With Offseason Turmoil, I Just Can’t Trust WKU

By Kevin Sweeney

March 28, 2016. Also known as the day Rick Stansbury was hired as the head coach of Western Kentucky.

Since that day, WKU has been the most interesting team in college basketball. There have been huge recruiting victories both on the prep and transfer markets. Stansbury has basically flipped his entire roster, with just 1 scholarship player returning who played on last season’s team (Justin Johnson). That type of turnover is something we expect from WKU’s neigbors to the northeast in Lexington, but at the mid-major level, it is unheard of.

For most of the spring and early summer, I was fully on the Hilltopper bandwagon. I figured the mass influx of high-major talent, whether it be grad transfers Darius Thompson & Dwight Coleby, Buffalo transfer Lamonte Bearden, JUCO star Jordan Brangers, and prep superstars Mitchell Robinson (5-star) & Josh Anderson (4-star), would be enough to outweigh the inexperience.

Then, things started happening, and it made me more and more concerned.

First, it was the Robinson situation, and what a wild one it was. Following assistant coach (and Robinson’s godfather) Shammond Williams’ departure from Bowling Green under apparently unceremonious terms, things began to come apart. Reports were that Robinson was seriously considering other options than WKU. However, the 5-star center arrived to campus for summer workouts, and all seemed well.

That is, until he packed his bags and returned home without telling anyone. Shortly therafter, he received his release to transfer. After visiting New Orleans, Kansas, and LSU, a Yahoo report stated that Robinson was likely to skip college altogether and stay home to prep for the 2018 NBA Draft. A few days later, rumblings about a potential return to Western Kentucky grew louder, and he confirmed with 2am Snapchat yesterday that he was in fact back at WKU  for the beginning of classes. Things were finally going according to plan, right? Right?

Nope. The Soap Opera that has transfixed the college basketball world continued with a stunner just a few hours later, when it was announced that the highly-touted Brangers had left campus and would not play for the Hilltoppers after all. Sources have told me that his departure stems from eligibility issues.

So, as I sat in my house last night pondering how we got here, one thing became incredibly clear to me: I just can’t trust Western Kentucky.

Putting together an entire roster of talented newcomers and expecting it to live up to expectations is difficult as it is. The only program in America that has proven it can do this on a yearly basis is Kentucky under John Calipari.

Calipari has found the formula of taking 4 & 5-star talent and putting it together quickly enough to be a national title contender year in and year out. The key seems to be managing the egos of 10-12 guys, all of whom have been the star of the show for their entire careers. He’s found a way to (for the most part) get kids to buy in to running offense, defending, and sacrificing stats for the good of the team.

At this point, I have a hard time seeing that happening in Bowling Green this season. First off, a summer that was so vital in molding team chemistry was nothing short of a disaster, with the Robinson situation hanging over their heads throughout and the Brangers shoe dropping just when everything seemed steady. Second, it just feels like there are too many egos on this team to manage. Robinson has come off from afar as a bit of a prima donna throughout this saga, and it seems hard to envision him accepting a supporting cast role if he isn’t the immediate star some expect.

Can Stansbury fix this problem? Perhaps. Maybe he can get all of these personalities to mesh and the Hilltoppers can have the season many expected. Maybe it takes all year, but when it comes to the one-and-done nature of March basketball, things finally come together in a way reminiscient to the Kentucky team that went to the national title game as an 8 seed in 2014.

If it is going to happen, it will have to come from the seniors on this team in Coleby, Thompson, and Johnson as leaders, sacrificing stats to make sure the team comes together correctly. Perhaps a veteran big like Coleby who has played under Bill Self at Kansas can be the good influence Robinson needs this season. Perhaps Thompson & Bearden, a pair of guards who have helped teams to NCAA bids, can distribute and be leaders on the floor.

For now though, I have little to no reason to believe anything will go according to plan for Western Kentucky this season.

It certainly hasn’t so far.

 

Top Ten Mid-Major Players at Each Position: Center

By Kevin Sweeney

Well, we’ve reached the final day of my mid-major top 10 positional rankings. Before we get into the centers, I’d like to thank you all for checking out these rankings throughout the week. The support has truly been amazing! In case you missed them, here are links to the previous 4 rankings from earlier this week:

Now, as we get into the center position, it’s important to note that many of these guys aren’t necessarily true “centers”. Many centers at the mid-major level would play the 4 or even the 3 in some cases at the high-major level, as some are undersized or play the 5 as a result of small-ball lineups. Let’s get into the rankings:

#1. Jock Landale (St. Mary’s)

  • Vitals: Senior, 6-11, 255 pounds
  • Stats: 16.9 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 1.2 bpg, 61.1% FG%

This was a pretty easy choice at number 1. Landale is one of the top 20 players in college basketball as a whole, not just the mid-major level. He’s an absolute technician in the post and is an extremely efficient finisher around the rim. Pretty much the only way to stop Landale is to deny him the basketball, as once he catches the ball in the post, he’s nearly unstoppable.

#2. Jordan Caroline (Nevada)

  • Vitals: Redshirt Junior, 6-7, 235 pounds
  • Stats: 15.9 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 0.3 bpg, 46.3% FG%

Caroline isn’t really a center. Nor is he just a power forward, or even a small forward. He’s a basketball player, and an outstanding one at that. His combination of size, strength, quickness, and shooting ability makes him the absolute perfect fit for Eric Musselman’s free-flowing offensive system, one that emphasizes positionless basketball and versatility. Some games, we’ll see Caroline trotted out as the center, other times he’ll see time at either forward spot and maybe even some shooting guard. Regardless of where he plays, defenses certainly won’t be looking forward to seeing him.

