Every year, players break out onto the national scene and become household names. Sometimes it's due to increased opportunity, a role change, or simply an improvement talent-wise. This year will be no different, as there was an awful lot of outgoing talent in college hoops following Duke's win over Wisconsin in the national title game last season.
So here at CBS Sports, we try to identify who those guys that will burst onto the scene will be early on in the process. Last year, I think I did pretty well. Sure, I missed on guys like Jabari Bird and Moses Kingsley, but I largely nailed guys like Kris Dunn, Terry Rozier, Rico Gathers, Monte Morris, Denzel Valentine and Nigel Hayes. This year it seems to be a bit more difficult, but there are still plenty of high-upside players who could turn into big-time, all-league type guys with more time.
Before getting there, here are the rules for this list:
- Transfers are ineligible, simply because we take time to write about them on their own. So despite the fact that I expect guys like Tyler Lewis at Butler and Conner Frankamp at Wichita State to succeed, they don't appear here.
- Freshmen are also ineligible. Some slightly off-the-radar guys that I like: JaQuan Lyle at Ohio State, Kerwin Roach at Texas, and Jeremy Hemsley at San Diego State.
- Breakout players here are defined as guys who averaged under 10 points per game last season for heavy scorers, or just simply guys that didn't get a ton of chances if they are bigs or points that do other things beside score. It can be a bit of a moving target, but I think you'll find that most of the guys here haven't broken out in a big way yet in college basketball.
Here are 20 players I am expecting to break out in the 2015-16 college basketball season:
Abu is a high-energy player that can alter games just by imposing his athleticism. He has tremendous length, and can both play physically inside and get out and run in transition. The key for him will be improving his efficiency around the rim. He only made 59 percent of his baskets in that area last year, and has the potential to do much better. I'd look for around 11 points and eight rebounds while giving the Wolfpack a lot of versatility in the frontcourt with increased efficiency.
The star of last season's national title game, Allen only averaged 4.4 points in 10.6 minutes per game last season. I'd look for that to more than triple this season, as I think he averages somewhere around 15 points-per-game as the lead offensive option for the Blue Devils. He has the athleticism, ball-handling, and playmaking abilities to do that, plus he has the perfect mentality to take over as a go-to scorer who doesn't care what you throw at him defensively. As long as the jump shot stays as pure as we've seen it to this point, Allen will make a nice one-two punch with super freshman Brandon Ingram for the Blue Devils.
I'm pretty much all in on Baldwin this year. Statistically, he's the only returning player on a high-major team to put up at least a 31 percent assist rate, 58 true-shooting percentage, and three percent steal rate. He affects the game in a variety of ways due to his length and athleticism, as well as his feel for the game and passing skill. Without Shelton Mitchell in the fold to take minutes, it should be his show this season. And with a ton of shooters around him and a big man that can run pick-and-rolls in Damian Jones, Baldwin could really flourish.
Isaac Copeland, Georgetown
Copeland became a starter for the Hoyas' final 10 games of the season last year, and performed well in the role. He's a 6-foot-9 combo forward on the college level who can shoot well from distance while also getting out in transition and slashing in the halfcourt. It's also worth noting he's a plus defender that John Thompson III can trust in big situations. I'd say that he should be in position to nearly double his scoring average to around 12 points per game this year while providing a bit more of a versatile offensive attack for the Hoyas on the wing.
Edwards was something of a swiss-army knife for Purdue, doing basically whatever was asked of him. As a 6-8 guy with at 7-0 wingspan, he looks like a 4 on this level but he moves like a perimeter player. He defends with energy and can play against multiple types of players, but also has offensive acumen beyond his years. He's a very good passer for a combo forward, plus can attack well off the dribble. It remains to be seen if he can develop a more consistent jump shot, but if he does he could surpass A.J. Hammons as the Boilermakers best two-way option this year.
Enechionyia was more of a bit piece last season, but I'd expect him to take a rather large leap into the foreground of the equation at Temple this season. His talent certainly dictates it, as the long 6-8 forward has the skill to play both inside and out and be a go-to option for the Owls. The key will be him improving as a shooter from deep. He knocked down a good clip of his midrange shots, but his 3-point percentage was only 28 percent. If he can share the scoring load with returning senior Quenton DeCosey, Fran Dunphy's group will have a shot to return to the NCAA Tournament in what's shaping up to be a strong top-half of the American.
Look, this is probably a bad idea. Hill hasn't really shown anything in the way of efficient play in his two years in Gainesville, and realistically has been something of a negative presence on the floor. Having said that, count me among those who believe Hill can turn it around under new coach Mike White. White's more up-tempo system fits well with what Hill can do in the open floor, and maybe further experience will help slow the game down. Still, Hill categorically must improve upon his turnover rate -- which has been a robust 21 percent over the last two seasons -- and his shooting efficiency.
Jalen Hudson, Virginia Tech
Hudson only played 17 minutes per game last season on Virginia Tech's team because coach Buzz Williams said that he wasn't playing as hard enough. But by the end of the year, he was their best player, and that culminated in a 32-point outburst in the ACC Tournament against Wake Forest. He, Justin Bibbs and Seth Allen will give this the Hokies a chance to cause some havoc in the ACC, even if their interior play isn't quite good enough yet to actually compete in the league. I'd look for him to double his scoring average to around 13 points per while drawing fouls and finishing around the rim.
