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NCAA Tournament: Isaiah Canaan and Casper Ware Headline The Mid-Major Stars Worth Watching in the West

Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan has already led the Racers to a 30-win season.


F Julian Boyd, LIU Brooklyn

2011-2011 Stats: 17.4 ppg, 9.5 rpg, .427 3-pt%

The high-flying (evidence here) Boyd has been able to put up some big numbers in the Blackbirds’ up-tempo offense—LIU Brooklyn is No. 2 in the nation in adjusted tempo. But Boyd’s numbers are not just the byproduct of playing in a run-in-gun offense, he’s had a highly efficient season. The native Texan has a solid offensive rating of 116.3 and ranks in the top 100 nationally in both effective field goal percentage (58.5) and true shooting percentage (62.4). Boyd hasn’t shot below 50 percent from the field since he went 3-for-8 against Central Connecticut State on Feb. 4.

Boyd is also a pretty good three point shooter for his size and position. He’s shot 42.7 percent from behind the arc this year, but he’s shooting 64.7 percent (11 for 17) from three over his last seven games.

The explosive 6’7″ forward is an excellent rebounder. He has the 23rd best defensive rebounding percentage in the nation, grabbing 25.6 percent of available boards on defense. He also has a solid offensive rebounding percentage of 10.9. Boyd notched a 20-20 game last month, registering 21 points and 20 rebounds against Farleigh Dickinson on Feb. 23.

F De’Mon Brooks, Davidson

2011-2012 Stats: 16.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.0 spg

He’s no Stephen Curry, but Brooks is pretty damn good. Davidson’s leading scorer and rebounder, Brooks is highly involved in the Wildcats offense. When he’s on the floor, the sophomore forward uses 30.9 percent of his team’s possessions (26th highest in the nation) and takes 34.5 percent of their shots (14th highest in the nation). The Wildcats are smart to run their offense through Brooks as he’s an efficient player. He owns a solid offensive rating (115.6), effective field goal percentage (56.6) and turnover rate (13.6).

Brooks attacks the glass on offense and defense. He collected 12 percent of the available boards on offense, and 19.1 percent on defense. Considering how many shots he takes, Brooks’ offensive rebounding percentage is impressive.

PG Isaiah Canaan, Murray State

2011-2012 Stats: 19.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.7 apg

Canaan is the best player on 30-win Murray State, and quite simply, he’s been one of the best players in the nation this season. He leads the Racers in points and assists. Canaan is a deadly shooter—he ranks 37th in the country in effective field goal percentage (61.2) and 14th in true shooting percentage (66.1). He’s taken more three-pointers than twos this season, and he’s connected on a sizzling 47.3 percent of his three-point attempts. He’s made five or more three pointers in a game eight times this season. Canaan is also an 84 percent shooter from the free throw line, and he gets there often, drawing 5.3 fouls per 40 minutes.

PF Kyle O’Quinn, Norfolk State

2011-2012 Stats: 15.9 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 2.7 bpg

O’Quinn might be the best player in college basketball that even die-hard fans have never heard of.  The 6’10” senior led the MEAC in rebounds, blocks and field goal percentage. He ranks in the top 100 nationally in effective field goal percentage (59.0), true shooting percentage (62.4), defensive rebounding percentage (25.7), block percentage (8.9) and free throw rate (64.0). Evidence of his shot blocking expertise can be seen here.

O’Quinn will go up against Mizzou’s Ricardo Ratliffe, the national leader in field goal percentage, in the first round. The Tigers play a small lineup, so O’Quinn should pose some match-up problems.

PG Casper Ware, Long Beach State

2011-2012 Stats: 17.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 3.3 apg

Ware, a 5’11” point guard, is one the most exciting players in the country. He put up 33 points as the 49ers knocked off UC-Santa Barbara in the Big West tournament title game. Ware registered 25 points or more in six games this year.

Ware cut down on turnovers this season, posting the lowest turnover rate (16.1) of his college career. For the first time at Long Beach, Ware took more three-pointers (255) than twos (197) this year. He shot a respectable 36 percent from beyond the arc.  And while the senior is a big time scorer, Ware put up a solid of assist rate of 20.4.

