Seven Unsung Heroes in College Hoops This Season

Kevin PaulSenior Analyst IFebruary 5, 2009

From guards such as Stephen Curry, Jeff Teague, and Jodie Meeks, to big men such as Blake Griffin, Luke Harangody, James Harden, and Tyler Hansbrough, college hoops is chock full of household names and future stars.

But let’s forget about the players you know for a minute, and instead focus on some guys that you likely do not know. It’s about time that some of the unsung heroes get recognized for their accomplishments—specifically those who could make enough of an impact to get their teams dancing come March.

Talor Battle (Sophomore Guard—Penn State)

In Penn State’s two biggest wins of the season (versus Purdue and at Michigan State), Battle scored a combined 50 points, along with 10 rebounds and a dozen assists.

Not only that, but the sophomore guard also leads the Big Ten in scoring and is tied for the conference lead in assists per game.

Coupled with senior forward Jamelle Cornley, the Nittany Lions are seeking their first trip to the NCAA Tournament in nearly a decade.

Isaiah Thomas (Freshman Guard—Washington)

Yes, that’s his name—and Thomas, the freshman phenom, coupled with senior forward Jon Brockman, has the Huskies in the thick of the Pac-10 race.

In two recent victories over ranked conference opponents UCLA and Arizona State, Thomas scored 49 points, while shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor.

Devan Downey (Junior Guard—South Carolina)

Many critics had the Gamecocks only finishing ahead of Georgia in the SEC Eastern division. With the help of prolific scorer Downey, South Carolina has been able to keep pace within a talented division.

The junior guard currently averages 20.4 points per game, which includes 74 points over a recent brutal three-game stretch against Vanderbilt, Florida, and Kentucky (where SC won two of three). It should also be noted that Downey is fifth in the country in steals per game, with 3.1.

Jarvis Varnado (Junior Forward—Mississippi State)

The talk of the town when it comes to blocking shots is UConn’s Hasheem Thabeet, the 7’3” junior that blocks shots like it’s going out of style.

However, many are not familiar with Varnado, who leads the nation in blocks, with 4.7 per game. That plus the Bulldogs are holding their own in the SEC, with a 5-2 conference record. Oh, and by the way, Varnado also nearly averages 10 boards a game as well—not too shabby.

Jonny Flynn (Sophomore Guard—Syracuse)

In a brutally strong Big East conference, depth is key this season—and that’s exactly what the Orange have, featuring five players who average in double figures.

Leading the way is sophomore Jonny Flynn, an underrated and barely mentioned talent, who leads the team in points per game (17.1), assists (5.8), and steals (1.4).

Austin Johnson (Senior Guard—Oklahoma)

OK, so they’re basically a lock for the dance. But when you think Sooners, you think Blake Griffin. Well, think some more, because someone has to be able to dish the big man the ball without turning it over.

Look no further than Johnson, who not only provides senior leadership, but is also in the nation’s top 10 in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.16—good for seventh). And just so you know, Johnson finds himself in the same company with names like Levance Fields, Ty Lawson, and Kalin Lucas.

Rihards Kuksiks (Sophomore Forward—Arizona State)

With all the Sun Devils talk surrounding James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph, Kuksiks should also be included in the mix.

In particular, three-pointers are the sophomore forward’s specialty. He’s hit 46.7 percent of his shots from behind the arc. That’s good for third in the country, which is ahead of more well-known shooters such as Kyle McAlarney, Jack McClinton, Jerel McNeal, and Jodie Meeks.

* All stats through 2/1/09 courtesy of the NCAA website