by Leigh Klein / @leighalanklein
Holiday time we get enamored with all things new, shiny and bright, and for much of the early part of the college basketball season, we have done just that, drooling over the talented freshman class. Lost and forgotten is the impressive crop of seniors who look to be factors in determining who cuts down the nets in Dallas.
This group has the floor burns and conference victories under their belt. They have earned more minutes, more field-goal attempts and more respect. Freshmen, take notice at who’s really taking people to ‘school’ this season.
Russ Smith Jr, 6-0, Louisville
As explosive a player as there ever was in college basketball—that’s all phases; offense, defense and capable of causing a team to explode. Defending National Champion.
Doug McDermott, 6-8, Creighton
Old reliable will go down in the annuls as one of the greatest college scorers of all time. Will never have to pay for a meal in the “Heartland.” He’s everyone’s First-Team All-America.
Aaron Craft, 6-2, Ohio State
B1G opponents will line up and give him Mariano Rivera treatment when the Buckeye stopper concludes his college career. One of the best on-the-ball defenders to ever lace them up. All-time performer in Columbus. Defensive Player of the Year Candidate…fourth year running.
Keith Appling, 6-1, Michigan State
The engine that could and does. Has piloted the Spartan attack for four years looks to lead Izzo back to the Final Four. The Motor City guard is a fierce competitor who backs down to no one! All Glue Team.
Shabazz Napier, 6-0, UConn
Seasoned performer has elevated his game to Naismith caliber. Has 80-plus wins in his college career, ‘Kemba-lite’ carries the Huskies on his back with his scoring. Has done it all this season from game-winners to triple-doubles. Captain-All Ice Water Team.
LET ME INTRODUCE MYSELF…
CJ Fair, 6-8, Syracuse
Credentials: 1 Final Four trip. 3 NCAA Tourney trips, All-Big East Second-Team ’12-13 season, ACC Pre-Season Player of the Year
• Has nearly tripled his scoring since freshman year
When the game is on the line, you want CJ taking the shot. Outside of being a prolific scorer, he is averaging nearly 2 steals a game leading the Syracuse defense. When was the last time you remember, the best player on a top-three national team receiving such little attention? The Baltimore-Syracuse-NBA pipeline will stay intact, the kid can flat out ball.
Kendall Williams, 6-4, New Mexico
Credentials: 2 NCAA Tourney trips, Mountain West Player of the Year ’12-2013, Pre-Season Mountain West Player of the Year
• Scoring average has improved each year to nearly 19 ppg
Considered the nation’s most underrated guard. Kendall is shooting over 46 percent from beyond the arc and over 9 free throws a game (making 86.5 percent). Had 46 points against a ranked Colorado State team last February to help propel the Lobos to the Mountain West crown.
Chaz Williams, 5-9, UMass
Credentials: Named to Naismith Player of the year Watch List, Two-time First Team All-Atlantic 10 Selection. Pre-Season A-10 Player of the Year
• Has had a Jameer Nelson type of impact bringing UMass back to national relevance. Williams has led the Minutemen to their first Top-25 ranking in 15 years.
Inch-for-inch the finest guard in America. Chaz is a dual threat, averaging over 15 points per game and dropping 7.4 assists per contest, good for third in the nation. Former five-star MOP is lightning quick, one-man press defense and press breaker.
Roy Devyn Marble, 6-6, Iowa
Credentials: Named ’12-13 Third-Team All-B1G, ’12-13 NIT All-Tourney Team, Pre-Season B1G Second-Team
• Showed immense offensive talent on the big stage of Madison Square Garden last year during Iowa’s post-season run. Looks to elevate the Hawkeyes to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006.
Talented perimeter scorer often has to navigate through multiple defenders. He’s a capable rebounder. Special talent has brought the excitement back to Iowa City.
Lamar Patterson, 6-5, Pittsburgh
Credentials: Named ACC Player of the Week December 2
Fifth-year senior has improved across the board. Averaged less than 3 points a game in his first two season, didn’t quit, didn’t transfer, now the leading reason for the Panthers’ optimism into the ACC. Patterson’s averaging over more than 4 assists and 4 rebounds to go with his 17 points per game. Shooting 52.7 percent from the floor, 45 percent beyond the arc and 77 percent from the charity stripe.
Leigh Klein was formerly on staff at Texas and Rhode Island and is a popular guest on radio. He now owns Five-Star Basketball Camps, the nation’s top basketball camp. He contributes to SLAMonline and its coverage of college basketball and the NBA Draft. Klein can be followed at @l