RTC 2010-11 Impact Players: National Wrap-Up

Posted by rtmsf on November 8th, 2010

Over the past month-plus, we’ve been presenting our RTC Impact Players for the 2010-11 season. From coast to coast and the Canadian border down to Mexico, we’ve selected the sixty players nationally who we believe will have the most impact on the game this year.  Each of the ten geographic regions was allotted five “starters” and a “sixth man,” an artificial construct that was easy to fill in some areas while much more difficult in some of the others.  In case you’ve missed the series along the way, this post will serve as your wrap-up.  We’re rank-ordering the ten “teams” by geographic region and list some of the near-miss players in each one.  Each regional post has a much more extensive writeup on each player chosen, so be sure to click on its respective link if you’re looking for additional information.  Here’s the view of the 2010-11 college basketball world from 500,000 feet.

The 2010-11 RTC Impact Players Map

The Ten Regions

(* denotes current injury, suspension or ineligibility)

1. Lower Midwest Region (OH, IN, IL). Wow, and imagine if Robbie Hummel hadn’t gotten hurt.  Another group of first-rounders has everything, but what really sets this team apart is the inside dominance that Sullinger and Johnson can impose.  There isn’t a region on our list this year that would be able to stay out of foul trouble against those two, especially with the heady play of Mack, McCamey and Moore finding the big men in the right spots time and time again.  It’s no coincidence that the nation’s best conference — the Big 10 — has its footprint located here.

  • Shelvin Mack, G, Butler
  • E’Twaun Moore, G, Purdue
  • Chris Wright, F, Dayton
  • Jared Sullinger, F, Ohio State
  • JaJuan Johnson, C, Purdue
  • Demetri McCamey, G, Illinois (6th)

Near Misses: William Buford, Ohio State; Maurice Creek, G, Indiana; John Shurna, Northwestern

2. South Atlantic Region (VA, NC, SC). Obviously, if you can’t find a space for a likely all-american like Nolan Smith, this is a sick team.  Its only weakness is that other than Tracy Smith, it is extremely perimeter-oriented.  Granted, nobody can put a more talented five on the floor, but if a team like the above can pound the ball inside on them, that could make the difference.

  • Kyrie Irving, G, Duke
  • Malcolm Delaney, G, Virginia Tech
  • Kevin Anderson, G, Richmond
  • Harrison Barnes, F, UNC
  • Kyle Singler, F, Duke
  • Tracy Smith, F, NC State (6th)

Near Misses: Nolan Smith, Duke; Andrew Goudelock, College of Charleston

3. Plains/Mountains Region (KS, CO, WY, OK, TX). This is a ridiculously talented region, with first-rounders everywhere on the floor.  The only possible issue would be who would be willing to sacrifice for the betterment of the team, but if Selby is eligible to run the show, we’re not sure there’s a much better group anywhere else in America.  This region is so strong we had to leave a high-major conference POY (Culpepper) off the team.  Wow.

  • LaceDarius Dunn*, G, Baylor
  • Jacob Pullen, G, Kansas State
  • Perry Jones, F, Baylor
  • Marcus Morris, F, Kansas
  • Cory Higgins, F, Colorado
  • Josh Selby*, Kansas (6th)

Near Misses: Alec Burks, Colorado; Gary Johnson, Texas; Randy Culpepper, UTEP

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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Northwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on November 4th, 2010

Welcome to 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.

Northwest Region (UT, WY, MT, ID, AK, WA, OR, NorCal)

  • Isaiah Thomas – Jr, G – Washington. For the Pac-10 favorite Huskies, it is the smallest guy on the floor who will have the biggest impact. In each of Isaiah Thomas’ two previous collegiate seasons in Seattle, he has been at best a secondary option. Two years ago it was Jon Brockman and Justin Dentmon who were the senior leaders (even though Thomas still led the team in scoring) and last year it was Quincy Pondexter. Nowadays, the 5’8 junior point guard is clearly the face of the program, a lightning-quick, high-flying, pint-sized lefty with a penchant for scoring, even over larger defenders. Thomas is a versatile offensive player, at his best with the ball in his hands and going to his left, but capable of being a scoring threat in all manner of situations.  He is not yet a great three-point shooter, but upped his average to a solid 33% as a sophomore and seems poised to push that number up a couple points again this season, a tool which could be deadly given his explosive first step and ability to finish with any number of acrobatic shots in and around the lane. Thomas also excels at drawing fouls and getting to the line, where he also upped his efficiency as a sophomore to 73%, a number upon which he should improve yet again. One offensive area where Thomas is still finding himself is in terms of getting the rest of his team involved. For instance, there was a stretch of three games at the start of the Pac-10 season last year where he handed out just one total assist. He picked things up in this area down the stretch and averaged two more assists per game in the last 14 games of the season than he did in the first 22, and not coincidentally, the Huskies were a better team over that span, posting an 11-3 record. With senior Venoy Overton and sophomore Abdul Gaddy also capable of running the point for the Huskies, Thomas does have the ability to play off the ball for head coach Lorenzo Romar, but Washington is just more dangerous when Thomas has the ball in his hands, and if he can continue to improve his playmaking skills while still maintaining his explosive scoring ability, everybody on the team will be better for it. Defensively, Thomas is excellent in the open court and away from the basket with his quick hands and feet, but, as is the case with anyone his size, he has been a defensive liability at times in the halfcourt game, a weakness somewhat mitigated by the Huskies’ use of aggressive pressure from Thomas and Overton to keep opponents from getting comfortable in a half-court set. And really, wherever Thomas is on the floor, his talent and ability make it difficult for any opponent to get too comfortable.

