College Basketball's Short Stories: Top 20 Players Under Six Feet

Scott Henry@@4QuartersRadioFeatured ColumnistAugust 17, 2012

College Basketball's Short Stories: Top 20 Players Under Six Feet

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    Having a talented big man can take a college basketball team a long way, but it's often the little men who make the difference between a good team and a championship squad.

    There is no award specifically for the big guys, but players under six feet have done enough for the game that the NABC now bestows the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award to players six feet and shorter every season.

    Some of the players in this slideshow are already household names, while others will pass through college basketball with no love from the casual fan, barring a miracle run in March.

    While six-footers are able to win the Pomeroy, this list will comprise only those players who come in under six feet. See the first slide for a list of players who are excluded by this prerequisite.

Six-Footers Need Not Apply

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    Before you all try to play "gotcha" in the comment thread with a flood of players who have been unjustly ignored, please examine this list of players whose schools list them at six feet or taller.

    • Isaiah Canaan, Murray State
    • Kendrick Perry, Youngstown State
    • Shabazz Napier, UConn
    • Ryan Boatright, UConn
    • Trevor Releford, Alabama
    • Jordan Hulls, Indiana
    • Kevin Dillard, Dayton
    • Tyreek Duren, LaSalle
    • Russ Smith, Louisville
    • Joe Jackson, Memphis
    • Ricky Tarrant, Tulane
    • Michael Dixon, Missouri
    • Kerron Johnson, Belmont
    • Tim Frazier, Penn State
    • Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
    • Deonte Burton, Nevada
    • Trey Burke, Michigan
    • Ray McCallum, Detroit
    • Keith Appling, Michigan State
    • Trae Golden, Tennessee
    • Andrew Lawrence, Charleston
    • Will Cherry, Montana
    • Eric Atkins, Notre Dame
    • Chasson Randle, Stanford
    • Mark Lyons, Arizona (formerly Xavier)
    • Myck Kabongo, Texas
    • Gary Bell Jr., Gonzaga
    • Peyton Siva, Louisville

    That should cover just about everyone near the six-foot mark who would be good enough to make this list. Now that this article has been doomed to zero comments, since the only comments that get left on these slideshows are from people raging about exclusions, let's take a look at number 20.

20. Angel Rodriguez, Kansas State

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    Angel Rodriguez holds the keys to a team returning all but one of its key contributors. The 5'11" sophomore had to wrest a starting spot away from Martavious Irving, but by season's end he was playing 39 minutes against Baylor.

    Rodriguez is a go-go player who can occasionally struggle with ball security, as evidenced by his 17 assists and 19 turnovers in the season's final five games. New Kansas State coach Bruce Weber told Kansas State's athletics website, "...we want to see him make the easy point-guard plays. If he can learn to do that and continue to score like he does, he has a chance to be pretty good.”

    For the season, Rodriguez had an assist/turnover ratio of only 1.2, and Weber indicated in the release linked above that he'd prefer to see that statistic rise past a 2-1 ratio this season. If it does, K-State should be able to make its fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance.

19. Jabarie Hinds, West Virginia

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    Sophomore Jabarie Hinds will have a tall order in West Virginia's first Big 12 season. The Mountaineers lose their undisputed leaders in Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant, leaving Hinds as the roster's most experienced guard.

    Even with Bryant lined up alongside him, Hinds still managed to lead the team in assists and steals while finishing fourth on the roster in turnovers.

    Coach Bob Huggins should have the option to work with a two-point guard lineup if he regularly pairs Hinds with Dayton transfer Juwan Staten. If he does, look for numerous camera shots of Huggins screaming profanities onto the floor, as neither Hinds nor Staten can be called a reliable shooter at the moment.

    Hinds' 48.9 true shooting percentage looks golden when compared to Staten's 42.6. At least one of them will have to make shots to spread the lane and allow big men Aaric Murray and Deniz Kilicli to work down low. If not, WVU will surely struggle in the Big 12.

18. Austin Morgan, Yale

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    Austin Morgan, a 5'11" senior, leads a Yale squad that needs to make up more than 30 points per game lost to graduation. The Bulldogs will miss All-Ivy big man Greg Mangano's 18.2 average and Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year Reggie Willhite's 12.1.

