Head of the class: Five seniors capable of carrying their teams in 2013


Each season I’m drawn to a number of players from across the country, regardless of their team affiliation. Something in their story intrigues me. As the season progresses I find myself choosing to watch certain teams on random weekends because of those players. I follow them. They’re interesting.

One of the common things I find intriguing is when a team is carried by a senior. That’s becoming a rare thing these days. Most of the players who have that ability never make it to their senior year. Instead, they’ve already opted for the professional ranks.

Luckily, enough slip through that it still happens. Just not often. Last year it was Draymond Green, Mike Scott, Jae Crowder and Robbie Hummel who fit that mold, or at least caught my eye so that I tuned in and kept track.

Here are five players who have the potential to do that next year, five players who I might be tracking. I’d like to include more players from small colleges, but it’s hard to find their games on tv. There are only so many opportunities to watch Lehigh play.

1. Tray Woodall, Pittsburgh

Pitt was supposed to be good this past year. As in, really good. The Blue Ribbon Yearbook had them 8th in the preseason. Basketball Prospectus had them 7th. They ended up in the CBI.

So it goes for preseason predictions. Like this one – where two of my five picks are sub 6-footers and another is an Australian who wears a multi-colored mouth guard.

So I’ll get started with the least likely of the five to carry his team – Pittsburgh’s point guard, Tray Woodall.

Woodall suffered a hernia just seven games into the season (Pitt was 6-1), and at that point had already had four double-doubles. Then he missed a month and was never quite the same. But this weekend he had surgery, and should have plenty of time for rehab.

Pitt had three players who used at least 22% of the possessions when they were on the floor, Woodall, Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson. Gibson and Robinson were both seniors. So now it will be Woodall running the show with a combination of youngsters and vets who are used to being role players.

Even injured, Woodall had the 3rd best assist rate in the Big East. But everyone knew he was a pure point guard who could distribute. What they didn’t know is that he could shoot. After making 45% of his 2s and 28% of his 3s in his first two seasons, Woodall pushed that to 49% and 39% as a junior. Now that defenders can’t play off him, he’ll be able to use his hernia-free moves to get his teammates plenty of open looks.

2. Jack Cooley, Notre Dame

Jack Cooley may or may not be Luke Harangody. Without genetic testing we’ll never know. But as Harangody did in 2010, it will be Cooley’s turn in 2013.

This year Cooley was 2nd Team All-Big East and was the conference Most Improved Player. He led the team at 12.4 points a game and 8.9 boards. His offensive rebound % was the best in the Big East, and he was solid on the defensive boards as well.

Some of his lines down the stretch were insane: 22 points and 14 rebounds against Depaul; 22 and 18 vs Rutgers; 18 and 13 against Villanova; 27 and 17 against Providence.

He also drew fouls at a higher rate than any other Notre Dame player.

With a talented backcourt Cooley should get plenty of opportunities to ply his trade around the basket. Tough play. Offensive boards. A fearless big man, it’s hard to appreciate everything that he brings to this lineup.

3. Pierre Jackson, Baylor

Perry Jones III is gone for the NBA. Quincy Acy and Anthony Jones graduated. That’s 20’ and 4 inches of departed front line, which leaves the 5-9 Pierre Jackson in charge.

He led the team in scoring as a junior, and should do the same as a senior. The most remarkable part of his game is that he made over half his 2s. He considers the paint to be part of his game, and has an array up scoops and teardrops that look like circus shots but aren’t.

He also made 41% of his 3s, which makes him one of the most dangerous players in the nation. No one wants to guard him. He can get by anyone, has great vision (top assist rate in the Big 12), he’ll knock down open looks, and he’s a terror in transition.

Even with the departure of Perry Jones and Quincy Acy, the Bears will have plenty of talent around him, and it will be Coach Drew’s job to get them to accept their roles.

Jackson’s role is clear. He runs this team.

4. Michael Snaer, Florida State

I’m not a big fan of the concept of “clutch,” but the word gets thrown around a lot with Mike Snaer. No matter how many times statistical analysis calls clutch into question, watching Snaer play will make you a believer.

Part of this comes from his propensity toward passive play early in games. This season he tried too hard to get his teammates involved. And then he would take over late. Sometimes too late.

But the Seminoles lose six seniors, including four of six players who played at least 45% of the team’s minutes.

Next year there is no option. Michael Snaer is the man.

Florida State fans are used to teams run by seniors. In 2009 it was Toney Douglas. In 2007 it was Al Thornton. In 2013 Michael Snaer will be hoping to use a big season to launch himself into the NBA’s 1st round like his predecessors.

Snaer made over 40% of his 3s and 85% of his free throws. He can penetrate, has a good mid-range game, and thrives in transition. On the other end of the court, Coach Hamilton says that Snaer understands how to play defense better than any player he’s ever coached.

That’s high praise. Now he just needs to learn to be more assertive.

5. Matthew Dellavedova, St. Mary’s

St. Mary’s only had two regulars who used more than 20% of the team’s possessions. Matthew Dellavedova (23.5%) and Rob Jones (25.4%), and Jones was a senior. The Gaels also lose Clint Steindl, a 3-point specialist, which leaves Dellavedova in the role of “the man.”

Americans spend a lot of time lamenting the loss of fundamental basketball. And the game they’re describing as being lost is the game played by Dellavedova. His athleticism is average. His size is decent. But give him the ball and a screen and something good is going to happen.

He can finish in traffic with either hand. His mid-range game is excellent. But most telling – when you watch St. Mary’s, watch Dellavedova when he doesn’t have the ball. It’s artistry, and it’s fun to watch. V-cuts, curls, rubs, he has all the moves. If he gets his 3-point % back to where it was as a freshman and sophomore, he’ll be a very dangerous player.

Dellavedova played a higher percentage of his team’s minutes than all but 10 players in the nation. Coach Bennett recognizes his importance. This was already his team, but now he’ll be the focus of everything the Gaels do.