Looking Forward: Who will be the Breakout Stars of the 2016-17 season?
The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close for all of the major programs.
In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2016-17 season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the players headed for a breakout year.
Donovan Mitchell, Louisville: Mitchell is a guy that I loved coming out of high school and that showed some serious promise late in his freshman season, including a 17 point outburst at Duke. He averaged just a relatively inefficiency 7.4 points last season, but he is a strong, athletic combo-guard that is an ideal fit for the system that Rick Pitino runs on both ends of the floor. We have Louisville as a preseason top ten team, and one of the biggest reasons for that is that we expect Mitchell to become a borderline first-team All-ACC caliber player.
Tyler Lydon, Syracuse: I think Lydon, who averaged 10.1 points as a freshman, is one of the most enticing prospects in college basketball this season. He’s a 6-foot-9 forward with a 7-foot wingspan and the ability to both protect the rim (1.8 bpg) and hit threes (40.1% 3PT), which makes him a pretty snug fit in Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone. The issue with Lydon is that he’s still a bit of a tweener: He’s not quick enough or skilled enough to be a three but he weighs 200 pounds soaking wet and can’t handle the physicality of the paint in the ACC just yet. As he gets stronger, he’ll only become more intriguing as a prospect, as bigs with the ability to protect the rim and stretch the floor become more and more in demand.
JaQuan Newton, Miami: Newtown spent his first two seasons in Coral Gables playing behind Angel Rodriguez and Shelden McClellan, which is part of the reason that his numbers weren’t really all that impressive (10.5 ppg, 2.8 apg). That doesn’t change the fact that his skill-set as a point guard is exactly what Jim Larrañaga looks for. He’s a scorer and a playmaker that thrives in high-ball screen actions, and while he’s more of a slasher than either Rodriguez or Shane Larkin, he will get plenty of chances for the ‘Canes next season.
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin: Nigel Hayes was Wisconsin’s leading scorer and Bronson Koenig was the guy that hit the biggest shots in the biggest moments, but there were many times last season where Happ was actually Wisconsin’s best player. Throw in the fact that he’s the kind of skilled big man that the Badgers have had so much success with over the years, and you shouldn’t be surprised to see him build on the 12.4 points and 7.9 boards he averaged as a redshirt freshman last season.
Thomas Bryant and O.G. Anunoby, Indiana: Bryant is the obvious pick here. He’s a star freshman and potential lottery pick that played well down the stretch and is returning to school. Anunoby, however, is the guy that could end up being the best all-around player on the Hoosiers next season. He averaged just 5.8 points this past season, but there are reasons for that: he got limited minutes before James Blackmon’s injury and his role is similar to that of Troy Williams. He is a versatile, athletic forward that can guard multiple positions and isn’t as much of a liability offensively as he’s been made out to be. If he can build of the strong finish he had to the 2015-16 season, Anunoby could follow a similar career-arc to that of Victor Oladipo: Unheralded recruit-turned-first round pick.
Markis McDuffie, Wichita State: With the Shockers losing Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker to graduation after what felt like a 17-year career in Wichita, Gregg Marshall is going to have to find someone to replace that production. McDuffie should end up being that guy. He averaged 7.4 points in 18 minutes as a freshman, but as a 6-foot-8 wing with three-point range, he was still more of a prospect than a player last year. The Shockers are going to inevitably take a step back this season -- which says more about how good they were with VanVleet and Baker than anything else -- but don’t be surprised when McDuffie keeps them atop the Missouri Valley and within range of an NCAA Tournament at-large bid.
London Perrantes, Virginia: The rest of the guys that write for this site disagreed with me on Perrantes. They said he’s already too good to be considered for this list; he averaged 11.0 points and 4.4 assists while shooting 48.8 percent from three on a team that’s been top five in the country the last two seasons. But here’s my thinking: Perrantes has never been the stars of the Wahoos. He’ll be a four-year starter, but Joe Harris, Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill have been the big names. Perrantes, however, has a proven track record of hitting big shots and he can do many of the things on the offensive end that Brogdon did this past season, which is why this is the year that Perrantes goes from a name we know to a star on an Final Four contender.
Edmund Sumner and Kaiser Gates, Xavier: Sumner was one of the most tantalizing freshmen in the country last season, a 6-foot-6 point guard that flashed serious ability in-between freshman mistakes. He could end up being a first round pick in 2017. Gates may be the more important player here, however. With Jalen Reynolds and James Farr gone and Trevon Bluiett still weighing his professional options, Gates becomes a valuable front court piece. His improvement will correlate with how good Xavier ends up being next season.
Jalen Adams, UConn: It took some time, but Adams eventually started to resemble the kind of ball-dominant lead guards -- Kemba Walker, Shabazz Napier -- that the Huskies have won big with in recent years. With Sterling Gibbs and Daniel Hamilton out of the picture, Adams is going to be the guy running the show for the Huskies. My only concern here: This may end up being a year premature.
Tyler Davis, Texas A&M: Davis is a throwback big man -- a physical low-post presence that has no qualms with doing his damage three-feet from the rim. He showed flashes as a freshman, but with Danuel House and Alex Caruso graduating, expect to see Billy Kennedy run more of his offense through Davis this season.
Eric Davis Jr. and Kerwin Roach Jr., Texas: As freshman, Davis and Roach both showed flashes of being the kind of super-athletic, three-point marksmen that had success playing the wing for Shaka Smart at VCU. With Isaiah Taylor off to the professional ranks and UT’s dearth of bigs graduating, these two will be asked to play a major role for the Longhorns.
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Isaac Haas, Purdue: Haas was super-productive and efficient while splitting time with A.J. Hammons at the center spot last season. With Hammons gone, don’t be surprised to see Haas become the guy that Purdue’s offense runs through next season. At 7-foot-2 with good feet, a soft touch and an understanding for post-positioning, he’s a nightmare to deal with.
George King, Colorado: In reality, we’re a year too late with King. He averaged 13.6 points and shot 45.6 percent from the floor last season. But with Josh Scott gone, King will play an even bigger role offensively. He may end up being a first-team All-Pac-12 player.
Chimezie Metu, USC: At 6-foot-11, Metu is the kind of athlete that should thrive in Andy Enfield’s uptempo system. He averaged 6.4 points and 3.6 boards in 18 minutes as a freshman, but with a year’s worth of time spent in a college weight room, Metu should be able to handle the rigors of the post in the Pac-12 better this year.
Shake Milton, SMU: Milton averaged 10.5 points and shot 42.6 percent from three as a freshman last season for the Mustangs. With Nic Moore and a slew of talented bigs departing the program, Milton is going to be one of the guys that Larry Brown asks to carry the water for his team.
Jacob Evans, Cincinnati: Evans averaged 8.4 points as a freshman and played his best game -- 26 points, nine boards -- in their NCAA tournament loss to Saint Joseph’s. With Cincy losing some pieces up front, Evans will have an even bigger role next season.