In any given year in college basketball, there are more impact seniors and early entrants going out the door than there are instant-impact freshmen coming in. As much as one-and-done has injected the game with fantastic freshmen, the sport still belongs to the seniors. For a team to withstand the departures of its best players, it usually must replenish from within.
Often this means that one or two underclassmen will spend their summer eating their Wheaties, ready to go from being an inefficient and/or seldom-used bench player to performing as an all-conference standout. Such transformations are not completely out of the blue--breakout profiles include the tall post player who struggles with his two point percentage, the excellent free throw shooter with a lower three point percentage than SchrŲdinger, and relentlessly confident chuckers who did not make, well, much of anything.
But sometimes, the profile is a second-year player who takes a voluntary redshirt after a 40-minute freshman campaign that included as many fouls as field goals. I can't say I know what brand of cereal Tim Abromaitis consumed last offseason, but if I were a coach Iíd find out and feed nothing but Abromaitis Flakes to my squad. After his redshirt season, the Notre Dame forward became nothing short of one of the most efficient players in the country, and gave Irish fans a reason to believe in a post-Harangody world. I certainly could not have predicted Abromaitisís breakout, and frankly, I donít think his mother would have, either. In other words, grains of salt all around for the following breakout candidates.
Richard Howell, NC State
No one can accuse Mr. Howell of being inconspicuous. Standing 6-8 and tipping the scales at 266, Howell is a load, and he plays exactly how you think he would. He plays close to the basket, shoots a lot of two pointers, and rebounds the heck out of the basketball. While I like Howellís assertiveness (he took a quarter of the Wolfpack's shots during his minutes in conference play), itís his rebounding that puts him atop the breakout contenders in the ACC. Against conference opponents, he grabbed 13 percent of his teamís misses. As you would expect, most offensive rebounds occur quite close to the hoop, and provide an excellent opportunity to score an easy deuce. Despite his great board work, Howell only converted 45 percent of his twos in ACC play. I expect him to improve on that in a big way.
ACC honorable mention: Ari Stewart, Wake Forest
Thomas Robinson, Kansas
In a lot of ways Robinson is a finished product. The long forward shot 11-of-17 against Big 12 opponents and, like Howell, he's a very gifted rebounder. With that said, Robinson has one gaping hole in his game--turnovers. In fact he actually had more turnovers in conference play (12) than field goals. This despite the fact that Robinson is a virtual black hole on offense--once he gets the rock, his teammates might as well start jogging back to the other end of the court. With Cole Aldrich taking his game to Oklahoma City, Bill Self needs a new enforcer in the middle. If Robinson can replace some of those passes to opponents with assists to his fellow Jayhawks, he could have a big season.
Big 12 honorable mention: J'Covan Brown, Texas
Gus Gilchrist, South Florida
I have to admit, this selection feels kind of lame. After all, Gilchrist averaged more than 13 points a game last season. No matter, I say, because despite his performance during an injury-plagued sophomore season, Gilchrist is capable of much more. Unlike the last two big men on this list, Gilchrist isnít much of a rebounder, but Iím still confident that a 6-10 player is capable of more than 49 percent shooting on his two-pointers. Gilchrist is also adept at getting and converting free throws. In fact his shooting range extends out to the perimeter, where he knocked down 48 percent of his threes. An assertive player to boot, Gilchrist is primed for big things this season.
Big East honorable mention: Dante Taylor, Pitt
Christian Watford, Indiana
Itís a good thing for Hoosier fans that those transfer rumors appear to have been false. Watford is similar to Gilchrist in that heís a big man with some touch. He shot an even 80 percent from the stripe and a respectable 32 percent from three-point range. Watford also drew over five fouls per 40 minutes. Indeed the only thing keeping the young man from being an extremely productive player was his extremely lousy two-point percentage. Incredibly Watford shot only 37 percent from inside the arc in conference play. Thatís bad, even for the most diminutive of players. For a guy who stands 6-9 and has long arms, itís unfathomable. Watfordís slight frame likely had much to do with that, but I expect some added bulk to pay big dividends here.
Big Ten honorable mention: Brandon Paul, Illinois
Terrance Henry, Ole Miss
Sometimes breaking out has more to do with opportunity than development. Consider this to be such a case. The Rebels would probably be looking at an NCAA berth and a possible SEC crown were it not for the departures of Terrico White (NBA), Eniel Polynice (destination unknown), and Murphy Holloway (South Carolina). Andy Kennedyís problem, however, is Terrance Henry's opening. The 6-9 forward figures to move into the starting lineup, where he should be a force immediately. One of the more efficient players in the country last season, Henry can score inside (63 percent on twos), outside (41 percent on threes), is a capable rebounder, and never turns the ball over. That efficiency is critical, as Ole Miss will need someone other than Chris Warren to take shots. While Henry's unlikely to be as Łber-efficient with a higher shot diet, his starting point demonstrates heís capable of more.
SEC honorable mention: Kenny Boynton, Florida
Lamont Jones, Arizona
One of the things I look for in breakout candidates is a player that is really, really bad in one area. Thatís not to say that being bad at something is a good thing--the key part is the ďin one area.Ē If a player's productive all over the court, with the exception of one department, modest improvements there can make a big difference. In ďMoMoĒís case, that one area was three-point shooting. Despite standing 5-11, Jones converted over 50 percent of his twos. He was also an assertive player, and created for his teammates while sporting an un-freshman-like turnover percentage. All Jones has to do now is improve on that three-point percentage (19 percent). While heís not automatic from the stripe (70 percent), he should be able to improve from beyond the arc. Heck, even Gasaway could fare better than 19 percent.
Pac-10 honorable mention: Joe Burton, Oregon State
Josh Reed is co-author of the Big Ten Geeks blog.