The 10 Most Important NCAA Basketball Players Returning from Injury in 2013-14

Scott HenryFeatured ColumnistSeptember 26, 2013

The 10 Most Important NCAA Basketball Players Returning from Injury in 2013-14

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    Injuries can derail a highly promising college basketball team's season or send a struggling team into a spiral. Kentucky fans could tell you all about it, having watched Nerlens Noel crumple to the court in Gainesville, Fla. last February.

    When a player returns from an injury that costs him time, he can go two ways. Either he returns better than ever after carrying his career's mortality as motivation or he struggles, unable to regain his former explosiveness.

    These 10 players all ended last season on the sidelines, watching their teams' seasons end earlier than they should have. Many of their teams harbor legitimate NCAA tournament hopes this season. If the players can recapture prior form, we're going to hear a lot about them come March.

    Players are listed by their prominence to their team and the team's likelihood of an NCAA tournament bid.

    Disclaimer: These are injuries that resulted in lost time last season. Players like Justin Cobbs of Cal, Montrezl Harrell of Louisville and Duke's Rodney Hood, all of whom suffered aches and pains this offseason, will not appear on this list.

10. Chris Fouch, Drexel

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    The 2012-13 season was a bit depressing for Drexel.

    The Dragons entered the season as a popular pick to win the Colonial Athletic Association and avenge what was seen as one of the 2012 NCAA tournament's biggest snubs. Instead, they slumped to a 13-18 record. Fifth-year guard Chris Fouch's broken ankle in game three was certainly a major cause of the malaise.

    Awarded a sixth season this year, Fouch gets to rejoin backcourt mates Frantz Massenat and Damion Lee to take another shot at winning the CAA. It helps that the league no longer includes perennial contender George Masongone to the Atlantic 10and a rising Georgia State program that left for the Sun Belt.

    Fouch was off to a sizzling start from the high-rent district, draining 12 of 25 three-point attempts as part of his 16.7 PPG. While the 6'2" veteran only shot 25 percent from two-point land, that was an aberration. For his career, Fouch is a 41-percent two-point shooter to go with his 36-percent three-point rate.

    The Dragons were 264th in the country in effective field goal percentage (eFG%), so everybody will have to improve their efficiency, Fouch included. If they do, the CAA will feature a very interesting race between Drexel, resurgent Towson and newcomer College of Charleston.

9. George Beamon, Manhattan

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    Manhattan College's George Beamon had a string of 51 straight double-figure scoring games snapped when he could only put up nine against George Washington last December.

    He hasn't been seen on the court since.

    As a sophomore and junior, Beamon ranked third and first on the MAAC's scoring chart while also coming in fourth and sixth in steals. He was a 60 percent true shooter in 2011-12 en route to that league-leading 19-PPG average. In short, he made plays on both ends of the court.

    His return should put the Jaspers at or near the top of every preseason MAAC prediction, since Manhattan brings back three other starters from the conference tournament runner-up. MC also adds 6'10" Maryland transfer Ashton Pankey.

    The Jaspers will need Beamon somewhere close to his All-MAAC first team form, since they went 12-16 in his absence last year. If he gets there, 36-year-old head coach Steve Masiello will join the likes of Shaka Smart and Josh Pastner among the youngest coaches to take a team to the NCAA tournament.

8. John Brown, High Point

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    Okay, perhaps it's cheating to use High Point's John Brown on a list like this, considering he only missed three games last season and most of a fourth.

    Those four games, however, were HPU's last of the season, including first-round losses in both the Big South Conference tournament and the CIT. For a team that tied for the Big South regular-season title, that conference tourney loss stung.

    Brown exploded into the college game as a redshirt freshman, accumulating 50 points, 15 rebounds, seven steals and seven blocks in his first two games. At season's end, he stood in the BSC's top 12 in all four of those categories, as well as field goal percentage.

    With Brown and sixth-year veteran Allan Chaney back, HPU is a favorite to repeat as BSC regular-season champions. The school's first NCAA tournament bid is well within reach. For just a taste of how well Brown and Chaney worked together, check the video above.

