King's Court: Where's the Love for College Basketball's Most Underrated Stars?

Jason KingSenior Writer, B/R MagFebruary 26, 2014

Nati Harnik/AP Images

More than once this season, a broadcaster assigned to a Nebraska basketball game has asked how to pronounce Terran Petteway’s name.

For the record, it’s “ta-RAN PET-away.”

But you’d think they’d know that by now.

A 6’6” guard, Petteway averages 18.4 points and 5.0 rebounds for one of the hottest teams in the country. The Cornhuskers have won seven of their last eight games—including a road win at Michigan State—and have a legitimate chance to earn an NCAA tournament berth for the first time since 1998.

“I don’t know if a lot of teams have one guy like Petteway,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said after Petteway torched his team for 29 points Sunday. “Think about it. Think about a 6’7” guard who is that athletic and can get his own shot.

“I’m not saying we don’t have quality guards in our league, but we don’t have 6’7” guys who can play the point if they have to. He’s pretty damn good.”

Petteway may have the respect of Painter and other Big Ten coaches.

But he’s a virtual unknown to the rest of the college basketball world.

Petteway isn’t alone. Here are 12 other players whose standout seasons are going largely unnoticed. Seriously, where’s the love for these guys?

Nov 24, 2013; Charleston, SC, USA;New Mexico Lobos forward Cameron Bairstow (41) shoots the ball against the Davidson Wildcats  during the second half at TD Arena. New Mexico won 79-58. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico—The Lobos are tied for first place in the Mountain West standings thanks to the Australian forward. A 6’9”, 250-pound senior, Bairstow is averaging a career-high 20.2 points per game—more than double his junior-year mark of 9.7. He also ranks second on the team in rebounds (7.3).

Jerrelle Benimon, Towson—The Tigers—just 1-31 two years ago—are an NCAA tournament contender thanks, in large part, to Benimon. The 6’8” senior averages team highs in points (18.6), rebounds (11.4) and assists (3.9) while shooting 52.7 percent from the field. Benimon began his career at Georgetown. 

Jabari Brown, Missouri—The Oregon transfer is keeping the Tigers on the NCAA tournament bubble with some timely outside shooting. In SEC play, Brown has made 44.2 percent of his attempts from long range and is shooting 48.5 percent overall. Brown is averaging a team-high 20.1 points on the season. 

Justin Cobbs, California—Arizona fans can tell you all about Cobbs, whose jump shot with one second remaining resulted in the Wildcats’ first loss of the season. That was hardly the only heroic moment of the season for Cobbs. His 15.9 points and 6.1 assists are both team highs. He shoots 46.8 percent from the field.

Bryce Cotton, Providence—The Friars are vying for their first NCAA tournament berth—and their first 20-win season—since 2003-04 thanks to Cotton. The senior guard is averaging 21.5 points and 5.9 assists (both career highs) and has reached double figures in all but two games.

Josh Davis, San Diego State—Steve Fisher’s squad wouldn’t be experiencing nearly as much success if NCAA hadn’t granted Davis a waiver that allowed him to play immediately after transferring from Tulane. A senior, Davis is among the country’s top rebounders with 10.2 per game. He averaged 10.7 boards last season at Tulane.

Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa—With averages of 16.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.8 steals, the do-everything guard is a candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year honors. Devyn Marble is the main reason Iowa has been a staple in the Top 25 for most of the season. Iowa is a lock to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006.

Tyler Haws, BYU—A bit more was expected out of the Cougars, who are 20-10 with head-scratching losses to Loyola Marymount, Pacific and Pepperdine. That’s steered some of the attention away from Haws, who is as good of a scorer as there is in America with an average of 23.3 points per game. He’s shooting 43.4 percent from beyond the arc. 

Nic Moore, SMU—The Illinois State transfer has been a godsend for the Mustangs, who are on pace to earn their first NCAA tournament berth since 1993. Moore is averaging 14.2 points and 4.6 assists while shooting 44.6 percent from three-point range. Next year he’ll combine with incoming freshman Emmanuel Mudiay to form one of the nation’s top backcourts.

Johnny O’Bryant, LSU—The 6’9”, 256-pound O’Bryant is one of the top post players in America. Just ask the Kentucky Wildcats, who surrendered an average of 24.5 points and 10.5 rebounds to O’Bryant in two games. A junior, O’Bryant is averaging 15.5 points and 7.8 boards on the season. It will come as a surprise if he doesn’t make an NBA roster either next fall or in 2015.

