Top Ten Players You Don’t Know Yet (But Soon Will)Posted by zhayes9 on October 10th, 2011
Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.
Even the most casual college basketball fans, those that believe the season begins when the calendar flips to March to gear up for their office pool, can rattle off the basics: Duke’s leading scorer, Kentucky’s point guard or Louisville’s head coach.
For those that have Friday’s first day of practice circled on our calendar, we like to dig a little deeper.
Perennial powerhouses North Carolina, UCLA and Florida are discussed ad nauseam in the media. We’re aware of the key games on their schedule, we can name their starting lineups and we know their seniors like family because they’re constantly in the spotlight. Rather than tell you for the 300th time that Jared Sullinger is the favorite for Big Ten POY or Harrison Barnes is a potential All-American, let’s emphasize ten teams and players who will no longer be anonymous once their full impact is felt this upcoming season (10 teams next week):
Melsahn Basabe, Iowa– The fact Basabe plays in relative anonymity is a shame considering the freshman season he just completed. Not only did Basabe start all 31 games and average 11/7 on 57% FG, but his signature performance (22 points, 13 rebounds, 6 blocks) came against Jared Sullinger and then #2 Ohio State. He became the first Big Ten player in 15 years to post such a stat line. Basabe’s entire rookie year was sensational, finishing near the top of the conference leaderboard in everything from block percentage to offensive rebounding. How quickly Fran McCaffery can resuscitate a program stuck in neutral will determine if Basabe’s brilliance registers with casual fans.
Rodney McGruder, Kansas State– Probably the most recognizable player on the list due to Kansas State’s success the last two seasons, McGruder is primed to take the torch from Jacob Pullen and become the Wildcats’ next star. McGruder’s signature performance as a sophomore came in K-State’s enormous road win at Texas in late February when the 6’5″ guard dropped 22 points and four threes on the seemingly indestructible Longhorns defense. McGruder is not only an efficient scorer from all areas on the floor (47% FG, 41% 3pt career) but he’s an outstanding rebounder and a chore for an opposing shooting guard due to his sturdy frame and steady perimeter defense.
Erick Green, Virginia Tech– Overshadowed by the brilliance of Malcolm Delaney and another narrowly missed NCAA bid was Green’s dramatic leap forward as a sophomore. The 6’4″ combo guard dramatically boosted his FG% to a respectable 41% and averaged a solid 11.6 PPG. Green’s impact goes much further than scoring; he ranked first among all ACC guards in turnover rate (11.1% of possessions used) and third in the conference in steal percentage. Green not only protects the basketball on his end, but creates numerous extra possessions for the Hokies on the other. I anticipate an all-ACC season approaching.
Terrell Stoglin, Maryland– When Gary Williams called Stoglin’s number last season, the 6’1″ Tucson native certainly wasn’t bashful. Stoglin utilized 26.9% of the Terrapins’ possessions as a freshman, even more than the Terps star forward Jordan Williams. While some discretion couldn’t hurt, Stoglin has to be Maryland’s leading man in the first year of a new era in College Park. Stoglin averaged 11.4 PPG in just 21.5 MPG in 2010-11 and really exploded late in the season, notching 20+ points four times in a five-game stint. Stoglin also finished fourth in the ACC in assist rate. Both the statistics and the eye test leads one to believe the Terps snatched a future star out of Arizona’s backyard.
Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati- Mick Cronin has many key components from last year’s surprise team back in the fold – namely Yancy Gates, Dion Dixon and Cashmere Wright – but he should be most excited about the return of Sean Kilpatrick. Straight out of Notre Dame Prep, Kilpatrick emerged as one of the premiere outside shooting weapons in the Big East during his debut campaign, a time when most freshmen struggle badly to find the bottom of the net. Kilpatrick earned all-Big East rookie honors and finished with a robust 38% mark from deep. Kilpatrick also ranked third on the team in scoring, fourth in assists and ended his year behind only Dion Dixon in offensive rating. Kilpatrick is a viable candidate to make a major jump in his second year under Cronin.
Andrew Smith, Butler- Sustainability is rare for a mid-major program, but back-to-back title game appearances tend to have a spiral effect. More success equals more exposure which results in more interest and more talented players. For Butler, another Final Four run is way too much to expect, but another conference title, top-25 ranking and NCAA Tournament appearance is attainable, mostly because players as talented as Andrew Smith are replacing program legends like Matt Howard. Smith played second fiddle to Howard in Butler’s frontcourt last year, but now he’s the featured act. Smith has the height (6’11″) and skill level to dominate and showed enough glimpses as a sophomore to convince me he’s an all-conference player in 2011-12.
Orlando Johnson, UC Santa Barbara– Circle your calendars: the Gauchos have three games on their slate televised by ESPN2 or ESPNU. It’ll be worth the two hours just to get a glimpse of Johnson in his natural habitat. A diamond-in-the-rough transfer from Loyola Marymount, Johnson has practically willed the Gauchos to two consecutive NCAA berths with heroic performances in the Big West Tournament. As a sophomore, Johnson scored in double-figures in every single game the entire season and finished off Long Beach State with 20/5/4 in the title game. Last season, the remarkable junior averaged 28.3 PPG and made 12 of 18 threes in Anaheim to send UCSB dancing yet again. It’s worth tracking what the best mid-major scorer in the nation will achieve for a final encore.
Kevin Foster, Santa Clara– The best player in the WCC doesn’t reside in Spokane at Gonzaga, nor does that player inhabit the campus of Saint Mary’s or play for Dave Rice at BYU. The best player in the WCC is Santa Clara’s Kevin Foster, a high volume shot-maker and one of the most complete 2-guards in the land. Foster shoots during 35.4% of his teams’ possessions and drains 39% of those attempts. He put up ten threes a game last year to lead the nation and made 37% of those, setting a WCC all-time record. To prove he has a complete repertoire, Foster ranked among the top 250 players in the country in assist rate, steal percentage and fouls drawn per 40 minutes. Quite simply, he does everything for the middling Broncos and deserves considerably more attention than he receives.
Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure– Nicholson was recently honored with a spot on the Wooden Award preseason list and deservedly so. The fact the Bonnies finished above .500 at 16-15 was a minor miracle and mostly due to the excellence of Nicholson, who played well over 80% of his team’s minutes and still finished as one of the most efficient players in the country despite constant double and triple teams. The 6’9″ senior shot 57% from the field and was just one of 25 players to finish with over 20 PPG while also contributing on the glass (7.3 RPG) and blocking shots (1.5 BPG). Quite simply, there’s not a better forward in the entire Atlantic 10. With the Bonnies only losing one senior from last year’s squad, more attention may be headed Nicholson’s way.
C.J. McCollum, Lehigh- McCollum is doing things at Lehigh that very few players in NCAA history have accomplished during their first two seasons on campus. Whether it’s the ACC, Patriot League or Division II, anyone who scores 1,308 points, grabs 407 rebounds (as a 6’3″ guard, mind you) and swipes 120 steals in a two season span needs to be praised vociferously. McCollum annihilated a Patriot League record by scoring 19.1 PPG and was rightfully named conference player of the year…as a freshman. He showed it was not fluke as a sophomore, scoring 21.8 PPG with 7.8 RPG and 2.5 SPG. Those are video game numbers.