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College Basketball Preview: Top 30 breakout players

By Jeff Borzello | College Basketball Writer

Perry Ellis (USATSI)
Kansas' Perry Ellis will see a larger role this season. (USATSI)

Aside from projecting how freshmen will do, the biggest change from one year to the next is the players that take that next step – the breakout players. Every season, there are players who were nothing more than role guys the year before who improve greatly and become a star. Last year, first-round NBA picks Michael Carter-Williams, Alex Len, Tony Snell and Reggie Bullock were all in this space – and that doesn't even count breakout sensations Kelly Olynyk and Jerrelle Benimon.

It's going to be the same this year – and I'm going to try and predict the 30 guys most likely to take on much bigger roles this season.

Since everyone has different definitions of what a “breakout” player truly is, we're going with a couple of criterion: the player could not have averaged more than 20 minutes per game, or started the majority of his team's games. Simple enough, and it will lead to fewer debates on a player's worthiness of being a “breakout” candidate. Plus, it makes for a challenge. Of course, there are going to be disagreements either way, so dive right in.

1. Mitch McGary

Michigan

Vitals: 6-10 | F

Comment: I almost feel bad picking McGary, but he fits both criteria – and is almost guaranteed to improve his numbers. He averaged 14.3 points and 10.7 rebounds in the NCAA tournament.


2. Perry Ellis

Kansas

Vitals: 6-8 | F

Comment: Despite the presence of star freshmen Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Wayne Selden, many think that Ellis could end up leading Kansas in scoring this season. It's certainly possible.


3. Montrezl Harrell

Louisville

Vitals: 6-8 | F

Comment: The sophomore showed flashes of his tremendous athleticism and talent last season, including going for 20 points and seven boards against Syracuse. Has to replace Gorgui Dieng.


4. LaQuinton Ross

Ohio State

Vitals: 6-8 | F

Comment: Ross excelled in the NCAA tournament last season, scoring at least 17 points in his final three games. With Deshaun Thomas no longer around, Ross will become the team's top scorer.


5. Mike Tobey

Virginia

Vitals: 6-11 | C

Comment: Played fewer than 14 minutes per game last season, yet averaged nearly seven points and three boards. He could double each of those numbers this season for the Cavaliers.


6. Jerami Grant

Syracuse

Vitals: 6-8 | F

Comment: Grant's length and athleticism will make him a dangerous defender in the 2-3 zone, and he's very good in transition. If he improves his jumper in the mid-range, he could be a star.


7. Przemek Karnowski

Gonzaga

Vitals: 7-1 | C

Comment: The Poland native entered last season with heavy fanfare, but saw his minutes fluctuate throughout the season. With Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk gone, Karnowski will produce down low.


8. D'Andre Wright

Tulsa

Vitals: 6-9 | F

Comment: When extrapolated over 40 minutes, Wright averaged 19.8 points and 12.1 rebounds last season. With Kauri Black leaving the Tulsa frontcourt, it's going to be Wright's time to shine.


9. Thomas Gipson

Kansas State

Vitals: 6-7 | F

Comment: When Gipson was able to play extended minutes last season, he was excellent, averaging better than 13 points in Big 12 play when he saw at least 20 minutes. He's lost 25 pounds, too.


10. Naadir Tharpe

Kansas

Vitals: 5-11 | G

Comment: Tharpe is the key to the Kansas season – and as the starting point guard for a team with Final Four potential, he better have a breakout season. He showed flashes last season, but needs consistency.


11. Charles Mitchell

Maryland

Vitals: 6-8 | F

Comment: With Alex Len gone, Mark Turgeon has some holes in the post he needs to fill. Mitchell has long arms and a nose for the ball when it comes off the rim – he could be a double-figure rebounder.


12. Omar Oraby

USC

Vitals: 7-2 | C

Comment: The former Rice transfer finally got to play more than 25 minutes in the season finale last season – and he responded with 18 points and 10 rebounds against Utah. Expect more of that.


13. Alex Hamilton

Louisiana Tech

Vitals: 6-4 | G

Comment: Hamilton has the potential to be an explosive difference-maker for the Bulldogs. He can score in bunches, distributes well and is a pesky defender. Averaged 15.5 points in the NIT.


14. Fred Van Vleet

Wichita State

Vitals: 5-11 | G

Comment: The former top-100 recruit will get the keys to the Shockers' team this season, replacing Malcolm Armstead, who led them to a Final Four. VanVleet should be up to the task, scoring double-digits twice in the NCAA tournament.


