College Hoops Preview: 15 Players with Breakout Potential

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of The Lists we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

There are a handful of different ways to predict what players are destined for breakout seasons. Were their minutes eaten up by players that have graduated or headed to the NBA? Did they produce high-efficiency numbers while playing limited minutes? Are they finally healthy? Was it simply a matter of a freshman becoming a sophomore or a player legitimately spending a summer improving?

The answer, simply, is yes. To all of the above.

So without further ado, here are 15 guys (plus a few extra) whose name we believe you will become familiar with by the end of the season:

Wayne Blackshear, Louisville: Blackshear, a sophomore, entered Louisville with a fair amount of hype, but spent the majority of last season dealing with a shoulder injury that, originally, was thought would end his season. He put together a couple of promising performances late in the season. A 6-foot-5 scorer on the wing, Blackshear gives Louisville a weapon that they were missing last season. He may not put up huge numbers next year — with how many bodies Louisville has, there may not be anyone that does — but he will be one of their biggest assets.

Michael Caffey and James Ennis, Long Beach State: Long Beach State was one of the nation’s best mid-majors last season, but lose five of their top seven scorers from last season. The two guys that do come back — Caffey and Ennis — should keep the 49ers atop the Big West this year. Caffey, a sophomore, is a dynamic back court presence who should fill the void left by Casper Ware while Ennis, a senior, is a rangy, 6-foot-6 wing whose athleticism is already drawing NBA scouts to Long Beach.

Michael Carter-Williams and CJ Fair, Syracuse: Carter-Williams is a perfect fit for Syracuse on both sides of the ball. A talented scorer in high school, Jim Boeheim recruited the 6-foot-5 guard with the intention of molding him into more of a play-maker. With Dion Waiters and Scoop Jardine gone, there will be plenty of minutes and touches available for the sophomore. Fair wasn’t as highly-regarded in high school as MCW, but the long and athletic — and lefty — 6-foot-8 forward has shown flashes of greatness in his two seasons with the Orange. As a primary option in the front court this season, don’t be surprised to see Fair become the best face-up power forward in the Big East.

Quinn Cook, Duke: As we wrote in our preview, Duke has a lot of potential this season, but whether they reach that potential is dependent of a number of factors. The most important is Cook, now a sophomore. The Blue Devils have some weapons offensively, but what they are missing — what they were missing last season — was a play-maker that could break down a defense. That’s precisely what Cook, who finally had a healthy summer to improve his game, is.

Sam Dower, Gonzaga: Despite playing limited minutes for the Bulldogs in his first two seasons in Spokane, Dower was actually quite a productive player. Last season, he scored 8.3 points and grabbed 3.7 boards despite playing a little more than 18 minutes a night. With Robert Sacre graduating, Dower will slide into a starting role as a junior alongside Elias Harris in Mark Few’s front court.

Anton Grady, Cleveland State: Cleveland State head coach Gary Waters has called Anton Grady his future, and he’s right. He was incredibly productive — 8.5 points, 6.4 boards, 1.4 blocks, the team lead in offensive and defensive rebounding percentages — in limited minutes as a freshman, and with so much of Cleveland State’s production from last season graduating, Grady will have plenty of opportunities. Even without Butler in the league, the Horizon has quite a bit of talent. Grady might be the best player in the league.

Treveon Graham, VCU: The Rams bring back the majority of their roster as they move to the Atlantic 10, but the piece they lost was arguably their most valuable: Brad Burgess. Graham, a sophomore, has the tools to fill his role. He’s a bigger wing that has proven that he can shoot the three and rebound the ball, both of which are important as he’ll play as a four in VCU’s pressing system.

Myck Kabongo, Texas: Kabongo entered his freshman season as one of the top point guard recruits in the country, but it took him a while to really learn how to be a point guard at the collegiate level. With J’Covan Brown gone, he’ll be responsible for running the show, and with a core of young talent around him, he’ll need to embrace that leadership role if Texas is to be a contender in the Big 12. All of this is pending a positive outcome to the current agent issue he’s dealing with.

Alex Len, Maryland: Len is an interesting case. He’s a legitimate seven-footer who has put on 30 pounds of muscle during the offseason. He also now has a season under his belt to get used to American basketball. With a full offseason of practice with the team and a chance to spend a full season playing games (he was suspended for the first ten games last year), Len should be on track to become an integral part of Maryland’s offense. Oh, and he’s now able to communicate with his teammates, which is always a plus.

