To a coach – or a fan – there's nothing better than unexpected production on the court.
Here's a look at six players – all on teams that appear likely to play in the NCAA Tournament – that have given their teams even more than was expected this season.
G Lee Cummard, BYU 6-7/185, Jr., Mesa (Ariz.) High Team: 20-5 overall, 9-1 in the Mountain West. RPI is 28. BUZZ: Cummard had a solid sophomore season in 2006-07, averaging 9.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.5 steals. But he has elevated his play this season. He's averaging 16 points and 6.5 rebounds, and is shooting a sizzling 56.8 percent from the field. Cummard is making 42.4 percent of his shots from 3-point range, and 86.1 percent from the line. Cummard leads the Mountain West Conference in field-goal percentage and is third in free-throw percentage. He has a nice shooting stroke, can obviously hit the 3-pointer and also has a nice mid-range game. Cummard was the Arizona player of the year as a high school senior in 2003-04. "I think he came in with a lot of unrealistic expectations for a young player," coach Dave Rose told reporters earlier this month. "But we always had confidence this was the Lee Cummard we recruited."
F Luke Harangody, Notre Dame 6-8/251, Soph., Merrillville (Ind.) Andrean Team: 19-5 overall, 9-3 in the Big East. RPI is 24. BUZZ: Harangody had a nice freshman season for the Irish last year, averaging 11.2 points and 6.2 rebounds. He appeared to be a guy who would provide low-post muscle and be a complementary scorer for his career. But he has showed he is much more than just an offensive afterthought this season. He leads the Irish in scoring at 20.4 points per game (he's at 23.1 in Big East play) and in rebounding at 10.3 per game (he's at 11.8 in Big East play. He's just one of four players nationally averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds. He's also effective at drawing fouls – and converting once he gets to the line (he's 121 of 155, 78.1 percent). In short, he has gone from just a "big body" to one of the best big men in the nation. "With a lot of will, physical gifts and work ethic, he's made himself one of the top players in college basketball," Irish coach Mike Brey said recently.
F/G Leonard Houston, Drake 6-3/175, Sr., Holland (Mich.) West Ottawa Team: 23-2 overall, 14-1 in the Missouri Valley. RPI is 10. BUZZ: Houston came off the bench for a middling Bulldogs team last season and averaged 4.5 points. This season, he is second on the Bulldogs – who have wrapped up the Missouri Valley title and are an NCAA lock – in scoring at 14.2 points per game. Despite his slight build, he's a surprisingly good rebounder (4.0 per game) who has led the Bulldogs in rebounds four times this season. Houston also is one of three key 3-point shooters for the Bulldogs, who make 9.3 3-pointers per game.
F Arinze Onuaku, Syracuse 6-9/258, Soph., Alexandria (Va.) Episcopal Team: 17-10 overall, 7-7 in the Big East. RPI is 47. BUZZ: Onuaku played sparingly as a freshman in 2005-06, then missed last season after knee surgery. While freshmen Donte Greene and Jonny Flynn have received most of the notice this season, Onuaku's contributions cannot be overlooked. He is averaging 12.7 points – he's one of four starters averaging in double-figures – and 7.9 rebounds. He knows his offensive limitations and bangs away in the low post, shooting 65.6 percent from the floor. He's also a solid defender, averaging 1.2 blocks and 1.1 steals. One problem: He is brutal from the line, hitting just 46.6 percent.
F Bambale Osby, Maryland 6-8/250, Sr., Richmond (Va.) Benedictine/Paris (Texas) JC Team: 17-9 overall, 7-4 in the ACC. RPI is 49. BUZZ: He started twice last season and averaged 5.8 points and 3.9 rebounds. This season, he has started 18 games and is averaging 11.8 points and 7.0 rebounds. Osby has been more effective in league play, averaging 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds. "He's gaining confidence in his offense," Terps coach Gary Williams said earlier this month. While Osby is foul-prone, he's an effective defensive presence in the low post (2.3 blocks per game) for the Terps. He gets a lot of attention for his Afro; perhaps it's time more people looked at his game.
G A.J. Price, Connecticut 6-2/181, Jr., Amityville (N.Y.) High Team: 20-5 overall, 9-3 in Big East. RPI is 12. BUZZ: Price started 23 times last season for a UConn team that missed the NCAA tournament. Frankly, he was known more for what had happened off the court (he missed the 2004-05 season while battling a rare disease that causes bleeding of the brain, then missed the 2005-06 season under a suspension for the theft of some laptop computers) than on it. That has changed this season, as he has lived up to his high school hype. He leads the Huskies, who are an NCAA lock, in scoring at 15.4 points per game. Price is averaging 18.1 points in Big East play. He's averaging 6.1 assists and has an almost 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He's also averaging 4.0 rebounds and 1.3 steals, and has become UConn's leading 3-point threat (39.2 percent). "Obviously last year he was rusty," Louisville coach Rick Pitino told reporters earlier this month. "He was talented but erratic. This year, he makes others better and he can score in the clutch."
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.