Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
Last year, Frank Kaminsky entered the season as a no-name stiff that diehard Big Ten fans knew about. He ended the season as one of the nation’s most improved players and set himself up to be a preseason All-American as a senior. He was the epitome of a Breakout Star.
Here are 25 guys that are in a position to make that kind of an improvement this season.
THE TOP TEN
1. Terry Rozier, Louisville: Rozier was probably the best NBA prospect on Louisville’s roster last season, but playing as a freshman behind an All-American and the reigning JuCo Player of the Year will make it tough to grab minutes. Well, Russ Smith off to the NBA now, meaning that the opportunity is there for Rozier to shine. Expect the 6-foot-2 combo-guard to put together an all-ACC caliber season as the most talented member of Rick Pitino’s back court.
2. Monte Morris, Iowa State: Morris played behind — and, eventually, alongside, as he started the last 15 games — All-American Deandre Kane as a freshman, so his production was somewhat limited. What’s tantalizing, however, is that long with the 6.8 points he averaged and 40.6 percent he shot from three, Morris averaged 3.7 assists to just 0.8 turnovers. After the start of league play, he had 103 assists and just 18 turnovers, including a seven game stretch with 46 assists and four turnovers. He’ll be the ignition for Fred Hoiberg’s high-powered offense this season.
3. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona: I’m torn on how I feel about Hollis-Jefferson as a breakout star. On the one hand, he’s a sensational athlete with the physical tools and intangibles — he defends, he plays hard, he’s aggressive — that make him a favorite of coaches, fans and media alike. And he spent the offseason improving the one weakness in his game: his jumper. But with Stanley Johnson and Kadeem Allen entering the program, and Brandon Ashley healthy, I’m afraid he’ll be relegated to being a role player for Sean Miller, limiting his numbers. Regardless, there aren’t five wing forwards in the country better than him.
4. Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina: Meeks was an inconsistent as any player in the country as a freshman. He’d have games where he played like a lottery pick with three games where he was completely ineffective sandwiched between them. He spent the offseason getting in shape, losing a ton of weight to the point that he’s now throwing down windmill dunks. He’ll be UNC’s low-post anchor this year.
5. Norman Powell, UCLA: Powell has spent the last two seasons as one of the west coast’s best-kept secrets, as he was stuck playing behind now-NBA players like Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams and Zach LaVine on UCLA’s perimeter. With a back court that is now quite young and inexperienced, Powell will take over the leadership role. If he’s not a first-team all-Pac 12 performer, it will be a disappointment.
6. Zak Irvin, Michigan: Irvin averaged 6.7 points and shot 42.5 percent from three (on 3.9 attempts per game) as a freshman despite playing just over 15 minutes a night. Irvin shouldn’t be expected to make the same kind of jump that Nik Stauskas did as a sophomore, as he’s not the same kind of playmaker off the bounce. But he’s a lethal shooter and will score a lot of points keeping defenses honest and creating space for Derrick Walton and Caris LeVert.
7. Deonte Burton, Marquette: Burton has all the makings of a breakout star. He was a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school that played limited minutes (12.6 mpg) but was quite productive (6.9 ppg) during that playing time. He’s in a situation, with new head coach Steve Wojociechowski desperate for players with scoring pop, where his defensive liabilities can be overlooked and he’ll get plenty of shots. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t averaged 15 points as a sophomore.
8. Rysheed Jordan, St. John’s: Jordan posted solid numbers as a freshman — 9.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3.0 apg — but didn’t play his best basketball until the final month and a half of the season, when head coach Steve Lavin started allowing him more freedom offensively.
9. Kasey Hill, Florida: A top ten recruit in the class of 2013, Hill struggled with ankle injuries and a shaky perimeter jumper, not to mention being stuck behind All-American Scottie Wilbekin on a veteran-laden team as a freshman. He’ll be Billy Donovan’s lead guard this season, and will be expected to produce like it.
10. Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga: Wiltjer was a top 25 recruit in high school, but he was never in good enough shape — or good enough defensively — to see significant time during his two seasons at Kentucky. All he’s done since is spend two offseasons and a full school year redshirting with the same staff that transformed Kelly Olynyk into a lottery pick. He’s the perfect four-man for a team with Kevin Pangos and Przemek Karnowski, at least offensively.
TEN MORE TO KEEP AN EYE ON
- 11. Damian Jones, Vanderbilt: Jones didn’t get much attention as a freshman because he played for Vandy, but he averaged 11.3 points and 5.7 boards for the ‘Dores.
- 12. Wesley Iwundu, Kansas State: Iwundu had promising moments as a freshman and should emerge as Kansas State’s secondary-option on the perimeter as a sophomore.
- 13. Austin Nichols, Memphis: Nichols averaged 9.3 points and 4.3 boards for the Tigers as a freshman when the team was built around four senior guards. They’ll rely entirely on their front court this year.
- 14. Anthony Gill, Virginia: Playing for Virginia is always going to limit offensive statistics, but the junior was the best big man in March for the ‘Hoos.
- 15. Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin: It’s hard to put either Dekker or Hayes on a breakout player list, as Dekker was hardly a secret last year and Hayes will be a role player in a loaded front court. But Dekker’s grown, both in height and as a player, and Hayes is good enough to start for all but about 20 teams this year. Both are much more improved than their stats will show.
- 16. Rodney Purvis, UConn: Purvis was a top 15 recruit in the Class of 2012, but averaged just 8.5 points in his first season at N.C. State. He transferred and sat out last season at UConn. Their perimeter is loaded again, but Purvis should be the No. 2 option to Ryan Boatright.
- 17. BeeJay Anya, N.C. State: Like Kennedy Meeks, Anya was a highly-recruited big-boned big man that had promising moments as a freshman and lost a ton of weight during the offseason. His wingspan is 7-foot-9.
- 18. Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington: Williams-Goss is low on this list because he averaged 13.4 points, 4.4 boards and 4.4 assists as a freshman. But he’s on this list because I think he has a shot to become an All-American as a sophomore.
- 19. Keith Frazier, SMU: The former McDonald’s All-American averaged 5.4 points in just over 15 minutes. With no Emmanuel Mudiay this season, the Mustangs will need another source of back court scoring pop.
- 20. ShawnDre’ Jones, Richmond: As a freshman, the 5-foot-10 Jones put up impressive numbers when his playing time increased after an injury to Cedric Lindsay.
HONORABLE MENTION: Troy Williams (Indiana), Wayne Selden (Kansas), Demetrius Jackson (Notre Dame), Kendrick Nunn (Illinois), Nick King (Memphis)