#3. Rashaan Holloway (UMass)

  • Vitals: Junior, 6-11, 311 pounds
  • Stats: 10.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 62.3% FG%

To say Holloway is a post “presence” is an understatement. He’s absolutely massive at 6-11 and at last update, over 300 pounds, and is also absolutely unstoppable when on the floor. He posted the numbers above in just 19 minutes per contest. Holloway is the cornerstone of the rebuild at UMass, and needs to be on the floor as much as possible this season if the Minutemen are going to find success in year 1 of the Matt McCall era.

#4. Nana Foulland (Bucknell)

  • Vitals: Senior, 6-9, 230 pounds
  • Stats: 15.0 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.1 bpg, 63% FG%

I got a question during my Periscope chat on Wednesday night wondering why Foulland doesn’t get national attention. My answer: I have no idea. So, let’s give him some national attention right now. Foulland is a 4-year starter at center who does everything you could ask of a mid-major center. He’s a prolific post scorer who has one of the better jump hooks in college basketball, while also being an excellent rim protector. I have a feeling Foulland will have a chance to showcase his talents in the NCAA Tournament this season, as the Bison are prohibitive favorites in the Patriot League this season.

#5. Tai Odiase (UIC)

  • Vitals: Senior, 6-9, 220 pounds
  • Stats: 11.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 2.8 bpg, 57.7% FG%

Odiase is an elite defensive player whose offensive skillset has improved each season of his college career. A standout at the recent Adidas Nations event earlier this month, Odiase enters his senior campaign as an under-the-radar potential NBA prospect. For now though, he joins Dikembe Dixson and Tarkus Ferguson in a scary 3-headed monster in Chicago for Steve McClain, who hopes to have his Flames contending for a Horizon League title this season.

#6. Justin Tillman (VCU)

  • Vitals: Senior, 6-7, 220 pounds
  • Stats: 12.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 0.5 bpg, 59.2% FG%

Another guy who isn’t your traditional center, Tillman is deployed at the 5 for VCU and is incredibly effective in that role. He can jump out of the gym (can touch 2.5 feet above the rim) and brings energy to the table beyond his strong offensive game. Tillman really came on as the season went along last season, and Rams fans have told me time and time again how excited they are to see his senior season as he brings in the Mike Rhoades era in Richmond.

#7. William Lee (UAB)

  • Vitals: Senior, 6-9, 215 pounds
  • Stats: 13.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.4 bpg, 49.2% FG%

Classifying Lee is interesting, as offensively he plays more as a stretch 4 while frontcourt mate Chris Cokley does his work inside, while on defense Lee plays more as a center, protecting the rim. So, I decided I’d call him a center. Lee first burst onto the scene in the 2015 NCAA Tournament, when he helped the Blazers upset Iowa State. Now, he enters his senior season as one of the best defensive players in the country and a potential NBA prospect. He’s a big reason the Blazers are my early pick to win the C-USA.

#8. Devontae Cacok (UNCW)

  • Vitals: Junior, 6-7, 240 pounds
  • Stats: 12.3 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 80% FG%

No, that field goal percentage number isn’t a typo. Cacok led the country in field goal percentage last season at 80%, and was a force in the post for a team that went to the NCAA Tournament. Now, the question becomes how Cacok responds to being the focal point of the offense in a new system, as guards CJ Bryce and Chris Flemmings depart along with head coach Kevin Keatts.

#9. James Thompson IV (Eastern Michigan)

  • Vitals: Junior, 6-10, 240 pounds
  • Stats: 14.8 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 0.9 bpg, 57.4% FG%

If you were to envision an ideal center for the mid-major level, it would probably look something like Thompson. He stands an imposing 6-10 and has, in just 2 seasons, established himself as an elite rebounder and interior scorer, as well as one of the top players in the MAC. With a trio of talented guards graduating, Thompson will now be looked to as the top option offensively, and his numbers could explode as a result.

#10. Bryce Washington (Louisiana-Lafayette)

  • Vitals: Senior, 6-6, 245 pounds
  • Stats: 13.5 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 0.8 bpg, 60.3% FG%

He may stand just 6-6, but there is nothing small about Bryce Washington. He uses his strength to score in the post at will and dominate the glass on both ends of the floor. Last season, he had 10 games with 13 or more rebounds, including one game against Louisiana-Monroe in which he corralled 21 boards.

Just Missed the Cut:

  • Brandon McCoy (UNLV)
  • Rokas Gustys (Hofstra)
  • Daniel Amigo (Denver)
  • Albert Owens (Oral Roberts)
  • Aaron Menzies (Seattle)
  • Brandon Gilbeck (Western Illinois)
  • Wyatt Walker (Samford)
  • Trey Moses (Ball State)
  • Reginald Johnson (Alcorn State)

Top 10 Mid-Major Players at Each Position: Power Forward

By Kevin Sweeney

Whenever you do a rankings list like this, you always find yourself surprised by some of the things you find out doing some deep digging. The biggest takeaway from my doing these rankings has been the incredible star power at the power forward position in mid-major basketball. I had an incredibly difficult time cutting this list to just 10, but I think I’ve found the ten best power forwards at the mid-major level.

