Rather than subject yourself to the nauseating daily updates on Randy's Moss, Favre's private parts, and Charlie Villenueva's tweets, you might be looking for some sports news that will actually be useful to you. Maybe not today, but in four months, when you’re pouring over the field of 68 trying to determine who is actually talented enough to play spoiler, you’ll be thanking us. Just send cash.
I'm happy to be back here at SFBE, running a few warm-up laps before the season tips off for real next week. Take a gander down this list of fifteen players of low/mid-major stars and place your bets on who could be the next Harold Arceneaux, and put their small time program on a big time stage before season's end.
And while we're at it, let's salute last year's Mid-Major standouts Gordon Hayward, Paul George, Larry Sanders, and Luke Babbit. All were lottery picks in June. They paved the way for these guys...
Keith Benson (Senior; Oakland)- When Benson removed his name from the 2010 NBA Draft in May, he had one glaring weakness which needed improvement: strength. The 6’11’’ senior checks-in at just 225 pounds, but he’s the kind of versatile, athletic scorer that scouts love. Pro future aside, Keith ran roughshod over the Summit League last year, and should do so again. Benson was one of just twenty players in the country last season to average a double-double (17.3PPG, 10.5RPG), and as the reigning Lou Henson Player of the Year, Benson is unquestionably on the short-list of top non-BCS conference players.
Anatoly Bose (Senior; Nicholls State)- Heading into this summer, this Aussie opened a blog about his summer down under trying out for the Australian national team. Needless to say, one written entry was all ‘Toly could muster up, and we lost track of him. He has, however, returned to the States for one more go-round to tear up the Southland Conference. The 6’6’’ swingman was 17th in the nation in scoring last year, and dropped more than 35 points three times. He’s an exceptional three-point shooter and will be the sole reason anyone attends a Nicholls State home game this winter.
Noah Dahlman (Senior; Wofford)- Somebody from this conference had to step in after Steph Curry left for NBA glory. That somebody last year was Noah Dahlman, and it will be again in the SoCon. Dahlman will look to lead the Terriers (I can’t stop thinking that they came up with the mascot first, then the school name second…onomatopoeia anyone?…I digress) to their second straight tournament appearance this season. The efficient Dahlman (57% FG) is a big reason Wofford took Pittsburgh, Michigan St., and Wisconsin to the wire last year.
Kenneth Faried (Senior; Morehead State)- Making his second straight appearance on the SFBE top mid/low-major player list...please welcoooome, Kenneth. When the Big East schools came recruiting to the talent-rich New York/New Jersey area four years ago, they completely overlooked the lanky 6’7’’ kid from Newark. What the powerhouses lost, the Eagles gained. Over the last two years at Morehead State, Faried has averaged an NCAA best 13 RPG and improved his scoring to over 16 PPG in 2009-2010. There is no doubt Faried passes the NBA 'freak athlete' test, the only question is what position he’ll play at the next level. He already has the rebounding skills of a Ben Wallace, this year he’ll try to prove scouts that he’s not just another Renaldo Balkman.
John Holland (Senior; Boston University)- Not too much is good about the America East conference, but John Holland sure as heck is. Just ask this Vermont Catamount victim. Along with posterzing opponents, Holland also likes proficient scoring (46FG %) and enjoys regular trips to the foul line (85% FT). The Bronx native led the Terriers to the brink of the NCAA tournament last year, and with the addition of Marquette transfer Patrick Hazel, Holland just might be introducing himself to the nation in the third week of March.
Charles Jenkins (Senior; Hofstra)- Last year, Jenkins was just one of five players in Division I to average at least 20 points (20.6 PPG), four rebounds (4.5 RPG) and three assists (3.9 APG) which seems to be why he was selected as the CAA Preseason Player of the Year. He’s built like a tight end, but he’s not one. At 6’3’’, 220 pounds, Jenkins can muscle his way to the hoop as well as anyone in the country and has a polished mid-range game to boot. He put up 23 and 25 against Kansas and UCONN respectively last year, and went for over twenty points in eleven of his final twelve games in 2010.
Orlando Johnson (Junior; UC Santa Barbara)- He’s one of 78 players with the last name Johnson playing Division I basketball this year, but that’s not why we picked him. Last March, Orlando went head to head with "The Villian" in the first round and dropped 20, albeit in a UCSB loss. Count on this: UCSB and their five returning starters will be back in the NCAA tournament, and Orlando Johnson will make some noise. The reigning Big West Conference MVP is a talented slasher and gifted scorer (18 PPG). At 6’5’’, he’s a tough matchup for any guard, especially in the Big West.
