Duke's Andre Dawkins, Purdue's Chris Kramer Top Nation's Unsung Heroes
Replacing a lottery pick at the most important position in basketball as a freshman isn't easy. Nor is stepping onto one of the most famous courts in basketball and asked to be the team's third and final guard.
Guarding the opposing team's best player on a nightly basis might be the toughest task in basketball. In one team's case, completely bailing out a perennially putrid offense with top 25 defense is an impressive feat.
These various situations make players like Purdue's Chris Kramer, Duke's Andre Dawkins, Syracuse's Brandon Triche, or Southern California's entire defense some the nation's top unsung heros.
Chris Kramer, Purdue Senior Guard
Who he is: It's hard to really quantify Chris Kramer's effect on the hardwood, but those who know Purdue basketball, know Kramer is just as valuable as any player Matt Painter can put on the floor this year.
Kramer is easily the best perimeter defender in the country and the senior can instantly turn a game around. Against Alabama, Kramer's defense jump-started a late run that pushed the Boilermakers past the Crimson Tide after trailing by double-digits.
Why he's unsung: The glory rarely goes to a defensive player unless he's seven feet tall and swats shots six rows deep into the stands. He gets some publicity, but most conversations about Purdue's best player usually don't go past Robbie Hummel or E'Twaun Moore, but they should.
Andre Dawkins, Duke Freshman Guard
Who he is: Andre Dawkins finished his high school career a full year early to join Mike Krzyzewski's vacant backcourt. As a freshman, Dawkins has been a serviceable guard who can torch the nets from deep.
Dawkins is shooting almost 50 percent from beyond the arc, a staggering figure for a freshman. What's even more impressive is Dawkins has taken care of the ball extremely well. The freshman has turned it over just four times in 10 games despite playing over 20 minutes per contest.
Why he's unsung: Duke almost entered this season with two guards: Nolan Smith and wing turned point guard Jon Scheyer. Dawkins gives Duke a much need third guard who can play 20 minutes. He's proved he can perform under pressure as Dawkins drilled all four of his three-pointers in the Blue Devils' close loss to Wisconsin earlier this year.
Brandon Triche, Syracuse Freshman Point Guard
Who he is: It's pretty rare for a three-star recruit like Brandon Triche to make an immediate impact on a national contender. Scouting guru Dave Telep admitted he overlooked Triche because he didn't see him play on the AAU circuit. That's partly why Triche's "five-star impact" as a three-star recruit shouldn't come much as surprise.
Having a future lottery pick like Wes Johnson or two immovable objects in the paint like Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson or simply another great passer, shooter, and defender like Andy Rautins makes the transition to the college game much easier.
Triche is putting up an astounding 122 offensive rating which is one of the best among all freshman. He's connected on 50 percent from his three-point attempts and his overall "true-shooting percentage" ranks ninth nationally.
Why he's unsung: Jonny Flynn left some rather large shoes to fill when he bolted for the NBA after last season's Sweet 16 run. Triche and fellow point guard Scoop Jardine have run the offensive extremely well and have made the Orange a better defensive team.
Kevin Jones, West Virginia Sophomore Forward
Who he is: The only Mountaineer to score double-digit points in every single game this season would be none other than Kevin Jones. The sophomore has quickly developed into a very important member of Bob Huggins' rotation.
His 15.5 point per game scoring average shouldn't be too surprising. He entered Morgantown overshadowed by Devin Ebanks, but Jones was one of the most highly touted freshman in the Big East last season. He just didn't produce "great" numbers because his role last year was limited; this year it is not.
Why he's unsung: While Devin Ebanks was overcoming his "personal issues," WVU star Da'Sean Butler needed a wingman to pick up Ebanks' slack. Jones was just that guy. He hits the glass hard on both ends of the floor and has further bolstered the Mountaineers' already strong rebounding.
Taylor King, Villanova Sophomore Forward
Who he is: After spending one season riding the pine for Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, King left the program to head to the Keystone State and into Jay Wright's lineup. King is a deadly three-point shooter and has been a valuable rebounder.
