CALGARY, Alta. — With over 5,200 players slated to play collegiate basketball in Division I this season, there are talented players from coast to coast. Some of them are household names, while there are plenty of players who people haven’t heard of, but are demanding of your attention.
The majority of fans tend to focus on the power five conferences, turning a blind eye to the smaller programs. When you dig deeper, you’ll see that the non-power five schools have players who could just as easily play for a power conference program.
When it comes to sophomore guards in the NCAA, the list of talented players goes on and on. With so many players, it was nearly impossible to cut the list down to just 10 players without leaving star-caliber players off the list.
Much like we did last season, we have broken down each class into guards and forwards. Then, the list of guards and forwards were broken down even further into multiple parts, as there was too much talent to do it any other way.
Each will have 10 sophomore guards who will become household names in 2016-17, along with five others to keep a flag on as the season progresses.
Mike Lewis II – Duquesne Dukes
2016-17 Stats: 14.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.7 apg, 0.6 spg; 40.9% FG, 83.2% FT
Over the course of the off-season, the Duquesne Dukes have been at the forefront across the country. From the hiring of Keith Dambrot, to the influx of transfers both coming and going, the Dukes have had an intriguing summer.
The Dukes had a pair of star freshmen on their roster last season, in Canadian Isiaha Mike and Mike Lewis II. When Mike transferred to the SMU Mustangs, Lewis became the future of the program. Lewis will be looking to build off a stellar freshman campaign, and lead Duquesne upwards in the Atlantic 10 standings.
In year one, Lewis led the Dukes in scoring, averaging 14.1 points per contest, while shooting 40.9% from the field. He also played over 1,000 minutes over the course of the season, putting up 452 points as a freshman.
The native of St. Louis, MO hit his stride towards the end of last season, putting together seven games with 20+ points over the Dukes’ final 11 games. During that stretch, he put up a career-high 31 points against the Massachusetts Minutemen on February 15th.
With Lewis leading the way, Dambrot has himself a guard that he can trust to lead the offense, and he has the capabilities to take over a game if needed.
Christian Keeling – Charleston Southern Buccaneers
2016-17 Stats: 17.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.4 apg, 0.9 spg; 45.8% FG, 78.1% FT
Over the course of the 2016-17 season, several freshmen put together impressive seasons. Some stood out above the rest, and the case could be made that Christian Keeling had one of the better first-year performances across the NCAA.
He opened up his career with the Buccaneers with a 16-point, four rebound performance on the road against the Florida State Seminoles. Keeling scored in double-figures in each of his first five games, and had 27 double-digit performances over the course of the season. He closed out the 2016-17 season with 11 straight games in double-figures, and had three double-doubles over his final four contests.
Overall, the 6’3” Keeling led Charleston Southern in both scoring and rebounding, averaging 17.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, while shooting 45.8% from the field. His ability to battle in the paint for rebounds on both ends of the floor adds another element to his game, and shows that he’s more than a scoring guard.
In year two, with fellow guard Armel Potter out of the picture for the Buccaneers, Keeling will see his fair share of double-teams on the offensive end of the floor. His point-per-game numbers may dip slightly, but if he can make adjustments to find open teammates, more opportunities will open up for himself in the process and he will be just fine.
Thomas Funk – Army West Point Black Knights
2016-17 Stats: 9.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 4.8 apg, 0.8 spg; 35.4% FG, 29.9% 3PT
Despite the sub-.300 shooting percentage from three point range last season, Thomas Funk had himself a strong freshman campaign, and fans of the Black Knights should be excited to see what he has in store for year two.
Yes, Funk did shoot 29.9% (29-of-97) from beyond the arc, but he consistently stuffed the stat sheet on a nightly basis. Funk averaged 9.1 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per contest over the course of the season, which are solid numbers on a guard-heavy roster at Army West Point.
In just his second game of his career, Funk recorded 10 points, six rebounds, and five assists in 20 minutes of action.
Arguably his best game of the season came back on February 1st, against the Lafayette Leopards. In 35 minutes of action, Funk went 4-of-9 from the floor, finishing with nine points, eight rebounds, and seven assists in an 80-73 home win for the Black Knights.
Night in and night out, Funk can hurt you in several different ways. If he can limit his turnovers (88 in ’16-17) and improve his three point shooting, his game will go to another level.
It’s also worth noting that Funk’s younger brother, Andrew Funk, committed to the Bucknell Bison as a part of their 2018 recruiting class. So, for two seasons, the Funk brothers will go head-to-head in the Patriot League, something they’ve never done before in an organized game.
