Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor captains All-Underappreciated Team
John Jenkins (SEC) and Marshon Brooks (Big East) lead their leagues in scoring
Taylor says John Shurna "might be more overlooked than anybody in the country"
Oakland's Keith Benson is quietly one of the nation's most productive big men
Last week, I was railing against dual voting travesties that left Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor off both the Cousy Award and Naismith Award cut lists. The ridiculous omissions were a sportswriter's dream. I arranged to speak with Taylor after the weekend and started hashing out the framework of a feature to state his case.
After Taylor spent the second half Saturday eviscerating formerly unbeaten Ohio State, every columnist on Earth (including SI.com's Luke Winn) gave Taylor his props. Column scuttled. Sort of.
Since one great game doesn't do justice to the magnitude of Taylor's excellence this season, he's still underappreciated in my book, even if the subsequent media attention about that game and those snubs may end up bringing him a brighter spotlight than if he had just been voted on the lists to begin with.
Plus, it provided a sterling opportunity to find other guys like Taylor who are flat-out ballin' without comparable hype. Using the Naismith Award 30-man semifinals list as a cutoff to determine relative national obscurity, here's the starting five I would want from the rest of Division I on my All-Underappreciated Team. Taylor is my team captain and also was kind enough to provide quick scouting reports for his new fantasy teammates.
(All stats taken from KenPom.com)
Even with quality lead guards like BC's Reggie Jackson and College of Charleston's Andrew Goudelock available, this one is a no-brainer. Taylor's having a monster season for the Badgers (18.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 4.8 apg with a 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio), especially when you consider that Wisconsin plays one of the slowest tempos in the nation, so he's doing all that in just over 58 possessions a game.
According to Ken Pomeroy, Taylor is on pace to be the first player in his database (which includes every season since 2004) to assist on at least 25 percent of his team's baskets while having a turnover rate of under 10 percent. He's also leading the nation in offensive efficiency for players who use at least 24 percent of a team's possessions, so he's combining incredibly effective ball handling, distribution and scoring.
"Coach expects a lot of all of us, but especially the point guard because we have the ball in our hands all the time," Taylor said. "Because of the style we play, we're not going to get as many possessions as a team like North Carolina, so you have to maximize each possession and make sure you get a good shot each possession."
That's a bit too humble from the engine that's driving the nation's most efficient offense (1.23 points per possession), so I texted a coach whose team has played Wisconsin this season to ask him about Taylor. His one-word response: "BEAST."
Taylor may not be as explosive as Nolan Smith or as thrilling as Jimmer Fredette, but for my money, he's been the best all-around point guard in America this season.
Just a shooter? Well, even if that's all he is (which isn't true), he's a damn good one. Jenkins is currently leading the SEC in scoring at just under 20 points a game. His three-point percentage (41.7 percent) is down a bit from last year, but Jenkins is carrying a heavier shot load this year for the Commodores (26.5 percent of all Vandy shots when he's on the floor vs. 23.7 percent last season) in much heavier minutes. Jenkins is also scoring from inside the arc much more often and effectively than last season and is getting to the line more frequently (shooting 90 percent when he gets there).
"I saw him more last year," Taylor said, "[but] I think of [Duke's] Andre Dawkins when I see [him]. I've just seen a little bit of both of them, but I think they play kind of similar. They can fill it up in a hurry."
If I have Taylor running the show, I know he's going to make the smart decision and find Jenkins when he's open. And, yes, Jenkins would then fill it up in a hurry.
He's a bit of a gunner from the arc (as he must be in Keno Davis' attack), but Brooks basically has spent the first part of 2011 going ham on the Big East. He's only been held under 20 points once in 12 league games and lit up Georgetown for 43 (along with 10 rebounds) on the road in a two-point loss.
Brooks is carrying a megaload of the offensive burden for the struggling Friars, taking 31.3 percent of the team's shots when he's on the floor, which is around 36 minutes a night. He's the 10th-most efficient ultra-high usage player in the country, shooting over 57 percent from inside the arc (on 11 two-point attempts a game) and almost 78 percent from the line, where he also goes frequently. He's also chipping in with 7.3 rebounds a game, which this fantasy team needs as it goes smaller.
Apropos to Brooks' complete underexposure as a dynamic scorer on a struggling Big East team, Taylor said he hadn't seen him play this year. You're not alone, Jordan.
It looks like the Wildcats are going to extend their 0-for-ever NCAA tournament streak, but it's not Shurna's fault. The 6-foot-8 inside/outside threat basically shoots the same high rate inside (52.6 percent) and outside (a searing 51.6 percent) the arc. Not to mention he goes to the line frequently and makes a solid enough percentage from the stripe.
Shurna carries a heavy possession and shot load for the Wildcats, but he's also used to sharing the burden with Juice Thompson and Drew Crawford. While his traditional stats are down a bit this season, he's become a significantly more efficient player, so he shouldn't have any trouble fitting into this squad.
"Oh, man. He might be more overlooked than anybody in the country," Taylor said. "I don't care who you're playing against, if you're shooting 65 percent from three [before an ankle injury]. Anytime you can do that, that's unbelievable."
Sounds like our kind of guy, creating mismatches without generating press dispatches.
We're a bit soft at the 4, but definitely not at the 5 with this 6-11 rebounding and shot-blocking force from the Summit League.
The last time the nation saw Benson, he was hanging 28 points and nine rebounds on Pitt in the NCAAs. This year, he's repeating his 17 points and 10 rebounds from a year ago while chipping in 3.8 blocks per game. Benson also knows how to play with a scoring point guard, which will suit him well on this squad.
"We played them last year, my sophomore year," Taylor said of an early-season meeting in the 2009-10 campaign, won by the Badgers in a very Badger style, 58-42. "He was a beast last year. He's a little bit like JaJuan Johnson, his body type and all that. He's a real good player."
Penguins squeak past Ducks in shootout
Johan Franzen scores two as Red Wings pound Devils in Detroit