College Basketball's 10 Best Players Hidden on Losing Teams
Not every great college basketball player pulls on a Duke, Indiana or Michigan jersey. Sometimes it seems that way, but there are countless talented athletes with little chance of reaching the NCAA tournament.
Some are surrounded by deficient talent, and some have the misfortune of playing in loaded conferences. Others play for programs that rack up losses by being sacrificial lambs to the power-six programs.
All, however, have proven they can ball against those major opponents.
These 10 players share two more things in common: They can crunch numbers, and they toil on teams with sub-.500 records, as of Feb. 28.
10. R.J. Hunter, Georgia State
Photo courtesy Georgia State
The 2012 Indiana All-State high school basketball team featured players who committed to powers like Indiana (Yogi Ferrell, Jeremy Hollowell), Michigan (Glenn Robinson III), Michigan State (Gary Harris) and...Georgia State?
Second-team selection R.J. Hunter decided to play for his father Ron, the former coach at IPFW, as the elder Hunter began his second year at Georgia State. While the Panthers' record sits at a mediocre 15-16, the 6'5" freshman guard has been a producer for Dad since day one.
The Hunters debuted at no less a venue than Cameron Indoor Stadium, facing off against Duke. R.J. led GSU with 10 rebounds and added 14 points. That remains his only double-double, but he's been highly prone to scoring outbursts all season.
Hunter has broken 20 points in 12 games this season, highlighted by a 38-point outburst against Old Dominion, a game in which he made a whopping 10 three-point baskets.
For the season, Hunter averages 17 points and five rebounds per game, ranking as one of the Colonial Athletic Association's most dangerous three-point shooters. His constant movement and work off of screens conjures visions of luminaries like Reggie Miller or Rip Hamilton.
While Hunter may not end up in Springfield like Miller, keep an eye on him. NBA scouts likely will be.
9. Alan Williams, UC Santa Barbara
Photo courtesy Big West Conference
Only 15 players in America average a double-double this season, and only four toil for teams at or below .500.
UC Santa Barbara sophomore Alan Williams is fifth in the Big West in scoring (17.0 per game) and leads the league in rebounds (10.3) and blocks (2.3). As the averages would suggest, double-doubles are child's play, as he's recorded 13 of them.
Only three times has Williams been held to single-digit scoring, and one of those was when he left a game with a hamstring injury in the first half. That injury came against Cal Poly, conquerors of UCLA earlier this season.
Williams would later hang 24 points, 17 rebounds and four blocks on Poly in the rematch, but Poly left with the victory.
The largest weakness in Williams' game is a tendency toward foul trouble, as he's been disqualified five times this season and committed four fouls in seven other games. One of those games came against Illinois State, but he found time between fouls to produce 15 points, 13 rebounds, three steals and four blocks, outrebounding All-MVC forward Jackie Carmichael.
8. Jud Dillard, Tennessee Tech
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Tennessee Tech senior forward Jud Dillard is another double-double machine, putting together 10 of them on the season.
Despite the Golden Eagles' also-ran status in the Ohio Valley Conference, Dillard has stared down many of the league's best on an individual basis. In two meetings with regular-season champion Belmont, Dillard has amassed 38 points and 23 rebounds.
Against other notable competition, Dillard put up 22 and seven against Auburn and 18 and six against Oklahoma State in back-to-back December games. Twice this season, he's had three-game stretches of 84 points.
For the season, Dillard averages 19.1 points, second in the OVC to Murray State All-American Isaiah Canaan, and 7.8 rebounds per game, fifth in the league.
7. Fred Hunter, Nicholls State
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An ACL injury cost Nicholls State swingman Fred Hunter a season and some change, but the lengthy rehab appears to have helped immensely.
Hunter leads the Southland Conference at 19.4 PPG, while also ranking among the top five in rebounds and steals. His field-goal percentage, effective FG percentage and true shooting percentage are all top four in the league and top 100 nationally.
The 6'5", 240-pound Hunter has used 30 percent of the Colonels' possessions, a figure that places him in the top 40 nationwide. Impressively, his turnover percentage (15.6) is the lowest of his career.
In his first two games back from his injury, Hunter hung 43 points and 15 rebounds on SEC members Missouri and Vanderbilt. NSU's conference rival Stephen F. Austin is one of the nation's most dominant defensive teams, but Hunter produced 42 points on 50 percent shooting in his two meetings with the Lumberjacks.
6. Javon McCrea, Buffalo
Photo credit Mitchell Layton, Getty Images
As a freshman, Buffalo's Javon McCrea was one of America's 10 most reliable offensive rebounders, ripping more than 17 percent of available caroms on the business end.
Two years later, his percentages have never quite gotten that high again, but he has become one of the most dominant all-around players in the Mid-American Conference.
McCrea is among the league's top five scorers, rebounders and shot-blockers while also ranking third in field-goal percentage.
If he could play Kent State every night, he'd be an All-American. McCrea has blasted the Golden Flashes for 65 points, 25 rebounds and 12 blocks in his two games against them, but KSU has taken both victories.
The 6'7", 250-pound junior has a build and a game that suggests a poor man's DeJuan Blair. While he's not likely to be a draft pick, McCrea could earn an NBA cup of coffee somewhere, which would make him only the second Buffalo player to play pro ball, after ex-Atlanta Hawk Sam Pellom.
