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Putting the Major in Mid-Major

November 1, 2002 Columns No Comments

Putting the Major in Mid-Major

by Adam Shandler

Peel back the layers of all those “Games of the Week”, All-America Teams and “Most Likely to Be an NBA Lottery Pick” votes, and you have a whole mess of exciting mid-major players that you won’t hear of until March. Some of these guys are good players that just don’t get a lot of national press. Others you may have read about in a three-line game recap wedged between ads for repossessed homes and 0% financing at the Route 22 Automall in your local sports section.

Here are four guys you may want to keep your eye on this season. All of these players have slowly worked up a presence in their respective conferences. Some may have hit some bumps along the way, but each makes for a great story and some MY-T-FINE basketball viewing. Pay attention, ’cause come March I don’t want to have to say, “I told you so.”

The Battle of Philadelphia
They’re already calling him the second coming of Drexel alum, now San Antonio Spur, Malik Rose. And if Robert Battle continues to impress, Philly may be calling him the second coming of Charles Barkley (without the mouth). At 3.25 blocks per game last year, Battle finished 10th in the country in that category and should do more defensively this year. His 14.5 ppg and 9 rpg were impressive, but the Dragons were a team that lost steam down the stretch and puttered out of contention during the Colonial tournament. That shouldn’t be the case this year as all five Drexel starters return, including league assist leader Eric Schmieder (5.25 apg), who should feed Battle regularly when the big man sets up in the post. Villanova freshman Jason Fraser will the 6-8 Battle an early test in a November 22 Pavilion contest.

If Battle stays healthy and ups his game just a touch, Drexel could pose the biggest threat to UNC-Wilmington for the conference crown.

Yes to Noel
Fresno State’s Felix Noel has a ton of talent, but a head full of problems. What you will see in the 6-9 220 pounder’s statline is 7.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg and a respectable field goal percentage just under 50. But what should be added is clpg (concentration lapses per game). Like an amateur comedian on open-mic night, he’s a heckle victim in opposing arenas and turns his game into a circus (with clowns and ponies and monkeys and…sorry…). With new coach and former Oklahoma assistant Ray Lopes at the helm, Felix can enjoy a whole new brand of discipline that should help him focus less on crowds and more on buckets. With Marvin Ely gone and a revamped frontcourt that features Hiram Fuller and All-WAC’er Damon Jackson, Felix will have no choice but to fit in.

Noel will help the Bulldogs overachieve this year as he blossoms into a player that could jump to the next level.

Call Me Kyle
You may have already heard of Creighton forward Kyle Korver. His 2001-02 numbers are not to be overlooked (15.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.3 apg), he’s an all-arounder with one of the best free-throw shooting percentages (89%), and he’s been picked by Missouri Valley Coaches as Preseason Player of the Year. So why is Korver such a special story? He’s not. Yet. The surfer-lookin’ dude from Iowa will make Omaha a better place only if he can fill the playmaking void left by dropout Terrell Taylor, who was a big part of the upset over Florida last March. Korver should live up to his billing as MVC Player of the Year, but if the Jays don’t make a repeat appearance in the tourney, critics unfortunately will assess the 6-7 point forward as a guy who couldn’t escape Taylor’s shadow.

Look for Korver to have a career year with frontcourt mates Brody Deren and Mike Lindeman forming a much-improved supporting cast.

The Man of Clay
The Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers have been a work in progress for some time now. With five starters returning and an overall 11-5 record last season, 2nd year coach Bruce Pearl has all the chess pieces in place for a Horizon League title. But who will be the king of the UWM chessboard, leading the fight against tricky Butler, Illinois-Chicago and always-scary Loyola (Illinois)? That mantle goes to Clay Tucker, a 6-3 very small forward who creates plays that’ll make you want to hit the rewind button. His size hasn’t hurt him as he gathered over six boards a game in 2001-02 and if he were a better ballhander under the press, he’d be a guard. Tucker likes the big shot; his buzzer beating jumper at Butler knocked the Bulldogs from the Top 25.

It’ll be hard not to fall in love with Tucker and the Panthers this season. They’re really going to enjoy being top dog in the Horizon, and you’ll have fun watching them. Especially when they march towards New Orleans.


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