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NCAA Tournament: Ray McCallum and D.J. Cooper Headline The Mid-Major Stars Worth Watching In The Midwest

Ray McCallum and Detroit are a very dangerous 15 seed. Beware Bill Self.

MIDWEST

PG D.J. Cooper, Ohio

2011-2012 Stats: 14.6 ppg, 5.7 apg, 3.8 rpg

Michigan beware—Cooper and the Bobcats are no strangers to the NCAA Tournament. As a freshman, Cooper put up 23 points (5-8 three-point shooting) and eight assists as the Bobcats trounced No. 3 seed Georgetown 97-83. The diminutive point guard doesn’t shoot a high percentage (43.0 effective field goal percentage), but he’s an adept ball handler and floor general. Cooper’s assist rate (37.3) is twice as high as high turnover rate (18.1).  The native Chicagoan (attended Seton Academy) is also pesky on defense, ranking 17th in the nation in steal percentage (4.4). There’s a well-done mini-documentary on Cooper on YouTube, check it out.

PG Kerron Johnson, Belmont

2011-2012 Stats: 14.1 ppg, 5.2 apg, 3.1 rpg

The Bruins’ point guard was once named Alabama’s Mr. Basketball over current NBA players DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe. Johnson is now staring in the Atlantic Sun conference, where he leads Belmont in points and assists. The 6’1″ junior is a highly efficient floor general, his offensive rating of 121.1 ranks 66th in the nation and his assist rate (33.6) ranks 47th. Johnson has shot over 60 percent on his two-point field goal attempts this season, and his true shooting percentage of 63.1 is the 48th best mark in the country. However, he’s made just 32 percent of his three-point attempts. Johnson led the nation in steal percentage (6.3) as a sophomore, but he registered steals on just 2.9 percent of possessions this season (278th in the nation).

Johnson put up 13 points, four assists, three rebounds and two steals in the Bruins’ first round loss to Wisconsin in last year’s NCAA Tournament. I think Belmont will upset Georgetown and N.C. State on their way to the Sweet 16 in this year’s tournament.

PG Ray McCallum, Detroit

2011-2012 Stats: 15.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.9 apg

McCallum turned down offers from UCLA, Arizona and Florida to play for his dad, Ray Sr., at Detroit. His commitment paid off as the Titans are in the Big Dance for the first time since 1999. The sophomore stepped up his game in the Horizon tournament, averaging 23 points (.631 FG%), five assists and five rebounds as the Titans knocked off Youngstown State, Cleveland State and host Valparaiso.

The 6’2″ point guard shot a high percentage on twos (.556) but struggled from behind the arc this season, making just 30 of his 120 three-point attempts (.250 percent).

DraftExpress ranks McCallum 21st among sophomores, and projects him as a late first round pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. It’s rare to see a 15-seed have a former top-50 recruit and projected first round pick leading their squad, so Kansas can’t take the Titans lightly. McCallum and Indiana transfer Eli Holman (10.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.4 bpg) could give the Jayhawks some trouble Friday night.

Bucknell, Bradley, Northern Iowa, VCU . . . Detroit?

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