The best thing about freshmen ... they become sophomores
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:
Here, then, is my list of breakout sophomores. Remember to check back a year from now to see how I did.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Can you say layup? Lucas went from being
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
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.
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.
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.
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.