College Basketball: Top 25 Mid-Major Players to Watch This Season

Ari KramerSenior Analyst IINovember 22, 2010

College Basketball: Top 25 Mid-Major Players to Watch This Season

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    Even Denis Clemente had trouble defending Shelvin Mack. Where will Mack rank on the list?Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Mid-majors are often overlooked. Maybe that's why it is such a shock when teams like Northern Iowa, Murray State and Old Dominion beat prestigious programs such as Kansas, Vanderbilt and Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament.

    How many people put money on Butler as the national runner-up? Anyone other than the guy whose grandfather grew up in Indianapolis?

    Who are the players that lead these Davids past the Goliaths?

    In this slideshow, you will read about the 25 mid-major players you must make an effort to watch this season. The players were ranked based on a combination of the excitement they invoke and the numbers they post.

    Follow me on Twitter for more mid-major basketball articles.

    Click here to read about 10 mid-major teams you should know about.

12 Honorable Mentions (2009-10 Statistics)

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Donald Sims, Sr., Appalachian State—20.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.3 apg, 95.1 percent FT, 42.7 percent 3PT

    Matthew Dellavedova, So., Saint Mary's—12.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.5 apg, 1.2 spg, 39.8 percent 3PT

    Bradford Burgess, Jr., VCU—10.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1 spg, 48 percent FG, 37.3 percent 3PT

    Damian Lillard, Jr., Weber State—19.9 ppg, 4 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.1 spg, 39.3 percent 3PT

    John Holland, Sr., Boston University—19.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.6 spg, 35.7 percent 3PT

    Josh Slater, Sr., Lipscomb—17.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 5.2 apg, 1.9 spg, 37.1 percent 3PT

    Kevin Thompson, Jr., Morgan State—12.7 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 52.1 percent FG

    T.J. Robinson, Jr., Long Beach State—15.4 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 52 percent FG

    Eli Holman, Jr., Detroit—11.8 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 2.5 bpg, 61.4 percent FG

    Sam Willard, Sr., Pacific—11.7 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 48.5 percent FG, 35 percent 3PT

    Raymond Taylor, So., FAU—14.2 ppg, 3 rpg, 5.9 apg, 38.6 percent 3PT

    Joey Rodriguez, Sr., VCU—12.9 ppg, 5.8 apg, 1.9 spg, 35 percent 3PT

25. Ray McCallum, Fr., Detroit

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    Ranked No. 17 in the freshman class of 2010, Ray McCallum elected to play for his father, Coach Ray McCallum Sr. He rejected prestigious programs such as Florida, Arizona and UCLA and, although his stats thus far aren't anything impressive, he is expected to play like the top 25 recruit he was.

    Watch the posted video and you will understand why this kid is surrounded by so much hype. Keep in mind the highlights are from McCallum's junior year of high school.

24. Trey Zeigler, Fr., Central Michigan

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    Like McCallum, Trey Zeigler chose a mid-major coached by his father, Ernie Zeigler, over elite schools. ESPN ranked Zeigler No. 33 overall in its recruiting class of 2010, and he has hit the ground runningaveraging 19.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists and one swipe through his first three games.

23. Matt Howard, Sr., Butler

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    Who knows how the outcome of the National Championship game would have changed if Matt Howard had stayed out of foul trouble...Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Two years removed from earning Horizon League Player of the Year honors, Matt Howard will try to rebound from a down year in 2009-10. As a junior, Howard often found himself in foul trouble—he averaged a ludicrous 3.5 fouls per game—so he couldn't produce at the level expected of him.

    Howard is one of the best mid-major players when he can remain on the floor. This week Howard spent 18 minutes on the bench against Louisville yet managed to drop 23 points and grab nine rebounds—that should give you an idea of his ability if you are unfamiliar with him.

    If Howard can reduce his fouls, his numbers should return to—and maybe even eclipse—the 2008-09 form of 14.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, and 55-percent field-goal shooting.

22. Derek Needham, So., Fairfield

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    Photo Credit: Brian A. Pounds/Connecticut Post

    A season ago, Derek Needham was one of the best mid-major freshmen in the nation. The frosh averaged 16.4 points, 5.2 dimes, 3.2 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game and led the Stags to the MAAC championship game. 

    However, Needham was far from perfect. He turned the ball over 3.8 times per game and shot a woeful 38.2 percent from the floor.

    If the floor general cuts down on his turnovers and becomes a more efficient scorer, he can be an elite mid-major player.