    Morgan, at 11.8 PPG last season, is the returning leading scorer in New Haven, and he'll have to up his game even further this year. He's a dangerous shooter, making a higher percentage from three-point range (37.5) than from two (35.8).

    It's also dangerous to give Morgan contact when he attacks the basket. He finished last season at 90 percent from the foul line, ranking in the national top 10.

    Morgan has shown a flair for the dramatic, finishing a 10-point comeback against Cornell as a sophomore, then draining a dagger to knock off Rhode Island last December. Yale fans will need to see a lot more of those heroics if the Bulldogs are going to threaten for the Ivy League title.

17. Maurice Jones, USC

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    Maurice Jones, all 5'7" of him, was the USC Trojans' biggest scoring threat last season. He was also the primary distributor. Doing all of that for a 6-26 team can make anyone weary.

    At 13 points, 3.5 assists and 1.8 steals per game, all team-leading figures, Jones had to shoulder a heavy load with the loss of backcourt mate Jio Fontan to a knee injury. Highlights included a win over South Carolina in which Jones struck for 28 points, including a perfect night on seven three-point attempts. Three weeks later, he tore up TCU for 25 points and seven assists.

    Unfortunately, the workload wore on Jones, and the losing wore on everyone else. Jones ended the season on a 21-for-81 (26 percent) shooting skid over his last seven games. It wasn't terribly worse than his 33 percent shooting for the season, but it was still pretty bad.

    This season, Fontan is expected back and Wake Forest transfer J.T. Terrell may step in next to him. Jones could thrive in a sixth-man role, coming in to produce some instant offense. At least he'll have some help carrying the load for USC.

16. Glen Dean, Utah

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    Utah junior guard Glen Dean recorded back-to-back seasons of better than 12 points per game and is a career 42 percent three-point shooter. That's the good news.

    The bad news is that he amassed those numbers at Eastern Washington, which is in the Big Sky. Say what you like about the Pac-12's recent mediocrity, but it's still a much tougher conference than the Big Sky.

    Dean won Big Sky Freshman of the Year honors in 2010, then proceeded to lead the Eagles in scoring and assists as a sophomore. His biggest nights against major or mid-major competition came in his freshman season, when he averaged 12 points per game against Washington State, Nevada and Gonzaga, dishing out a career-high 10 assists against Nevada.

    Still, if Dean can survive a scare like the one that prompted him to go in for brain surgery last December, maybe playing against UCLA and Arizona won't be such a problem after all.

15. Ahmad Starks, Oregon State

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    Oregon State returns four starters from a 21-win team, so it would seem that the Beavers might be in a great position to improve in 2012-13. The problem is that that fifth starter was NBA first-round draft pick Jared Cunningham, arguably the nation's most unsung star last season.

    Key to helping the Beavers get past the effects of Cunningham's departure will be the play of 5'9" junior guard Ahmad Starks. Starks is OSU's second-leading returning scorer, and his 79 three-pointers last season were the second most in school history.

    Ball security was not an issue for Starks last season, as he committed 1.4 turnovers per game in more than 31 minutes of playing time. Coach Craig Robinson would likely be fine with his point guard repeating his 2-1 assist/turnover ratio.

    One thing that needs improvement in Starks' game is his aggressiveness toward the basket. An 87 percent career free throw shooter, Starks attempted only 43 foul shots last season. While his three-point marksmanship is valuable, he can be even more dangerous if he gets to the line more consistently.

14. Anthony Hickey, LSU

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    Anthony Hickey was a big man on campus (figuratively speaking) for the LSU Tigers last season. The 5'11" point guard will remain the team's most significant figure in 2012-13, if only because there aren't a lot of other compelling candidates.

    Hickey is a daring on-ball defender, evidenced by his leading the SEC with 2.1 steals per game. He also displayed solid ball security for a freshman, recording a 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and no games of more than four turnovers.

    Unfortunately, many of his shots could qualify as turnovers, since Hickey only managed a 46.7 true shooting percentage. He made less than 40 percent of his field goal attempts, a figure that must improve without 7-footer Justin Hamilton around to clean the offensive glass.

    Better shooting for Hickey and his similarly inaccurate (and similarly built) backcourt mate Andre Stringer is a difficult proposition this season, considering their noticeable size disadvantage. New Tiger coach Johnny Jones will have to get creative with his offense to create openings for his players to score on their own.

