A fun (completely random) college basketball exercise

Alright, so 2020 has sucked, will seemingly only continue to suck, and will undoubtedly forever be remembered for it’s overall suck-ish nature.

More often than not Twitter merely magnifies and amplifies this profound conclusion of mine, so the fact that thanks to a since forgotten prompt on said social medium I’m sitting here now, laptop open and words being typed about an enjoyable, yet completely random subject, is truly one of those Christmas miracles (via September) that you only ever hear about.

We are still getting Christmas in 2020…..right?

Anyway, the exact impetus for this article be damned, I recently found myself down the proverbial ‘rabbit hole’ in search of fun as hell college basketball stat-column stuffers.

To be clear, I’m not talking ‘stat-sheet’ stuffers as in guys who fill it up in multiple ways (think Denzel Valentine or Evan Turner). I was focused solely on players who particularly excelled in singular statistical categories.

Oh yeah, and I also didn’t allow myself to enter in certain parameters or search for season/career leaders via the ever-so-handy sports-reference.com college basketball tab. It had to be from memory that I selected a specific player to look up, and then it was ultimately by a combination of luck/skill to see if I was proven right and subsequently presented with a set of stats/game logs for said player that would make my hoops-loving heart swell.

  • We’re not talking about eventual NBA All-Stars or widely renowned college performers either. The more obscure players I could come up with, the better. But at the very least even the guys on this list who did play at prominent programs aren’t going to be historically remembered as all-time greats. At minimum you probably need a requisite degree in NCAA basketball nerd-dom in order to fully appreciate hearing one of these names off-hand.

So within these completely arbitrary parameters that I set for myself, the following is a collection of some of the awesome nuggets I was able to dig up in said random exercise.

In an effort to maintain some semblance of reader attention, I’ve kept the list to just the four players who most immediately jumped to mind — and as you’ll see, quite obviously fit within the given criteria.

Hope you enjoy.

Kendall Marshall (North Carolina, 2010–12)

Kendall Marshall is a player whom I’m fully convinced should’ve (read: could’ve) been a national championship leading point guard for North Carolina.

If not for a broken wrist suffered in the second round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament, I believe Marshall and a loaded UNC crew were bound to meet an Anthony Davis led Kentucky squad in the title game. The Wildcats ended up going through Kansas to be crowned champions instead, but I’ve always believed the Tar Heels were primed to flip the script on their down-to-the-wire one point defeat at Rupp Arena from earlier that season.

Alas, the basketball gods would not have it, so instead I’m left reminiscing over what might’ve been.

Eight years later, still a bummer.

Regardless, when Marshall was healthy he’s what made that UNC squad go.

Roy Williams wants his teams to play fast, and when you’ve got yourself a precocious passer (and a lefty to boot!) as your floor general, well, it can look a little bit like this:

Marshall was in Chapel Hill for just two years, not even garnering his first career start until game 18 of his freshman season.

He currently sits 25th in ACC history in career assists.

If that doesn’t pretty succinctly tell the story of his game I’m not sure what would.

As a sophomore in 2011–12 the southpaw posted 17 double digit assist games, including eight separate outings of at least 13 dimes.

In 30 of 36 contests Marshall fed teammates for buckets seven-plus times.

His season low was four.

At 351 total assists he led the country in the category, and his 9.8/game mark was second. All of this came against a top 30 strength of schedule per KenPom.

That Carolina group was insanely fun to watch, and it was Marshall behind the wheel who made it go like the luxury sports car Coach Williams wanted it to be.

After a slow-to-pick-up-steam start to his career, and an all too cruel postseason injury to end it, Marshall still managed to leave Chapel Hill with the seventh highest assists/game mark (8.0) in NCAA history — a position he still holds today.

What an absolute treat it was to watch that guy pass the basketball.

Hasheem Thabeet (Connecticut, 2006–09)

The next guy who jumped to mind also happened to play for a premier coach at a premier program, though his game and skillset differed just slightly from the aforementioned Marshall.

Remember Hasheem Thabeet?

Tall guy (seven foot, two inches), crazy length (7'6" wingspan), played at UConn?

Thabeet might well have been the prime example of Jim Calhoun finally perfecting the shot-blocking assembly line he undoubtedly had hidden away at a secret location somewhere up in Storrs.

(We know it existed Jim!)

What other possible explanation could there be for UConn leading the nation in blocked shots every single year from the time a fresh-faced Emeka Okafor arrived in 2001 until Thabeet departed in 2009?

Entering the NBA Draft with one year of eligibility remaining, the two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year stills sits fourth in conference history and 18th in NCAA history for career blocks.

If you didn’t know, the Big East happens to have a pretty incredible legacy of dominant shot blockers, so Thabeet’s standing amongst those peers is sort of impressive to say the least.