    Watch this:

21. Brandon Bowdry, Sr., Eastern Michigan

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    Photo Credit: Lon Horwedel; AnnArbor.com

    In the first game of his senior season, Brandon Bowdry poured in 32 points and grabbed 15 rebounds against Michigan State. Michigan State! The No. 2 team in the country!

    That's the kind of performance that puts players on national radars.

    As a junior, Bowdry averaged 16.3 points and 10 boards per game. Now the Eagles belong to the senior, who might be the MAC's best player. 

20. Denzel Bowles, Sr., James Madison

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    Photo Credit: jmusports.com

    The No. 3 Kansas State Wildcats accomplished a feat only Canisius could do a year ago—hold Denzel Bowles to 11-or-fewer points in a game. 

    At 6-foot-10 and 255 pounds, Bowles is a big man with post moves, a jumpshot and a transition game. He averaged 20.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game as a junior and has scored in double figures in 26 consecutive games.

    Bowles spent two seasons at Texas A&M before transferring to JMU.

19. C.J. McCollum, So., Lehigh

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    C.J. McCollum burst onto the Patriot League scene as a freshman. In his first year at Lehigh, McCollum averaged 19.1 points, five rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.3 steals per game, while shooting 45.9 percent from the floor and 42.1 percent from long range.

    McCollum propelled Lehigh to an NCAA tournament berth, which pitted them against No. 1 Kansas. The guard's 26-point effort fell short, but he proved on a national stage why he collected the Patriot League's Player of the Year award. 

    More big things are expected of McCollum and his Mountain Hawks in 2010-11.

18. Tai Wesley, Sr., Utah State

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Although his numbers—he averaged 13.7 points and 6.6 boards per game as a junior—don't scream "beast," Tai Wesley is one of the best, most reliable mid-major big men. The preseason All-WAC First-Team member posted double-figures in scoring 29 times in 35 games in 2009-10.

    Jared Quayle graduated, so Wesley will need to step up his scoring game. Thus far in 2010-11, he's been extremely efficient, averaging 16.7 points on 70-percent shooting.

17. Zack Rosen, Jr., Penn

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    Photo Credit: rushthecourt.net

    Penn endured a headache of a season in 2009-10, recording only six wins. However, the Quakers' point guard, Zack Rosen, shined, providing hope for the future.

    As a sophomore, Rosen averaged 17.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.1 steals in 37.1 minutes per game. In addition to being adept at commanding an offense, he is also a great outside shooter—he connected on 71 of his 167 three-pointers a season ago. 

    Rosen's scoring might drop slightly because Tyler Bernardini is finally healthy, but the return of Bernardini should also increase the point guard's assists.

16. Mickey McConnell, Sr., Saint Mary's

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Mickey McConnell is one of the nation's most reliable guards.

    A season ago, he shot 50.8 percent from the floor, 84.1 percent from the charity stripe, and a nation-best 51 percent from long range. The Mesa, Ariz. native also scored 13.8 points and added 5.1 assists per game.

    Now that Omar Samhan has graduated, McConnell will receive more scoring opportunities, and he is certainly capable of posting 20 points per game this season.

    When Saint Mary's plays on television, watch. There are very few things in college basketball that are more exciting than witnessing a 27-foot splash out of McConnell's hands in a clutch moment.

15. Andrew Goudelock, Sr., College of Charleston

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    Photo Credit: Wade Spees

    You probably only know of Andrew Goudelock if you watched him lead the C of C Cougars to an upset of UNC last season. If the name still doesn't ring a bell, it's time to familiarize yourself with one of the mid-majors' best guards.

    Goudelock averaged 19.4 points, 4.4 boards, 3.9 assists, 1.1 steals and 2.9 treys at a 39.3-percent clip. In the upset of UNC, the sharpshooter buried four triples, one of which sent the game to overtime, and he scored 24 points. 

    Goudelock has scorched the nets through three games in 2010-11, averaging 23 points per game and shooting 42.9 percent from deep. In the season opener, his 27 points were two shy of upsetting Maryland.

14. Drew Viney/Vernon Teel, Loyola Marymount

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    Drew Viney and Vernon Teel make up one of the best mid-major duos in the country. Viney, a junior forward, averaged 16.7 points and seven rebounds per game last year while Teel, a senior guard, posted a well-rounded 15.4 points, 5.3 boards and 5.6 assists per game. He also loves his school.

    The Lions did not come out of the gate roaring, but with the help of Viney and Teel, they should challenge Gonzaga and Saint Mary's in the WCC.

