Mid-major superstars may not currently be getting the respect they deserve, but the bright lights of March Madness will change that.
As long as you produce during the NCAA tournament, everyone will notice you know, no matter how small your campus might be. One only needs to look to last year's tournament for proof.
Not many outside of the Patriot League knew much about C.J. McCollum, but when he was done leading No. 15 Lehigh over Duke, he was a legitimate future first-round pick.
Ed Daniel's ferocious blocks and dunks earned a Twitter account for his hair.
Norfolk State's Kyle O'Quinn won over America not just with his relentless bullying of No. 2 Missouri in the paint but with his rendition of "One Shining Moment."
Come March, the following studs will be dangerous for the big boys.
Note: Not included are Kelly Olynyk, Doug McDermott and other players from "big" mid-majors, because you know about them already. And I do what I want.
Nate Wolters, South Dakota State
Wolters may have grabbed your attention last season when he went into Washington—an incredibly tough place to play for road teams—hit 10-of-20 shots, scored 34 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out seven assists (to zero turnovers) in a 19-point dismantling of a Huskies team that had two current NBA players on it.
Or maybe you learned his name when he had 19 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals in a near second-round upset of No. 3 Baylor in the Big Dance.
If you forgot about those performances, his 53-point outburst against IPFW in early February probably did a decent job of refreshing your memory:
That's simply what Wolters does.
This season, the 6'4" point guard from St. Cloud, Minn. is third in America with 22.8 points per contest. He's in the top 100 in true-shooting percentage. He's 37th in assists per game, 61st in assist percentage and 61st in assist-to-turnover ratio. He's 115th in steals per game. He's terrific on the glass for a guard.
Wolters fills up a box score like few others in America, and if the 21-7 Jackrabbits make it out of the Summit League, some top seed is going to have its hands full with the intelligent, big, athletic, future NBA guard.
Mike Muscala, Bucknell
This may or may not be true, but I've heard that big men who go up against Bucknell often call "dibs" on not guarding Muscala.
That's probably smart, too, because the 6'11", 235-pound senior is one of the most difficult big men in the nation to deal with.
Muscala can score with his back to the basket. He has terrific footwork out of the post and has shown the ability to score over both shoulders, but he also has above-average vision if the double-team comes.
If you push him out of the post, he has a smooth stroke and can knock down the mid-range jumper with consistency.
Should someone else take the shot, it's important to keep a body on him, because he's also one of the best rebounders in the nation.
On defense, he has the instincts, intelligence and help-side awareness to protect the rim like few others.
Throw it all together, and you've got a player who is 24th in the nation in points per 40, second in rebounds per game, fourth in rebounding percentage, 19th in blocks per game and 74th in block percentage.
You've got one of the best big men in the country.
D.J. Cooper, Ohio
With players like Trey Burke, Marcus Smart, Michael Carter-Williams, Phil Pressey, Isaiah Canaan, Wolters and many more, this year's point guard class is absolutely stacked, but Cooper deserves mention as one of the best floor generals in America.
The senior leader isn't going to blow you away with athleticism like Carter-Williams or fill up a stat sheet like Wolters, but as far as pure passers go, there's no one better.
Cooper is going to "wow" you six, seven or eight times a game. His feel for the game, court vision and flashy distribution is unrivaled, and if you have watched him run the Bobcats' fast-paced offense, it's probably not surprising that he is third in America with 7.8 assists per contest and first in assist percentage.
His leadership is a good reason why Ohio ranks 39th in the country and first in the MAC in points per possession.
Throw in his quick hands on defense (2.2 thefts per contest) and tournament experience (40 points, 12 assists in two tournament wins last year), and there's probably a lot of teams out there rooting for Akron to hold off Ohio in the MAC.
(Until you watch Zeke Marshall control the paint, of course.)
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