Thursday, February 28, 2013

Diamonds in the Dirt: 10 More of College Basketball's Best Players on Losing Teams

Over at Bleacher Report, I've produced a list of the 10 best players in America that are condemned to toil in silence because their teams have records at or below .500 this year.

For those who might be a little indignant that their favorite team's not represented, try this supplemental list on for size. Consider them Nos. 11-20.

Check out the next 10 hidden gems after the jump.

20. Reggie Hearn, Northwestern
--Hearn was expected to be a sideman this season, sort of the Stevie Van Zandt to Drew Crawford's Springsteen. (Okay, something a little more contemporary? How about Meek Mill to Crawford's Rick Ross? Better?)

When Crawford suffered a season-ending injury, though, Hearn had to step up and lead the Wildcats. While further issues have kept him from carrying them far, Hearn's performance should be lauded.

His 13.5 PPG and 4.3 RPG don't leap off the page, but Bill Carmody's offense isn't usually going to get a player fat numbers unless he's as naturally versatile as John Shurna. Hearn's still a 57% true shooter, and that's actually down from last season as he commands greater defensive attention.

Even before Crawford's injury, Hearn dropped in double-digit points in every non-conference game except for nine in the opener. He busted out a 17-10 dub-dub in the win at Baylor, then put up 18-7 in a two-point loss to Stanford.

19. Nathan Healy, Appalachian State
--With apologies to guys like De'Mon Brooks and Jake Cohen of Davidson, Nathan Healy may be the Southern Conference's most complete player.

At 6'7" and 210 pounds, Healy's all-around game has his name all over the SoCon leaderboards. He's top-11 in seven of the eight primary categories, lacking only in assists. His 56.5 eFG% and 59.5 TS% are also near the top of the league. Healy also does not burn his team, turning the ball over on approximately 14 percent of his possessions.

Most of his best games have come against conference opponents, and he was at his disruptive best against Western Carolina earlier this month (24 points, eight boards, seven steals).

18. Jalen Cannon, St. Francis (NY)
--As a freshman, Cannon was the most efficient rebounder (and fourth-most prolific) in the NEC. As a sophomore, he's shouldered a much bigger scoring load and done that pretty well, too.

Cannon is up to 23% of the Terriers' available shots from about 15% last season. He's still among the league's top 10 in eFG% and TS%, seventh in scoring and second at nine RPG.

He scored only eight points in the season's second game against Illinois, but did rip 11 rebounds. He busted Boston College for 23 and 13, then followed it up with 14 and 12 against St. John's. He'll be hard to leave off the All-NEC team.

Nelson = major.
17. Roberto Nelson, Oregon State
--Nelson was a decent, if inconsistent, player for the Beavers last season. This year, his improvement has largely gone ignored because OSU has found ways to lose in Pac-12 play.

As a sophomore, Nelson's eFG% and TS% stood at 47.0 and 51.8. This year, they've improved to 51.4 and 57.3. He's up to nearly 40% from long range, a better rate than last year's overall field-goal shooting.

Nelson's turnover percentage is down as well, this season's 16.0 standing nearly nine points lower than where it was in his redshirt freshman season.

The Beavers could use a little balance from time to time, as they're only 1-5 in conference when Nelson scores 20 or more. Those five defeats have come by a total of 26 points, so OSU isn't getting blasted. They're a team that's not devoid of talent, but the breaks just haven't come.

Still, Craig Robinson's gonna be knocking on the White House door and begging his BIL POTUS for an ambassador job this time next month.

16. Demetrius Conger, St. Bonaventure
--The rare player on either of my lists that has taken a step back from last season, Conger's still a very solid presence for a 13-13 St. Bonaventure team.

The senior stands 10th in the Atlantic 10 in TS%, largely on the strength of 85-percent foul shooting. That's a tremendous change from the 66% he shot in his first two seasons. His eFG% and TS% are both down about four points, but still stand at 51 and 58, respectively.

Conger leads the Bonnies in scoring despite only taking 19.4% of the available shots, so that's got to say something.

There was a great run in January where St. Bonnie had to take on preseason A-10 favorites VCU, Temple, St. Joseph's, St. Louis and the always-dangerous Xavier. Conger averaged 16.2-7.8-2.4 in that span, helping the Bonnies knock off Temple and SJU.

15. Keith Rendleman, UNC-Wilmington
--A 6'8", 220-pound senior, Rendleman has been one of the CAA's most efficient scorers for three years now. He's ranked top-15 in TS% despite never being better than 63% from the line.