13. D.J. Cooper, So., Ohio

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    D.J. Cooper caught the nation's eye when he led No. 14 seed Ohio over No. 3 seed Georgetown in last year's tournament. In the upset, Cooper scored 23 points, dished out eight assists and nailed five treys.

    Despite being a freshman, Cooper played like a poised veteran on the biggest stage he'd ever set foot on.

    Now the Ohio Bobcats are Cooper's team. The 5-foot-11 guard, who averaged 13.5 points, 5.4 boards and 5.9 assists per game a year ago, hit the ground running in 2010-11, averaging 21.5 points, six rebounds and 7.5 dimes in his first two games. 

12. Orlando Johnson, Jr., UCSB

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    After transferring from Loyola Marymount, Orlando Johnson averaged 18 points and 5.4 rebounds per game and shot 39.7 percent from deep in his first season with UC-Santa Barbara.

    He's a scorer with a plethora of moves to free himself for open shots, and when he's on fire, he's a lot of fun to watch.

11. Xavier Silas, Sr., Northern Illinois

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    Photo Credit: NIU Today

    Like Johnson, Xavier Silas is a scorer. He averaged 19.7 points per game last season and withdrew from the NBA Draft to return to Northern Illinois for 2010-11. Through three games, he's averaging 27 points per contest.

    Although the average received a boost from a 34-point effort against a Division II school, Silas has poured in points against Northwestern (25) and Bradley (22), both of which will be playing some type of postseason basketball.

    Silas is also a good rebounder for a guard. He grabbed 5.3 boards per game in 2009-10.

10. Anatoly Bose, Sr., Nicholls State

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    Anatoly Bose is a scorer and NBA scouts are paying attention.

    A year after averaging 21.1 points on 43.9-percent field-goal shooting and 38.4-percent three-point shooting, Bose is scorching the nets. The 6'6" shooting guard is averaging 29 points per game against competition at least twice as good as his conferences foes in the Southland Conference. 

    Bose posted 22 points at Houston, 28 at LSU and—get ready for this—37 of his team's 56 at Oklahoma State. Is your inner Dickie V shouting, "Are you serious?!"

    If he's doing this against SEC and Big 12 teams, can you imagine what he'll do against Southeastern Louisiana or McNeese State?

    He might be a one—maybe one-and-a-half—dimensional player, but who cares? Don't you want to be watching when a college player drops 70 points in a game?

9. Kenneth Faried, Sr., Morehead State

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Kenneth Faried is a force on both ends of the floor. Catching the collective eye of the college basketball world, the senior forward averaged 16.9 points, 13 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.9 blocks per game last year.

    At 6'8", he's freakishly athletic for his size. Care to see for yourself? He's the freakishly athletic dude with the dreads. P.S. Notice he also starts the break by tipping the rebound to his guard.

    After seeing that, you're probably saying, "Wow. I can't wait to see this guy play!"

    You are?

    I knew it!

    And, by the way: Faried went for 20 and 18 at Florida while keeping his Eagles in the game until the very end.

8. Keith Benson, Sr., Oakland

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    An unbelievable shot-blocker who swatted 3.3 shots per game a year ago, Keith Benson also has a soft touch around the rim. He averaged 17.3 points and 10.5 boards per game in addition to being a game-changing player in the defensive post. 

    Benson is an NBA prospect who has proven he can play with the game's elite. Last year he scored 20 points and blocked four shots against Kansas, posted 21 points and 11 boards at Michigan State and had 28 points and nine rebounds against Pitt in the NCAA tournament.

    In his first game as a senior, Benson had 22 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks against West Virginia.

7. Troy Gillenwater, Jr., New Mexico State

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Jahmar Young and Jonathan Gibson are no longer at New Mexico State, but the Aggies aren't worried—they have Troy Gillenwater. 

    As the third option on offense last year, Gillenwater averaged 14.6 points per game on 52.7-percent shooting. He can score with his back to the basket, off the dribble, or even from long range. Over the offseason, he worked on his three-point shooting and has already buried nine triples—four fewer than he converted all of last season.

    Gillenwater is also a reliable defender, as evidenced by his 1.3 blocks and 6.8 boards per game.

    Now that he is No. 1 on the Aggies, Gillenwater should see his numbers rise. The junior is averaging 22.3 points and 7.3 rebounds through four games thus far.

6. Ryan Rossiter, Sr., Siena

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    Watch the video.

    Now you understand how Ryan Rossiter plays basketball. He leaves his heart on the floor every play of every game and consistently posts double-doubles, the combination of which makes him an indispensable MAAC-and-above player.

