- Chad Ford, ESPN Senior Writer
The "big six" college conferences -- the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC -- obviously get plenty of attention when it comes to the NBA draft.
But in the past several years, members of the other group, the mid-majors, have been more than holding their own. In the 2010 draft, six players from mid-major teams went in the first round. Two of them -- Gordon Hayward from Butler and Paul George from Fresno State -- went in the top 10.
In 2009, two mid-major players, Tyreke Evans and Stephen Curry, went in the lottery. In 2008, another six mid-major players made it to the first round.
This season, the mid-major class is solid, though not particularly top-heavy. While there are, once again, a handful of mid-major players that could break into the first round, we currently don't have any ranked as lottery picks.
I spoke with a number of NBA scouts to get a take on five players they'll be scouting closely in the mid-major conferences this season. Here's the breakdown:
1. Kenneth Faried, PF, Sr., Morehead State
ESPN.com NBA Draft Ranking: 23
Faried may be the most underrated player in the country. For the past two seasons the guy has been a double-double machine. Last season Faried averaged 17 ppg and 13 rpg while shooting 56 percent from the field.
The 20-year-old bundle of energy has an elite motor, explosive leaping ability and his long arms allow him to play bigger than he really is. While Faried is still a work in progress on the offensive end, it's pretty easy to see how his game will translate at the next level.
Many NBA execs had him pegged as a middle first-rounder in May before he decided to withdraw from the draft. If he has a big season in 2010-11, he could move right into the lottery.
2. Kawhi Leonard, PF, So., San Diego State
ESPN.com NBA Draft Ranking: 24
Leonard was the Mountain West Rookie of the Year and the MVP of the MWC tournament last season. He is another athletic freak with long arms, endless energy and a knack for crashing the boards. Like Faried's, his game is relentless.
He, too, is a bit undersized for his position and has yet to show much of a skilled offensive game. He's still relying on pure athleticism and motor. Scouts have some worries about what position he'll play in the pros, but overall they think he'll find a way to contribute.
Another big season for Leonard, especially on the offensive end, could push him up 10 spots higher on our draft board.
3. Elias Harris, PF, So., Gonzaga
ESPN.com NBA Draft Ranking: 29
Harris was a secret favorite of NBA international scouts before coming to Gonzaga last year and making himself a household name with NBA execs. He wowed scouts by averaging 15 ppg and 8 rpg while shooting 45 percent from 3-point range as a freshman.
Harris is yet another mid-major player who uses an incredible work ethic to enhance his natural talents. Harris has a game a little reminiscent of Shawn Marion. He can play in the post or launch it from behind the arc.
Scouts got a little down on Harris this summer after his so-so performance for Germany in the FIBA World Championship. Harris averaged 3.4 ppg for Germany in 17 mpg, though he did shoot 66 percent from the field. He's still considered a legitimate first-round talent, but a little bit of the luster wore off this summer. If he shows a little more polish on his offensive game this season, he'll rise back up the boards.
4. Aaric Murray, F/C, So., LaSalle
ESPN.com NBA Draft Ranking: 33
Murray is a bit of an enigma. He has the size and build of an NBA center, but loves to shoot the 3. Murray took 86 3-pointers last season and made 31 of them. There aren't a lot of 6-foot-10, 250-pounders who do that on a regular basis.
The downside for Murray was that despite his size, he averaged just 6.6 rebounds per game and didn't dominate in the post the way his talent suggests he could if he spent more time working around the basket.
Murray isn't the greatest athlete and doesn't always play with consistent effort, but word is that he added some muscle this summer and put some work into his low-post game. If he can show some of this on the court, he's got a really good chance of landing in the first round.
5. Ray McCallum, PG, Fr., Detroit
ESPN.com NBA Draft Ranking: 46
There are a number of players we could've put here. BYU's Jimmer Fredette has the best national reputation. Butler's Shelvin Mack has drawn a lot of praise from scouts. And Memphis has several players, including Wesley Witherspoon and freshman Will Barton, who should get attention from NBA scouts. But the scouts I spoke with are all the most intrigued by McCallum.
McCallum is a pure point guard who plays the game with his head and his heart. He surprised a lot of recruiters by turning down offers from UCLA and Florida to play for his father at Detroit Mercy.
McCallum's basketball IQ and floor leadership are off the charts. He's got sneaky speed and explosiveness and he's going to come in and dominate from day one. He may not be the type to be a one-and-done guard, but several NBA scouts say he could be a lottery pick down the road.