The 10 College Basketball Players Most Likely to Fill Up Stat Sheets in 2014-15
With 351 college basketball teams in Division I, no one has the time to see them all. This is why statistics are kept, so we can have at least a blurry picture of which players dominate without being fixtures on ESPN or CBS.
While several power-conference programs have Swiss Army knife players with myriad skill sets, there are also a few players in the lower leagues who simply take over games when they need to. Their final numbers will occasionally cause some grumbling about quality of competition, but those scorelines are still impressive when they creep along a network crawl while you're watching an ACC or Big 12 game.
These 10 players compete at varying levels of the college hoops food chain, but they'll all put together several games this season that make the casual fan stop and give it their best Keanu Reeves "Whoa."
Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
2013-14 Stats: 19.0 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 6.2 APG, 2.0 SPG (12 games)
After missing Notre Dame's final 20 games last season, one might at least expect Jerian Grant to be well-rested coming into this, his senior season. Had he proceeded at his 35.6-MPG pace, that might not have been so true.
Grant was an iron man for the Irish over his final six games, playing 38.5 minutes a night. He averaged 18 points and 7.7 assists against a trio of Big Ten opponents (Iowa, Indiana and Ohio State), but most of his best games did come against patsies like Miami (Ohio), Army and Cornell.
Grant's performance will be key as Notre Dame tries to establish itself as a relevant force in the ACC, something it could not do while Grant missed the entire 2013-14 conference season. Matchups against foes like Duke and Virginia will be eagerly watched by Fighting Irish fans, and Grant won't have much margin for rust.
R.J. Hunter, Georgia State
2013-14 Stats: 18.3 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.9 SPG, 0.9 BPG
Never mind the assist-to-turnover ratio. Georgia State guard R.J. Hunter averaged 1.6 steals per turnover last season, meaning he took a lot more possessions than he gave away.
Over his first two seasons, Hunter has ranked sixth or better in scoring and top-five in steals in two different conferences, the Colonial and the Sun Belt. He won Sun Belt Player of the Year as a sophomore after starting his career with a first-team All-CAA nod.
And it took a superb overtime effort from eventual first-round NBA draft pick Elfrid Payton and his Louisiana-Lafayette teammates to bounce GSU in the Sun Belt championship game, leaving them just one point short of the NCAA tournament.
This season, the Panthers will have to replace the production of guard Devonta White and forward Manny Atkins. The two combined for approximately 26 points, nine rebounds and six assists last year. Look for Hunter and point guard Ryan Harrow to both push the 20-PPG barrier. If Hunter takes some of the creative duties off Harrow's plate the way White did or helps out on the glass like Atkins, all the better.
Denzel Livingston, Incarnate Word
2013-14 Stats: 20.3 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 3.8 APG, 2.5 SPG, 1.4 BPG
Sports-Reference.com has only been keeping advanced metrics such as offensive rating, steal percentage, defensive rebound percentage, etc. since the 2009-10 season. In those five seasons, it stands to reason that someone had put together the kind of season that Incarnate Word's Denzel Livingston produced in 2013-14.
Someone did. It was Utah's Delon Wright, also last season, and we'll get to him in just a moment.
In UIW's first Division I season, Livingston hit the ground running. He and Wright are the only players in Sports-Reference's database to produce a 120.0 offensive rating, a total rebounding percentage greater than 10.0, an assist percentage greater than 20.0 and a steal percentage that topped 4.0.
Livingston finished seventh or better in the Southland Conference in scoring, assists and blocks while also ranking eighth nationally in steals. His 91.5 defensive rating led the conference as well.
The Cardinals aren't exactly coming to a TV screen near you, so you'll probably never see Livingston play in person. But check out the box score when you see Incarnate Word on the scoreboard. The chances are good that you'll see some impressive, crooked numbers beside Livingston's name.
Or feel free to skip straight to the comment section and enter something along the lines of, "Dude, WHAT is an Incarnate Word? This list lost all credibility."
