O26 Stars in the Making: A Non-Comprehensive Guide to Breakout Candidates

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on October 24th, 2016

If you’re reading this post, chances are you already know about Alec Peters, Justin Robinson, E.C. Matthews, and a number of Other 26 players who have cemented themselves among the nation’s best. Look past those names, though, and you will find another tier of players on the fast-track to (relative) stardom. Whether because of increased minutes, increased visibility or both, here is a list of guys outside the power conferences poised to break out in 2016-17.

  • Jeremy Morgan, G – Sr., Northern Iowa – 2015-16: 11.3 PPG, 1.9 SPG: There’s no two ways about it: Northern Iowa’s collapse against Texas A&M last March was a brutal, all-time debacle that will not soon be forgotten in Cedar Falls. If there was a silver lining, though, it’s the fact that Morgan (36 points) accounted for a whopping 41 percent of his team’s scoring that night. In an MVC that saw many of its best players graduate (including the Panthers’ top two scorers), the 6’5″ senior—whose Valley-leading steal rate already earned him All-Defensive Team honors—should see his offensive numbers increase and his national profile rise.
Northern Iowa's Jeremy Morgan should become a household name in 2016-17. (Credit: Getty Images/ Ronald Martinez)

Northern Iowa’s Jeremy Morgan should become a household name in 2016-17. (Getty Images/ Ronald Martinez)

  • Markis McDuffie, F – So., Wichita State – 2015-16: 7.4 PPG. 3.3 RPG: McDuffie is a true breakout candidate in the sense that his minutes and usage are almost surely going to skyrocket this season. The 6’8″ wing showed flashes of brilliance in limited action last year, using his versatility and athleticism to impact nearly every facet of the game. Among Missouri Valley Conference players, McDuffie finished among the top 15 in offensive rating, offensive rebounding percentage, and two-point percentage. As a defender, his length enables him to defend several positions. Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet may be gone, but McDuffie—who will be relied on heavily to help fill that void—has the talent to become another Shockers legend.
  • Cameron Oliver, F – So., Nevada – 2015-16: 13.4 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 2.6 BLK: As a freshman, Oliver logged 12 double-doubles and earned Mountain West All-Defensive Team honors before nearly turning pro. His game-changing ability on both ends of the floor helped Nevada turn in its first winning season since 2012, including a CBI championship run on which Oliver averaged 19.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 4.0 blocks per contest. Now in his second year, the powerful, athletic forward will be the unquestioned anchor for a Nevada club with its highest expectations since the Mark Fox era ended in 2009. Expect Oliver to shine, the Wolfpack to contend, and the basketball world to take notice. Just don’t count on him returning to Reno next season if he lives up to expectations.

  • Jeremy Senglin, G – Sr., Weber State – 2015-16: 17.9 PPG, 43% 3FG: Senglin has been nothing short of excellent since arriving in Ogden, averaging double-figures in each of his first three seasons and setting school records from behind the arc. With star center Joel Bolomboy no longer in the mix (the Big West Player of the Year was taken 52nd overall in June’s NBA Draft), Senglin will be the most relied-upon player for what should once again be the league’s best unit. His three-point percentage jumped considerably between his sophomore and junior seasons; a similar uptick this year, and Senglin may become a household name—especially if the Wildcats return to the Dance.
  • Kevin Hervey , F – Jr., UT-Arlington – 2015-16: 18.1 PPG, 9.8 RPG: Before tearing his ACL in mid-January, Hervey was dominating nearly every opponent on UT-Arlington’s schedule—mid-majors and high-majors alike. In the Mavericks’ upset road wins over Ohio State and Memphis, the 6’7″ forward averaged 20.0 points and 9.0 rebounds per game, displaying not only superior post moves and rebounding prowess, but also his ability to knock down perimeter jumpers. Now healthy, Hervey rejoins a loaded roster that has an excellent chance to compete for the Sun Belt title. With non-conference tilts to come against Minnesota, Arkansas, Texas and Saint Mary’s, expect Hervey to make a name for himself early and often.
  • Justin Bibbins, G – Jr., Long Beach State – 2015-16: 12 PPG, 5.0 APG: Loyola Marymount transfer Evan Payne (18.0 PPG in 2014-15) may lead the 49ers in scoring this season, but it’s the 5’8″ Bibbins—a second team all-conference performer—who should really shine. The diminutive point guard was one of the most effective all-around players in the Big West last year, ranking among the league’s best in offensive rating, assist rate, steal rate and three-point shooting (44% 3FG). With Payne, former USC wing Roschon Prince, and a talented supporting cast at his fingertips, look for Bibbins to stuff the stat sheet and make a strong case for Big West Player of the Year.
If he's able to stay on the floor, Jordan Washington could be an offensive force this season. (Photo: Andrew Theodorakis)

If he’s able to stay on the floor, Jordan Washington could be an offensive force this season. (Andrew Theodorakis)

  • Jordan Washington, F – Sr., Iona – 2015-16: 14.2 PPG, 6.4 RPG: Considering that he averaged just 18.7 minutes per game last season, Washington’s numbers were truly astounding. The JuCo transfer ranked third nationally in percentage of shots taken while on the floor; second in offensive rebounding percentage; and second in fouls drawn per 40 minutes, enabling him to score points at an incredible rate. This year, the Gaels will be forced to replace three-time MAAC First Team guard A.J. English and his 22.6 PPG. Even with Schadrac Casimir (14.5 PPG in 2014-15) back from injury and Fordham transfer Jon Severe joining the rotation, Washington’s numbers have a chance to become eye-popping. That is, assuming he can stay out of foul trouble.
  • Mike Daum, F – So., South Dakota State – 2015-16: 15.2 PPG, 6.1 RPG: Daum had an exceptional freshman campaign, ranking among the Summit League’s top 10 players in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage, and a host of other efficiency statistics on his way to first team all-conference honors. So why is he a “breakout” candidate in 2016-17? Because, incredibly, he accomplished all of that despite playing just 20.8 minutes per game. With guards Deondre Parks (14.9 PPG) and George Marshall (14.9 PPG) no longer around to help shoulder the load, expect Daum’s minutes to rise and his offensive numbers to correlate. This guy will be your Summit League Player of the Year.
  • Jalen Hayes, F – Jr., Oakland – 2015-16: 13.1 PPG, 8.6 RPG: Although Kay Felder (9.3 APG) is no longer around to distribute the basketball, he’s also no longer around to put up shots—something he (deservedly) did 17.4 times per game 2015-16. That is where Hayes comes in. The 6’7″ junior was second on the team in scoring, led the Horizon League in rebounding, and logged seven double-doubles in the team’s final 10 conference games last season. With former Oklahoma State point guard Stevie Clark taking over for Felder, opponents won’t be able to merely divert extra defensive attention to Hayes, even as his offensive workload increases. If it weren’t for Alec Peters, Hayes would be a legitimate contender for conference Player of the Year.
  • Keon Johnson (G – Sr.) and Xavier Cooks (F – Jr.) – Winthrop: Why group these two together? Because one’s a 5’7″ point guard afraid of absolutely no one, and the other is a versatile Australian with hair like Sideshow Bob. Together, they averaged 33.4 points per contest last season. If Winthrop can finally get over the hump and win a Big South Tournament championship (the Eagles have fallen in the title game three years running), Johnson and Cooks will surely catch attention on the national stage.
Tommy Lemoine (250 Posts)

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