College Basketball: 40 Breakthrough Players for the 2011-12 Season

Todd HawkinsCorrespondent IJuly 25, 2011

College Basketball: 40 Breakthrough Players for the 2011-12 Season

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    Every college hoops season is chock-full of surprises, from the role player who evolves into a key contributor to the guy who seems to completely come out of nowhere to make an impact for his team.

    Last season, we witnessed Kentucky's Josh Harrellson, Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor, Louisville's Preston Knowles and Peyton Siva, North Carolina's John Henson, Vanderbilt's Festus Ezeli and John Jenkins, Texas A&M's Khris Middleton, Maryland's Jordan Williams and Providence's Marshon Brooks—just to name a few—all have breakthrough seasons for their respective schools.

    For the upcoming 2011-12 season, I've listed 40 potential players primed to see a significant statistical increase in production from their 2010-11 campaigns.

Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State

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    Previously blocked from playing time during his freshman season by David Lighty, the left-handed 6’6” combo forward is ready to pick up where his predecessor left off.

    Thomas showed flashes of what’s to come after posting 11 games of at least 13 or more points throughout the 2010-11 season.

    In just 14 minutes of action per game, the Fort Wayne, Ind. native averaged 7.5 points and 3.5 rebounds while shooting 47.5 percent from the floor.

    Thomas’ versatile offensive repertoire should fit in perfectly with the Buckeyes as the third scoring option behind William Buford and Jared Sullinger.

    Thomas can score facing up, with his back to the basket and out on the perimeter.

    The dynamic sophomore should see his minutes, scoring and rebounding production nearly double next season at Ohio State.

Patric Young, Florida

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    At 19 years old, the 6’10” forward-center is currently the most physically gifted big man in the country at the collegiate level.

    Young has a chiseled frame, freakish athleticism and rare explosiveness, making him a force to be reckoned with both on the glass and at the defensive end.

    In 17.8 minutes of action per game for the Gators last season, the Jacksonville native averaged 3.4 points and 3.8 rebounds on 55.6 percent shooting.  

    This summer, Young participated in the Under-19 FIBA World Championships, connecting on 72 percent from the field (mostly dunks) on his way to 9.7 points and 6.8 rebounds in 19 minutes per contest for team USA.

    If you haven't already, I’d strongly suggest checking out Young's highlight reel of rim-rattling dunks from the tournament, which FIBA compiled on YouTube. The kid knows how to flush it down with authority, that's for sure.

    Now that Vernon Macklin, Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons have exhausted their eligibility, Young will be the most important player on the floor for a guard-heavy Gator squad.

    If Young can continue polishing his back-to-the-basket game this summer, SEC teams are in for a world of hurt in 2011-12.

Thomas Robinson, Kansas

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    In just 14.6 minutes per game, the 6’9” power forward averaged 7.6 points and 6.4 rebounds on 60 percent shooting for the Jayhawks last season.

    Obviously, that’s ridiculously efficient production in such a short period of time on the court. 

    Robinson's per 40-minute rebounding average was higher than Kenneth Faried's, who led the nation in rebounding during his senior season at Morehead State.

    The lack of playing time in which Robinson received just goes to show how stacked the Jayhawks were last season.

    Robinson’s strength, athleticism and leaping ability—combined with his tenacious attitude— are the tools that make him a prolific rebounder.

    His relentlessness on the glass and high-energy motor should keep the Jayhawks in the Big 12 hunt this season.

    After playing behind the Morris twins since he's been at Kansas, Robinson is ready to burst onto the scene with a full-time gig.

    Given the hand he was dealt last season (losing his maternal grandparents and mother within a month), there’s not a guy I want to see succeed more than Robinson.

Terrence Ross, Washington

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    Despite the last-minute rejection of Kentucky forward Terrence Jones last spring, head coach Lorenzo Romar was still able to snag Jones’ highly rated friend and high school teammate, Washington native Terrence Ross.

    With Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Isaiah Thomas moving on to the NBA, the 6’6” athletic wing should step into a major role for the Huskies in 2011-12.

    Given his ability to play multiple positions on the floor, Ross will be the most versatile player on roster next season.

    The 20-year-old sophomore possesses a sweet stroke with unlimited range to match his ideal size on the wing. But most importantly, he has an array of ways to create his own shot, proving he’s much more than just a catch-and-shoot type player.

    Last season as a freshman, Ross averaged eight points and 2.8 rebounds on 44.3 percent shooting from the field. He connected on 44 of his 125 three-point attempts (35.2 percent).