As always, let me know your thoughts on my rankings by commenting below or shooting me a tweet. Also, be sure to check out the rest of my positional rankings: point guards from Monday, shooting guards from Tuesday, and small forwards from Wednesday.

#1. Mike Daum (South Dakota State)

  • Vitals: Redshirt Junior, 6-9, 245 pounds
  • Stats: 25.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.4 apg, 41.8% 3-pt FG%

Daum is one of the great stories in college basketball. In just 3 years, he’s went from redshirting his freshman year to being one of the top players in the country. Daum’s combination of physicality in the post and shooting ability makes him absolutely unstoppable, especially at the mid-major level. He almost single-handedly carried the Jackrabbits to the NCAA Tournament last season, and he makes them one of the favorites in the Summit League this year.

#2. Peyton Aldridge (Davidson)

  • Vitals: Senior, 6-8, 225 pounds
  • Stats: 20.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 2.2 apg, 40.9% 3-pt FG%

The scariest part of the massive numbers Aldridge put up last season is that he wasn’t even the first option offensively. Now, with superstar point guard Jack Gibbs having graduated, it is now fully Aldridge’s team. He’s a prolific 3-point shooter who also can hurt you playing out of the post or mid-range, and La Salle Head Coach Dr. John Giannini even called him “the Larry Bird of the Atlantic 10”.

#3. Alize Johnson (Missouri State)

  • Vitals: Senior, 6-9, 203 pounds
  • Stats: 14.8 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 1.9 apg, 38.8% 3-pt FG%

A year ago, Johnson had never played a minute of D1 basketball. Now, he is far and away the favorite for Missouri Valley Player of the Year and on NBA radars. The JUCO product Johnson has incredible athleticism and a diverse offensive skillset that makes him an incredibly intriguing “combo forward” prospect at the NBA level. He recently was a standout at the Adidas Nations event. For now though, he’s tasked with bringing Missouri State to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999.

#4. Johnathan Williams (Gonzaga)

  • Vitals: Redshirt senior, 6-9, 228 pounds
  • Stats: 10.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 0.8 apg, 40% 3-pt FG%

Yes, I am calling Gonzaga a mid-major for the purposes of this list. Let the hate commence.

In all seriousness though, Williams’ impact on the game can’t be measured by his per-game stats. Playing on a national title contender last year, Williams took a back seat offensively but was still an efficient scorer while making a huge impact on the defensive end. His outstanding athleticism allows him to defend multiple positions and rebound the ball extremely well. And with much of the offensive production from last season’s team departing, I expect an uptick in Williams’ scoring output as well.

#5. BJ Johnson (La Salle)

  • Vitals: Redshirt senior, 6-7, 200 pounds
  • Stats: 17.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.0 apg, 36.2% 3-pt FG%

In his first season of eligibility with the Explorers after transferring from Syracuse, Johnson had a monster year. He was immediately one of the top players in the A10, and even weighed departing for the NBA before electing to return for his senior season. He’s a bit undersized for the power forward spot, but uses his quickness and explosive skillset to dominate the game offensively.

#6. Bogdan Bliznyuk (Eastern Washington)

  • Vitals: Senior, 6-6, 215 pounds
  • Stats: 20.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 4.0 apg, 31.7% 3-pt FG%

A native of the Ukraine, Bliznyuk is one of the most under-the-radar stars in mid-major basketball. He’s a skilled passer for his position and a scoring force as well, referenced by the 7 games this past season in which he scored more 30 points or more. Bliznyuk is on pace (save injury) to break EWU records in both all-time scoring (375 points away) and games played (25 games away).

#7. Kevin Hervey (UT-Arlington)

  • Vitals: Senior, 6-9, 230 pounds
  • Stats: 17.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 2.1 apg, 34.2% 3-pt FG%

The reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year, there are very few personal accolades left for Hervey to achieve in college basketball. The talented forward can hurt you in so many ways on the offensive end, and the scariest part is he was just 1 year removed from an ACL tear as he put up monster numbers last season. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we start seeing increased buzz about Hervey as an NBA prospect.

#8. Chima Moneke (UC Davis)

  • Vitals: Redshirt senior, 6-6, 223 pounds
  • Stats: 14.6 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 0.8 apg

Moneke doesn’t exactly fit the mold of the other players on this list. He’s a true interior presence who didn’t even attempt a single 3-point shot last season. However, he is extremely effective in the low post and mid-range, while also making an impact defensively with his rim protection and athleticism. He’s the clear favorite for Big West Player of the Year, and is the biggest reason why I expect UC Davis to stay at the top of the conference.

#9. Xavier Cooks (Winthrop)

  • Vitals: Senior, 6-8, 185 pounds
  • Stats: 16.5 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 2.8 apg, 34.9% 3-pt FG%

Cooks is a bit of a unicorn in college basketball, if you will. Thanks to a late growth spurt, Cooks is a 6-8 forward who truly has “guard skills”. He’s lethal in the pick-and-pop, can take slower defenders off the bounce, and effects shots with his long arms. With Keon Johnson graduating, Cooks is now the star for Winthrop, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he was a 20 & 10 guy in his senior campaign.

