Projecting This Season’s Breakout Players

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on November 14th, 2017

After spending the preseason hyping certain guys, some players we don’t expect to steal the spotlight does just that. If history tells us anything, there are a number of players who are flying under the radar right now that will be commanding headlines in February. It is my humble task to give those players some of the love they will eventually deserve right now, before the rest of the nation catches on. I’ll give myself credit for projecting the rises of Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan and Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans last year, but I’ve been honing my craft this offseason and hope to do even better this time around. So let’s get started. Here are five breakout players in college basketball this season.

  • Nick Ward, Sophomore, Michigan State — Nick Ward averaged 8.8 fouls drawn per game last season, becoming the first major conference player to average more than 8.0 since Kentucky’s DeMarcus Cousins in 2010. He also owned the second highest offensive rebounding rate in the country at 17.5 percent. Sure, he fouls a bit too much and turns the ball over more than head coach Tom Izzo would like, but post players this dominant are very hard to come by. If Ward can play closer to 30 minutes per game this season — which would itself be a feat considering the talent of the Spartans frontcourt — watch out. His tools suggest he could become a First Team All-American. Sophomore forward Miles Bridges gets all the hype, but if the Spartans reach their potential this year, Ward will be a big reason why they did so.

Nick Ward is on his way to possible stardom. (Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Markus Howard, Sophomore, Marquette — America, are you ready to fall in love with a small point guard who puts up ridiculous numbers? Well, the 5’11” Howard is your man. He shot 54.7 percent — FIFTY-FOUR POINT SEVEN PER CENT!!! — from three-point range last year, on almost five shots per game in the Big East! That’s a mind-numbingly good shooting season. More importantly, with Marquette having graduated some ball-dominant seniors, Howard and fellow diminutive scorer Andrew Rowsey will get the keys to Steve Wojciechowski’s uptempo offense. Marquette started the senior Rowsey in the season opener, but I’m betting on Howard and his ridiculous shooting and efficiency forcing his way into the starting lineup in due time. A season scoring average of 20 points per game is not out of the question for the sophomore.

  • Justin Jackson, Sophomore, Maryland — The Justin Jackson hype train steadily picked up passengers all summer long. Blessed with elite athleticism and a 7’3” wingspan, the 6’7” swingman does it all for the Terps. Besides being their best perimeter defender and three-point shooter by percentage last season, Jackson also profiles as the best rebounder for a group that finished 300th nationally in defensive rebounding rate. Jackson flirted with the NBA Draft over the summer but was told by scouts to be more assertive and confident. If he listens, the rest of the Big Ten better watch out.

Throughout his career, Vincent Edwards has proven distractions doesn’t work with him. Now with the keys to the car, could the pressure of leading Purdue back to the Big Dance be too much? (Patrick Gorski/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Vincent Edwards, Senior, Purdue — If you want versatility, look no further than Vincent Edwards, who is the only player in the country with more than 1,000 career points, 500 rebounds, 300 assists and 100 three-pointers. Edwards has been an extremely solid role player at Purdue to this point, supporting stars like Caleb Swanigan and AJ Hammons over his three years in West Lafayette. Now as a senior he becomes the go-to guy on a deep, veteran squad. Edwards is a good athlete with an efficient offensive game, but the key to his rise will be raising his usage rate to a level befitting a star. Two games into this season (against cupcakes SIU-Edwardsville and Chicago State), Edwards has posted a 29.2 percent usage rate, well above the 21.7 percent he averaged over the past two years. If he stays at that level of usage throughout the course of this season, expect big things, and maybe even some NBA hype, for the versatile senior.
  • Vladimir Brodziasnky, C, Senior TCU — Brodziansky technically broke out last season but you can forgiven for not hearing about it because the Horned Frogs only went 6-12 in the ridiculously competitive Big 12. That was certainly not the fault of Brodziansky, however. The big Slovenian finished fourth in the Big 12 in offensive efficiency, second in block rate, and first in free throw percentage. This year, TCU is the darling of many preseason projection algorithms (like KenPom, who ranked it 14th nationally), and Brodziansky’s offensive efficiency and defensive presence are a huge reason why. Expect more of the same from the big man this year, but expect to hear about it more as Jamie Dixon’s squad thrusts itself into national relevance for the first time in decades.

Also considered: Shake Milton—SMU, Keenan Evens—Texas Tech, Payton Pritchard—Oregon, Kyle Guy—Virginia, Amir Coffey—Minnesota.

William Ezekowitz (25 Posts)


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One response to “Projecting This Season’s Breakout Players”

  1. mrwboilers says:

    Good to see Vincent Edwards getting some pub! Just a friendly correction – by “Isaac Hammonds,” I think you mean “AJ Hammons.”

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