What’s an x-factor? An x-factor is a player that does all the dirty work, the little things, the stuff that won’t necessarily get you on highlight reels but will inevitably get you Ws. It could be a player who emerges from nowhere, without any type of recognition, and becomes one of those names that gets bolded on the opposing team’s scouting report.
Every great team in history had an x-factor player that left an impact on the team. From Rodman on the Bulls to Lee Humphrey on the 2006 Florida Gators, every team needs an X-factor. I put together my top 15 x-factors in college basketball that you should pay attention to this season.
*** *** ***
15. PERRY ELLIS
What I think: With all the talk surrounding the phenom Andrew Wiggins, its easy to be lost in the midst of the hoopla. Coming into Kansas, Ellis was ranked ninth at his position and 35th in his class. He was looked to contribute. Judging by his 5.8 points and 3.9 rebounds a game, his freshman year was a bit rough. Now, it’s a new year and he has a bit of experience under his belt. He very well can become one of the most improved players in college basketball. Through the first eight games of the season, Perry is averaging 14.5 ppg and 6.8 rebounds per game, already doubling his points average from last year. Also, in Colorado’s buzzer-beating win over Kansas over the weekend, it was Ellis — not Wiggins — who got the ball with the game on the line and converted. (Alas, it didn’t matter.) One thing that Perry can bring to the table is his IQ and high motor, which can help the Jayhawks.
14. SHAQ GOODWIN
What I think: Coming into this 2013-2014 season, the Memphis Tigers were ranked 13th by ESPN and penned to have one of, if not the best, frontcourts in college basketball. With guards like Joe Jackson and also Michael Dixon, the guards are looked to provide a lot of the scoring for the Tigers. They have an efficient scoring unit in their guards, but with the transfer of Tarik Black, they need an inside presence that can contribute. Shaq Goodwin is that guy. Shaq will be carrying a heavy load in terms of providing a presence inside — but he can do it. He has the potential to be that scrappy guy that the Tigers need and can really blossom into a major contributor for this Memphis team.
13. CASEY PRATHER
What I Think: Faced with numerous setbacks last season, it’s as good a time as any for Casey Prather to step up. Through his career at Florida, he has been plagued with injuries, but this year he got off to a great start, averaging 19.1 points on nearly 64 percent shooting, more than tripling his previous career-high last year. Adding some size to the frontline alongside Patric Young, Prather will be not only add size but also be a great wing defender.
12. P.J. HAIRSTON
North Carolina Tar Heels
What I think: Hairston has the potential and ability to really turn around the North Carolina Tar Heels season. Well that’s if he comes back. If and when P.J is able to suit up for the Tar Heels he will be able to space the floor with his shooting, and paired with Marcus Paige, they will be a real threat.
11. GABE YORK
What I think: Coming into Tucson, Gabe York was most known for his athletic ability and his ability to finish above the rim. He played super limited minutes last year because he defense just wasn’t ready for the big stage, but this year is a different story. Coming off the bench for the Wildcats, he can provide scoring and be the potent offensive player he is supposed to be, currently averaging 8.2 points and 1.7 triples in just over 18 minutes a game.
10. AMILE JEFFERSON
Duke Blue Devils
What I think: Coming into this 2013-2014 season, Duke’s frontline took a vital hit with the departures of Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly. Although Duke was able to snag potentially the best player in the country in Jabari Parker, they still need someone who can rebound. Amile Jefferson can fill that void. Jefferson’s versatility can help them defensively and more importantly add depth inside and if Duke wants a chance at a Final Four, he’ll have to start getting more than 15 minutes per game.
9. JERAMI GRANT
What I think: Possibly the biggest X-factor in the country, Jerami Grant popped up on the radar last season, and this season he will begin to make an impact. Grant provides the Cuse with an athletic rebounder off the bench (nearly six boards in just over 26 minutes) and with his length, he can also defend not only the post but the perimeter. A 52 percent shooter, Grant is averaging 13.1 points along with 1.4 stocks (steals + blocks) per game.
8. MICHAEL COBBINS
Oklahoma State Cowboys
What I think: Micheal Cobbins is going to be a very big part in the success of this team. The media has consistently pointed their fingers at the uncertainty of OSU’s presence inside. OSU is stacked with talented scorers in Marcus Smart, Le’Bryan Nash, Markel Brown and Brian Williams but, Cobbins can be the inside presence they need. The 6-8 versatile forward already can provide a physical presence around the rim and be a dominant shotblocker for the Cowboys, as he’s averaged over five boards and a block per game in each of the last two years (as well as this year). Cobbins is strong enough to battle down low but agile enough to get off the ground quickly and rebound. This will be instrumental in their run for a Big 12 championship.