#10. Anthony Lamb (Vermont)

  • Vitals: Sophomore, 6-6, 227 pounds
  • Stats: 12.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 0.7 apg, 41.3% 3-pt FG%

I could have went a ton of different ways for the final spot on this list, but I went with the talented sophomore Lamb. After being one of the top freshmen at the mid-major level in the country, he now returns for his sophomore season for a Vermont club that is the favorite in the America East. His per-game stats aren’t incredible, but when you look past those to per-40 numbers and efficiency statistics, his work last season was incredible. And if the Catamounts’ NCAA Tournament game vs Purdue and Caleb Swanigan is any indication, Lamb, who posted 20 points and 9 rebounds in that game, is on his way to a monster sophomore campaign.

Just Missed the Cut

  • Zach Thomas (Bucknell)
  • Jermaine Crumpton (Canisius)
  • Aundre Jackson (Loyola-Chicago)
  • Jalen Hayes (Oakland)
  • Drew McDonald (Northern Kentucky)
  • Nick Mayo (EKU)
  • Evan Boudreaux (Dartmouth)
  • Jordon Varnado (Troy)
  • Tanner Leissner (New Hamsphire)
  • Terrell Miller (Murray State)
  • Justin Johnson (Western Kentucky)
  • Jarrell Brantley (College of Charleston)
  • Zane Waterman (Manhattan)
  • Eli Chuha (New Mexico State)

Top Ten Mid-Major Players at Each Position: Small Forward

By Kevin Sweeney

It’s hump day, and we have reached the halfway point of our mid-major positional rankings. Today, we’ll look at the small forward position, one that is loaded with talent at the mid-major level. The difficult thing in ranking these guys is labeling the small forwards when many spend significant time at multiple positions, whether it be guys on the small side who also see action at shooting guard or “big wings” who are also deployed as small-ball 4’s.

As always, thanks for checking out the rankings, and I’d love to know your thoughts! Be sure to comment below or tweet at me (handle is @CBB_Central). Also, check out the first two installments of our rankings series, I ranked the point guards on Monday and shooting guards on Tuesday.

#1. Chandler Hutchison (Boise State)

Stats: 17.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.6 apg, 37.7% 3-pt FG%

A former highly-touted recruit, Hutchison struggled to live up to the considerable hype in his first two seasons in Boise. However, he finally put it together last year in a standout junior campaign en route to First Team All-MWC honors. His mixture of size, strength, and shooting ability makes him a matchup nightmare in the Mountain West, and he enters his senior campaign as a favorite for conference POY honors.

#2. De’Monte Buckingham (Richmond)

Stats: 10.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.3 apg, 35.7% 3-pt FG%

For the record, I’m totally on the Buckingham Bandwagon. Turn on a Richmond game, and the rising sophomore will immediately pop off the screen with his nose for the basketball and energy. Combine that with a fast-developing offensive skillset that will allow him to blossom into a full-blown star, and Buckingham is on the fast track to stardom in the Atlantic 10.

#3. Caleb Martin (Nevada)

Stats (2015-16 at NC State): 11.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.4 apg, 36.1% 3-pt FG%

Eric Musselman has dominated the transfer market since arriving in Reno, and Caleb Martin might be the best piece he’s landed yet. A versatile wing scorer who put up strong numbers in his sophomore campaign under Mark Gottfried at NC State, Martin should thrive in Musselman’s up-tempo, free-flowing offensive system.

#4. Myles Stephens (Princeton)

Stats: 12.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.1 apg, 39.5% 3-pt FG%

Stephens’ numbers on paper don’t necessarily demonstrate just how good a player he is. He really came into his own as the season went on last season and was arguably the best player in Ivy League play in the entire conference. He’s a great shooter, good perimeter defender, and is more than capable of getting to the rim. I expect a huge year from Stephens, which is why he’s higher on this list than most might expect.

#5. Justin James (Wyoming)

Stats: 16.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.2 apg, 41.9% 3-pt FG%

James blossomed into a star last season, putting up huge numbers en route to the Cowboys winning a CBI Championship. The long wing is such a versatile piece in this day and age, one who can play 3 positions offensively defend 4 different positions. He’s an efficient scorer who is on track to be a First Team All-MWC performer in his junior campaign.

#6. Calvin Hermanson (St. Mary’s)

Stats: 13.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 0.9 apg, 43.1% 3-pt FG%

Hermanson is one of (if not the best) pure shooters in the college game today. He connected on over 43% of his 3-point attempts and had a effective field goal percentage (weights 2 and 3-point shots differently) of 63.4%, both incredibly good marks. Hermanson is also an incredibly smart player who knows his role in Randy Bennett’s system, and is a key cog on what I expect to be a top-20 team this season in Moraga.

#7. Dikembe Dixson (UIC)

Stats: 20.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, 36.7% 3-pt FG%

Before tearing his ACL in a victory over DePaul last season, Dixson was well on his way to a special sophomore campaign. He’s an incredible talent at the mid-major level, a do-it-all wing who can absolutely fill it up. The big question that looms is his health, but should he come back strong from that ACL injury, he has a chance to be MUCH higher on this list when the season comes to a close.

#8. Jacobi Boykins (Louisiana Tech)

Stats: 14.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.2 apg, 40.8% 3-pt FG%

Boykins wasn’t the star of last season’s LA Tech team, but he still put up strong offensive numbers and made a ton of plays defensively. Now, with Erik McCree graduating, this is fully Boykins’ team, and I expect him to thrive with an increased scoring load offensively. He’s improved his game every season of his collegiate career, and his senior campaign should be a big one.