13. Kevin Ferrell, Indiana

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    There will be a companion piece following this one detailing America's top 10 seven-footers. Unfortunately, it's hard to find seven-footers in the college game these days who are skilled and not already bound for the NBA, so I had to break one of my cardinal rules and include freshmen. Thus, it's only fair that the same be done here.

    The best incoming small baller is Indiana recruit Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell, a player who may wrest the starting point guard position from senior Jordan Hulls sooner rather than later. The IU offense was one of America's best last season, but Ferrell's sheer quickness and speed will allow coach Tom Crean more freedom to push tempo past his opponent's limits.

    While Ferrell's size disadvantage is even more pronounced than Hulls', there is no disputing the value of Yogi's superior athleticism on the defensive end.

    For an Indiana squad that returns most of a dominant offense but struggled on the defensive end, Ferrell should make a large impact quickly. Indiana is considered a preseason Final Four contender, but it may fall short of that billing if Ferrell can't make a splash.

    Finally, if a man as small as Ferrell can be called "Yogi," let this article be the first to refer to fellow recruit Peter Jurkin as "Boo Boo."

12. Myles Mack, Rutgers

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    Myles Mack was the second-leading scorer for Rutgers, and he started only 14 of the Scarlet Knights' 32 games. Whether that's a sign of good depth or poor roster management will closely mirror the observer's level of optimism regarding Rutgers as a whole this season.

    The 5'9" Mack did play 26 minutes per game as a freshman, often finishing games even if he didn't start them. While classmates Eli Carter and Jerome Seagears got most of the starts, Mack finished second on the team in three-pointers made and led Rutgers in steals.

    There were shooting struggles for Mack, evidenced by his 38 percent field-goal shooting and 33 percent from long range, but he was a 78 percent shooter from the line. If he can make better percentages in the flow of the offense, look for Mack to contend for All-Big East honors.

11. Alex Abreu, Akron

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    If you were asked to guess which schools had one of America's top seven-footers and one of the nation's best sub-six-footers playing together, how many guesses would you need before you threw out Akron?

    Zips point guard Alex Abreu stands all of 5'10" and even though he's not a hyped national name, it's not major hyperbole to call him and 7-foot center Zeke Marshall one of the country's top inside-outside duos.

    Abreu was named second-team All-MAC last season after ranking among the league's top five in assists and steals.

    Unlike many of the point guards on this list, Abreu is a pass-first player who averaged fewer than seven shots per game. The ones he took counted, though, as Abreu recorded a 56.5 effective field goal percentage and a true shooting percentage of 61.6.

    His raw percentages of 45.7 from the floor, 43 from three-point range and 81.8 from the foul line indicate that if the 5'10" junior wanted to be a top scoring threat, he has the ability. As it is, the Zips return seven players who averaged at least six points per game. If Abreu wants to score, he can, but it's always comforting when a point guard knows he doesn't have to.

10. Aaron Bright, Stanford

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    Stanford's 2011-12 season was a bit of a downer until the Cardinal launched a run to the NIT championship. The tournament recognizes a Most Valuable Player each season, and Stanford's winner was 5'11" guard Aaron Bright.

    The Seattle native enters his junior season off the back of that impressive postseason, in which he averaged nearly 17 points and more than four assists per game. A starter at the beginning of the season, Bright was sent to the bench in February.

    Far from a demotion, Cardinal coach Johnny Dawkins relied on Bright for a spark on both ends of the court. It looked like a misfire the first time out when Bright went scoreless against USC. From there, though, Bright averaged 12.8 points per game, up from 11.7 as a starter. For the season, he also led the team with 3.6 assists per game.

    The Cardinal return not just Bright, but fellow guards Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown and Jarrett Mann. Randle, Brown and Bright are all dangerous shooters, so defenses will have their hands full deciding which Cardinal sniper needs the most coverage.

9. Kendall Anthony, Richmond

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    Coming into the 2011-12 season, discussion of the top freshmen in the Atlantic 10 began and ended with Xavier's Dezmine Wells. By season's end, it was no surprise to see Wells on the conference's all-rookie team. Wells wasn't the conference rookie of the year, however, losing out to 5'8" Richmond sniper Kendall Anthony.

