I just realized that in my NCAA Tournament-induced euphoria, I totally forgot to post my All-Underrated team for the 2009-2010 college basketball season. You can find the All-Overrated version here. Unfortunately, because it’s a lot less fun to talk about why a player is good than why a player is bad, the players’ individual blurbs will be much shorter than the first go ’round.
Austin Freeman, G – Georgetown
It might seem ridiculous to put Georgetown’s starting point guard on a list that aims to single out unheralded players, but it also seems like no one truly grasped what a great season he had. Freeman hit 56.8% of his twos, 44.4% of his threes (on 133 attempts), and shot 85.6% from the line. He also defended without fouling (important given the Hoyas’ lack of depth) and took pretty good care of the ball. Sometimes, you hear about players achieving the incredible 50/40/90 split (FG%/3P%/FT%). This has come up with some frequency regarding Kevin Durant. Well, Austin Freeman basically just did that as a point guard in the Big East.
Elliot Williams, G – Memphis
While Freeman made the team specifically because of his shooting, Williams is on it simply because he does most everything very well. The Duke transfer (can you imagine the Blue Devils with him still on the team?) hit 52.7% of his twos, 36.6% of his threes, and 75.8% of his free throws. That last number carries the most importance, because Williams was sixth in Conference USA (72nd nationally) in free throw rate, and third in the conference (66th nationally) in drawing fouls. He also posted the tenth-best assist rate in CUSA (although his turnovers were a little high), rebounded well for a guard, and played the highest percentage of his team’s minutes. If he can cut down on the turnovers a little and make even a slight improvement from long distance, he should be an All-American candidate.
Jimmy Butler, G – Marquette
I feel more strongly about Butler’s inclusion on this team than any other player. No one seems to have any idea what an incredible year he had in 2010. Playing the 13th-most minutes in the Big East, Butler hit 53.4% of his twos and 50% of his threes (on only 32 attempts). Most importantly, he hit 76.6% of his 244 free throws – a rate than ranked 11th nationally. Additionally, Butler defended without fouling, took wonderful care of the ball, and even hit the offensive glass a little for good measure.
Less objectively, I think there’s a pretty striking similarity between 2009’s Jerel McNeal-Wesley Matthews pairing and 2010’s Lazar Hayward-Jimmy Butler tandem. Last year, I made the case that Marquette’s best player wasn’t the hyped McNeal, but the less heralded Matthews. And, if presence in the NBA is any indicator, I was right. There’s a similar thing going on with Hayward and Butler. Hayward gets all of the press for his scoring and rebounding, but he’s not a particularly efficient shooter (47.9% of twos, 34.9% of threes). At least in 2010, Butler was a much more skilled, efficient, and productive player than Hayward. Whether or not Butler’s numbers are adversely affected by Hayward’s departure is something to keep an eye on in the upcoming season.
Tim Abromaitis, F – Notre Dame
There are numerous theories as to why Notre Dame played so well in Luke Harangody’s absence. One is the standard idea that his unavailability forced the team to come together, rely on one another, play unselfish basketball, and all that good stuff. A more substantiated argument is that the Fighting Irish slowed down the offense to a snail’s pace and improved their defense through a combination of better defensive rebounding, fewer fouls committed, and improved three point defense. And while that appears to be the overarching reason for Notre Dame’s success, a more specific factor was the emergence of Abromaitis, who came out of nowhere to become one of the most efficient offensive players in the country. He hit 56.4% of his twos, 42.9% of his threes, and 87.3% of his free throws. Those are staggering, Austin Freeman-like numbers. While his rebounding could stand to improve some, he helped make up for it by taking exceptional care of the basketball for a big man. It will be fascinating to see if Abromaitis can continue his torrid shooting next season.
Larry Sanders, F – Virginia Commonwealth
You might not remember it, but Sanders was briefly on the national radar. Bolstered by teammate Eric Maynor’s skill and the coverage it attracted, Sanders was touted as one of the best rebounders and shot-blockers in the nation. How quickly we forget. Once Maynor graduated, Sanders was more or less forgotten, even though he is still worthy of such high praise. He ranked 88th nationally in offensive rebounding, 36th in defensive rebounding, and 33rd in shot-blocking. While those are his calling cards, he does also hit more than half his twos, which is nice to have in a big man (I’m looking you, A.J. Ogilvy). Sanders will be a senior next season, and if he can foul a little less and improve on that 64.6% free throw shooting, I see no reason why he can’t crack the first round in the draft.
John Roberson, G – Texas Tech
Roberson makes up for his hideous 43.8% two point shooting by hitting 41.3% of his threes and 80% of his freebies.
Mickey McConnell, G – Saint Mary’s
I can’t tell you how much I’m kicking myself for not posting this before the NCAA Tournament. I put McConnell on the list March 7th, the day before he destroyed Gonzaga in the WCC title game and roughly two weeks before he helped topple Richmond and Villanova in the tournament. That’ll teach me to procrastinate. In any case, McConnell hit 50.6% of his twos, 51% of his 151 threes, and 84.1% of his free throws. He’s a wonderful scorer.
Alec Burks, F – Colorado
Burks and teammate Cory Higgins are both underrated and are strikingly similar players, but the edge goes to Burks because he’s a freshman and Higgins is a junior. Burks hit 57.5% of his twos, shot 77% from the line, drew lots of fouls, and even hit the offensive boards a little. Based on nothing but his age, statistics, and his NBA size, I’d say there’s a decent chance we’re talking about his draft stock over the coming years.
Jeffery Taylor, F – Vanderbilt
This is probably a bit of a homer pick, but Taylor was just as important to the Commodores’ success as senior point guard Jermaine Beal and junior big man A.J. Ogilvy. Taylor hits 51% of his twos, and 74.6% of his frequently-taken free throws. He also rebounds well for a swingman, particularly on the offensive end.
Brian Zoubek, C – Duke
Zoubek might seem like a bit of a nutty pick. He is, after all, a Blue Devil, which automatically precludes him from being underrated in the eyes of many. He also averages 5.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. But he’s a key cog in Duke’s machine. Aside from his obviously good 63.2% shooting, he leads the nation in offensive rebounding. This is particularly important because Duke is a poor two point shooting team, which places higher value on the ability to recover their own misses. Zoubek plays a huge role in getting the Blue Devils extra possessions.