Georges Niang, Iowa State
2013-14 Stats: 16.7 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.6 APG
Georges Niang's numbers look slightly pedestrian compared to those of the players surrounding him on this list. Iowa State, however, is a team in a bit of flux following the departure of former Big 12 POY Melvin Ejim and do-everything guard DeAndre Kane.
Dustin Hogue is a fine replacement for the versatile Ejim, but Bryce DeJean-Jones is not in Kane's league as an all-around combo guard. Therefore, the Cyclones will need stronger board work and perhaps some more playmaking duties from Niang in his junior season.
This year, Niang won't be moored to the center position once JUCO transfer Jameel McKay becomes eligible to man the middle for ISU. We'll see more of Niang breaking down opposing power forwards off the dribble or backing down wings in the post, depending on opposing personnel.
The Cyclones' cause will be helped immensely if Niang can regain the level of efficiency he enjoyed as a freshman, but that may not be likely. After all, he's going to be the straw that stirs the drink for Iowa State, whether he's setting up others or getting the buckets himself. It may be Niang, not point guard Monte Morris, who leads the Cyclones in assists this season.
Jahlil Okafor, Duke
2013-14 Stats: N/A
Freshmen walking in and becoming the dominant force on a national championship contender is much more common today than it was in, say, Tim Duncan's time. Duncan was impressive as a freshman at Wake Forest (all the way back in 1993-94, as if I needed another reason to feel old today), to be sure, but he wasn't quite the star of the show playing alongside Randolph Childress and Trelonnie Owens.
Jahlil Okafor has been often compared to Duncan, and his impact at Duke may be felt even more strongly on the stat sheet than Duncan's was at Wake. While Duncan's 3.8 BPG will be an impossibly high mark for Okafor to reach, the 9.8 points and 9.6 rebounds Duncan averaged may be child's play for the polished Chicagoan.
Okafor's arsenal of post moves is encyclopedic. He has the footwork and first step to create shots for himself off the dribble. He'll throw in hooks over either shoulder. To top it all off, he'll likely be a menace on putback slams.
We don't see a vast array of major-conference players average a double-double in recent seasons. Only three—Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes, Kentucky's Julius Randle and Richard Solomon of Cal—managed the feat last year. Even if the list is similarly short this season, expect Okafor's name to be on it.
Juwan Staten, West Virginia
2013-14 Stats: 18.1 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 5.8 APG, 1.2 SPG
That 18-PPG average from last season is merely Juwan Staten's starting line for this season. His rebounding numbers may increase. The assist average will almost certainly drop.
The reason for all of these declarative statements is simple: Staten lost nearly his entire supporting cast from last season.
The transfers of guards Eron Harris (to Michigan State) and Terry Henderson (NC State) along with the departure of forward Remi Dibo for a pro career overseas cost West Virginia more than 36 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game.
Staten's first in line for an extra helping on his plate, but coach Bob Huggins would love to see him add some side dishes to his main course of slashing finishes at the rim. Maybe an order of three-point shots would help. Staten made 40 percent from deep last season—albeit in a minuscule 6-of-15 sample size.
With Henderson and Harris on board, West Virginia was an NCAA tournament sleeper, and Staten was a Big 12 Player of the Year candidate. Without them, the Mountaineers have little chance of going dancing, and Staten will get a ton of first-team All-Big 12 votes. If it's any consolation, he'll also likely make the conference's all-defensive team again.
Player of the Year, however, isn't often an award squandered on the leader of a losing team. (Yeah, yeah, quiet down, Georgia fan. We see you.)
Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky
2013-14 Stats: N/A
Obviously, Karl-Anthony Towns' ability to fill up a scoresheet will be contingent on his ability to earn full-time minutes at Kentucky this season. Considering that he's posing here with his Gatorade High School Male Athlete of the Year trophy—along with female winner Brianna Turner and her hardware—one might expect that Towns would have his own parking space, never mind a starting spot.
