While high major players have the benefit of more national TV exposure, these four players from smaller conferences also deserve recognition for outstanding individual performances this season.
Sports Illustrated released its college basketball All-Star teams last week in advance of the NBA’s All-Star game on Sunday. Of the 16 players drafted for the exercise, only one came from outside of the six conferences this column defines as high majors (football’s Power 5 and the Big East) plus the American Athletic Conference. Had SI increased the roster size for its All-Star squads, Boise State forward Chandler Hutchison would not have been the only player selected from a squad that doesn’t belong to that group of seven leagues. Below is a round-up of four guys (including Hutchison) from smaller conferences who’ve shined outside of the spotlight afforded to high major players with more national television exposure.
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Chandler Hutchison, senior, F, Boise State
Hutchison is becoming a more popular topic in conversations about the upcoming NBA draft than the college game. He’s moving towards the lottery in some mocks, including Sports Illustrated’s latest, which pegged him as the No. 16 pick. As Hutchison continues to build his case as a first-rounder, he’s putting together one of the best seasons from any player west of the Mississippi River. The primary driver of Hutchison’s senior surge is his increase in usage without a consequent drop in efficiency. Hutchison isn’t just Boise State’s primary offensive option. He’s shouldering one of the heaviest workloads in the country. Through 27 games, Hutchison has used 32.9% of his teams plays while he’s on the court, which is up four percentage points from his junior season and ranks 16th in Division I, according to Sports Reference. He’s making good use of those plays by scoring from both sides of the arc (53.2% from 2, 36.4% from 3), setting up his teammates for their own scoring opportunities and registering career highs in both free throw attempts per 40 minutes (8.7) and free throw percentage (73.1).
Hutchison recorded a triple double (23 points on 9-of-16 shooting, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) in a win over Portland on Dec. 3, and he’s leading the Broncos in points (19.9), assists (3.5), steals (1.5), rebounds (7.6) and minutes per game (31). Before banging his head on the court and leaving the game, Hutchison logged only eight minutes for Boise State in its first matchup against a high-major opponent this season, a Nov. 19 loss to Iowa State in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. But he helped the Broncos notch one of their most valuable wins of 2017-18 less than a month later when he scored 20 points against Oregon in Eugene. Despite Boise State adding that data point to its nonconference résumé, a flimsy at-large profile will, in all likelihood, require the Broncos to win the Mountain West tournament to earn their first invitation to the NCAAs since Hutchison’s freshman year.
Mike Daum, junior, F, South Dakota State
Daum had a two-year track record as a high-efficiency, high-usage scorer before this season. So it’s not surprising to look up, with only two games remaining in South Dakota State’s Summit League schedule, and see that he’s posting career highs in rebounds per 40 minutes, block percentage and usage percentage while averaging a conference-high 23.5 points per game. There are only three players in the country this season who’ve used at least 35% of their team’s plays during their floor time while posting an offensive rating of at least 110, according to Sports Reference. Two of them are guards who’ve taken up residence in the top five of the national scoring charts: Oklahoma flamethrower Trae Young and Campbell’s Chris Clemons. The other is the Dauminator.
At 6’9” and 250 pounds with a reported 7’3” wingspan, Daum plays center for South Dakota State, but he thrives stepping away from the basket to knock down long-range shots. In 29 games this season, Daum has connected on 41% of his triples, and he’s recorded a higher free throw percentage (84.7%) than all but one other player in the Summit League during conference play. His production is fueling the Jackrabbits’ best offense in five years, according to Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency rankings, and Daum could make them a nightmare matchup in the first round of the NCAAs. He’s gone off for at least 30 points 10 times this season, and he put up 51 in a win over Fort Wayne last February. South Dakota State was run off the court in a Nov. 17 trip to Kansas, but the Jackrabbits have rolled through conference play with only one loss to date (at South Dakota on Jan. 24). Although Daum is a junior, there’s speculation that this could be his last season in Brookings, S.D., either because he decides to turn pro or transfer to another program with immediate eligibility as a graduate student. Whether or not one of those things happen, it’d be fun to watch him get another crack at a brand-name program in the tourney after South Dakota State was blown out by national runner-up Gonzaga in the first round last year.
