.  If the Golden Grizzlies can successfully replace the steady hand of Jones at the point with UMKC  transfer Reggie Hamilton or sophomore Ledrick Eackles, then Benson will once again have a great chance to show what he can do on the national stage of the NCAA Tournament next March.  If he can also show this coming season that he can maneuver underneath with his back to the basket, we could easily envision Benson moving up the mock draft boards to become a consensus first round pick; given just how much improvement that he’s made over the last four years, it wouldn’t surprise us in the least if he managed to surprise everyone once again and pull it off.
  • Draymond Green (6th) – Jr, F – Michigan State. There was a great article that appeared at USAToday.com a week or so ago about the 2010-11 edition of the Michigan State Spartans and specifically about how MSU’s Draymond Green learned the value of patience. As a freshman two years ago, he made frequent visits to Tom Izzo’s office, wondering what he had to do in order to see more time on the floor. The impatient newcomer wasn’t running down other teammates, you understand, saying that he deserved more time than them. He just wanted to know what he had to do to play more. Izzo instructed Green that he was doing fine, but just had to wait his turn. That can be a frustrating answer for a kid to hear, since it offers no plan of action, no specific improvements or aspects of one’s game on which to focus. But instead of pouting about the perceived vagueness of Izzo’s message, Green simply continued working hard, and his chance to step up came quicker than he or Izzo anticipated. Green settled beautifully into the sixth-man role last year and became the team’s leading rebounder (7.7 RPG), and while he might not have started too many games, he was in there at the end of enough of the close ones to where his value to Izzo and the whole MSU squad is now unmistakable. He is emerging as Izzo’s team leader despite this being just his third season, and, in the spirit of Izzo’s previous message, even though Green has deferred in the past to teammates as far as offensive production, he’ll be counted on for more scoring this year and we wouldn’t be surprised to see his 9.9 PPG from last season increase by at least 50%. Now, check this last bit out because we saved the coolest for last, here. If you watched any Spartans game last year, you likely noticed that Green handles the ball a little more than your average forward. And everyone knows about Michigan State’s great guards in Korie Lucious, Chris Allen, Durrell Summers and some guy named Kalin Lucas. Considering those factors, we think it’s fantastic that, in addition to leading the team in rebounding and averaging double figures in scoring (we’ll give him the 0.1 PPG), he also leads the team in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.8). There may be players on this MSU team who grab more headlines, but the most important player on this squad is Draymond Green. Enjoy the brighter lights, Draymond. This is your time.

Near-Misses

  • Darius Johnson-Odom – Jr, G – Marquette. You probably don’t want to leave DJO open beyond the three-point arc, as last season he nailed 73 treys at a ridiculous 48% clip.  The JuCo transfer will combine with Butler inside to lead the Golden Eagles back to the NCAA Tournament in 2010-11.
  • Durrell Summers – Sr, G – Michigan State. The enigmatic Summers showed his apparent talent when he averaged 18.8 PPG after Kalin Lucas was injured in the NCAA Tournament last year; the only question is whether Tom Izzo can coax that kind of performance out of him for an entire season.
  • Gregory Echinique – Jr, C – Creighton. The 6’9, 270-lb beast only got top play seven games at Rutgers last season before an eye problem sidelined him, but he was putting up 13/8 and hitting 60% of his shots.  He and Kenny Lawson will pose a formidable MVC front line once Echinique becomes eligible after the first semester.

Others Considered (* denotes injury or suspension)

  • Trey Ziegler – Fr, G – Central Michigan
  • Eli Holman – Jr, C – Detroit
  • Ray McCallum, Jr. – Fr, G – Detroit
  • Brandon Bowdry – Sr, F – Eastern Michigan
  • Rahmon Fletcher – Sr, G – Green Bay
  • Ralph Sampson, III – Jr, C – Minnesota
  • Jordan Taylor – Jr, G – Wisconsin
  • Royce White – Fr, F – Iowa State
  • Kwadzo Ahelegbe – Sr, G – Northern Iowa
  • Matt Gatens – Jr, G – Iowa
  • Christian Standhardinger – Soph, F – Nebraska
  • Kenny Lawson – Sr, F – Creighton
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