10 Great Players You Won’t Be Seeing This MarchPosted by zhayes9 on March 2nd, 2012
Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.
As the calendar flips towards March, the nation will focus its attention to players on title contenders—Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, Syracuse’s Dion Waiters, North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes and Duke’s Austin Rivers, to name a few. Others will become infatuated with captivating players on endearing Cinderella teams– Oral Roberts’ Dominique Morrison, Iona’s Scott Machado, Long Beach State’s Casper Ware or Belmont’s Kerron Johnson. There will be ample opportunity to delve into the storylines of those vying to become household names once the brackets are unveiled. This space is reserved for those whose season will most likely end without any taste of postseason glory. Accolades are warranted for these ten players who, through no fault of their own and barring a miracle conference tournament run, are about to conclude praiseworthy seasons away from the national spotlight:Vincent Council, Providence– Many theorized that Council’s robust assist totals during his first two seasons at Providence were more of a product of the Friars top ten adjusted tempo than any extraordinary court vision or gifted passing ability. Council’s resounding response to such fallacies: 7.4 assists per game and the third highest assist rate of any major-conference point guard despite a new coach and a much slower pace. Sure, Council plays almost every minute for a Friar squad lacking depth, but he’s still engineering a top-50 efficient offense without anyone resembling an all-conference candidate as support. The junior and Brooklyn native has posted eight games of double-digit assists and averages over 16 PPG to boot. It’ll be intriguing to see how Council and Scout.com’s top-ranked class of 2012 point guard Kris Dunn share duties at the position next season.
Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure- Nicholson has turned in one of the greatest careers in the history of the Atlantic 10, scoring nearly 2,000 point, grabbing nearly 800 rebounds, flirting with the all-time school record for field goal percentage and “bringing the program back from the underground” according to coach Mark Schmidt. Going out with a bang seems to be a priority for the best Bonnie since Bob Lanier; Nicholson has scored 29.8 PPG on 66 percent shooting over his last four games, all victories. With his array of advanced post moves, range out to the three-point line and an unquenchable motor, Nicholson is nearly impossible to contain. His play has buoyed St. Bonaventure to a respectable 17-10 and an NIT/CBI invite is likely in the cards, so make it a priority to catch Nicholson in action before he’s the next NBA Draft second round success story.
Jared Cunningham, Oregon State– He’s an Oakland native and Beavers guard with a voracious tenacity equally adept at whipping out a mean crossover or picking your pocket at midcourt. That same scouting report oft-repeated regarding former OSU star Gary Payton can easily be applied to Cunningham, not only the Pac-12’s leading scorer but one of the top perimeter defenders in the nation. The Beavers star is a risk-taker on both ends, susceptible to the occasional turnover but just as capable of pulling off a highlight reel steal and dunk on the next possession. Cunningham utilizes his phenomenal instincts to jump passing lanes and create havoc out of Oregon State’s 1-3-1 zone defense.
Tim Frazier, Penn State- Frazier has almost single handedly kept Penn State competitive in the brutal Big Ten despite losing four senior starters from an NCAA Tournament team. Playing with a lightly-recruited, largely unanimous supporting cast, Frazier leads the conference by a healthy margin with 6.3 assists per game and ranks second in the nation in assist rate. He’s also scored at a healthy clip, averaging 18.8 per game and pouring in 20+ point performances 16 different times. The junior guard from Houston brings that rare combination of exceptional point guard skills, ability to fill up the scoring column and tenacity on the defensive end (2.2 SPG). Of greater importance to a program featuring only one senior and bereft of elite talent, Frazier has proven a model leader for new head coach Patrick Chambers from the first day of practice.
Terrell Stoglin, Maryland– The number of purely gifted scorers around college basketball superior to Stoglin can be counted on one hand. Merely a sophomore plucked from Arizona’s backyard, Stoglin leads all major-conference players in scoring at 21 per game in just over 32 minutes, including 30+ point outings against potential NCAA Tournament teams Notre Dame and Miami. Only two players in the nation lay claim to a higher shot percentage than Stoglin, who is asked to carry an enormous load on a young Terps outfit mired in year one or Mark Turgeon’s rebuild. By Stoglin’s senior year, Turgeon hopes a more formidable supporting cast removes some of the pressure heaped on his ultra-talented scoring guard. The fact such a young Maryland team has been extremely competitive against superior opposition is not only a credit to Turgeon’s coaching acumen, but also Stoglin’s enviable scoring prowess.
