Looking Ahead: Five Underrated Mid-Major Stars to Keep an Eye on in 2015-16

Through hard work and determination, Kris Yanku has become an important piece of the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks. In 2015-16, Yanku will look to have a breakout season and lead Northern Arizona to an NCAA Tournament berth. (Source: Mid-Major Madness)
Through hard work and determination, Kris Yanku has become an important piece of the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks. In 2015-16, Yanku will look to have a breakout season and lead Northern Arizona to an NCAA Tournament berth. (Source: Mid-Major Madness)

Division I men’s basketball is composed of 351 teams, meaning that there are more than 4,000 players in the country (based on an approximation of 12 players per roster x 351 teams = 4,212). With this, many of the standout talents excel on the courts and can remain relatively anonymous.

For players at smaller schools, it usually takes a Herculean performance in the regular season, or a splash in the NCAA Tournament, to garner any sort of regular attention on the national stage.

They put up better stat lines than many players who play at some of the power conferences, albeit against weaker competition, but it’s as though these players don’t exist until they do something “big”.

One would call these so-called underrated players stars of the mid-major conferences. Just because they play in smaller conferences doesn’t mean they don’t have the talents to succeed and play at a high level.

We have compiled a list of our Top Five Underrated Mid-Major Stars that you need to keep an eye on for the 2015-16 season. The players on the list have put up big-time numbers and are integral pieces for their respective teams, but they simply do not garner the attention they deserve.

Lehigh big man Tim Kempton will be a big reason why Lehigh contends in the Patriot League in 2015-16. (Source: Lehigh Valley Live)
(Source: Lehigh Valley Live)

Tim Kempton – Lehigh Mountain Hawks

Position: Center
Year:
Junior
Height:
6’10”
Weight:
220 pounds

2014-15 Stat Line: 15.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.0 apg

The Lehigh Mountain Hawks have the look of a conference champion, and could very well come away with the Patriot League crown at season’s end. With the likes of Kahron Ross, Justin Goldsborough, and Austin Price coming back, the Mountain Hawks are going to be scary good.

The key piece that is returning, however, is leading big man Tim Kempton. As a sophmore last season, the native of Scottsdale, AZ recorded team highs with 15.3 points and 8.7 rebounds per contest. For a smaller center (225 pounds), Kempton is strong in the post and is an impact player on both ends of the floor.

Pair him up with fellow big man Goldsborough, and the Mountain Hawks have a big, talented front court that will likely inflict a lot of pain on the rest of the Patriot League in the upcoming season. You can expect another strong season from Kempton, as he continues to fill out and develop as a player.


(Source: Northern Arizona Athletics)

(Source: Northern Arizona Athletics)

Kris Yanku – Northern Arizona Lumberjacks

Position: Guard
Year: Junior
Height:
6’4”
Weight:
183 pounds

2014-15 Stat Line: 13.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 5.1 apg

Kris Yanku came to Northern Arizona as a three-star prospect in the class of 2013. Yanku chose the Lumberjacks over a slew of other talented mid-major programs, including Drake, Towson, and UNC Greensboro. The decision has since paid off for the 6’4” guard out of Woodland Hills, CA, as he is now the leader for the Lumberjacks.

Through hard work and determination, Yanku cracked the starting lineup as a freshman, and came into his own in 2014-15. Yanku helped guide the Lumberjacks to their best season in program history, culminating in a trip to the 2015 CollegeInsider.Com Tournament, which was Northern Arizona’s first ever post-season trip.

Yanku is one of the more aggressive players in the country in terms of playing style, evident by his Division I-leading 230 free throw attempts. His 13.8 points per game last season were second on the team, trailing only Quinton Upshur.

This season, Yanku is the leader of the team, as Upshur and Aaseem Dixon have both graduated. With his style of play, and overall talent, Yanku could be the guy who leads Northern Arizona to their first-ever NCAA Tournament berth in 2015-16.


(Source: Campus Sports)

(Source: Campus Sports)

Jermaine Ruttley – Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans

Position: Guard
Year: Senior
Height: 6’3”
Weight: 200 pounds

2014-15 Stat Line: 17.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.1 apg

There are star players who fly under the radar at mid-major schools, then there are players like Jermaine Ruttley. Last season, he was a member of the Florida A&M Rattlers, who were ineligible for post-season play due to low APR scorers, which is a shame because they were a bubble team with their 2 – 27 record on the year (sarcasm, people).

The MEAC standout opted to transfer from Florida A&M at season’s end, and had originally committed to Louisiana Tech. However, after head coach Mike White signed with the Florida Gators, Ruttley backed out of his commitment to the Bulldogs, and ended up signing with the Arlansas-Little Rock Trojans in the Sun Belt.

In Ruttley, the Trojans are getting a strong guard who has the ability to score from anywhere on the floor. His 17.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game last season both would have been team highs for the Trojans in 2014-15, so the Trojans get a nice boost on both ends of the floor with the addition of Ruttley.


(Source: Hampton Roads)

(Source: Hampton Roads)

Jeff Short – Norfolk State Spartans

Position: Guard
Year: Senior
Height: 6’4”
Weight: 195 pounds

2014-15 Stat Line: 19.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.9 apg

The Norfolk State Spartans made headlines back in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, when they took out the #2 Missouri Tigers in the opening round as a 15-seed. Ever since that day, the Spartans have been on the national radar.

This past season was no different, as they were one of the best teams in the MEAC once again. One big reason for that was the play of Fordham-transfer guard Jeffrey Short. In his first season of eligibility with the Spartans, Short recorded a team-high 19.1 points per game.

Despite his strong season, RaShid Gaston garnered the bulk of the attention when it came to the Spartans. This off-season, Gaston transferred to Xavier, making Short the big man on campus at Norfolk State. With Short leading the way, the Spartans should once again be near the top of the MEAC standings.


(Source: Warrior Insider)

(Source: Warrior Insider)

Roderick Bobbitt – Hawaii Warriors

Position: Guard
Year: Senior
Height: 6’3”
Weight: 205 pounds

2014-15 Stat Line: 8.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 5.3 apg, 2.9 spg

The 2014-15 season was one full of ups and downs for the Hawaii Warriors. It started with their head coach being fired right before the season started, and ended with a heart-breaking loss to UC Irvine in the Big West tournament finals. In the middle, guard Roderick Bobbitt emerged as one of the top defensive players in the country that very few people had heard about.

In 2014-15, Bobbitt recorded an NCAA-best 100 steals, which averaged out to 2.9 steals per game, good for the third-best total in the NCAA.

Against Hawaii-Hilo on November 19th, Bobbitt recorded a triple-double of 12 points, 10 assists and 10 steals.

The 2015-16 season should be more of the same for the now-senior guard. The Warriors have a star on their hands, and Bobbitt’s play on the defensive end , coupled with the stability he provides in terms of offense, should keep Hawaii in the thick of things in the Big West.


Other Underrated Stars to Keep an Eye On

Craig Bradshaw (Belmont), Alec Peters (Valparaiso), Obi Emegano (Oral Roberts), Jack Gibbs (Davidson), Chris Horton (Austin Peay), Je’Lon Hornbeak (Monmouth), John Simons (Central Michigan)


Do you think someone else should have made the list, or someone isn’t deserving of a spot? Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts!

– T.B.