Soon-To-Be Household Names: 12 Breakout Players for 2010-11Posted by zhayes9 on July 2nd, 2010
Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.
One of my favorite parts of the college basketball season is watching players make the leap to stardom, from the game notes to the headline, from role player to All-America candidate. Every season players spring up in November and December with performances that make you wonder if they’ve finally harnessed all of that talent and are prepared to take off to unforeseen heights, a recent example being Wes Johnson’s virtuoso two-game clinic at MSG against California and North Carolina. It was Jacob Pullen emerging as a top scorer in the loaded Big 12. It was Austin Freeman pouring in 33 in a huge comeback win over Connecticut. It was Darington Hobson leading the Mountain West champs team in scoring, rebounds and assists or Jordan Crawford scoring 87 points in three NCAA Tournament games. Who will those bust-out performers be next season? Here are my most likely candidates:
Marcus Morris, F, Kansas– On a team with Cole Aldrich, Sherron Collins and Xavier Henry, any Kansas fan will tell you that during more than one stretch in 2009-10, Marcus Morris was their most reliable player. Coach Bill Self expects Morris to break out and become a bona fide star and likely first round pick, forming a dynamic inside-outside duo with incoming freshman Josh Selby and the many wings at Self’s disposal this season. Morris averaged 13/6 in around 25 MPG as a sophomore despite all of that talent around him and I don’t believe it’s a stretch he could boost those totals to 18/9 next season. He’s also shown outstanding efficiency in his game- 57% FG, 66% FT (not bad for a college PF and up 6% from his first year), along with rankings of #52 in offensive rating and #62 in efficient FG% in the nation. Morris is a solid rebounder and even has displayed improving range on his jumper. Expect Morris to be one of the main reasons the Jayhawks remain atop the Big 12 even after their numerous personnel losses.
Kris Joseph, F, Syracuse- Quick trivia question: Who was the third leading scorer on last year’s Syracuse squad after Wes Johnson and Andy Rautins? The answer is the mega-talented Kris Joseph, a slashing swingman from Montreal that has Jim Boeheim already expecting big things heading into his junior season, similar vibes from the Hall-of-Fame coach that we heard last summer regarding Wesley Johnson (and look how that worked out). Joseph has all of the athletic tools to mold into a lottery pick before our very eyes and lead a Syracuse team to back-to-back Big East titles. His first-step quickness is outstanding and Joseph could live at the free throw line this season if his aggressiveness is maintained. Sure, the mid-range shooting game needs improvement, but anyone who watched Joseph score seven of the last ten Orange points in a road win over Georgetown last February knows it’s all about commitment and dedication. If Boeheim pushes the right buttons- and why would we believe otherwise?- watch out.
Terrell Holloway, G, Xavier– Everyone remembers Crawford’s shooting display against Kansas State, but it was fellow guard Terrell Holloway’s clutch buckets and nerve-wracking free throws that kept Xavier breathing time and time again. Holloway will now have to take over as the Musketeers’ go-to offensive threat with both Crawford and senior forward Jason Love on their way out. Holloway saw his minutes jump from 20 to 30 per game in his sophomore season and made newly minted head coach Chris Mack seem awfully smart- his FG% jumped 5% and his scoring average more than doubled. Holloway notched 26 in the crosstown Cincy rivalry game, dropped 20 on LSU, 24 on Richmond and 22 on Dayton, so it’s not as if Holloway is beating up on the dregs of the non-conference schedule. A name still relatively unknown to the casual college hoops fan, Holloway should change that wisdom this season.
Jordan Williams, F, Maryland– The departures of seniors Greivis Vasquez, Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne means diaper dandy Jordan Williams is suddenly the focal point of a Terps offense that will look to relish an underdog role for 2010-11. Williams certainly showed signs he can become an impact big man in the ACC in just his second season at College Park. The headline player of last year’s recruiting class, Williams nearly averaged a double-double and shot over 50% as a freshman in one of the toughest conferences in the nation. Now it’ll be Adrian Bowie, Sean Mosley, Dino Gregory and the baby-faced Williams that will have to lead the push. Williams is the youngest and has the highest ceiling of the pack: a bulky 6’10, 260 pound frame, a high basketball IQ, tremendous rebounding instincts and advanced post moves for a player his age. If his 18/5 on 8-12 FG against Trevor Booker and Clemson, his 15/11 against Brian Zoubek and Duke or his 21/17 in the opening round against Houston are any indication, Williams is the next star for the Terps, and that star could shine as soon as this winter.
Michael Thompson, G, Northwestern– Make no mistake about it: Northwestern WILL make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in their school’s history this season. Kevin Coble returns from an ACL tear, John Shurna is back for his junior campaign after averaging 18/6 last season, Drew Crawford appears to be a recruiting coup for Bill Carmody and the only subtraction of note is defensive stalwart Jeremy Nash. But the biggest reason could be Michael “Juice” Thompson, who I feel is on the fast track to Big Ten stardom. Thompson has a fantastic feel for the game, has shot 40% all three years at Northwestern from deep and knows how to run an offense. He’s improved his A/T ratio every year in Evanston and cranked up his scoring average from 9.9 PPG to 14.2 PPG a season ago. Coble and Thompson realize it’s their last chance to knock that giant monkey off Northwestern’s back. Expect them to respond in a big way.
