Under-the-Radar College Basketball Stars Whose Names You Need to Know

Jake Curtis@jakecurtis53Featured ColumnistDecember 24, 2013

Under-the-Radar College Basketball Stars Whose Names You Need to Know

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    Shawn Long, Louisiana-Lafayette
    Shawn Long, Louisiana-LafayetteMike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

    A number of standout college players do not play in high-profile programs, leaving them to perform under the radar.

    Only the pro scouts and dedicated college basketball fans know these players.

    Several players from major conferences, such as UNLV's Roscoe Smith, New Mexico's Alex Kirk, Oregon's Joseph Young and Boston College's Olivier Hanlan, have not yet received the publicity they deserve. However, their teams receive enough attention to eliminate them from this list.

    Our list consists of 10 entries of players from low-profile programs whose numbers or pro potential beg for recognition. You should at least be aware of these under-the-radar stars for future reference.

    We hedged a bit on our final selection, choosing a duo of under-the-radar stars from the same school.

Mamadou Ndiaye, UC Irvine

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    Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

    UC Irvine center Mamadou Ndiaye is the most intriguing player on the list. Being a 7'6" freshman with worlds of shot-blocking potential is the reason.

    Not to be confused with former NBA player Mamadou N'Diaye, Irvine's Ndiaye is not a pro-caliber player yet. He is averaging just 8.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 19.2 minutes a game. His 74.2 field-goal percentage indicates most of his shots come from close range.

    But he is an intimidating defensive force. He is averaging 3.5 blocks per game despite his limited playing time, and he had two huge games.

    He blocked 10 shots in just 19 minutes of playing time in an 81-58 victory over Eastern Washington. However, his best performance came in an 86-72 upset of Washington on the Huskies' home court. In that game, Ndiaye blocked nine shots, scored 18 points and pulled down eight rebounds, all in just 26 minutes.

    NBADraft.net lists him No. 80 on its list of the top 100 NBA prospects.

    You might want to check out how Ndiaye does in his Dec. 28 game against Arizona State and 7'2" Sun Devils center Jordan Bachynski.

    Irvine is very capable of winning the Big West Conference title, so you may see Ndiaye in the NCAA tournament.

Wesley Saunders, Harvard

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    USA TODAY Sports

    You may not hear about Wesley Saunders until the postseason. But if Harvard makes it to the NCAA tournament, as it should, Saunders could become a March Madness star.

    After averaging just 3.3 points as a freshman, Saunders blossomed into a first-team all-Ivy League performer last season as a sophomore, when he averaged 16.2 points. Because the Crimson have better depth this season, his scoring average has dropped slightly to 15.2 points.

    There are two reasons Saunders continues to linger under the radar.

    1. He was limited to seven points in Harvard's only game this season against a nationally recognized opponent, Colorado.

    2. Last season, after scoring 18 points in Harvard's upset of New Mexico in its opening game of the NCAA tournament, he slipped back into anonymity when he went one of 11 in the loss to Arizona in the next round.

    Nonetheless, he is probably the best player in the Ivy League this season, and with the Crimson holding a 10-1 nonconference record, there is a good chance you will be seeing a more mature Saunders in the NCAA tournament again.

    Harvard sophomore point guard Siyani Chambers is another Crimson player flying under the radar who could emerge in the postseason.

George Beamon, Manhattan

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    After an outstanding junior season in 2011-2012, when he led the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in scoring, Manhattan guard George Beamon dropped off the national radar last season when he was limited to just four games because of an ankle injury.

    That enabled him to qualify for a medical redshirt and a fifth season, and he is making the most of it.

    This season he is averaging 21.3 points per game, which is 18th in the country. Despite being just 6'4" and 175 pounds, he also leads the team in rebounding with 6.8 boards a game.

    Beamon's three-point shooting percentage (33.3 percent) is down a little from his junior season, when he hit 42.7 percent of shots from beyond the arc. But he hit six of 12 three-point shots over his last three games, when he scored 23, 26 and 22 points in victories over North Carolina-Wilmington, South Carolina (on the road) and Buffalo, respectively.

    Beamon's impact is reflected in the team's record. The Jaspers went 21-13 overall and 12-6 in the MAAC two years ago when Beamon was a first-team all-conference selection. Last season, they slipped to 14-18 overall and 9-9 in the MAAC with Beamon sidelined for virtually the entire season. This season, Manhattan is 9-2, and looks like the favorite to capture the MAAC title. That would give Beamon an opportunity to play on the national stage in the NCAA tournament.