    As long as Brown experiences no lingering effects from his foot injury, expect to see more SportsCenter-worthy dunks. The Panthers will ride their frontcourt duo as far as they can, and hope that it's farther than the school's ever gone.

7. Angus Brandt, Oregon State

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    Burly Australian Angus Brandt was off to a hot start for Oregon State last season. He opened the campaign with 18 points and eight rebounds in a win over Niagara, then recorded his first career double-double against Alabama. The latter came in Madison Square Garden, of all places.

    In his second game at MSG, against Purdue, Brandt was nearing another double-double when he tore an ACL late in the Beavers' 66-58 victory. He missed the rest of what looked like a promising season.

    Back for his fifth year, the 6'10", 240-pound Brandt is set to follow up on the 11.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and 41-percent three-point shooting he was recording before the injury.

    That perimeter touch makes Brandt particularly valuable to the Beavers, a team that will be able to trot out a lineup with enviable size. OSU has two other players at 6'10" along with 7-foot freshman Cheikh N'Diaye on this year's roster. Brandt's outside stroke is likely to see more use this season as head coach Craig Robinson moves him around the court to lessen the stress on his knees in the low post.

    Coach Robinson could be on the hot seat if the Beavers don't reach the NCAA tournament, and it's a tough ask in the reloading Pac-12. If Brandt recaptures last year's early form, he could join guard Roberto Nelson and power forward Eric Moreland as one of the league's top trios. That tournament bid could be reachable if the bench can compete.

6. Preston Medlin, Utah State

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    Utah State got absolutely devoured by the injury bug last season and still won 21 games. If better luck had prevailed, the Aggies could have won a title in their final season in the WAC.

    Now a member of the Mountain West, USU needs do-everything guard Preston Medlin to stay healthy and productive in his senior season. A broken wrist ended Medlin's campaign in January, when he was averaging 16.2 PPG and putting up a 62.0 true shooting percentage (TS%).

    Three of the Aggies' four double-digit scorers come back this season, and they'll need to have career years to give the Aggies a shot at winning a reloading Mountain West. If Medlin has a career year, pencil him in as a first-team All-MWC performer, because he's averaged nearly 17 PPG over the past two years on 49 percent shooting.

    Things got so bad that only seven players suited up for State's February game against BYU. One fouled out and three others finished with four fouls, giving coach Stew Morrill a legitimate concern that he'd end the game unable to field a full lineup. It can't go that wrong again this year.

    Can it?

5. Drew Crawford, Northwestern

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    Drew Crawford could have bailed from Northwestern and gone anywhere as a graduate transfer rather than spend his fifth season swimming upstream in the always-brutal Big Ten. Missouri and Marquette were mentioned as possible destinations.

    Rather than bail and play for one of those potential national contenders, Crawford decided to stick around as the leader of the Wildcats, giving a major vote of confidence to new head coach Chris Collins.

    Coach Collins' hiring and replacement of Bill Carmody promise a new day of faster-paced basketball after 12 years of Carmody's methodical Princeton offense. Two years ago, Crawford excelled in that offense, putting up 16.1 PPG and 4.7 RPG with a 56 percent eFG%, even as second banana to All-Big Ten forward John Shurna.

    As the primary option last season, Crawford struggled, carding only a 47.0 eFG%. His torn labrum may have been a nagging factor even before Crawford was shut down, so the recovery time should help him regain his previous form.

    The next question will be whether one or more of Crawford's teammates can draw defensive attention away from him the way he once did for Shurna. Guard JerShon Cobb returns from a year-long suspension. Center Alex Olah and guard Tre Demps had solid freshman seasons.

    Like so many other years, there's talent in Evanston. As usual, there's likely not enough to reach the big dance in March. A vintage Drew Crawford season, though, could return the Cats to the NIT. That would be a victory in itself.

4. Josh Gasser, Wisconsin

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    Josh Gasser was set to inherit the mantle of solid Wisconsin point guards, manning a position that has never underachieved under head coach Bo Ryan. From Devin Harris to Trevon Hughes to Jordan Taylor, the Badgers have been led by steady and occasionally spectacular floor generals.

    A torn ACL suffered last offseason ended Gasser's campaign before it began, but the versatile 6'3" playmaker is hoping to pick up where he left off.