Jock Landale, senior, C, Saint Mary’s
When SI placed Landale 10th in its preseason National Player of the Year rankings, it undersold his value as the engine of one of the top offenses in the country. Heading into Thursday night’s game at San Francisco, Landale has powered the Gaels to a No. 6 rank in the country in effective field goal percentage, which adjusts for the added value of the three-point shot, and No. 5 in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency. The bulk of the 6’11” Australian big man’s offense comes from a play type that’s out of vogue at the highest level of the sport: the post-up. According to data compiled from Synergy Sports Technology, Landale has scored an average of 1.007 points on 288 post-up possessions this season, third among DI players with at least 200 such possessions. Most West Coast Conference defenders just aren’t equipped to counter Landale’s advanced low-block scoring game. Landale takes 66.2% of his shots around the rim and converts those at a 68.1% clip, according to hoop-math.com, and he’s recorded 249 two-point field goals, 35 more than any other player in the nation, while posting a nation-high 5.2 offensive win shares.
Landale may have drawn more NPOY hype had Saint Mary’s not dropped a pair of important nonconference games. At the Wooden Legacy tournament in Fullerton, Calif., in late November, the Gaels lost consecutive meetings with Washington State and Georgia by a combined seven points, two moderately challenging matchups on an overall lousy nonconference schedule. Saint Mary's has been tripped up only twice since then: home against Gonzaga on Feb. 10 and at San Francisco on Feb. 15. But the Gaels' success in a league that in 2018 amounts to “Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and everyone else” has gone largely unremarked upon nationally outside of when the Gaels beat the Zags in Spokane on Jan. 18, which Landale helped them do by scoring 26 points on 12-of-15 shooting and snaring 12 rebounds. It’s no coincidence that Landale had one of his worst outings of the season, managing only four points over 37 minutes, when Gonzaga beat the Gaels by 13 in the return game in Moraga on Saturday.
Jaylen Adams, senior, G, St. Bonaventure
Adams missed the first six games of his senior season because of a left ankle injury, a stretch that sidelined him for St. Bonaventure’s pair of games against Maryland and TCU in the Emerald Coast Classic tournament in Florida in late November. (The Bonnies beat the Terrapins without him, but fell to the Horned Frogs.) Adams was available for St. Bonaventure when it took on in-state foe Syracuse in the Carrier Dome about a month later, and he dropped 23 points on the Orange’s top-15 defense, according to Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency, in a three-point win in overtime that could push the Bonnies into the field of 68 for the first time since 2012 and only the second time since 2000. Atlantic 10 defenses haven’t fared much better against Adams. He’s shredded conference opponents by sinking shots from behind the three-point arc, facilitating scoring opportunities for his teammates and getting to the free-throw line. Alongside high-scoring backcourt partner Matt Mobley, Adams powered the Bonnies to more wins so far (21) than the entirety of last season and only one fewer than the entirety of the previous season.
Over 15 games in league play, Adams has averaged 21 points and 5.5 assists while knocking down 47.5% of his attempts from distance, and he exploded for 40 and 44 points, respectively, in consecutive wins over Duquesne and Saint Louis earlier this month. Adams leads the conference in offensive box plus/minus and ranks fourth in both player efficiency rating and effective field goal percentage. His scoring and playmaking has the Bonnies on track to notch a top-three finish in the Atlantic 10, but a shaky start to the beginning of league play put them well off the pace of Rhode Island, which has won 17 of its last 18 games, checks in No. 31 in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings (St. Bonaventure is No. 68) and is approaching lock status for an at-large bid after clinching a share of the conference’s regular-season title this week. Friday’s home triumph over the Rams could go a long way for St. Bonaventure on Selection Sunday, but whatever postseason tournament Adams ends up in, don’t miss the opportunity to watch an electric perimeter scorer with a sweet long-range stroke play out the end of his college career.