Ranking the Best College Basketball Careers Among Current Seniors

Brendan O'MearaFeatured ColumnistMarch 9, 2014

Ranking the Best College Basketball Careers Among Current Seniors

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    Evan Vucci/Associated Press

    Rarely do we hear of the college senior in college basketball. Most seniors aren't the cream of their team's crop. If they were, they would've left for the NBA a long time ago, yet here they are. 

    Seniors are a minority on many of the rosters. The ones that stick it out are the most experienced and have the greatest grasp of their coach's system, attitude and quirks. Sometimes a senior is the best on his team. Sometimes they stick around because they've got something left to prove. Sometimes it's all they have left.

    The following players are all seniors whose careers have taken many different trajectories. Many wallowed early on before hitting their stride late. Some were dominant from Day 1. 

    While there are undoubtedly many qualified seniors that can appear on this list of great four-year careers, we're tipping it off with ...

10. Aaric Murray, Texas Southern

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    Aaric Murray of Texas Southern University finished the regular season in the top 15 in scoring with 21.2 points per game and, like Billy Baron (No. 8 on this list), has been to three schools in his four-year career. 

    Murray left LaSalle due to an alleged case of "prickliness". He also didn't fit in with Bob Huggins at West Virginiaimagine that. Perhaps he's not the model teammate, but he still managed to string together enough seasons to reach his senior year. 

    He had solid freshman and sophomore seasons averaging 12.2 and 15.2 points per game. He also ripped down 6.6 and 7.7 boards per game in those two years. His production dropped off at WVU, but clearly something clicked in his final year at Texas Southern.

9. Patrick Miller, Tennessee State

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    George Walker IV/Associated Press

    At six feet tall and 189 pounds, Patrick Miller is fifth in the country in scoring with 23.7 points per game for Tennessee State. 

    In his four-year career for TSU, Miller has averaged double digits every season. In his freshman year he tallied 11.4 points per game and 11.1 his sophomore year. In his junior season he expanded to 14.8 points per game before blowing up in his senior season for the Tigers.

    If he had surpassed the next guy on this list in the scoring category in 2013-2014, he may have ranked higher than ...

8. Billy Baron, Canisius

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    Billy Baron, a senior guard for the Canisius Golden Griffins, is third in the nation in scoring with 24.2 points. He's also pulling down 4.9 rebounds and dishing out 5.2 assists a game. It's a great cap to a great four-year run.

    He's one of the more well-traveled seniors, having played at three different colleges with his last two years spent at Canisius. As a freshman at the University of Virginia, he averaged just 3.0 points per game in just 11.1 minutes per game. The next year, he was at the University of Rhode Island and dropped in 13.0 per game. 

    He transferred to Canisius where he blew up for 17.2 a game before his blowout senior year. 

7. Ben Brust, Wisconsin

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    Andy Manis/Associated Press

    Ben Brust is yet another player who improved with every season. As a freshman, he averaged just three minutes a game, but as a sophomore he started to hit his stride. In 21.3 minutes per game as a sophomore, his scoring jumped up to 7.3 points per game.

    By his junior year, it climbed to 11.1, then, as a senior and a leader on a Badger team ranked in the Top 10, he scored 12.5 points per game. The Badgers finished second in the Big Ten thanks in part to Brust's steady play.

6. Xavier Thames, San Diego State

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    Xavier Thames is the quintessential team leader. He leads his team in minutes, scoring and assists. In 2014, he's scored 16.9 points, pulled down 3.1 boards and dished out 3.0 assists per game.

    He transferred to San Diego State after his freshman year and took some time to get his bearings. By his senior year, he was on top of his game and plans to close out his career as one of the top all-around players in the nation, all while leading his team to a Mountain West crown.

5. C.J. Fair, Syracuse

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    KEVIN RIVOLI/Associated Press

    Four years ago, C.J. Fair traveled north from Baltimore, Md., to Syracuse's Carrier Dome. His offensive output improved each year while in Syracuse.

    As a freshman, he scored 6.4 points per game. That upped to 8.5 a game during his sophomore year. As a junior, he nearly doubled his output to 14.5.

    Now, in his senior year, he's leading his team with 16.7 points per game and was at the forefront of the Orange's 25-0 run to start the season. Being one of the better players on a very good team ranks him higher on this list.

4. James Bell, Villanova

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    H. Rumph Jr/Associated Press

    James Bell is the leading scorer on a No. 6-ranked Villanova squad. He's averaging 14.9 points per game and 6.0 rebounds, his best year yet on a team that went 28-3. Bell gets the nod over Fair, Thames and Brust since Bell's team won the Big East, a tougher conference.

    Bell stuck with it, not putting up terrific numbers but helping Nova be a perennial contender. As a freshman, he scored 2.4 points per game. That number jumped to 7.0 as a sophomore. In his junior year, he scored 8.6 points, so it wasn't until his final season that things came together for the 6'6" guard.

     

3. Bryce Cotton, Providence

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    This was a bit of a challenge, and Bryce Cotton easily could have switched places with James Bell of Villanova. Cotton showed great year-by-year progression for the Providence Friars. He is currently 10th in the nation in scoring with 21.7 points. Cracking the top 10 in scoring gave Cotton the slight edge. Since the Friars also finished third in the Big East, that's plenty solid enough to rank Cotton third on this list.

    He started as a freshman with just 4.0 points per game but began making major gains as a sophomore with 14.3 points per game. His junior year saw him nearly score 20 a game with 19.7. 

    Cotton showed classic progression: learn the ropes while in the first year in the program, then adopt and grow within the system and truly flourish.

2. Russ Smith, Louisville

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    H. RUMPH JR/Associated Press

    We're in the thick of hairsplitting now. The following two could be flipped, especially since Louisville's Russ Smith has a blinged-out championship ring to his credit.

    Smith stuck around after the Cardinals won the National Championship in 2013 and he's having yet another solid season. 

    He played little as a freshman, averaging just 2.2 points. He persevered for his coach, Rick Pitino, and greatly improved. In his sophomore year, he put up 11.5 points and 2.5 boards a game. A year later, that jumped to 18.7 points and 3.3 rebounds per game while getting a chance to cut down the nets. Baller.

    In his final year, he's averaging 17.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in 2014 to cap off a fulfilling career that included a championship, maybe another if he's lucky. 

    Still, even with all those credentials, all the jewelry, one guy stands above them all with the most impressive four-year resume to date. That young man is ...

1. Doug McDermott, Creighton

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    Evan Vucci/Associated Press

    Doug McDermott, Creighton's go-to scorer, has been doing it for years, which in college basketball is saying something. The only difference is that he saved his best for his senior year. The 6'8" senior finished the regular season tops in the country in scoring with 26.5 points per game and added 7.2 rebounds on top of that. 

    His team finished second to Villanova in the Big East, a nice merit badge for McDermott.

    He's improved every year. He averaged 14.9 points in his freshman year, 22.9 in his sophomore year and 23.2 in his junior season. 

    In Saturday night's game against Providence, McDermott dropped 45 on the Friars to eclipse the 3,000-point mark for his career. "I never in my wildest dreams thought I'd reach 3,000," McDermott said. "To do it in [the CenturyLink Center] is special because of the way the fans have always been."

    That kind of upward progression is rarely seen and, as a result, he'll be a contender for college basketball's player of the year.