Notre Dame's Ben Hansbrough might be the most underrated college basketball player in the country. In fact, he might be better than this year's darling, Jimmer Fredette.
He is the best player on a team that is currently ranked in the top 10. He leads Notre Dame in points per game at 18.4, and assists per game at 4.2.
Those are great numbers, and when you consider the conference he plays in, they look even better. He plays in the Big East, the best collection of teams in the country.
He's putting up his stellar numbers against good, athletic guards from schools like Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Villanova and other great programs.
He's third in the conference in points per game, 11th in assists per game, sixth in field goal percentage, third in three-point percentage and sixth in free-throw percentage.
To be at the top of the Big East in all those categories is no small feat.
It's interesting to wonder how good Hansbrough's numbers could be in Jimmer Fredette's Mountain West Conference.
I'm as big a fan of Jimmer as anyone (in fact, I recently predicted that he could win NBA Rookie of the Year in 2012), but he doesn't consistently face the same level of competition as Hansbrough.
You've all heard Fredette's numbers, and obviously they're impressive, but I'm going to argue that Hansbrough's are better (and like I said, he's putting them up against better competition).
Let's start by looking at the numbers (per game) on the surface...
|Ben Hansbrough||Jimmer Fredette|
|Field Goal %||48%||45%|
|Free Throw %||82%||90%|
As you can see, Fredette only has a clear advantage in points and free-throw percentage. Hansbrough has a fairly significant advantage in turnovers, and the other two shooting percentages.
If you look a little deeper, Jimmer's scoring advantage is less significant than it appears. He may average nine more points per game, but he also averages almost eight more shots per game.
If Hansbrough maintained his efficiency while putting up as many shots as Fredette, he'd average 30 points per game.
Of course, that could have an adverse effect on his assist number, but the point is, Hansbrough is a more efficient scorer.
The flip side of that argument deals with schemes Fredette faces. Every team that plays BYU focuses their entire defensive strategy around stopping Jimmer.
In every game, he's defended by the opposing team's best on-ball defender. He faces multiple double teams over the course of the game (and even some triple teams).
That makes it extremely difficult for Jimmer to get decent looks at the basket (even with his solid ballhandling).
That's not to say the defense Hansbrough faces is weak. Opposing teams may not focus quite as much on Hansbrough as they do on Fredette. But as Notre Dame's leading scorer, he's still a top priority for Big East foes.
And Big East foes are almost always better defenders than what the Mountain West has to offer.
Who is the Better Player?
When you compare all their numbers, and consider the difference in the competition they face, it's not too much of a stretch to say Hansbrough may be having the better season.
If that's the case, you have to wonder why no one is talking about Notre Dame's point guard (at least in comparison to Fredette). You also have to wonder why he's barely even seen as an NBA prospect.
Jimmer is predicted to go in the lottery in most NBA mock drafts. So why do most of those same mocks have Hansbrough going undrafted?
It's a very puzzling question. Notre Dame plays in a better conference that gets much more national media attention. Hansbrough's brother Tyler was one of the most famous players in NCAA history.
Is Jimmer Fredette a more exciting player? Have the efforts of his fans on the internet made him more appealing to pro scouts?
Whatever the reason, Jimmer is definitely getting more attention right now.
It will be interesting to see what will happen to the draft stock for each of these guys as we progress through the NCAA tournament.
Obviously, I feel like Hansbrough deserves more attention, and I think he could be a solid NBA point guard.