James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina: McAdoo had a chance of being a first round pick if he had left school after his freshman season. Instead, he decided to return, where the former top ten recruit will become the star of the North Carolina front court. And if the 15 points he scored against Thomas Robinson in the Elite 8 last season are any indication, McAdoo is in for a big season.

Otto Porter, Georgetown: Porter is a serious talent. A terrific rebounder and defender, the 6-foot-8 sophomore spent the offseason developing his offensive repertoire. Georgetown’s offense thrives on big men that are able to play on the perimeter and be a threat when facing the basket. That’s Porter. He may not be Jeff Green on the offensive side of the ball just yet, but he’s getting there. That, combined with the threat his imposes in the other aspects of the game, will make him a popular prospect among NBA scouts.

LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State: Ross was once the No. 1 recruit in the country, but a series of injuries and conditioning issues dulled the hype. As a freshman at Ohio State, he wasn’t cleared until December and then spent much of the season glued to the bench, playing a grand total of 35 minutes. The talent is still there, however, and with more minutes available as a sophomore, Ross is a guy who could thrive alongside Deshaun Thomas this season.

Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee: Stokes joined the Tennessee program last December, helping lead the Vols to a second place finish in the SEC despite the fact that he was supposed to be preparing for his high school prom. He finished with averages of 9.6 points and 7.4 boards last year. Don’t be surprised if turns into a 15 and 10 performer this year.

Gelaun Wheelwright, Weber State: Wheelwright was a pretty highly regarded prospect coming out of high school in California, as Weber State was able to beat out San Diego State and USC, according to his ESPN profile, on the recruiting trail. He averaged 5.6 points as a freshman backing up Damian Lillard. With Lillard gone to the NBA, the Wildcats offense will be his to commandeer.

Aaron White, Iowa: As a freshman, White averaged 11.1 points and 5.7 boards for an Iowa team that snuck up on some people. With quite a bit of talent returning on that team, Iowa is a sleeper in a loaded Big Ten. White is one of the more promising sophomores in that conference.

Five more breakout candidates to keep an eye on: Anthony Collins, USF; Cory Jefferson, Baylor; Ian Miller, Florida State; Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa; Brad Waldow, St. Mary’s

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

No. 5 Clemson steamrolls No. 4 Auburn to get to Sweet 16

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Gabe DeVoe scored 22 points and Elijah Thomas added 18 and 11 boards as No. 5-seed Clemson put together the single-most dominant performance that we have seen in the NCAA Tournament to date in a 84-53 win over No. 4-seed Auburn.

Brad Brownell’s Tigers used a 29-4 run over the final 10:33 of the first half, a stretch where they held Bruce Pearl’s Tigers without a field goal, and opened the second half on an 11-3 spurt to open up a 41-point lead that, unlike Cincinnati, they were able to hold on to.

And with that, Clemson can officially put their doubters — of which I was one — to shame.

To be frank, I’m not sure that there was a single point in time throughout the course of this season where I ever believed in Clemson. I didn’t think they had a chance to get to the tournament before the season started. I thought their record was inflated by competition early in the year. I thought that they were dead in the water when Donte Grantham went down with a torn ACL. I thought they were going to lose to New Mexico State in the first round of the tournament.


They are headed for the Sweet 16, and after what they’ve done the first two weekends of the tournament, there’s no reason to think that they won’t give No. 1-seed Kansas a fight when they get there.

This group battles defensively, and they have some tough, veteran guards that don’t ever seem to be in the mood to back down from a challenge. They have the size inside to overwhelm someone that wants to go small-ball and the versatility to match up with teams that want to play big or small. They’re well-coached, they execute offensively and they have a handful of guys that can beat you.

They are a really, really good team, and I apologize to the city of Clemson, the university and the state of South Carolina got not getting here sooner.

Maybe I should have been on the bandwagon earlier, but I’m here now.

No. 7 Nevada rallies from 22 down in second half to stun No. 2 Cincinnati

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Nevada erased a 22-point second-half deficit to stun No. 2 seed Cincinnati with a 75-73 win on Sunday night in a memorable second-round NCAA tournament contest in the South Regional.

Trailing 65-43 with 11:34 left, the Wolf Pack rallied to earn the second-biggest comeback win in NCAA tournament history. Only BYU’s 25-point comeback against Iona during the 2012 First Four was a bigger comeback than Nevada’s historic win.