15. Jake Layman

Maryland

Vitals: 6-8 | F

Comment: Another Terrapin that has the ability to improve his numbers, Layman could be a full-time starter this season. He's versatile and plays multiple positions. Also a good outside shooter.


16. Brice Johnson

North Carolina

Vitals: 6-9 | F

Comment: With Roy Williams going back to a more traditional lineup this season, he's going to need one of his bigs besides James Michael McAdoo to step up. Johnson could be the best bet.


17. Shaquille Thomas

Cincinnati

Vitals: 6-7 | F

Comment: The Bearcats are going to go with a smaller, quicker lineup this season – and Thomas could play a major role in that. He has the length and athleticism to be a factor; will he take that next step?


18. Tonye Jekiri

Miami

Vitals: 7-0 | C

Comment: He's extremely raw on the offensive end, but he runs the floor well and can block shots. He was also very good on the offensive glass, and has a year under his belt to develop elsewhere.


19. Daniel Ochefu

Villanova

Vitals: 6-11 | C

Comment: The sophomore big man could be the key to the season for Jay Wright's Wildcats. He has to replace Mouphtaou Yarou at the five, and his offensive rebounding and defense are solid.


20. Darien Nelson-Henry

Pennsylvania

Vitals: 6-11 | C

Comment:&Coaches around the Ivy League think Nelson-Henry could be a dominant force in the conference this season. He's efficient in the paint and is one of the better shot-blockers in the league.;v


21. Quenton DeCosey

Temple

Vitals: 6-5 | G

Comment: With four starters – including Khalif Wyatt – gone, someone has to score for Fran Dunphy's Owls, right? That man could be DeCosey, who led the team in scoring on their European trip.


22. Michael Frazier

Florida

Vitals: 6-4 | G

Comment: After shooting nearly 47 percent from 3-point range last season, Frazier made the USA U-19 World Championships team in the summer. His perimeter range provides a nice option for Billy Donovan.


23. Melvin Johnson

VCU

Vitals: 6-3 | G

Comment: Over the final 13 games last season, Johnson shot nearly 45 percent from 3-point range. He also became a consistent threat off the bench, putting up double-figures seven times in the final 12 games.


24. Ben Carter

Oregon

Vitals: 6-8 | F

Comment: The Ducks have one of the best perimeter groups in the country, but they need to replace their starters down low. Mike Moser will get one spot – but Carter's inside-outside ability could help.


25. Jeremy Hollowell

Indiana

Vitals: 6-8 | F

Comment: Hollowell opened the season with two straight double-figure scoring games, and then didn't exceed seven points the rest of the season. With four starters gone, he has a bigger role this year.


26. Ben Millaud-Meunier

St. Francis (Pa.)

Vitals: 6-1 | G

Comment: If you're looking for a sleeper candidate to lead the country in scoring, it could be Millaud-Meunier. He's a lights-out shooter from the perimeter who can get hot in a hurry. Averaged 9.3 ppg in 17.0 minutes.


27. Cameron Biedscheid

Notre Dame

Vitals: 6-7 | F

Comment: The Fighting Irish have plenty of guard options, but with Jack Cooley gone, Mike Brey will need something up front. Beidscheid is instant offense, as evidenced by five games of at least 13 points


28. J.D. Weatherspoon

Toledo

Vitals: 6-6 | F

Comment: The Ohio State transfer could be the missing piece in Toledo's quest for an NCAA tournament bid. He's a very good athlete and also has the ability to stretch defenses to the perimeter.


29. Amile Jefferson

Duke

Vitals: 6-9 | F

Comment: With the Blue Devils loaded on the perimeter, they just need to get defense and rebounding on the inside. Jefferson can provide that – if he's bulked up this offseason.


30. E.J. Reed

LIU-Brooklyn

Vitals: 6-6 | F

Comment: With Julian Boyd out until at least January, Reed is the main frontcourt option for the Blackbirds. His per 40 numbers extrapolate to about 16 points and eight boards per game.


Others: Rashad Madden (Arkansas), Tyler Lewis (North Carolina State), Joey King (Minnesota), Dwaun Anderson (Wagner), J.P. Tokoto (North Carolina), Trevor Cooney (Syracuse), Sam Dower (Gonzaga)

 
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