Juwan Staten, West Virginia—A junior, Staten has increased his scoring from 7.6 points per game last year to 18 points this season. He’s shooting 50.1 percent from the field and is also averaging six assists per contest. Staten will have to finish strong if West Virginia hopes to make the NCAA tournament. The Mountaineers are currently on the bubble.

T.J. Warren, North Carolina State—If he were on a more high-profile team, Warren would likely garner All-American consideration. The sophomore forward is tied for fourth in the nation in scoring with 23.3 points per game and also averages 7.1 rebounds while shooting 52.3 percent from the field.

GREENSBORO, NC - MARCH 16:  T.J. Warren #24 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack moves the ball in front of Trey McKinney Jones #4 of the Miami Hurricanes in the second half during the men's ACC Tournament semifinals at Greensboro Coliseum on March 16, 20
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images


This Week’s Grades

A: Fran McCaffery’s Twitter ban—Kudos to the Iowa coach, who instructed his players to stay off the social-media site for the rest of the season after senior Zach McCabe exchanged barbs with naysayers. Coaches have enough to worry about during the season and shouldn’t have to deal with the distractions often caused by Twitter, where anonymous “fans” try to coax reactions out of athletes who may be emotional after a big loss. Those situations are unhealthy for players and can cause a loss of focus. There is no benefit to Twitter during the season.

B: Danny Manning—The former Kansas star is making impressive strides as Tulsa’s head coach. A taxing nonconference schedule prepared the Golden Hurricane for play in Conference USA, where Tulsa is 10-3—just one game behind league-leader Middle Tennessee State. Tulsa is 15-12 overall. Even more encouraging is that six of its top seven players are underclassmen.

C: Gonzaga—Could the Zags be in danger of missing the NCAA tournament? Mark Few’s squad is 23-6 but doesn’t boast a single victory against a team that’s a lock to make the field. Gonzaga’s most impressive win is against BYU. Few usually strings together a tough nonconference slate, but this year’s schedule wasn’t as strong. Gonzaga probably thought it would get more out of the Maui Invitational, where it lost an opening-round game to Dayton and ended up having to play Chaminade. The Zags' other top nonconference games (against Memphis and Kansas State) both resulted in losses.

D: Top 25 voters—In both the Associated Press and the USA Today Coaches Poll, Villanova (24-3) is ranked one spot ahead of Creighton (23-4). I just don’t see how that’s possible. The Wildcats and Bluejays have played twice. Creighton won the first game by 28 points. Creighton won the second game by 21 points. That’s an average victory margin of 24.5 points. Yet you’re still going to rank Villanova ahead of the Bluejays? Someone needs their voting privileges revoked.

F: Mark Turgeon whining...again—The Maryland coach has a history of complaining that dates back to his days at Texas A&M. His latest beef is with the officials who failed to call a foul against Syracuse that would’ve sent Nick Faust to the free-throw line with seven seconds remaining in Monday’s 57-55 home loss. Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim scoffed at Turgeon’s comments. “If they didn’t turn it over 18 times they wouldn’t have to worry about that,” Boeheim said. Turgeon, whose squad will miss the NCAA tournament for the third straight year, went on to say that he thinks his team is “better than (Syracuse) in this building if we play the way we’re capable and don’t turn it over.” It was a clear lesson on how not to handle a press conference.


Starting Five: Predictions as the Regular Season Comes to a Close

WICHITA, KS - FEBRUARY 22:  Guard Ron Baker #31 of the Wichita State Shockers reacts after a Shockers score against the Drake Bulldogs during the second half on February 22, 2014 at Charles Koch Arena in Wichita, Kansas.  Wichita State won 83-54.  (Photo
Peter Aiken/Getty Images

1. The Wichita State Shockers will enter the NCAA tournament 34-0, lose in the Elite Eight and then listen as critics try to discredit their season while saying they were overrated. If that happens—and I hope it doesn’t—it will be sad. This team shouldn’t have to get to a Final Four to legitimize itself.

2. Michigan State will make the Final Four. I still think that, when healthy, the Spartans are one of the top two or three teams in the country. At this point I’m not convinced Tom Izzo’s squad will ever get to 100 percent in terms of health, but they’ll be good enough to advance to college basketball’s biggest stage and maybe even win a championship.

3. Myles Turner, the nation’s top unsigned high school senior, will commit to Texas this spring. The 7-foot Turner is also considering Kansas, Arizona, Ohio State, Duke, Oklahoma State and Kentucky. And he recently made unofficial visits to Texas A&M and SMU. Still, the sense I get after talking with those close to his recruitment is that Texas will be the choice.

