RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Plains/Mountains Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 28th, 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.

Plains/Mountains Region (KS, CO, WY, OK, TX)

  • LaceDarius Dunn* – Sr, G – Baylor. Let’s get this out of the way right at the beginning: there’s no news. We know that in order for him to be an Impact Player for this region and to indeed fulfill the promise that’s implied when your name pops up on all sorts of pre-season All-America teams, LaceDarius Dunn has to actually see the floor, and as of right now he’s still suspended from competition. He’s practicing, he’s attending classes, but that suspension from games of any kind is indefinite, so what Dunn is doing most is waiting. So are we, because we want to see the guy play some more, and soon. We’ve backed LaceDarius since his first moments on the Baylor campus and we’ve enjoyed watching him grow as a basketball player during his time there. Dunn was a factor right from the start in Waco, averaging 13.6 PPG and 4.1 RPG in 22 MPG as a freshman, and he’s only gotten more impressive each season. You could see his confidence grow by the game through his sophomore year as he tacked a couple of points onto that scoring average (15.7 PPG) and took on more responsibility. Last season was probably the school’s best since 1950 and earned the Bears their best year-end ranking ever (#10), and Dunn was the centerpiece along with Ekpe Udoh. The unquestioned team leader, Dunn put his scoring gift on full display, contributing 19.6 PPG (33rd in the nation) in just over 32 MPG. Because of his quickness and his deep shooting range, he represents the ultimate defensive conundrum. If you play up on him, he’s by you. If you give him a cushion — and he doesn’t need much space at all — he’ll drill you from range. If you get physical, not only will he match you (Dunn is a disturbingly solid 6’4, 205), but he’ll be more than happy to repair to the free throw line (85.7% last season) and bleed you to death with paper cuts. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about his game is that shooting accuracy. If Dunn can see the rim, he’s in range, and he has no qualms about letting it sail. He nailed 116 threes last season, a single-season record for the school. His next trey will be his 300th, and he’s already hit more of them than any other Baylor player. Those 299 threes put him 91 bombs away from breaking the Big 12 record of 389 held by Texas’ A.J Abrams, and seeing as how Dunn has had no problem breaking 100 the past two seasons, we think he’ll get there. Considering all that, his overall shooting percentage becomes that much more impressive. He shot 45.2% last year and has posted a 44.9% mark for his Baylor career. This brings up the question, again: how do you guard this man? It’ll be fun to watch Big 12 opponents make a go of it this season, that’s for sure — we just have to get the guy on the floor and past this current situation regarding the alleged assault. Because of the strange, conflicting stories from some of the people involved and the paucity of other details that have emerged about this matter, we’re not sure where the truth lies or what outcome would constitute justice. We just hope it’s one that results in LaceDarius Dunn playing basketball as soon and as much as possible.

If Dunn Keeps His Head, He Could Be Baylor's first AP All-American First Teamer

  • Jacob Pullen – Sr, G – Kansas State. Expectations, much?  The last time Jacob Pullen’s Kansas State Wildcats were ranked as high as they are in the Preseason Coaches Poll (#3), John F. Kennedy was a relatively unknown senator from Massachusetts.  The year was 1959, and the Wildcats were ranked #1 in the final AP poll heading into the NCAA Tournament (regrettably, the Cats lost to Oscar Robertson’s Cincinnati in the regional finals).  In large part due to the big-shot making abilities of the six-foot guard who has a great chance to re-write the K-State record books this season, Frank Martin’s KSU squad is poised to make a run at its first Final Four since the 60s and its first Big 8/12 conference title since the 70s.  Pullen, the Big 12 Preseason POY as voted on by the coaches, is expected to run more of the point now that last year’s starter at that position Denis Clemente has graduated, but his ability to successfully play either the one or the two position is well-documented by league opponents.  Let’s be honest, though; with Pullen mimicking the scorer’s mentality of other height-challenged combo guards that have come before him, it doesn’t matter what “position” head coach Frank Martin puts him in.  The Beard (which is rounding into form for the season, incidentally) will have the ball in his hands when it’s crunch time, just as he did in a 34-point explosion against Jimmer Fredette and BYU in the NCAA second round last season and in multiple overtimes in another win (and 28-point performance) against Xavier in the Sweet Sixteen.  It’s not very easy to stop a player who can routinely go for 20+ against some of the best defensive coaches in the country (16 times last year), but the one thing you do not want to do against Pullen is leave him open from behind the arc.  Make him put the ball on the floor and try to get to the rim.  He’s not a traditional dead-eye shooter by any stretch, but he can torch it from outside when he finds a groove — seven threes against UNLV and BYU; six against Alabama, Xavier, Baylor and South Dakota.  Last year he tied Askia Jones’ school-record of 110 threes in a season because he’s learned how to pick his spots appropriately, exhibited by the nearly 40% conversion rate he enjoyed (a significant improvement from his 30% and 34% he shot from deep in his first two years in Manhattan).  Perhaps reflecting the grit of his fiery head coach, Pullen is also an elite defender, having been selected as a member of the six-man Big 12 all-defensive team last year.  Put all of this together — the  scoring, the defense, the grit, the BEARD — and you’re faced with the simple fact that the K-State guard is on the short list of a dozen or so players who are in contention for 1st team All-American and national Player of the Year honors in 2010-11.  The better he plays, the more likely it is that the fortunes of Kansas State basketball is on its way to reclaiming some of its ancient glory and make comparisons with teams a half-century ago completely moot.

