College basketball: 5 glue guys to keep an eye on in 2016-17 season

It’s a player a coach doesn’t have to ask to make the right decision. It’s someone filling whatever role their team needs it on a given night (scoring, rebounding, defense, playmaking, etc.) It’s a stat that won’t show up in the box score, but you better believe you’ll know it when you see it.

The college basketball water cooler topic of the day: glue guys.

Some say the glue guys of college basketball have a knack for being that Johnny-on-the-spot type of a role player. Others say these players play like an extension of their coach on the court. At the end of the day, the reason is the same: These are players with high basketball IQs.

Athleticism, speed and strength still rule the day of course, but a little basketball savvy never hurt anybody, right? As such, NCAA.com takes a look at five guys who help steer the ship for their respective squads.

Amile Jefferson — Duke

Anyone who has been at school as long as Duke’s Amile Jefferson has to know how to do everything by now. And not only is he a jack of all trades for head coach Mike Krzyzewski, but he’s also been through just about every possible scenario in the postseason (losing in the first round to Mercer in 2014; winning the national championship over Wisconsin in 2015; losing a regional semifinal to Oregon in 2016), which makes his mind just as much of an asset as his 6-foot-9 frame has proven to be.

Duke's Amile Jefferson (21) is an emotional leader while Grayson Allen (3) and others handle the scoring.

Mark Dolejs | USA TODAY Sports Images

Duke’s Amile Jefferson (21) is an emotional leader while Grayson Allen (3) and others handle the scoring.

Jefferson has turned himself into a double-double machine with four in the team’s first eight games — including a massive 17-point, 15-rebound effort against then-No. 21 Rhode Island on Nov. 20 — but defense has been the hallmark for Jefferson through the years. The Philadelphia-bred forward is averaging a career-high two blocks a night so far this year, which has helped hold down the frontcourt despite a bevy of injuries that continue to bedevil the Dukies. Jefferson may not light up the stat sheet every night, but he’s the elder statesman on a team that is rife with underclassmen. Wherever Duke team ends up, Jefferson will be right in the middle of things.

Ishmail Wainwright — Baylor

Anyone who watched Baylor’s run through the 2016 Battle 4 Atlantis tournament could not have gone more than a few minutes without hearing Wainright’s name bellowed by the ESPN broadcasters working the event — mainly Dan Dakich. And with good cause, as Wainwright left his impression on the basketball faitfhul that showed up to take in the tipoff tournament. Ok, Johnathan Motley’s weekend in the Bahamas trumps all, but Wainwright is still one of the reasons that Baylor is off and running in the early-season portion of its schedule.

Ishmail Wainwright (24) is one of the oft-overlooked members of a Baylor team that is in the AP Top 25.

Sean Pokorny | USA TODAY Sports Images

Ishmail Wainwright (24) is one of the oft-overlooked members of a Baylor team that is in the AP Top 25.

There’s plenty of praise to heap on Motley and point guard Manu Lecomte (12.4 ppg, 5.3 apg), but Wainwright’s role is a bit tougher to define. During his time at Baylor, his statlines have rarely stood out. So how is it that a player averaging 6.6 points, six rebounds and 4.1 assists is having such a major impact? First of all, he makes good, unselfish decisions with the basketball. Mix that with tenacious, hard-nosed defense, and that’s one heck of a recipe. Wainwright is normally the first to the floor after every loose ball, he fights for rebounds, battles for extra possessions, and does it all with aplomb. Baylor surely has the flash of a top-25 team, but this senior from Kansas City, Missouri, makes sure the Bears aren’t light on substance.

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Thomas Welsh — UCLA

The Bruins have enough wing players and guards to fill out two rosters, but besides freshman forward T.J. Leaf, UCLA is a bit thin up front. Enter junior center Thomas Welsh. For all the attention that UCLA is getting from college basketball pundits, not too many are paying attention to the 7-foot pivot who is averaging a near double-double for the second straight season.