At most programs he would, but at Kentucky he'll have to fight off potential future lottery picks Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, Trey Lyles and Marcus Lee.
That's no easy task, but if Towns is successful, UK fans could be treated to the best shooting display by a 7-footer this side of Dirk Nowitzki. He's athletic enough to be a finishing threat in transition, lengthy enough to protect the rim and likes to build strength for collegiate rebounding battles by shoving his SUV down the street.
In the best-case scenario, Towns will show one of the most diverse skill sets in college basketball, and some crappy NBA team will have a serious dilemma between Towns and Jahlil Okafor for the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft.
Worst-case scenario is that he realizes he still has things to work on and comes back for another season. As long as this campaign doesn't end too early (or in the NIT), UK fans will surely be okay with that.
Denzel Valentine, Michigan State
2013-14 Stats: 8.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.0 SPG
There's always reason for optimism in East Lansing, Michigan as long as Tom Izzo is roaming the Michigan State sideline. The 2014-15 season, however, may have to go down as one of Izzo's signature coaching performances, because his on-court talent continues to dwindle.
The sudden transfer of forward Kenny Kaminski took away a potential starter from a team already in need of three replacements. The loss of Kaminski's shooting prowess puts even more pressure on swingman Denzel Valentine to continue improving his already versatile array of skills.
Valentine carded three double-doubles last season, adding six assists in two of them. He'll play any of the three perimeter positions, and his 6'5", 225-pound frame makes him a difficult matchup at any of them.
The junior wing does have issues with finishing at the rim, as he sometimes seems to be hurling up desperation shots to draw fouls. It doesn't often work, as he drew less than one free throw per every four field-goal attempts last year.
The Spartans will need him to sustain last year's marked improvement from the arc and still remain a threat on the glass. There's nothing but opportunity in front of him as he takes over a leadership role for MSU. An All-Big Ten selection could merely be a starting point this season.
Alan Williams, UC Santa Barbara
2013-14 Stats: 21.3 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 2.4 BPG
More fun with Sports-Reference's Player Season Finder: How many players since 2009-10 have recorded a 115.0 offensive rating, a 21.0 total rebounding percentage, a 9.0 block percentage and a .570 true shooting percentage all in the same season?
Just one: UC Santa Barbara big man Alan Williams.
In each of the last two seasons, Williams has led the Big West in rebounds (second in the nation in 2013-14) and finished second in blocks. The only BWC player to swat more shots per game in 2013-14 was 7'6" behemoth Mamadou Ndiaye from UC Irvine. Compare his build to Williams' 6'7" frame and decide for yourself which one is the more impressive rim protector.
Williams' rebounding prowess, especially on the defensive end, is made impressive not only by his size but also by his team's defensive scheme. The Gauchos frequently play a zone defense, which can be susceptible to opponents crashing the glass.
Williams led UCSB to wins over UNLV and Cal last season, so don't get lulled into believing that his success is merely a function of weak opposition. He's another whom you'll have to work to watch, but a UCSB game may be as much fun as Santa Barbara can provide without actually traveling there to go surfing with local celebrity Kelly Slater.
Delon Wright, Utah
2013-14 Stats: 15.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.5 SPG, 1.3 BPG
We alluded to Wright earlier in his comparison to Denzel Livingston of Incarnate Word. While both authored historic seasons, Wright topped Livingston in most of the percentage-based metrics and did it in the Pac-12 rather than the Southland.
Put another way, Wright was excelling against the likes of Colorado and UCLA rather than Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston State.
The younger brother of Portland Trail Blazers forward Dorell Wright, Delon was a versatile threat for City College of San Francisco, averaging 10 points, eight rebounds and four steals as a sophomore. He led CCSF in assists, steals and blocks, a triple that he duplicated at Utah.
Wright became Utah's first-ever All-Pac-12 first-team selection, and this season he'll start out on the short list for conference Player of the Year.