    Anthony started only one game last season, but as long as he got minutes, he made things happen, no matter what segment of the game he was in. He was occasionally good for close to a point per minute, scoring 17 in 18 minutes against William & Mary and 20 in 22 against Dayton, among others.

    Half of Anthony's points came from behind the arc. The Spiders return starters Cedrick Lindsay, Darien Brothers and Derrick Williams to keep defenses from sagging onto Anthony, so look for him to remain one of the A-10's most consistent perimeter threats.

8. Neil Watson, Southern Miss

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    Neil Watson was on the verge of being a college basketball vagabond when Southern Miss replaced coach Larry Eustachy with ex-Morehead State boss Donnie Tyndall. Watson started his career with a redshirt at Toledo, then spent a year at Coffeyville Community College before coming to Hattiesburg.

    When Tyndall re-recruited his team's sparkplug guard, he kept alive the Golden Eagles' chances to return to the NCAA tournament. Watson made second-team All-Conference USA after leading his team in scoring and steals and also finishing second in the league in assists. He accomplished all of this in 30 minutes per game, but only started four games.

    A 30.6 assist percentage showed Watson's ability to get everyone involved, and his 2.1-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio showed that he could protect the ball as well.

    The Golden Eagles will need Watson to improve his 36 percent shooting with scoring threats Darnell Dodson, Angelo Johnson and Maurice Bolden gone. He took at least 11 shots in each of the last nine games last season, making only 33.5 percent in that span. If he can get closer to the mid-40's, USM should be back on the radar by March.

7. Tray Woodall, Pitt

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    In what became a highly disappointing season for the Pittsburgh Panthers, one of the bright spots was the play of point guard Tray Woodall.

    Woodall carded double-doubles in four of the Panthers' first six games, but suffered an abdominal tear that sidelined him for 11 of the next 12 games. He admitted to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he came back long before he was ready, and Pitt hit the skids in Big East play without him.

    By season's end, though, Woodall was back to his old form, averaging nearly 14 points, 3.5 rebounds and seven assists during Pitt's run to a CBI championship.

    With leading scorers Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson gone, Woodall takes the undisputed mantle of leadership this season. He is a point guard who should make returnees like Lamar Patterson and J.J. Moore into double-figure scorers, provided there are enough available shots once Central Michigan transfer Trey Zeigler gets through.

    Add those versatile perimeter players to returning big man Dante Taylor and freshman Steven Adams, and the nation may get a much larger eyeful of Tray Woodall come March.

6. Carl Jones, St. Joseph's

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    Back-to-back seasons of 17 points per game have made St. Joseph's guard Carl Jones one of the Atlantic 10's most respected scoring threats. As the 5'11" Jones enters his senior season, the Hawks return everyone from last season's NIT team, prompting some optimism that the team might be able to step up to March's big tournament.

    Jones put his footprint on several non-conference games against big-name foes. He dropped 38 in a loss to Seton Hall, but his 29 against Creightonoutscoring Doug McDermott in the processspurred the Hawks to an upset win.

    Jones also finished second on his team in assists. His numbers in that category may not jump off the page, but that's a function of St. Joe's offensive balance and Jones's own scoring swagger. Jones had eight games of five-plus assists last season. Improvement on that number and maintaining his high scoring average should make Jones a conference player-of-the-year favorite.

    If St. Joseph's played in any conference other than the loaded Atlantic 10, it would be penciled into every preseason bracket published. As it is, perennial powers Temple and Xavier may be set for down yearsby their standards, anywayand schools like St. Joe's and newcomer VCU could benefit richly.

5. Kwamain Mitchell, Saint Louis

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    Kwamain Mitchell missed the 2010-11 season due to suspension, right after he established himself as one of the Atlantic 10's primary scoring threats with 15.9 PPG as a sophomore.

    When he returned, he didn't take nearly as many shots, he didn't turn the ball over as much and the Billikens came within a game of tying Temple for the A-10 regular season title. SLU did, however, reach its first NCAA tournament since 2000.

    Leading scorer Brian Conklin is the only major contributor not returning, so it remains to be seen if Mitchell will resume his role as primary scoring option. The 5'10" guard can still score when needed, including dropping 22 to lead the Billikens over sexy Cinderella pick Memphis in the second round of the tournament.