Thomas May be Small in Stature, But Not Talent

  • Jeremy Green – Jr, G – Stanford. Last season the Stanford Cardinal were, by and large, a two-man gang. Green and Landry Fields were the only two players to score in double figures and between the two they accounted for almost 39 of Stanford’s average of 69 points per night. With Fields now plying his trade at the next level, the onus for the Stanford offense falls squarely on Green. Green came into last season with the reputation as a designated shooter, after knocking down over 45% of his threes as a freshman on his way to 6.4 points per game, and although he showed an increased proficiency off the bounce as a sophomore, it is still his shooting that opponents need to fear. With his minutes doubled last season, his production more than doubled as his scoring average jumped to 16.6 PPG nightly. In the process, he set a new school record for threes in a season with his 93 makes, and more than half of all his attempts, and makes, were from behind the arc. Green will be called on again to be a big scorer for Johnny Dawkins’ club, and he’ll need to show that he is capable of wearing a target on his back on a nightly basis and still succeeding. Despite Green’s increase in scoring as a sophomore, he did see his three-point percentage dip seven points to 38% last season, and minus Fields’ ability to create opportunities for teammates, Green could find matching last season’s efficiency more difficult. However, expect the Cardinal to run plenty of plays for him, running him off screens both with the ball and away from the ball, allowing him to find shots in both catch-and-shoot situations or even off the dribble. While Green is not an explosive athlete and isn’t often a threat to take the ball all the way to the rim, he is effective at using his dribble to find a spot from which to hit his jumper, although it would be nice to see him attack defenders more with an eye towards getting to the line; he only attempted 92 free throws last season, a shame for an 80-plus-percent shooter. Also, with the ball in his hands, Green doesn’t present much of the threat to the rest of the defenders on the court, as Green is ineffective at finding his teammates for open looks, notching just 25 assists all of last season. Green is a pretty good rebounder for a guard, grabbing 3.8 rebounds per game last season, while defensively, he is merely competent. With his running mate from last season now departed, Green is clearly the go-to guy on the Stanford offense, and he’ll need to show that he is capable of handling those duties, but the next step for the proven shooter is to find ways to get his teammates involved more often, and find ways to get himself to the charity stripe on a more regular basis.

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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Southwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on November 1st, 2010

Welcome to 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.

Southwest Region (NM, AZ, NV, HI, SoCal)