    Gasser's replacements, Traevon Jackson and George Marshall, suffered through the occasional growing pains. Still, both return along with shooting guard Ben Brust. The addition of touted freshman Bronson Koenig gives Wisconsin one of the Big Ten's most skilled and flexible backcourts.

    Gasser was a 62 percent true shooter in 2011-12, so if the knee is healed enough for him to rediscover his shooting stroke, he'll be a potent scoring option. He's proven he can stuff the stat sheet in other columns as well, considering that his January 2011 triple-double against Northwestern remains the only one in school history.

    That loaded group of guards, along with sophomore forward Sam Dekker, will be primary reasons we can't bet against Coach Ryan's streak of top-four conference finishes to end this year.

3. Jordan Adams, UCLA

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    If including John Brown was cheating, then so is using Jordan Adams.

    Like High Point's Brown, Adams didn't miss many games during his strong freshman season at UCLA, but they were the most important ones. He suffered a broken foot while leading the Bruins to a 66-64 win over Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament. The injury cost UCLA the conference title game against Oregon and the NCAA tournament opener against Minnesota.

    With Shabazz Muhammad off to the NBA, this year's UCLA team belongs to Adams and classmate Kyle Anderson. The potential is there for Adams to pour in better than 20 PPG now that there's no Shabazz Muhammad demanding to be fed first.

    In the Bruins' first three games, which Muhammad missed due to the NCAA's investigation into his eligibility, Adams put up 24 PPG and made 28 of 29 foul shots. Granted, those games were against Indiana State, UC Irvine and James Madison, but they still count.

    Aside from his 15.3 PPGeighth-best in the conferenceAdams also led the Pac-12 with 2.2 steals per game. Opponents will need to be conscious of him on either end, and new head coach Steve Alford will be well-served to find any way possible to put him around the ball.

2. Tim Frazier, Penn State

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    While Penn State wasn't on anybody's radar for an NCAA bid last year, point guard Tim Frazier was a popular candidate for a second selection to the All-Big Ten first team. As a junior in 2011-12, all Frazier did was lead the nation in assist percentage while also finishing second in the Big Ten in scoring and steals. (All figures per StatSheet.com.)

    His encore was eagerly anticipated, especially with a new wingman in the form of Southern Miss transfer D.J. Newbill. Four games into last season, however, Frazier blew out an Achilles and was shut down for the year.

    Back for a fifth year, Frazier hopes to finally play alongside Newbill for a full season, although the Nittany Lions will miss another prime backcourt option with Jermaine Marshall transferring to Arizona State.

    Pitt transfer John Johnson will be counted on to help spread the floor. If he can, Frazier should have the room he needs to operate.

    The form that had him producing 19 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and four steals in his last full game against Providence will be hard to recapture. Doing so, however, will finally get Frazier back on that all-conference team and push Penn State back into postseason basketball.

1. Jeronne Maymon, Tennessee

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    Tennessee strongman Jeronne Maymon put himself on the national radar when he hammered Memphis for 32 points and 20 rebounds at the 2011 Maui Invitational. That was his third straight double-double, one of nine that he would record as a junior.

    A preseason knee injury kept Maymon from following up that All-SEC campaign, leaving sophomore stud Jarnell Stokes to fend for himself without his fellow low-post bruiser.

    While Stokes was still a solid performer in 2012-13, Maymon's return could free Stokes to play at an All-American level. As the Volunteers' only major low-post scoring threat, Stokes was swarmed with double-teams. That blanket defense won't be possible with a healthy Maymon, who scored at least 12 points in every SEC regular-season game in 2011-12.

    Maymon will struggle to get back to game speed during the non-conference season, and he may never be the player he was before the injury. Even so, his strength and experience will give the Vols back their spine on both ends of the court.

    If the new backcourt of freshman Robert Hubbs and Memphis transfer Antonio Barton can keep defenses from sagging into the paint, both UT big men can get back to All-SEC prominence and the Vols will reach their first NCAA tournament under head coach Cuonzo Martin.

     

    For more from Scott on college basketball, check out The Back Iron. Coming soon: the 32 in 32 conference preview series.