They may not be the stars. They may not be on the best teams. But these guys are every bit as dangerous. Here’s our Under-The-Radar Team:
When Kansas center Jeff Withey scores 16 points, grabs 12 rebounds, and blocks 12 shots in the same game, the headlines place him among the candidates for national player of the year.
When Kansas guard Ben McLemore hits 10 of 12 shots, makes all six of his three-pointers (including one off the glass to force overtime) and scores a career-high 33 points in a 97-89 victory over Iowa State, the opposing coach calls the freshman “unbelievable” and “a star.”
“He’s got the potential to be the No. 1 pick in the (NBA) draft,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg told the Lawrence Journal-World Wednesday night.
With the Jayhawks holding that much star power, some college basketball fans didn’t understand Travis Releford’s value to No. 6 Kansas until he sat on the bench with four fouls Jan. 6 against Temple. That fourth personal came with 15:32 left in the game and Kansas leading 41-39. The Owls outscored Kansas 15-9 and took a 54-50 lead with Releford out of the game. He returned to the floor with 6:53 remaining, and Kansas then closed out the victory with a 19-8 run.
Without Releford, the Jayhawks (14-1, 2-0 Big 12) would still be a good team. With him, Kansas could be on the way to consecutive Final Four appearances and is a legitimate contender for the national championship again.
And that’s why Releford is captain of our midseason Under-The-Radar Team.
Check out Ken Davis' latest college basketball power rankings at FOXSports.com.
Kansas fans have long understood Releford’s role as a top defender. But after averaging 3.7 points as a sophomore, and 8.5 points as a junior, the senior swingman has raised his scoring average to 13.2 points per game. He is the definition of offensive efficiency, shooting 63.6 percent from the floor, 45 percent from three-point range and 87 percent from the free throw line. He is a good passer, is outstanding in transition, takes good shots and does little things, like setting the screen for McLemore on the game-tying shot against Temple.
Releford began the season 0-for-11 from three-point range but has made 18 of his last 29. He ranks first in the nation in effective field-goal percentage (according to KenPom.com), which takes into account the extra value of three-pointers. And Sports-Reference.com ranks him first in true shooting percentage, a number that factors in free-throw shooting as well.
After hitting all five of his shots against Temple, Releford was 3-for-6 against Iowa State -- 50 percent being his worst game since Nov. 15 (1-for-6 against Chattanooga) -- and 4-for-5 Saturday against Texas Tech. He has been on a tear since scoring a total 40 points in wins over Washington State and Saint Louis in the CBE Classic in late November. That’s when Kansas coach Bill Self said, “I really think if you don’t worry about scoring, scoring naturally comes,” referring to both Withey and Releford.
When the decision was made to redshirt Releford in 2009-10, Self said there was a chance he could be a 1,000-point scorer at Kansas. This was after he scored 86 points as a freshman. Releford is at 724 and could make Self look like quite a prophet by the NCAA tournament.
If No. 20 NC State is going to live up to all that preseason hype now that the Atlantic Coast Conference season is here, Howell has to be a huge part of the equation -- and he sure was in Saturday’s game against Duke. C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown overshadow Howell in the publicity game, but Howell leads the Wolfpack in rebounding (10.4) and is third in scoring at 12.9 points per game.
He went over both those averages in Saturday's upset win over No. 1 Duke, scoring 16 points and hauling in a game-high 18 rebounds.
After seeing Howell against Connecticut in the Jimmy V Classic, we wrote that Howell is the blue-collar guy coach Mark Gottfried needs on the floor -- not in foul trouble. Howell averaged 27 minutes last season and fouled out five times. Four of those games ended up as NC State losses. Howell had 12 rebounds in NC State’s 83-70 win over Georgia Tech Wednesday but picked up four fouls in 35 minutes.
“We’re a different team when he plays,” Gottfried said. “The two games we’ve lost, he’s played 16 and 19 minutes. When Richard’s in the game, you can see what kind of impact he can have. ... He’s a guy his teammates respect because he just goes about his business, works hard in practice and then in the game he competes.”
Muscala is Bucknell’s star, but the Bison (14-3) qualify as an under-the-radar team, playing in the Patriot League. So unless Bucknell finds a major program willing to play -- like Missouri did on Saturday -- Muscala’s talent won’t get much TV play until possibly the NCAA tournament -- or when he is drafted into the NBA.
Scouts have been watching Muscala for quite a while. Even though Bucknell couldn’t finish off the upset bid against Missouri, scouts had to be pleased with what they saw in Columbia. Muscala had 25 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and two blocks against his SEC opponent. In Saturday's Patriot League opener against Army, Muscala tallied 20 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists -- all game highs.
Muscala averages 19.4 points per game and is among the top 30 scorers in the nation. He shoots 55.1 percent from the field and 81.5 percent from the line. He’s also among the best in the nation in rebounding, averaging 11 boards.
VCU coach Shaka Smart said Weber gave the Rams their swagger last season. That’s when Weber was a freshman. He’s back at it again this season. Weber is a high-energy guy and the very definition of havoc, that characteristic that Smart loves.
The 6-foot-3 sophomore guard had nine of VCU’s 15 steals and the Rams recorded their 10th consecutive victory Wednesday, 74-62 over Dayton. Weber leads the nation in steals, averaging 3.6 a game. Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams, who gets much more publicity, is averaging 3.2 a game.
In the season opener against Florida Gulf Coast, Weber recorded a double-double with 13 points and 10 steals as VCU won 80-57. Weber has had three other games with five steals. VCU has 224 steals through 17 games this season. Last year the Rams led the nation with 381 steals, getting 10.6 per game. With Weber around, the Rams clearly aren’t going to slack off in that department.
Fair scored 23 points, had 11 rebounds and four blocks Wednesday night to save No. 7 Syracuse in a 72-66 victory at Providence. He led the way again Saturday, scoring a team-high 22 points in a win over Villanova.
Fair could be the star player on many other Division I teams, but he has had a unique role with the Orange. Last season, he started just nine games, but his 26.4 minutes per game were second behind only senior Kris Joseph. He was Syracuse’s fifth leading scorer (8.5) and was second in rebounding (5.4) behind Fab Melo.
Fair is starting as a junior and his numbers are up. He is Syracuse’s third leading scorer (13.8 ppg) and leading rebounder (7.1 rpg). He doesn’t grab the headlines every game like a Michael Carter-Williams, James Southerland or Brandon Triche, but he is certainly capable of taking control -- as he did in Providence -- at any time. Last year, he played his best ball in February.
“I think he’s their glue guy,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said. “C.J. gives them a veteran on the floor that makes everybody better. He’s one of the better mid-range shooters in (the Big East). He plays with a tremendous amount of energy and passion. He’s one of my favorite players in the league to watch. He’s definitely improved.”