  • Jio Fontan – Soph, G – USC. Last year, USC was the talk of the college basketball world for a stretch, when senior point guard Mike Gerrity, a transfer from Charlotte, took over the team in December and promptly led the Trojans to an upset blowout victory over then #8 Tennessee in his first game of the season. The Trojans went on to win their next five games, including the inaugural Diamond Head Classic, with Gerrity serving as a big spark. In 2010-11, head coach Kevin O’Neill and his team will welcome another Division I transfer to the active roster over the winter break, and they hope to sustain the bump in talent they’ll get when Fontan joins the team as a midseason transfer from Fordham. In fact, Fontan was in the midst of an on-campus visit last December 19 when Gerrity was leading the Trojans to their win over the Volunteers and he committed to the school just days later, perhaps seeing the blueprint for his own success in Gerrity’s. Luckily enough for O’Neill and the Trojans, Fontan will have more than just the one semester of eligibility that Gerrity had.  But while their paths to the USC roster may seem similar, their games are different. Fontan is more of a combo-guard, capable of running an offense, but more adept at creating for himself than being a pure distributor. Not that he isn’t capable of handing out assists – he averaged more than four assists per night during his one season plus five games at Fordham – but Fontan is at his best with the ball in his hands, able to both blow by defenders and hit from long range, scoring the ball to the tune of 15.3 points per game in his freshman season on his way to Atlantic 10 rookie of the year honors. Paired with established frontcourt returners Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson and a talented group of newcomers, including 5’7 point guard Maurice Jones who will handle the lead guard duties until Fontan is eligible, Fontan will be surrounded by far more talent than he ever was in his time at Fordham. And if things go as well as could be hoped for, Fontan will have a chance to reprise Gerrity’s Trojan debut, as Southern Cal will travel to Kansas (and then, three days later, they’ll play the return game in the Tennessee series) for Fontan’s first game, giving USC a chance to make another big mid-season splash on the national stage.
  • Tre’Von Willis* – Sr, G – UNLV. For a good part of last summer, Tre’Von Willis, the star shooting guard for the Runnin’ Rebels, may have thought that his collegiate career was over thanks to his June 29 arrest for felony battery involving an ugly incident with a woman in nearby Henderson, Nevada.  Willis ultimately copped to a plea agreement of a lesser charge of misdemeanor domestic battery, and in interviews since the incident he has shown considerable sincerity and self-awareness in suggesting that he placed himself in a bad situation.  After he serves a mandated three-game suspension meted by coach Lon Kruger, Willis will likely be back in action for UNLV’s second regular season game against Southeastern Louisiana.  And it’s a good thing that he will be, as the Rebel program has eyes on putting together its best season since the understated head coach rolled into town several years ago.  Considering that the Rebs have been to a Sweet Sixteen and won 30 games in a season under his tutelage (both in 2006-07), those are lofty goals.  But they are also realistic ones so long as some of the injury problems that Willis and several others have recently endured are controlled.  Willis in particular continues to experience knee pain as a result of arthroscopic surgery in August to repair cartilage, a recurring problem which caused the capable scorer to lose some of his lift at the end of last season and definitely impacted his effectiveness.  As an example, after scoring twenty or more points ten times through mid-February, Willis only hit the figure one more time during the last eight games of the year, a sure indication that he was not at 100%.  The hope is that his summer surgery,  a new outlook on opportunity as a result of his legal troubles, a sprinkling of maturity (he also had a daughter) and much-needed rest will encourage Willis to come back with an all-America caliber season.  He was chosen as a first-team all-MWC guard in 2009-10 when he contributed an all-around game of 17.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG and 3.5 APG while increasing his previously-sketchy shot selection to the point where he added nearly 10% (from 38% to 48%) on his field goal percentage.  If he can truly put everything from last summer behind him and remain healthy for an entire season, the new Aria Hotel may not be the only must-see on The Strip this winter.

Tre'Von Willis Has to Sit Three Games (LV Sun/S. Morris)

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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.

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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Upper Midwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 25th, 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.

Upper Midwest Region (MI, WI, MN, IA, NE, SD, ND)

  • Kalin Lucas – Sr, G – Michigan State.  Few elite players and certainly no other senior elite players will enter this season as more of an unknown quantity than Kalin Lucas. Coming off a solid junior season where he averaged 14.8 points and 4.0 assists per game, Lucas and the Spartans were poised for yet another run at the Final Four before a torn Achilles tendon in the second round against Maryland supposedly ended those hopes along with the possibility that Lucas might declare for the 2010 NBA Draft, already lacking in depth at the point guard position. We all know what happened instead (MSU rallied to yet another Final Four even without their starting point guard).  All indications point to Lucas having recovered from the untimely injury to near 100%, but we can’t help but wonder if his explosiveness, which already was a concern for NBA teams, might be compromised. Lucas is certainly fast enough when he gets going in the open court, but his first step has never been at the level of the other elite point guards he has been compared to and a potential reluctance to push off that torn left Achilles tendon may hinder that more. Despite the questions, Tom Izzo is certainly happy to have Lucas and his all-around skills and intangibles back in East Lansing—there are very few All-American point guards in BCS conferences that stick around for their senior season—and if Michigan State is going to make a push to yet another Final Four it will be Lucas who will again be the driving force. Having lost the enigmatic but explosive Raymar Morgan and equally enigmatic but troublesome Chris Allen, Izzo will expect Lucas to carry an increased offensive load while still distributing the ball to wings Durrell Summers and Draymond Green along with the talented Delvon Roe, who has yet to fulfill the promise he showed coming out of high school. If Lucas is able to meet those expectations, he could have a senior season much like one of his Spartan predecessors (Mateen Cleaves) that results in the Spartans cutting down the nets in Houston next April.

Lucas Returns For a Last Final Four Shot

  • Blake Hoffarber – Sr, G – Minnesota. Here’s the thing about Blake Hoffarber: he’s probably not the best player on this Minnesota team, maybe not even the third or fourth best player, but he is absolutely critical to their success, perhaps the most important player on the team in that regard. Guys like Al Nolen and Devoe Joseph, Ralph Sampson, III, and Colton Iverson, are all probably more talented and more complete players than Hoffarber, but last year’s Golden Gopher results tell the tale of a team that succeeded when Hoffarber succeeded and failed when he failed. In the 15 games in which Hoffarber scored ten or more points last season, Minnesota went 13-2; in the remaining 20 games when he scored less than ten, they were 8-12. The lesson is simple: Hoffarber needs to score for this team to be successful. And given that Hoffarber’s offensive game is almost entirely predicated on hitting spot-up threes, maybe the true impact player here should be Joseph or Nolen, getting Hoffarber good looks on drive-and-dish. Or maybe it should be Sampson and Iverson for sucking in defenders in the post or kicking out offensive rebounds that eventually find their way into Hoffarber’s hands. But the point remains, Hoffarber needs to get and hit threes for the Gophers to be successful. His offensive numbers tell the story well, as last season Hoffarber was the most efficient offensive player in the nation, but only used 14% of all Gopher possessions when he was in the game. He scored a total of 351 points last season, 255 of which came from behind the arc (at an impressive 46% clip, leading to an effective field goal percentage of 67.3%, good for fourth in the nation). Of the remaining 96 points, 28 came from the line, meaning he scored just 34 hoops inside the arc, less than one point per game. Basically, Hoffarber is the very essence of a pure shooter – you really don’t need to worry about him going around anybody and the only open looks he’ll create for teammates is when he draws defenders to him at the line and rotates the ball around the arc. Sure, he contributes a handful of rebounds a game and rarely turns the ball over, he passes pretty well and is a decent if unspectacular defender, but when it comes right down to it, he’s “just a shooter” – one of the best in the nation upon whom the Golden Gophers’ chances depend, but in the end, still “just a shooter.”