(In a totally unforeseen twist, the entire country also happens to be pretty loaded in that regard as well — so I suppose that #18 national ranking ain’t too shabby either.)

On the 99 occasions he suited up for the Huskies just 11 of them saw Thabeet tally fewer than two blocked shots.

54 times he swatted four or more Spalding’s, 28 times six or more, and 11 times at least eight.

On three separate outings the Tanzanian Terror (trademark pending) tallied double digit rejections.

So yeah, this dude was fun to watch.

For good measure (and because I can’t help myself but to mention it), Thabeet also nabbed 15+ rebounds in a game nine times. And on Valentine’s Day in 2009 he put up one of the more preposterous lines you’ll ever see for basketball player, college or pro.

Poor Seton Hall took the ‘L’ that day thanks in large part to the ‘ol 25 point, 20 rebound, nine block performance by UConn’s center.

Yikes.

Kenneth Faried (Morehead State, 2007–11)

Without a doubt the most successful pro on this list, Faried was a guy I’d catch every once in a while on SportsCenter highlights or as an anecdote from one of the array of national college basketball analysts.

But the most vivid memory from his career comes from watching the final moments of his team upsetting 4-seed Louisville in the first round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament.

So while I was aware that there was some monster playing at tiny Morehead State and putting up huge numbers, until embarking on this present journey I never knew just how crazy the things he was doing were.

For instance, Faried happens to be your NCAA career leader in total rebounds (1673), surpassing some guy named Tim Duncan to reach the mark.

That seems pretty notable.

He’s also first in total rebound percentage (first on the defensive end, sixth offensively), though merely eighth all time in rebounds/game (12.3).

For 131 games Faried cleaned the glass like a madman for the Eagles, notching double digit boards in 94 of them (roughly 72 percent).

15-plus rebound nights were almost routine (44 of them to be exact — almost 34 percent), and in perhaps the most absurd stat of all he posted exactly twice as many 20-plus efforts (ten) as he did outings of fewer than five.

Absurdity.

Jarvis Varnado (Mississippi State, 2006–10)

The final member of this foursome also happens to be a major reason why Hasheem Thabeet, in all his shot swatting prowess, never once led college basketball in the category.

Mississippi State big man Jarvis Varnado was just too busy doing that himself.

Somewhat in between the well-known names at top tier programs (Marshall/Thabeet) and obscure small-school superstars (Faried), as a Florida Gator fan I certainly recall Varnado as a player in Starkville.

If you asked me to give a scouting report on the guy the very first thing I would have mentioned was his propensity for blocking shots.

But if you’d asked me to name to most prolific shot-blocker in NCAA history, I’d be lying if I said Varnado’s name was anywhere near the top of my initial guess list. In fact, it probably wouldn’t have come up at all.

And yet, 564 career rejections later (like an awkward teen on the high school dating scene, am I right??) Varnado is the answer to that question.

In his final three seasons (2008–10) as a full-time starting center for the Bulldogs, Varnado went first, first, and second nationally in both total blocks and blocks/game (Thabeet was either second or third in those categories from 2008–09).

How’s this for both volume and consistency?

76 of Varnado’s 139 career games featured four or more blocks — a hefty 54.7 percent.

But take out a freshman season in which he averaged just 13.5 minutes/game and 70 of his final 105 (66.7%) contests as a collegian reached the four-plus benchmark.

In that same stretch from his sophomore through senior campaigns, Varnado tallied 41 of his 42 career games of six-plus swats, all 13 of his eight-plus block outings, as well as each of his four separate double-digit efforts.

After getting his feet wet as a freshman, the dude proceeded to send back six-plus shots a night almost 40 percent of the time he suited up in the maroon and white thereafter.

(And for symmetry’s sake the figure was exactly 80 percent when you halve that line of demarcation to ‘only’ three-plus rejections.)

I mean seriously, what are we even talking about here guys?

Putting a bow on things

When I began this spontaneous little excursion I knew neither my ultimate destination nor how I’d necessarily arrive there.

(Hell, I still can’t recall what exactly prompted the journey in the first place.)

I certainly wasn’t expecting to stumble upon a pair of guys whom just so happen to sit at the top of various NCAA all-time statistical leaderboards.

But I suppose that’s at the core of what gave me such a kick out of this.

2020 has been absolutely miserable. And yet, as I dove deeper and deeper into this admittedly trivial task the more I not only discovered, but the more fun I discovered I was having.

I love college basketball. And it was pretty cool to find that even during its present absence in this, the strangest, most trying of years, the sport still possesses the capacity to put a pep in my step and a smile on my face.

And as much as that joy is often derived from the teams I cheer for, it also comes from random, disparate corners occupied by players like the four guys you’ve heard about in this piece.

So for those of you reading, I hope it was as much of an educational, intriguing breath of college basketball ‘fresh air’ for you as it was for me.

Because until the ball got rolling with this, I never knew just how much I needed it.

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