#9. Ahmad Thomas (UNC-Asheville)

Stats: 18.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.3 apg, 45.7% 3-pt FG%

Thomas is one of my favorite players to watch in college basketball. He plays with such incredible energy and toughness, and is an elite perimeter defender. Not only that, but he has improved his offensive repertoire drastically as well to make him one of the top wings in the Big South and across the country. His improvement from the 3-pt arc a season ago was incredibly impressive and speaks to just how hard a worker Thomas is.

#10. Matt Scott (Niagara)

Stats: 17.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 3.0 apg, 37.6% 3-pt FG%

I remember watching Scott for the first time in-person at a Siena vs Niagara game in the 2014-15 season. If you had told me then he’d be on this list in a few years, I would have told you that you were crazy. Scott had some skill but was rail-thin and playing for a Purple Eagles team that simply wasn’t any good.

Now, Scott enters his senior year as one of the best players in the MAAC and one of the most underrated players in college basketball. He can truly do it all on the floor, whether it be score, rebound, defend, or distribute. Perhaps more importantly, he’s led the Purple Eagles program from the ground into a team that most are projecting for a top 5 finish in the MAAC this season.

Just Missed the Cut:

  • Yuta Watanabe (George Washington)
  • James Demery (St. Joe’s)
  • Ryan Daly (Delaware)
  • Martez Walker (Oakland)
  • Miye Oni (Yale)
  • Tiwian Kendley (Morgan State)
  • Keith Braxton (St. Francis PA)
  • Demetrius Denzel-Dyson (Samford)
  • Paul Miller (North Dakota State)

Top Ten Mid-Major Players at Each Position: Shooting Guard

By Kevin Sweeney

Yesterday, I began my preseason mid-major positional rankings with the point guards. As I wrote yesterday, I believe that ranking players by position is the most accurate way of ranking players. As always, be sure to comment below or tweet me your thoughts (handle is @CBB_Central) on these rankings!

#1. Kendrick Nunn (Oakland)

Stats (2015-16 at Illinois): 15.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.7 apg, 39.1% 3-pt FG%

Nunn is the type of talent that rarely, if ever, lands at the mid-major level. A proven dynamic scorer in his 3 years at Illinois, off-the-court issues led to his eventual dismissal from the Illinois program, and he resurfaces this year at Oakland for his final year of eligibility. Nunn should absolutely dominate the Horizon League in his only season, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he winds up with his name on NBA Draft boards after his senior campaign.

#2. EC Matthews (Rhode Island)

Stats: 14.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.5 apg, 33.7% 3-pt FG%

After missing the 2015-16 season due to a torn ACL suffered in the season opener, Matthews returned to action for the 2016-17 season. Overall, he lacked a bit of consistency and explosiveness coming off the injury, but seemed to come into his own as the season wore on. I expect his late-season form to continue into his senior campaign as he tries to lead the A10 favorite Rams to the NCAA Tournament for a second consecutive season.

#3. Shavar Newkirk (St. Joseph’s)

Stats: 20.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.5 apg, 39.6% 3-pt FG%

If not for concerns about his health, I’d probably have Newkirk at #1 on this list. In the 12 games he played in before tearing his ACL in December, Newkirk was nothing short of extraordinary, as you can see from the numbers above. As of late July, Newkirk had resumed some basketball workouts but had yet to be cleared for full basketball activities. If he returns to form, he is nothing short of an unstoppable offensive force. However, as we saw last year with Matthews, he may not be fully himself for much of this season.

#4. Giddy Potts (Middle Tennessee State)

Stats: 15.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.0 apg, 38.4% 3-pt FG%

Potts, who burst onto the national scene in March of 2016 when he helped lead the Blue Raiders to a stunning upset victory over Michigan State, is one of the elite shooting guards in mid-major basketball. He’s a lights-out shooter who actually shot over 50% from 3 in his sophomore season (2015-16), and has improved his all-around scoring ability every season of his career. With a pair of stars in Jacorey Williams and Reggie Upshaw graduating, it is now definitely Potts’ team, as he looks to bring the Blue Raiders to their 3rd straight NCAA Tournament in his senior campaign.

#5. Tyler Hall (Montana State)

Stats: 23.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.8 apg, 42.9% 3-pt FG%

What’s so remarkable about the numbers Hall put up last season is how efficient he was. To shoot 48% from the field and 43% from downtown despite receiving all the attention from opposing defenses is incredible. Hall has already blown past 1,000 career points for his career and could hit 2,000 at some point this season, further etching himself into the record books at Montana State.

For more on Hall’s story, check out this piece by Ellie Lieberman of SB Nation from last week.

#6. Matt Mobley (St. Bonaventure)

Stats: 18.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.6 apg, 37.9% 3-pt FG%

Often overshadowed by his backcourt mate Jaylen Adams, who came in at #1 in my mid-major PG rankings, Mobley is a terrific player in his own right. Not only did he lead the country in minutes per game last season at over 38 per game, he’s also a terrific scorer capable of creating off the bounce and connecting from outside. He may not get the headlines that Adams gets, but Mobley shouldn’t be forgotten as one of the top guards in mid-major basketball.

#7. Cameron Morse (Youngstown State)

Stats: 22.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.1 apg, 31.9% 3-pt FG%

Morse is fourth among all returning players in scoring average from a season ago, and those prolific numbers could go up even more in his senior campaign with a new coach in Jerrod Calhoun.