Koenig should go from being the fourth/fifth option on last season's Wisconsin team to arguably the top offensive option this year. He and Nigel Hayes will need to carry the scoring burden for what will be a very inexperienced group around them. Koenig upped his scoring tremendously upon entering the starting lineup following Traevon Jackson's injury last year, and could average something like 15 points per game despite the Badgers' slow pace of play and general knack for spreading the wealth.
The Buckeyes are going to need someone to score after losing four starters from last season's team. Loving seems like the most likely guy to do that -- although other guys like Jae'Sean Tate and Keita Bates-Diop could also step forward as well. Loving's a terrific outside shooter who could end up averaging around 15 points per game just from that if he ends up getting the shots. If he can differentiate his offensive game and do some more off of the dribble, he could become a near-All-Big Ten player.
McCaw figures to get the lion's share of the ball with the Rebels this season as their driving force. He'll be charged with getting guys like Ike Nwamu and freshman sensation Stephen Zimmerman into the offense, as well as creating some of his own as a player who can not only shoot from distance but also create fast break opportunities and finish at the rim. He could have a big season for the Rebs, who will need him if they want to make a run in the Mountain West.
Someone's going to have to step up and replace the production of the Bulldogs' departing backcourt members Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell and Byron Wesley. My money is on Perkins as being the most successful of that group. He has the highest pedigree of the group, and was set to undertake a large role off the bench last year before breaking his jaw early on. He's an awesome athlete with terrific vision and passing acumen, and he should be able to break down defenses and get the multitude of offensive weapons involved in the offense. Look for something like 11 points and five assists per game from Perkins this year.
Pinson's freshman year didn't go as he planned, as injuries knocked him a bit more out of commission than expected. He's getting healthier now though, and it's likely that he'll step into J.P. Tokoto's vacated spot in the starting lineup. In that role, he'll be expected to take on the toughest defensive assignment on the wing, something he's capable of easily with his long wingspan and foot speed. But the former five-star recruit has more potential than that, as he's a better slasher than Tokoto with a shot that's not nearly as broken. He could end up getting into double-figures just by feeding on the scraps of his teammates as a role player.
Pope has been on NBA Draft radars for a while, and could end up being a first-round pick in 2016. At 6-9 with a great wingspan and a good frame, there's a lot to be excited about with Pope's offensive skill. He can step away and shoot from distance, as well as slash with the ball in his hands and even post up smaller defenders. Basically, he's a matchup nightmare waiting to happen. He'll need to be more consistent than last year, when he only scored in double-figures four times. But his role should be much larger this season, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him get into the 14-16 point per game range.
I already listed Reynolds among my potential NBA Draft sleepers, and he fits here as well. Reynolds' 19.5 points and 12 rebounds per 40 minutes last season in a role largely behind Matt Stainbrook. His power is too much for anyone in the Big East to handle, as he already has an NBA-level body. Without Stainbrook in the fold this year, I'd look for Reynolds to play 30 minutes a game and put up something like 14 points and nine rebounds while he and Trevon Blueitt lead the Musketeers back toward the NCAA Tournament.
Yeah, this is the second Florida player here. But this is a team that vastly underperformed to its expectations last year, and could make a leap this year if they respond to White. Robinson is another tremendous talent, a 6-8 athlete on the wing with tremendous athleticism and at least potential for a shooting stroke. Again, if White can get this team running up and down the floor, Robinson could really work as a release valve on the wing for transition baskets. A leap to double figures could be in the cards.
Archie Miller will need someone to step up and become the main guy in Dyshawn Pierre's absence, and my pick for that is Smith. Without Pierre and Sibert, the Flyers need Smith to step forward as a lead ball-handler and steady an offense that could get bogged down rather easily at points last year. Look for him to up his scoring averages to around 13 points and four assists per game on a much higher usage rate, especially until Pierre returns presumably in the second semester.
Snider did a tremendous job of simplifying things offensively for the Cardinals once Chris Jones left last season. He averaged 9.5 points and 2.6 assists per game in his final eight games of the year, and will be responsible for a much bigger piece of the offense this season as the Cardinal integrate new pieces. He won't be the team's leading scorer with Damion Lee and Trey Lewis in the mix, but he should be its maestro in the backcourt, and I'd imagine that 11 points and four assists isn't out of the question for a team that will be battling all year for a Tourney spot.
Travis was a Stanford's first McDonald's All-American since the Lopez twins when he committed last season, but he ended up struggling with injuries throughout the course of the year. He's a physical rebounder with a soft touch around the rim, and he'll be looked to as a much bigger player in the Cardinal offense this year. Think something like 13 points and eight rebounds on efficient player isn't out of the question given that his usage rate will likely skyrocket.
This one almost seems like cheating, but it's fair to say that Ulis really didn't have free reign last year to do what he's capable of. He was utilized more as a change-of-pace, spark-plug-type guard that could set the table for his teammates as well as pester the opponent defensively. This year, Ulis has a shot to not only become a 30-minute per game guy, but also a legitimate All-American candidate. He's one of the better distributors in college hoops, and will be counted on to mold the incumbent Kentucky players with the many newcomers.