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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Lower Midwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 21st, 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.

Lower Midwest Region (OH, IN, IL)

  • Shelvin Mack – Jr, G – Butler. There were times during Butler’s superb run to the national championship game last season where you’d be excused if you thought Shelvin Mack, a 6’3 guard with icewater in his veins, was the best player on the floor.  In BU’s first round NCAA game against  UTEP, his explosive 18-point second half where he drained five threes in the first eleven minutes fueled a 22-4 blitz that awakened his sleepwalking team and drove the Bulldogs into the second round (and beyond).  He also added four boards, four assists and a couple of steals in that one just for kicks, but it was seemingly like that all season long.  While Horizon League POYs Gordon Hayward (2010) and Matt Howard (2009) garnered most of the publicity, Mack quietly went about his business of doing whatever was needed to win games — 25 points against UW-Milwaukee; 7 rebounds against K-State; 8 assists against Northwestern and Green Bay; sticky defense every night out.  And win Butler did, to the tune of 25 victories in a row and an unprecedented march to play Duke for the title.  Neither the Bulldogs nor Mack will sneak up on anyone this year, especially after a summer with USA Basketball where the stocky junior opened the eyes of NBA scouts and his peers by earning a spot on the USA Select team ahead of such notable guards as Jimmer Fredette, Jacob Pullen, LaceDarius Dunn, Scoop Jardine, William Buford and Scotty Hopson.  Go ahead — check any preseason all-american list and you’re likely to see quite a few of those names on it.  If anyone actually believes that Butler was a one-year flash in the pan, they haven’t been paying attention.  It’s very difficult for any school to make the Final Four in a given year, but the Bulldogs with Mack leading the way along with Howard and a cast of other returning players, will once again be in that conversation.  Sometimes you just know  when a player is a winner — he has that little extra something that doesn’t always show up in the box score yet you know he’ll find a way to get it done?  That’s Mack, a true example of the ”Butler Way” if ever there was one.  All-American forward Gordon Hayward will be missed, but  we have absolutely no doubt that Butler will again be a top ten caliber program in 2010-11 in large part due to the heretofore overlooked glue player whose time has come to take the spotlight.

Butler's Heart & Soul Returns to Indy (AP/P. Sakuma)

  • E’Twaun Moore – Sr, G – Purdue. Less than a week ago Purdue was one of the three favorites along with Duke and Michigan State to win the national title this coming April, but a Robbie Hummel ACL injury later and everyone has been talking about another lost season for Matt Painter and the Boilermakers. However there is still some hope in West Lafayette that comes in the form of E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson (Moore, Hummel, and Johnson were part of a loaded Boilermaker recruiting class in 2007). As talented as Johnson is it will be Moore and his all-around brilliance that will have to be driving force behind the Boilermakers if they are to make a push for the Final Four, of which they are still capable even with the loss of Hummel (to injury) and Chris Kramer (to graduation). Coming off a season where he was first team All-Big Ten and honorable mention AP All-American and an off-season where both he and Johnson briefly flirted with entering the NBA Draft before deciding to come back for their senior year, Moore will be expected to increase his scoring load and pick up some of the defensive slack created by the departure of Kramer. On the offensive end, Moore averaged 16.6 points per game providing the Boilermakers with their most explosive offensive threat since the days of Glenn Robinson while adding 2.7 assists per game, a figure that may not need to increase as the Boilermakers should be bolstered by the full-time return of Lewis Jackson. However it is the other side of the ball where Moore will really have to step up. Although he averaged a respectable 1.5 steals per game Moore was not expected to exert himself significantly on the defensive end as he had Kramer taking on the tougher defensive assignments and being an all-around Steve Wojciechowski-like pest to help create opportunities and cover up for the mistakes of others on the defensive end. To get the Boileramakers back to the Sweet 16, which they got to last year without Hummel, and beyond Moore will have to step around his all-around game while still maintaining his scoring even as teams continue to put an increased focus on him during their game-planning.

