It's exciting to see so many talented freshmen college basketball players returning for their sophomore seasons. These decisions will improve the quality of play on their respective teams and in collegiate hoops in general.
Here are the 10 best sophomores in college basketball for the 2013-14 season.
T.J. Warren will have his chance to show what he has in 2013-14. He is the only returning starter from the Wolfpack’s 24-11 team that lost in the first round of this year’s March Madness. Instead of being the No. 5 scorer (12.1 PPG), he will be counted on to lead the way if NC State is going to be competitive in the upgraded ACC.
At 6’8” and 223 pounds, Warren has the kind of physicality that he can use to punish most of his undersized perimeter opponents. He moves effectively without the ball and is fully capable of putting it on the deck to create his own scoring opportunities. One of the unusual aspects of Warren’s game is that he was able to connect on 51.9 percent of his three’s but only 54.2 percent of his FTs.
Warren, as a sophomore, may be the “seasoned veteran” on the NC State starting five. If he can elevate his game and help the Pack stay in the upper tier of the conference standings, then he will have a good chance to make the most of what could be a challenging season in Raleigh.
Jahii Carson was one of the most exciting players in college basketball, and you may have heard little or nothing about him. The 5’10” dynamo earned Pac-12 co-Freshman of the Year (with Shabazz Muhammad) and was the nation's top freshmen scorer at 18.5 points per game
The Sports Illustrated article that announced his return to Tempe for his sophomore season, also detailed the multiple records that Carson broke last year:
His 177 assists were most by a freshman in Sun Devils history, sixth all-time in the conference. Carson set other school freshman records, including points (647), field goals made (231) and attempted (488), assists (177), minutes (1,303) and 20-point games (18).
He is a genuinely electrifying player to watch. He is fearless in terms of going into the lane or getting to the rim. His return impacts the Pac-12 in many ways, but it especially helps ASU stay relevant
Alex Poythress is returning for his sophomore season with a clear objective: to show that he’s more than a player with some serious upside. KentuckySports.com’s Jerry Tipton reported that the 6’7” 220-pound forward is “out to prove that (he’s) not just potential.”
Poythress showed flashes of promise in the first half of the season, scoring in double figures in 14 of his first 20 games as a Wildcat. He finished the year averaging 11.2 points and six rebounds per game, while shooting 58.1 percent from the field and 42.4 percent from beyond the arc.
With UK’s legendary 2013 recruiting class arriving soon, Poythress, along with his teammates, will be pushed hard to improve or sit come next season. Louisville's The Courier-Journal’s Kyle Tucker quoted Poythress as saying, “We can’t be kids forever. It’s just time to grow up.”
Prediction: Poythress works harder during this offseason than he has ever worked in his life. The results will be seen when the Cats take the court next October.
Rasheed Sulaimon had a first-rate freshman season. On a 2012-13 Duke team that had significant veteran firepower, it would have been easy for the 6’4” first-year SG to defer to his experienced teammates. Instead, he came in with guns blazing, averaging 11.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game.
One of the areas that Sulaimon excelled in last season was on defense. He became the Blue Devils primary perimeter stopper. His length and athleticism help him apply intense on-ball pressure and wreak havoc in the passing lanes.
While Sulaimon played a supporting role on this past year’s team, he will take on a more primary part in Duke’s success next season. Teams will not simply be able to focus on stopping incoming freshman, Jabari Parker, they will have to concentrate on the sharpshooting shooting guard from Houston too.
Glenn Robinson III was a major contributor in Michigan’s run to the 2013 national title game. GR3’s freakish athleticism and uncanny ability to get to the rim made him a nightmare in the open court for opponents.
On a team that had balanced scoring, Robinson averaged 11 points and 5.4 rebounds (No. 2 on the team) per game. In March Madness, he shot a blistering 31-of-48 (65 percent) from the field.
With the departure of Tim Hardaway Jr., GR3 should have an expanded role in the Wolverines offensive attack and see more time at his natural position of SF. In doing so, Robinson will be able to showcase his slash and gash skills that should make him a lottery pick in next year’s NBA draft.
From a team standpoint, Robinson will be counted on to bring more than just numbers. If he can transition to becoming a standout leader along with being a stat-sheet stuffer, there's no reason that the Wolverines can't make another deep tournament run in 2014.
