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Potential Naismith Players To Watch

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Grayson Allen, Frank Mason, and Kris Jenkins are known for their game, but there are other players you should be watching this season, too.

On November 9, the 2017 Naismith Men’s College Basketball Watchlist was released, just days before the NCAA college basketball season started. To no surprise, players like Duke guard Grayson Allen, Kansas guard Frank Mason, and Villanova’s Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart all made the list. But, there are 46 other players that made the list that aren’t as well-known nationwide. While each of the mentioned excel at what they do and are absolutely deserving, there are other lesser known players that should be taken just as seriously. Here are a few:

VJ Beachem (Notre Dame) – During the 2015-2016 season, Beachem developed so much from his sophomore to junior year that he was named most improved player. He was also named to the East Regional All-Tournament Team for his contributions in leading Notre Dame’s Elite Eight run in the postseason. The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12 points with a .444 3-point field goal percentage, the highest on the team, and 35th in the country, and a .476 total field goal percentage. Additionally, Beachem had 3.9 rebounds per game, which included an 11.1% rebounding rate. Beachem contributed on 16.5% of the Irish’s possessions and chipped in almost one block and steal in every game. Between January 23 and February 8, Beachem had six consecutive double-figure scoring performances, including a career-high 22 points against Syracuse on January 28.

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Joe Raymond-USA TODAY Sports

At one point, Beachem declared for the NBA Draft, but then decided to return for his senior season. He was projected to be a second-round pick. As a senior with Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste gone, Beachem will have even more scoring opportunities. Jackson and Auguste were the only two Irish players to average more points than Beachem last year. 

In Notre Dame’s first game of the 2016-2017 season, Beachem scored 22 points, crashed the boards for five rebounds and rejected three shots in 33 minutes against Bryant. The Irish won, 89-64. Beachem’s strength is obviously his scoring, as shown below, but his 6-8, 201 pound frame also gives him the ability to be a defensive threat down low.

Alec Peters (Valparaiso) – Like Beachem, Peters also declared for the NBA Draft this spring. But after working out with four pro teams and not getting invited to the NBA Draft Combine, Peters decided to instead give it one last go in college. Valparaiso fans are definitely lucky to get Peters back. The senior forward is an All-American candidate and has a good chance of winning the Horizon League Player of the Year award.

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Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Even though he has a year left, Peters has already found a place in Valparaiso’s record books. Peters is second for most points scored in a single season (679), fourth in free throws made (142), fifth in made 3-pointers (91), and seventh in field goals made (223). He also joins Kevin Durant as the only two Division I athletes in the last 20 years to average at least 18 points and eight rebounds while netting at least 80 3-pointers. Last season, Peters shot 50.5% from the field to total 18.4 points per game, along with 8.5 rebounds with 1.3 assists, taking an active role in 22.9% of the Crusaders’ possessions.

The 6-8 post player is keeping things going this year, averaging 26.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, and two assists in the first three games. It’s still early, but the most impressive performance between the three was on Saturday in the 89-75 victory over Trinity Christian, despite some struggles. Peters matched his career-high of 36 points on 14-29 shooting and pulled in 15 rebounds.

Joel Berry (North Carolina) – In his two years at North Carolina, Berry has proven to be a true point guard. He boasts a 2.4 assists-to-turnover ratio with the fewest amount of turnovers in a season by a Tar Heel point guard. Standing at 6-feet even, Berry finished the 2015-2016 season with 151 assists at a rate of 19.4% and 58 steals. Not only did Berry have success distributing the ball, but he was also an important shooter for the Tar Heels: His 12.8 points per game was second to only Brice Johnson (17). To further illustrate the point, North Carolina went 31-3 when Berry scored at least 10 points and had a 2-4 record when he didn’t. Berry was named the 2016 ACC Tournament MVP and made the All-Final Four Team.

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Evan Pike-USA TODAY Sports

Berry and the Tar Heels came into Week 2 ranked fifth in the Associated Press poll and sixth in the ESPN Coaches poll. The junior started off the season in flashy fashion, marking a career-high 23 points on 6-for-11 shooting on the floor against Tulane on Friday. Two days later, Berry put up 18 points, four rebounds, and five dimes in the Tar Heels’ 97-57 win over Chattanooga. In a time where there is a lot of focus on highlight reel-worthy scoring, Berry manages to excel not only as a scorer, but as a distributor and defender as well.