    Ross elevated his game in the postseason, averaging 13 points over the final five games for the Huskies.

    Look for the dynamic sophomore to carry over last season’s momentum into a breakout campaign as go-to guy for the Huskies.

J'Covan Brown, Texas

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    J'Covan Brown has all the tools to be a prolific scorer at the collegiate level, but hasn't quite fully tapped into his potential for head coach Rick Barnes.

    After shooting 35.4 percent from the floor and 28.8 percent from beyond the arc as a freshman in 2009-10, Brown showed more consistency last season by improving his shot selection.

    As a sophomore, the 6’1” shooting guard averaged 10.4 points on 40.6 percent shooting while connecting at a much-improved 38.5 percent clip from long range.

    Brown seemed to finally turn the corner at the end of last season, posting back-to-back scoring games of 21 and 23 in the NCAA tournament.

    The Texas native will look to carry over last season’s tournament performances and pair up with incoming freshman point guard Myck Kabongo to lead the Horns into the 2011-12 season.

    With Jordan Hamilton, Tristan Thompson and Corey Joseph moving on to the NBA, there's not a better time to break out for the junior guard.

Dion Waiters, Syracuse

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    The ongoing battle of wills between Dion Waiters and head coach Jim Beoheim seemed likely to drive the two apart at season’s end.

    But Orange fans breathed a sigh of relief after the 6'4" shooting guard confirmed on Twitter in late April his return to Syracuse. 

    As a freshman in 2010-11, Waiters averaged 6.6 points, 1.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.1 steals while shooting 41.1 percent from the field.

    The highly rated Philly native was stuck in the doghouse for much of the season and found himself behind Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche for playing time in the backcourt, seeing just over 16 minutes per game.

    Heading into 2011-12, Waiters is arguably the most talented player on roster behind swingman Kris Joseph.

    If he and Beoheim can put their issues to bed, the strong Waiters should have a breakout sophomore season and help carry the Orange deeper into March.

Devin Booker, Clemson

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    The younger brother of former Clemson standout and current Washington Wizard forward Trevor Booker, Devin finally emerged from his brother’s shadow with his improved play for the Tigers last season.

    After an underachieving freshman campaign, the 6’8” 245-pound forward utilized his size, explosiveness and athleticism to begin blossoming into the versatile player many have expected him to become.

    In just over 24 minutes of action per contest, Booker averaged 8.1 points and 5.5 rebounds.

    Other than being an athletic big body that runs the floor well, rebounds and defends, Booker continues to improve his offensive skill set.

    Last season during ACC play, Booker displayed a solid back-to-the-basket game, including hook shots with both hands. And like his brother, he's shown the ability to knock it down out on the perimeter.

    With former Clemson standout Jerai Grant on his way out after playing his final season for the Tigers, Booker will join fellow junior forward Milton Jennings in anchoring down the front line for second-year head coach Brad Brownell.

Charles Abouo, BYU

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    Overshadowed by the play of Jimmer Fredette last season, Abouo came on strong down the stretch for the Cougars while Brandon Davies served his suspension.

    The more games he played, the more confidence Abouo seemed to gain on the court.

    His strength, athleticism and ability to guard multiple positions combined with his knack for the basketball is what makes Abouo such a solid rebounder and defender.

    Heading into 2011-12, the 6’5” slasher appears be the most well-rounded, versatile player for head coach Dave Rose.

    Abouo, known more for his unselfishness on the offensive end, will be depended on to step into an expanded scoring role for the Cougars now that the backcourt tandem of Jackson Emory and Fredette has moved on.

    Given his ability to blow by defenders to the bucket and hit open shots from the perimeter, Abouo should do just fine making the transition from glue guy to shouldering a good portion of the offensive load along with Noah Hartsock and Davies.

    Look for Abouo to nearly double his scoring average (7.2 points per game) from last season.

Richard Solomon, California

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    Last season, it was Solomon's high school teammate, Allen Crabbe, who broke onto the scene for head coach Mike Montgomery.

    With center Markhuri Sanders-Frison exhausting his eligibility, it opens the door wide open for Solomon to provide a tremendous boost in the frontcourt.

    The 6’10” sophomore center arrived to Cal as a tall, lanky kid with a ton of potential.

    As his freshman season progressed, Solomon steadily improved his play in the post, showing good hands, nimble feet and a soft shooting touch around the basket.

    The Los Angeles native averaged 5.6 points and 4.4 rebounds in a reserve role for the Golden Bears last season.