5. Myles Mack, Rutgers
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If Rutgers fans object to the characterization of the 13-13 Scarlet Knights as a "losing team," hopefully they will accept this writer's humble apologies. Rutgers has lost nine of its last 10 in conference play, so the description may be more accurate than any Jerseyite cares to admit.
However, we come here not to bury Rutgers but to praise sophomore guard Myles Mack.
A former top-100 recruit, Mack has formed a potent backcourt with classmates Eli Carter and Jerome Seagears. Mack, however, is the only one of the three who's been any kind of efficient scorer.
Despite standing only 5'9", a figure which may or may not involve standing on a phone book, Mack ranks in the Big East's top 10 in FG percentage, eFG, and TS percentage. He's also one of only nine players in the country shooting better than 90 percent at the foul line.
Mack has not always gotten his shots this season, and even when he has, the Scarlet Knights have been punching above their weight class in the Big East. RU lost back-to-back games to DePaul and Villanova, despite Mack producing strong totals of 52 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and 60 percent shooting from the floor.
4. Kyle Barone, Idaho
AP photo (Eli Lucero, Logan Herald Journal)
The poor fellow in this picture was not wise enough to get out of the way of the rampaging Kyle Barone. The Idaho senior only carries 220 pounds on his 6'10" frame, but when he's coming down the lane, wouldn't you ponder moving?
Barone is another of our subjects that makes his shots count.
He shoots nearly 58 percent from the floor, close to the top 50 nationally. Unlike many other big men in today's game, Barone is also a threat at the foul line, scoring on 79 percent of his free throws. His 64.4 TS percentage leads the WAC and ranks 30th nationally.
Barone has been one of the WAC's top 10 rebounders and shot-blockers for a couple of years now, but this season, he's increased his scoring to 16.5 PPG, third in the league.
Perhaps even more importantly, he's cut his turnovers substantially. Barone turned the ball over on nearly 22 percent of his possessions the last two seasons but only 15 percent this year.
In December, Barone pummeled in-state rival Boise State for 24 points and 10 boards, but the Broncos claimed the win. Conference leader Louisiana Tech has a sweep over the Vandals, but Barone tried to do his part with 38 points and 15 boards in the two meetings.
3. Fuquan Edwin, Seton Hall
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I had notes prepared for this slide, but Seton Hall junior Fuquan Edwin stole them.
Okay, perhaps not, but it seems that he's stolen everything else since arriving in South Orange. Last season, Edwin was the nation's co-leader in steals at three per game. This season, he's down to 2.5, an average that's still good for second in the Big East and 11th in the country.
While still making plenty of plays defensively, Edwin is also becoming an offensive leader for the Pirates. He ranks sixth in the Big East at 16.9 PPG while shooting a solid 42 percent from three-point range.
Edwin has reduced his fouls slightly but still commits three per game going for all those swipes. Also, his turnovers are down to 16.8 percent of his possessions, an improvement from last year's 19 percent.
Seton Hall, like Rutgers, showed flashes in non-conference play but has been buried in the Big East. Most of Edwin's best games have come in losses, including his 23-point, five-steal effort against Pitt.
2. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Georgia
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A former McDonald's All-American, Georgia sophomore Kentavious Caldwell-Pope would be playing his way into collegiate All-American consideration if it wasn't for the Dawgs' 13-15 record. As it is, he'll be a hard man to leave off of the All-SEC first team.
KCP ranks in the SEC's top 10 in scoring, rebounding, steals and foul shooting, taking a league-high 32 percent of the Bulldogs' shots when he's on the floor. Even with that kind of volume, he's also in the league's top 20 in eFG and TSP.
Many of Caldwell-Pope's best games, unfortunately, have come in Georgia losses. The Bulldogs are only 1-4 in KCP's double-double efforts this season, including a buzzer-beating loss to Vanderbilt Wednesday night. A 20-point, 14-rebound effort went for naught, but Caldwell-Pope's 5-of-16 shooting certainly played a part.
UGA is 4-2 in conference play when KCP drops in 20 points or more, and he's usually much more efficient than he was against Vandy.
1. Erick Green, Virginia Tech
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What, you think we're leaving out the nation's leading scorer? Did you ignore his picture in the intro?
A 24.9-PPG average speaks for itself, especially when it's recorded by a power-conference player.
Virginia Tech's Erick Green has often been the only thing keeping the Hokies from suffering some truly soul-sucking blowouts. They'd be a lot worse than 12-16 (3-12 ACC) without the senior guard's frequent explosions.
Only BYU, North Carolina and Miami have held Green under 20 this season, and all of those games came on the road. Despite being America's third-most prolific shooter at 17.2 attempts per game, Green is also in the ACC's top 20 in all the shooting percentage metrics.
Some of Green's biggest games have come against Tech's biggest opponents. He put up 28 points and seven boards against Oklahoma State, 26 and five against Colorado State, 30 in the first meeting with Miami and 35 and nine against Virginia.
Only three of the last 12 national scoring champions played in the NCAA tournament in the year they earned the title, and Green is highly unlikely to break that jinx. Still, every night he steps on the court, his odds of busting out for 30 are better than his team's odds of winning.