Ten mid-major players to watch

When the Chicago Sky and Phoenix Mercury took the court in the WNBA Finals, it was no surprise to see Baylor, Connecticut, LSU and Rutgers among the colleges represented in the starting lineups.

But so were Delaware (Elena Delle Donne), Gonzaga (Courtney Vandersloot), James Madison (Tamera Young) and Temple (Candice Dupree), the last from its Atlantic-10 days.

Talent exists everywhere in college basketball, not just on campuses with big football stadiums. And if you want to see the best the sport has to offer, you need to use the panoramic setting to view the season.

With that in mind, here are the mid-major players who will make it worth the effort to seek them out.

1. Crystal Bradford, Central Michigan, forward

Central Michigan's star checked in at No. 19 when espnW counted down the top 25 players in all of college basketball, and frankly, on raw talent, even that might be underselling her. She can be erratic at times and is plagued by Shaq-like numbers at the free throw line, but there aren't many players who can do all that she does when the game flows. Consider that she ranked eighth in the nation in rebounding and 36th in scoring at better than 20 points per game -- but also cracked the top 100 in assists per game. Her line in a key game last season against MAC championship rival Bowling Green -- 13 points, 15 rebounds, eight steals, seven blocks and five assists -- sums up a one-of-a-kind talent.

2. Andrea Hoover, Dayton, guard

Hoover spent her first two seasons as the unsung star, the player whose numbers didn't demand attention but whose value did when you watched the Flyers in person. Then she chucked that whole "under the radar" persona in the trash bin a season ago and made her case as one of the best guards in the country, mid-major or otherwise. Dayton's first Atlantic 10 player of the year, Hoover averaged 17.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game while shooting 38 percent from the 3-point line and 94 percent from the free throw line. All of that included 23 points and seven rebounds against Iowa, 25 points against Michigan State and 22 points against Florida in the NCAA tournament.

3. Shereesha Richards, Albany, forward

Don't take some writer's word for it on Richards. Listen to what Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said after Albany's star scored 20 points and seven rebounds against the Blue Devils -- in the first half: "She's a really good player. She's better than her league actually. She could play a lot of places, and she could definitely play in the ACC." Richards ranked second nationally in field goal percentage a season ago at 62 percent and improved her free throw shooting in her second season to the point where it didn't pay to foul her, either. Foul trouble kept her from making a Duke-like impact against West Virginia in the NCAA tournament, but she's only getting better.

4. Jonquel Jones, George Washington, forward

The Clemson transfer didn't gain eligibility at George Washington until just before Christmas, but she made up for lost time once she was on the court. She averaged 14.7 points, 10.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game for the Colonials, establishing herself as the kind of athletic post presence who could hold her own in any conference. There were ups and down as she settled in a season ago, but in a three-game stretch in the conference tournament, she put up 19 points and 14 rebounds at St. Bonaventure, 22 points and 13 rebounds against Dayton and 30 points and 16 rebounds against Saint Jospeh's. That's the kind of potential available as she begins her first uninterrupted season.

5. Natasha Cloud, Saint Joseph's, guard

No returning player averaged more assists per game a season ago than Cloud, but the 6-foot senior who began her career at Maryland isn't just about distributing. With her size and ability to get in the paint to both rebound and finish (nearly a quarter of her points last season came at the free throw line), she's the same kind of triple-double threat on a nightly basis as Iowa's Sam Logic. And even though Cloud had 107 more assists as a junior than as a sophomore, she accumulated only 12 additional turnovers. For all of that, she might be most valuable -- or at least equally valuable -- on the other end of the court, where she was the A-10 defensive player of the year.

6. Damika Martinez, Iona, guard

Martinez is the only one of last season's top 10 scorers nationally who returns this season, so that's a place to start. She's also one of the more efficient high-volume scorers you'll find. It takes a lot of shots to average 24.9 points per game, but Martinez connected on 44 percent of her nearly eight 3-point attempts per game. Only DePaul's Megan Rogowski connected on a better percentage among players who hit at least 100 3-pointers. Martinez also shot 88 percent from the free throw line and 47 percent on her two-point attempts. If you prefer big moments to big numbers, it was her jumper with 2.9 seconds remaining on the road that ended Marist's 36-game MAAC winning streak.

7. Kim Demmings, Wright State, guard

Good luck finding a better success story than Demmings, who makes it a close race with Dayton's Hoover and Ohio State's Ameryst Alston for best guard in Ohio. Demmings led Wright State in scoring as a freshman with 18 points per game but did so shooting 39 percent from the field and committing 154 turnovers. She averaged 22 points per game a season ago but shot 42 percent and had 89 turnovers. Not coincidentally, Wright State beat NC State and James Madison in the regular season, beat Green Bay on the road to win the Horizon League tournament and made the NCAA tournament. Think Moriah Jefferson-type quickness but asked to carry the scoring load.

8. Alex Harden, Wichita State, guard

The Missouri Valley is not necessarily a premier mid-major, but the league that named its player of the year award after Jackie Stiles has a knack for producing individual talents. Be it Stiles, former Illinois State standout Kristi Cirone or former Northern Illinois star Jacqui Kalin, it means something to the league's best player. Harden has yet to win the end-of-season award and will have to wrest it away from Drake's Kyndal Clark, but Wichita State's star lives up to the lineage. The two-time reigning MVC defensive player of the year, Harden also averaged 17.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.9 assists a season ago and helped throw a scare into Penn State in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

9. Kelsey Minato, Army, guard

Between Minato and Martinez, New York has point-per-inch scoring honors locked up this season. But while not particularly big, Minato still had the ability to put Army on her back and lead it to the NCAA tournament a season ago. Pick a measure and she stands tall. She ranked fifth in the nation in free throw percentage despite being one of only four players in the top 50 who attempted at least 200 free throws. She also shot 44 percent from the 3-point line, so good luck deciding how to defend her. For all the scoring, she also led Army in assists at nearly four per game and averaged barely two turnovers while playing 37 minutes a game. Army builds leaders; she's a good one to follow on the court.

10. Ashley Luke, Western Illinois, forward

As good as Green Bay might be this season, imagine what the Phoenix would look like with Luke in the lineup. She transferred to Western Illinois after sitting out her first season at Green Bay, and the Leathernecks couldn't be happier to have her. She's one of four returning players nationally who averaged at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game a season ago, joining Bradford as the only mid-major players to do so. At 6 feet, 1 inch, the Summit League preseason player of the year is the quintessential undersized mid-major frontcourt presence, but she put up 27 points, six rebounds and six steals at Oklahoma and 20 points and eight rebounds at Missouri a season ago as a sophomore.

Next five (in alphabetical order): Chastity Gooch, Western Kentucky; Ashlee Guay, Cal State Northridge; Katie Healy, St. Bonaventure; Kendall Kenyon (currently sidelined by mono), Pacific; Whitney Knight, Florida Gulf Coast