20 College Basketball Players We Can't Wait to See Next Year

Scott HenryFeatured ColumnistMarch 25, 2012

20 College Basketball Players We Can't Wait to See Next Year

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    Every college basketball season has players who offer tantalizing glimpses of future potential. Likewise, every season has players who explode into the public consciousness and make themselves household names among the serious hoop fans.

    Murray State's Isaiah Canaan had two solid seasons, but nothing that would indicate the All-American levels to which he would rise in 2011-12.

    Others, such as Kansas' Jeff Withey, rapidly progress from benchwarmers to all-conference performers.

    The one thing that all of these 20 players share is that they have eligibility remaining. Some may not choose to use it if they feel that professional riches are within their grasps, but most are projected to be NBA-ready in 2013, if ever.

    These are players who should take starring roles next season, whether through sheer force of their talents or by roster necessity.

Keith Appling, Michigan State

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    When Michigan State had a pair of capable point guards in Kalin Lucas and Korie Lucious, freshman Keith Appling was able to spend his time as a designated gunner from three-point range.

    As a sophomore, with Lucas graduated and Lucious transferred to Iowa State, Appling had to grab the keys to the offense, but still had senior Draymond Green around to distract defenses. Appling led the Spartans in assists, but by only three over Green.

    Next season, Green is gone, and it's Appling's team. He'll have to balance this season's emphasis on playmaking and his freshman year's focus on making shots.

    It may not be out of the question for Appling to average 17 points and six assists next season. Tim Frazier of Penn State was the only one to achieve that combo this year.

Lorenzo Brown, N.C. State

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    The N.C. State Wolfpack were not expected to make the NCAA tournament, let alone crash the Sweet 16.

    Don't be too quick to bet against a repeat, either.

    Next season, four of the Pack's five double-figure scorers should return, including point guard Lorenzo Brown.

    Brown led the team in assists in both of his seasons in Raleigh and improved all of his shooting numbers as a sophomore. He still needs improvement as a defender, and his turnover percentage increased slightly this season, but another offseason of practice should make him more comfortable as a lead guard.

    With gunner Scott Wood, slasher C.J. Leslie and bruiser Richard Howell returning around him, Brown may hold the keys to the most experienced nucleus in the ACC next season.

Isaiah Canaan, Murray State

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    Isaiah Canaan played the leading role in Murray State's renaissance this season, and it's not out of the question to think that he could repeat his performance next year.

    If he does so, it'll be all the more impressive considering that several of his most effective supporting players are leaving. Backcourt mates Donte Poole and Jewaun Long, along with forward Ivan Aska, are all seniors. The three each averaged more than 8.5 points per game, accounting for nearly 43 percent of Murray's scoring.

    Canaan is considered a middling pro prospect, but if the Racers pull out another 25-win season in 2012-13, it'll undoubtedly be with him at the controls. Improving on this year's productivity and leadership may be the only way for Canaan to put himself onto an NBA roster.

Justin Cobbs, California

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    Justin Cobbs averaged five assists per game last season, third in the Pac-12. It's an impressive figure, especially considering that Cobbs was running alongside another capable playmaker in Jorge Gutierrez.

    Next season, Cobbs has the keys with Gutierrez leaving. The Bears also lose forward Harper Kamp, but should return capable replacements in David Kravish and Richard Solomon, who missed the spring semester with academic issues.

    Touted freshman Tyrone Wallace will also join the team. Wallace could eventually play the point, but may start out as a shooting guard due to his ability to slash to the basket. Cobbs could easily better this season's assist average if he works well with Wallace.

    At this point, not being sent to Dayton for the NCAA tournament would be a major improvement for all the teams in the Pac-12.

Jack Cooley, Notre Dame

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    Jack Cooley has traveled the classic big man path, moving from large bench decoration to rotation player to team leader during his three seasons in South Bend.

    Cooley was the lone consistent presence on the boards for Notre Dame this season, recording 13 double-doubles. For his continued improvement next year, the key will be the Irish getting him some help. Michigan State transfer Garrick Sherman, who stands 6'11" and averaged approximately nine rebounds per 40 minutes over his two seasons in East Lansing, will be instrumental in freeing Cooley from the low block.

    Cooley was the only Irish regular to shoot better than 43 percent from the floor. Easily the most reliable option in the Notre Dame offense, he could improve to 16 or 17 points per game next season.

Fuquan Edwin, Seton Hall

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    Seton Hall had only two seniors on this year's roster. Unfortunately for coach Kevin Willard, those two seniors are stars Herb Pope and Jordan Theodore.

    The Pirates do return their third-leading scorer, Fuquan Edwin, and it will easily be his team next season.

    Edwin tied for the national lead with three steals per game, helping to cement the Hall's reputation for sticky defense. He may need to work even harder to set the example for the rest of the young Pirates roster. Next season's team won't have a single senior on it and may have to look to the junior college ranks to find a replacement for Theodore.

    If a solid point guard can be found to help set up Edwin on offense, he'll do the rest by harassing passers and ball-handlers into coughing up easy transition scores. Edwin could average 18 points per game next season with a third of that coming on quick-strike dunks.

