Here are fifteen players poised to have major breakout years in college basketball in 2015-16:
Grayson Allen, Duke
The easiest pick ever. Allen was a McDonald’s All-American that was on the wrong side of a playing time crunch, got his chance late in the season and capitalized, lighting Wake Forest up for 27 points before playing his way into the conversation as a potential early-entry candidate with his performance in the Final Four. The only thing that concerns me about this pick is that the Blue Devils have been experimenting with Allen at the point, which is not his natural position. He’s a team player, so he’ll do it no questions asked, but playing out of a position is a good way for a sophomore to see his production and efficiency capped.
Kam Williams, Ohio State
Williams is a bucket-getter, a big time scorer that has spent his first two seasons in Columbus redshirting and playing behind D’angelo Russell. In 15.7 minutes last season, the 6-foot-2 Baltimore native averaged 5.3 points. With Russell and Shannon Scott gone, Williams is a guy that could being the beneficiary of those extra possessions. He’ll be streaky at times, but when he gets going, watch out.
Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin
I’m not sure if Koenig technically qualifies for this list, as he kind of had his breakout season in the second half of last year. A junior, he took over the starting point guard role for the Badgers when Trae Jackson went down with injury and never looked back. This year, with all that the Badgers lost, Koenig will have a chance to be more of a focal point offensively. If Wisconsin is going to finish in the top four in the Big Ten -- something they’ve done in each of Bo Ryan’s 14 seasons as head coach -- this guy will be a big reason why.
Tyler Ulis, Kentucky
This pick may not seem to make sense given the fact that he may end up being the fourth option offensively on his team. But here’s the thing about Ulis: he’s a prototypical point guard, a throwback kind of dude that’s going to be way more important to Kentucky than his stats will suggest on both ends of the floor. I think the public at large, and not just Big Blue Nation, will see that this season.
Dillon Brooks, Oregon
Brooks was a revelation as a freshman, enrolling in college a year early to become one of the better newcomers in the Pac-12. He averaged 11.6 points, numbers that will go up this season with leading scorer Joseph Young graduating and Dylan Ennis and Jordan Bell out with foot injuries. I think Brooks has a chance to be a first-team all-Pac 12 player this season.
Josh Hart, Villanova
Hart is the typical power wing that Jay Wright has been so successsful with over the years. He’s a better scorer than he gets credit for and is a terrific defender and offensive rebounder. Everyone is going to talk about Villanova’s guards -- Ryan Arcidiacono and Jalen Brunson -- but Hart should end up being an all-Big East player this season and could end up their most valuable player.
Ben Bentil, Providence
Bentil was fantastic for the Friars for stretches late in the season. With LaDontae Henton and Carson Derosiers graduating and Paschal Chukwu transferring to Syracuse, there will plenty of opportunities available for Bentil, who will be the major beneficiary of Kris Dunn’s play making ability.
Malik Pope, San Diego State
Pope has worlds of potential. He’s a 6-foot-10 small forward that’s athletic and has three point range. It’s been a long time since he was completely healthy for an entire season, and as a result, his consistency has suffered. If Pope can managed to stay out of the trainer’s room for a full season, we could be looking at SDSU’s next lottery pick.
Patrick McCaw, UNLV
Everyone talks about Dave Rice’s ability to reel in five-star recruits from all over the country, but perhaps his best find in recent years has been McCaw, a 6-foot-5 guard that graduated from Montrose Christian. McCaw has impressed early this year after averaged 9.6 points and 2.7 assists as a freshman.
Jalen Reynolds, Xavier
Reynolds is an athletic, 6-foot-9 power forward that played behind Matt Stainbrook and averaged 9.9 points and 6.1 boards in right around 20 minutes last season. As Xavier’s go-to low-post option playing a more significant role this season, Reynolds should be in for an uptick in production.
Wade Baldwin IV, Vanderbilt
Baldwin was arguably the most underrated freshman in the SEC last season, averaging 9.4 points, 4.4 assists and 4.1 boards for a Vanderbilt team that won eight of their last ten in the regular season. We expect the Commodores that be top 15-good this season, and if they do, a large part of it will be because of Baldwin’s improvement.
Abdul-Malik Abu, N.C. State
Abu is a prototype college four, a powerfully athletic, 6-foot-8 dunking machine that threw down his fair share of posters last season. As the rest of his game catches up to his athleticism, and with more playing time available to him this year, Abu could end up being the best big man on the Wolfpack and a borderline all-ACC player.
Isaac Copeland, Georgetown
Copeland has a ton of ability and is a perfect fit for what John Thompson III wants out of his fours -- he can shoot, he can put the ball on the floor, he can cut to the rim. Copeland has a little bit of Hollis Thompson in his game. As a freshman, he put together some big time performances, although he was far too inconsistent. Don’t be surprised if Copeland is in the conversation for all-Big East by the time the season ends.
James Webb III, Boise State
Webb’s inclusion on this list isn’t because I think he’s going to greatly improve on the 11.6 points and 8.0 boards he averaged last think. He’s here because I think people are going to end up paying quite a bit more attention to him this year. He’s got a chance to be a first round pick come June.
Daniel Hamilton, UConn
Hamilton, a top 15 recruit in the Class of 2014, entered UConn with the reputation for being a gunner. Then the 6-foot-7 small forward went out and averaged 10.9 points, 7.6 boards and 3.7 assists as a freshman. He’s got a real shot at being the AAC Player of the Year this season.
AND HERE ARE SEVEN MORE TO KEEP IN MIND:
- Nate Mason, Minnesota: Mason emerged as the second-best guard in Minnesota’s back court last season, and with Dre Mathieu and Andre Hollins gone, he’ll be the guy running the show this year.
- Vince Edwards, Purdue: If Edwards can become a more consistent perimeter shooter, he can make the Boilermakers a very dangerous team given the size in their front court. If not, he could lose some minutes to the guys that can better create space.
- Konstantinos Mitoglou, Wake Forest: Mitoglou is a 6-foot-10 freshman that averaged 9.7 points and shot 38.5 percent from three in his first season in Winston-Salem. He’s a really nice asset for Danny Manning.
- Brekkot Chapman, Utah: Chapman averaged 5.7 points and shot 44.2 percent from three in 15 minutes as a freshman for the Utes. His shooting ability at 6-foot-7 helps create the space that allows Utah to be effective in pick-and-roll actions.
- Yante Maten, Georgia: Maten was quite productive in limited minutes as a freshman for the Bulldogs. With Georgia’s front line graduating and with a senior-laden, talented back court returning, Maten is going to play a major role in whether UGA can compete at the top of the SEC.
- Reid Travis, Stanford: Travis, an undersized four, had a promising start to his freshman season that was interrupted as he battled injury. The Cardinal lose their top three scorers from last year, meaning he will have plenty of opportunities.
- Jonathan Motley, Baylor: Motley was just a three-star recruit when he arrived in Waco, but the athletic, 6-foot-10 center had some truly dominating performances during the year. Motley, teaming with Rico Gathers and Taurean Prince, will give the Bears one of the nation’s best front lines.