William Buford, G, Ohio State– Nobody is denying the talent of William Buford. A highly regarded recruit out of Toledo, Buford has had his inconsistencies during his first two seasons in Columbus. Still, if you sit back and look at the big picture, Buford has been very valuable for Thad Matta: right around 44% FG both years, 14.4 PPG and 5.6 RPG as a sophomore and an improving court awareness/floor game. Buford struggled initially last season, making just eight of 38 shots in the Buckeyes’ big non-conference duels with UNC, Cal and Florida State, but he picked it up in Evan Turner’s absence with 20/7/3 at Butler. With Turner history, Buford is the most likely candidate to claim alpha dog status for an Ohio State team whose expectations won’t be lowered this upcoming season. While other key Ohio State weapons have their limitations (Diebler, Lauderdale, Sullinger, Lighty), Buford can do pretty much anything on a basketball court and may harness all of that in 2010-11.
Maalik Wayns, G, Villanova– Whether Wayns is the first off the bench or pairs with Corey Fisher in this year’s Villanova backcourt, expect dramatically more production from the speedy 6’1 guard. Wayns was stuck behind trusted veterans, notably seniors Scottie Reynolds and Reggie Redding, in Jay Wright’s rotation down the stretch and his minutes and impact certainly faded. It should be a different story in 2010-11 when Wayns is expected to be a double-digit scorer for the Wildcats. The Philly native showed his chops in two 16-point performances on the road in Big East play, finishing the season with a stellar 43% FG for a green freshman and a positively Nova-esque 81% from the charity stripe. Wayns is a Kyle Lowry clone that can get to the rim at will and could be an all-Big East performer as soon as next season.
Wesley Witherspoon, G-F, Memphis– John Calipari’s departure left the Memphis cupboard quite bare with the exception of Witherspoon and Duke transfer Elliot Williams. Both players had breakout seasons and Memphis actually tinkered on the bubble for most of the Conference USA season. Even with a loaded recruiting class entering the fray, it’s Witherspoon who has earned the right to be the #1 offensive option for Josh Pastner in his junior season. Allowed more opportunities on offense, Witherspoon averaged 13/5 on 47/76/43 and his apex came in two performances against UAB and Gonzaga in which the 6’7 swingman dropped 55 combined points. It’s back to reality for Memphis in 2010-11 and that means NCAA tournament and Conference USA championship expectations. Witherspoon should be the guy to lead that push.
Kawhi Leonard, F, San Diego State– Even at a riper age, Steve Fisher showed his recruiting chops in luring California’s Mr. Basketball to the Aztecs and his freshman season was extremely impressive. If he sticks around long enough, Leonard has the leaping ability and hands to lead the nation in rebounding. He was just 0.1 RPG away from double-digit boards per game as an inexperienced freshman. His offensive repertoire is still limited and needs development, but I don’t think it’s far-fetched to expect first team honors for Leonard in a strong MWC next season. He possesses tremendous athleticism and a quick first step to dribble drive past defenders for an easy two. His back-to-back double-doubles against ranked New Mexico and UNLV to clinch an auto bid for San Diego State last March, including a ridiculous 16/21 against the Rebels, were just glimpses into the talent level of Leonard.
Derrick Williams, F, Arizona– Conventional wisdom heading into Sean Miller’s first season at the helm of the Arizona program was that Nic Wise would have to play Superman for the Wildcats to even sniff a chance at extending their NCAA Tournament streak. When the dust settled in March, it was the freshman Williams, not Wise, that led Arizona in scoring, rebounding and FG%, giving disappointed Wildcat fans serious optimism they could have a definite star on their hands. Williams ranked in the top-100 in the nation in effective FG% and true shooting percentage and got the foul line at a stunning rate, drawing 7.4 fouls per 40 minutes of action. You know those “he’s a freshman!” chants that student sections ring out after a great play? Other than Wall or Cousins, Williams deserved that chant just as much as any newcomer to the college hoops scene last season. Just imagine what this kid can do with a summer of development.
Jeffery Taylor, G/F, Vanderbilt– While the Swedish import didn’t improve much from his freshman to sophomore campaigns, most feel Taylor has the skill set and potential to really take off this season and mold into a potential first round selection in the 2011 Draft. What jumps out most about Taylor are his length and defensive ability. He can guard pretty much any position on the floor and is a solid rebounder for a 6’7 wing. Taylor’s mid-range shooting game has also improved, even if defenders still don’t have to pay attention to him beyond the three-point line (1-11 from downtown on the season is quite poor for a small forward) and he also really faded down the stretch. With Jermaine Beal and A.J. Ogilvy gone, it’s up to Taylor to take advantage of this opportunity and send Vanderbilt back to the NCAA Tournament to avenge last season’s disappointing finish.
Alec Burks, G, Colorado– Believe it or not, Colorado actually has a chance to turn some heads in their last season as a member of the Big 12. Very few schools in the country can match the 1-2 punch of senior Cory Higgins and former coach Jeff Bzdelik’s best recruiting job, sophomore Alec Burks, Missouri’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2009. Burks, a late bloomer with loads of upside, may not see his numbers jump massively with Higgins still around and what new coach Tad Boyle hopes is an improved secondary cast, but Burks could become a better player and maybe win a little bit in the process, upping his cache nationally. Burks is a quick, athletic wing that loves to get to the rim, but also has shown the chops to be a formidable outside shooter at just 19 years old when next season begins. If he can pack on some upper body strength and learn how to make his teammates better, Burks could really burst onto the scene nationally on a team that many feel is a legitimate sleeper.