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.