Can you see the future?
Well, I can -- sort of. I realize that predicting what is going to happen in college hoops can be a, well, sophomoric exercise, but as your Hoop Thinking seer of the future, I have once again come to let you know which second-year players are going to break out this winter.
I have performed this function for several years now, with respectable (but far from perfect) results. The idea is not to list the nation's best sophomores. You already know who they are. Rather, my intent is to figure out which of last year's under-the-radar freshmen are going to make big strides this season.
Basketball aficionados know full well that a player often undergoes the biggest improvement of his entire life between his freshman and sophomore years. My purpose here is to spot that improvement before it happens.
The reasons the frosh-to-soph leap is so dramatic are threefold. First, it often takes a full year for a player's body to adapt to college basketball. You'd be surprised how many high-major players arrive in college without having been through any kind of weight program. Second, the speed of the college game is so much faster than the high school level that it takes time for the player to catch up. Finally, even if the player is ready physically and mentally, there is often an older, established player at his position. Graduation and early entries to the NBA draft can take care of that problem, opening up an opportunity to ascend.
Because I want you to see what I see, I have scoured the nation to find 10 sophomores who I believe are ready to take that next step this season. Once again, I have also listed the 10 players I selected last season and evaluated in hindsight how I did. I have to say, in the many years that I have performed this invaluable function, last year's was my most prescient effort yet.
First, a list of players I eliminated from consideration, because they were already outstanding as freshmen or I felt they were a little too obvious for inclusion:
Al-Farouq Aminu, Wake Forest; Luke Babbitt, Nevada; Ed Davis, North Carolina; Devin Ebanks, West Virginia; Courtney Fortson, Arkansas; Yancy Gates, Cincinnati; Scotty Hopson, Tennessee; Sylven Landesburg, Virginia; Greg Monroe, Georgetown; Samardo Samuels, Louisville; Isaiah Thomas, Washington; Klay Thompson, Washington State; Mike Rosario, Rutgers; Kemba Walker, UConn; Willie Warren, Oklahoma.
Here, then, is my list of breakout sophomores. Remember to check back a year from now to see how I did.
Fr: 18.3 mpg, 5.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 0.8 apg, 34.0 3-pt FG% Soph: 35.7 mpg, 11.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.3 apg, 50.0 3-pt FG%
Skinny: It wasn't easy for Clark to get playing time last year behind Jessie Sapp and Dajuan Summers, but he became a valuable contributor off the bench because of his willingness to do some dirty work. Now, Clark has the opportunity to show his all-around game, and he's taken full advantage. His versatility makes him well-suited to the Princeton offense, and his playmaking ability will be an important asset on this team because I'm not sure Clark's backcourtmate, Chris Wright, will ever be totally comfortable as a point guard.
Fr: 9.6 mpg, 1.4 ppg, 1.9 apg, 23.1 3-pt FG%Soph: 24.2 mpg, 7.0 ppg, 6.2 apg, 42.9 3-pt FG%
Skinny: This is a classic case of preparation meeting opportunity. With Ty Lawson running the point last year, no backup, especially a freshman, was going to get a lot of minutes. Even when Drew was in the games, he looked shaky, but it was hard to tell whether that was because he couldn't get into a rhythm or he wasn't that good. Now it looks like it was the former. Drew has proved he can run North Carolina's offense with efficiency and effectiveness, which is not easy to do with so many newcomers running alongside him. His assist-to-turnover ratio is nearly 2-to-1, and his improved field goal percentage reflects his confidence knowing the starting job is his.
Fr: 13.5 mpg, 3.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 0.5 apgSoph: 27.3 mpg, 9.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.0 apg
Skinny: It was a tough choice here between Joseph and his teammate Scoop Jardine, but I think Joseph's step forward this season will be more pronounced. Joseph got off to a promising start as a freshman, but his minutes dwindled during the second half of the season. On this team, however, Joseph's versatility on both ends of the floor will be especially valuable. He is a terrific athlete who Jim Boeheim is prodding to be a more assertive long-range shooter. He quickness and length also make him an ideal zone defender. Barring injury, I doubt Joseph will crack the starting lineup this year, but he will give this team a fresh look when he comes off the bench.