UCLA Bruins center Thomas Welsh (40) patrols and controls the paint for head coach Steve Alford.

Kelvin Kuo | USA TODAY Sports Images

UCLA Bruins center Thomas Welsh (40) patrols and controls the paint for head coach Steve Alford.

The guards may get most of the attention, but the California native is happy to keep cleaning up the glass and protecting the rim for UCLA head coach Steve Alford.

Thomas Welsh Points Rebounds Assists Blocks
2015-16 11.2 8.5 0.5 1.0
2016-17 10.8 9.8 0.9 2.5

The scoring may be down a touch for the Bruins big man, but that department will not be an issue for this club. The leadership and toughness that Welsh brings to the table will be far more important as this UCLA team moves into the meat of its schedule. But don’t let that belie the fact that Welsh can be a legitimate scoring threat inside. He’s got a back to the basket game that is more that capable and a mid-range jumpshot that will come in handy for all of the Bruins guards operating in the open court. If all goes according to plan, Welsh could be the guy that gets this team to gel on all cylinders.

Northwestern guard Sanjay Lumpkin (34) is hoping to be a part of the school's first NCAA tournament berth.

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Northwestern guard Sanjay Lumpkin (34) is hoping to be a part of the school’s first NCAA tournament berth.

Sanjay Lumpkin — Northwestern

If the Northwestern Wildcats are going to punch the team’s first ticket to the NCAA tournament in school history, a lot has to fall their way. They’ll also need plenty of hustle plays from senior forward Sanjay Lumpkin. His numbers are basically the same from a year ago (3.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.3 assists a game in 2015-16; 6.3 points, 5.4 boards and 1.9 assists in 2016-17), but the improvements to his free-throw and field-goal percentages have forced the hand of head coach Chris Collins. Lumpkin has a knack for helping extend plays on offense or coming up with timely rebounds, and he has a reputation as an above-average defender. And an improved ability to score the ball when his number is called has placed Lumpkin higher in the rotation come crunchtime. Lumpkin’s performance against Wake Forest — 10 points, seven rebounds, three assists, three steals and one block in a 65-58 win — included five of NU’s 13 offensive boards.

Tres Tinkle — Oregon State

It may be a bit cliché to include Oregon State head coach Wayne Tinkle’s son on this list, but the sophomore forward has earned his spot on this starting five of glue guys. The improvement from his freshman year to his sophomore campaign has been evident, as Tinkle has gone from a supporting member and second-leading scorer on an NCAA tournament team a year ago to the lead man in the 2016-17 campaign.

An injury to Oregon State's Tres Tinkle (3) could be a thorn in the side for the Beavers before Pac-12 play.

Kelley L Cox | USA TODAY Sports Images

An injury to Oregon State’s Tres Tinkle (3) could be a thorn in the side for the Beavers before Pac-12 play.

Last year he was even one of the team’s better options from the 3-point line, albeit in a limited showing (29-of-80, 36.3 percent).

Tres Tinkle Points Rebounds Assists Steals
2015-16 13.1 5.4 1.1 1.2
2016-17 20.2 8.3 2.3 2.2

Granted, the departure of former Beaver Gary Payton II has a lot to do with the change this year, but Tinkle was making a case for some more touches even in the latter stages of last season. A foot injury kept him out of a few Pac-12 tournament games and the team’s eventual loss to VCU in the NCAA tournament, but the fire has clearly been lit for the 6-foot-8 southpaw. He has been on a tear this year but will have to wait a while before his next action on the hardwood. Last week, Tinkle broke a bone in his right hand during a loss to Fresno State, but it remains unclear if surgery will be required to mend the injury, according to Danny Moran of OregonLive.com. One thing is for sure, the Beavers will miss Tinkle’s playmaking and scoring, as Oregon State ranks second to last in the conference in terms of assist-making (12.1 per game) and last in scoring through eight games (66.4 points).