    He still has a long ways to go filling out physically, but thrives on his superior length and athleticism which helped make his presence felt on the defensive end (27 blocks).

    Solomon was invited to try out for the USA Under-19 team, but wasn't able to make the final roster. Next up is California's European tour this summer, which should greatly benefit him.

    In 2011-12, look for Solomon to slide into the starting lineup alongside Harper Kamp and double his scoring and rebounding production from last season.

Gerald Robinson, Georgia

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    Last season, Robinson was one of the more unheralded players not only for the Bulldogs, but in the SEC.

    The Nashville native quietly averaged 12.2 points on 44.2 percent shooting from the field, along with 2.7 rebounds and four assists per game.

    With the early departures of Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie to the NBA, the 6’1” guard is more than capable of taking on the role of go-to guy.

    His senior season for Georgia will be a lot similar to one of his first two seasons at Tennessee State, where he scored more than 1,000 points before deciding to bring his game to Athens.

    The combo guard is one of the quickest players in the country with the rock, which helps him shred opposing defenses and make jaw-dropping plays.

    Head coach Mark Fox’s triangle offense demands two primary ball-handlers, a style that allows returning senior point guard Dustin Ware and Robinson to play off each other’s abilities.

    In 2011-12, don’t be surprised if the senior guard increases his scoring average to around 17 to 20 points per game and makes a push for first-team All-SEC honors.

Solomon Hill, Arizona

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    Solomon Hill arrived to Tucson as the highest rated player in Miller’s 2009 class (No. 27 overall per, which also included Derrick Williams.

    Hill is a do-it-all 6’6” combo forward who, during his first two seasons playing for Miller, has been used more as a point forward.

    The Los Angeles native has strong handles, which he utilizes to break defenders down off the dribble.

    Despite being a bit undersized to play on the block, Hill’s big frame allows him to bang with the best on the glass. He’s also a crafty passer and was often able to feed the ball inside to Derrick Williams from the wing in the halfcourt offense.

    During his freshman season, Hill’s production rapidly declined after hitting the ground running when teams came to the realization that he lacked a perimeter shot. Defenders would simply give Hill space to prevent from being blown by off the dribble and force him into shooting.

    That summer, he put in countless gym hours working on his perimeter shot, which ultimately paid off.

    Last season as a sophomore, Hill posted 14 double-figure scoring games, nearly double his output as a freshman. He connected on 17 three-pointers (35.4 percent) compared to just four (22.4 percent) as a freshman and also raised his free-throw percentage from 70.5 to 78 percent.

    Overall, he averaged eight points on 48.6 percent shooting from the field, 4.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists.

    Hill should see an expanded role in the offense with Derrick Williams moving on to the NBA.

Renardo Sidney, Mississippi State

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    Renardo Sidney is showing the willingness to better himself this summer by working out with former NBA player John Lucas, regarded as one of the world’s best resources for basketball training and development.

    After spending nearly two months in Houston with Lucas, Sidney has lost 23 pounds and plans on losing 20 more before the season begins.

    The 6'10" forward-center admitted to tipping the scales at as much as 320 pounds last season, a long ways away from his listed weight of 270 by the Mississippi State media guide. 

    Sidney drew negative attention to himself for taking plays off throughout the season, a direct result of his weight and attitude. He also grabbed national headlines for his fistfight with Elgin Bailey in the stands of a Hawaii gymnasium during the Maui Invitational.

    And on top of all that, it's been recently reported that the junior big man would not accompany the team on a summer exhibition trip to Europe. Stansbury would not elaborate on the issue, which of course, is currently raising more questions regarding Sidney's character.

    But for now, at least he's in good hands with Lucas.

    It's apparent he has a long ways to go to shed his negative image, and by getting into great shape, he shouldn't feel the need to take plays off next season.

    Keep in mind, this is a kid who posted 14.2 points and 7.6 rebounds while not even being anywhere near game shape.

    Bottom line—Sidney will be as good as he wants to be—it’s that simple.

Dominic Cheek, Villanova

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    Dom Cheek’s first two seasons in a Villanova uniform haven’t quite gone the way he and fans had envisioned, considering he came into the program as a highly rated shooting guard prospect with big-time expectations.

    In 19.4 minutes per contest as a sophomore, Cheek averaged 5.6 points and 3.4 rebounds for the Wildcats.

    Cheek possesses all the raw tools to be a productive wing in the Big East: excellent size, speed, quickness and athleticism.

