Non-BCS conference players to watch following NBA exodus (cont.)
Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State: As a freshman, Leonard was a rebounding savant, finishing in the nation's top 60 in rebounding rate at both ends. He just missed a double-double for the season, finishing with 9.9 rebounds per game in just 31 minutes a night. San Diego State returns most of a team that made the NCAAs last season and once again should be a dangerous threat in the Mountain West.
Kwamain Mitchell, Saint Louis: The Billikens are poised to be a threat in the A-10 and Mitchell is their main man, having scored in 15 points per game last season for a slow-ball team that only averaged 63. Saint Louis was really young last season, but played much better after Aussie Cody Ellis became eligible. The combo of Mitchell and rising junior forward Willie Reed gives the Billikens real hope of getting to the NCAAs.
Charles Jenkins, Hofstra: The Pride were really young last season and relied heavily on the scoring prowess of the league Player of the Year, who averaged 20.6 points from the guard position (while also chipping in with 4.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists). With the big outflow of talent in the Colonial, including Old Dominion's Gerald Lee, VCU's Larry Sanders and Northeastern's Matt Janning, Hofstra may be poised to make a strong move under new coach Mo Cassara (who took over after Tim Welsh resigned following a DUI).
Quinn McDowell, William & Mary: The Tribe were one of the feel-good stories of last season, narrowly missing an NCAA berth and then playing a wildly entertaining NIT affair at North Carolina behind Tony Shaver's patient, three-for-all attack. While departed senior David Schneider led the Tribe in scoring, McDowell probably was the team's most talented player. The Tribe suffered heavy graduation losses, but McDowell, who will be expected to improve upon his 13.9 points per game, is a nice piece around which to layer a good freshman class.
Kyle Weems and Adam Leonard, Missouri State: With the graduation of much of Northern Iowa's core, the Valley once again should be up for grabs, and Cuonzo Martin's Bears return a potent one-two scoring punch that combined for 175 made threes last season. Missouri State should benefit from a positive 2010 postseason run which culminated with the CollegeInsider.com Tournament title. If the Bears can tighten up their perimeter defense, they could be poised for a strong Valley push.
Keith Benson, Oakland: A rare skilled big man in a true mid-major league, the 6-11 Benson averaged 17.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game and was a driving force behind the Golden Grizzlies' 17-1 Summit mark and NCAA berth. Benson had 28 points and nine rebounds in the first-round loss to Pittsburgh, a game in which the Grizz were handicapped when forward Derick Nelson was crushed by an inadvertent elbow.
Kenneth Faried, Morehead State: Here's another talented mid big who's returning to the Eagles for his senior year after withdrawing from the draft. Coming off two straight seasons of at least 13 points and 13 rebounds a game, the active Faried gives Morehead another chance to take out Murray State at the top of the OVC ...
Isaiah Canaan, Murray State: ... which won't happen if Canaan and the rest of the Racers have any say in the matter. Murray State loses two 10-point-per-game scorers, but that's OK since it has four others returning. The pick of the litter is Canaan, who averaged 10.4 points as a freshman while shooting 48 percent from the arc, including this shot of the year candidate.
Damian Lillard, Weber State: When you last saw the Big Sky Player of the Year, he was standing dumbfounded on his home court after the Wildcats blew a 20-point halftime lead and got Anthony Johnson'd out of a spot in the NCAAs by upstart Montana. Lillard is a sweet shooter who made over 39 percent from three last year.
Derek Needham, Fairfield: With Siena's graduation void, the Stags should be the strong preseason MAAC favorite. Needham certainly wasn't shy as a freshman, leading Fairfield in scoring and assists while firing up 189 threes. With the departure of senior forward Anthony Johnson, Needham may have more opportunity to fill it up this season, with the hope that added experience will make him a more efficient scorer, as well.
Zack Rosen, Penn: Without checking, it's a safe guess that Rosen was the nation's only unanimous first-team all-league player from a 6-22 team. That's how valiant the rising junior was last season, despite program mayhem that included a host of injuries and the midseason dismissal of coach Glen Miller. Expect this writer's alma mater, under former star guard Jerome Allen, to be much improved, with several key players returning to health and a freshman class full of shooters to help take the burden off of Rosen.
C.J. McCollum, Lehigh: McCollum pulled off the rare FOY/POY combo in his debut season in Bethlehem, scoring in 19.1 points per game for the Mountain Hawks, who obviously softened up Kansas for Northern Iowa to finish off in the NCAAs. The 6-3 guard also pulled down five boards a game and shot 42 percent from the arc.
Ray McCallum Jr. (Detroit Mercy) and Trey Zeigler (Central Michigan): Two special situations in Michigan where highly touted recruits (and close friends) elected to play for their fathers and inject immediate legitimacy into the Horizon League and MAC programs. McCallum is a 6-1 point guard who finished third in the Michigan Mr. Basketball voting last season after leading Detroit Country Day to a state title. He is a consensus top recruit, with ESPN rating him at No. 17 overall in the Class of 2010. Zeigler, a 6-5 shooting guard, comes with a similar pedigree and hopes to elevate the Chippewas, who are the two-time defending MAC West champs (despite .500 or worse overall marks in those seasons) under Trey's father, Ernie.
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