February 8th, 2017

The 2017 NBA Draft’s Ultimate Underdog: Marcus Keene

Justin Hodges @HodgepodgeHoops
Marcus Keene

Marcus Keene (Credit: Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports)

Central Michigan point guard Marcus Keene is in the greatest essence, an underdog. The 2017 NBA Draft is absolutely loaded with some of the best young talents that the league has ever seen in one haul of a draft. In a draft that is considered to be potentially the most prestigious group since the one that produced Lebron James, it is powered by the point guards. Not just one or two of them, from top to bottom there is an enormity of floor generals that are filled with NBA potential. Names such as Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, DeAaron Fox, and Dennis Smith Jr are prospects that have the Star Label stamped all over them.

Where there are stars, there will also be sleepers. The art of finding excellent talent that isn’t hyped up by national media or considered worthy of lottery selection is one that makes for the most inspirational stories. NBA stars including Isaiah Thomas, Draymond Green, and Jimmy Butler all have something in common. Whether it was due to their lack of size, lack of talent, or lack of exposure, they were seen as invaluable by NBA experts, scouts, and inevitably teams. In essence, they were all underdogs throughout their rise to fame.

Marcus Keene

Marcus Keene (Photo: Mike Granse, USA TODAY Sports)

This upcoming draft is no exception to that. There are several players, particularly at the point guard position, that are underdogs in their own right. Players such as Kentucky’s Isaiah Briscoe, Kansas’ Frank Mason, North Carolina’s Joel Berry, Maryland’s Melo Trimble, and Iowa State’s Monte Morris are all talented point guards who offer so much more than their current second round value initially tells you.

Beyond even those players, there is one underdog that is in a class of his own. Whether it’s because he is too small, not a real point guard, not athletic enough, not playing good enough competition, or whatever it is this product of Central Michigan has dominated his way to national stardom across college basketball this season. Standing at 5’9″, averaging 30 points per game for the Central Michigan Chippewas, this is Marcus Keene.

After spending two seasons in the Horizon League with the Youngstown State Penguins and averaging 11 points per game, Keene transferred to Central Michigan of the MAC and made an immediate impact right from the very beginning. In his first game Keene put up 32 points, and for what would be an incredible start for most players would turn out to be the norm for Keene. In route to becoming college basketballs leading scorer Keene scored at least 30 points in seven of his first nine games and now has 14 games of 30 points scored this season.

Then on December 6th, Keene put up his first 40 point game. After that performance, the national recognition for Keene started growing. Whether it was segments on ESPN and SportsCenter or highlight reels blowing up on YouTube, the name Marcus Keene was beginning to be known all across college basketball.

Despite his newfound fame, the one place you couldn’t find Keene’s name was in any NBA Draft radar. Yes, it’s because of his size, but even at 5’9″ Keene is a guy that is going to score over anybody. His pull up jumper from three point land is proficient from anywhere on the floor, hitting it at a rate of 38.6%. To be taken seriously as an NBA prospect, Keene would have to play at this level for an entire season. One thing is certain; he is not letting up.

Since then Keene has racked up four more 40 point outings, giving him five on the season. In the past decade, per ESPN, Keene is just the third player to rack up four 40 point games in a single season. The others being Davidson’s Stephen Curry and BYU’s Jimmer Fredette.

Of those four outings includes a matchup against Miami of Ohio on January 21st when Keene put up an astonishing 50 points. In a game where Keene hit 10 three-pointers in route to a 101-92 victory, the star had completely cemented himself in college basketball history. This was the first 50 point game in college basketball since 2013 when South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters put up 53.

While Keene is making history in particular games, he is on the verge of making history for an entire season as well. If his 30 point per game average holds, Keene would be the first player in 20 years to accomplish that. You have to go back to the 1996-1997 season when Long Island’s Charles Jones averaged 30.1 points for that season.

In the NBA that is entirely fixated on scoring capabilities, there is no reason that Marcus Keene shouldn’t have a spot in the league. Some say he is too small to make it; others say his other attributes won’t compliment his scoring ability. However, when you watch Keene play, you see more than just a 5’9″ scoring machine You’re watching a player with heart, who plays with the will of somebody seemingly twice his size.

You see effort, leadership, the will to do whatever it takes to win when most games he has to put up 30 or 40 points in order to guarantee his team victory. He may not have ideal size, even though a 5’9″ Isaiah Thomas is the NBA’s second-leading scorer, but Marcus Keene more than makes up for it with what he puts out on the floor every single night. That is why, if you’re looking for a major sleeper in this draft, Marcus Keene is the ultimate underdog.

previous story
Dirk Nowitzki and Giannis Antetokounmpo are in a League of their Own
next story
Which Non-Playoff Team Can Make A Falcons Type Run In 2017?