Alan Williams, UC Santa Barbara

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    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sp

    Three things indicate that UC San Barbara junior center Alan Williams is a hidden gem.

    1. NBADraft.net projects that he will be a second-round pick in the 2015 NBA draft.

    2. Williams missed two games this season because of back spasms, and the Gauchos lost both. They are 7-2 in the games in which he played.

    3. Williams had 21 points in the Gauchos' 21-point road victory over UNLV, and he scored 20 second-half points (24 in all) in UCSB's biggest win of the season, a 72-65 victory over Cal.

    "Al is maybe the best post player on the West Coast," UCSB coach Bob Williams said after that game, according to the Associated Press.

    Obviously, coach Williams is not an objective observer, but the numbers put up by the 6'7" Alan Williams tend to support the claim. He is averaging 23.1 points, eighth best in the country, on 55.8 percent shooting. He is also averaging 10.9 rebounds and 2.9 blocks. In a victory over South Dakota State, Williams had 39 points and eight blocks.

    Williams had 23 points and eight rebounds against UCLA, a game the Gauchos led with less than 10 minutes left before losing by 13. 

    At 240 pounds, the wide-bodied Williams may not look like an NBA player, but he plays like one. 

    With UCSB beginning play in the Big West Conference soon, you are unlikely to hear much about Williams unless the Gauchos (7-4) get to the NCAA tournament.

Deonte Burton, Nevada

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    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    Both NBADraft.net and DraftExpress.com project that Nevada point guard Deonte Burton will be taken in the second round of the 2014 NBA draft.

    It's easy to see why. The 6'1" senior has improved his scoring in each of his four seasons and is averaging 22.6 points this season. He also leads the Wolf Pack in assists at 3.8 a game while adding 3.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals per contest.

    Burton has scored at least 19 points in every game this season, and that includes contests against UCLA, Cal and Missouri. He hit the game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer in a two-point victory over Chattanooga. Over his last four games, he has 25 assists and just four turnovers.

    Nevada is just 5-7, so Burton may continue to fly under the radar, although he may emerge in the NBA. He might come to your attention if he has big games in February against Mountain West powers San Diego State and New Mexico.

Jason Brickman, LIU-Brooklyn

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    Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

    Senior Jason Brickman of Long Island-Brooklyn is an old-school point guard: He looks to set up teammates rather than score himself.

    Brickman is an assist machine. He led the nation in assists last season as a junior, when he averaged 8.5 a game. He's handing out dimes at a greater rate this season, averaging 9.7 assists per game. That's more than two per game better than anyone else in the country.

    His 11.5 scoring average is nothing to be embarrassed about, but it is as a distributor that Brickman excels.

    Brickman had 11 points and 11 assists in a one-point road loss to Indiana, but he would have made a name for himself if he had made his three-point attempt at the buzzer.

    His three-point shooting in general has not been as good as it was last season. After hitting 46.2 percent of his long-range shots last season, Brickman is making just 32.7 percent this season.

    Generously listed at 6'0", Brickman is unlikely to get drafted by an NBA team. But as a college player, he has a major impact. He has helped the Blackbirds get to the NCAA tournament in each of his first three seasons and may do so again.

Aaric Murray, Texas Southern

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    Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

    Center Aaric Murray dropped out of the national consciousness last season when he played for West Virginia. However, he popped back in briefly this season when he scored 48 points for Texas Southern in a 90-89 upset of Temple on Dec. 18 in Philadelphia. It was the most points scored by a Division I player this season.

    Murray made 20 of 28 shots for the game, and that included two of five from three-points range, which is impressive for a 6'10" center.

    For the season, Murray is averaging 24.5 points, which ranks fourth in the nation, as well as 7.0 rebounds and 2.5 blocks.

    Murray has moved around and is playing for his third Division I school. He was a starter in his first two seasons at La Salle, averaging 15.2 points as a sophomore.

    He had some problems at La Salle, according to Philly.com, and transferred to West Virginia. But things did not work out well there. He averaged 8.8 points and 5.9 rebounds in 2012-2013, his only season with the Mountaineers, and was dismissed from the team in July, according to USA Today.

    Murray has a troubled background. He began playing organized basketball when he was 16 years old at the Glen Mills School, a residential school for court-adjudicated male delinquents of high school age, according to Philly.com.

