All hail the ‘extremists’: College hoops’ returning statistical elite
With well over 4,000 Division I players in action each season, there are going to be some amazing individual efforts. Whenever you think you’re watching a guy who has to be the best in a certain basketball category, chances are you can find someone who’s better. Or at least more prolific.
Luckily for us, KenPom.com can help us identify the absolute best of the best in a large number of statistical categories. As you start your advance prep for what should be a fantastic 2013-14 season, you might want to keep these guys in mind. They’re the best returning player in the nation in their particular area of excellence, and could light up a seemingly nondescript game if you know what you’re looking for. (All data from KenPom.com)
Percentage of minutes played: Travis Bader, Oakland
The Golden Grizzlies’ standout has been an almost omnipresent force in the Summit League for his three seasons, and he’s going to be back for his senior campaign after playing a nation’s best 94.8 percent of available minutes last season.
Being on the floor so much also enables Bader to be the nation’s most eager three-point shot taker. Last season, Bader launched an incredible 360 three-pointers, and has attempted 886 of them in his career. Good for the Grizzlies, Bader is also a very good marksman from the arc. His 38.6 percent success rate last season is the worst of his three seasons. He lit up IUPUI last season for 11 threes on his way to 47 points.
Percentage of possessions used: Joel Wright, Texas State
Northern Illinois’ Abdel Nader actually led in this category and the next one, but since he’s transferred to Iowa State and will sit out next season, the honor goes to Wright.
The Duquesne transfer certainly warmed to the task at hand in his first season in San Marcos, using 36.3 percent of the Bobcats’ possessions while he was on the court. He managed to squeeze off 423 shots (and made 46 percent of them) and an additional 262 free throw attempts (converting a strong 77 percent) while also turning the ball over a lot and even notching as assist here and there. Whatever the outcome — shot, foul, pass, mistake — the ball was usually in Wright’s hands.
The nation became aware of Wright when he poured in 32 points in a WAC tournament upset of league favorite Denver. He also has one of the better nicknames in college basketball: “Air Jamaica.”
Shots percentage: Karl Cochran, Wofford
If Cochran is open, the ball’s going up. The Terriers’ guard took a robust 523 shots last season, including 253 from three-point range even though he only converted 30.8 percent of them. Cochran took a full 40 percent of Wofford’s shots while on the floor, which creates a chicken-and-egg question: Was Wofford a terrible offensive team (335th in offensive efficiency, in the 300s in both two-point and three-point shooting percentage) and needed Cochran to take so many shots? Or were the Terriers terrible because he did?
Wofford was an extremely young team last season, so the former is probably closer to accurate. Cochran has two more seasons left, so if you want to watch a shooter, find the Terriers next season and hope he and his teammates can make a few more shots.
eFG% Dennis Osbe, Tennessee Tech
Last season, the Golden Eagles had heavy-usage, solid-efficiency scorer Jud Dillard as their main man, and freshman Lanerryl Johnson was anything but shy in his time on the court. Maybe they should have ceded a few more shots to Osbe, who converted an outstanding 71.1 percent of his two-point attempts?
What’s more impressive, Osbe significantly increased his minutes last season after two years of role player duty and not only maintained his overall efficiency over a much greater workload, but also added legitimate three-point range to his arsenal. The 6-foot-7 forward made 26-of-64 threes last season (40.6 percent).
With Dillard gone, is Osbe going to be a breakout surprise in the Ohio Valley? He averaged 10.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and a block a game last season.
OReb rate: Ryan Watkins, Boise State
Watkins edges the exquisitely named Chad Posthumus of Morehead State for this category honor, and it makes sense. Watkins wasn’t a real heavy minutes guy in the Broncos’ rotation, and their heavily perimeter-oriented attack leaves a lot of opportunity for inside guys to hoard caroms when they’re on the floor.
Watkins grabbed an absurd 18.5 percent of possible offensive rebounds in his 21 minutes a game on the court. With Boise State returning a ton of talent, the senior Watkins should get some more national love this season if he keeps possessions alive at this rate.
DReb rate: Eric Moreland, Oregon State
If you’re looking for a guy to end opponent possessions instead, look no further than this board-hungry Beaver, who snagged 27.5 percent of all available defensive rebounds while he was on the court in 2012-13. Think about that. For every four shots an opponent missed, Moreland was collecting more than one of them to cement a stop. He also blocked shots at a very high rate.
The Beavers were not a very good defensive team as is, so imagine if they didn’t have an elite defensive rebounder/shot blocker helping them out for 28 minutes a game? Moreland briefly entered the draft pool for this June’s NBA draft, but withdrew and will be back in Corvallis. He also has an excellent tattoo collection:
Assist rate: Chris Fowler, Central Michigan
If you don’t watch the MAC, you probably won’t know about the guy with the highest returning assist rate in the nation. It’s especially impressive that Fowler showed this ability as a freshman in a very rugged, competitive league.
Keno Davis’ Drake team and his only good Providence team featured very high team assist rates, so as Fowler and CMU improve, he should continue to find success off the dish. Fowler also has a heck of a backstory, recovering from an initial ACL tear as a 10-year old and surgery in 2010 that curtailed his college recruitment.
Block %: Chris Obekpa, St John’s
The Nigerian import may have been really limited on the offensive end as a freshman, but he certainly was a shot deterrent on defense. He led the nation with a 15.8 percent blocked shot rate. As in, he blocked one out of every six or seven shots attempted by Red Storm opponents all season. He set a school record with 11 blocks against Fordham and averaged 4.1 rejections per game.
Not a lot has gone right for the Johnnies over the last couple of seasons as Steve Lavin and Co. have sought talent that either hasn’t arrived or has underperformed, but they now have a defensive anchor in Obekpa and a less-imposing league in which to operate this year.
Watch Obekpa make an impression on Detroit in his college debut:
Steal %: Briante Weber, VCU
Maybe the player in the nation most defined by one skill, Weber has been the poster child for the Rams’ defensively disruptive Havoc system. He’s led the nation in steal percentage in both of his seasons in Richmond, stealing the ball on over seven percent of the opponents’ possessions in each season. That’s honestly insane, even within a system like VCU’s, which led the nation in turnover rate.
Butler got a taste of what can quickly happen after a steal, too:
There surely will be new challengers to these crowns in 2013-14, but know that the kings won’t abdicate easily. It takes a certain kind of player to dominate so thoroughly (and, in most cases, effectively). So as you start your long summer of looking forward to next season, keep these guys in mind. The more reasons to watch college hoops each winter, the better, and these guys definitely provide reasons to watch.