The first guy off the bench gets a lot of recognition. Some conferences have even started to recognize a "sixth man of the year" at the end of the season. Although the award is designed to highlight someone who deserves more recognition because he doesn't start, being the sixth man is becoming trendy.
In fact, the best sixth men in the sport have nothing to complain about, either in terms of recognition or playing time. Last season's winners of the award from the Big East, Big 12, and Big Ten each received more minutes than at least two starters. And you can bet that each of Syracuse's Dion Waiters, Missouri's Michael Dixon and Purdue's D.J. Byrd was on the floor during crunch time of big games.
The way I see it, in today's college basketball the seventh man is the new sixth man. There is no recognition for the guys who are second off the bench; they don't get starter's minutes and they rarely see action with a game on the line. Their plight is additionally frustrating because they're on the bench for one of two reasons: there's a bottleneck at their position preventing them from getting on the floor, or their coach doesn't recognize their abilities. Thus they are unlikely to gain Dion Waiters-type fame at any point during the season.
It's time for that to change. I've scoured the rosters across Division I and identified five guys who would be contenders for a mythical seventh-man award. The rules for qualification are simple: the player can't be in the top six on his team in minutes and can't be a regular starter. These are true bench players -- guys who see significant playing time only when something unusual takes a starter out of action. Which players among this group are the most valuable in the country?
Let's take a look.