4. Kentucky standouts Julius Randle, James Young and Willie Cauley-Stein will enter the NBA draft while the Harrison twins return to school along with Alex Poythress and Dakari Johnson. I really hope it happens this way, especially for the twins. They’ve made huge strides the past few months both on and off the court. They could blossom into stars as sophomores.

5. Coaching changes will occur at these schools: Auburn, Boston College, Washington State, Houston, Rice, South Florida, Wake Forest. Other possibilities: Alabama, Oklahoma State, Clemson, Oregon State, DePaul, Virginia Tech, Tennessee, Washington. Also, I’ll be shocked if Bruce Pearl doesn’t land one of these gigs. Maybe Ben Howland, too. 


A Dozen Words on My Top 12 Teams

1. KansasBill Self’s Jayhawks are unbeatable when they’re playing at their highest level.

2. Wichita StateAnyone who doubts Gregg Marshall’s Shockers needs to have their head examined.

3. FloridaThe Gators’ last three wins have come by a combined 12 points.

4. DukeWon’t be surprised to see the Blue Devils in the Final Four.

5. LouisvilleWhy am I so high on the Cardinals? Experience, toughness and coaching.

6. ArizonaSaturday’s 27-point road win at Colorado definitely silenced lots of doubters.

7. KentuckyThe Wildcats are about to explode. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

8. SyracuseI can’t buy into teams that continuously live dangerously against mediocre opponents.

9. CreightonFinal Four berth would be the perfect ending to Doug McDermott’s career.

10. VirginiaNo one is talking about Virginia. Will an ACC title change that?

11. VillanovaJames Bell (15.9 points) has nearly doubled his average from last season.

12. Michigan StateBased on what the Spartans could be, not what they are now.


Rapid Fire

Feb 12, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Syracuse Orange guard Tyler Ennis (11) and the Orange bench react after Ennis shoots a three point basket to defeat the Pittsburgh Panthers at the Petersen Events Center. Syracuse won 58-56. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeC
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Caught a ton of breaks: Syracuse

Can’t catch a break: Texas Tech

Helping his job status: Mark Fox, Georgia; Johnny Dawkins, Stanford

Causing concern: Frank Haith, Missouri; Dave Rice, UNLV

Please, boss, send me to: Missouri State at Wichita State

One of the most impressive streaks in all of sports: Kansas’ 10 straight Big 12 titles

While we’re at it, I’d also like to go to: Doug McDermott’s last home game

Back to his old self: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State

Where the heck is: Dominic Artis, Oregon

Will make the NCAA tournament: Baylor, BYU, Nebraska, Oklahoma State

NIT-bound: Missouri, Tennessee, Oregon, Minnesota


Pit Stops

George's Restaurant and Bar, WacoIf you follow me on Twitter, you know that George’s is my favorite spot in America. It’s easy to see why owner Sammy Citrano is an icon in the Texas restaurant business. He and his staff take a genuine interest in their customers as people. It’s nice to frequent a place that feels like home after only one or two visits.

It also helps that the food is as good as it gets.

I’ve been a regular at George’s since I was in college—we’re talking hundreds of visits here—and I can honestly say that I’ve never had a bad meal there. That’s saying something considering the menu is only slightly shorter than War and Peace.

George’s is known around Waco for its chicken fried steak, hamburgers and crazy wings (a chicken strip folded over onto a sliver of jack cheese and a jalapeno—then wrapped in bacon and deep-fried. They looked like battered golf balls).

But for the last few years I’ve been high on the grilled club tacos. The fine cooks at George’s start by putting the flour tortillas on the grill for a few seconds to firm them up a bit. Then they load them up with fajita meat (beef or chicken) that’s been marinating in some sort of flavorful goodness. Next come the home-cooked bacon bits, melted cheddar and jack cheese, pico de gallo and shredded lettuce. Drizzle ranch dressing over all of it, fold it over and you’ve got the best taco you’ll ever eat.

Hopefully you’ll have enough room in your stomach, considering you’ve surely ordered one of my favorite appetizers such as fried cheese or hot wings. That’s right. The new spin George’s has put on its wings has catapulted them into my top-10 list for the nation’s best bird. Sammy and his staff clearly can do no wrong. The Big O’s (an 18-ounce draft beer in an icy schooner) are as cold now as they were when I was in college.


Jason King covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JasonKingBR.