Saturday, June 16, 2012

Scouring the Nation (Part 12)

In this edition of Scouring the Nation, I examine players from NAIA Division II, USCAA Division I, and the USCAA Division II.

On a national level, the top players in NAIA Division II really tend to

fly under the radar at times. However, Northwood's player of the year, combo guard Jonathan Dunn has garnered national attention and ultimately received predraft workout opportunities with NBA teams. The 6'3 Dunn was the undisputed best player for the NAIA II's best team (until their finals loss at year's end). This unheralded guard has a decent first step and is able to get by his defender pretty regularly. When he does, he often makes tough floaters in the lane over the help defense. If he does not see a clear path to the basket, he often kicks the ball out or dishes inside to his teammates. With that said, Dunn must cut down on his turnovers if he hopes to play at a higher level of basketball overseas. His poor decision making at times, as evinced by his virtual 1 to 1 assist to turnover ratio, will limit his playing time at the next level regardless of his offensive prowess. With this weakness in mind, it must be noted that Dunn's greatest strength is his ability to move without the basketball. In the NAIA Division II National Championship game, he did a great job of running around multiple set screens and weaving in between them when he ended up with the ball in his hands. In this capacity, he is a very crafty player and will likely continue in such a role as a professional. Further, Dunn does a good job of drawing contact and getting to the line. He shot 80.4% on his 199 attempts on the year, which indicates that he gets there often and generally capitalizes on his opportunities. When he does not look to draw contact, Dunn possesses a nice fadeaway game and does a good job of creating space. He does a nice job of squaring his body in spite of how difficult a shot he may be taking. In terms of his offensive weaknesses, he tends to force the issue when things are not going his way. In the Championship Contest, he forced some ill-advised 3 point attempts to try to get himself going, but this ended up fueling Oregon Tech's transition game. Usually though, Dunn is a very good three point shooter, as he connected on 38.5% of his attempts. Defensively, Dunn has fairly good lateral quickness and can keep up with his opponents. However, the effort level that he puts forth on a regular basis really varies from game to game. In the NAIA II Finals, he did not always get low in his stance and he had trouble fighting through screens at times. With that said, he was fairly quick to the ball on closeouts, and did a good job as a part of his team's zone. Dunn will likely be a good defender at the next level, even though bigger shooting guards may shoot over the top of him. Overall, Dunn must continue to work on his poise and not force the action. He struggled against the zone, but part of it had to do with the fact that his teammates failed to move without the ball. Nonetheless, Dunn is a very good shooter and can score in a variety of ways. His decision making can use some work, but his ability to fill it up will likely remain the same at the next level.

Playing alongside Dunn in one of the NAIA DII's top backcourts, diminutive junior Tyrone Davis was one of the top players in the Championship contest. While he is one of the shortest players you will ever come across in basketball at 5'1, he plays with incredible heart and quickness. Davis really kept Northwood in the game and was really their only saving grace down the stretch. He consistently made look ahead passes, quick steals which turned into breakaway layups, and even rebounded the ball on the interior. Davis regularly found the open man in the championship matchup and made everyone on his team better. He fed big men in their halfcourt sets and kept everyone involved in the offense. On the year, he was one of the top passers in all of college basketball, averaging 7.94 assists per game while playing a secondary role to Northwood's star Dunn, who likes to have the ball in his hands. In the Championship matchup, Davis outquicked Oregon Tech's guards to the basket time and again. He made some pretty running flip shots off the glass with enough arc to avoid getting his shot blocked. He was able to dial in his own shot on pull up jumpers. While his shot was blocked on occasion when he took the ball all the way to the basket, he was able to score over 6'7 (and up) players by stopping on a dime, employing a believable ball fake, and eventually changing direction and scoring. He was also surprisingly effective on the glass and was able to secure a few rebounds on the inside after catching Oregon Tech's big men by surprise. Davis regularly hustles to loose balls and is gritty on the defensive end. He stole the ball on multiple occasions and was able to finish plays in transition. His quick hands enable him to be a weapon despite his size, much like Muggsy Bogues. But, much like Bogues, he will struggle at the next level in preventing players from either posting him up or shooting over the top of him. He will likely get caught in the air more often and probably will pick up more fouls as a result. Overall, Davis is one of the more interesting players that I have come across because of his interesting skillset and diminutive size.