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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Mid-South Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 18th, 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.

Mid-South Region (KY, TN, MO, AR)

  • Brandon Knight – Fr, G – Kentucky. What on earth could Brandon Knight do to live up to what has preceded him? It’s not just that he’s been stood for membership along the Caliparian Derrick Rose-Tyreke Evans-John Wall axis, or that he’ll immediately be expected to live up to the ridiculous standard entailed by that little club. Yeah, that’s hard enough, but there’s something more. Last year’s Kentucky team wasn’t just about five first-round draft picks and an Elite Eight run. It wasn’t about the actual on-court achievements of Messrs. Wall, Cousins, Patterson, Bledsoe, and Calipari. It was what the season symbolized, a pronouncement that, after two years of weirdness under Billy Gillispie, Kentucky had returned to prominence in a major way, wasn’t likely to go anywhere for a very long time, and that deep tournament runs with big bad recruits were to be the norm once again. That’s quite a show to follow. Brandon Knight says he’s up for the challenge, and he might be right. Don’t let the 32.5 PPG average as a prep senior in Ft. Lauderdale fool you. Even though Calipari cautions people against comparing last year’s Wildcats to this year’s, since Knight has yet to play a single second of college basketball, something has to be used as a reference point right now. That said, Knight shares Wall’s second-most important attribute as a collegian, which is the ability to provide whatever’s needed. Scoring? Not a problem. Less emphasis on points and more on distribution? Consider it done. Help on the glass? Let’s do it. Defensive leadership? Fine. Another similar aspect is that while Wall was a genius at getting to the rim, taking contact, and finishing, Knight has this gift as well and will gladly take whatever’s waiting on him in terms of body blows, but he’s also likely to pull up at the edge of the lane to shoot his mid-range jumper or slip a pass to an open teammate before defenders know what happened. Finally, as for the most important thing Knight has in common with Wall? That’d be the commitment in the classroom. You might as well just go ahead and fill in the bubbles on Knight’s APR sheets. He arrives from high school riding a 4.3 GPA, which we’ll assume is based on an accelerated/AP scoring system. Unless that 4.3 is based on some screwy 9.0 scale from Florida that we don’t know about, anybody looking for an offseason scandal here is wasting their time.

Brandon Knight Will Take the Reins From Wall at UK

  • Will Barton – Fr, G – Memphis. Considered by many to be the top shooting guard in this year’s freshman class, Will Barton has already taken a rather interesting path on his way to Midnight Madness. First there was concern over whether he would be academically eligible for the coming season, which he ultimately overcame. Then there was his Twitter guarantee that the Tigers were going to win the national title, which upon questioning he defended by simply saying, “What was I suppose [sic] 2 [sic] say?” Now that Memphis appears to have gotten past all of the headaches (hopefully) it is time for Josh Pastner and Tiger fans to enjoy Barton’s many gifts. If they’re expecting another Derrick Rose they are going to be disappointed because Barton’s game is quite different from the one-and-done Tiger star — who technically never played at Memphis according to the NCAA — as Rose was more of a distributor whose athleticism and physical skills made him a legitimate scoring threat, whereas Barton is primarily a scorer who also distributes because of his athleticism and physical skills. Barton also lacks many of the complementary pieces that Rose had around him so don’t expect a repeat of the 2007-08 season for the Tigers, but Barton could lead them further than you would otherwise expect for a team that was weaker than recent Memphis teams even before the departure of Elliot Williams. Although Barton does not have range of some of the premier scorers of recent vintage like J.J. Redick or Stephen Curry, he does possess a solid outside shot, which he combines with a mid-range game that very few players at any level have, and an ability to get to the basket. What could potentially set him apart from  the likes of Redick and Curry is Barton’s ability to rebound and play defense. With that combination of skills and his potential for improvement (he is rail-thin right now, listed at 6’6” and 170 pounds coming out of high school) Barton could be the best player at Memphis since Rose and if he sticks around for a few years his name could be mentioned alongside Keith Lee, Elliot Perry  and Anfernee Hardaway as one of the all-time greats there.

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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Deep South Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 14th, 2010

It’s October.  The leaves are starting to turn colors.  Halloween candy is already in the stores.  There have been a few nights where you may have even turned on the heat.  Midnight Madness is imminent and RTC is full bore into the 2010-11 Season Preview materials headfirst.  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.