Fr: 18.5 mpg, 7.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.1 apg, 49.5 FG%Soph: 24.3 mpg, 10.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 64.7 FG%
Skinny: It's hard to tell apart Marcus and his twin brother (and teammate), Markieff, but the main difference is that Marcus has more of an ability to take his game away from the basket. That makes him a better complement to Cole Aldrich, the nation's preeminent post player. Morris started 22 games last season and even made six three-pointers. He needs to do a better job on the boards, but after having had a year to get his body and mind adjusted to the college game, he'll be an important cog in college basketball's most powerful machine.
Fr: 19.6 mpg, 5.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.3 apg, 37.0 FG%Soph: 29.3 mpg, 15.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.8 apg, 67.6 FG%
Skinny: This might be one of those overreaction picks that looks bad a year from now, but Mosley seems to be picking up where he left off at the end of last season. He's actually more of a small forward than shooting guard, but midway through last season he supplanted Eric Hayes in the starting lineup and helped turn around Maryland's season. Mosley only had 9 points on 2 for 8 shooting in the Terps' loss to Cincinnati on Tuesday night, so it remains to be seen how good he will be against top competition. If he ever added the three-pointer to his arsenal (he is 2 for 5 on the season) he would be an All-ACC caliber player.
Fr: 17.9 mpg, 5.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 56.5 FG%Soph: 18.8 mpg, 5.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 43.8 FG%
Skinny: I almost didn't pick Roe because I thought he would be too obvious, but his start to his season has been less than stellar to say the least. He fouled out in just 12 minutes in the Spartans' close win over Gonzaga. Roe was one of the top five high school players in his class three years ago, but a devastating knee injury cost him his entire senior year. Though he contributed at times last season, he never quite looked like himself. Simply put, the Spartans cannot win a national championship without Roe healthy, aggressive and effective. I believe he'll get there, but at this point it's no sure thing.
Fr. (2007-08): 9.3 mpg, 2.8 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 44.4 FG%Soph: 25.5 mpg, 14.8 ppg, 7.0 rebs, 57.9 FG%
Skinny: The big, strong Vancouver native would have been a factor for the Zags last season, but he suffered a foot injury five games into the season and had to take a medical redshirt. Now that Gonzaga has lost its two best big men, Josh Heytvelt and Austin Daye, Sacre will play an even more pivotal role. The early signs indicate he's ready for the new responsibilities. Sacre gives Gonzaga a rugged, pure post guy they haven't had since Ronny Turiaf. Case in point: In the loss at Michigan State, Sacre played just 19 minutes because of foul trouble but he still had 17 points.
Fr: 26.0 mpg, 12.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.7 apg, 69.1 FT% Soph: 29.0 mpg, 16.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.3 apg, 81.8 FT%
Skinny: I selected the Swedish native not because I think his numbers will be demonstrably different from last year, but because his team will be much improved, which in turn should garner Taylor more national notice. He could do well to improve his long-range shooting (he has yet to make a three-pointer this season), but Taylor is a smooth, explosive athlete who takes pride in being a lockdown defender. Nobody in the SEC did a better job against Jodie Meeks last season than Taylor. If the spike in his free throw shooting is for real, then Taylor will be that much more valuable because he has the ability to beat smaller defenders off the dribble and finish at the rim. That slashing ability also makes him the perfect complement to center A.J. Ogilvy, who is healthy again and loves to pass out of double teams in the post.
Fr. (Duke): 16.6 mpg, 4.2 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 0.7 apg, 25.0 3-pt FG%, 50.0 FT% Soph: 33.3 mpg, 21.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.3 apg, 26.3 3-pt FG%, 74.1 FT%
Skinny: Williams would have been a much improved player had he stayed at Duke, but he would still have been a role player. Now that he's back in his hometown, he will be the Tigers' primary offensive option and potentially the Conference USA Player of the Year. The NCAA granted Williams a waiver which allowed him to be eligible right away because he transferred to be near his mother, who is ill. His outside shooting still leaves much to be desired and he needs to cut down on his turnovers (2.7 in the first three games), but Williams really excels at attacking the basket. If his improved free throw percentage holds up, he should get a lot of points at the stripe.