    The 6'6" junior has extended range and the ability to score off the dribble, but needs to be more assertive on the offensive end as he figures to have more responsibility entrusted in him next season.

    Cheek should see closer to 30 minutes of action in 2011-12 now that Stokes, Fisher and Pena have exhausted their eligibility.

    Even if he doesn’t come around offensively, Cheek’s versatility on the defensive end (can defend guards or forwards) and ability to rebound well from his spot on the perimeter will make him a valuable asset for head coach Jay Wright.

Michael Snaer, Florida State

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    For such a gifted athlete with so many tools at his disposal, Michael Snaer has me scratching my head when he becomes so erratic on the offensive end.

    Defensively, he’s already there.

    The former McDonald's All-American put together another mediocre season at the offensive end, averaging 8.8 points on 40 percent shooting from the field while connecting on 36.8 percent of his three-point attempts as a sophomore.

    Standing 6’4” with a pure perimeter stroke, Snaer has the frame, wingspan, explosiveness, speed, toughness, elevation and the rest of the whole nine yards to become an All-ACC performer at shooting guard.

    Watching him play, I see a confident, high-energy guy with a ton of swagger.

    But he’s almost too overconfident, taking one too many contested and off-balance shots over his first two seasons for the Seminoles.

    If he can play with maturity, poise and improve his shot selection, Snaer will have a breakthrough junior season.

    Remember, Derwin Kitchen and Chris Singleton aren’t walking through that door, so the Noles are depending on the well-rounded guard to be their go-to guy.

Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut

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    Kemba Walker was not only the face of the 2010-11 national champion UConn Huskies, but along with Jimmer Fredette, he was the face of college hoops.

    Now that the torch has been passed, it’s time for swingman Jeremy Lamb to finish writing his own chapter.

    Overshadowed by Walker last season, Lamb was immensely valuable to Calhoun as the No. 2 scoring option and on the defensive side of the ball.

    The 6’5” sophomore-to-be was a model of consistency, finishing the season with 11 consecutive double-digit scoring games.

    Whenever Walker was having an off night, Lamb was there to pick him up. And when both were on, the Huskies were virtually unbeatable.

    Lamb just finished up playing for the United States in the Under-19 FIBA World Championships in Latvia.

    He led the USA in scoring at 16.2 points per game and lit up eventual gold-medal winner Lithuania for 35 points in an overtime win, showing he’s more than capable of being the go-to guy offensively.

    Lamb is currently preparing for the 2011-12 season by working more on creating his own shot, something he didn’t have to rely on much last season playing alongside Walker.

Kendall Williams, New Mexico

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    Kendall Williams is one of the best up-and-coming point guards in the country, and right now, he’s flying under the radar.

    Last season, All-Mountain West senior guard Dairese Gary started at point, but Williams still found his way into the starting lineup as Alford is known for playing with three- or even four-guard lineups.

    Williams is a 6'3" multifaceted offensive player who plays well beyond his years, indicative in his two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio last season.

    The Mountain West Freshman of the Year averaged 11.6 points, three rebounds, four assists and 1.4 steals for the Lobos in 2010-11.

    He also shot 45.4 percent from the floor and connected at an impressive 42.6 percent clip from beyond the arc.

    Williams is slated as the Lobos’ starting point guard in 2011-12, now that the talented Gary has exhausted his eligibility.

    New Mexico fans received a sneak preview of next season’s team after Gary blew out his knee against BYU in the Mountain West Conference tournament semifinals.

    During the NIT, Williams poured in back-to-back games of 18 points—an encouraging sign of what’s to come.

    Also, watch out for incoming freshman guard Hugh Greenwood, coming in from Australia.

Seth Curry, Duke

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    While all the hype surrounds Austin Rivers' debut at Duke (and rightfully so), redshirt junior Seth Curry is quietly waiting to break out in 2011-12.

    As a redshirt sophomore, the 6'3" combo guard slid into the starting lineup after Kyrie Irving went down with a severe toe injury, reaching double-figure scoring on 16 different occasions.

    On February 9, 2011, Curry dropped a season-high 22 points against North Carolina, a performance we’ll likely grow accustomed to out of Steph’s little brother next season.

    Curry went on to average nine points, 1.8 rebounds, two assists and found his rhythm beyond the arc, connecting on 43.5 percent of his three-point attempts (good for 1.7 per game).

    Irving and Nolan Smith have moved on to the NBA, which means Curry (along with Rivers and Dawkins) will fill the void in the backcourt.