De’Monte Buckingham – Richmond Spiders
2016-17 Stats: 10.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.6 spg; 45.9% FG, 35.7% 3PT
The Richmond Spiders will be without their two leaders from last season, as both T.J. Cline and ShawnDre’ Jones have both graduated. Fortunately for Richmond fans, the Spiders have an influx of youth on their roster, all of whom will look to keep the Spiders in the upper half of the Atlantic 10 standings for the foreseeable future.
Leading the way is a rising star in 6’4” guard De’Monte Buckingham. The native of Richmond, VA is playing for his hometown program, and will look to be the key cog that leads the program to new heights over his career. Last season, he averaged 10.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per contest, while shooting just shy of 46% from the field.
With the void left by Jones in the back court, Buckingham is in a great position to see a big jump in his production, both on offense and defense this season. He will be given every opportunity to shine, and we believe that will happen in 2017-18.
Fellow sophomore guard Nick Sherod will help shoulder some of the offensive production that is gone with Cline and Jones, and both should become household names as the year progresses.
There have been mixed feelings surrounding De’Monte Buckingham this season. Some have projected him as the ‘biggest bust’ in the Atlantic 10, while others have him pegged as a ‘budding star’ in the conference. If he can seize his opportunities early on, he has the skill set and motor to be one of the best guards in the Atlantic 10.
Jermaine Marrow – Hampton Pirates
2016-17 Stats: 15.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.0 apg, 0.7 spg; 34.3% FG, 27.6% 3PT
Jermaine Marrow is arguably the top rising star in the MEAC, and he has the Pirates in a great position in the conference heading into the 2017-18 season.
As a freshman last season, Marrow led Hampton in scoring with an average of 15.6 points per contest. He also chipped in with 3.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists per contest for a strong first year stat line, in terms of production.
Marrow wasted little time making an impact with the Pirates, scoring in double-figures in each of his first four contests. After a two-point performance against the Robert Morris Colonials, Marrow bounced back with a pair of 20+ point games in a three-game stretch. He would finish the season with 10 such performances, including a 31-point game against the Florida A&M Rattlers.
After helping the Pirates advance to the 2017 CBI in his first season, Marrow has his sights set on the NCAA Tournament in 2017-18. Alongside the likes of Trevond Barnes and Lysander Bracey, Marrow and the Pirates are arguably the top team in the MEAC this season.
Similar to Funk, Marrow will need to improve on his three point shooting and limit his turnovers (103) in order to take his game to the next level. With a year of experience under his belt, look for both numbers to improve this season. If they do, a MEAC Player of the Year award may be in Marrow’s immediate future.
Ryan Daly – Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens
2016-17 Stats: 16.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 2.1 apg, 0.8 spg; 42.5% FG, 68.3% FT
One team in particular that we are high on coming into the 2017-18 season are the Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens. A big reason for that is their back court rotation, and leading the way is a player who had himself a strong freshman campaign on both ends of the floor, and is a name that everyone should become familiar with in the CAA.
In 2016-17, Daly finished the season as the top scorer and rebounder for Delaware, averaging 16.0 points and 7.4 rebounds per contest, while also dishing out 2.1 assists per contest. The 6’4” guard also shot 42.5% from the field, and 33.9% from three point range.
It took Daly some time to get himself into the swing of things at the Division I level. Over his first two games, Daly went a combined 3-of-10 from the floor for six total points. It wasn’t until the Blue Hens’ game against the Yale Bulldogs on December 11th that Daly found his groove. He scored 20 points and pulled down nine rebounds in the loss, but that seemed to kickstart his season.
That was the first of seven straight double-digit performances for the native of Ardmore, PA.
With Daly and Anthony Mosley (10.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.5 apg) leading the way in the back court, Delaware is a team who could surprise a few people this season in the CAA.
Nijal Pearson – Texas State Bobcats
2016-17 Stats: 13.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.4 apg, 1.4 spg; 43.7% FG, 34.6% 3PT
Heading into the 2017-18 season, there will be a changing of the guard for the Texas State Bobcats. Both Kavin Gilder-Tilbury and Bobby Conley graduated following the 2016-17 season, and they were two of the top three scorers for the team last year.
Their departures leave sophomore guard Nijal Pearson as the next guard in line to lead the offense. With the experience of a CIT appearance under his belt from year one, Pearson is well prepared to lead the team this season, and beyond.
Standing at 6’5”, the native of Beaumont, TX brings size to the back court rotation for the Bobcats, which is never a bad thing to have. He showed that he can shoot from distance with consistency last season, going 34.6% from beyond the arc. Pearson finished second on the team in scoring, averaging 13.3 points per contest, while finishing as the team’s top rebounder with an average of 5.7 rebounds per contest.
With his size and abilities, Pearson brings versatility to the Bobcats’ lineup. His shooting ability allows for him to line up on the wing, or assume his spot as a scoring guard. That gives the lineup different looks, and keeps opposing defenses guessing.
