In this segment, I outline the emerging prospects for the 2011-2012 A-10 Conference season.
TJ McConnell, Duquesne- Despite earning the Atlantic-10 freshman of the year award and being listed on College Insider's Freshman All American Team, McConnell still did not receive the widespread national attention that he deserves. It should be stressed that these rewards were not without merit though, and that McConnell will likely be one of the best point guards in the country next season. Last year, he was the 6th most efficient offensive player in the Atlantic 10 according to kenpom.com's 'Offensive Rating' statistic. And, he shot the ball well from the field, finishing 8th in the conference in TS% and connecting on 40% of his three point attempts. Not only was he effective scoring the ball, but he also displayed excellent court vision and thereby ranked 5th in the conference in Assist Rate. On the defensive end, TJ finished 7th in the country and first in the A-10 in % steals, while ranking 12th in the conference in fouls committed. This indicates that he played well beyond his years, picking the pockets of countless opposing players, yet not succumbing to the freshman temptation to foul all too often. Moreover, his summer performances at Green Tree only reinforced this notion that he will break through as one of the top point guards in the country this season. There he led his PBC team to a championship victory over a squad featuring Pitt alums and current players such as Ashton Gibbs and Gary McGhee. He was fearless attacking the basket against them, and put the team on his back on several occasions. All in all, when the college season rolls around, look for TJ McConnell to become an All Conference player in the A-10 and more of a household name amongst casual college basketball fans.
Michael Eric/Khalif Wyatt/Aaron Brown, Temple- Temple is coming into this season as one of the most under-hyped squads in the country. Despite the loss of Lavoy Allen, Temple returns most of last season's tournament team. Even though Michael Eric was not Temple's top option inside a year ago, he demonstrated considerable coordination and athleticism in the post. At 6'11, 240 lbs, Eric has the physical tools to develop into a decent professional player. If he continues to make strides in his offensive development while continuing to provide a solid defensive presence, he should be on scouts' radars next year. With Allen's departure, it appears likely that he will get that opportunity to make a name for himself. Moreover, Khalif Wyatt is a strong, undersized shooting guard that ranked 9th in the Atlantic 10 in kenpom's Offensive Rating, meaning that he was one of the conference's most efficient players last season. Look for him to continue to improve this year, as he already made the jump as a freshman that only played in 10 contests to one of the most dependable offensive weapons in the conference as a sophomore. Finally, expect sophomore Aaron Brown to make similar inroads in his second season with the Owls. He played under 10 minutes per game a year ago, but has been gaining experience internationally, playing for the US Virgin Islands national team.
DeMario Mayfield, Charlotte- Despite the poor numbers that he put up during his first college season with Georgia, Mayfield should have a major impact as a transfer for the 49ers. Despite not having played a single possession for this squad, he has already generated considerable buzz within the program due to his play over the summer- so much so that freshman Pierria Henry already anointed him as Charlotte's best player in 2011-2012. While this may be a bit of a stretch, one can gather that Mayfield has displayed considerable talent in pickup games with his teammates. Further, even in his high school playing days, it was clear that Mayfield possessed athletic gifts and the versatility to play both backcourt positions. Therein, expect him to make a considerable impact, even if he begins as Charlotte's third option offensively.
Earl Pettis/Sam Mills, LaSalle- Despite losing many players from a season ago, LaSalle also rid itself of most of its selfish basketball personalities. As a result, they will probably play more as a unit this season. And, former Rutgers transfer Earl Pettis, alongside standout sophomore Tyreek Duran, should lead the way. Look for Pettis to increase his production considerably. In particular, if he can look to draw contact more often, he can better capitalize on his 90% free throw %. He is also a fairly good rebounder for his size, ranking 40th in the conference in Defensive Rebounding %, despite playing alongside big men Jerrell Williams and Aaric Murray, who combined to average 15 rebounds per game. With them gone, look for him to crash the boards more often. Additionally, sophomore Sam Mills should make a huge jump from his fairly average freshman campaign, in which he posted a pedestrian 50.5 TS%- placing him towards the bottom of the conference. In LaSalle's Canadian trip, he shot the ball a lot more efficiently, connecting on 68.18% of his field goal attempts and 66.67% of his three point attempts. While this type of efficiency will probably not last throughout the season, it should be noted that he shot this way against some of Canada's toughest competition. Mills helped LaSalle defeat Carleton University, which has won 7 of the last 9 Canadian college titles. He also performed well against the Carleton University alums that LaSalle scrimmaged. So, while it is too early to suggest the Mills will have an efficient offensive season, all indications are that he will be one of the conference's most improved players entering this regular season.