Duke's Nolan Smith and the 20 Most Under-Appreciated Stars in College Basketball

Mike KlineAnalyst IFebruary 9, 2011

Duke's Nolan Smith and the 20 Most Under-Appreciated Stars in College Basketball

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    COLLEGE PARK, MD - FEBRUARY 2: Nolan Smith #2 of the Duke Blue Devils drives to the basket during a college basketball game against the Maryland Terrapins on February 2, 2011 at the Comcast Arena in College Park, Maryland. The Blue Devils won 80-62. (Phot
    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Everyone knows about Nolan Smith, but is he truly appreciated for the kind of season he is having in 2011?

    He is having a monster season, averaging more than 20 points per game and leading the ACC in scoring and assists. No one has ever done that for a season.

    Still, while he is mentioned in national discussions, he can get lost in the mix at times. 

    Many other teams throughout the country could reasonably boast the same thing about their under-appreciated or little-known stars.

    Whether it is a player on a team outside of the mainstream or a player on a national power who is being overshadowed by a superstar, this list of players compiles some of the best you've never heard of or that have been lost in the shuffle.

Jordan Williams

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    NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 19:  Jordan Williams #20 of the Maryland Terrapins is fouled by Demetri McCamey #32 of the Illinois Fighting Illini during the 2k Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden on November 19, 2010 in New York, New York.  (Photo by Chris McGr
    Chris McGrath/Getty Images

    Williams has been an absolute beast for the Maryland Terrapins and is worthy of some national recognition.

    The only problem is that Williams, while fiery and energetic, lacks the bombast of former Maryland standout Greivis Vasquez.

    Still, Williams is averaging a double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds per game.

David Lighty

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    COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 26: David Lighty #23 of the Ohio State Buckeyes goes up for two of his game-high 21 points against the Miami RedHawks at Value City Arena on November 26, 2010 in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State won 66-45. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Ima
    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    When you play on a team with arguably the best freshman and potentially the best player in the country, you are bound to be forgotten at times.

    Such is the case for David Lighty, Ohio State's veteran guard, who is averaging 12 points and just over three assists.

    His experience over the last four years can only help a young but talented Buckeyes team seeking perfection and a few championships before the season ends.

Kawhi Leonard

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    PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 18:  Kawhi Leonard #15 of the San Diego State Axtecs reacts against the Tennessee Volunteers during the first round of the 2010 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 18, 2010 in Providence, Rhode Island.
    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    The San Diego State Aztecs have burst onto the scene and into the Top 10 during the 2010-11 season.

    A big part has been the play of arguably its best player in Kawhi Leonard. The sophomore is averaging a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds per game this season.

    A big part of his anonymity is the fact that the Aztecs play in the Mountain West and the fact they are overshadowed by Jimmer Fredette and BYU.

Marcus Denmon

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    COLUMBIA, MO - JANUARY 17:  Marcus Denmon #12 of the Missouri Tigers talks with Phil Pressey #1 during a timeout in the game against the Kansas State Wildcats on January 17, 2011 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    The Tigers have been a pleasant surprise from the Big 12, and a big part of that has been the play of Marcus Denmon.

    Denmon, who is averaging 16.5 points per game, has helped Mizzou crack the Top 25 and be a contender in the conference. Largely overshadowed by players from Texas, Kansas and Kansas State, Denmon certainly deserves some recognition.

Talor Battle

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    INDIANAPOLIS - MARCH 11:  Guard Talor Battle #12 of the Penn State Nittany Lion stands on the court during the game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the first round of the Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 11, 2010
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Penn State is a football school, right?

    Not if Talor Battle has anything to say about it. The senior has averaged 20 points, four assists and three rebounds per game this season for the Nittany Lions.

    At times he has been the best player in the Big Ten, a conference that features Jared Sullinger, yet playing basketball at Penn State doesn't always bring you the recognition that playing football does.

