Originally Published: September 8, 2010

10 names you should know

Fran Fraschilla

Keith Benson, Oakland: This 6-foot-11 string bean could slip through a wet straw and emerge dry. But what Benson lacks in bulk, he makes up for with great timing and an ability to get off his feet quickly. Last season's Summit League Player of the Year dropped 28 points and nine rebounds on Pitt in the NCAA tournament. Luckily for Grizzlies coach Greg Kampe, a postseason thumb injury kept Benson from working out for NBA teams, thus a return for his senior season.

Randy Culpepper, UTEP: The diminutive Culpepper is a scoring machine who averaged 18 points a game as a junior. Although his incredible jumping ability for a guy his size makes him a candidate for the nightly highlight shows, his deep range and ability to get a good shot at will are more concerning to C-USA coaches. New Miners coach Tim Floyd should be able to use Culpepper's offensive skills nicely and turn him into a defensive pest.

Elias Harris, Gonzaga: Although Harris just finished up his duties with Germany in the FIBA World Championship, it was his outstanding freshman season that has Zags fans excited. At 6-7 and 216 pounds, Harris is the classic undersized power forward who can dominate with his strength and athleticism around the basket, as he did a season ago. The tough decision for coach Mark Few is whether to continue to use Harris' strengths, which will put him on numerous All-America lists, or to develop his perimeter game to get him ready for the NBA. Harris helps Gonzaga win more games if he stays around the hoop.

[+] Enlarge
AP Photo/Scott K. BrownJenkins averaged 20.6 ppg for the Pride last season.

Charles Jenkins, Hofstra: Think New York Jets linebacker in a basketball uniform and you can visualize the 6-3, 220-pound Jenkins. He is a unique blend of basketball skills, power, strength and quickness, making his 20-point, five-rebound games a nightmare for CAA opponents to defend. He went over 20 points 20 times last season. And remember, not many linebackers can shoot 41 percent from behind the arc, either.

Damian Lillard, Weber State: The 6-2 junior is one of the nation's most electric players whom nobody has heard of. But if things go well for the Wildcats this season, Lillard is good enough to spark an NCAA tournament first-round upset. The scoring point guard has the ultimate green light from his coach but doesn't abuse that privilege. In addition to averaging 20 points a game last season, he also averaged four rebounds and nearly four assists.

Shelvin Mack, Butler: OK, so many of you have already heard this name. I'm going to assume you watched the national title game, right? After nearly leading his Butler Bulldogs to what would have been one of the greatest stories in the history of college basketball, Mack went on display again for NBA scouts this summer at the LeBron James Skills Academy and as a member of the USA Basketball Select Team. That team competed against the NBA stars on Mike Krzyzewski's senior men's national team. His physical strength, NBA range and ability to handle pressure defense were quite apparent.

Ray McCallum, Detroit: McCallum may be the best Titan recruit since Dickie V. recruited future NBA players John Long, Earl Cureton, Terry Tyler and Terry Duerod to UD's campus. McCallum is the ultimate coach's son, who, not surprisingly, understands the game and is a great floor general. In fact, the McDonald's All-American should prove to be a popular teammate because he is capable of leading the Titans to a postseason appearance. Don't rule out two NCAA tourney bids from the Horizon League this season.

Derek Needham, Fairfield: How did a Chicago kid get so overlooked that he ended up in Fairfield, Conn.? I don't know. I do know that the Stags may be ready to pick up where Siena left off the past four seasons in the MAAC. Coach Ed Cooley has done a terrific job of recruiting since coming from Boston College, and in Needham he has a point guard who can play anywhere in the country. The 6-2 sophomore won the conference's rookie of the week award a record 10 times while averaging 16 points and five assists a game. He will keep opposing coaches awake a lot of nights the next three seasons.

Ryan Rossiter, Siena: The Fran McCaffery era may be over in Albany, but left behind for new coach Mitch Buonaguro is one of the country's most improved players of the past four seasons. At 6-9, Rossiter is a pure low-post scorer who isn't blessed with great athleticism but has the skill package, the hands and the basketball acumen to make him successful in any league in the country.

Wesley Witherspoon, Memphis: After exploding in the second half of last season, there's not a more versatile player in Conference USA this year than the 6-9 Witherspoon. He can play and defend four positions from shooting guard to center, something NBA scouts are salivating over. (He even played point guard for a while as a freshman.) Most importantly, Witherspoon's maturity as a junior that will be needed to get a very talented but young Memphis team through early-season ups and downs.