Jumping out to a 10-0 advantage to open the contest, it looked like Cincinnati would cruise to victory. For most of the game, the Bearcats were barely threatened. Cincinnati led by double-digits for most of the first 30 minutes of the game.

Then Nevada used a 16-0 run to claw back in the game.

With the game tied at 73-all with under a minute left, Nevada took its first, and only, lead of the game on Josh Hall’s bucket with 10 seconds left.

Junior Cody Martin paced the Wolf Pack with 25 points, seven assists and six rebounds as he was a major force behind the comeback. Hall finished with 14 points while Kendall Stephens and Jordan Caroline had 13 points each. Caleb Martin also chipped in 10 points as Nevada featured five double-figure scorers during a balanced comeback.

The Wolf Pack (29-7) now have two furious second-half comebacks in the NCAA tournament this week after Nevada rallied to beat No. 10 seed Texas in the first round. Nevada fought back from 14 down to beat the Longhorns in overtime in that one. Somehow, Nevada one-upped that impressive comeback with one of the most memorable comebacks in NCAA tournament history. With a potent offense, and weapons all over the floor, the Wolf Pack are a dangerous team heading into Atlanta. Clearly, this is a team that you can never count out. Don’t turn your back on the Wolf Pack.

Cincinnati (31-5) failed to make the Sweet Sixteen for a sixth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance as the Bearcats struggled to hit shots down the stretch. Shooting 5-for-17 from three-point range, Cincinnati couldn’t string together enough shots to keep Nevada at arm’s length once the Wolf Pack got hot. The Bearcat offense grew stagnant down the stretch. Jarron Cumberland (17 points) fouling out with four minutes left was a tremendous blow for Cincinnati. The Bearcats never recovered once one of their best shot-creators was forced to sit.

Jacob Evans led Cincinnati with 19 points while Gary Clark (11 points, 10 rebounds) and Kyle Washington (10 points, 11 rebounds) both finished with double-doubles.

This loss is going to sting for Cincinnati for quite some time. With only one Sweet Sixteen appearance since 2001, the Bearcats had a favorable draw in the South Regional after all of the chaos of this week. The three other top-four seeds in the regional — Virginia, Tennessee and Arizona — had already been eliminated. Loyola is obviously playing good ball, but the Bearcats would have been favored over the No. 11 seed as they attempted to make its first Elite Eight appearance since 1996.

Now, Cincinnati might have to wait a bit for another team to be this good. The AAC champions lose Clark and Washington as both are seniors who have exhausted their eligibility. The Bearcats will still be solid thanks to a promising collection of returning perimeter threats. But they won’t be the same without Clark’s two-way presence and Washington’s versatility in the frontcourt.

The American also suffered with the Cincinnati loss as all three AAC NCAA tournament teams were eliminated before the second weekend. With all three teams owning solid seeds (No. 2, No. 4 and No. 6 seeds) this was not a good showing from the AAC.

Nevada advances to face No. 11 seed Loyola in the South Regional. Thursday’s Sweet Sixteen matchup in Atlanta was completely unexpected as the South Regional has been chaotic so far. Since NCAA tournament seeding began in 1979, the top four seeds in a regional have never all been eliminated heading into the Sweet Sixteen.

Now, we’re looking at either a Mountain West program or a Missouri Valley program playing for the right to advance to the Final Four.

No. 7 Texas A&M upsets No. 2 North Carolina

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Back in January, Texas A&M was a missed Breein Tyree buzzer-beater away from starting SEC play 0-6.

Today, after mollywhopping the defending national champions and the No. 2-seed in the West Region, North Carolina, the Aggies are headed to the Sweet 16.

Texas A&M got 26 points, 22 boards and five blocks combined from Tyler Davis and Robert Williams while shooting 10-for-23 from three in a 86-65 win over the Tar Heels. A 29-8 surge at the end of the first half opened up a 42-28 halftime lead, and North Carolina never found a way to get back into the game after the Aggies landed the first punch in the second half.

We’ll get to North Carolina in a second, because there is going to be plenty to talk about with them, but the story today should be the Aggies, who will advance to take on No. 3-seed Michigan in the Sweet 16.

There is a reason that, all season long, pundits covering the SEC called this group the most talented team in the league. There is a reason that they were a top 20 team in the preseason. There’s a reason that, for all of the losses they suffered and the players that couldn’t find a way to stay healthy and out of off-the-court trouble, they were still a team that was too tantalizing to complete write-off.