Kyle Singler

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    COLLEGE PARK, MD - FEBRUARY 2: Kyle Singler #12 of the Duke Blue Devils takes a jump shot over Haukur Paulsson #13 of the Maryland terrapins during a college basketball game on February 2, 2011 at the Comcast Arena in College Park, Maryland. The Blue Devi
    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Singler, like his teammate Nolan Smith, is certainly a household name, being that both play for one of the best and most hated programs in America.

    Still, Singler was a preseason National Player of the Year candidate but has fallen off that radar altogether. It isn't as if he is having a horrible season either.

    His numbers are similar to last year at just over 17 points per game. Still, he is often overlooked even in the Duke fanbase at times due to the fact that Smith is playing so well.

Tyler Zeller

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    GREENSBORO, NC - DECEMBER 18:  Tyler Zeller #44 of the North Carolina Tar Heels attacks the basket against Alexis Wangmene #20 of the Texas Longhorns at Greensboro Coliseum on December 18, 2010 in Greensboro, North Carolina.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    While freshman Harrison Barnes got all the preseason attention, Zeller has quietly become the team's leading scorer and rebounder and one of its best shot blockers.

    He has managed to stay healthy, which is an improvement over his two previous injury-plagued or shortened seasons. He runs the floor well and has added strength, making him able to take a beating down low.

JaMychal Green

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    NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 12:  Jamychal Green #32 of the Alabama Crimson Tide posts up against the Kentucky Wildcats during the quarterfinals of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament at the Bridgestone Arena on March 12, 2010 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Green is another player from a conference and school known for football. Still, he has become the surprising Crimson Tide's top scorer and rebounder this season.

    He has helped Alabama beat the likes of Kentucky and established the Tide as the team to beat in the SEC West.

John Jenkins

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    NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 13:  John Jenkins #23 of the Vanderbilt Commodores handles the ball against the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the semifinals of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament at the Bridgestone Arena on March 13, 2010 in Nashville, Tennesse
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Vanderbilt is a school rich in basketball tradition and history. The problem is that it is almost always forgotten about.

    Jenkins is a solid player on a solid Top 25-caliber team. If he played for Duke, Kentucky or North Carolina and put up similar numbers, he would be a household name.

Keith Wright

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    Ivy League schools usually don't get much love on the hardwood.

    Sure, there is Penn and Princeton who are in the mix, but Harvard has rarely been so recently. Wright has been a beast for the Crimson and might be the best player in the conference.

    He has helped put the boys from Harvard in serious contention for an NCAA berth.

Erving Walker

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    GAINESVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 16: Guard Erving Walker #11 of the Florida Gators plays against the Ohio State Buckeyes November 16, 2010 at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Walker plays on a team with Chandler Parsons and Kenny Boynton, two much more high-profile guys than he.

    Still, he has managed to become the team's leading scorer and appears to have Florida headed to its second straight NCAA Tournament after a two-year absence following its back-to-back national titles in '07 and '08. 

Austin Freeman

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    WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 5:  Austin Freeman #15 of the Georgetown Hoyas takes a jump shot during a college basketball game against the Providence Friars on February 5, 2011 at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC.  The Hoyas won 83-81.  (Photo by Mitchel
    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    So many people forget about how good Austin Freeman is until they see him play.

    Georgetown has been up and down again this season as it battles through the brutal nature of the Big East, but the Hoyas are where they are in large part to the play of Freeman.

    He is a versatile scorer who can go off and take a game over and certainly deserves more national praise.

Marshon Brooks

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    WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 5:  Marshon Brooks #2 of the Providence Friars takes a jump shot over Chris Wright #4 of the Georgetown Hoays during a college basketball game on February 5, 2011 at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC.  The Hoyas won 83-81.  (P
    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Reeves Nelson

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    LAWRENCE, KS - DECEMBER 02:  Reeves Nelson #22 of the UCLA Bruins and Mario Little #23 of the Kansas Jayhawks battle for a loose ball during the game on December 2, 2010 at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Nelson recently discussed the Bruins game against St. John's as a chance to show the East Coast it isn't superior in college basketball.

