A couple of good games in the NBA can catapult a previously anonymous player onto the national stage and make him a darling of the sport’s rabid social media following and the analytics crowd. But with 358 teams competing at the Division I level, one of the unique things about college basketball is how there are always hidden talents in every conference toiling outside the national spotlight just waiting to be discovered.
Some players can thrive for years in statistical excellence, only to fall short in their conference tournament and never reach the national spotlight provided by the NCAA Tournament. Even some players in power conferences who carry their teams miss out on the attention lavished to lesser talents within more prominent programs. Oregon State guard Ethan Thompson was a great example from last season. It wasn’t until the Beavers began their improbable run to the Elite Eight that he became known among casual fans outside the Pac-12 footprint.
Oral Roberts star Max Abmas is another example. Although he led the nation in scoring entering the NCAA Tournament last season, few knew his name until the Golden Eagles knocked off No. 2 seed Ohio State in the first round of the Big Dance. For this week’s edition of the Dribble Handoff, our writers are picking their under-the-radar favorites from the 2021-22 season so far.
You might remember Foster Loyer from his time at Michigan State, where he was a role player for three years for Tom Izzo. He never averaged more than 16.6 minutes, or 4.4 points, per game. So, understandably, he decided to transfer to a place that would give him a better opportunity. That place is Davidson. And Loyer is now among the biggest reasons why the Wildcats are off to a 12-2 start featuring a win over Alabama.
CBS Sports Bracketology Expert Jerry Palm has Davidson as a No. 11 seed in his latest bracket
So Bob McKillop’s team is on track to make the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in a 10-tournament span, thanks in part to the addition of Loyer, who is averaging 16.2 points and 3.3 assists in 27.6 minutes per game. The 6-foot guard is making 51.2% of the 6.3 3-pointers he’s attempting per contest and reminding everybody that going to the biggest school isn’t always preferable to enrolling at the school where you might fit best and flourish. — Gary Parrish
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Steve Forbes has the 13-3 Demon Deacons off to their best start through the first half of the season since 2009-10. The player at the center of this turnaround is Oklahoma transfer Alondes Williams, who’s become one of the most surprising studs in men’s college hoops. Here’s a player who started his career in the North Central Community College Conference, playing two seasons at Triton College in River Grove, Illinois. He starred at the JUCO level, then made his way to being a role player the past two seasons at Oklahoma (he averaged 6.7 points and 2.8 rebounds in 18.5 minutes last season).
Over the past two months, Williams has morphed into a top-five ACC player, potentially building Wake into an NCAA Tournament team in the process. The 6-5 combo guard averages 20.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists while boasting a 62.4% true shooting percentage. Nobody — not even Forbes — saw this kind of season coming. Wake Forest has been largely irrelevant nationally going on a decade. This season can be different, even in a poor year for the ACC. Williams is a great story. If his team can maintain top-four status in the ACC into late January, you’ll be hearing, reading and seeing a lot more about him. — Matt Norlander
Colorado State at 11-1 is in the midst of its best start since Larry Eustachy’s third season in 2014-15. What Niko Medved has accomplished in his fourth season on the job in Fort Collins, Colorado, has been made possible by a full-blown star turn for junior David Roddy. Roddy is second among all MWC players in scoring (19.5 ppg) and third in field goal percentage (57.0%) as he’s taken charge of a CSU team that right now profiles as one of the most underrated mid-major units in the sport.
None of this is that big of a surprise if you’ve watched the slow burn build under Medved. The team won 20 games in consecutive seasons heading into this year and Roddy was a key piece of that averaging 11.4 points in 2019-20 and 15.9 points in 2020-21. Still, his leap to a new level — overlooked by most — is noteworthy in that it has (uncoincidentally) coincided with CSU’s own leap from very good team with NIT potential to borderline fantastic team with NCAA Tournament sleeper appeal. Put the Rams on your radar immediately, if not sooner, because Roddy and the rest of Medved’s club have the goods to make noise this season well beyond the MWC. — Kyle Boone
The Mountain West has several intriguing players doing fun things for respectable teams outside the national spotlight. But only one of them is a seven-footer who can score from anywhere and create his own shot. That would be Fresno State junior Orlando Robinson. When he was a three-star prospect coming out of Los Angeles in the Class of 2019, Robinson was listed at just 6-9 and 200 pounds. He’s now 7-0 and 235 pounds but with ball skills and shooting mechanics of a smaller player. He’s averaging 18.7 points, 8 rebounds and 1.6. blocks while shooting 34.1% from 3-point range and handing out 2.6 assists.
So why aren’t you hearing Robinson mentioned as a potential NBA Draft pick? Well, it may be because his vertical jump left something to be desired during the 2021 NBA G League Elite Camp. But let’s be real: leaping ability is less important when you’re already taller than everyone on the court. While Robinson may not be an explosive athlete, he is coordinated, and that’s more than you can say for most seven-footers.
Keep an eye on him as the Bulldogs navigate through a competitive Mountain West slate. He is one of the most unique players in college basketball this season, and you may end up seeing him in the NBA one day. — David Cobb