  • Perry Jones – Fr, F – Baylor. Coming into the season perhaps no incoming freshman has college basketball fans more giddy with his potential than Perry Jones. The Texas native has already drawn comparisons to Tracy McGrady because of the signs of brilliance he has shown at times in high school. Unfortunately, to this point his production has not matched his potential although those few flashes are enough to have the NBA already drooling over him to the point that he is the consensus #2 prospect in most 2011 NBA mock drafts. Typically this wouldn’t be an issue and Scott Drew could work Jones in slowly, but with the team’s star LaceDarius Dunn (see above) currently suspended following his arrest on charges of allegedly assaulting his girlfriend, Drew might be expecting more out of Jones. To compound matters the Bears lost their super-transfer Ekpe Udoh to the NBA Draft and they will miss the long forward’s presence on the inside. Fortunately for the Bears, they open with a Charmin-soft schedule until they get into December. Even if Dunn is only suspended for the first few games of the season, Jones should get more touches which will aid his transition into the Baylor offense. The question is how quickly Jones, who has been described as unselfish to a fault in high school, will adjust to the Bears reincorporating Dunn into offense while not hiding his own breathtaking skills. There is no doubt that Jones will end up being picked very highly in the 2011 NBA Draft should he decide to declare (assuming there is a draft), but we can’t help thinking that Jones will only show off a small amount of that potential at Baylor this season. Drew’s ability to coax the most out of him will likely be the key to how far the Bears can go this season. Dunn and Quincy Acy should be enough to get the Bears back to the Sweet Sixteen, but if they want to repeat their Elite Eight run from last year or go a little beyond that, Drew will need to get Jones to turn some of that enormous potential into production while he is still in Waco.
  • Cory Higgins – Sr, F – Colorado. If you haven’t heard of Cory Higgins before, don’t feel too ashamed. While the 6’5 senior continues to climb the charts in Colorado’s all-time basketball history, losses have littered his three years in Boulder and relegated the talented Higgins to relative obscurity. Due to lackluster supporting casts for Higgins, general apathy towards the program and an overwhelming Big 12, Colorado has compiled a 36-58 overall record and 10-38 mark in Big 12 play since his debut. Despite blowout losses and perennial disappointment, Higgins has stayed completely loyal to the Colorado program and the talented guard now heads into his final season with at least a glimmer of hope that the NCAA Tournament could be on the horizon with the aid of sidekick Alec Burks and new head coach Tad Boyle. Before you say that Higgins could have played more of a role in preventing such a ghastly record over his CU tenure, keep these facts in mind: Higgins ranks ninth in school history in scoring, fifth in FTs made, sixth in steals, eighth in minutes and 18th in assists. Not only can Higgins put the ball in the hole, but he’s a distributor and defensive presence, putting to bed any preconceived notion that he’s an unintelligent chucker whose numbers don’t necessarily contribute to a winning cause. Higgins has the ability to average 20/5/4 and shoot 50% for a team that may challenge for a winning Big 12 campaign in that second tier with Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. He excels by regularly putting the ball on the floor and bursting to the glass, utilizing outstanding body control and driving past quicker defenders. As a result, Higgins has a propensity to live at the charity stripe, a spot where he’s converted on 83% of his attempts the last two seasons. Higgins also thrives on pull-up mid-range jumpers that find the bottom of the net with tremendous frequency. Although opposing coaches in the Big 12 have seen plenty of Higgins up close and personal the last three seasons, most on a national spectrum have yet to become fully aware that one of the top players in the nation resides in Boulder, a sleeping giant fully prepared to make a name for himself and his team in 2010-11.

Higgins Has a Decent Chance to Get Noticed This Year (Finally)