And we all saw it come to fruition on Sunday night in Charlotte.

Playing what was a de-facto road game, the Aggies overpowered North Carolina in the paint while holding the Tar Heels to just 33 percent shooting from the field and a 6-for-31 performance from beyond the arc. Williams and Davis were terrific, but Texas A&M’s perimeter players — Admon Gilder, D.J. Hogg, T.J. Starks — deserve just as much credit.

Because that has been the biggest question mark with this group from before the season began.

It’s not difficult to look at this Aggie roster and realize just how good their big men are. Williams is a projected lottery pick for a reason. Davis was a preseason first-team all-SEC player for a reason. But Hogg spent his first two seasons on campus as the most inconsistent elite shooter in the sport. Gilder was good when he was healthy, but that wasn’t always the case. The point guard spot? That’s been a revolving door. It was supposed to be Jay Jay Chandler and J.J. Caldwell that played that role, but both of them have been in and out of trouble; Caldwell was dismissed from the team. Duane Wilson took the job over during the middle of the season, but he fully tore his ACL after spending two weeks playing on a partially torn ACL.

Starks inherited the role almost by necessity, and he’s been really good in flashes. When he plays like he did on Sunday — 21 points and five assists on 7-for-15 shooting — this is was A&M can be.

As far as North Carolina is concerned, this loss is disappointing and certainly one that is going to draw headlines, but the fact that this group did enough work to earn themselves a No. 2-seed in the tournament says more about Williams coaching job and the play of Luke Maye than anything else.

It’s a disappointing result, and one I certainly did not see coming, but for a program that thrives on elite bigs to do what they did while essentially playing small-ball is impressive.

Joel Berry II will certainly be missed, but at some point talent wins out in March and the Aggies, the more talented team, came to play on Sunday.

VIDEO: Texas A&M’s Robert Williams delivers another massive NCAA tournament windmill

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Robert Williams windmills are becoming a common trend during the 2018 NCAA tournament.

The Texas A&M sophomore forward threw down another vicious dunk as the Aggies were comfortably ahead of No. 2 seed North Carolina during a second round game in the West Regional on Sunday. Texas A&M eventually pulled off the upset win over the Tar Heels to advance to face No. 3 seed Michigan in next week’s Sweet Sixteen

A potential NBA lottery pick if he leaves after this season, Williams previously punctuated No. 7 seed Texas A&M’s first-round win over No. 10 seed Providence on Friday with another absurd windmill.

That windmill was notable because Williams just missed hitting his head on the backboard.

The second Williams NCAA tournament windmill against North Carolina was a little bit cleaner.

Williams wasn’t the only Aggie to pull off slick moves in an NCAA tournament game on Sunday. In the women’s NCAA tournament, Texas A&M used a late, cold-blooded three-pointer from Chennedy Carter to knock out DePaul to advance.

No. 11 Syracuse upsets No. 3 Michigan State to advance to Sweet Sixteen

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Syracuse continued its string of upsets in the 2018 NCAA tournament on Sunday afternoon as the No. 11 seed Orange knocked off No. 3 seed Michigan State, 55-53, to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in the Midwest Regional.

Winners of three straight games after knocking off Arizona State in the First Four and TCU in the first round, Syracuse (23-13) pulled off another impressive victory in front of a very pro-Michigan State crowd in Detroit. Dictating the slow tempo with its 2-3 zone, Syracuse’s defense kept them in the game despite extreme foul trouble, cold perimeter shooting and issues on the defensive glass.

The Orange had to deal with guard Frank Howard (13 points) fouling out with over six minutes left in the game. Center Paschal Chukwu earned three fouls in the first half and had a tough time getting in a rhythm. Tyus Battle led the Orange with 17 points while Oshae Brissett chipped in 15 points to lead the Syracuse offense. Despite making only one three-pointer (1-for-8) and giving up 29 offensive rebounds to Michigan State, the Orange are moving on with another surprising win.

Although the Orange were literally the last team to make it into the field of 68 — and many had a gripe with their inclusion in the 2018 NCAA tournament — they are headed back to the Sweet Sixteen, as a double-digit seed, for the second time in three years.

Syracuse faced a similar situation when they made the Final Four run in 2016. Not many people thought the No. 10 seed Orange deserved to be in the field that year either. But Boeheim and his team surprised everybody by making it to the national semifinals before eventually falling to North Carolina.

