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February 10, 2013
Smarter After Saturday

by John Gasaway


Watching little-used Garrick Sherman score 17 points across five overtimes in Notre Dame's thrilling 104-101 win over Louisville gave me an idea. Might there be other players nationally who are underutilized and just waiting for their own moment in the spotlight?

Unlike Sherman, the following three players at least get steady minutes. But maybe if we put these guys into a 65-minute game and fouled out enough of their teammates, we'd see something special and unprecedented from each of them. Here are my choices for the three most underutilized players nationally:

Alex Oriakhi, Missouri
Oriakhi's had a career arc that few players can match either for the highs or the lows. As a sophomore his beastly postseason offensive rebounding was a crucial (though often overlooked) element in Connecticut's run to the 2011 national championship. The following season, however, his minutes actually went down as the Huskies carved out room in the rotation for all-everything freshman Andre Drummond. And, truth be told, Oriakhi's minutes should have gone down. Whether it was because he was unhappy or he'd lost confidence or both, his level of performance did decline.

That decline is now a distant memory. After transferring to Missouri for his senior season, Oriakhi is thriving. Frank Haith's senior is connecting on 59 percent of his twos, and he's pulling down 16 percent of the Tigers' missed shots. Best of all, Oriakhi is drawing more fouls than ever, and he's shooting a career-high 75 percent at the line. But it seems like news of the new-look Oriakhi hasn't quite seeped out to Haith and his players just yet. The senior's taking just 17 percent of Missouri's shots during his minutes. If I'm a Tiger fan, I certainly don't mind seeing the prolific and creative but not especially accurate Phil Pressey giving a few of his shots to the teammate with a national title already on his resume.

Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
Dekker is already receiving the highest compliment Bo Ryan can give any freshman, in the form of regular minutes. I just think a few more minutes (Dekker averages 22 a game) could be a good thing. The Badgers are outstanding on defense, but struggle to score points at a per-possession level equivalent to the Big Ten average.

I'll grant that Dekker is not an especially good rebounder at either end of the floor for his size (6-7), and he's hit just 60 percent of his infrequent free throws. Nevertheless, the freshman is one of the best perimeter shooters Ryan has, and for better or worse Wisconsin this season is a perimeter-oriented team. Maybe some more playing time for a true dual-threat wing (Dekker connects on 52 percent of his twos and 42 percent of his threes) could provide a lift to the Big Ten's No. 7-rated offense.

Pierce Hornung, Colorado State
I'm well aware of the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" implications attached to any suggestion sent Colorado State's way, believe me. In Larry Eustachy's first season in Fort Collins, the Rams are battling New Mexico for first place in a Mountain West that everyone had assumed in the preseason would be the joint possession of San Diego State and UNLV. Clearly whatever rotation Eustachy has put together is getting the job done. Still....

Would that rotation work even better with just a few more shots for Hornung? Certainly the league office thinks so. Hornung was named Mountain West Player of the Week earlier this month, after recording back-to-back double-doubles against Boise State and Wyoming. The 6-5 senior's connecting on 58 percent of his twos, and for a second consecutive season he's posting one of the highest offensive rebounding rates in Division I. But Hornung's accomplishing all of the above while taking just 16 percent of CSU's shots during his time on the floor. I think he's ready for a bigger share of the offense. Here's hoping the stomach bug that limited Hornung to just three minutes against Nevada last week is a thing of the past.

Miami's offense steadily becoming fearsome in its own right
When Miami jumped out to a surprising 4-0 start in ACC play, the Hurricanes did it with defense. Great defense, in fact. But now that Jim Larranaga's team has cruised all the way out to a 10-0 start in-conference, an even more remarkable possibility has to be considered. UM might be equally strong on both sides of the ball.

Anyway, the Hurricanes are playing that way. Over their past six games Larranaga's men have scored 1.17 points per possession, a mark which if sustained over the entire conference season would distinguish Miami as easily the ACC's best offense. Kenny Kadji has hit 60 percent of his twos in conference play, and Shane Larkin has provided the fitting counterpoint to that effort by connecting on 43 percent of his threes against ACC opponents.

With a game still to be played at Duke, it's too early to proclaim Miami the winner in the conference race. But it is true that it's becoming increasingly difficult to spot the weakness in this team. Right now the Hurricanes are excelling both at scoring points and at preventing them.

What happened to Illinois State? (Part 2)
Incredibly, it's been just 27 days since my colleague Eamonn Brennan asked the question: "What happened to Illinois State?" At the time Eamonn posed the question, the Redbirds were 0-5 in Missouri Valley Conference action.

What a difference 27 days can make. ISU now sits at 6-7 in Valley play, and while that record may not look all that impressive it does include a 75-72 win at Creighton. Over their past seven games, the Redbirds have outscored opponents by 0.13 points per possession. Jackie Carmichael and Tyler Brown are thriving as an inside-outside combination, one that is proving very challenging for opposing defenses to stop or even slow.

Illinois State is just 15-10 overall, and the team's only chance of reaching the NCAA tournament consists of winning the Missouri Valley tournament (held annually in St. Louis, and better known as "Arch Madness). That's going to be one tall order, but as weird as it sounds ISU might be playing the best basketball of any Valley team right now. What happened, indeed.

A version of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider Insider.

John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.

1 comment has been left for this article.

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Forget the Losing Stre... (02/07)
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