“Coming into my last year, I’m really excited,” Morse said in a piece published on thejambar.com. “He wants to play an up-tempo style. He sold me when he said that we were going to average 85 points a game. Scoring is what I do, so I’m feeling confident in him.”

Morse needs to regain his 2015-16 3-point shooting form (41% from downtown), but if he does, the sky is the limit for him this season.

#8. Victor Sanders (Idaho)

Stats: 20.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.3 apg, 43.9% 3-pt FG%

Sanders is one of the best pure shooters in the college game. A season ago, he connected on almost 44% of his outside shots despite drawing tons of attention from opposing defenses. He has prototypical size for the position at 6-5, and he’s improved every year of his career in his ability to break his man off the bounce and score at the rim. One of the stars who simply doesn’t get enough attention in college basketball, Sanders & the Vandals should be a top contender in the Big Sky this season.

#9. Ehab Amin (Texas A&M-Corpus Christi)

Stats: 16.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.9 apg, 28.9% 3-pt FG%

While Amin put up excellent offensive numbers, it’s his defense that was the deciding factor in him cracking this list. He led the nation in steals per game at 3.4 per contest, and was the defensive catalyst for a team that won 24 games last season. He’s a bulldog of a guard who isn’t afraid of contact, and is more than willing to go into traffic to rebound the ball. The best way to sum up Amin is that he’s a winning player who every coach would want on their roster.

#10. Joshua Braun (Grand Canyon)

Grand Canyon’s immediate success in their transition to Division 1 has been one of the great stories in college basketball of the past few years, and Braun is a huge reason why the Lopes are where they are today. Braun played second fiddle this past season to superstar PG DeWayne Russell, but it will be his team this year. Look for a WAC Player of the Year-type senior campaign for Braun has he hopes to bring GCU to the NCAA Tournament.

Just Missed the Cut

  • Jairus Lyles (UMBC)
  • Garrison Matthews (Lipscomb)
  • MaCio Teague (UNC-Asheville)
  • Gabe Vincent (UCSB)
  • Justin Wright-Foreman (Hofstra)
  • Omega Harris (UTEP)
  • Jordan Brangers (Western Kentucky)
  • Tyler Nelson (Fairfield)
  • Jaylin Walker (Kent State)
  • Brenton Scott (Indiana State)
  • Prentiss Nixon (Colorado State)
  • Darian Anderson (Fairleigh Dickinson)
  • Devin Sibley (Furman)
  • Ria’n Holland (Mercer)
  • Matt Mooney (South Dakota)
  • Joe Rosga (Denver)
  • Ike Smith (Georgia Southern)
  • Sidy Ndir (NMSU)
  • Josh Perkins (Gonzaga)

Top Ten Mid-Major Players at Each Position: Point Guard

By Kevin Sweeney

One thing I have learned this offseason is that ranking college basketball players is extremely hard to do. Many have given valiant efforts at their top 100 players in college basketball, but between the variances in conference, experience, and perhaps most importantly, position, it’s nearly impossible to make a list that is reasonable. Rather, in my opinion it is best to rank players by position, as it allows for the clearest and most direct comparisons between players.

So, this week I will be releasing my top 10 mid-major players at each position. Monday will be point guards, Tuesday will be shooting guards, Wednesday will be small forwards, Thursday will be power forwards, and Friday will be centers. Feel free to tweet at me (handle is @CBB_Central) or comment below to give me your thoughts on my rankings!

#1. Jaylen Adams (St. Bonaventure)

Stats: 20.6 ppg, 6.5 apg, 35.6% 3-pt FG%

You could make a case for Adams as one of the top point guards in the entire country, let alone the mid-major level. The only player in the country to average at least 20 points and 6 assists per game last season, Adams is an elite playmaker who can score at will and also create for others proficiently. After exploring the NBA Draft process this spring, Adams elected to return to Olean for his senior campaign, a move that certainly makes the Bonnies an Atlantic 10 title contender.

#2. Jonathan Stark (Murray State)

Stats: 21.9 ppg, 5.2 apg, 42.5% 3-pt FG%

Murray State is my early pick to win the Ohio Valley Conference, and Stark is a huge reason why. In his first season with the Racers after 2 years at Tulane, Stark was nothing short of extraordinary, posting outstanding numbers. He’s capable of taking over games with his scoring ability, but he is also an excellent distributor who is more than willing to get his teammates involved.

 

#3 Brandon Goodwin (Florida Gulf Coast)

Stats: 18.5 ppg, 4.1 apg, 35.3% 3-pt FG%

The point guard position is, in my opinion, the most important position in college basketball. They contribute to winning more than any other player on the floor. And few floor generals contribute more to winning than Goodwin. He contributed 6.3 win shares last season for FGCU, the most of any returning mid-major point guard in the country. He was also exceedingly efficient, posting a player efficiency rating of 26.7 that was among the best in the Atlantic Sun this past season.

#4. Devin Watson (San Diego State)

Stats (from 2015-16 at San Francisco): 20.3 ppg, 4.9 apg, 34.9% 3-pt FG%

One of 2 transfers who will be in their first season playing with their new team to crack this list, Watson is one of the players I’m most looking forward to watching this season. He adds an entirely new element to a SDSU offense that was ugly at times last season. His elite scoring ability along with being able to create for others makes him an incredible addition to a San Diego State team that hopes to challenge for a Mountain West title this season.