    When he doesn't, he can still lead the offense. In the A-10 tournament, Mitchell shot only 8-of-26 against LaSalle and Xavier, but he dished 16 assists in those two games. SLU could take advantage of transition periods at Temple and Xavier and finish the job they came close to finishing last season.

4. Anthony Ireland, Loyola Marymount

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    Loyola Marymount wasn't the scoreboard-torching video-game offense of the Hank Gathers-Bo Kimble era last season, but the Lions did come closer than anyone in several years to breaking up the Gonzaga-St. Mary's monopoly on the West Coast Conference title. Point guard Anthony Ireland was the Lion king last season and may be relied on to do more this season.

    Ireland finished second in the WCC scoring race, fourth in assists and fourth in steals. He joined WCC Player of the Year Matthew Dellavedova of Saint Mary's and Gonzaga's Kevin Pangos as the only guards on the 10-man All-WCC team, so it's not a stretch to call Ireland the second-best guard in the league.

    With the graduation of fellow all-conference performer Drew Viney and the transfer of 10-PPG scorer Jarred DuBois to Utah, Ireland will need to rely on senior Ashley Hamilton and freshman Nick Stover to keep LMU close to the top.

    If the Lions don't contend for the championship, Ireland's chances of Player of the Year will suffer, since only one player in the last decade (Santa Clara's John Bryant) has won the award on a team with a losing league record. Even if he doesn't pull the hardware, though, Ireland deserves to be in the same breath with Dellavedova and all the best point guards in the West, if not the nation.

3. Chaz Williams, UMass

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    UMass was a .500 team before Chaz Williams suited up. With the generously listed 5'9" waterbug running the offense, the Minutemen gave the Brooklyn native a homecoming at Madison Square Garden for last season's NIT semifinals.

    Williams stuffed the stat sheet like no man his size should be expected to do, recording five double-doubles and adding 13 games of six-plus rebounds and 14 games of three-plus steals. For the season, he led the A-10 in assists, finished fourth in steals and seventh in scoring.

    Doubters are becoming fewer and farther between as Williams continues to produce against an increasingly stronger Atlantic 10, and his NIT performance should silence some critics as well.

    Williams dropped 28 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three steals on Mississippi State in the first round, then followed with 20 points, seven boards and six more dimes against Seton Hall. The Hall had been a school Williams had been interested in attending before he originally committed to Hofstra, but SHU's staff harbored doubts about Williams' ability to compete on that level.

    At this point, very few schools should have any doubts that Chaz Williams can compete in their league.

2. Phil Pressey, Missouri

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    If not for the rule that Division I transfers have to sit out a season before suiting up for a new school, Missouri point guard Phil Pressey would likely need name tags to identify his new teammates.

    The Tigers lost five members of a seven-man rotation, including their top three scorers. The 5'10" Pressey will need to adapt to transfers Keion Bell, Earnest Ross and Alex Oriakhi if he plans to equal or better his production from last season.

    Pressey led the Big 12 at 6.4 assists per game, ranking 11th in America. He also led the league in steals at 2.1 a night. Both figures would have also led Missouri's new conference—the SEC.

    If Mizzou's new blood mixes well with returnees Pressey, Mike Dixon and Laurence Bowers, no one should be surprised if the Tigers are standing atop the SEC, even ahead of the new collection of Kentucky Wildcats.

1. Pierre Jackson, Baylor

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    Coming into last season, anyone could see Baylor had a tremendous frontcourt. The big question was whether junior college transfer Pierre Jackson could run the offense efficiently enough to push his team to its utmost potential.

    Five months later, Baylor was stopped one game short of the Final Four, capping a season in which the 5'10" Jackson was the team's surprise scoring leader, finished second in the Big 12 in steals and third in assists.

    With that all-star frontcourt of Perry Jones III, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy off to the NBA, Jackson will need to break in a group including returnees Deuce Bello and Cory Jefferson, UCLA transfer J'Mison Morgan and freshmen Isaiah Austin and Ricardo Gathers.

    Jackson should enter the season as a favorite for Big 12 Player of the Year, and look for him to take the crowns in both assists and steals this season. Why so confident?

    Because Phil Pressey is headed to the SEC, that's why.