Northwood's best big man, Masse Doumbe has a good chance to succeed as a professional basketball player. Not only does he have good size at 6'8, but he is a fluid enough athlete and can attack the basket off the dribble. Doumbe was efficient from the field, connecting on 49.7% of his field goal attempts. He displayed this ability on several occasions in halfcourt sets, but was also able to get out and score in transition on feeds from Davis. Doumbe does a nice job on the offensive glass and usually is able to put the ball back up and in. He averaged 6.8 rebounds per contest, and this number will likely improve next season as he continues to gain experience. It is concerning, though, that Doumbe does not gather more rebounds at this point. With that said, Doumbe also has solid potential due to his perimeter shooting stroke. He connected on 48.8% of his 82 three point attempts, which demonstrates that he will likely be able to keep defenses honest either from behind the arc or through a mid range jumper. Doumbe is also a good post passer and set Horstmann up for a couple of easy baskets inside. Defensively, Doumbe is able to block shots and steal the basketball, averaging 1.59 blocks and 1.59 steals per game. He is athletic enough to contest shots inside and prevented dribble penetration by Oregon Tech in the first half of Northwood's Championship contest. Overall, Doumbe will have another season to prove that he is an elite big man at the NAIA DII level with a developing skillset.

Fellow big man Patrick Horstmann also displayed several promising characteristics, and will be a part of next season's squad as well. Horstmann is predominantly a post player who does a nice job of cutting to the basket and getting open. He was able to move without the ball in the first half and really asserted himself on the block when he was given the ball. While he can use some work on his footwork, he does a good job employing a jump hook shot. Also, he is aggressive scoring off of offensive rebounds, and he is effective rebounding the basketball overall, leading his team with 8.3 rebounds per contest. Against Oregon Tech, he hustled to the ball and was able to give his team a couple of extra possessions as a result. While he does tend to get open, he must learn to finish plays through contact. On several possessions, he blew some opportunities to score inside. Further, he was unable to connect on a couple of open jumpers. But, on the year, he was effective scoring the ball from the field, hitting 54.4% of his shots. He also has decent range, hitting 44.2% of his 52 three point attempts.

On the opposing squad, freshman Bobby Hunter was probably the best player in NAIA DII by season's end. The freshman point guard led his team to a national championship victory and was an integral part of their tournament run. In the finals, he was savvy and looked to post up the smaller Davis. While he was largely shut down in the first half, he began to speed up the pace of the game and score in transition. In the second half, he made several nice spin moves moving towards the basket. He scored past help defenders by cutting to the basket. Hunter did an excellent job of moving without the ball and scored on several easy layups off of sharp basket cuts. On one possession, he even backed the ball out to catch the defender off guard and then attacked the basket, finishing through contact. Hunter was capable stepping out and hitting the outside jumper over bigger defenders. While he does need to improve his long range shooting, (34.7% 3pt %) Hunter was one of the best slashers outside of Division I this season. He is also incredibly strong for a freshman and is able to finish through contact inside, as evinced by his 51.6% FG%. Hunter is also a very good rebounding guard, averaging five rebounds per contest, and physically out muscling bigger players inside. Also, Hunter was a good decision maker, averaging 3.21 assists per contest, with a 1.39 to 1 assist to turnover ratio. In the championship matchup, Hunter found open perimeter shooters and set his team up for easy baskets when slashing to the rim. On the defensive end, Hunter is excellent, moving his feet well (with good lateral quickness) and employing considerable strength to force players off their path to the basket. In fact, Hunter is so strong that on one possession, he stood has ground against a Northwood post player and forced him to settle for a jumper when he was backing him down in the paint. Hunter does a nice job of getting his hands in the passing lanes and regularly takes the ball the other way for easy baskets. He also has the hands to pick the pockets of some of the best ball handlers. In this championship matchup, he stole the ball from Tyrone Davis on several occasions. On the year, he was one of the top players in the nation with 2.34 steals per contest. Overall, Hunter has great athleticism for a point guard and will likely be successful at whichever school accepts him as a transfer. Down the line, he may develop into an NBA draft prospect if he can continue to work on his shot.