Demontrae Jefferson – Texas Southern Tigers
2016-17 Stats: 14.8 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.1 spg; 37.6% FG, 71.9% FT
As we said in Part One when we looked at De’Ederick Petty of the Alabama A&M Bulldogs, the SWAC often gets overlooked on a national level when it comes to talented players. The conference is home to some of the most talented freshmen guards in the country, all of whom have bright futures ahead of them in the game of basketball.
Another perfect example of that is Demontrae Jefferson of the perennial conference powerhouse, the Texas Southern Tigers. It was a tough year for the Tigers, strictly in terms of keeping talent in Houston. First, the Tigers lost star forward Derrick Griffin, who played just 13 games. Then, at year’s end, leading scorer Zach Lofton transferred to the New Mexico State Aggies,
Fortunately for fans of the Tigers, Jefferson returns to lead the way, and the Tigers always find a way to secure talent and contend atop the SWAC standings.
As a freshman, Jefferson finished second on the team in scoring, averaging 14.8 points per contest, to go along with his 2.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists. The 5’7” guard had 22 double-digit scoring games, which included a 13-point performance in the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
He missed the first eight games, but he showed what he was capable of in his first action on December 10th against the Louisville Cardinals, Despite a 102-71 loss, Jefferson played a full 40 minutes, finishing with 27 points and four assists. While he did commit 11 turnovers, playing against a team like the Cardinals in your first collegiate game is never an easy task.
Stevie Jordan – Rider Broncs
2016-17 Stats: 11.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 5.6 apg, 1.3 spg; 44.4% FG, 30.6% 3PT
In 2017-18, the Rider Broncs will be without their top two scorers from last season, as both Kahlil Thomas and Jimmie Taylor have both graduated and moved onto bigger things in their respective careers. That leaves sophomore Stevie Jordan to lead the team on both ends of the floor, and he’s a player who stuffed the stat sheet last season, but didn’t get the national attention he desevred last season.
That will change in 2017-18.
Jordan appeared in 29 games for the Broncs as a freshman, averaging 31.3 minutes per night out. He finished third on the team in scoring, averaging 11.7 points per contest. He also led the team in assists per game (5.6), and chipped in with 4.0 rebounds per game. Jordan shot 44.4% from the field, and 30.6% from three point range.
To put his season into perspective, Jordan recorded five or more assists in 18 games, four or more rebounds in 16 games, and double-digit points in 17. He had five games with at least 10 points, four rebounds, and five assists over the course of the season, and fell one or two statistics shy of several more over the course of the year.
On both ends of the floor, Jordan was one of the more consistent freshmen in the entire country. Yet, he didn’t garner much attention outside of the MAAC over the year.
Wake up, people.
Sa’eed Nelson – American Univ. Eagles
2016-17 Stats: 14.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.7 apg, 2.4 spg; 44.1% FG, 21.8% 3PT
Across this list, there has been a common trend with poor three point shooting among freshmen guards. Several guards finished their first years shooting below 30% from beyond the arc, but still put up impressive scoring numbers for the year.
Sa’eed Nelson is another perfect example of a guard who shot poorly from three point range, but still finished among the top three scorers on his team for the year. Nelson led the Eagles in scoring last season, averaging 14.9 points per contest. Nelson was also second on the team in rebounding, averaging 4.4 boards per contest despite standing at just 6’1”.
He opened his career with a pair of 12-point performances, and followed that up with a pair of 24-point performances in games four and five of the season. Altogether, Nelson scored in double-figures on 25 occasions to pace the Eagles on the offensive end of the floor.
His numbers would have been considerably higher if he was able to be more consistent from three point range. Nelson finished the year shooting 19-of-87 (21.8%) from beyond the arc. He had 12 games in which we missed all of his attempts from three point range.
If Nelson can develop a more consistent jumper from long distance, his numbers will increase considerably, and the Eagles would benefit from the influx of points. Regardless, Nelson still managed to lead his team in scoring despite his poor shooting from long range, and that’s enticing for the rest of his career.
Five Others to Keep an Eye On
Dylan Frye – Bowling Green Falcons
8.9 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.2 apg, 0.5 spg; 44.2% FG, 40.2% 3PT
Dominique Matthews – UIC Flames
10.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.2 apg, 0.6 spg; 40.7% FG, 75.3% FT
Darrell Riley – Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils
9.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.9 apg, 0.8 spg; 35.3% FG, 43.5% 3PT
C.J. Duff – Western Illinois Leathernecks
7.9 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 2.4 apg, 0.7 spg; 36.1% FG, 40.7% 3PT
Charles Minlend – San Francisco Dons
10.0 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.1 apg, 0.7 spg; 41.8% FG, 20.5 mpg
– T. Bennett