Deep South Region (GA, FL, AL, MS, LA)

  • Chris Warren – Sr, G – Ole Miss. Returning from a torn ACL he suffered just 12 games into his sophomore season in 2008-09, Ole Miss’ Chris Warren had some folks concerned after his first game back last season when he played only 27 minutes, scored just nine points, and struggled with a 3-11 shooting night against Arkansas-Little Rock. Six days later, though, he and his fellow Rebels cruised down to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in San Juan, where Warren scored 16, 27 and 24 points, respectively, in wins against Indiana and Kansas State and a loss in the final to Villanova. He averaged just under 32 minutes over those three contests and shot a combined 23-45, and, perhaps more importantly, put to bed any remaining fears about the status of that knee. Warren would go on to start all 35 games last year, average 32.9 MPG (tops on his team) and put up only two other single-digit scoring efforts for the whole season. His 17.2 PPG from last season means he’s the second-leading returning scorer in the SEC, trailing only Georgia’s Trey Thompkins by half of a point. When you hear numbers like this, it’s easy to forget that the guy’s doing all this as a 5’10 point guard, another testament to his toughness. Despite his role at the point, ignoring his outside shot isn’t recommended, either; he finished 14th in the nation with 3.4 threes per game, and led the SEC in three-point shooting in league games at 43.8%. Warren’s achievements earned him an all-SEC second team slot last year and we’re certain to see him on the Bob Cousy Award nominee list (again), and wouldn’t be surprised to see him as a finalist. If Mississippi is to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in nine years, head coach Andy Kennedy will need that kind of final season from his floor leader.

You May Not Yet Know Thompkins, But You Will

  • Trey Thompkins - Jr, F – Georgia. After toiling behind Florida and Kentucky for years in the SEC, Mark Fox has the Bulldogs poised for a resurgence. While many Georgia fans are focused on the recruitment of Kentavious Caldwell and Julian Royal this year, Thompkins along with Travis Leslie (below) could lead the Bulldogs back to the NCAA Tournament. After an exceptional sophomore season where he averaged 17.7 PPG and 8.3 RPG and briefly considered leaving Athens to enter the NBA Draft, Thompkins has a legitimate chance at being a 20/10 player this year, which is something that only Artsiom Parakhouski and Omar Samhan did last year and neither Radford nor St. Mary’s play in the SEC. Most NBA Draft experts already had Thompkins pegged as a borderline first round pick after last season and he should only improve on that as he continues to refine his game. With his combination of a solid outside game to match a developing inside game Thompkins has more than made up for his primary weakness—his relative lack of explosiveness—to become one of the top power forwards in the country. Unfortunately that was hidden from most of the country as the Bulldogs were buried on regional coverage as they managed a meager five SEC wins last season. If Leslie learns to translate some of that athleticism into a more complete overall game and Fox is able to get production out of freshman Marcus Thornton and transfer Gerald Robinson, the Bulldogs could be in the second tier of SEC teams this year just being UF and UK, but still in the spotlight enough that we get to see much more of Thompkins. Although you will probably see more of Leslie on ESPN’s highlight reel-laden recaps on television, if you look at the box score you will end up seeing that it is more likely that Thompkins did the majority of the hard work. Now that Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins have left Kentucky, Thompkins should be the top inside player in the SEC (at least until the NCAA figures out what to do with Enes Kanter) and has a chance to contend for SEC Player of the Year.

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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – South Atlantic Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 11th, 2010

It’s October.  The leaves are starting to turn colors.  Halloween candy is already in the stores.  There have been a few nights where you may have even turned on the heat.  Midnight Madness is imminent and RTC is full bore into the 2010-11 Season Preview materials.  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.

South Atlantic Region (VA, NC, SC)

  • Kyrie Irving – Fr, G – Duke. To get an idea how highly touted Kyrie Irving is, consider this: coming off a season where Duke won the national title and only lost one key playmaker on offense, most people believe that the Blue Devils will run their offense through the talented freshman from New Jersey who many recruiting experts rank among the best to ever come from the state that has produced so many great college players, including Duke legends Bobby Hurley and Jason Williams. His development during his sophomore year of high school when ESPN analysts stated that he “would be a top 300 player nationally in the 2010 class” and then said a few months later “could be an impact player in the Atlantic 10 or a high-major role player” to his senior year when he was a top five recruit (#1 according to some services) and those same recruiting analysts were stating “it will be shocking if he isn’t an all-conference performer and possible all-american his freshman season” portends the potential for his development into a truly special player. Irving is one of the rare players who arrives on campus with the ability to both score and distribute the ball to his teammates. After all the talk about how Coach K had lost his edge in recruiting, Irving might be his most dynamic recruit since Williams arrived in Durham back in 1999. Despite only being on campus for a few months, his Blue Devil teammates have probably already begun to appreciate his high basketball IQ, competitiveness, and all-around ability.  Even though many will question his inclusion on our Impact Player team over his more proven teammate Nolan Smith, Irving has demonstrated a skill set in high school that goes beyond what Smith has demonstrated even with three additional years of experience under the watchful eye of Coach K. If Irving is able to make a smooth transition from the high school game to the college game (and having Singler, Smith, Seth Curry, and the Plumlees around should help), his game could make the Blue Devils heavy favorites to repeat when March arrives. With Irving’s game we don’t think it will be question of if but rather when he feels truly comfortable at the college level, so all the Duke haters should be preparing for a long season ahead.

