Top mid-major players to watch

November, 9, 2011

Delaware star Elena Delle Donne might be the biggest name in the mid-major ranks, but she's not the only player who bears watching. From established stars to breakthrough candidates, here are 10 players to keep an eye on from beyond the BCS conferences.

Wumi Agunbiade, Duquesne

She didn't receive a lot of attention in the discussion of the nation's best freshmen last season, but it wasn't for a lack of supporting evidence. The 6-foot-2 Canadian did earn Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year honors after averaging 11.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.5 steals for the Dukes (just for good measure, she also hit 16 3-pointers). No other A-10 player ranked in the top 15 in the conference in rebounds, steals and blocks.

Sophia Aleksandravicius, Davidson

A stranger in a strange land (which is to say, a New Yorker in North Carolina), Aleksandravicius is becoming a familiar face when it comes to Big South accolades. A versatile 6-4 forward, she averaged 16.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.1 blocks and 1.7 steals last season. She's one of just three returning players in Division I who averaged at least three blocks per game last season, joining Baylor's Brittney Griner and Texas' Ashley Gayle. Fouling her won't help, either. After shooting 68.5 percent from the free throw line as a freshman, she improved to 82.6 percent last season.

Brogan Berry, Harvard

Princeton will be difficult to unseat in the Ivy League, particularly if Niveen Rasheed returns at full strength from last season's knee injury, but Berry is going to do her best to give Harvard an opportunity. Specifically, she's going to do her best to get her teammates opportunities. The 5-8 Ohio native averaged 4.6 assists per game as a junior and ranked ninth in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio. She's not all pass, holding onto the ball often enough to lead the Crimson by averaging 13.6 points per game and shoot 39 percent from the 3-point line.

Casey Garrison, Missouri State

It's not the way anyone wanted her to become the favorite, but the season-ending injury sustained by Northern Iowa standout Jacqui Kalin leaves Garrison as the clear front-runner for top individual honors in the Missouri Valley Conference, an award named in honor of former Missouri State star Jackie Stiles. Although Garrison apparently shrank over the summer, going from 6-foot in last year's media guide to 5-11 this season (old age is catching up to the senior), she remains a big guard (5.7 rebounds, 187 free throw attempts) with a small guard's playmaking eye.

Courtney Hurt, VCU

Even with Dawn Evans gone, Elena Delle Donne isn't the only player in the Colonial Athletic Association who could make a run at All-American honors. Hurt came close to doing just that last season when she averaged 23.2 points per game (second in the nation) and 12.4 rebounds (first in the nation). Short of a potential meeting with Miami in a tournament hosted by the Hurricanes, VCU doesn't have a lot of marquee games on the schedule with which to showcase Hurt, but another season of double-doubles will attract attention.

Kevi Luper, Oral Roberts

Do I hear 1,000 points in a season? It's a possibility for Luper, who scored 806 points last season as a sophomore to lead the nation at 23.7 points per game. The latter has to make her one of the only players to lead the nation in scoring in a season in which her scoring average dropped (she averaged 24.4 points per game as a freshman). She is what she is on the offensive end -- she totaled just 29 assists in 1,179 minutes last season -- but when you shoot 38 percent from the 3-point line and 84 percent from the free throw line, how wise is passing, anyway?

Kamile Nacickaite, Drexel

Schools shifting conferences is all the rage these days, but there's no truth to the rumor that Drexel applied to play in the next European championship. Following in the footsteps of former Drexel standout Gabriela Marginean on a roster that rarely lacks for international flavor, Nacickaite is poised for big things this season. The Lithuanian guard averaged 17.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last season as a junior. She shot an astounding 47.8 percent from the 3-point line on 157 attempts, compared to 40.7 percent on 295 2-point attempts.

Shey Peddy, Temple

Take heart, Eagles fans. Not every new arrival struggles in the City of Brotherly Love. A standout in the Horizon League at Wright State, Peddy had no trouble adjusting to a slightly tougher level of competition in the Atlantic 10 in her first season on the court for the Owls. It's always a good sign when a team's leading scorer also piles up defensive accolades, and Peddy managed both of those things last season. Just to make sure she had all her bases covered, the 5-7 star also led the team in assists and missed doing so on the boards by just three rebounds.

Adrian Ritchie, Green Bay

Phoenix senior Julie Wojta was a strong contender for the Horizon preseason player of the year (that honor went to Youngstown State's Brandi Brown), but last year's Sweet 16 participants need others to step up around her to keep the dynasty healthy. A long-limbed 5-11 guard, Ritchie has the tools for a breakthrough junior campaign. She played through injuries last season but still shot 37 percent from the 3-point line, finished second on the team in 3-pointers despite missing five games and finished with nearly a 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Katie Sheahin, Loyola (Md.)

There is life in the MAAC beyond Marist (just don't expect the Red Foxes to give up the conference crown). Loyola's Sheahin was named the league's top defender last season as a sophomore after the 5-10 guard averaged 3.5 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. There were 21 players in Division I who averaged at least three steals a game last season. Only three of those also blocked at least a shot per game: Sheahin, Appalachian State's Anna Freeman and former Kentucky star Victoria Dunlap. Sheahin also led the Greyhounds in assists and averaged 13.1 points per game.


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