6'3 senior guard Kyle Gomez had an excellent performance in the championship contest and really helped Oregon Tech win the NAIA DII title. Gomez was capable scoring off the dribble in this contest, and he demonstrated his ability to hit the floater, and he also connected on a running layup. Gomez came off screens as well and nailed a key three point basket to put the game out of reach for Northwood. On the year, Gomez shot a respectable 38.5% from behind the arc and 47.2% overall. Further, Gomez moved without the ball and scored on a nice cut to the basket. In terms of his ability to create for others, Gomez was an adequate system passer, and averaged 2.63 assists per contest. On the defensive end, Gomez does a nice job of hawking the basketball and virtually shut down Dunn due to his good lateral quickness and physical play on this end of the floor. In terms of his statistical production on this end, he averaged 1.95 steals per contest and utilized his good quickness and hands to disrupt the opposing team's best offensive option. Finally, due to his physicality on both ends of the floor, Gomez was a good rebounder, averaging 5.1 boards per contest.

Forward Scotty Riddle was another reason why Oregon Tech was able to outplay Northwood. His energy and efficient play on the interior really propelled Oregon Tech's offensive sets. Despite his advanced age at 32 years old, Riddle came in and played aggressive on both ends of the floor. He converted on a jumper in the lane and was able to get to the line on occasion as well. On the year, Riddle really picked his spots and shot 53.7% from the field, which was down from his 2010 average of 58.5%. Riddle is also a good decision maker on the offensive end, and he finished the season with a 1.63 to 1 assist to turnover ratio. With his strengths in mind, Riddle must improve on the glass, where he only secured 3.8 boards per contest. On the defensive end, Riddle was aggressive with his post defense. He also displayed decent lateral movement at times, and functions primarily as a positional defender. He also helped to slow down Davis on his drives to the basket. Overall, Scotty Riddle is a high energy role player that every team needs to succeed.

Forward Jason Gamblin is cut from the same cloth as Riddle. The older 6'6 forward does an effective job playing in the post. Not only did he shoot 56.1% FG% on the year, but he also connected on 52% of his 25 three point attempts. Gamblin employs a nice fadeaway jumper in the post, which he utilizes to score against bigger players. He can also stretch the defense with his jumper. Gamblin is an extremely physical post player and in the championship matchup with Northwood, he shielded himself from contact and made several strong post moves. Gamblin is a good rebounder, collecting 5.1 boards per game. Further, because he is aggressive driving to the basket, he tends to draw fouls. And, he shot 85.3% from the line on the year, displaying a nice shooting touch. In terms of his weaknesses, Gamblin fouled out of the championship contest and generally struggles with foul trouble, committing 2.79 fouls per contest. Further, he must cut down on his turnovers, as his 0.65 to 1 Assist to Turnover ratio is not going to cut it at a higher level of basketball.

Oregon Tech guard David Clarke was a great facilitator for his team and really helped lead his squad to a surprise victory. Clarke made all kinds of passes in this contest- hitting cutters, big men inside, and even looking ahead in transition for open opportunities. He was Oregon Tech's top assist man this past season with 4.24 assists per contest. His 2.64 to 1 Assist to turnover was one of the better marks for a point guard in the NAIA DII. Offensively, Clarke is crafty and scores off of offensive rebounding put backs. He also can step out and nail the deep 3 pt basket, as demonstrated by his second half shooting against Northwood. In actuality, Clarke was one of Oregon Tech's top weapons from deep on the year, connecting on 43.6% of his attempts. On the defensive end, Clarke plays the passing lanes very well, and tallied 1.82 steals per contest. He also has quick enough hands to pry the ball free from offensive players, and he stole the ball late in the second half on a Northwood rebound. Overall, David Clarke is a promising guard who will have an opportunity to prove himself with the rest of the Oregon Tech roster moving on next year.

Aside from the two squads in the NAIA Division II championship game, Indiana Tech and Indiana East's squads have players with considerable enough talent to land on a professional roster somewhere down the line. Indiana Tech's Rodney Bartholomew finished the season as a first team All-NAIA Division II player due to his tremendous presence on the glass. Bartholomew is a 6'8 230 lb forward with a nice post repertoire and the body control to finish through contact inside. He recognizes mismatches and regularly posts up smaller players when he receives the opportunity. He possesses a good drop step and decent enough footwork to make an impact at the professional level somewhere. Bartholomew is a very physical player on the block, and utilizes spin moves to roll off players' shoulders before he scores. He is extremely aggressive on the glass as well, particularly on the offensive end. At this level, he received at least three opportunities to complete plays because he was physical enough to seal his man and obtain positioning in the paint. He averaged 11.42 rebounds per game and was a dominant clean up player a season ago. At the next level, he must improve as a shooter though. He does not shoot the ball with a straight arm and therefore must improve his shooting motion at the next level because his current shooting form will limit his ability to extend his range. He occasionally employs a mid range jumper, which he can make at times. But, he is at his best attacking the basket. Bartholomew was one of the most dominant forces at any level of play in terms of drawing contact, drawing 261 free throw opportunities, and connecting on a decent 68.2% of his attempts. On the defensive end, Bartholomew does a good job of contesting without fouling, but is not much of a shot blocker. He likes to front the post and deflect the basketball. Overall, if Bartholomew can improve his shooting form and continue to display his same level of aggressiveness on the glass, he should be able to secure a sizable contract overseas.