Michigan State SG Gary Harris had an outstanding freshman season. The Associated Press’ release (h/t ESPN) about Harris’ return to East Lansing for his sophomore year mentions that he was “the first player in program history to be named Big Ten freshman of the year and to be voted MVP by his teammates.”
The 6’4 SG averaged 12.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game last year. USA Today’s Joe Rexrode mentioned that Harris’ scoring average “was third all-time among MSU freshmen, trailing only Magic Johnson (17.0) and Shawn Respert (15.8).”
With Harris returning, the Spartans will have a highly-skilled, veteran backcourt. MSU should be the favorites to win the Big Ten and make a deep run in the 2014 NCAA tournament. In fact, ESPN’s bracketologist Joe Lunardi has already penciled in the Spartans for a No. 1 seed.
Kyle Anderson may be one of the most distinctive players in college basketball with the most unique collection of physical attributes and abilities since Penny Hardaway did work for Memphis in the early '90s.
Anderson’s freshman numbers were more than positive but not remarkable. He did a little of everything for the Bruins, averaging 9.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.8 steals. At 6’9” and 235 pounds, he transcends the normal definitions of standard positions. His versatile skill set allows him to morph from running the point on one possession to playing PF with his back to the basket the next.
Anderson should have a drastically different role on next year’s UCLA squad under new head coach Steve Alford. Rather than being a secondary option on a team that searched most of the season for an identity, he will be a significant floor leader, regardless of what position he plays.
No one’s stock rose faster or higher during the 2013 NCAA tournament than Mitch McGary's. Before March Madness, Michigan’s 6’10” 250-pound PF was a player who logged less than 20 minutes per game and averaged around six points and six rebounds. In the tournament, he blew up, scoring 14.3 points and pulling down 10.7 rebounds, helping the Wolverines get to the national title game.
McGary demonstrated down the stretch that he can be a beast on both boards and that he is able to convert his teammates missed shots into many made buckets. McGary’s biggest room for improvement is in working harder to post up and create his own shots down low, instead of just getting putbacks and sleight-of-hand dishes from Trey Burke.
McGary’s return to Ann Arbor, along with Glenn Robinson III and Nick Stauskas, gives head coach John Beilein a dynamic nucleus from which to build his 2013-14 UM team. With other supporting players returning and a more-than-capable 2013 recruiting class, next season could be another mind-blowing adventure for the maize and blue.
Isaiah Austin was one of the last of this year’s freshmen to announce his decision about whether he would enter the NBA draft. Baylor fans everywhere are ecstatic over the news that the hybrid center will be returning to Waco for his sophomore season. Some analysts had Austin evaluated as a possible lottery pick.
Austin possesses a unique combination of size (7’1” 220 pounds) and perimeter skill set. Don’t get me wrong. Austin can set up shop on the block and do work with his back to the basket. But what sets him apart from most players his size is that he can step outside, face up and hit jumpers from distance. He was 30-of-90 (33.3 percent) of his shots from beyond the arc. To put that into perspective, Baylor’s big time PG Pierre Jackson only knocked down 35.9 percent of his threes in 2012-13.
Austin’s freshman numbers were good (13 PPG; 8.3 RPG; 1.7 BPG), but not great. One would assume that he is coming back to work hard, step up his game and thrust himself into a top-tier position for the 2014 draft. Based on Austin and Cory Jefferson's return, plus the uber-talented, incoming recruiting class, this could very well be the year that Baylor coach Scott Drew leads the Bears to their first Final Four since 1950.
Marcus Smart is the best returning sophomore in college basketball. His decision to forgo this year’s NBA draft sent shockwaves throughout the collegiate hoops nation since he was projected to be a top five pick.
When you look at Smart’s first-year stats and accomplishments, his decision is even more bizarre. The 6'4" 225-pound point guard from Flower Mound, Texas averaged 15.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.9 steals per game. He was named the Wayman Tisdale award winner for national freshman of the year and was chosen as the Big 12 player of the year. To top it off, Smart was selected as a Sporting News first-team All-American and a second-team AP All-American.
This kind of resume from a college player of any age usually guarantees an early exit. But Smart stated that he “made his decision after consulting with his family and praying on it.” (h/t Sports Illustrated)
With Smart, Markel Brown and Le'Bryan Nash all returning for OSU, the Cowboys should be the favorites to win the Big 12 and make a deep run in next year’s NCAA tournament.