Last season saw a number of players from non-BCS conferences thrust into the national spotlight and performing well. A preseason National Player of the Year contender Doug McDermott of Creighton led the Bluejays to a 3rd round trip to the NCAA Tournament while finishing 3rd in the country in scoring at 23.2 points per game. Isaiah Caanan led the Murray State Racers to a 32-2 record and their own 3rd round trip to the NCAAs as well as the school’s first-ever national ranking. North Texas’ star freshman Tony Mitchell averaged a double-double, 14.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game (the only freshman in the country to accomplish the feat). Mitchell led the Mean Green to the finals of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament where they fell to a red-hot Western Kentucky squad. Nate Wolters of South Dakota State led the team in scoring at 21.2ppg, led the Jackrabbits to its first-ever Summit League and NCAA Tournament berth where they gave 3-seeded Baylor all they could handle in a 2nd round loss. Wolters caught the eye of many with a nationally televised 22-point performance in a win over Buffalo on Bracketbuster Saturday.
These four have something in common, they all made CBSSports.com’s list of the top 100 for the 2012-13 season. McDermott (2), Caanan (4), Mitchell (7) all made the top ten while Wolters checks in at 71. So who are some guys from non-BCS conferences that aren’t on this list but may be by year’s end?
Let’s start in the conference where McDermott resides, the Missouri Valley. Evansville’s Colt Ryan just missed the cut on CBS’ list but the 6’5 leader of the Purple Aces finished last season as the team leader in points (20.5) and steals (1.9) per game while finishing 3rd in rebounds (4.2) and assists (3.3) per game. What makes Ryan so good is his consistency, not only will he dish out assists and crash the boards, but since he arrived at Evansville he has scored at least 20 points in 33 games, that’s a full season and a better than a one out of every three game clip.
Julian Boyd the senior leader and reigning Northeast Conference Player of the Year will try and lead the Blackbirds to a 3rd straight conference championship and NCAA Tournament bid. He will however have to wait to take his stranglehold on the conference. Boyd was one of four players originally suspended from school for their part in an on campus brawl. Those bans have been lifted but those players will serve two game suspensions to begin conference play, among other sanctions. During the Blackbirds NEC reign over the last two seasons, Boyd has been a rock, scoring at least 12 points in all but four games and grabbing at least six rebounds in all but five contests. Boyd jumped from 13 points a game in 2010-11 to 17.4 last season, while averaging over 9 boards a game. A similar jump would assuredly put Boyd more squarely on the national map.
Like Long Island, Belmont is coming off back-to-back Atlantic Sun conference championships and 57 wins over the last two seasons. Now move to the Ohio Valley which should give the Bruins an even bigger national profile playing with Murray State who again should be a high profile mid major team. Kerron Johnson leads the Bruins into its first season in the Ohio Valley averaging 13.8 points and 5.2 assists per game. Having Caanan in the same conference could push Johnson, his game and Belmont to an even higher level.
De’mon Brooks is coming off a quietly stellar sophomore season in which he averaged nearly 16 points and six rebounds per game and 18 points and 6 rebounds in leading Davidson to the Southern Conference Championship. After his freshman campaign Brooks improved his 3-point, field goal and free throw percentages and his points per game jumped up from 9 to 15.7. With the top six scorers returning, Brooks has the chance to lead Davidson to another NCAA Tournament bid and shine brighter on a national stage in the process.
After being upset in the first round of the Western Athletic Conference tournament, Utah State made it to the finals of the CIT tournament. Preston Medlin the Aggies Junior guard burst on the scene averaging 17.0ppg including 25 games of 15 or more points. Medlin outdueled Oakland’s Reggie Hamilton in the semifinals of the CIT scoring 26 points and grabbing 9 rebounds. Stew Morrill’s team should once again challenge for a WAC title with Medlin leading the charge.
These are just a few of the guys to keep an eye on as the season goes on. A year end list of the best players in college basketball in 2012-13 could very well see these names on it.