When the news is slow and the season is still months away, what else is there to do but make lists?
Newcomers are exciting, and there will be plenty of time to break down incoming players like Jarkel Joiner and Casey Benson. But for now, let’s look at the WAC’s top-25 returning players to get a sense of how the league could shake out in 2017-18.
Some of this is based on production. Some of it’s based on potential. All of it’s based on one person’s opinion, so please feel free to tell that person (me) how wrong he is in the comments.
25. Moataz Aly
24. Xavier McDaniel Jr.
23. Morgan Means
22. Broderick Robinson
21. Zach Nelson
20. Conner Toolson
19. Aaron Menzies
18. Isaiah Ross
17. Kenneth Ogbe
16. Gerard Martin
15. Fred Sims Jr.
14. Zach Moore
13. Brandon Randolph
12. Shon Briggs
11. Brent Wrapp
10. Sidy N’Dir (New Mexico State)
Admittedly, ranking N’Dir this high takes a leap of faith in — prepare yourselves Aggie fans — Paul Weir. Entering last season, N’Dir had played sparingly as a freshman (10.9 MPG, 3.9 PPG) under Marvin Menzies. But, like Braxton Huggins, he was one of the players Weir identified as needing a bigger role. In eight games before a season-ending foot injury, N’Dir was the leading scorer on a team that would eventually play in the NCAA Tournament. It was only eight games, but the athletic junior showed that he can be a slashing, consistent offensive threat. Weir proved to be right about Huggins, will we be able to say the same of N’Dir?
9. Matej Kavas (Seattle University)
Former coach Cameron Dollar finally let Kavas loose once WAC play rolled around. It paid off. The smooth wing torched the conference with his high release, hitting 41.3 percent of his 63 three-point attempts in league play. He also took great care of the ball, registering the lowest turnover rate in the WAC. All as a freshman. He may never be a threat in the post despite his 6’8’’ frame, but he should be able to develop as more of a playmaker under Jim Hayford. The reigning WAC Freshman of the Year is yet another reason the first year coach arrives in Seattle with plenty to work with.
8. Keonta Vernon (Grand Canyon)
Vernon didn’t have Josh Braun’s preseason hype or Dewayne Russell’s dazzling numbers. But he was still important to the Lopes, and is the key piece of their front court in a pivotal 2017-18 season. The senior was a solid pick-and-roll partner for Russell while contributing across the board. In WAC play, he landed in the top-7 in offensive and rebounding percentage, as well as steal percentage. And as one of the strongest players in the entire conference, the undersized forward should only improve around the glass. If New Mexico State is the biggest roadblock to an NCAA Tournament bid in GCU’s first season of eligibility, Vernon is the Lopes’ best counter to the Aggies’ talented bigs.
7. Oscar Frayer (Grand Canyon)
Not even KenPom keeps stats on it, but there isn’t a better dunker in the WAC than Frayer. Or maybe some of his dunks are memorable simply because of the purple frenzy they’d set off in GCU Arena. Either way, the sophomore is freakishly talented and showed glimpses of why he was a recruiting coup for Dan Majerle. He projects as a lock down perimeter defender that can also pitch in on the glass in a big way. The three-point shot was his biggest hole as a freshman, but there’s potential there. He went five-for-eight from deep in GCU’s big home win against San Diego State, with several of those makes coming in crunch time.
6. Damiyne Durham (CSU Bakersfield)
Damiyne Durham celebrates during the first half against New Mexico State. Durham leads all scorers with 13 points. pic.twitter.com/JxrxEhFcx4— The CSUB Runner (@csub_runner) February 10, 2017
Durham has averaged 21.6 minutes per game over his first two seasons in Bakersfield. That number should go up significantly in 2017-18, and for that we should all be thankful. The lengthy junior has zero shame letting it fly from deep. Sometimes it pays off, like when he staked the ‘Runners to an early lead in their huge Feb. 9 win against NMSU. Other times it does not, like his one-for-10 outing from three in the NIT semifinal against Georgia Tech. But he is what he is, and that includes being the most talented, pure scorer in the WAC. Like Brent Wrapp and Shon Briggs, Durham takes on a bigger role as several key seniors leave. His offensive ceiling should at the very least keep a retooling CSUB in the conversation.