Jawun Evans (Oklahoma State) – Evans is only a sophomore, but in his rookie season, he managed to show all of the qualities of a true point guard as well. The former McDonald’s All-American was the Big 12 Freshman of the Year, despite missing the last nine games of the season with a shoulder injury. He was also an All-Big 12 honorable mention choice. While only a freshman, Evans was on the floor for 49% of the team’s minutes and contributed on 26.6% of the Cowboys’ possessions, the most of any on the team. 

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Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Evans recorded a 1.9 assist-to-turnover ratio, averaging 4.9 assists per contest. In 12 of 22 games played, Evans finished with at least five assists, ranking fourth nationwide with a 41.9 assist rate. The 6-foot guard had four games with at least 20 points scored for a total of 15 double-digit scoring performances. On Jan. 13, Evans scored a career-high 42 points, the most points scored by a Cowboy freshman and third-most for any Oklahoma State player in a single game. Although he scored 42 of Oklahoma State’s 72 points, the team lost to Oklahoma, 74-72, which seemed to be the story of the season. Despite Evans’ success, Oklahoma State ended the season with a 12-20 record, missing both the NCAA and NIT Tournaments.

With the first game of the season out of the way, the sophomore led Oklahoma State with 34 points on 11-for-18 shooting from the field, five steals, and three assists on Friday. Hopefully, Evans can propel the Cowboys, currently 2-0, to more wins in 2017.

Josh Jackson (Kansas) – Most of the players on the Naismith Watchlist have some college experience under them as upperclassmen, presenting something for viewers to base their opinions. However, Jackson is one of 12 freshmen up for the award. The 6-8 forward was a five-star recruit and a McDonald’s All-American, in addition to being ranked second among ESPN’s Top 100 Class of 2016, generating offers from Kansas, Michigan State and Arizona.

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Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

In 2014, Jackson led Detroit Consortium College Prep School to its first state title, averaging 28 points, 15 rebounds and six assists per contest. After that, he transferred to Prolific Prep Academy in Napa, California for his junior and senior seasons. Jackson ended his final prep season at Prolific Prep with 26.9 points, 13.1 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game. Jackson’s highlight reel consists of breakaway dunks, blocks, and physical play in the post.


However, high school is over and now Jackson must establish himself as a good college basketball player. He was thrown into the fire right away when the No. 7/8 Jayhawks played No. 6/5 Indiana on Friday during the State Farm Armed Forces Classic in Honolulu, Hawaii. Kansas lost 103-99 in overtime and Jackson finished with only nine points and two assists in his first career start. He then fouled out of the Jayhawks’ game against No. 1-ranked Duke on Tuesday. He ended with 15 points and two rebounds. Kansas was ranked second coming into the season.

Despite that, Jackson’s position as a starter for Bill Self is all but guaranteed, which will give him the opportunity to successfully make the transition. But, if/when his game translates and he gets his rhythm, Jackson could join Durant and Anthony Davis as the only freshmen to win the Naismith award. Like Durant and Davis, Jackson will most likely be a one-and-done after this season. According to Draft Express, Jackson is projected to be a lottery pick, should he decide to go pro early.

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Josh Jackson, VJ Beachem, Alec Peters, Joel Berry, and Jawun Evans have earned their spots on the Naismith watch list. Although their names aren’t as popular as some of the others on the list, each possesses a unique and impressive resume that sets them apart.

The mid-season list will be trimmed from 50 to 30 on February 9, 2017, but eventually, one will shine more than the others to take the prized trophy. For the full list of Naismith Watchlist players, click here.

Edited by Joe Sparacio, Emily Greitzer, Vincent Choy.

SQuiz
Who was the 2016 Naismith Men's College Player of the Year?
Created 11/15/16
  1. Denzel Valentine, Michigan State
  2. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
  3. Tyler Ulis, Kentucky
  4. Brice Johnson, North Carolina

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