Seth Davis - Hoop Thoughts
Ten sophomores who are ready to make major impact
Posted: Thursday November 30, 2006 2:58PM; Updated: Thursday November 30, 2006 3:55PM
I've never gotten a consensus on which coach coined the phrase, "The best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores," but the logic resonates today as much as ever. Thanks to intensified attention being paid to recruiting via the Internet, today's freshmen arrive on campus with more hype, more arrogance and more expectations. Yet, in most cases they still turn out to be overgrown teenagers who have a lot to learn.
Year 2 is a different story. Most of the time, a player will make the biggest improvement of his entire career between his freshman and sophomore years in college. This is true for three reasons. First, his body will have undergone a significant change after a full cycle of preseason, in-season and off-season conditioning. Second, he will have adapted to the speed of the college game and the elevated capabilities of his opponents. And third, thanks to graduation and early defection to the NBA of his freshman-year teammates, he will have a greater chance to earn minutes.
Thus, I have once again assembled a list of 10 sophomores who I believe are poised to have breakout seasons. Keep in mind, this is NOT a list of the top 10 sophomores in America. Rather, they are players who came upon the scene in relatively quiet fashion a year ago but are now ready to make some noise.
Not all freshmen arrive quietly, of course. And some choices are simply too obvious to mention as breakout sophomores. Scanning the current sophs, here are the names of the players I deemed ineligible for either of those reasons: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, UCLA; Josh McRoberts and Greg Paulus, Duke; Eric Devendorf, Syracuse; Richard Hendrix, Alabama; Brandon Rush and Julian Wright, Kansas; Dominic James, Marquette; Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina; and Jeff Adrien, UConn.
So here, then, are my 10 sophs to watch (listed in alphabetical order). In addition, I have also revisited the list of guys I assembled one year ago and provided an assessment of how prescient I was (or wasn't).
6-foot-1, G, UCLA
2005-06: 19.2 minutes, 5.5 pts, 2.3 assists, .9 steals, 40.2% FG, 32.8% 3FG
2006-07: 32.2 minutes, 13.2 pts, 7.4 assists, 3.6 steals, 53.8% FG, 40.0% 3FG
Skinny: This is the easiest pick on the board. Collison got promoted to full-time starter after Jordan Farmar turned pro following last season. Collison is not the scorer or playmaker Farmar was in the half-court, but he is a much, much better defender, and when it comes to feeding his teammates in transition he is as good as any point guard in the country.
6-9, F, Villanova
2005-06: 19.1 minutes, 2.2 pts, 4.0 rebs, 46.8% FG
2006-07: 29.8 minutes, 8.5 pts, 6.3 rebs, 65.2% FG
Skinny: You could flip a coin here between Cunningham and his frontcourtmate Shane Clark, who had an impressive 17 points in Villanova's loss to Xavier on Nov. 19. I went with Cunningham because he is a spectacular athlete who will do a great job crashing the offensive boards. And as his huge jump in field-goal percentage indicates, he will be a much more reliable scorer this season.
6-6, G, Memphis
2005-06: 22.6 minutes, 8.3 pts, 3.3 rebs, 53.1% FG, 31.0% 3FG
2006-07: 29.3 minutes, 16.8 pts, 5.5 rebs, 54.5% FG, 50.0% 3FG
Skinny: The fact that Douglas-Roberts' scoring average has more than doubled despite the modest increase in playing time illustrates the vastly changed role he is playing now that Darius Washington and Rodney Carney have moved on. Coach John Calipari was concerned during the preseason with how Douglas-Roberts would react to being vaulted to the top of every opponent's scouting report, but so far he's holding up well.
5-10, G, Pittsburgh
2005-06: 21.7 minutes, 6.8 pts, 2.2 assists, 1.97 assist to turnover ratio
2006-07: 25.3 minutes, 5.8 pts, 6.3 assists, 4.22 assist to turnover ratio
Skinny: I could have gone with either of Fields' classmates, forwards Sam Young and Tyrell Biggs, but I went with Fields because he has picked up the lead guard mantle left behind by Carl Krauser's graduation. Though he is actually scoring less than he did last season (largely because his shooting percentages have declined), Fields' role on the team has been dramatically enhanced because he is the only true point guard on the roster. He is also the closest thing Pitt has to a vocal leader.
6-11, C, Gonzaga
2005-06: 8.9 minutes, 3.4 pts, 2.0 rebs, 43.8% FG, 54.5% FT
2006-07: 25.7 minutes, 17.3 pts, 7.1 rebs, 53.6% FG, 70.7% FT
Skinny: This is the second easiest pick on the board. If you saw Heytvelt dominate UNC's Tyler Hansbrough on Nov. 22 (16 points, 11 rebounds to Hansbrough's 9 and 9), you know he's one of the best big men in the country, regardless of class. After redshirting his first year in Spokane, Heytvelt broke his left ankle in the Zags' second game last season, and though he returned in February he was never all that effective. If he had stayed healthy, he would probably have fallen into the too-good-as-a-frosh-to-be-included-here category. Gonzaga also might have won the national championship.
