Doug McDermott, Russ Smith lead senior class into 2014


The class of 2014 has one more shot at a championship, and several of this year's top seniors may have saved their best act for last.

Aaron Craft's 2013 season ended with a surprising four-point loss to Wichita State. Doug McDermott's ended with a blowout loss to Duke. And of course Russ Smith's ended with him cutting down the nets in Atlanta.

Last year's juniors knew the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, and this year, many are back for more. It's one more shot at a championship. One more shot at One Shining Moment.

Here are some of the top rising seniors in the country in 2013-14:

Aaron Craft, Ohio State

Craft has endured plenty of praise and criticism as the starting point guard for the Buckeyes, and surely there will be more of both as he prepares to guide Ohio State through another Big Ten season. He's talented but inconsistent with his shooting touch, but that's not where he's made a name for himself. He's as disciplined as a point guard should be leading the offense and he is a relentless defender on the other end. Craft is a two-time defensive All-American and was the Big Ten defensive Player of the Year in 2012.

Of course it also helps when you have a flare for the dramatic. Craft was the MVP of the Big Ten Tournament last year and a week later hit that memorable three in the Third Round against Iowa State to send the Buckeyes to the Sweet 16.

Dwayne Evans, Saint Louis

Because Saint Louis isn't on national TV every week, many fans may not have learned about Dwayne Evans until recently. This year he's out to make sure you don't forget him. The Billikens won the Atlantic 10 regular season and tournament championships last year, and some pegged them as a sleeper Final Four team. But Oregon blew them out in the round of 32, sending Evans into an early offseason.

The big man was the team's leading scorer, putting up 14 point per game and hauling in 7.7 rebounds. The highlight of his season probably came in Saint Louis's regular season finale against La Salle where he posted 16 points and 17 rebounds in a dominating performance to lead the Bililkens to victory. He'll be looked on to do even more this year with his 2013 frontcourt mate Cody Ellis having graduated.

C.J. Fair, Syracuse

The Orange are in a new league in 2014 and C.J. Fair will be one of the key pieces as Syracuse tries to survive in the ACC. His versatility is his most valuable quality. As SB Nation Syracuse blog Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician put it, he "is as comfortable posting up as he is shooting a three." And his stats back it up. Though he was more prone to playing inside as the team's leading rebounder with seven per game, he also shot 47 percent from beyond the arc.

He also became remarkably consistent, averaging more than 35 minutes per game in the second half of the year and often playing the full 40. From Jan. 1 to the end of the year, he scored in double figures in all but two of the Orange's 27 games. In 2014, the goal will be an ACC championship, a second straight Final Four appearance, and if Fair and his teammates are up to the challenge, a shot at the second national title in school history.

Doug McDermott, Creighton

Doug McDermott flirted with National Player of the Year consideration in 2013, and like Fair, he will be leading his team into a new league this season. Creighton is set to join the Big East, where the competition will be tougher, but the exposure will be wider. McDermott was the only Bluejay to average double digits in scoring last year, but his 23.2 points and 7.7 rebounds were plenty to carry Creighton to a 28-win season.

Another 28 in 2013-14 won't come as easily in the Big East, but McDermott isn't deterred by annoyances like pressure or a tough opponent. He scored 46 points in the Bluejays' two NCAA Tournament games against Cincinnati and Duke last year and was a perfect 23-23 from the foul line in those games.

Keith Appling and Adreian Payne, Michigan State

Michigan State assistant Dane Fife has piled the praise on Appling, saying he had an excellent shot to break out next year -- a tough task considering Appling is already the team's leading scorer. Fife said Appling is shooting with more confidence and has improved overall as a player. He has spent the offseason working on getting his teammates involved more and will look to get his assist numbers up as he develops into more of a true point guard.

Payne was the man in the middle for a tough Michigan State squad last year, leading the team in rebounding and ranking third in scoring. Of course he also stepped out to knock down 16 of his 42 three-point attempts, just to make guarding him even more difficult. He was second team All-Big Ten last year and was named the team's most improved player. He started 24 games last year and was instrumental in the Spartans' 59-56 Big Ten semifinal win, where he poured on 18 points and 10 rebounds.

Russ Smith, Louisville

Smith is the lone returning senior on the list who finished his season on a happy note. And considering not many players who lead a National Championship team in scoring would return for their senior year when they could just as easily make millions in the NBA, you have to figure Smith is eager to win again. The scoring numbers are certainly there -- he averaged over 18 per game last season -- but he will need to improve his decision making. While showing flashes of utter brilliance last season, Smith was also prone to mystifying mental lapses. As a senior leader, the margin for error is much smaller.

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