Predicting Which College Basketball Seniors Will Have the Best 2013-14 Season
While the freshmen have received much of the attention leading up to the 2013-14 college basketball season, there are also some fantastic seniors around the country who appear poised to have tremendous seasons.
These are guys who have developed and learned the college game and are making the most of one final opportunity to play college basketball instead of bolting to the riches of the NBA.
For some of them, it was a decision to wait on the NBA. For others, it’s because NBA stardom likely isn’t part of their future.
Yet, college basketball fans should appreciate these seniors we’ll get to watch for one final season.
This list looks at the 10 seniors who will have the best 2013-14 season, considering individual accomplishments along with overall team success.
Jordan McRae: Tennessee
Jordan McRae is already off to a fantastic start for the Volunteers, and he likely won’t slow down as the season progresses.
Through four games, he’s averaging 21.5 points while shooting over 51 percent from the field and 45 percent from three-point range. He’s also had five blocks in the past two games.
With a deep and talented team at Tennessee, McRae is in position to lead the Vols to a very strong year in the SEC and possibly compete for a conference championship. Kentucky is the most talented team, but Tennessee is a confident team with a great deal of experience, which could pose a unique challenge to the youthful Wildcats.
And Jordan McRae would love to finish his college career by bringing an SEC championship back to Knoxville.
Bryce Cotton: Providence
Bryce Cotton is a scoring machine for the Providence Friars.
He averaged 19.7 points last season as a junior and is now averaging 18.8 points through five games as a senior. His point production has decreased slightly, but he’s also become much more of a distributor, dishing out 6.4 assists per game.
Cotton is only shooting 41 percent from the field, which is something that needs to improve for a guy who takes so many shots, but he’s never shot over 43 percent in any season during his career.
However, he’s led the Friars to a 5-0 record to start the season, and Providence could be one of the biggest surprises in college basketball. His play will be a big part of the reason why.
Aaron Craft: Ohio State
Doesn’t it feel like Aaron Craft has been the point guard for Thad Matta at Ohio State for the past decade?
The brilliant senior point guard has been a leader for the Buckeyes for his whole career, and he always makes an impact on the game, even if it doesn’t show up in the stat column.
Craft’s defense is what sets him apart from other point guards around the country, and he will set the tone for Ohio State’s defense for one final season in Columbus.
He’s also a player who isn’t afraid to take the big shot when the clock is winding down in a close game, which he showed last season during the NCAA tournament.
Cleanthony Early: Wichita State
Most college basketball fans had never heard of Cleanthony Early prior to last March, but the athletic forward caught everyone’s attention during Wichita State’s incredible run to the Final Four.
Now, Early has returned for his senior season and is hoping to guide the Shockers to another amazing season.
He’s averaging 14.8 points and 7.4 rebounds for a Wichita State team that is already 5-0 and ranked No. 14 in the country.
Early and the Shockers had the luxury of sneaking up on teams last season, which won’t be the case this year. Still, players like Early are tough to stop even when you know how good they are.
Shabazz Napier: UConn
Shabazz Napier might be playing better than anyone in college basketball right now.
The senior guard for UConn is averaging 16.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and six assists per game and has the Huskies off to a 6-0 start to the season, which includes impressive wins over Maryland, Boston College and Indiana.
Napier does whatever the Huskies need from him at any point in the game, and he puts the team on his back in the closing minutes.
UConn has the potential to have great success in the postseason, and Shabazz Napier is the type of player a team can depend on.
Markel Brown: Oklahoma State
Although Marcus Smart gets all the attention for Oklahoma State, Markel Brown is one of the keys for the Cowboys who helps take pressure off Smart.
Brown is averaging 16.5 points, 3.8 assists and 1.5 blocks per game, and he’s also been very efficient on offense, shooting 54 percent from the field and 43 percent from beyond the three-point line.
The 6’3”, 190-pound guard is an incredibly explosive player who can also knock down outside shots, which makes him extremely difficult to defend. When paired in the same backcourt with Smart, it makes Oklahoma State one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the country.
With the way the Cowboys are built, it could be a very special senior season for Markel Brown.
C.J. Fair: Syracuse
C.J. Fair returned for his senior season to be the leader at Syracuse and to try to help the Orange win an ACC championship in its first season in the league.
Fair was named the Preseason ACC Player of the Year by the media and has the talent to be one of the best players in the country.
At 6’8”, 215 pounds, his length and experience make him a great weapon at both ends of the floor for Jim Boeheim.
He’s averaging 18 points and 5.5 rebounds through four games this season, which is the type of production the Orange will need from him once conference play begins.
Adreian Payne: Michigan State
For a Michigan State squad loaded with talented upperclassmen, Adreian Payne appears ready to have a huge senior season for the Spartans.
He’s a 6’10”, 245-pound center with three-point range who likes physical contact when he bangs in the paint. He creates matchup problems for nearly anyone who tries to guard him.
Payne is averaging 17.2 points, eight rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.5 blocks through five games, and he’s also shooting over 51 percent from the field and 47 percent from three-point range.
He’s also surrounded by talented players, meaning teams aren’t able to simply focus on stopping him, which is part of why this season is shaping up to be a special one for Michigan State.
Russ Smith: Louisville
As a senior, Russ Smith is hoping to lead the Louisville Cardinals to a second consecutive national championship and improve his NBA draft stock in the process.
The talented shooting guard thought he would leave school for the NBA following a terrific junior season that ended with a championship, but he decided to return after learning his draft prospects weren’t what he expected.
Smith is averaging 17 points per game for the No. 3-ranked Cardinals, and he’s also increased his assists average to 3.8 after only averaging 2.9 per game last season.
He’s one of the most dynamic offensive players in the country, and this is a Louisville team with all the ingredients to make another championship run.
Doug McDermott: Creighton
There isn’t a player in college basketball more effective in a half-court offense than Doug McDermott.
The 6’8”, 225-pound forward can score from anywhere on the floor for Creighton, and he’s shown it through the first four games of his senior season.
McDermott is averaging 27.5 points while shooting 55 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range. He’s also grabbing eight rebounds per game.
Aside from putting multiple defenders on him and leaving other players open, there really isn’t a good way to stop McDermott. And when he plays at a high level, it’s tough to devise a way to stop Creighton.
Many terrific seniors were left off this list. Who would you add? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.