Playing alongside Bartholomew in the paint was 6'8 270 lb transfer Chris Ware. Ware is very much a complimentary player to Bartholomew. While Bartholomew relies on his athleticism and sheer aggression to score inside, Ware has a more refined game. Despite his size, Ware possesses a soft touch on his shot and is capable of connecting from the mid range. On his back to the basket post moves, Ware is not as nimble as Bartholomew, but he does implement a nice jump hook shot where he works to shield the ball with his body. He connected on several running jump hook shots in his game with Indiana East, and even hit the game winner. Ware has a high basketball IQ and is able to score off of in bounds plays. Further, Ware is an excellent passer for his position. He is capable of making backdoor passes to cutting wings or lobbing it inside to Bartholomew for easy buckets. On the defensive end, Ware is a smart defender who relies on good positioning. He made several great contests against Indiana East and was able to move big men from their spots. He also has good hands and is able to deflect the ball from smaller players. With that said, he needs to shed weight in order to obtain favorable lateral mobility. This will allow him to draw charges at the next level and cut down on the number of fouls that he picks up. Overall, Chris Ware is an intelligent basketball player who needs to get into better game shape and learn to become a more aggressive post player. At this stage, he has the potential to improve considerably if he puts the requisite time in.

Indiana Tech's wings also stood out and have a chance to prove themselves even more next season. Junior wing Jordan Hickman was a standout JUCO player who has made an impact so far at Indiana Tech. Hickman displays good form on his jumper, but must shoot the ball consistently, without fading away. He got into a shooting funk this season (38.6% FG% and 34.7% 3 pt %) and thus struggled with his jumper at times in spite of his decent form. Hickman has the potential to become a high volume scorer at this level and beyond. He moves well without the ball and is a willing passer. He regularly hits open three point shooters when slashing to the basket, and he also is willing to feed big men when on the wing. Hickman is a fairly good athlete with a quick first step. He is aggressive on the offensive glass, and has a nice floater in his arsenal when attacking the basket. Overall, Hickman is a good rebounding guard (3.60 per game playing alongside Bartholomew) and his numbers should improve with the losses of Indiana Tech's two post players. On the defensive end, Hickman is probably Indiana Tech's best option. He was able to limit First Team All NAIA DII Marcus Isaac at times, and has good lateral quickness. He also has good ball denial defense, preventing the opposition from feeding the ball to their best scorer. There is a chance that Hickman may play some point guard next season. He is more of a fundamental passer, but if he can develop this aspect of his game, he will be even more valuable. He was fairly reliable with the ball in his hands last season, posting a 2.56 to 1 assist to turnover ratio. Overall, next season will be Hickman's last chance to prove that he can thrive on both ends of the floor. He will have a chance to lead as Indiana Tech's top scoring option and facilitator, and will likely remain their top defender. If he can shoot efficiently and continue to show effort on defense, he has a chance to land somewhere after next season.

Additionally, 6'5 wing Melvin Brooks should also be a standout next season for Indiana Tech. The junior is a good scoring wing who does a decent job finishing off of basket cuts and clean up baskets. He did not shoot the ball efficiently last season, connecting on 28.6% of his 3pt attempts and 41.1% from the field overall. He must be more aggressive in demanding the ball though, as he is a good enough athlete to score inside against NAIA DII competition. Brooks is a capable rebounder off of weakside baskets and does a nice job of drawing fouls. In the contests I watched, he was able to finish through contact off of offensive rebounds and draw fouls on 3 point attempts. Brooks will likely receive more opportunities at the line next season as a focal point of Indiana Tech's offense. When he gets there, though, he must improve on the paltry 57.7% that he shot at the charity stripe last season. On defense, Brooks is effective at guarding bigger players in the post, but was not matched up with many wing options. His closeouts were effective, but he must continue to work in this area. Overall, Melvin Brooks is a good athlete with a developing game. If he can improve his shooting motion and continue to put in work on the defensive end as well, he could be one of the biggest surprises next season.