    After averaging 13.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, 1.4 steals and one swat per game as a junior, Rossiter's offensive touches should increase as Alex Franklin and Edwin Ubiles, the Saints' top-two scorers from 2009-10, graduated.

    So far he struggled against Minnesota but is averaging 21 points and 11.3 rebounds through three games.

    Rossiter is one of the best big men in the country. No doubt.

5. Adrian Oliver, Sr., San Jose State

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    Look at that defender. He's thinking, "Is he about to do what I think he's about to do?"

    Adrian Oliver is a scoring machine. Last season he tied Devan Downey for fifth in the national scoring race with 22.5 points per game and dropped 30 or more on eight occasions. 

    Size might prevent the 6'4" Oliver from making a name for himself in the NBA, but he definitely has the talent and offensive moves to play at the next level.

    Watch this video. I'm familiar with the saying, "Everyone's an all-star in a highlight reel," but Oliver doesn't just shoot open jumpers in this. He hits several difficult turn-around shots and fadeaways that most college players cannot convert with such ease.

4. Charles Jenkins, Sr., Hofstra

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    Photo Credit: Hofstra Athletic Communications

    Charles Jenkins is one of the most well-rounded guards in all of America.

    At 6'3", Jenkins is quick off the dribble and beats his opponents by driving to the hoop. However, defenses cannot step back to protect against his explosiveness because Jenkins is more than capable of burying a jumpshot from anywhere on the floor. As a junior, he converted 40.9 percent of his 154 three-point attempts and averaged 20.6 points and 3.9 assists per game.

    With 168 career steals, Jenkins is also a defensive stalwart. He might only be 6'3", but he can out-jump taller players, an ability that helped him collect 4.5 boards per game last year.

    Jenkins is off to a tremendous start to 2010-11, averaging 23 points, 4.5 dimes, four rebounds and three steals through four games. 

    The senior is 141 points away from achieving the career milestone of 2,000 points.

    Here's a video that gives you an idea of why you want Charles Jenkins on your team.

    And another of him in high school:

3. Steven Gray, Sr., Gonzaga

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Watching Steven Gray in a supporting role was always enjoyable. He'd swish a long three or make a nice pass and occasionally erupt for a 25-point game.

    This season, Gray is no longer the second, third, or fourth option. He's the leader of Gonzaga's offense, and his production has already skyrocketed. 

    Through three games, he's averaging 25.7 points, 7.3 assists, six rebounds and three assists per game. He even posted a career-high 35 points in the Bulldogs' tilt with San Diego State. 

    With the ball in his hands much more frequently, Gray will be an extremely exciting player to watch this season.

2. Adnan Hodzic, Sr., Lipscomb

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    Photo Credit: AtlanticSun.org

    I call him the "Bosnian Beast." Not sure if it's an original nickname, but it definitely makes sense—he's from Bosnia and he's a beast. Watch this video and you'll see for yourself.

    As you can see, Adnan Hodzic is explosive and strong in the post. Get him the ball there, and the defense will have the nearly impossible task of preventing him from depositing it for two.

    As a junior, Hodzic finished second in the nation with a 22.7-point scoring average. He also grabbed 9.1 boards per game.

    UNC managed to contain Hodzic in Lipscomb's season opener, but the Bosnian Beast still went for 14 points and eight rebounds. He's averaging 22 and 10 so far.

    Hodzic's name will be called on Draft Day 2011. Think of him as a better offensive version of DeJuan Blair, an undersized forward who can make it in the NBA.

1. Shelvin Mack, Jr., Butler

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Do you get a rush when a player buries a transition three? How about a step-back fadeaway? Do you love seeing a guard knife through the defense and finish in traffic? Are you a fan of tenacious defense?

    If you answered "yes" to any of the above, you would love watching Butler's Shelvin Mack.

    A consummate basketball player, Mack can shoot, drive, distribute, defend, and rebound.

    Mack only averaged 14.1 points per game last season, but don't forget Gordon Hayward was the Bulldogs' No. 1 scoring option. Now Hayward is with the Utah Jazz and Mack is Butler's top offensive threat. Through three games, Mack has raised his average by 50 percent to 21.3 points per game.

    He's not just abusing the Marians and Ball States on Butler's schedule—Mack's season-high of 25 points came at Louisville last week.

    In addition to his scoring, Mack averaged 3.7 rebounds, three assists, and 1.4 steals per game last season.

    He's an NBA prospect, but you still have at least one more season to enjoy watching him play for Butler. So enjoy it!