  • Marcus Morris – Jr, F – Kansas. It’s the dawn of a new era in Lawrence this season. With Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich and Xavier Henry all headed off to the NBA, the Jayhawks need a new batch of leaders to take over the storied program. There are plenty of guards in the mix, with freshman Josh Selby and junior Tyshawn Taylor leading the way, but up front it is junior Marcus Morris who looks poised to take the next step toward stardom. Morris is a versatile and efficient 6’9 power forward who is the team’s leading returning scorer and rebounder (12.8 PPG, 6.1 RPG), and paired with his twin brother, Markieff, the Jayhawks have a good head start on an imposing front line. Marcus has the more complete offensive game of the two brothers and is a versatile big man, capable of playing with his back to the basket or in a face-up situation. While he won’t blow you away with his explosiveness, he plays under control and with great efficiency. He’s got great footwork both in the post and away from the basket, has great handles for a big man and the ability to go either way off the dribble, and is capable of taking the ball all the way to the hoop and finishing with great deftness or pulling up off a couple bounces and hitting the midrange jumper. Throw in the fact that he rarely turns the ball over, hits a high percentage of his shots, shows flashes of great passing ability and defends well both in the post and on the perimeter and Morris is a very versatile player. But, as good as he has proven himself to be over his first two years under Bill Self, he’s still got more room to improve. Last season he knocked down 37.5% of his 32 three-point attempts and showed a good stroke in doing so; with an offseason of additional work on extending his range and some confidence to go along with it, the addition of a consistent three-point shot to his arsenal could be deadly. Similarly, while Morris has shown himself to be a strong offensive rebounder in his first two seasons, he has yet to really take over on the glass. Last year he only had seven games of double-digit rebounds (in fact, in Kansas’ three losses, Morris had a not-so-grand total of just 11 rebounds), a number which should improve this season. It is possible that playing alongside Aldrich last season limited the number of rebounds available to Morris, so last year’s numbers could simply be a mirage. While Taylor and Selby (assuming his eligibility issues get resolved positively) may take some time to get comfortable as featured cogs in the KU game plan, Marcus Morris should be ready to hit the ground running and lead his team in the early going.
  • Josh Selby (6th)* – Fr, G – Kansas. An almost guaranteed top 10 draft pick when he declares for the NBA Draft, Selby could give the Jayhawks the spark they need to overcome the loss of Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich, and Xavier Henry and get into position to contend for the Big 12 title and another deep run into the NCAA Tournament . . . assuming he is eligible to play. At this point it is looking more and more likely that Selby will eventually regain his eligibility after the NCAA cleared him academically, although his amateur status remains in question. Regardless of the outcome the Kansas administration doesn’t expect a decision before the start of the season. A combo guard who can do pretty much anything he wants Selby might possess the most complete skill set of any freshman in the nation, which is just what Bill Self needs to replace Collins and Henry on the perimeter. There are very legitimate questions about whether Selby possess the maturity to lead a team deep into March, although perhaps this entire eligibility process may have a silver lining in that it will help Selby mature by watching for a few games. If Selby is able to play, he should be a starter getting major minutes in the Jayhawk rotation very early and will make the game easier for everybody around him. In short, he could be exactly what the Jayhawks need to transition from the Collins/Aldrich era into the next phase of what is coming for Kansas (we’re assuming Lawrence will be a one-year stopover for Selby). If he gets on the floor in a Jayhawk uniform, he should be able to work off Tyshawn Taylor and Brady Morningstar on the perimeter while being able to get the ball into Marcus Morris on the inside. Essentially, the issue of Selby’s eligibility boils down to this for Kansas in much the same way the Enes Kanter situation impacts Kentucky: if he is able to play, they are a Sweet Sixteen team with the potential to go deeper; if he isn’t able to play, Kansas is a borderline top 25 team. With that much at stake you can bet that every Jayhawk fan will be holding their breath the next few weeks (months?) for the final NCAA decision on his eligibility.

Near-Misses

  • Alec Burks – Soph, F – Colorado. CU’s first-ever Big 12 Freshman of the Year returns his 17/5 averages to a team that is legitimately looking to make a move to relevancy in the conference for the first time since Chauncey Billups was still in Boulder.  He and teammate Cory Higgins are quite a pair to contend with at Colorado this year.
  • Gary Johnson – Sr, F – Texas. Johnson has been an unheralded but absolutely essential piece of Rick Barnes’ tough interior for three years now.  Capable of going off for a double-double on occasion, he grabbed eight or more rebounds in over half of UT’s Big 12 games last year.  He’ll be expected to step up even more with the departure of all-american forward Damion James.
  • Randy Culpepper – Sr, G – UTEP. Culpepper is an exciting player almost as likely to shoot you into or out of games, but for a six-footer, he is fantastic at finishing plays in the lane (59%).  He remains a volume shooter but the reigning CUSA Player of the Year has gotten better at taking and making good shots within the offense.

Others Considered (* denotes injury or suspension)

  • Andy Ogide – Sr, F – Colorado State
  • Devon Beitzel – Sr, G – Northern Colorado
  • Quincy Acy – Jr, F – Baylor
  • George Odufuwa – Sr, F – North Texas
  • Eddie Williams – Sr, G – Stephen F. Austin
  • Ronnie Moss – Jr, G – TCU
  • Jordan Hamilton – Soph, F – Texas
  • Cory Joseph – Fr, G – Texas
  • John Roberson – Sr, G – Texas Tech
  • Mike Singletary – Sr, F – Texas Tech
  • Gilberto Clavell – Sr, F – Sam Houston State
  • Keiton Page – Jr, G – Oklahoma State
  • Michael Craion – Sr, F – Oral Roberts
  • Dominique Morrison – Jr, F – Oral Roberts
  • Justin Hurtt – Sr, G – Tulsa
  • Freddy Asprilla – Jr, C – Kansas State
  • Curtis Kelly – Sr, F – Kansas State
  • Toure’ Murry – Jr, G – Wichita State
  • Afam Muojeke – Jr, F – Wyoming
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