One of the great pleasures in being a college basketball fan is getting to watch players develop throughout their careers. But with so many of the great players we only get to watch them for a year or two before they move on to collecting a paycheck. Well, this just makes the four-year players that much more interesting.
The upcoming season will feature plenty of seniors who will be interesting to watch. It might not be because they’re the best players in college basketball, or the most liked, but rather that their development – or lack thereof – has been fascinating to witness. These are 12 guys I’ll be keeping an eye on.
Scott Bamforth, 6-2, Weber State: You may have heard that Weber State had a guy named Damian Lillard, who would go on to become a lottery pick. Well, the cupboard isn’t exactly empty at WSU. Bamforth, a transfer from Western Nebraska, has made 44% of his 3s in his two seasons for the Wildcats. He’s also made over 86% of his free throws, and the combination of those two things makes him one of the best pure shooters in the nation. Need more reasons to root for him? Read this.
Kenny Boynton, 6-2, Florida: Now that Erving Walker and Brad Beal are gone, it’s time for Kenny Boynton to put on a show for his senior season. His 3-point shot has developed from awful (29%) to bad (33%) to holy crap (41%), and it will be intriguing to see if he can continue to improve without last season’s running mates. It certainly helps that Patric Young returned, which gives a legit interior player that needs to be doubled.
Sherwood Brown, 6-4, Florida Gulf Coast: I’ve made no attempt to hide my high expectations for Andy Enfield, the Florida Gulf Coast head coach, but as big a fan I am of his talents, Sherwood Brown is likely a bigger fan. Brown played less than 40% of the minutes in each of his first two seasons, but finished his sophomore year playing great basketball. Then he got a new coach. Sometimes that goes poorly, but in Brown’s case his game exploded. He led the team in scoring in rebounding, and more importantly he went from making 41% of his 2s in each of his first two seasons, to making 56% last season. Combine that with better talent and coaching now surrounding him and he should help lead FGCU to their first winning record in their short D-1 history.
D.J. Cooper, 5-11, Ohio: Since stepping on campus D.J. Cooper has been one of the best point guards in the nation. His assist rate has ranked 36th, 2nd and 15th nationally. He’s also an absolute terror on defense. That’s the good news. The bad news is scoring. Aside from his knack of getting to the line, Cooper – who carries the offensive load for Ohio – struggles with his efficiency. Last year he made just 39% of his 2s and 31% of his 3s. If he can have a breakout season as a scorer – and do it efficiently rather than simply with volume – then he’ll go down as one of the best point guards in the last decade.
Tim Frazier, 6-1, Penn State: Tim Frazier, on just about any other team, would be a household name. He played 93% of his team’s minutes, took over 30% of the shots when he was on the floor, and maintained the 2nd best assist rate in the nation. And he did it for a horrible team. Every opponent knows that the offense is going through Frazier, and yet they still struggle to stop him. Who knows how his offensive rating will fare this season, but it’s worth tuning in to Penn State games just to watch an entire defense key on the smallest guy on the court.
Elias Harris, 6-7, Gonzaga: Has Harris developed during his college career, at all? He came in as one of the best freshmen in the nation, and is still putting up similar numbers. Is that good? Is that bad? It’s certainly better than someone putting up the same numbers but those numbers happen to be crappy. Here are his three seasons in Spokane:
|Year||Off Rtg||% Poss||eFG%||D Reb %||FT Rate||2-pt%|
While using almost the exact same amount of his team’s possessions, his offensive rating, eFG%, free throw rate and 2-pt% have all declined each season. As a rebounder, he clearly improved his junior year.
Solomon Hill, 6-6, Arizona: Hill, one of the most versatile players in the Pac-12, has taken a while to figure out his role. A starter for most of his three years, he only attempted 14.5% and 16.7% of the shots his first two seasons. That increased to 20.7% as a junior, which is good, as he has the highest returning offensive rating of any player on the roster. Now that he’s one of two returning starters, Arizona’s success will largely be driven by whether or not Hill can continue to increase his offensive role without sacrificing any efficiency.
Jordan Hulls, 6-0, Indiana: This could become a movie. The former Mr. Basketball in Indiana joined the Hoosiers at a time of trouble. Tom Crean was in town to right the ship and he turned to the undersized guard, who has now started 77 straight games. Year 1: 4-14 in the Big 10. Year 2: 3-15. Year 3: (hello Cody Zeller) 11-7. Now the Hoosiers might be the preseason No. 1 team in the nation, and Hulls – who has led the team in minutes each of the past two seasons – will be looking to put an exclamation point at the end of his storybook amateur career. A bigger, stronger, Cody Zeller will demand even more attention in the coming season, which should mean more 3s for Hulls (who made 49% against D-1 opponents last year).
Kerron Johnson, 6-1, Belmont: It was clear last season that Isaiah Canaan was the best PG in the Ohio Valley. But now Belmont joins the conference, and with them comes Kerron Johnson. Johnson has evolved from a struggling freshman (91.9 offensive rating) to a dominant junior (120.6 O Rtg). He had the best free throw rate in the conference, and the 2nd best assist rate. He may not be able to shoot like Canaan (who can?) but in terms of breaking down defenses and keeping his teammates involved there are few – if any – who are better.
Ryan Kelly, 6-11, Duke: Kelly’s freshman season ended with him playing 1, 0, 1 and 0 minutes in the NCAA Tournament as Duke won a National Title. He played half the team’s minutes as a sophomore and was on pace for about 60% of the minutes as a junior before he got hurt during the ACC Tournament. So what will his role be as a senior? The past two seasons he’s had nearly identical offensive ratings (119.3 and 119.7), only as a sophomore he did it by being a crappy 3-point shooter (32%) while being unstoppable on 2s (64%). Last season he was a major 3-point threat (41%) but struggled with his interior game (47%). If he puts it all together he could be 1st Team All Conference.
Michael Snaer, 6-5, FSU: Snaer is one of three – with Von Wafer and Chris Singleton – consensus top-25 recruits that Leonard Hamilton has coached. Luckily for Seminole fans his development has more closely mirrored that latter rather than the former. Singleton was an elite defender who struggled offensively before breaking out as a junior. Michael Snaer is an elite defender who struggled offensively before breaking out as a junior. The difference is that Singleton went pro following his junior season, whereas Seminole fans will get to watch Snaer as a senior. Snaer made 40% of his 3s last season, which opened up his slashing game, and was the best perimeter defender in the conference while also committing the fewest fouls/40 of any Nole regular.
Chase Tapley, 6-2, San Diego State: Add Chase Tapley to the Elias Harris school of development – he’s become less efficient each season. In each of his three seasons his 2-pt% has gone down and he’s never been one to get to the line. But who cares? He’s one of the best shooters and defenders in the nation, and San Diego State has all the talent to put together a special season.