#5. Jon Davis (Charlotte)

Stats: 19.6 ppg, 4.2 apg, 38% 3-pt FG%

Davis is one of the best mid-major players you’ve likely never heard off. Already nearing 1,000 career points as he enters his junior season, Davis is a prolific scorer from the point guard position. He has prototypical size as well for his pro future, and Jon Rothstein of FanRagSports noted that NBA scouts are already taking notice:

The one area where Davis must look to improve is taking care of the basketball and making better decisions (over 3 turnovers per game last season), but he is already one of the finest point guards in college basketball and is only getting better.

#6. Chris Clemons (Campbell)

Stats: 25.1 ppg, 2.6 apg, 35.5% 3-pt FG%

There is nothing typical about Clemons. He stands just 5-9, and is best classified as a “ball guard” rather than a true point guard. By that, I mean he plays with the ball in his hands almost at all times, but is much more of a shoot-first than pass-first playmaker. While his position might be debated, one thing that can’t be is that he is an unstoppable scorer. He ranked second nationally in points per game last season with over 25 per contest. His performance in the Big South quarterfinals vs UNC-Asheville was a sight to behold:

#7. Thomas Wilder (Western Michigan)

Stats: 19.3 ppg, 3.8 apg, 44.4% 3-pt FG%

Wilder is another guy that simply doesn’t get enough attention for just how good he is. An elite shooter who has improved as a ball-handler and distributor each year of his collegiate career, he enters his senior season in Kalamazoo as one of the top players in the MAC. If he can get enough help around him, he could lead the Broncos to a MAC championship in his senior season.

 

#8. Erick Neal (UT-Arlington)

Stats: 10.6 ppg, 6.6 apg, 35.6% 3-pt FG%

Honestly, I almost feel bad about putting Neal this low. He’s the consummate floor general, an excellent distributor and pass-first point who is also capable of “getting his” when the shot clock runs low. Him and teammate Kevin Hervey (who will crack a list later this week) form one of the most dyamic pairings in mid-major basketball, one that hopes to lift the Mavs to an NCAA Tournament berth in their senior season.

#9. Jordan Johnson (UNLV)

Stats (For Milwaukee in 2015-16): 12.5 ppg, 8.1 apg, 31.6% 3-pt FG%

2 years removed from ranking second nationally in assists per game, Johnson is part of an influx of talent Marvin Menzies brings in at UNLV with the hopes of bringing the Rebels back to prominence in the Mountain West. In many ways, Johnson is the perfect fit for what Menzies is trying to do. He’s an ideal run-and-gun floor general who will get his teammates involved. I expect big things from him in his lone season in Las Vegas.

#10. David Nichols (Albany)

Stats: 17.9 ppg, 3.2 apg, 35.4% 3-pt FG%

Nichols’ improvement from his freshman year to his sophomore year was nothing short of extroardinary. He went from averaging just 2.7 points per game as a freshman to 17.9 ppg and all-conference honors as a sophomore. Nichols can flat-out score the ball, and can hurt you from anywhere on the floor. He’s the latest in a line of great point guards to run the offense for Will Brown at Albany, from recent “The Bachelorette” contestant Mike Black to DJ Evans to Evan Singletary, and it would surprise me if he didn’t at some point do what the previous 3 did and lead his team to an NCAA Tournament.

Just Missed the Cut

  • Makai Mason (Yale)
  • Trae Bell-Haynes (Vermont)
  • Otis Livingston (George Mason)
  • Lamarr Kimble (St. Joseph’s)
  • Geno Crandall (North Dakota)
  • Ahmaad Rorie (Montana)
  • Jordan Davis (Northern Colorado)
  • Joe Chealey (College of Charleton)
  • Jon Elmore (Marshall)
  • Lamonte Bearden (Western Kentucky)
  • DaQuan Bracey (Louisiana Tech)
  • Emmett Naar (St. Mary’s)
  • Austin Luke (Belmont)

College Hoops Fan Mailbag: 8/17

By Kevin Sweeney

While there’s always something to talk about in the college basketball landscape, we’ve reached the dog days of the offseason. The vast majority of the big transfer dominoes have fallen, coaching changes have been completed, and teams are in the midst of preparing for the 2017-18 season. So, I decided to open up for questions so you could decided what you wanted me to talk about this week. I picked my favorite questions from all the great submissions, thanks to all who submitted questions!

I got a pair of similar questions regarding the Southern Conference, which looks to me as one of the most wide-open mid-major conferences going into the season. Each contender seemingly has one flaw that would give me pause about picking them to win it all. My early pick is Mercer. The Bears are a veteran club, featuring 5 senior starters looking to finish their careers with an NCAA Tournament bid. Leading that crew is Rian Holland, a SoCon POY candidate who averaged over 17 ppg last season. The other top contenders to are Furman, which loses head coach Niko Medved but brings back 4 starters from a 23 win squad, and Samford, which features an outstanding trio in Demetrius Denzel-Dyson, Wyatt Walker, and Christen Cunningham. ETSU is a dark horse contender as well. While the Buccaneers lose a lot of talent, they have an excellent coach in Steve Forbes who will have his guys competing and they bring in some talented JUCO players as well.

As for Brad’s question regarding where the top team in the conference falls in the national picture, I see them in the 80-120 range in the RPI. I don’t see a team in the SoCon this year that will be as good as Chattanooga from 2015-16 or last year’s ETSU team, but I could see 3-4 of the teams I mentioned finding themselves in that 80-120 range.