The 2016 version of the Orange had multiple pros and four double-figure scorers. Tyler Lydon, Michael Gbinije, Trevor Cooney and Malachi Richardson all came up huge at times during the team’s NCAA tournament run. Richardson’s second-half domination of Malcolm Brogdon and No. 1 seed Virginia in the Elite Eight might have single-handedly contributed to him being a first-round pick.

The 2018 version of the Orange doesn’t have nearly as much offensive firepower. Battle is a highly-touted former McDonald’s All-American who is capable of going for big scoring games. Brissett has developed his offensive game significantly to the point of also being a steady scorer. Battle and Brissett also don’t have nearly as many weapons around them to help. Howard is only other player besides the duo on the Syracuse roster averaging more than six points per game this season. As a team, Syracuse is only shooting 32 percent from three-point range — one of the worst marks in the country.

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim deserves a lot of credit for taking this offensively-challenged team with a short bench to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. Detractors might get annoyed by Syracuse’s reliance on the 2-3 zone, but it seems to be working out pretty well for the Orange during the past few NCAA tournaments. The ACC and its coaches seem more prepared to face Syracuse’s 2-3 zone during conference play. But the quick turnaround of the NCAA tournament might make the 2-3 zone a bit tougher to prepare for.

As Wally Szczerbiak astutely noted in the pregame show, Syracuse’s zone makes teams take a lot of awkward shots that they aren’t accustomed to taking. Unfortunately for the Orange, they face a No. 2 seed in Duke in the next round that will already be well-versed on their zone. The Orange and Blue Devils played each other in the ACC in February as Duke won a home game by double-digits in Marvin Bagley III’s return from injury.

It’s not an ideal matchup for Syracuse, but then again, they also took down Virginia with a 16-point second-half comeback two years ago. This year’s tournament has already taught us that anything is possible.

Michigan State (30-5) saw its season end in disappointing fashion as they shot only 25 percent (17-for-66) from the field and 21 percent (8-for-37) from three-point range. Point guard Cassius Winston led Michigan State with 15 points while All-American forward Miles Bridges struggled to a 4-for-18 shooting day to finish with 11 points.

Winston, Bridges, Josh Langford and Matt McQuaid were the only four players to attempt three-pointers for Michigan State on Sunday. None of them could get going. McQuaid’s only make came on an unlikely circus buzzer-beater that was blocked and caught in mid-air.

While a cold-shooting day was the main reason for Michigan State’s demise, head coach Tom Izzo will also be questioned for his strange frontcourt rotation. Senior Ben Carter (23 minutes) and freshman Xavier Tillman (22 minutes) both received more playing time than potential top-10 pick Jaren Jackson Jr. (15 minutes). Veteran senior Gavin Schilling didn’t play after playing 10 minutes per game during the season. Kenny Goins only played three minutes after averaging 14 minutes per contest.

Tillman (12 rebounds) deserved minutes because of his activity on the glass. But Carter had a pedestrian stat line of two points, two rebounds and two assists in 23 minutes of action. In a tight, one-possession game with the season on the line, Carter looked timid in the middle of the Syracuse 2-3 zone. It certainly didn’t help a Michigan State offense that desperately needed a jumpstart from literally anyone who could help.

Jackson has admittedly struggled down the stretch of his freshman season since a scintillating 27-point outing in a Big Ten win over Minnesota in February. He’s also a 39 percent three-point shooter on the season who could have been another floor-spacing option for Michigan State to try. He only attempted four field goals in what will likely be his final college game. It’ll be fascinating to hear Izzo’s logic behind his frontcourt rotation.

This is also a really bad loss for the Spartans. For the second time in three seasons, Michigan State was bounced before the second weekend when many people considered them serious national title contenders. On the recruiting trail, rivals will point out that a top draft pick like Jackson only played 15 minutes in the loss. Bridges generated a lot of positive headlines the last two seasons. The sophomore is also likely headed to the NBA after never making it past the second round.

The Spartans will probably lose a lot of talent this offseason with two potential lottery picks leaving. And with uncertainty looming about Michigan State’s future thanks to an explosive sexual misconduct investigation that was revealed during the season, it’s hard to say how the Spartans will look next season. Athletic director Mark Hollis already resigned and head coach Tom Izzo has fielded numerous questions about the report. That story probably isn’t going away anytime soon.

A program once known for consistency and stability is now facing a potentially tumultuous offseason.