    The 2012-2013 season took him off the radar. But he graduated last spring, making him eligible to play immediately at Texas Southern.

    Though he is no longer getting the attention afforded players from the major conferences, Murray is making the most of his final opportunity.

Alec Brown, Wisconsin-Green Bay

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Wisconsin-Green Bay center Alec Brown won't stay under the radar for long if he has another game like he did on Dec. 21 against Fairfield. He scored 40 points in that 74-58 victory, hitting 12 of 17 shots while helping the Phoenix improve to 8-3.

    But NBA scouts were already aware of Brown for two reasons:

    1. He is 7'1".

    2. He is hitting 47.1 percent of his three-point shots.

    Brown's 3.3 blocks a game to go along with his 15.5 points and 6.5 rebounds are impressive numbers too. However, being a 7-footer who can hit from long range is the reason NBADraft.net and DraftExpress.com both project that Brown will be a second-round NBA draft pick.

    Brown made himself an excellent shooter. He hit just four of 19 three-point shots two years ago as a sophomore but improved to 42.9 percent from beyond the arc last season.

    He started his senior season in a shooting slump, going zero of seven from long range in his first three games. Since then he has made 16 of 27 three-pointers, including all four in his past two games.

    The Phoenix have a victory over Virginia, so Green Bay and Brown may be good enough to get to the NCAA tournament.

Jon Severe, Fordham

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    Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

    Fordham freshman Jon Severe gets lost among more publicized first-year stars such as Jabari Parker of Duke, Andrew Wiggins of Kansas, Julius Randle of Kentucky and Aaron Gordon or Arizona.

    But statistically Severe is in the same ballpark as those high-profile players. He is averaging 20.1 points, and twice has scored 30 or more.

    Severe was not ranked among the nation's top 100 recruits for 2013 by ESPN.com, but he is certainly playing like one of the top freshmen. Parker and Q.J. Peterson of VMI are the only two freshmen with higher scoring averages than Severe this season.

    Severe's impact is obvious. The Rams (7-4) have already won as many games as they did all of last season, when they went 7-24.

    Severe played all 40 minutes in each of Fordham's last two games, both of which the Rams won.

    If Severe continues to put up big numbers against teams such as Massachusetts and Virginia Commonwealth in the strong Atlantic 10 Conference, he will begin to get national recognition.

Elfrid Payton/Shawn Long, Louisiana-Lafayette

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    Elfrid Payton
    Elfrid PaytonMike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

    We hedged a bit by putting two players from one team in this slot, but how often does a team from the Sun Belt Conference have two NBA prospects?

    Forward Shawn Long, a 6'9" sophomore, has put up amazing numbers for Louisiana-Lafayette this season. He leads the team in both scoring, at 21.2 points per game, and rebounding, with 11.3 boards a game. He also averages 2.7 blocks while hitting 56.6 percent of his shots. He's doing all that despite averaging less than 29 minutes a game.

    He poured in 25 points in a loss to Louisville, and had 30 points on 12-of-12 shooting from the field in a blowout of Centenary.

    It's easy to see why NBADraft.net projects him to be taken early in the second round of the 2015 NBA draft.

    The most remarkable aspect of all this is that Long probably is not the best player on the team. That honor goes to Ragin' Cajuns guard Elfrid Payton, a 6'3" junior averaging 19.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.1 steals.

    He looks like a pro. NBADraft.net projects him as a first-round NBA pick in the 2014 NBA draft, and DraftExpress.com expects him to be taken in the first round of the 2015 NBA draft. At this point NBADraft.net is predicting Payton will be drafted ahead of players such as Connecticut's Shabazz Napier, Syracuse's C.J. Fair and Louisville's Russ Smith.

    Payton was a starter on the USA Under-19 team that won a gold medal at the U19 World Championship in Prague, over the summer. As noted in a Sporting News article, Payton's defense and ability to penetrate into the lane impressed the U.S. coaches, who knew little about Payton before the tryouts. Marcus Smart was the other starting guard for the American team, which featured Aaron Gordon and Jahlil Okafor coming off the bench.

    Louisiana-Lafayette does not play a prominent basketball team the rest of the season, so you may not hear much about Long or Payton unless the Ragin' Cajuns win the conference title and get to the NCAA tournament.  If they do make it, which is a distinct possibility, Long and Payton could steal the show.