10 freshmen we can't wait to see

ESPN Recruiting

Yannick Atanga, PF, Santa Clara: Kerry Keating and his staff have done a tremendous job of luring talent to Santa Clara. With this addition, the Broncos should bolster one of the best frontcourts (Marc Trasolini and Niyi Harrison) in the West Coast Conference. Atanga is a phenomenal athlete with outstanding length, and he plays with a blue-collar mentality. His offensive skills have a ways to go, but defensively he should make an immediate impact.

Will Barton, SG, Memphis: An extremely long and very athletic scorer who can put the ball in the basket in every way imaginable, Barton may be the best pure scorer in the class of 2011 -- with an underrated passing game to match. An instinctive playmaker, the Maryland native has that indescribable star quality that allows him to do things on the floor that others can't.

Tim Douglas, PG, Portland: The Pilots were decimated by graduation, but they may have found their answer at point guard. Douglas scared away many coaches because of his lack of size (5-8), however, he makes up for it with blazing speed and quickness. He is a menace to stop in the open court, and his vision is impeccable. Douglas will keep defenders honest as long as his jump shot continues to get better.

[+] Enlarge
Chris Williams/Icon SMIMcDonald's All-American Joe Jackson is expected to be the starting point guard for Memphis.

Joe Jackson, PG, Memphis: The hometown kid is a McDonald's All-American who will have Memphis fans in a frenzy, especially on the break, where he is a highlight waiting to happen. Jackson also is a great shot creator with his superior speed and quickness. He gets in the lane at will, and from there he can drop off passes for easy baskets. But make no mistake about it -- he can flat-out score in bunches.

Nick Kellogg, PG, Ohio: The youngest son of former Ohio State great Clark Kellogg brings a tough and physical presence to the Bobcats' perimeter. He can get to the rim, run the team and defend both guard positions. He will fit in coach John Groce's spread, multiple-ball-screen offense without any problem and should be an immediate-impact player because he will be mentally and physically ready to compete on the college level.

Khyle Marshall, SF, Butler: Marshall brings the Bulldogs an elite athlete who excels on the break, where he finishes with flare. He works the glass on both ends and can slash and score in traffic in the lane. He is big and strong enough to defend both forward positions as well. Butler coach Brad Stevens hit a home run, pulling Marshall out of the talent-rich state of Florida.

Ray McCallum, PG, Detroit: The McDonald's All-American turned down many elite programs to stay home and run the show for his dad at Detroit. Our 17th-ranked player in the Class of 2010, McCallum becomes an instant Horizon League Player of the Year candidate. He is a true point guard with good size to go with off-the-charts basketball IQ. He has the ability to run the team, finish above the rim on the break and score with range to the arc, including a smooth midrange game.

Juvonte Reddic, C, VCU: In Reddic, coach Shaka Smart landed arguably the best available true center during the late signing period. He has great size and length and runs the floor like a deer. He rebounds at rim level and blocks shots on and away from the ball. Plenty of ACC and Big 12 schools made a run at Reddic.

Ben Vozzola, PG, San Diego: By corralling Vozzola, the Toreros landed one of the best-kept secrets out West. He is wiry combo guard with exceptional quickness and an impressive skill set. His shot is streaky out to the stripe, but he has a nifty handle and his passing prowess is high-level.

Trey Zeigler, SG, Central Michigan: Zeigler is another big-time talent who said no to the high-majors to play for his dad. He's No. 33 in the ESPNU 100 rankings and will be a tough matchup in the MAC. He can score in transition by getting to the rim, has a smooth midrange game and can slash with the best of them in the Class of 2010. Plus, he can play and defend all three perimeter positions.

Five coaches who don't get enough love

Andy Katz

Stew Morrill, Utah State: There is reason for concern, as conference realignment left USU stuck in what is now a six-team WAC for 2012. But as long as Morrill is coaching the Aggies, there is hope. He is a lock for 20-plus wins and a postseason berth every season, and he's made seven NCAA tourney appearances since 2000. This towering presence runs a myriad of sets and constantly keeps opposing coaches up late. Morrill won at Montana and Colorado State and continues to cruise in Logan.

