Which five players can shake the mid-major label and command national attention this season?
2018 was the year of the mid-major. Between Loyola-Chicago’s Final Four run, Nevada’s improbable comebacks, and excellent seasons from the likes of Cincinnati, Rhode Island, Gonzaga, Houston, and more, the top six conferences have been put on notice. That doesn’t figure to change this season, with an abundance of elite talent returning to stamp their names in the college basketball conversation, and, for some of them, in the NBA conversation. Here are five mid-major players to watch heading into the 2018-2019 season.
Mike Daum — South Dakota State
The South Dakota State Jackrabbits have made the NCAA Tournament for three consecutive years now, and each year it becomes more and more obvious why. Mike Daum has been the face of this program, and heading into his senior season, he’ll look to vault his name into the Naismith watch list. The 6’9 forward fills up the stat sheet on a nightly basis, finishing last season averaging 23.9 points and 10.3 rebounds per game while shooting 42.5% from three and 85.1% from the line. Daum also finished top-10 in the nation in scoring, defensive rebounding, efficiency rating, usage percentage, and overall win shares.
Daum is a high volume, high efficiency scoring machine, and South Dakota State knows how to get him the ball. It’s a little bit Dirk Nowitzki-esque the way SDSU’s offense gets him the ball both on the perimeter and in the high-post, and Daum does his part, shooting over smaller defenders and utilizing a crafty fade away to get his points.
Look for Daum to dominate the Summit League again this year, and this might just be the year that he leads the Jackrabbits to an NCAA Tournament victory.
Caleb Martin — Nevada
Nevada might be a mid-major program by definition, but this is a team with the firepower of a blue blood. The Wolfpack’s run to the Sweet Sixteen put them on the map, and they only figure to be better this year. While you can attribute that to the surplus of talent up and down Nevada’s roster, Caleb Martin is the straw that stirs the drink.
At 6’7, Martin fits into the mold of a small forward, but he showcased his versatility last season, taking on point-guard duties following an injury to Lindsey Drew. The team didn’t miss a beat. Their tournament run featured one clutch three after another from Martin, who uses his signature fall-away jumper to rise up over opposing defenders on the perimeter. It’s a shot he rides to 18.9 points per game, shooting just above 40% from three.
Martin, a transfer last season from NC State, won Mountain West Player of the Year honors, and earned an invite to the NBA combine alongside his twin brother, Cody. Despite being featured in several mock drafts, the twins opted to return to Nevada to chase a National Title, and with Caleb Martin at the helm, that’s well within the realm of possibility.
Kellan Grady — Davidson
Most people know Davidson as the former home of NBA superstar Stephen Curry, but this year, this is Kellan Grady’s team. Grady draws comparisons to Curry, and not just because of the college choice. The 6’5 sophomore can really shoot the basketball, utilizing his extremely quick release and smooth stroke to rain down threes. But as good of a shooter as he was last season, Davidson’s offense still ran through Peyton Aldridge. Now with Aldridge gone, Grady will look to be the focal point of a Davidson offense that runs like a well-oiled machine.
After scoring 18 points per game in his freshman season, Grady started to generate some legitimate NBA buzz, but he ultimately decided to return for his sophomore season. If all goes well, however, this might just be his last, as there aren’t too many scorers in college basketball that can rival Grady’s ability. Look for this baby-faced assassin to finish amongst the nation’s leaders in scoring this season.
Rui Hachimura — Gonzaga
So much of Rui Hachimura’s hype is based on raw talent, which just oozes out of the 6’8 junior from Japan. After all, it’s hard to justify making Hachimura one of five players to watch when he didn’t even crack Gonzaga’s starting five for most of last season. His 11.6 points and 4.7 rebounds per game pale in comparison to some of the other guys on this list, but he’s still being looked at as a first round talent, and it’s easy to see why.
Hachimura is a physical specimen. Standing at 6’8 with a 7’2 wingspan, he has long arms to match a prototypical NBA build that he uses to bully other forwards in the paint. He’ll likely project as more of a small forward at the next level, but for now, Hachimura will play the four, giving Gonzaga some much needed aggressiveness down low. Look for him to take a massive leap forward this year, spearheading the Zags’ run in the WCC and in the tournament.
D’Marcus Simonds — Georgia State
Simonds came out of nowhere last year, making a name for himself in Georgia State’s Round of 64 matchup against Cincinnati. Simonds scored Georgia State’s first 16 points of the contest, mixing in his three-point prowess with a knack for finishing inside over even the best defenders, like Cincinnati’s Gary Clark.
Simonds might be slightly more low-profile than some of the guys listed above him, but Georgia State relies on him to run the offense virtually by himself. It’s why his usage percentage sits at 35.2%, the fourth highest mark in the country.
If Simonds can cut down on the turnovers a little more (3.6 per game last year), he too will be a prime NBA candidate coming from a lesser known program. The rest of his game is extremely well-rounded, and his season averages of 21.2, 5.7, and 4.4 showcase his ability to be an offensive force to be reckoned with. It shouldn’t be long before D’Marcus Simonds becomes a household name in college basketball, and he’ll have a chance to do so a couple times against power six teams in non-conference play.
Honorable Mentions: Clayton Custer, Jon Elmore, Jordan Caroline, Tookie Brown
Edited by Emily Berman.
CORRECT!Your overall SQ:
Your NCAA BB SQ:
WRONG!The answer was: Answer more NCAA BB questions »
- Missouri Valley