For Indiana East, NAIA II First Team All American Marcus Isaac has a chance to be the top player in NAIA Division II next season. He is a wiry 6'1 combo guard with the floor game to receive playing time professionally. Isaac was one of the most efficient shooters at any level of play last season. He rarely takes bad outside shots, and regularly connects from his spot in the corner. He shot a blistering 46.7% from 3 point range on 210 attempts. He also hit 89.4% of his free throw attempts. Isaac does a nice job of coming off of picks and usually has his feet set before he shoots. In his contest with Indiana Tech, Isaac displayed excellent quickness getting to the basket and finishing ahead of the pack in transition. He went coast to coast on one play off of a rebound. Additionally, he showed that he can attack the basket in Indiana East's halfcourt sets. He drove past his man and finished with an athletic up and under play on one possession. On another, he utilized his superior length to score over his man. In terms of his handle, Isaac has very long arms, but is able to control the basketball and push it at times. He can function as a floor general at times, although his assist to turnover ratio was just below 1.0. Isaac must become a more proficient passer next season in order to quell some fears that he won't be able to play either guard spot. On the defensive end, Isaac has the length to get in the passing lanes and disrupt. He did a very good job of bothering Hickman and was one of the top ball thiefs on his team, averaging 1.69 steals per contest. He also utilized his length and athleticism to average 0.78 blocks per game. All in all, Isaac will likely be able to translate at the next level due to his tremendous shooting ability and length. He should only continue to eschew concerns regarding his height by becoming more of a distributor next season, yet still relying on his sweet shooting stroke.

Several other teammates were notable for Indiana East. In particular, Matt Trimnell was fairly impressive in the contests that I watched. Despite not finding his long range stroke against Indiana Tech, Trimnell is a good shooter who made 39.9% of his attempts. While Indiana Tech's big men prevented him from scoring inside at times, he was able to make several impressive lay ins moving towards the basket. Trimnell was effective getting to the line against Indiana Tech, and he capitalized on most of these attempts. (shot 81.1% from the FT line) Aside from attacking the basket, Trimnell is aggressive inside on the glass, and he hit a momentum shifting basket late in the game after following up on his own miss. He averaged 4.87 rebounds per contest last season and was aggressive against players much bigger than him. Trimnell is also a good passer, and he averaged 3.0 assists and 2.13 turnovers per game. On the defensive end, Trimnell was aggressive and did a nice job disrupting Indiana Tech's offense. He has quick hands, as evinced by his 1.87 steals per contest. Overall, Trimnell plays much bigger than his 6'3 listed height and has some potential to really stand out alongside Isaac next season.

Aside from the All Americans, Indiana East's Terry Weathers also had a noteworthy senior season. Despite his subpar percentages on the season (37.2% FG%), Weathers possesses some solid offensive tools when the ball is in his hands. Against Indiana Tech, he displayed his ability to connect from distance. He also was physical driving to the basket, and finished through contact on several occasions. Weathers possesses solid quickness on both ends of the floor, and he was able to get his own rebound at times against a tough Indiana Tech frontline. Further, Weathers brought experience and decision making to his squad this year, finishing with 2.33 assists per game and only 1.60 turnovers per contest. Weathers did not have the ball in his hands enough to be super effective, playing alongside one of the top backcourts in NAIA Division II. He may have a chance to play minor league basketball in the US and provide a spark off the bench.

Senior David Sanders also made his mark for Indiana East. He did a great job of distributing the ball to open teammates and really spurred their comeback against Indiana Tech. On the year, Sanders averaged 5.41 assists and only 1.78 turnovers per contest. Offensively, Sanders finished on several tough floaters, one with his left hand, and was able to tie the game with 30 seconds left in the 1st half. Sanders also went coast to coast in this contest, finishing on a layup in transition. In his team's halfcourt sets, Sanders was just as effective, driving to the basket with ease and nearly finishing on an in bounds lob. On the year, Sanders shot 49.6% from the field and 35.6% from behind the 3 point line, fairly average statistics for a player with his ability to get to the basket. But, Sanders really created for his teammates and was one of the more valuable passers at this level of play. His 3.0 to 1 assist to turnover ratio is excellent for anyone, and should allow him to play in the minor leagues somewhere.