Wayne Tinkle, Montana: Let's stay out West. Tinkle took over for Mr. Grizzly Larry Krystkowiak after the other Coach K went to the NCAA tournament in his only two seasons. Since then, Tinkle has steadily improved and coached the Griz to 22 wins a season ago and a narrow loss to New Mexico in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Montana lost Anthony Johnson but still has a real shot to compete for the Big Sky title again. Tinkle, like Morrill, commands attention with his size, height and overall coaching acumen.

AP Photo/Matthew PutneyTaylor led his Monarchs to a first-round win over Notre Dame in last season's NCAA tourney.

Blaine Taylor, Old Dominion: The Monarchs won the Colonial last season and went to their third NCAA tournament in the past five seasons. ODU also has scheduled well, knocking off Georgetown in two of the past three meetings. The CAA has plenty of well-respected coaches like George Mason's Jim Larranaga, William & Mary's Tony Shaver, Drexel's Bruiser Flint, Northeastern's Bill Coen, Georgia State's Rod Barnes and an upstart in VCU's Shaka Smart. But Taylor continues to be in the thick of the conference race every season, regardless of personnel.

Todd Bozeman, Morgan State: It's time for Bozeman to get his due. He served his penance -- 10 years of essentially being banished from the college game for his payment of Jelani Gardner's family while at Cal. Bozeman got a second chance in the MEAC and has outgrown the school with his success. No one should be offended that it's time to move on and for Bozeman to get another shot at a higher level. He took over the Bears after they won just four games and led them to 13 wins overall and 10 in the league in his first season. By the second year he was in the NIT, and by Year 3 and 4 he made consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. Morgan State has won 20-plus games in three straight seasons, including 27 last season. Under Bozeman, they simply dominate the MEAC.

Keith Dambrot, Akron: Dambrot has made the Zips a regular near the top of the MAC, a conference that consistently is underappreciated. He has coached Akron to three straight postseason appearances, including an NCAA tourney berth two seasons ago. Dambrot has emerged on his own merit instead of being known as LeBron James' first high school coach. Akron will once again be in the hunt for a bid with the likes of Kent State, Central Michigan (with Trey Zeigler) and Ohio, which had a tremendous run last season to win the MAC tournament and upset Georgetown in the NCAA tournament.

Five league races we can't wait to see

Eamonn Brennan

Missouri Valley: Last season's best team, Northern Iowa, delivered so many thrills in the 2010 NCAA tourney that asking for more almost feels like greed. It's hard to follow an act like Ali Farokhmanesh's. (It's also, this many months removed from March Madness, hard to remember how to spell Ali Farokhmanesh.) But it's possible the 2010-11 version of the Missouri Valley will be just as interesting.

It also will be more competitive. UNI lost five seniors from its Kansas-killing Sweet 16 team (Farokhmanesh, Jordan Eglseder, Adam Koch, Brian Haak and Adam Rodenberg), three of whom (Eglseder, Koch and Farokhmanesh) were among UNI's top four scorers. Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson is looking to follow the mid-major molds of Butler, Xavier and Gonzaga by building a team that can win its conference and make a deep NCAA tournament run each year. To do that in 2011, he'll need guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe to take a leap into leading-scorer territory while getting bigger contributions from seniors Johnny Moran and Lucas O'Rear. O'Rear, purveyor of entertaining sideburns, decided to come back to school after being drafted higher than expected by the Cincinnati Reds.

If it will be hard for UNI to maintain its high level with all those losses, it will be just as difficult to hold off what was already a very tough Wichita State team. The Shockers, who finished 25-10 and 12-6 in the MVC in 2010, lost leading scorer Clevin Hannah to graduation, but nearly every other player from last year's team -- which for much of the season looked as though it would push UNI's conference title hopes to the brink -- returns. Those returnees include seniors Toure' Murry, J.T. Durley and Graham Hatch and junior center Garrett Stutz.

The race between those two teams will be buttressed by Greg McDermott's first year at Creighton, where leading scorer Kenny Lawson Jr. returned after a brief dalliance with the NBA draft. Rutgers transfer Gregory Echenique will give McDermott some immediate talent come conference season, and if UNI and Wichita State don't break away from the pack early, Creighton could nab the conference title as early as McDermott's first season.

In other words, a nondominant UNI team means a wide-open race for the MVC's top spot. The conference won't be as deep as its mid-aughts heyday, but it ought to be just as much fun to watch.

For the rest of the most compelling mid-major conference races, click here for the Nation blog.


You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?