6-6, F, UConn
2005-06: 8.9 minutes, 3.8 pts, 1.5 rebs, .7 assists, 37.9% FT
2006-07: 23.2 minutes, 9.2 pts, 4.6 rebs, 1.6 assists, 57.1% FT
Skinny: On a team with no juniors or seniors, Johnson is one of many underclassmen who are suddenly getting pressed into playing time. So far, he has shown he can handle it, though he is only 2 for 9 from three-point range in the Huskies' first five games. I believe as the season goes on he'll continue to improve as a scorer, which should enable UConn to become a pretty formidable team by February.
6-3, G, Marquette
2005-06: 27.5 minutes, 11.1 pts, 4.5 rebs, 2.7 assists, 2.1 steals
2006-07: 29.7 minutes, 13.4 pts, 5.3 rebs, 3.9 assists, 3.6 steals
Skinny: Hard to choose here between McNeal and 6-5 guard Wes Matthews, but I picked McNeal because I think he sets an important tone for Marquette in terms of toughness and attitude. With 6-10 sharpshooter Steve Novak gone, McNeal is getting much more attention from defenses, which is why his shooting percentages are way down. But notice that he's almost doubled his steals from last season. As the year wears on, he will become an even bigger factor on a very good team.
6-4, G, Georgia
2005-06: 24.0 minutes, 11.0 pts, 1.6 assists, 1.7 steals, 40.4% FG, 28.9% 3FG
2006-07: 27.2 minutes, 18.0 pts, 3.6 rebs, 3.8 assists, 3.2 steals, 49.3% FG, 36.0% 3FGSkinny: In high school, Mercer was best known for being Louis Williams' teammate, but he is quickly making a name for himself as one of the best guards in the SEC. His problem last year was never playing time, but rather some unsteady shooting as he adjusted to the realization he couldn't just dominate athletically anymore. He spent the summer completely retooling his shooting form, and as you can see he's getting results. He's also im proved his body considerably.
6-3, G, Illinois
2005-06: 19.2 minutes, 8.0 pts, 1.3 assists, 48.2% 3FG
2006-07: 17.7 minutes, 11.0 pts, 1.7 assists, 47.1% 3FG
Skinny: You might wonder why Smith is included given those numbers (especially after he posted a bagel in Tuesday night's loss to Maryland). Keep in mind, however, that Smith missed five games because of a high ankle sprain. He had already scored 19 points when he got injured in the season opener against Austin Peay early in the second half. Smith is a deadeye shooter whose production dropped off during the second half of last season. With Dee Brown gone, I expect he'll have the ball in his hands a lot more.
6-6, F, Louisville
2005-06: 25.1 minutes, 8.4 pts, 2.1 assists
2006-07: 35.0 minutes, 12.5 pts, 5.0 assists
Skinny: Williams' numbers haven't yet improved all that dramatically since last season, but keep in mind the Cardinals have only played two games. Williams was the team's leading scorer and rebounder during an off-season exhibition tour in Canada, and I believe his innate athleticism and burgeoning confidence will make him one of the best players in the Big East.
Last Year's Choices
• Arron Afflalo, 6-5, G, UCLA: Was one of the best players in the Pac-10 and proved instrumental in helping the Bruins to the national championship game.
• Brian Butch, 6-11, F, Wisconsin: His production did increase, but he still hasn't become the consistent force I thought he'd be.
• Rahshon Clark, 6-6, F, Iowa State: Ended up having a pretty good year, but seems to be struggling offensively this season under new coach Greg McDermott.
• Ra'Sean Dickey, 6-9, F, Georgia Tech: Definitely broke out last year, but with the arrival of freshman forwards Thaddeus Young and Zach Peacock, Dickey's role has been diminished so far as a junior.
• Shan Foster, 6-6 guard, Vanderbilt: Was an All-SEC selection last year but is making just 17.4 percent from three-point range during the Commodores' woeful 1-3 start.
• Taurean Green, 6-foot, G, Florida: I seem to recall Green and the Gators ended up having a pretty good season.
• Roy Hibbert, 7-2, C, Georgetown: Took a major step forward last season, but will he make that same kind of improvement this year?
• Sasha Kaun, 6-11, C, Kansas: Was a much bigger presence for the Jayhawks as a soph but only made 53.5 percent from the foul line. That needs to improve.
• Cedric Simmons, 6-9, C, NC State: I knew the kid was blowing up, but I certainly would not have predicted this time last year that Simmons would be the 15th pick in the NBA Draft.
• Martin Zeno, 6-5, G, Texas Tech: I included him on the assumption that his offensive skills would catch up to his strength and athleticism. Since he only went up to 29.4 percent from three-point range (from 28.0 percent as a freshman), I'd say I was off the mark.