Among big men across all of Division I, there were few who matched the overall production of St. Bonaventure's Andrew Nicholson in 2010-11. Then a junior, Nicholson became the Bonnies' go-to player (31 percent usage rate) and managed to maintain a healthy Offensive Rating of 108. Already an excellent rebounder, the Ontario native combined his scoring and rebounding abilities to become an elite player. Playing for a fairly mediocre team, Nicholson remained under the radar for much of 2010-11, but his national profile has been on the rise this offseason, culminating in a spot on the Wooden Award Preseason Watch List.
Often at the mid-major level we don't find out about players like Nicholson until after they've had a breakout season. Though the Bonnie big man had been solid since his freshman year, his junior year was really his breakout campaign. In an attempt to highlight some players who could pull a Nicholson this season, we present below a list of fives players entering their junior season who have a chance to become studs at the mid-major level. In identifying these players, we looked for guys who made significant production jumps last year with potential for more, but also those who are not entering 2011-12 as favorites for first team honors in their respective conferences.
Damen Bell-Holter is unlikely to come close to averaging the 20 points per game that Nicholson put up a year ago, but it won't be because of a lack of ability. Bell-Holter had a few huge scoring nights as a sophomore, but he plays on an Oral Roberts squad that features a very balanced scoring attack. When the Golden Eagles are in need of some high-percentage buckets, they turn to the Alaska native. He connected on 53 percent of his twos while drawing about five fouls per 40 minutes. Where Bell-Holter will make the biggest impact is on the glass, particularly on the offense end. With the graduation of Oakland's Keith Benson, the honor of top center in the Summit League is up for grabs. DBH is the prime candidate to earn that distinction this year.
Tennessee State will look to build on its 10-8 OVC finish of last year on the backs of frontcourt mates Robert Covington and senior Kenny Moore. While Moore is a player to keep an eye on, Covington is the more interesting prospect with two years of eligibility remaining. His rebounding rates from year one to year two remained steady--and good--but where he really blossomed last year was on the offensive end. He became a more accurate shooter in the paint, and he also developed a steady shot from beyond the arc that allowed him to stretch the defense (he went 40-of-87 on threes). Convington could take the next step as a scorer this season if he is able to get to the free throw line more regularly. He made nearly 78 percent of his freebies, but had a rather unimpressive free throw rate of 26 percent.
In 2010-11, Erik Etherly was anything but ethereal when he took to the court. In fact, he was a straight-up grinder for the Greyhounds, shooting a little more than a free throw per every two field goal attempts. Furthermore, he was one of the best in the MAAC on the boards, putting up respectable rebounding percentages (11 percent offensive; 21 percent defensive) on both ends of the floor. His production outburst was surprising because he had only played in 12 college basketball games as a freshman at Northeastern before transferring to Loyola. For him to make another leap this season, he could afford to knock down more of the many free throws he's bound to take. The rest will be determined by how much room he has left before reaching a ceiling. Our guess is it's still quite high.
The Citadel will likely rely on Mike Groselle on far more than 23 percent of the team's possessions this season. The four guys he started alongside for most of the 2010-11 season have since graduated, leaving Groselle behind to fulfill the role as the team's go-to player. The 6-foot-8 forward is probably the least athletic of the five guys on this list, but he makes up for it with his ability around the rim. Seemingly overnight, Groselle emerged as a legitimate rebounder for the Bulldogs last season, which allowed him to scoop up a number of offensive boards that led to easy put-backs. He notched double-doubles in four of his last five games, and he was accurate enough to finish the year as a 60 percent two-point shooter. The Dallas native might see a dip in his efficiency as he becomes a high-possession user; however, he's set the bar so high that he'd still be considered efficient even after such a dip.
If Amin Stevens played in a bigger conference, he'd spend most of his time on the court as a swingman. But in a league like the MEAC where size is at a premium, a 6-foot-6 guy with an athletic body is often asked to play at the four or five position. So while Stevens is unlikely to follow Kyle O'Quinn as the MEAC's next back-to-the-basket forward, he certainly has the skills to score and rebound at a similar rate as the Norfolk State star. Stevens was strong around the basket a year ago on a Florida A&M team that was incredibly inefficient in that area. His 55 percent shooting mark on two-pointers was seven percentage points higher than his next-best teammate. He was also the only Rattler player who kept his turnover rate under 20 percent. Yes, FAMU was horrid on offense last year, but Stevens remains the squad's one true hope.
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