That’s Debatable: Which Player Has Been the Biggest Surprise?

Posted by WCarey on January 19th, 2012

That’s Debatable is back for another year of expert opinions, ridiculous assertions and general know-it-all-itude. Remember, kids, there are no stupid answers, just stupid people. We’ll try to do one of these each week during the rest of the season. Feel free to leave your takes below in the comments section.

This Week’s Topic: Through the first half of the season, which player has been the biggest surprise? 


Walker Carey, Correspondent

With Kemba Walker leaving Connecticut early for the NBA Draft, I knew someone on the Huskies was going to need to step up to complement Jeremy Lamb. I thought that player was going to be Alex Oriakhi. As it turns out, my thought was very wrong. As of right now, Oriakhi is only averaging 7.0 points and 4.8 rebounds per contest. The junior big man has also apparently fallen out of Jim Calhoun’s good graces, as he is only averaging 19.9 minutes per game after averaging 29.1 last season. In Connecticut’s three conference losses, Oriakhi has only scored a combined 10 points and grabbed a combined 11 rebounds. I highly doubt that was the kind of production Calhoun and his staff were looking for this season. I believe that if the Huskies are going to be a major player in the Big East conference race, they’re going to need a much better contribution from Oriakhi.

Kellen Carpenter, ACC Microsite Correspondent

Duke's Ryan Kelly has Bumped His FT Percentage Up 50 Percent This Season

Ryan Kelly has made big strides in his game this year for Duke. Increasing offensive efficiency while having your offensive role and usage expand dramatically is a hard task to pull off. While I’d say that overall he’s improved most facets of his game, the most impressive change is how he is getting to the line this year. After posting a free throw percentage of 22.3% last season, he’s bumped the rate to 72.1%, one of the best marks in the country. He’s gone 71-of-88 from the line so far this year, meaning that he’s already made more free throws in half a season than he even attempted in his past two years combined.

Andrew Murawa, Pac-12/MW Correspondent & Pac-12 Microsite Correspondent

Last year, when San Diego State was cruising through a 34-3 season on the way to a Sweet Sixteen appearance, Chase Tapley was a nice little player, splitting time in the backcourt alongside senior D.J. Gay, using up 17% of the Aztecs possessions and doing plenty of little things that often escaped notice, while averaging eight points, a couple of rebounds and a couple of assists. This year Tapley has been huge for Steve Fisher, stepping into the leadership role vacated by Gay’s graduation, and upping his numbers across the board. He’s now using 22% of the Aztec possessions and posting a superbly efficient 17 points, four rebounds and three assists per game, all while hitting nearly 50% from three. I knew Tapley’s role was due for an increase in the wake of the Aztecs’ personnel losses, but the idea that he would do so while actually increasing his efficiency never crossed my mind.

Kenny Ocker, Correspondent

The biggest surprise to me has been Khem Birch, the former Pittsburgh forward who abruptly transferred to UNLV earlier this season despite receiving considerable playing time. Birch, along with Oregon guard Jabari Brown and others, represents a surprising trend of players bailing out on programs before ever even getting truly integrated into them. More than any single player, this notion of freshmen transferring so soon in their college careers has been the biggest surprise to me so far this season.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Is A Rising Star (kentuckyregistrar)

Brian Joyce, SEC Microsite Correspondent

If you only looked at Michael Kidd-Gilchrist‘s statistics, you would only see half of the story. The 6’7″ freshman averages 13.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.2 steals. He does a little bit of everything, but his impact on the game goes well beyond the box score. He dives on loose balls, he comes up with every 50/50  chance and he hustles from the time he steps out onto the court until the last buzzer. And the scary part? He’s gotten better as the season has progressed. In his first seven games, Kidd-Gilchrist averaged 11.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, but over his next 12 games he averaged 14.3 points and 8.1 rebounds. Coming into this season I knew Kidd-Gilchrist would be good, but he’s the biggest surprise for me because I never imagined that he would be the Wildcats’ most valuable player given the number of stars at Kentucky.

Evan Jacoby, Columnist

Without question, Fab Melo of Syracuse has been the biggest surprise in the country for me. Last season he could barely get off the bench (9.9 minutes per game) and was passive in all phases of the game. This year, he doesn’t even look like the same person. He’s much stronger and more aggressive. Melo averages the third-most minutes (22.6 per game) for the #1 team in the country, as well as 7.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, and a 56.2% shooting percentage. He finishes strong at the rim and posterizes opponents on dunks this year when he would go up soft and have no chance inside during his rookie season. But most impressive is that Melo averages 3.0 blocks per game, second in the conference, and a 15.1% block percentage, good for fifth in the nation of any player. He’s been the biggest force in the Orange’s effective 2-3 zone defense this season. Who would have guessed that based on his total no-show last season?

Tom Wolfmeyer, Correspondent

Did anyone outside of Omaha see the leap that Creighton’s Doug McDermott was going to take this season? We all knew that he was a gifted scorer who would have a nice career in the Valley, but in just his second season on campus, he’s already on the short list for NPOY candidates. Everything has improved. He’s gone from a solid 14.9 PPG last season to a ridiculous 23.8 PPG this year; and what’s more, he’s actually shooting more efficiently to do it — over 60% from the field, over 50% from beyond the arc, and over 80% from the line. He’s putting up numbers better than Derrick Williams did at Arizona last year, and nobody outside of the Midwest has ever seen him play. He’s also rebounding better and has become the team leader that his coach, Greg McDermott, needed to push the Bluejays into the Top 25 and beyond. And to think… Creighton wouldn’t have gotten him on campus if Dana Altman hadn’t alighted to Oregon two offseasons ago.

WCarey (279 Posts)

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4 responses to “That’s Debatable: Which Player Has Been the Biggest Surprise?”

  1. Geckle says:

    As a Michigan State fan Derrick Nix has been a pleasant surprise. His first two years I would be terrified whenever he came in the game. This year he has turned into a legitimate basketball player and his played pretty well on both offense and defense

  2. KDoyle says:

    Reeves Nelson should be somewhere on this list. Talk about a surprising disappointment…an All-League Pac-12 player went down the tubes in a big way.

  3. AMurawa says:

    Not only are the Khem Birch and Jabari Brown transfers surprising, they are also trends that I hope are very short-lived. Hey, if your freshman year doesn’t go as planned and you feel like you’d be better suited to some other place, go ahead and transfer after the season. But throwing away a half-season’s worth of eligibility on a whim seems like bad decision-making at its finest.

  4. EJacoby says:

    The transfers are an interesting story to look at…. The player I mentioned that was most surprising was Fab Melo, and look how horrendous his first year went. But instead of jumping ship, he put the pressure on himself to become a better player and it’s paid enormous dividends. I’m sure Jim Boeheim was there every step of the way, as well.

    You have to wonder what’s going on with the transfers. Are their coaching staffs not putting enough emphasis on developing the players? At Pitt, the team is going through a horrible season so perhaps Jamie Dixon didn’t have the time to encourage and teach a rookie like Birch but he has had most of his focus on trying to gameplan out of this funk. I don’t know….

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