Steven Pledger, Oklahoma- After averaging just 10.9 points per game as a sophomore, Pledger has emerged as the premiere pure scorer outside of J’Covan Brown in the Big 12, who happens to be the only player who boasts more 30+ point outbursts in the league than the talented junior Sooner. Ravaged by recruiting blunders from Jeff Capel’s tenure, reclamation master Lon Kruger can thank Pledger for keeping the flailing Oklahoma offense afloat with his smooth shooting stroke and abrupt scoring eruptions. Pledger truly burst onto the radar with 31 points in 37 minutes against Houston and hasn’t looked back, averaging a team-leading 16.9 PPG and even dropping 30 on Kansas State on an efficient 12 of 17 from the floor. The Sooners don’t have a single senior in their starting lineup, so with another year for the Sooners to soak in Kruger’s defensive principles, the likelihood is strong that Pledger garners some well-earned national recognition this time next year.
Orlando Johnson, UC-Santa Barbara– Given Long Beach State’s undefeated run through the tournament, it appears likely that the Gauchos won’t be making their third straight trip to the Big Dance. Johnson should still be commended for being the model of consistency and arguably the most potent pure scorer in the low-major ranks since arriving at UCSB, averaging anywhere from 18.0 to 21.1 PPG, 5.4 to 6.2 RPG and 45% to 48% FG over his last three seasons. At a precise 40 percent from deep, Johnson possesses in-the-gym range and can also create his own shot or spot-up with ease and accuracy. It’s not a result of simply overwhelming inferior competition, either; Johnson averaged 23.4 PPG and 8.0 RPG against NCAA Tournament contenders San Diego State, UNLV, BYU, Washington and California. Any objections to another Johnson/Ware UCSB-LBSU battle for an automatic bid next week? I didn’t think so.
Reggie Hamilton, Oakland– Bursting out of Keith Benson’s shadow, Hamilton is currently putting together a season for the ages as the nation’s leading scorer. The diminutive point guard is looking mighty intimidating on most box scores this year. His 25.1 PPG is remarkable, but Hamilton has managed to maintain steady field goal (44 percent) and three-point (41 percent) averages despite serving as the focal point of many an opposing scouting report. With Oral Roberts playing the role of runaway favorite in the Summit and Oakland mired in an atrocious season on the defensive end, unfortunately it appears Hamilton won’t be lighting up an unsuspecting high seed in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The last time he’s scored less than 30 points in a basketball game? That would be February 1.
Colt Ryan, Evansville- Ryan upped the ante during a special sophomore season in 2010-11, finishing in the MVC’s top 5 in scoring, steals, free throw percentage and three-pointers per game. His junior campaign makes those numbers look amateurish. The 6’5 swingman has increased his increased his points (15.7 to 20.5) rebounds (3.3 to 4.3) and assists (2.3 to 3.3) per contest while shooting 43 percent from deep and bolstering the Aces to a respectable 9-9 in conference play. If Wichita State and Creighton are considered the class of the league and mid-majors fully capable of making a Sweet 16 push, Ryan is unimpressed. He ripped the Shockers for 31 points (10-18 FG) on January 4 and recently dropping a staggering 43 on an incredibly efficient 17-24 FG during the Aces upset victory over the Bluejays.
T.J. McConnell, Duquesne- McConnell was barely 5’8” and 135 pounds soaking wet when Duquesne head coach Ron Everhart recruited him out of Pittsburgh. He won’t wow any spectators with blazing end-to-end speed or high-flying athleticism. He won’t hit a barrage of threes in the blink of an eye or go off for 30 points. But dwelling on any drawbacks fails to recognize the countless irreplaceable attributes McConnell brings to the floor. He’s a coach on the floor, Duquesne’s indisputable leader and a defensive whiz at the point guard spot, a position he plays with off-the-charts efficiency. McConnell certainly picks his spots well, shooting 51 percent from two, 45 percent from three and averaging better than a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio while racking up almost three steals a game.
Honorable Mention: Moe Harkless, St. John’s, Mike Moore, Hofstra, Alex Young, IUPUI, Wendell McKines, New Mexico State, Javon McCrea, Buffalo, Maalil Wayns, Villanova.