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11 hot mid-major starts that have flown under the national radar

Get to know these guys, because they’ve felt right at home in 2019.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Four- Belmont Bruins vs Temple Owls Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

With the beautifully steady stream of games over the past two weeks, you could be forgiven for not noticing each and every player that’s got a hot start to his name this season. And when you consider the 250-plus teams over which this site claims jurisdiction, there have been plenty such starts that deserve attention.

Squarely among them is Adam Kunkel.

The Belmont sophomore guard has been the early breakout star of Casey Alexander’s first Bruins’ team, tearing out of the gates by averaging 25.3 points over the team’s first three games. That included a career-high, 35-point eruption in Belmont’s road win at Boston College last Saturday, in which Kunkel’s prowess from deep fueled an early second-half run that put the Bruins up 25 points on an ACC court, and for all intents and purposes put the game to bed.

That Rick Byrd left a talented scorer on the roster Alexander inherited should be a shock to no one, but Kunkel has gone from a bit player as a freshman (9.3 MPG, 2.3 PPG) to a crucial piece on an OVC contender. His ability to stretch the floor — he’s gone 16-29 from three thus far — has helped the Bruins play brutally efficient offense around star center Nick Muszynski, given his ability to find the open man out of the double team.

“You’re definitely rolling the dice the more you do that, because he’s such a good passer,” Alexander said about Muszynski. “He’s a 2+ assist-to-turnover ratio last season, he’s a great passer. The more he can occupy two defenders, the better that should be for our offense long term.”

In just three games, Kunkel sits on the country’s top-10 list for three pointers made. Whether or not he remains among those heights, he seems to be a key cog in another dangerous Belmont attack.

Here are several other players that have come out flying in 2019-2020, while simultaneously flying under the radar nationally. And before the steam comes out of the ears, this list excludes well-established scorers like Jermaine Marrow and Antoine Davis, and guys whose bonkers start we’ve already covered (Jordan Roland).

Jason Preston, Ohio

The Bobcat point guard played, and played a lot, as a freshman last season. He also played very well, with a good assist-to-turnover ratio (3.4 APG/1.2 TOV), but an overall sluggish offense was part of the reason Saul Phillips was let go. In stepped Jeff Boals, under whom Preston has flourished in the early going. The sophomore has more assists than any player in the country, all while calling his own number at a greater, and still effective, rate (17.5 PPG). With wins over St. Bonaventure and Iona, Preston is the centerpiece of what looks to be a quality debut team for Boals.

AJ Wilson, George Mason

The hyper-athletic Patriot big man has been all over the court in GMU’s 4-0 start. He’s had five blocks in three of those four games, while nearly averaging a double double elsewhere (10.8 PPG, 8.3 RPG), and helping fuel the Patriots with plays like this.

Wilson, who redshirted as a freshman, has been a development project for Dave Paulsen, but now in his third year on the active roster seems to be flourishing into one of the top rim protectors in the A-10, if not the country.

Ben Coupet Jr./Markquis Nowell - Little Rock

Coupet, who played at Chicago prep powerhouse Simeon, has long been seen as having big-time talent. The former three-star recruit was more of a role player in high school, but landed at UNLV for his first three collegiate seasons, with a redshirt year sandwiched in between. After not seeing the court much in Las Vegas, he transferred to Little Rock, where he’s off to a more-than-solid start (13.7 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 7-13 3FG). Sophomore point guard Markquis Nowell is off to his own hot start (20 PPG, 5.3 APG) and makes for a dangerous duo with a blossoming Coupet Jr.

Tyler Hagedorn, South Dakota

We wrote about the redshirt senior’s road back after missing all off last season, and he has stepped right back in as a productive center for the Coyotes (21 PPG, 4.5 RPG). What stands out most, however, is his torrid start from deep. He’s always been a quality three-point shooter, but has begun the year by going 15-17 from deep (a mind-boggling 88.2%). That included an 8-8 effort from three in USD’s Nov. 15 win over Texas Southern.

Tyrn Flowers, LIU

As he’s morphed from a Blackbird to a Shark, Flowers has elevated his game. Coming off an all-NEC campaign, the UMass transfer has burst out in 2019 by averaging a double double (15.7 PPG, 13.7 RPG) over the season’s first three games. That included a 12-rebound effort against surging URI and its low post star, Cyril Langevine.

Nate Darling, Delaware

The junior wing has been the engine (26.0 PPG, 19-32 3FG) behind the Blue Hens’ 5-0 start. His masterpiece thus far was a 37-point outing (8-10 3FG) in which he outgunned UTSA and its talented backcourt in a double digit win. The UAB transfer picked Delaware in part to reunite with point guard Ryan Allen, his high school teammate, and to play a perimeter-oriented style that’s yielded big dividends for him, and the team, thus far.

Tamenang Choh/Brandon Armstrong, Brown

The veteran duo have the Bears off to a 3-0 start, including dramatic wins over Quinnipiac and Bryant. Armstrong has rebounded from an inconsistent junior year to boost the high-scoring form he showed as a sophomore, averaging nearly 30 points per game (27.7 PPG) while hitting a big basket late to sink Bryant. Choh has averaged a double-double (13.7 PPG, 12.3 RPG) to build on a breakout 2018-19 season.

Kim Aiken Jr., Eastern Washington

There have no shortage of stars in Cheney over the Jim Hayford-Shantay Legans eras. Aiken may be the next in line, as the sophomore has started the season averaging a double (12.7 PPG, 12.0 RPG). That included a 19-rebound effort against Hayford and his current team — Seattle — on Nov. 9. Aiken Jr. has gotten off to a difficult start from three, but showed last year he can stretch the floor (32.6 3P%), and will become all the more dangerous if that part of his game returns.