Seven O26 Players You Should Know Before March

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 14th, 2018

Every NCAA Tournament there is at least one unknown player from a little-known school who captures the nation’s attention. Sometimes for a half, sometimes for a game, sometimes for a magical run to the second weekend. Here are some of the likeliest O26 candidates to reach the Dance and put on a show next month.  

Don’t know much about Chandler Hutchison? You might come March. (Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman via AP)

  • Jaylen AdamsSt. Bonaventure. Adams was named to the Preseason Wooden Award Top 50 for the second straight season, which made his early absence extra disappointing. Luckily, Adams made up for lost time. Since making his debut on December 2, he has posted 20-point, 6-assist performances on six different times, including back-to-back 40-plus point efforts against Duquesne (40 points) and Saint Louis (44) this month. He ranks third in the Atlantic 10 in both scoring (20.2 PPG) and assists (5.3 PPG) while ranking eighth nationally in three-point percentage (51% 3FG). Against the Dukes and Billikens alone, Adams combined to shoot an absurd 18-for-26 from long range. As things stand right now, the Bonnies are on the NCAA Tournament bubble. If they sneak in, Adams has legitimate Steph Curry 2008 potential.
  • Mike DaumSouth Dakota State. If you’re reading this, you’re probably already well aware of Mike Daum. The 6’9″ forward is an offensive machine who ranks eighth nationally in scoring (23.3 PPG) and leading the Summit League in rebounding (10.0 RPG). As good as his back-to-the-basket game is — and its pretty doggone great — Daum has also developed into a lethal outside shooter, knocking down 41 percent of his 150 shots from long-range. In games against Kansas (21 points), Wichita State (31 points), and Colorado (37 points), the big man proved he can be just as effective against NCAA Tournament-caliber opponents as he can against the rest of the Summit League. Perhaps more importantly, his team, which lost to Gonzaga by 20 points as a #16 seed last March, looks more on track to be a #12 or #13 seed this season if it qualifies. As a #12 seed in 2016, Daum and the Jackrabbits nearly toppled Maryland.

  • Chandler HutchisonBoise State. Some scouts project the 6’7″ swingman to be a fringe First Round pick in this summer’s NBA Draft. Most hoops junkies already know he’s the best player in the Mountain West. KenPom currently ranks him as the ninth-most valuable player in the entire country. Still, it might take a Herculean effort in the NCAA Tournament — much like the 44-point night he had against San Diego State on January 13 — for the senior to register on the national landscape. If Boise State can upend Nevada at home tonight, it will be a huge step in helping Hutchison get there.

Nick King has been a revelation for Middle Tennessee State. (goblueraiders.com)

  • Nick King Middle Tennessee State. The Blue Raiders lost a lot from last season’s team which upset Minnesota in the NCAA Tournament, including all-conference forwards JaCorey Williams and Reggie Upshaw, Jr. No Matter. King, who began his career as a highly-touted recruit at Memphis before transferring to Alabama and winding up in Murfreesboro, has helped Middle Tennessee State remain atop Conference USA in 2017-18. The 6’7″ senior is averaging career bests in points (21.4 PPG) and rebounds (8.2 RPG), his versatility and mobility proving too much for opposing frontcourts throughout the league. But can he be as effective against high-major foes, you ask? Absolutely. In five games against power conference opponents this season, King has averaged 23.2 PPG, including 28-point efforts in close losses to Miami (FL) and USC. If the Blue Raiders return to the Big Dance, King will most certainly enter the national consciousness.
  • Jock Landale Saint Mary’s. You probably already know of Jock Landale, but do you realize just how good he’s been this season? The 6’11” Aussie is the only player in the country to rank in the top 15 nationally in both scoring and rebounding, neither statistic of which quite does his excellence justice: Landale is also perhaps the most efficient player in college basketball. He leads in the country (by a mile) in offensive rating among heavily-used players. He boasts the 14th-best effective field goal percentage (66.1% eFG) while ranking first and second, respectively, in defensive and offensive rebounding percentage among WCC players. He currently ranks second behind only Trae Young in KenPom’s Player of the Year rankings. Every time he touches the ball, good things happen, and it’s the biggest reason why Saint Mary’s — the nation’s fourth-most efficient offense — looks like a second-weekend contender. Landale should have more national name recognition than he does, but he might finally get his due next month.

Watch out for Jonathan Stark if Murray State goes dancing. (Getty Images)

  • Zach LoftonNew Mexico State. There are several reasons Lofton’s poised to become a household name in March. For one, he’s really darn good. The 6’4″ guard ranks second in the WAC in scoring (20.0 PPG) thanks to performances like the one he had against USC in the Diamond Head Classic (28 points on 6-of-9 3FG). His team, which is ranked 43rd nationally in KenPom, is in excellent shape to reach the NCAA Tournament. Finally, Lofton’s story is remarkable. The St. Paul native began his career at Illinois State before transferring to San Jacinto College and then to Minnesota (where he was dismissed), before winding up at Texas Southern, where he was named SWAC Player of the Year last season. Now as a graduate transfer at New Mexico State — yes, his fifth school — Lofton has a legitimate chance to win Player of the Year honors again in an entirely different conference.
  • Jonathan StarkMurray State. The Racers are having their best season of the Matt McMahon era thanks in no small part to Stark, a 6’0″ guard who puts the ball in the basket. The senior leads the OVC in scoring (20.9 PPG) thanks to incredibly deep range (42% 3FG on 192 attempts), outstanding quickness and change of direction, and impeccable free throw shooting (91% FT). Stark scored 21 points and registered a career-high five steals against Auburn in December, a game Murray State nearly won. For a team currently ranked 61st on KenPom with an even higher-ranked offense to match, that result may be a sign of good things to come: The last time the Racers earned a top-70 KenPom ranking during the regular season, they won an NCAA Tournament game.
Tommy Lemoine (249 Posts)


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