He's also been one of the Colonial's top 12 rebounders in each of his four seasons, and he's about to close out his second straight season of averaging a double-double. To top it off, he's a defensive playmaker as well, standing top-5 in the CAA in both steals and blocks.

Far from wilting under the burden of carrying the Seahawks, Rendleman's finishing the season strong, knocking in 22.4 points and 11.6 rebounds over his last five. Unfortunately, the team has lost four of those five, the last two by one point each.

A guy with a free throw rate of .648 should be making more than 60% of his attempts, and that sketchy form has certainly played its part in UNCW's struggles this year. Rendleman made only 4-of-11 in Saturday's one-point loss to Delaware.

14. Anthony Ireland, Loyola Marymount
--Ireland lacks a lot of the support he enjoyed last season, and that's usually a recipe for a difficult year. He's gone from taking less than 25% of the available shots to almost 31%, and his two-point efficiency has suffered. Perhaps the legs start to go late, thanks to his playing almost 92% of the Lions' minutes this season.

Still, he's dropping in nearly 39% from three and 83% from the line en route to his 20.4 PPG, second in the WCC. The 5'10" junior still stands in the league's top 10 in both assists and steals, too.

Ireland has faced down some decent competition this year, carding a 17-9-5 against Ole Miss and 16-8 against St. Louis. His 13-of-40 shooting in those games was rough to watch, though. More recently, he tried to singlehandedly carry LMU past Gonzaga, scoring 30 points on 8-20 from the floor and 12-14 from the line.

Since Gonzaga's still unbeaten as I write this, it obviously didn't work. Brother tried, though.

You know "Flaming Gerbils" would be an EPIC name.
13. Brandon Young, DePaul
--What little press the Blue Demons get (and it ain't much, since a caller to my radio station last night guessed their nickname as the "Flaming Gerbils") usually goes to teammate Cleveland Melvin, but Brandon Young has been every bit as effective.

The 6'3" junior guard leads the team in scoring by a couple of tenths over Melvin, and the two are very comparable in their shooting efficiencies. Melvin owns the glass, while Young makes the plays on the perimeter. Young ranks in the Big East's top 10 in assists and steals, packing a respectable 1.7 A/T ratio.

While DePaul's been regularly crushed in the Big East, Young helped them to some decent non-conference results. He recorded a 19-6-5 against Wichita State, 19-3-5 in a win over Auburn and 18-4-9 in a win over Arizona State.

Finally, it's Young, not Melvin, who has DePaul's high scoring game of the season, dropping 35 on UConn in January. Yes, DePaul lost by 21, but if they won more games, you wouldn't be reading about Young here, amirite?

12. Deonte Burton, Nevada
--The difference between the WAC and Mountain West is most pronounced when we examine the performance of the Nevada Wolf Pack. A perennial kingpin in the WAC, the MWC has chewed Nevada up and spit it out, but junior guard Deonte Burton has tried his best to stop the bleeding.

Burton is still top-six in the MWC in scoring, assists and steals, and he packs a strong 15.4 turnover percentage, to boot. Only three times this season has he committed more than three miscues in a game, so it's not his mistakes condemning his team to defeat.

Nevada's biggest win of the season may have been a December win at Washington, and that one had Burton's fingerprints all over it. He accounted for 29 points and six steals that night.

With 184 free throw attempts, Burton is one of America's 30 most prolific foul shooters. He's hard to keep out of the lane, and at 73 percent, he's reasonably dangerous when he gets there.

11. Anthony Raffa, Coastal Carolina
--Raffa's another player who takes almost a third of his team's shots when he's on the floor (32%), but he also adds a good amount of value at the defensive end. He's ranked top-six in steals in the Big South the last two years.

While he could be more efficient with his shots, Raffa has been nothing if not consistent. Each of his three years at Coastal since transferring from Albany, the senior's been around 53% eFG and 57% TS.

Know how we're debating on how far Akron can go in the tournament and whether they should get an at-large bid? What gets forgotten is that the Zips opened the season with a loss to CCU, and Raffa busted 27 and 8 on the night. He also poured in 25 on a Clemson team that had to invent ways to lose against the top-five Miami Hurricanes. Hell, Miami as a team only scored 45 that night.

So, while we're not gonna see these guys in the NCAA tournament (barring some truly ridiculous miracles), find some highlights of them while you can, because some of them ain't gonna be around much longer.

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