Kyrie Irving Could be the Best Duke Guard Since J-Will

  • Malcolm Delaney - Sr, G – Virginia Tech. If you’re a Hokies fan and a Twitter fiend, back on May 8th you were probably just a little surprised but very happy that Malcolm Delaney tweeted that he was going to put off NBA riches for a year and return to school for his senior season. Nobody, however, could have been happier than Virginia Tech head coach Seth Greenberg. We shudder to think at the number of blood pressure medications that man must be taking these days, having seemingly been the victim of more last-second heartbreakers and burst NCAA Tournament bubbles (are we allowed to refer to “the bubble” in October?) than any one man should ever be expected to endure, but the return of Delaney to Blacksburg should have lowered Greenberg’s systolic by about 20 points. It probably went back up over the summer, though, after Greenberg lost two of his forwards for the season — specifically presumptive sixth man J.T. Thompson to a left ACL tear and Allan Chaney to viral myocarditis (a condition slightly less than 0.6% of all people in America have) — and has another one in Cadarian Raines recovering from surgery in March to repair a re-fractured left foot. The importance of Delaney, then, and the impact he’ll have in this geographical region become obvious. VT will have to go small, and that means more touches for Malcolm, who we’re guessing will have no problem taking on more responsibility in terms of both scoring and rebounding, and we’re saying this about the top scorer in the ACC last season (20.2 PPG). He played an average of 35.8 MPG last year (4th ACC, 58th nationally) and we wonder if he’ll even sit at all this season. Most importantly, if the Hokies are going to attempt to return to only their second NCAA Tournament in the last 15 years (and what would be Delaney’s first), Greenberg will be counting on emotional and vocal leadership on the floor and in the locker room from Delaney, his RTC South Atlantic Impact Player and ACC Player of the Year candidate.

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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Mid-Atlantic Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 7th, 2010

It’s October.  The leaves are starting to turn colors.  Halloween candy is already in the stores.  There have been a few nights where you may have even turned on the heat.  Midnight Madness is less than two weeks away and RTC is ready to jump into the 2010-11 Season Preview materials headfirst, like a ten-foot stack of those leaves that you just raked into a giant pile.  For the second October in a row, we’re going to bring you our RTC Impact Players series.  The braintrust has gone back and forth on this throughout September 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.

Mid-Atlantic Region (NJ, PA, WV, DE, MD, DC)

  • Austin Freeman – Sr, G – Georgetown. It’s hard to find a glaring weakness in Austin Freeman’s game. In a conference lacking the star power it normally touts, Freeman is the one player without a handful of flaws, concerns and question marks heading into 2010-11, a big reason why we believe he should be the preseason favorite to take home Big East Player of the Year honors next March. It’s obvious Freeman can shoot. Just ask Jim Calhoun about when the DeMatha HS product lit up his Huskies for 33 points on 5-9 from downtown in a comeback victory. Or just ask every coach in the Big East conference because it’s extremely likely Freeman made them pay on at least one occasion last season. The 6’3 junior shot a staggering 44% from three and 53% overall as a shooting guard who attempted 383 field goals last season. He also ranked in the top 100 in both effective FG% and offensive rating. Sure, plenty of the open looks were a result of opposing defenses keying on departed Hoya big man Greg Monroe, but GU still has enough playmakers on this year’s roster — Chris Wright, Jason Clark and Hollis Thompson to name a few — to free up shots for Freeman. While he may not be the most explosive athlete on the planet, Freeman makes up for that weakness with tremendous strength, especially fighting around screens and utilizing his quick release from deep. He also stays on John Thompson’s good side by limiting turnovers to around two per game. Off the court, Freeman has now had an entire summer to adjust to the news he received in February that he was diabetic. Reaching the charity stripe at a higher frequency should also be a point of emphasis for Freeman to improve on this season. In the Big East championship game loss to West Virginia and the embarrassing defeat at the hands of Ohio in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Freeman did not attempt a single free throw. In fact, he didn’t even shoot 100 FTs all season. Maintaining his efficient shooting totals and increasing the chances for free points is a combination that should combined to produce the most complete player in the Big East.

Freeman Will Keep Georgetown Near the Top of the Big East

  • Talor Battle – Sr, G – Penn State. Talor Battle dabbled with the thought of entering the NBA Draft last spring, and who could blame the electrifying guard from central Pennsylvania?  After a tremendous sophomore season where his team went 27-11 and won the NIT title, he lost talented teammates Stanley Pringle and Jamelle Cornley to graduation, resulting in a severe free fall back to the bottom of the Big Ten (11-20, 3-15).  Still, Battle persevered through the mounting number of losses by playing heavy minutes (37.0 MPG) and continuing his march toward the very top of the Penn State basketball record books. Despite his diminutive 5’11, 160-lb frame, the two-time all-Big Ten guard (1st team in 2009; 2d team in 2010) who can do a little bit of everything is on pace to become Penn State’s all-time leading scorer and the best rebounding guard in the history of the program.  His season averages of 18.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG and 4.2 APG in 2009-10 were matched by only one other player in all of D1 basketball (NPOY Evan Turner) and he was also the only player among the 73 BCS programs who led his team in total points, rebounds, assists and steals.  Individual statistics are nice, but Battle would rather see more wins this season and there are some encouraging signs that his decision to return may be a good one.  Seven of PSU’s fifteen Big Ten losses last season were by six points or less, and the Nittany Lions were 3-3 in their last six regular season games with close losses to league leaders Purdue and Michigan State.  With all five starters returning for Ed DeChellis’ team, the hope for Battle is that some of those close games will break the other way with his senior leadership and shot-making abilities making the difference at the end.  It’s unlikely that PSU has an NCAA Tournament appearance in its immediate future (its last was a decade ago), especially in the brutal Big Ten, but an overall winning record and another trip to the NIT is a reasonable goal for Battle and friends to aspire toward.

