Are Division I coaches more savvy than they used to be, or is it just a coincidence so many of the nation’s top scorers are actually highly efficient performers? Back in the day, scoring tons of points often required two things: a high proportion of missed shots, and a mistakenly permissive coach. (Draw up a chair, young people. When I started writing about college basketball, many in the media thought that because he scored a lot of points Bracey Wright was good at basketball. I’m serious.) But early in the 2011-12 season the guys atop the NCAA’s scoring leader board are unquestionably players who make their offenses better — much better, in fact. High-scoring Washington-slaying stud Nate Wolters of South Dakota State is already getting the love, but here are two additional players you should hope to glimpse when the Madness rolls around in 100 days or so.
Damian Lillard, Weber State. The 6-3 junior is the nation’s leading scorer at the moment, averaging 26 points a game, and for his part Lillard says he’s “kind of surprised” to rank No. 1 out of 4000 or so D-I players. I’m kind of surprised the nation’s leading scorer is a paragon of efficiency: Lillard’s hitting 45 percent of his threes and 53 percent of his twos while functioning as a (smallish) dual-threat wing. Equally impressive is the fact that Lillard’s not just stockpiling points in garbage time. In fact his best performance came in the Wildcats’ closest game. On December 3 against San Jose State, Lillard scored 41 points on 21 shots in WSU’s 91-89 win.
Doug McDermott, Creighton. The nation’s No. 2 scorer (25 points a game) is the son of his team’s head coach, Greg McDermott. Does that mean the 6-7 sophomore’s frequent shooting is the result of blatant hoops nepotism? Hardly. If anything the elder McDermott should tell his kid to shoot more often. Doug McDermott’s draining an incredible 64 percent of his frequent twos and 57 percent of his occasional threes — all while carrying a Jimmer-sized share of the Bluejays’ possessions. In a road game at Tulsa on Monday he scored 35 points on 16-of-23 shooting. McDermott was almost redshirted by his dad as a freshman (reverse nepotism?), and already as a sophomore he’s one of the top performers in Division I. Basically it’s as if Derrick Williams stayed in school and transferred to the Missouri Valley.
Now the bad news. Take all three of these guys — Wolters, Lillard, and McDermott — and know that it’s highly unlikely that we’ll get to see all three in the NCAA tournament. McDermott should be fine: come March Creighton will almost certainly display a good number in that archaic metric I refuse to name. On the other hand Wolters and Lillard play for teams that will have serious competition from within their respective one-bid leagues. Unless your previous fan commitments preclude such a step, I suggest you start pulling for South Dakota State and Weber State. Those teams and their highly effective stars could make March Madness even more fun to watch.