Vermont Tech's Kevin Carr was the leading scorer this past season in USCAA Division II. He is a 6'2 combo guard with the ability to stretch the defense and create shots for his teammates. He displays a decent release point on his shot, even though he does not move without the ball much. At the next level, he will be asked to come off of screens in order to free himself for open jumpers. He has the range to achieve success at the next level. Carr shot 43.0% from 3 point range, but connected on only 43.7% of his field goal attempts. While he has a serviceable shooting form, Carr's shot selection sometimes left a lot to be desired mainly because he was the only person on his Vermont Tech team that could create his own offense. Carr is an excellent passer, who can feed lob entry passes into big men, utilize the bounce when necessary, and hit open three point shooters after employing shot fakes. Carr was the only player at this level who likely would have made a difference in the NAIA and probably stood out. As a result, he likely will play professionally at some point.

Additionally, USCAA Division 2 standouts Jovan Brown and Chris Dickinson made a name for themselves last season for PSU-Dubois. Dickinson was the 5th leading scorer in USCAA DII. He primarily functions as a slasher and inside player despite being listed at 6'4. He is capable of getting inside and finishing. In the contests that I witnessed, he made a few nice moves to the rim, including a nifty spin move up and in. He is also capable of playing as a back to the basket player, posting up against smaller guards and eventually drawing contact. He implements fundamental pump fakes and regularly gets defenders in the air. On several occasions, he was able to draw two defenders with a great pump fake, but he utilized good body control to get around them for a basket. With that said, he must work on elevating to the rim, as he has a tendency of getting his shot blocked if defenders do not bite on the initial shot fake. Further, Dickinson is a capable passer and was able to feed his team's big man by throwing it to his outstretched hand and evading the post defender's attempt at overplaying the ball. As a result of his fundamental play, Dickinson shot 56.3% from the field. Further, because he spends a lot of time in the paint, he was able to secure 7.35 rebounds per game last season. He has good instincts on the glass and does a good job of boxing out on both ends. On the defensive end, Dickinson must learn to defend faster guards, even though he occasionally displayed good hands and was able to turn steals into transition opportunities.

His teammate Jovan Brown is a similar player, but relies heavily on his quickness, rather than his basketball savvy. Brown is an aggressive defender who averaged 1.90 steals per game last season. He has good lateral quickness and has quick hands to knock the ball away. Brown is one of the best at deflecting the ball. He does not always play passing lanes and tends to focus on his offensive assignment. He is particularly effective in preventing penetration from beyond the three point line. On the offensive end, Brown is a 6'1 combo guard who is a capable passer and scorer. In the contests that I watched, he made several "heads-up" passes inside. Also, he relies on his slashing ability to attack the basket. Brown has a very quick first step and is able to get by defenders at this level with ease. Once he blows by his man, he does a good job of finishing at the rim, as evinced by his 56.9% FG%. Aside from attacking the hoop, Brown also creates opportunities for his teammates. He had good chemistry finding Dickinson slashing to the hoop last season. Additionally, he would hit open three point shooters once defenses converged on him. Despite these notable strengths, Brown does tend to play out of control at times, picking up offensive fouls and losing the ball on plays where his concentration just isn't there. Occasionally, he bobbles the ball out of bounds, or simply has his pass taken away. He must continue to work on his lead guard abilities, as well as develop a consistent jumper in order to be effective at the next level.

Moreover, Southern Maine's Josh Mackie stood out as a three point shooter last season. He connected on 42.4% of his three point attempts, but shot just 41.4% from the field overall. Mackie must work on developing a more reliable jumper and continue to condition himself and improve his ball speed. At this point, he is also a serviceable passer with 4.21 assists per game, but the 6'1 Mackie is going to have to become a full time point guard at the next level.

Maine-Machias' Zach Armstrong shot a worse percentage from three point range than Mackie (39.9%), but was more capable from inside the arc, hitting 46.9% of his FG attempts. Armstrong, much like Mackie, must learn to get to the line more frequently, as he shot a respectable 70.4% there on only 108 attempts this past season. Armstrong was also a capable rebounding presence, with 4.66 boards per game.