Fr: 10.9 mpg, 3.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 45.5 FT% Soph: 18.7 mpg, 7.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 63.6 FT%
Skinny: Big players usually have a harder time adjusting as freshmen than guards because, unlike in high school, the bigs now have to consistently play against guys who are the same size. In addition, Woods had the added challenge last season of trying to beat out James Johnson for playing time. Now Woods is being pressed into starting duty whether he likes it or not. The results so far are promising but the Deacons have yet to face top competition. Woods still has a ways to go in the skills department (as his free throw shooting last season will attest) but he is very athletic and agile for a player his size. If he can give Wake Forest a consistent rebounding and defensive presence while staying out of foul trouble, any contribution Woods makes on offense will be gravy.
Cole Aldrich, 6-11 center, Kansas
You didn't have to be Nostradamus to see this one coming. Aldrich had gotten very little playing time during the Jayhawks' NCAA championship run, but his talent, combined with the departure of four starters, was the perfect formula for a breakout sophomore season in which he averaged 14.9 points and 11.1 rebounds. His numbers are actually down a little bit this season, but that's only because he is playing on a better team.
Austin Daye, 6-10 forward, Gonzaga
I actually thought Daye had a somewhat disappointing season, but he did end up as the Zags' leading rebounder and third-leading scorer while shooting 42.9 percent from three-point range. Daye left school in the spring and was selected 15th in the NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons.
LaceDarius Dunn, 6-4 guard, Baylor
I was correct in spotting Dunn's potential but it looks like I may have been a year early. His numbers improved only modestly last season, but so far this year (albeit against weak competition) he is averaging 25.3 points on 46.3 percent three-point shooting.
Gary Johnson, 6-7 forward, Texas
Johnson made the leap forward I predicted, averaging 23.1 minutes (up from 16.7), 10.0 points (from 5.6), 5.3 rebounds (from 3.7). Ironically, his opportunity for playing time will be a bit reduced this season thanks to the Longhorns' influx of freshman talent.
Kalin Lucas, 6-foot guard, Michigan State
Can you say layup? Lucas went from being Drew Neitzel's backup to the Big Ten Player of the Year. Oh, he also led the Spartans to the Final Four.
Nolan Smith, 6-2 guard, Duke
Smith had a decent sophomore season but not quite the breakout that I imagined. That was partly because he had some injuries and partly because Coach K tried to make him a point guard. He abandoned that experiment in early February, and now as a junior Smith looks much more confident and comfortable playing off the ball.
Corey Stokes, 6-5 guard, Villanova
Stokes made solid if unspectacular improvements over his freshman year. He seems to have taken a similar step forward as a junior, averaging 11.2 points and 5.0 rebounds (up from 6.4 and 2.4 as a freshman) while improving his three-point shooting from 29.6 percent his first year to 43.5 percent through five games this season.
Jeff Teague, 6-2 guard, Wake Forest
Best pick on the board. Teague was solid as a freshman, but last year he became one of the best players in the country, averaging 18.8 points (44.1 percent from three) and 3.5 assists. He was selected by the Atlanta Hawks with the 19th pick in the NBA draft.
Chris Wright, 6-1 guard, Georgetown
Statistically, Wright made the progression I predicted. He averaged 12.5 points and 3.8 assists in 32.9 minutes (up from 5.7, 2.1 and 17.3). However, the Hoyas were one of the season's big disappointments, failing to make the NCAA tournament after a 12-3 start.
Chris Wright, 6-8 forward, Dayton
Once again, I was right on the money. Wright improved in every statistical category except field goal percentage, and he led the Flyers to the second round of the NCAA tournament.