King has begun to expand his game a bit as well. Initially, King did most of his scorer from the three-point line, but as the season has rolled on, King has done much more scoring around the basket. His offensive rebounding and high basketball IQ has created a lot of easy baskets for King.
Why he's unsung: Wesley Johnson and Ekpe Udoh get all the publicity as the highest impact transfers. Villanova's backcourt is one of the best in the nation, so King's contributions in the frontcourt tend to go overlooked. He's forced to play out of position because of 'Nova's lack of size which makes his skills all the more valuable.
Jon Diebler, Ohio State Junior Forward
Who he is: The top scorer in the history of Ohio High School basketball belongs on Thad Matta's roster. Jon Diebler scored 40 points per game his senior year of high school to earn a spot on THE Ohio State basketball team.
After struggling mightily his freshman year, Diebler regained his sweet shooting stroke to average over 14 points per game and connect on almost 50 percent of his three-pointers this year.
Why he's unsung: He's become a vital member of Ohio State's offense as Diebler helps spread the floor for Evan Turner to work his magic wherever he wants on the court. When Turner returns from injury, Diebler and Turner will make potentially the best duo in the Big 10.
Ryan Brooks, Temple Senior Guard
Who he is: Ryan Brooks was never much more than a shooter in his first three years in Philadelphia, but in his senior season, he's emerged as a big game player. In wins over Siena, Penn State, Villanova, and Seton Hall, the senior has averaged 20 points per game while doing most of that scoring from inside the arc.
Why he's unsung: Temple was supposed to be an afterthought in the Atlantic 10 this season after losing Dionte Christmas. That hasn't happened because Brooks and fellow guard Juan Fernandez combine for one of the league's most potent backcourts.
Clevin Hannah, Wichita State Senior Point Guard
Who he is: Having a senior point guard is step one to becoming an elite team. Wichita State has that with Clevin Hannah who leads the team with a 127 offensive rating. Hannah has increased his assists while cutting down on the turnovers while still being a legitimate scoring option.
Hannah is an above-average outside shooter and the Shockers can trust Hannah late in the game as a 90 percent plus free throw shooter.
Why he's unsung: If Wichita State wants to emerge as a Missouri Valley Conference contender, it will be on the shoulders of Hannah. The Shockers are already unbeatable at home and Hannah's senior leadership could prove pivotal on the road. The one game Wichita State did lose this season, Hannah didn't play. If he's on the court, it's hard to imagine the Shockers would have lost to a Pitt team that's clearly mediocre this season.
Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame Junior Forward
Who he is: Tim Abromaitis has come out of nowhere to develop into of the most efficient offensive players in the country. His offensive rating over 140 ranks fourth in the country as Abromaitis is a threat to score from anywhere on the court.
He's reached double-digits in points in every game but one as well as hit at least three-points in all but four of Notre Dame's 13 games.
Why he's unsung: Luke Harangody needs support if he's ever going to get back to the NCAA Tournament. That support was supposed to be point guard Tory Jackson, shooting guard Ben Hansbrough, and Purdue transfer Scott Martin.
The problem ND faces is Jackson never turned into anything much more than an above average distributor, Hansbrough hasn't helped out as much as expected on the defensive end of the floor, and Martin will miss the season due to injury.
So Abromaitis turning a great scorer and solid defender has helped provide Harangody with some of the support he'll need to get back to the tournament.
Southern California's Defense
What it is: Tim Floyd and now Kevin O'Neill have taught junk defense 101 brilliantly. 2006 is the last time the Trojans ranked outside the top 25 in defensive efficiency. Southern California consistently puts a group of tall, lengthy players out on the court that rebound and defend extremely well.
This year's roster isn't quite as long, but the Trojans force teams to use all 35 seconds of the shot clock to get a good look. In this transition (and supposedly down year), USC has been especially strong ranking sixth in defensive efficiency, 15th in field goal defense, and 23rd in defensive rebounding.
Why it is unsung: The Trojans really, really cannot score. There's no one-and-done prospect on this team that can knock down a shot when it matters. The offense should improve with new point guard Mike Gerrity, but if Southern Cal will contend in the pathetic Pac-10, the defense will carry the team to a championship.
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