As @Boiler_Ray points out, Gonzaga’s position in preseason polls seems to fluctuate a lot among college basketball experts. Coming off a trip to the National Championship game, some (including myself) don’t even have Mark Few’s team in the top 25 entering the season. What makes the Zags so difficult to project is the amount they’ll rely on young players stepping into key roles right away. With 4 of the top 5 scorers from that 37-2 team departing, it will be up to the complimentary pieces from last year, as well as some talented freshmen, to get the job done. Most expect French big man Killian Tillie to take a big jump in his sophomore campaign, while sophomore swingman Rui Hachimura wowed Zags fans with his performance at the FIBA U19 World Cup with Japan. Meanwhile, freshmen Jesse Wade & Zach Norvell should play big roles in the backcourt that will also feature veterans Josh Perkins and Silas Melson. Still, there’s a lot of pressure on guys who haven’t brought much to the table at the D1 level to produce at a high level from day one. Those who have Gonzaga in the preseason top 25 are mostly betting on Few to get the most out of his guys and expect the train to keep on rolling in Spokane. I fully expect Gonzaga to reach the NCAA Tournament again this year, but the preseason question marks are enough for me to leave them on the outside looking in on my preseason top 25.

To me, the answer to this one is simple. The best way for good mid-majors to improve their SOS is to play other good mid-majors. Look at a pair of home & home series that were reported yesterday: Missouri State taking on Western Kentucky & Nevada taking on Rhode Island. All 4 teams have NCAA Tournament aspirations going into the season and should be top 100 (if not top 50) teams in college basketball next year. These are the perfect way to schedule. Mid-majors not only improve their metrics such as RPI and SOS but also get home games against quality opponents and are prepared well for the conference slate by playing teams at a similar level to them.

This is a super fun question from JR. Honestly, what makes teams the most enjoyable to watch for me is ball movement. Obviously, it’s really fun to watch a team that runs and presses like crazy (I don’t know if I’ve ever had more fun watching basketball than watching VCU’s HAVOC run to the Final Four), but I enjoy games at any tempo with great passing and getting beyond the stale pick-and-roll every play style of the NBA. I LOVED watching TJ Cline and Richmond play this year. As a big man, Cline’s ability to get others involved for good looks from anywhere on the floor made the Spiders one of my personal favorites to watch. I also enjoy watching Iona’s ability to space the floor with shooters and get the ball inside, especially a few years ago when they had David Laury as their center. His ability to pass out of double-teams in the post was intoxicating to watch.

Oakland has a chance to be one of the best mid-majors in the country. The trio of Martez Walker, Jalen Hayes, and Illinois transfer Kendrick Nunn should be special to watch. However, the recent departure of rim protector Isaiah Brock to focus on his education brings Greg Kampe’s team back to the pack a bit in the Horizon League. They are still the clear favorites, but I could see a couple teams hopping in and giving the Grizzlies a run for their money. One is Northern Kentucky, which claimed the league’s auto-bid last season and bring back 4 starters from last season. However, the team that has the most upside other than Oakland is UIC. The talent that Steve McClain has assembled is impressive, and this could be the year it all comes together. If superstar wing Dikembe Dixson recovers well from a torn ACL he suffered early last season, that team could be flat-out scary. Center Tai Odiase is an outstanding big man who turned heads with his play at the Adidas Nations camp this summer, making the all–tournament team. Rising sophomore guard Tarkus Ferguson stuffed the stat sheet a season ago (one of just 7 players to average at least 11.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg, and 4.8 apg) and could contend for all-conference honors if he cuts down on turnovers. Guard Marcus Ottey also flashed the ability to score in bunches as a freshman. The Flames need to improve defensively, but the talent is there for a special season in Chicago.

Iowa State is an incredibly difficult team to forecast this season. Monte Morris, Deonte Burton, and Naz Mitrou-Long all graduate, leaving Steve Prohm’s Cyclones with a bunch of holes. I don’t think it will be Jackson’s team; to me Jackson is an elite shooter but not the high-level playmaker Prohm needs in his PG role. To me, that guy will be freshman Lindell Wigginton, the highly-touted recruit the Cyclones desperately needed in this class. I think you’ll see a lot of Jackson and Wigginton playing next to each other in the backcourt. Jackson is a bit small for the shooting guard spot but I think they can make it work. On Young, I think he’s a guy with a fair amount of upside. He showed as a freshman the ability to impact the game on both ends of the floor. I’ll be interested to see how he factors into a frontcourt that adds a pair of grad transfers in Jeff Beverly (UTSA) and Hans Brase (Princeton), but I think he has a chance to make a big jump as a sophomore. I think he’s about a 10 ppg, 6 rpg guy this season.

As for Diallo, his draft decision was incredibly fascinating. Being the unknown factor, his stock continued to rise throughout the process because of his incredible physical tools. However, he decided to return to school and play for John Calipari this season at Kentucky. After watching him with Team USA’s U19 team this summer, my opinion that he needs quite a bit of work was cemented. He was able to dominate in some facets with his elite athleticism, but showed the lack of polish and shooting ability that concerned me during the draft process. Honestly, I think he should have stayed in the draft, as I think he wouldn’t have fell past the mid-20’s and might have snuck into the lottery. Those flaws that were exposed in Cairo this summer could be further highlighted with a season of college basketball. So, I’ll put it this way: he badly needs the time in college. However, from a draft position perspective I’m not sure it was the right move.