Ware and the 49ers are battled tested, they faced eight NCAA tournament teams in non-conference. Six were on the road, and two were at neutral sites—Long Beach went 1-7, defeating only Xavier in Hawaii.

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Under The Radar: Five Mid-Major Players With Major Game

G Damian Lillard, Weber State

2011-2012 Stats: 25.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 3.8 APG

The junior guard has seven games of 30 points or more this season, and is currently leading the nation in scoring at 25.5 points per game. He also has the No. 1 offensive rating in the nation (31.7), as calculated by Ken Pomeroy. Lillard, a native of Oakland, CA, was named the 2009-2010 MVP of the Big Sky Conference as a sophomore, but sat out last season with a medical redshirt after injuring his foot nine games into the year. The 6’3 guard is getting attention from NBA scouts, and is currently projected as a late first round pick in the 2012 draft by DraftExpress.

F Doug McDermott, Creighton

2011-2012 Stats: 23.4 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 1.3 APG

Doug, the son of Creighton head coach Gregg McDermott, has been outstanding this season for the nationally ranked Blue Jays. The 6’7 sophomore’s offensive production has vastly improved from his freshman season. McDermott averaged 14.9 points per game while shooting 53 percent from the field last yea. This year he’s averaging 23.4 points per game and shooting an outstanding 62 percent from the field. McDermott has scored over 30 points five times this season, including a 44 point effort against Bradley on Jan. 7.  McDermott played on the same high school basketball team in Ames, IO as North Carolina star Harrison Barnes. While McDermott and Creighton lost to Northern Iowa this past weekend, the Blue Jays should still be in line for a top five seed come NCAA Tournament time.

G Isaiah Canaan, Murray State

2011-2012 Stats: 18.8 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 3.8 APG

The 6 foot junior has been the spark plug for the undefeated Racers. He leads the team in points, assists and steals. Canaan exploded in the second half and had 32 points total in Murray State’s comeback victory against Southeast Missouri State last week. The Racers had to rely on Canaan even more the last few weeks as Ivan Aska, the team’s third leading scorer, missed six games with an injury. In a great match-up of mid-major guards, Canaan will face off with St. Mary’s Matthew Dellavedova in a BracketBusters game on Feb. 18. The game is probably the Racers’ toughest remaining challenge in their quest for an unbeaten season.

G Scott Machado, Iona

2011-2012 Stats: 13.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 10.0 APG

North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall gets a lot of buzz for being a sharp-passing, unselfish point guard, but Iona’s Machado might be the best assist machine in the nation. Machado (10.0) is first in the country in assists per game, just slightly ahead of Marshall (9.8). The 6’1 Queens native has racked up 14 or more assists in six games this season. Machado can also score himself. He’s averaging 13.6 points per game while shooting a solid 49 percent from the field and 42 percent from beyond the arc. Machado and Arizona-transfer Mo Mo Jones give Iona one of the best backcourts in the country. The Gaels are definitely a team no one wants to see in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament.

G Nate Wolters, South Dakota State

2011-2012 Stats: 21.3 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 6.2 APG

Wolters puts up one of the most complete stat lines of any guard in the country. He had 34 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists in the Jackrabbits’ victory over Washington in December. Wolters is also garnering attention from NBA scouts. DraftExpress currently has him projected as a second round pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. One thing that impressed scouts was the 6’4 Wolters’ three-point shooting. However, his percentage from behind the arc has dropped from 40 percent in 2010-11 to 25 percent this season.  The St. Cloud, MN native is attempting to lead South Dakota State to the first NCAA tournament appearance in school history. The Jackrabbits currently sit in second place of the Summit League, but they defeated first place Oral Roberts last week.

Others: Reggie Hamilton, Oakland; Arslan Kazami, Rice; Mike Muscala, Bucknell; C.J. McCollum, Lehigh; Casper Ware, Long Beach State

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