2009’s All-Underrated College Basketball Team

Yesterday, I posted my picks for five of the most overrated players in college basketball. In each case, the perception of the player did not match the reality, albeit in different ways. One player is thought of as good, when in fact he is decidedly below-average. Another has had his per game averages improve, but his measures of efficiency drop significantly. A third has seduced many with his glaringly obvious talent, but has not matched his ability in production. The final two are believed to be legitimately great players, yet they are not elite because of the inefficiency resulting from having to carry a team. You should check out the post to see exactly what I’m talking about.

This time around, I’m bringing you five players that haven’t received enough attention for their performance this season. You’ll probably find that three of them are household names, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be underrated. Just as the overrated players have found their performances marred by inefficiencies, these underrated players deserve more recognition for their efficient operation. Here they are:

Jerome Randle, G (California)

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As much as I like to profess my superior sports knowledge, I must admit that I had no idea who this guy was until a couple days ago. I was aware that the Bears were having a surprisingly good season, and perhaps continue to be underrated in some circles, but I couldn’t name a single player on the team. Randle’s numbers, however, have ensured that I won’t be forgetting him anytime soon. The traditional stats are very good; he’s averaging 18 points, 3 rebounds, and 5 assists per game for an average-paced team. He takes fairly good care of the ball too, posting a 1.69/1 assist-to-turnover ratio. But look at this ridiculousness: 50% from the field, 87.8% from the line, and 45.2% from three-point range. The result is a eFG% of 60.3, good for 64th in the nation and fourth in the Pac-10 conference. He shoots this insane percentage while also using 25.5% of his team’s possessions, which is fifth in the conference. Randle is also 5’10” tall and looks terrifying when he’s calling out a play. Between his efficiency, stature, and nightmare-inducing facial expressions, I’m shocked we haven’t heard more about him.

Darren Collison, G (UCLA)

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It may seem impossible for the starting point guard on one of college basketball’s best teams and traditional powers to be underrated, but he is. For reasons I don’t totally understand, Collison has fallen off the radar this season. Part of this, I’m sure, has to do with him playing on the West Coast, thereby placing him on the periphery of the national consciousness. In any case, Collison has performed exceptionally in his senior year. He’s averaging 15 points, 2 rebounds, and 5 assists per game for the slightly slow-paced Bruins. His protection of the ball has improved, with his A/TO topping out at an excellent 2.3/1. Like Randle, however, Collison’s effectiveness lies in his efficient scoring. He’s shooting 53.3% from the field, 91.8% from the line, and 42% from distance. Perhaps most impressively, he’s hitting 58% of his two-pointers – a ludicrous figure for a guard. His resultant eFG% of 59.5 ranks 84th nationally, and fifth in the conference. Lastly, he records assists at a high rate, steals the ball a fair amount, and does not foul often on defense.

Wesley Matthews, G (Marquette)

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I could just be making this up, but I believe that Matthews has gotten lost in the hoopla surrounding Marquette’s perimeter offense this season. Instead of paying individual attention to each player’s strengths, college basketball analysts usually talk about the Marquette guards’ prowess as a unit. When a player does receive individual attention, it’s usually Jerel McNeal (higher scoring average) or Dominic James (leadership and, recently, broken foot). Matthews, however, is the most effective of the three. He averages 19 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists per game for the fast-paced Golden Eagles. He takes acceptable care of the ball for someone that uses nearly a quarter of his team’s possessions, posting an A/TO of slightly above 1/1. As with Randle and Collison, Matthews’ primary skill is effective scoring. He shoots 51.7% from the field, 81.5% from the line, and 40.7% from three-point range. This translates into a 57% eFG, good for 10th in the Big East and 179th nationally. His Offensive Rating of 120.1 places him nearly 300 spots above his more-heralded teammate McNeal, and light years ahead of James. Matthews also gets to the free-throw line with great frequency, and draws 6.4 fouls per 40 minutes played (1st in the conference). McNeal and James are good players, but Matthews is the best of the bunch.

DeMarre Carroll, F (Missouri)

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The Tigers have two candidates for inclusion on this team. Both Carroll and fellow senior Leo Lyons have been given little recognition, in spite of Missouri’s arduous and unexpected climb into the nation’s elite teams. I suspect this is because of Missouri’s unfair classification as a gimmick team. The reasoning for this is somewhat understandable. The Tigers do play at an extraordinarily fast pace (15th in the nation) and, like previous Mike Anderson-coached teams, distribute playing time amongst at least 10 players to keep them fresh. The result is people discussing Missouri’s hectic, suffocating style instead of the players who properly execute it. This brings us to the Vanderbilt transfer (sniff) Carroll. In 27 fast-paced minutes per game, Carroll averages 17 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and nearly 2 steals. He takes unusually good care of the ball for a big man, with an A/TO of 1.25/1. More importantly, he scores efficiently – 57% from the field, 64.5% from the line (admittedly bad), and 39% from three-point range. The vast majority of his shots, however, are two-pointers; he shoots a fantastic 59% from inside the arc. His eFG% is also 59%, placing him 106th in the country and seventh in the Big 12. Carroll’s offensive rebounding percentage is 10.3%, 11th in the conference. His defensive counterpart is 19%, 10th in the conference. Carroll isn’t a brilliant player, but along with Lyons, he’s responsible for Missouri’s ascent. That’s worth at least some national attention.

Patrick Patterson, F (Kentucky)

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Through the long and very enjoyable process of become close friends with a Louisvillian (not to be confused with a Louisvillain), I have developed a dislike for the Wildcats. That does not, however, preclude me from occasionally respecting one of them. Patterson might be the best player on the team, which is saying something considering the season teammate Jodie Meeks is having. Patterson’s per game averages are very good: 18 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks for the fast-paced Wildcats. The fun really begins, as it has with each of these players, when you look at his shooting percentages. Patterson shoots an obscene 63.3% from the field and a very good 77.4% from the free-throw line. Because he takes no three-pointers, his eFG% is also 63.3%, which ranks 22nd in the country and easily first in the SEC. This percentage is made even more impressive by his taking 26% of the team’s shots when he’s on the floor. In other words, his repeated attempts give his percentage ample opportunity to decline, yet it never has. Both his rebounding percentages rank in the conference top ten, he blocks shots at a high rate, and gets to the line enough for that to be a legitimate weapon. People who think that Jodie Meeks is clearly the Wildcats’ best player aren’t as right as they might think.

As is the case with the overrated players, I welcome your thoughts. I focused entirely on major conference players, and I know there are a few lesser-known players out there (Santa Clara’s John Bryant and Tennessee-Martin’s Lester Hudson, for example) who were candidates for inclusion. Who am I missing? Are any of these players appropriately-rated? I’d love to hear what you have to say.

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