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September 15, 2009

Under the radar: Low-major players to watch

With 347 Division I basketball programs, not every player or team gets its fair share of attention.

Rivals.com will try to change that by highlighting some of the top players from some of Division I's least-publicized programs. We start today with 10 of the top players in the low-major conferences.

Dismiss them at your own risk. Last season, we saw major production from low-major players. Lester Hudson, from UT Martin of the Ohio Valley Conference, was second in the nation in scoring after finishing fourth in 2007-08. He also recorded the first quadruple-double in Division I history. And VMI, which didn't even win the Big South, beat Kentucky last season at Rupp Arena with its fast-paced, 3-point-happy offense.

Maybe one of these players will stun a major program or put up some crooked numbers in 2009-10. Don't say we didn't warn you.

An important note: For this list and an upcoming list of the top mid-major players, we considered the following conferences to be low-majors: Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Ivy, Mid-Eastern Athletic, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southland, Summit and Southwestern Athletic.

These 12 leagues were determined to be low-majors by examining NCAA tournament seedings and looking at conference RPI over the past decade.

On to the players:

F Kyle Austin, UC Riverside
Particulars: 6-8/200, Jr./Pasadena (Calif.) High
Conference: Big West
See him on: Nov. 17 at USC
The buzz: Austin couldn't crack the lineup at USC and transferred to Riverside. The move worked out well for Highlanders coach Jim Woolridge, who was a college teammate of Tim Floyd and one of his assistants with the Chicago Bulls. Austin averaged 16.2 points and 6.1 rebounds last season for Riverside.

F/C Kenneth Faried, Morehead State
Particulars: 6-8/225, Jr./Newark (N.J.) Technology
Conference: Ohio Valley
See him on: Nov. 13 at Kentucky
The buzz: Faried struggled with test scores out of high school. Once he made the grade, bigger programs came calling, but he repaid Morehead State's loyalty by sticking with his commitment to the Eagles. He is the nation's leading returning rebounder after averaging 13 boards per game last season. He was stellar late last season, averaging 16 points and 15.2 rebounds in the OVC tournament, the NCAA tournament play-in game and a first-round loss to top-seeded Louisville.

G James Florence, Mercer
Particulars: 6-1/186, Sr./Marietta (Ga.) Wheeler
Conference: Atlantic Sun
See him on: Nov. 21 vs. Florida State, Nov. 27 at Georgia Tech, Dec. 21 at Vanderbilt
The buzz: Mercer returns one of the most impressive statistical duos in the country. Florence is a top-five returning scorer at 20.8 points per game, and senior Daniel Emerson is a top-five returning rebounder. The only other team to have a player in both top fives is Notre Dame (Luke Harangody, in both categories).

G Marquez Haynes, Texas-Arlington
Particulars: 6-3/185, Sr./Irving (Texas) High
Conference: Southland
See him on: Dec. 20 at Baylor, Dec. 30 at Michigan State
The buzz: Haynes transferred from Boston College and has become one of the top shooters in the Southland. Haynes averaged 16.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists last season, and he shot 47.4 percent from the field. When fellow starting guard Roge'r Guignard was suspended in the conference tournament, Haynes almost single-handedly beat Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in the opener with 36 points.

G Reggie Holmes, Morgan State
Particulars: 6-4/180, Sr./Baltimore St. Frances
Conference: Mid-Eastern Athletic
See him on: Nov. 22 at Louisville, Dec. 8 at Minnesota, Jan. 6 at Baylor
The buzz: With Holmes leading the way, Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman is enjoying a career revival. Holmes averaged 16.8 points and 5.5 rebounds last season as Morgan State made its first NCAA tournament appearance in school history.

G Anthony Johnson, Montana
Particulars: 6-3/195, Sr./Tacoma (Wash.) Stadium
Conference: Big Sky
See him on: Nov. 29 at Washington
The buzz: An exceptionally accurate shooter, Johnson topped 50 percent on his field-goal attempts and made 87.1 percent of his free throws last season. The latter is the eighth-best percentage nationally among returning players. Johnson averaged 17.6 points per game for the season.

G Johnathon Jones, Oakland
Particulars: 5-11/165, Sr./Okemos (Mich.) High
Conference: Summit
See him on: Nov. 18 at Wisconsin, Nov. 25 at Kansas, Nov. 30 at Memphis, Dec. 10 at Michigan State, Dec. 22 at Syracuse
The buzz: Jones led the nation in assists per game (8.1) last season by a wide margin; East Carolina guard Brock Young was second at 7.6. Jones finished last season with double-digit assists in 11 of his last 16 games. He also can score when called upon, as he did in a win over Oregon (32 points) and a loss to Iowa (21).

F Kevin Palmer, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
Particulars: 6-6/205, Sr./Baltimore Parkville
Conference: Southland
See him on: Jan. 2 at Texas, Jan. 5 at Florida State
The buzz: Palmer, a junior college transfer, changed TAMU-CC's outlook after the Islanders won only eight games in 2007-08. Palmer led the Southland in scoring at 18.2 points per game and won three games for the Islanders in the final seconds.

C Artsiom Parakhouski, Radford
Particulars: 6-11/260, Sr./Minsk, Belarus
Conference: Big South
See him on: Nov. 21 at Duke, Dec. 9 at Kansas, Dec. 27 at Louisville
The buzz: Parakhouski is projected as a 2010 NBA draft pick despite playing only five years of organized basketball. He's a well-traveled player after playing for the Belarus national team before landing in junior college at Southern Idaho. At Radford, Parakhouski averaged 16.2 points and 11.2 rebounds (the third-best average nationally for a returning player) to lead the Highlanders to the Big South title and an NCAA bid.

G Ryan Wittman, Cornell
Particulars: 6-6, 215, Sr./Eden Prairie (Minn.) High
Conference: Ivy
See him on: Nov. 24 at Syracuse, Jan. 6 at Kansas
The buzz: Wittman's dad, Randy, is a former NBA coach and player as well as the Big Ten Player of the Year in 1983 at Indiana. Ryan is no slouch as a player, setting a school record with 572 points (18.5 per game) last season. An excellent 3-point shooter, Wittman is a lifetime 43.3-percent shooter from beyond the arc.

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