    Nelson and UCLA beat St. John's—granted, not exactly the most powerful team in the East—and his play was crucial.

    Playing out west, many may not know much about him, but if UCLA can get it back together after a few years in mediocrity, many more will know about how good Nelson is.

Derrick Williams

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    LAS VEGAS - NOVEMBER 27:  Markieff Morris #21 of the Kansas Jayhawks fouls Derrick Williams #23 of the Arizona Wildcats during the championship game of the Las Vegas Invitational at The Orleans Arena November 27, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Kansas won 87-7
    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    Williams has helped put Arizona back on the map after a few years off.

    The Wildcats have been lost the last few years and have been waiting on a player to help re-establish them as a contender. Williams may be that player, as Arizona has made it back into the Top 25 and once again could bring home the Pac-10 title.

Jorge Gutierrez

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    JACKSONVILLE, FL - MARCH 21:  Jon Scheyer #30 of the Duke Blue Devils stops Jorge Gutierrez #2 of the California Golden Bears during the second round of the 2010 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Jacksonville Veteran's Memorial Arena on March 21, 2010 i
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    When you think of college basketball in California, most people think UCLA. Cal is often an afterthought.

    Jorge Gutierrez is looking to change that. The Bears made the NCAA Tournament last year before being knocked off by eventual champ Duke. A large part why they got that far, and perhaps why they may make it again, is the inspiring play of Gutierrez.

    While he may not be the top scorer or even the best player, he inspires and leads like no one else on that team.

Isaiah Thomas

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    SYRACUSE, NY - MARCH 25:  Isaiah Thomas #2 of the Washington Huskies reacts against the West Virginia Mountaineers during the east regional semifinal of the 2010 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Carrier Dome on March 25, 2010 in Syracuse, New York.
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    The Huskies have struggled of late, but they are still widely considered one of the best teams in the west.

    That may be, while so few people have heard of this version of Isaiah Thomas. This isn't the same guy as his much disliked namesake.

    Thomas is averaging 16 points and almost six assists per game. Now if he could only help Washington figure out how to win on the road.

Jordan Hamilton

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    LAWRENCE, KS - JANUARY 22:  Jordan Hamilton #3 of the Texas Longhorns scores during the game against the Kansas Jayhawks on January 22, 2011 at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Texas may be ranked No. 3, but many fans are still waiting for the the eventual collapse that seems to befall the Longhorns every year.

    Don't believe me—check it out.

    Hamilton, though, is trying his hardest to make those past misfortunes a thing of the past, and his 18 points and seven rebounds per game have gone a long way toward propelling Texas into its current position.

Tracy Smith

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    GREENSBORO, NC - MARCH 13:  Tracy Smith #23 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack reacts in a semifinal game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the 2010 ACC Men's Basketball Tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum on on March 13, 2010 in Greensboro,
    Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    You have to feel for Tracy Smith. He and his fellow Wolf Pack teammates were expecting big things this year and have been treated to another disappointing seasons.

    Fans and players have seemed to lose interest, and the only reason the Wolf Pack have to smile is the sometimes brilliant play of Smith, though he has been hurt through most of the season.

    He has to be wondering why he came back for his senior season for this.

Tai Wesley

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    BOISE, ID - MARCH 20:  Forward Tai Wesley #42 of the Utah State Aggies shoots ball against the Marquette Golden Eagles in the first round of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the Taco Bell Arena on March 20, 2009 in Boise, Idaho.  (Photo
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Utah State doesn't get much publicity, but they have slowly crept into the Top 25 during the season. A large part of that is the play of Wesley.

    While his numbers don't scream National Player of the Year or even All-American, he is the steady hand that the team needs heading into the NCAA Tournament.