Despite playing only part of the season, Armstrong's teammate Jeremy Tolbert shared in these similar criticisms, as he got to the line 77 times in his 24 games played. Tolbert is a deadeye three point threat who connected on 41.7% of his attempts and shot it from long range more frequently than his teammate Zach Armstrong. Tolbert has a reliable stroke and finished shooting 44.7% from the floor overall and 79.2% from the line. Tolbert did a nice job of distributing the ball to his teammates, as he averaged 2.29 assists per game. On the defensive end, Tolbert was a threat, collecting 1.75 steals per contest.

Some USCAA DII underclassmen also displayed considerable talent this past season. Valor Christian sophomore Alan Jones had a spectacular season on both ends of the floor and likely has the most potential of any player at this level. Jones is an excellent defender who possesses great lateral quickness. He pressures the ball very well and this usually requires offensive players to ask for a ball screen. He needs to improve in getting around and recovering from these picks, but he generally does an excellent job on the defensive end. He was statistically productive enough to average 2.11 steals per game. On the offensive end, Jones was remarkable efficient in his second season of college basketball. He averaged 20.1 points per game, shot 58.7% from the field and 80.8% from the line. Further, he is a solid athlete and was able to collect 7.89 rebounds per game (including 4.63 rebounds on the offensive glass) despite his short stature. At 6'2, Jones must become more of a facilitator and look to extend his range if he hopes to play at the next level. He averaged 4.05 assists per game this season, but must continue to cut down on turnovers and learn to fill the role of a lead guard.

Further, Warren Wilson College's sophomore big man Rashad Ali also was noteworthy in his performances this season. The 6'6 185 lb sophomore forward has a long way to go in his physical development, but was one of the more efficient players in the USCAA DII all season long. He averaged 14.5 points per contest on 61.3% shooting from the field. He must improve on the glass, where he only averaged 6.40 rebounds per contest, but these numbers should improve with his physical development. On the defensive end, Ali must bulk up in order to bang with the bigger stretch forwards. He does show good potential, blocking 1.80 shots per contest. Overall, Ali must continue to develop his jump shooting and look to add more weight so that he can be more physical in the post. Looking forward, Ali must look to develop his basketball IQ and eventually become a clean up role player.

At the USCAA DI level, Lindenwood University-Belleville's top standout is junior guard Todd Starks. The former Idaho St. transfer possesses solid tools and will likely play at some professional level when he graduates. At 6'1, Starks is a combo guard with a below average handle and solid length to adapt at a higher level of play. Starks' main strength is his outside stroke. He can connect from deep off the catch or off the dribble, and he likes to shoot over the top of smaller defenders. At this level, Starks handles the ball as a point guard would, but he has the scoring ability to take over contests. Against Indiana Tech, Starks nailed several deep jumpers from well beyond NBA range. Starks has a fairly quick release and does a good job of coming off of picks to free himself. He also is capable at the free throw line, where he connected on 84.5% of his attempts. Further, Starks is a capable passer who averaged 3.74 assists per contest last season. He needs to cut down on his turnovers- in the contest that I watched, he was called for several carries and this put his team in a difficult position. Starks is fairly quick with the ball in his hands and can attack the basket. On the defensive end, Starks has the length to cause problems and has the quick hands to disrupt ball handlers. All in all, Starks is one of the top players at the USCAA DI level, and he should continue to develop his handle next season, as he has a shot to catch the eye of some international scouts with his sweet shooting touch.

Starks's teammate LaQuan Pierce was a high energy senior that really played well in the contests that I witnessed. Pierce is an excellent athlete and the type of role player that every team needs. Despite his height at 6'5, Pierce plays strictly inside, and is a strong fadeaway jump shooter. He nailed several of these difficult shots against Indiana Tech. He does a nice job of squaring his body to the basket. However, on some occasions, Pierce tended to fade away unnecessarily and this threw off his shot. If he can go straight up against defenders most of the time, this should help him improve on his 46.0% from the floor. When he does fadeaway, he does a nice job of drawing contact and was capable of getting to the line all season long. He must improve on his 68.4% shooting there though. On the defensive end, Pierce provides great energy and was able to make some extremely difficult blocks, utilizing his effortless leaping ability to prevent easy slashing opportunities. It is likely that Pierce could play in a minor league in the US other than the PBL or D League if he really works at his game.

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