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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Northeast Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 4th, 2010

It’s October.  The leaves are starting to turn colors.  Halloween candy is already in the stores.  There have been a few nights where you may have even turned on the heat.  Midnight Madness is less than two weeks away and RTC is ready to jump into the 2010-11 Season Preview materials headfirst, like a ten-foot stack of those leaves that you just raked into a giant pile.  For the second October in a row, we’re going to bring you our RTC Impact Players series.  The braintrust has gone back and forth on this throughout September 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.  We begin in the top right corner of the country also known as the Northeast.

Northeast Region (ME, NH, VT, MA, RI, CT, NY)


  • Kemba Walker – Jr, G – Connecticut. Kemba Walker is a two-time RTC Impact Player, as he was slotted in this position prior to his sophomore campaign last season.  Many, ourselves included, expected the exceptionally quick point guard to have a breakout 2009-10 season that would result in the NBA Draft come June, but like the entire UConn program last season, things didn’t work out exactly as planned.    He’s your classic Boogie Down point guard in that he carries himself with a swagger borne on the playgrounds of New York City, he looks to attack the goal first and foremost off the bounce, and he often exhibits problems subjugating his own scoring in favor of keeping everyone else involved.  Still, there’s no denying the pure talent Walker possesses – he’s virtually unguardable in the open court with the ball in his hand, and his scoring (14.6 PPG), passing (4.9 APG), defense (2.1 SPG) and outside shooting (34% 3FG, up 7%) have all improved.  One problem area was that he was a turnover machine in the first half of last season (totaling 69 miscues through January 23), but after that the light appeared to click on and he cleaned up his handle the rest of the way with nine games of two TOs or fewer.  Even if he’s learned the value of possession, though, there are still areas of concern.  As the lead guard taking over for AJ Price last season, he presided over the tumultuous team chemistry of a proud program that suffered one of its worst seasons in Jim Calhoun’s tenure at UConn.  Also troubling was that his renowned ability to get to the rim and finish at a high rate fell off considerably (52% as a freshman; 43% last year), suggestive of  greater defensive focus placed on him and a tendency to over-penetrate.  NBA draftniks still like Walker as a late first-rounder when he decides to come out, so if he can finally make the expected leap from a very good collegiate point guard to a great one, expect to see him standing tall with David Stern on the stage at MSG next June (he is also on track to graduate in May 2011).

Walker Has a Heavy Load to Carry This Season

  • Charles Jenkins, Sr, G – Hofstra. For the Hofstra Pride, it begins and ends with Jenkins. After getting over some early season injuries last season, Jenkins took over and led his team in scoring in 16 of its last 18 games. He was the only player on the team to average double figures last season (20.6 PPG), and was clearly their go-to player in almost every situation. As a result, he’s earned plenty of accolades, bringing home last season’s CAA Player of the Year award as well as taking home his second straight Haggerty Award (presented to the best player in the New York Metropolitan area) and earning an Associated Press All-American honorable mention. He’s on track to wrap up his career on Long Island as the school’s all-time leading scorer, but he is also currently eighth on the school’s all-time assist list as well, a testament to just how much he does for this team. For a Pride squad that only returns three players that averaged more than two points per game last season (senior center Greg Washington and senior swing Nathaniel Lester are the other two), Jenkins will need to pick right back up where he left off last season when he scored 20 or more in the last nine games. Jenkins will play a ton of minutes (he played 39 or more minutes 18 times last season), take a bunch of shots (only once against a D1 opponent last season did he fail to take more than ten field goal attempts), and he’ll score plenty of points in a variety of ways. While he is an excellent three-point shooter (hitting 41% from deep last year – a nice improvement from his first two seasons), Jenkins is at his best when he puts the ball on the floor and gets into the lane, scoring with a variety of moves, creating easy looks for teammates or, ideally, drawing fouls and getting to the line where he excels as an 80-plus percent shooter. Jenkins has shown an ability over his career to play heavy minutes and carry the load of expectations without wearing down, and he’ll need to do it all one more time for the Pride to compete with teams like Old Dominion, Virginia Commonwealth and George Mason for a CAA title and Jenkins’ first NCAA Tournament bid in an otherwise outstanding college career.

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