With most teams having played at least one quarter of their schedule (crazy, huh?), I felt this was a perfect time to give you ten players that have really surprised and/or impressed me this season. In the first part, John and I list our top five surprises of the NEC thus far, who we feel truly have the potential to end up on an all-conference team in March. For part two, I decided to give you the five best non-conference players I’ve seen live so far in the 13 games I’ve attended. Enjoy!
Rashad Whack, Mount St. Mary’s – Everybody knew about Whack’s ability to knock down the long-range jumper, but not everyone could have envisioned Whack being the key ingredient in Jamion Christian’s MAYHEM attack. Through seven games, the George Mason transfer not only leads the team in three-pointers made and points per game, but he also is tops in rebounds and steals (6.4% steal rate, best in the NEC) as well. His off-the-ball skills and play have been pleasant surprises and for that credit must be given to the coach Christian replaced, Robert Burke. Christian inherited quite a player in Whack, who absolutely has the potential to crack a NEC all-conference team.
Stephon Mosley, St. Francis (PA) – Go ahead, it’s OK. You can admit this is the first time you’ve ever heard of Stephon Mosley. Admittedly, I knew little about the freshman, as he was a late signee for Rob Krimmel’s team. But shockingly in the early going, Mosley is leading all NEC freshmen in efficiency rating, rebounds and minutes per game. The 6’6″ power forward, along with notable recruit Ronnie Drinnon, have spearheaded the youth movement in Loretto, as Krimmel has clearly moved forward with his young players, rather than utilizing veterans like Anthony Ervin, Tony Peters, and Storm Stanley. If Mosley continues his 10 points and 4.5 rebounds per game production, he’ll easily crack the NEC All-Rookie Team at season’s end.
Matthew Hunter, Central Connecticut – The immediate impact this accomplished junior college transfer could provide was well-known, thanks to Howie Dickenman’s constant praise in the preseason. We knew Hunter would be a stat-filler, but we didn’t realize that he’d be in the top four of the conference in points, rebounds, and steals per game. Hunter showcased his skills in Indiana recently, when he famously dropped 40 points in a losing effort at Assembly Hall. It was a performance that surely opened coach’s eyes, and shows that merely shutting down Kyle Vinales will not restrict the Blue Devils efficient offense. There’s officially a bona fide one-two punch in New Britain, so sit back and enjoy the ride for the next two seasons. Vinales and Hunter will put up some mind-blowing numbers together.
Kevin Douglas, St. Francis Brooklyn – Last season Douglas was on the bench behind Stefan Perunicic for SFC. Now that he’s in the rotation on a consistent basis, Douglas is tearing it up. He’s already attempted more threes this season than he did during his entire freshman campaign and he’s making a ridiculous 41% of them. That’s not sustainable, but the sophomore’s low turnover rate and ability to attack the rim look like they weren’t flukes last season. The two biggest criticisms of Douglas thus far this season is that he could be shooting even more and that his defense is a work in progress. Still, he’s provided an excellent scoring threat on the wing for the Terriers.
Dyami Starks, Bryant – In the preseason, Bryant head coach Tim O’Shea was so high on Starks, he called him one of the best shooters he has ever coached. So far, Starks hasn’t disappointed, hitting 27 three-pointers (37% three-point percentage) and dropping double-digit points in seven of nine games. Starks ability to make the long-range jumper has added a much-needed dimension to the Bulldogs’ offense, so much so that Bryant can no longer be considered a pushover. We’re incredibly bullish on Starks to continue his impressive production, mainly because O’Shea has been blown away with Columbia transfer’s work ethic. Enjoy Bulldog fans, since you have the next three years to witness the soon to be best shooter in Bryant’s young history.
And now for some players that really impressed me in the live games I’ve seen so far this season…
C.J. McCollum, Lehigh – Well, duh?! It’s not terribly imaginative for me to put a
potential likely All-American here, but his insertion onto my list is due to the “wow” factor. When I saw Lehigh smoke Sacred Heart on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, it wasn’t that McCollum scored 26 super efficient points. It was the way he scored, which was seemed so easy, so effortless. He scored in the post, in the lane, behind the arc, and yet he hardly broke a sweat doing it. He was by far and away the best player on that court and this is coming from an unapologetic supporter of Shane Gibson. As Patriot League expert Kevin Doyle said at the game, a player of McCollum’s caliber belongs in the Big East, not in the outdated Pitt Center whipping up on the hapless Pioneers. As far as mid-major players are concerned, he is the most transcendent talent I have ever witnessed.
Tilman Dunbar, Navy – You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out why Navy has already doubled their win total from a season ago. It’s the lightning quick, surprisingly mature freshman Tilman Dunbar who has helped lead the Midshipmen out of a couple of abysmal seasons into a team that could legitimately finish the upper half of the Patriot League. Dunbar possesses a terrific handle, an explosive first step, and adept court vision, yet it’s his poise that may be his most impressive talent. The diminutive point guard carries himself like an upperclassman. Dunbar’s undeniable talent will be fun to watch for Midshipmen fans the next four seasons, but in the meantime, he’ll continue to only improve under the tutelage of head coach Ed DeChellis. You can basically hand him the Patriot League Rookie of the Year trophy right now.
Ryan Cook, UMBC – I didn’t see UMBC play last season (which probably was a good thing), but a number of articles raved about the play of forward Chase Plummer. So you could imagine my surprise when I saw it was guard Ryan Cook, and not Plummer, that made the Retrievers tick. Not to pick on Plummer, but Cook – a former walk-on – has easily been the most efficient player for Aki Thomas’ UMBC club in the early going. The athletic Cook is a do all guard who can score a variety of ways. In addition to leading the America East in scoring, the 6’2 senior is eighth in the conference in rebounds per game. Forecasting ahead, expect Cook to continue to have an expanded role in the Retrievers’ offense. It’s probably the most optimal way UMBC can claw back to respectability in the America East this season.
Stephen Lumpkins, American – You won’t find American upperclassman Steve Lumpkins on any stat sheets last season, because he was playing minor league baseball. After the failed stint, Lumpkins came back to utilize his final season of eligibility, and it’s a good thing for the Eagles he did. Without his fantastic interior production, American would really struggle this season. It’s been a disappointing start to the season already in Washington D.C., yet Lumpkins at least gives the Eagles a little hope heading into conference play. His efficient, fluid play around the rim demands double teams and should leave American’s bevy of long-range shooters open on the outside. So far, Lumpkins is holding up his end of the bargain, as he’s averaging 15.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game. That’s not too shabby for someone who completely missed the previous season.
Billy Baron, Canisius – When Canisius hired the former long time URI coach Jim Baron this offseason, they were essentially adding a top-notch transfer as well, in the form of Baron’s son, Billy. As a result, the Golden Griffens have exceeded expectations in the early going and have finally caught MAAC fans attention with their quick 2-0 start in the conference. Baron – the young one – is a huge reason for Canisius’ success, having posted averages of 17.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 1.2 steals per game. He’s fresh off a MAAC Player of the Week award, after torching conference foe Marist with a fantastic effort. Throw in backcourt mate Harold Washington, and you have a dynamic scoring duo that can seemingly make the right decision time and time again for a contending club in Canisius.
Ryan Peters covers Northeast Conference men’s basketball for Big Apple Buckets and Pioneer Pride. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride
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