By Kevin Sweeney
Day 4: the 4’s.
We continue our journey through mid-major basketball today with the power forwards, a really nice group of talent with diverse games.
Daily reminder for those just joining us: mid-major to me is everyone outside the Power 7 conferences and Gonzaga. Players are grouped into positions based on where they played last year and where I think they will play this year, not necessarily their “natural” position or what they’ll play in the pros (some guys on this list, for instance, are probably 3’s going forward but will play mostly as small-ball 4’s this season). I rank players based on stats, contribution to winning, and the eye test.
Here we go:
#1. Anthony Lamb (Vermont)
- Vitals: Senior, 6–6, 227 pounds
- Stats: 21.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.3 apg, .515/.365/.762
Lamb is the perfect modern combo forward– agile enough to defend on the perimeter, strong enough to defend in the paint, with an all-around offensive game that has grown every season with the continued growth of his 3-point shot. He’s not an explosive vertical athlete, but has high-level instincts that allow him to block almost two shots per game. I’m not sure there are five guys I’d rather build a mid-major squad around than Lamb.
#2. Lamine Diane (Cal State Northridge)
- Vitals: Redshirt Sophomore, 6-7, 205 pounds
- Stats: 24.8 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 2.1 apg, .485/.304/.522
Fresh off one of the most impressive freshman seasons in college basketball history, Diane is back for year two with Mark Gottfried at CSUN. He got things started with 34 points in his first collegiate game against New Mexico and didn’t look back, scoring 25 or more points 15 times and never scoring fewer than 14 in a game. It remains to be seen if placing Diane in such a high-usage role is feasible in a winning situation, but few mid-major players have the ability to dominate a game like Diane.
#3. Obi Toppin (Dayton)
- Vitals: Redshirt Sophomore, 6-9, 220 pounds
- Stats: 14.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.8 apg, .666/.524/.713
The legend of Obi Toppin began last summer, when video of him dunking all over NBA players in a New York City gym went viral. His play at Dayton did nothing but grow that legend, immediately establishing himself as one of the best players in the A10 with plenty of highlight-reel jams along the way. Toppin dunked 84 times last season per T-Rank, more than all but two players in the nation: Bulls draft pick Daniel Gafford and 7-6 Tacko Fall. Expanding his jump shot will be critical as he looks towards the NBA, but for now he’ll look to lead Dayton back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the Anthony Grant era. Toppin projects to spend some time at both the 4 and the 5, but I’ll pencil him in at the 4 for now with Nebraska transfer Jordy Tshimanga at the 5.
#4. Malik Fitts (Saint Mary’s)
- Vitals: Redshirt Junior, 6–8, 230 pounds
- Stats: 15.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 0.9 apg, .475/.406/.770
The South Florida transfer fit seamlessly into Randy Bennett’s offense as an inside-out 4-man, wreaking havoc on pick-and-pops thanks to his ability to consistently knock down outside shots. He’s also a switchable defender and a good rebounder. However, he’ll need to raise his game against Gonzaga if the Gaels are going to top the WCC this season after averaging just 7 points per game in the teams’ three meetings last season.
#5. Bryson Williams (UTEP)
- Vitals: Redshirt Junior, 6-8, 225 pounds
- Stats (2017-18 at Fresno State): 13.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.2 apg, .601/.250/.602
After flirting with multiple high-major programs, Williams eventually elected to follow Rodney Terry east to El Paso, perhaps the crown jewel of a transfer-heavy incoming group that hopes to bring UTEP back to the top of the CUSA. Williams is a versatile big who can play the 4 or the 5, but will likely see most of his minutes next to bruising center Efe Odigie, who averaged a double-double as a freshman last season. Expanding his perimeter game would certainly help assuage spacing concerns, but that pairing should maul C-USA foes on the boards and in the paint.
#6. Marcus Santos-Silva (VCU)
- Vitals: Junior, 6-7, 250 pounds
- Stats: 10.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 0.7 apg, .594/.000/.597
I’m not sure there’s a player with a more relentless motor than Santos-Silva, a throwback 4-man who owns the glass and is physical around the rim. He’s also an excellent defender who protects the rim and can switch onto smaller defenders. While his counting stats don’t jump off the page, there’s a reason advanced stats like box +/- and win shares love Santos-Silva: he’s a hyper-efficient player who makes winning plays.
#7. Terry Taylor (Austin Peay)
- Vitals: Junior, 6-5, 230 pounds
- Stats: 20.5 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.7 apg, .531/.340/.741
Taylor is one of the more unique players in college basketball, a bruising 6-5 guy without a true position on the floor. On a lot of teams, he’d play the 3. Instead, Matt FIgger and Austin Peay deploys him as a small-ball 4 and sometimes even a center in a 5-out offensive look. Taylor’s ability to rebound for his size while still stretching the floor and finishing at the rim makes him one of the the OVC’s best players.
#8. Elijah Childs (Bradley)
- Vitals: Junior, 6-7, 225 pounds
- Stats: 12.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.0 apg, .471/.236/.659
Childs’ talent immediately pops off the screen as soon as you turn on a Bradley game, so much so that it’s almost frustrating at times that he doesn’t put up bigger numbers. Despite sometimes phasing in and out of games, The lefty forward is capable of impacting things in a multitude of ways thanks to his athleticism and face-up ability as well as his touch around the rim. He was awesome in the second half of the MVC title game against Northern Iowa as the Braves overcame a double-digit second-half deficit to get back to the NCAA Tournament, where he scored 19 points and 6 rebounds against Michigan State’s elite frontcourt.
#9. Vance Jackson (New Mexico)
- Vitals: Redshirt Junior, 6-9, 235 pounds
- Stats: 13.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.7 apg, .408/.333/.650
Jackson has elite physical tools, with an big, athletic frame to defend bigger guys and the skill level of a guard Sometimes, it feels as though he is too wed to his perimeter game, not fully taking advantage of the size and strength edge he has on so many guys in the Mountain West. Still, Jackson is an incredibly gifted player who can take over a game. He’s one of the many reasons this New Mexico roster is so scary.
#10. Trhae Mitchell (South Alabama)
- Vitals: Redshirt Senior, 6-6, 195 Pounds
- Stats: 13.6 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 3.6 apg, .478/.420/.647
Mitchell has one of the most interesting statistical profiles in all of college basketball– a 6-6 combo forward who literally can do everything on the floor. Becoming a legit floor-spacer was major for his development on the offensive end last season, and he’s also an impact defender who averaged more than two blocks and a steal per game. On a South Alabama team with a lot of talent on the offensive end, Mitchell could be the perfect glue guy, making an impact on defense and making plays within the offense without needing his number called a ton.
Jailyn Ingram (FAU), Xavier Hill-Mais (Oakland), Jordan Bruner (Yale), Seth Towns (Harvard), Temenang Choh (Brown), EJ Crawford (Iona), Lamont West (Missouri State), Lavelle Scottie (Air Force), Derrick Alston (Boise State), EJ Anosike (Sacred Heart), Tyler Scanlon (Belmont), Stanley Umude (South Dakota), Kameron Edwards (Pepperdine), Demonte Buckingham (CSUB)