C.J. Fair, Syracuse

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    With Jim Boeheim's seemingly never-ending bench, there will be plenty of candidates to make up for the production lost when Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine graduate. Forward C.J. Fair should be standing at the front of that queue.

    Fair led the team in total rebounds, recording double-digit games against power conference foes like Virginia Tech and Florida, as opposed to the creampuffs other players use to stuff stats. A four-game stretch in February offered a glimpse of Fair on a roll, as he averaged approximately 15 points and eight rebounds.

    That kind of stat line should be attainable for a whole season if Fair improves his jumper rather than primarily being a cutter. Other than that, the biggest obstacle to Fair's All-Big East candidacy should be Boeheim's rotation and all the other talents wearing Orange jerseys.

Langston Galloway, St. Joseph's

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    Langston Galloway didn't lead St. Joseph's in scoring or assists, and the Hawks don't lose anyone from this season's roster next year.

    So, why is he highlighted over backcourt mate Carl Jones and burly power forward Halil Kovacevic?

    Galloway was one of the Atlantic 10's most efficient producers this season, with an effective field goal percentage well over 60 and a turnover percentage near 10. He committed less than half the turnovers of either Jones or Kovacevic and drained nearly half of his three-point attempts.

    The Hawks offense could run smoothly through either Galloway or Jones, but Galloway has shown himself to be a safer bet. He should be allowed to improve on his 15.5 points per game average next season.

Pierre Jackson, Baylor

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    Pierre Jackson was expected to be a distributor to maximize opportunities for Baylor's freakishly athletic forwards Quincy Acy, Quincy Miller and Perry Jones III.

    Jackson wasn't expected to lead the team in scoring while simultaneously ranking in the Big 12's top three in assists and steals.

    Next season, Jackson will have to make it work with a whole new cast of athletes. Acy is a senior. Jones surprised nearly everyone by returning for his sophomore season and is not expected to come back again. Miller is likewise listed in some current mock drafts as a first-round prospect and could decide to leave.

    The Bears are adding three ESPNU 100 freshmen to the mix next season and gunner Brady Heslip returns, but Jackson will likely be the Bears' undisputed leader.

Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati

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    Next season's Cincinnati squad will have a different look with enforcer Yancy Gates exhausting his eligibility. A host of skilled perimeter players will make the Bearcats a feast-or-famine offensive team, living and dying by the jump shot.

    Sean Kilpatrick was the team's most efficient outside scorer this season, with a 53.4 effective field goal percentage. He led the team in scoring and should be expected to do it again next year.

    The Bearcats excelled in a four-guard lineup while Gates was suspended for the brawl with Xavier. Kilpatrick averaged 17.5 points per game during Gates' suspension, so perhaps next season's new look will agree with him.

C.J. McCollum, Lehigh

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    C.J. McCollum burst onto the national scene by leading Lehigh to its historic upset of Duke, but he's been a 19-PPG producer since the moment he stepped on campus.

    Already a focus of opponents' game-planning, McCollum will have to bear the additional pressure that comes with a likely preseason All-American selection.

    There also may be some more giants for the Mountain Hawks to slay next season. Lehigh will likely draw some invitations to major holiday tournaments, with better opposition than 2K Sports Classic opponents William & Mary, Liberty and Eastern Kentucky.

    McCollum will show up on television more often than he did before this month, and as a player who only scored in single digits once this season (playing only 15 minutes in a blowout win), expect him to deliver.

Rodney McGruder, Kansas State

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    Kansas State is another team who loses very little next season, with only forward Jamar Samuels leaving. Guard Rodney McGruder will lead the Cats' charge back to the NCAA tournament.

    McGruder knocked down 25 or more points in five different games this season. Three were against NCAA tournament teams, and one was in the tournament itself. His 30-point explosion carried State past Southern Miss in the tournament's second round.

    An offseason of building chemistry with point guard Angel Rodriguez should put the two among the most dangerous backcourt duos in the Big 12, if not the nation.

Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga

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    Gonzaga will miss big man Robert Sacre, but players such as Elias Harris and Kevin Pangos should prove more than capable of taking up the slack.

    Pangos came out swinging in his second college game, knocking down nine three-pointers and scoring 33 points against Washington State. He showed no fear against the Bulldogs' primary West Coast Conference rivals, scoring 27 on St. Mary's and 30 against BYU.

    With Sacre's departure, the Gonzaga offense could focus more on Pangos' shooting, and another 40 percent season from three-point range could lead to Pangos averaging in the area of 18 points per game.

Otto Porter, Georgetown

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    Otto Porter didn't post the gaudiest per-game averages, coming in just under 10 points and seven rebounds per game while playing nearly 30 minutes a night. Still, he may have been the most valuable player on the Hoyas' roster in his freshman season.

    Porter didn't play AAU ball, and perhaps it shows in his all-around game. While many freshmen may try to get their points to prove their worth to their new teams, Porter was a defensive force first.