Damian Lillard (Junior; Weber State)- After losing in the conference championship game on their home court each of the last two seasons, reigning Big Sky player of the year Damian Lillard looks to lead the Wildcats back to the Big Dance. We wouldn’t feature the 6’2’’ point guard, if we didn’t think he could. The junior from Oakland can flat out score (19.9PPG), and NBA scouts are starting to whisper about the late-blooming guard. If he wants those whispers to turn into noise, he’ll have to rise up in Weber State’s two non-conference tests against Utah State and Brigham Young.
C.J. McCollum (Sophomore; Lehigh)- One of two sophomores on the list this year means that C.J. McCollum must be pretty special. As Mark Jackson would say, "This kid a-b-s-o-l-u-t-e-ly GETS it." McCollum led Lehigh to the NCAA tournament in his freshman year averaging 19 PPG, and his teammates noticed. C.J. was named a team captain this year, and the lighting-quick lead guard has an even bigger load to carry with the second and third top scorers for the Mountain Hawks having graduated. All the Ohio schools will be kicking themselves for letting this Canton native leave the state.
Derek Needham (Sophomore; Fairfield)- At just 5’11’’ this Windy City kid didn’t exactly have Bruce Weber and Bill Carmody ringing him up every week. Needham’s cool with that though. He ‘took his talents’ east to the MAAC where he averaged over 16 PPG in his rookie year. Impressive performances of 16, 26, and 16 points in three games against conference foe Siena and ballhawking PG Ronald Moore helped Needham garner freshman of the year honors in 2010. This year, Needham will look to improve on his 30% 3PT and he’ll likely be a front runner for conference player of the year.
Adrian Oliver (Senior; San Jose State)- Washington University is famous for producing NBA ready guards (think Nate Robinson/Brandon Roy). Try preaching that to Adrian Oliver. The 6’4’’ shooting guard left Washington six games into his sophomore campaign, transferred to San Jose State, and never looked back. Oliver is coming off a stellar junior year in which he finished fourth in the nation in scoring (22.5PPG) shooting 40% from three. His range is endless, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a sweeter fadeaway jumper in the collegiate ranks.
Joey Rodriguez (Senior; VCU)- The diminutive Rodriguez is one of a trio of sharpshooting guards that have VCU pumped about the post-Larry Sanders era. You might watch this high school footage of him and think "Hmm, nice D3 player"…because we did. The high school teammate of Nick Calathes, J-Rod is used to being overlooked, but not any longer. After finishing second in scoring and first in assists last season, the Colonial Conference is very aware of Rodriguez presence…the only problem-- finding someone who can stay with him.
Justin Rutty (Senior; Quinnipiac)- A cut-up power forward in the Paul Millsap mold, Justin Rutty roared to the finish line at the end of 2010, posting double-doubles in twelve of Qunnipiac's last fourteen contests. If that offensive consistency is any indication of what’s coming this year, and it likely is, Rutty might rise on some draft boards. Out of the senior’s control is Quinnipiac’s schedule, completely bereft of any top flight competition.
Kevin Thompson (Junior; Morgan State)- Under normal circumstances, when a school like Morgan State loses the face of their program and his 21.5 PPG, it would be back to square one. Not the case for the Bears. As they look at it, Reggie Holmes is just keeping the award safe until Kevin Thompson wins the MEAC player of the year award this coming season. Thompson cleaned the glass against the likes of Louisville, Baylor, Arkansas, and Minnesota, averaging 14.5 RPG in those games. With Holmes gone, the 6’9’’ Thompson will no doubt improve on his 12.7 PPG average from last year.
Tai Wesley (Senior; Utah State)- I guess if you grow up in Provo, Utah, and you’re not a Morman, you wouldn’t be interested in going to BYU. In Wesley’s case, he’s very interested in beating the Cougars in two weeks. The 6’7’’ senior leads four returning starters on a team that won 27 games and earned an at-large bid into last year’s field. What he lacks in height, he makes up for with tremendous basketball IQ and a knack for scoring around the basket. He’ll average a double-double again this year, and is the front-runner to win WAC player of the year honors.