7. BRIANTE WEBER
What I think: VCU has had a lot of good guards in the past, from Eric Maynor to Joey Rodriguez to Darius Theus. Now that they all are gone, Briante will put his experience to good use. In college basketball, the floor general is an extension of the coach and a very important position. That said, after playing behind the likes of Rodriguez and Theus, Briante is going to have to become a leader and be the pilot of this ship. So far, the 9.0 points and 4.1 assists a night are nice to see, but it’s the 3.9 steals average this is really ridiculous.
6. JAKE LAYMAN
What I think: Towards the end of last season, Jake Layman was finally coming into his own. Now he will be called upon throughout the season to help Dez Wells with the scoring load. The sophomore will be the perimeter shooter that the Terps lacked In recent years, and so far it’s worked. Besides games against Ohio State and Providence where he shot a combined 3-for-19, Layman has scored at least 13 points in every outing. Also, with his lengthy build, he will serve as an efficient perimeter defender. The 6-8 swingman is a triple threat that possesses athleticism, size and scoring ability and will really be vital for the Terps this season.
5. JAHII CARSON
Arizona State Sun Devils
What I think: Jahii Carson is the biggest x-factor for ASU… not necessarily because he’s a nobody. He’s definitely not — Carson is a potential first-round pick and one of the best point guards in the nation. He’s an x-factor more so because we’re still not sure what he’s capable of. Carson has the ability to take this team to new heights. Returning as the Pac-12 Co-Freshman and All Pac-12 First Team member, Carson is being looked at to steer this team in the right direction, and his doing it, averaging 20.5 points and 5.1 assists while shooting nearly 53 percent from deep. Although the x-factor is usually someone who isn’t as highly-regarded, Carson is different. He will not only handle scoring for the team, Carson will also impact the flow and offensive system as the team’s point guard. ASU doesn’t have much of an offensive identity and Carson can change that.
4. NIK STAUSKAS
What I think: Nik Stauskas’ three-point abilities beyond the arc will be very important to the Wolverines this year. With the departure of Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke for the League, Michigan desperately needs some perimeter scoring. They combined for 149 three-balls last season so Stauskas will need to step up and be their main threat from behind the arc. Coming off a freshman campaign averaging 11.0 points per game, which was third on the team last year for scoring, Stauskas is more than ready to fill that void, throwing up almost 20 a night so far on the young season.
3. WILLIE CAULEY-STEIN
What I think: Willie Cauleyâ€“Stein can change the whole dynamics of the game through his ability to rebound, block shots and with his aggressiveness on the defensive end. Whether he’s starting or coming off the bench, he can be important for the Wildcats because it gives them a spark on the defensive end. Different from your traditional forward, Calipari has a forward is able to run the floor exceptionally well… and can also affect the game on both sides of the court. It’s worked so far. The big man’s averages (9.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.8 blocks) make him look like a future pro.
2. WAYNE BLACKSHEAR
What I think: Blackshear is a cerebral player who can affect the game by being gritty and active, already averaging 2.4 stocks per game this year. Blackshear is expected to play inside and out and will provide rebounding and shotblocking for the Cards as well, despite being only 6-5. Blackshear has struggled with consistently since joining the Cardinals and will have to stay consistent and fulfill his role for the Cardinals to compete.
1. BRANDEN DAWSON
Michigan State Spartans
What I think: The one thing many expected the Michigan State Spartans lacked heading into this season was a firm grip on the boards. But Branden Dawson, with his bouncy 6-6 body, has the ability to be one of Izzo‘s key factors and primary weapons in that aspect. There are two ways he will impact the game: rebounding and defense. Already this year, he’s grabbing 8.9 boards and securing 1.3 steals per game. Dawson is considered a “stretch four” because a traditional big man cannot keep up with him and a smaller big man can not out push him around. Dawson’s size and athletic ability is perfect for the Spartans because with guards like Gary Harris, Denzel Valentine and Keith Appling, they can spread the floor and increase the Sparty’s long-range shooting from behind the arc.
What do you think?
Follow Andrew on Twitter at @Drewtheabstract.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.