    This is not to say that Porter didn't show up when it mattered offensively. He busted out for 14 points and 14 rebounds at Louisville, 14 and 13 at Syracuse, and 19 points against Marquette. That lack of fear against quality opposition is a great harbinger of things to come, especially if Porter can improve his erratic jump shooting.

Phil Pressey, Missouri

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    It's easy to look at Missouri's roster next season and bemoan the talent exodus. Stars Kim English, Marcus Denmon and Ricardo Ratliffe, along with role-players Steve Moore and Matt Pressey, add up to almost 69 percent of Mizzou's scoring.

    Big 12 assists and steals leader Phil Pressey appears to be a man on an island as the Tigers join the SEC, but look closer. Power forward Laurence Bowers returns from his injury. Sixth man Michael Dixon and his 13 points per game return.

    Additionally, Pressey will get to work with a host of Division I transfers. Freshman Jabari Brown was a 5-star recruit who didn't care for life at Oregon.

    Senior Keion Bell averaged more than 18 points per game two seasons in a row at Pepperdine.

    Junior Earnest Ross comes from Auburn, giving his new pack of Tigers some SEC experience and a tireless motor. Ross averaged 6.6 rebounds per game in 2010-11, leading the team despite standing 6'5".

    Once again, Pressey will be allowed to ignite a lineup featuring great athletes. It's unfair to say that players such as English, Denmon and Ratliffe won't be missed, but this lineup should still have the ability to challenge Kentucky and Florida for the SEC title.

Andre Roberson, Colorado

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    The matchup between Colorado and Baylor didn't go as planned for Baylor's star forward, Perry Jones III. Guarded by a player four inches shorter, Jones was held to seven points and four rebounds. Jones' counterpart, Andre Roberson, produced 13 points, eight rebounds and four steals.

    Roberson has been a workhorse all season for the Buffaloes, averaging more than 11 points and 11 boards, plus adding a steal and two blocks per night. He's led the team in rebounds, steals and blocks in both of his seasons in Boulder.

    Forward Austin Dufault and guard Carlon Brown aren't returning, but Roberson will still be supplemented by this season's stud freshman Spencer Dinwiddie and a recruiting class with two more ESPNU 100 prospects.

    If Roberson improves his shooting, look for him to put more 18s and 20s on the front of those frequent double-doubles.

Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State

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    Deshaun Thomas is a ball-stopper on offense; he's the kind of player whose mentality is to shoot first, second and third, and ask questions never. He at least has the decency to apologize for it.

    Next season, he's likely to get all the shots that his arm can physically handle.

    William Buford is the only Ohio State senior, but fans may be asking too much for sophomore star Jared Sullinger to spurn the NBA lottery again. The two take 32 points and 23 field goal attempts per game with them.

    Players such as Lenzelle Smith Jr., Evan Ravenel and Sam Thompson should get a few opportunities, but Thomas is the big dog on next year's Buckeye roster. As his 51 assists in 75 games indicate, the big dog doesn't share very well. Twenty points per game could be a baseline projection for Thomas next season.

Chaz Williams, UMass

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    With nine of their top 10 players returning, it's not likely that we'll see UMass in the NIT next season. It's more likely that, this time next year, fans will be discovering Chaz Williams the same way they discovered C.J. McCollum.

    Williams has finished this season on a tear, dropping 20 points or more in seven of his last 10 games, which included a 29-point, nine-assist clinic against Xavier's Tu Holloway. He's averaged 23 points, six rebounds and five assists per game in the NIT, showing that he's not afraid of March elimination games.

    Williams could be the preseason Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, and the newly experienced Minutemen should be a primary challenger for the league title.

Jeff Withey, Kansas

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    Jeff Withey struggled to stay on the court during his first two years at Kansas. Fouls and turnovers plagued him whenever he saw extensive minutes.

    Decreasing both of those rates helped coach Bill Self feel comfortable using the seven-footer, and explosive nights like his 10-block clinic against N.C. State in the Sweet 16 are the result.

    Next season, Withey is likely to lose his cover with Thomas Robinson expected to declare for the NBA draft. Still, if Withey is locked in the weight room all summer, he should be able to make up the slack that Robinson will leave on the boards, if not his scoring.

    Self has recruited a trio of 3- and 4-star power forwards to help out, but the Jayhawks' post game will begin and end with Withey.

Cody Zeller, Indiana

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    Cody Zeller was expected to be a program-changer before his arrival in Bloomington, and he helped to do just that. The Hoosiers finally emerged from the funk that had plagued the team since the Kelvin Sampson years, and Zeller was the first sign of a serious inside presence to take heat off the squadron of shooters Tom Crean had added.

    Don't look for much to change next season, as point guard Verdell Jones and backup forward Tom Pritchard are the only major losses. IU does add Yogi Ferrell, the third-ranked point guard in the 2012 class according to ESPN.

    Another offseason to improve his strength and conditioning could result in Zeller claiming next year's Big Ten Player of the Year award. Oh, and Indiana's likely to start a lengthy streak of NCAA tournament appearances, too.

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