    If incoming freshman Quinn Cook or returning sophomore Tyler Thornton falter at point guard, I don't see why Curry couldn't step in and run the offense, which would free up more minutes for junior shooting guard Andre Dawkins.

    Curry is well known as a lethal perimeter shooter, but his ball-handling skills and playmaking abilities are vastly underrated.

    Going head to head with Smith every day in practice during his redshirt season seems to have paid dividends for Curry.

Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan

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    The son of a former NBA great best known for his killer crossover dribble (aka The UTEP Two-Step), Hardaway Jr. thrived down the stretch for head coach John Beilein and helped propel the young Wolverines into the NCAA tournament last season.

    The 6’5” wing plays fearless basketball, which visibly rubbed off on his teammates during their Big Ten run through late January and February.

    Offensively, he showed the ability to blow by defenders off the dribble and the ability to knock down the open perimeter jumper by way of Morris' driving and dishing.

    This summer, he played in the World Championships for the United States Under-19, averaging 9.4 points off the bench in just over 26 minutes per game.

    Despite making just 10 of his 37 three-point attempts, Hardaway Jr. stayed on the floor because of his defense, as he was presented the challenge of guarding the opponent's best player each time out.

    He thrives off his length, quickness and athleticism defensively, and is capable of guarding multiple positions.

    Hardaway Jr. finally broke out on the offensive end during the final game against Australia, dropping 21 points.

    With Darius Morris opting to leave school early, Hardaway Jr. will be depended on to shoulder even more of the offensive load now, something I think he’s more than capable of handling.

    Don't be surprised if the sophomore increases his scoring output to around 20 points per game next season.

Josh Gasser, Wisconsin

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    Given the way head coach Bo Ryan develops players over the course of four seasons, Gasser could be something special by the time he leaves Wisconsin.

    The Port Washington, Wis. native made an immediate impact for the Badgers during his freshman season, starting 30 out of 34 games.

    To understand how rare that is, Gasser joins Devin Harris and Alando Tucker as only the third freshman to start under Ryan.

    Like most Ryan players, Gasser is consistent and well-rounded.

    Defensively, the 6'3" guard often took on the role of smothering the opponent’s best player, which allowed point guard Jordan Taylor (who’s a solid defender in his own right) to exert more energy on offense.

    Gasser possesses a high basketball IQ, as he carried a 2.44 assist-to-turnover ratio at the end of season— very rare for a freshman.  

    Overall, he averaged 5.9 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists while shooting 47.2 percent from the field.

    Gasser figures to see an expanded role in the Wisconsin swing offense behind Taylor now that Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil have graduated.

Hollis Thompson, Georgetown

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    Hoyas fans breathed a sigh of relief when dynamic small forward Hollis Thompson withdrew his name from the NBA draft.

    Georgetown had already lost three senior starters from last season, including the backcourt tandem of Austin Freeman and Chris Wright, Georgetown's top two scorers.

    In 23.2 minutes per contest, the 6’7” junior-to-be averaged 8.6 points and 4.4 rebounds on 51.9 percent shooting from the floor.

    Thompson was also deadly from beyond the arc, connecting on 45.7 percent of his three-point attempts.

    The Los Angeles, Calif. native is a slashing wing-type player who utilizes his length and athleticism in becoming a solid defender and rebounder.

    Now that he’s proved himself to be a consistent jump shooter combined with the fact that he’ll rarely leave the floor in 2011-12, Thompson should see his offensive production increase significantly.

    Thompson hopes to continue where he left off against VCU in the NCAA tournament, where he dropped 26 points in the Hoyas' blowout loss.

Khyle Marshall, Butler

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    Marshall is the prototypical Butler basketball player in that he plays with great energy and aggressiveness, doing whatever it takes to help his team win.

    The 6’7” lefty forward used his strength and athleticism to his advantage both on the glass and on the defensive end, helping lead the Bulldogs to their second title game in as many years.

    In just 15.2 minutes per game, Marshall averaged 5.8 points and 3.8 rebounds, shooting 51.1 percent from the field. 

    During his limited action, Marshall showed an array of moves slashing to the basket, scoring over defenders and finishing around the basket.

    One of the strengths to his game is how well he controls his body with the ball, whether he was spinning off defenders or hanging in the air through the lane to fend off contact.

    The Florida native didn’t attempt any three-pointers, but showed the ability to knock down the mid-range jumper.  

    Marshall played in the Under-19 FIBA World Championships this summer for team USA, where he grabbed 27 total rebounds, 14 coming by way of the offensive glass. In 13.3 minutes per game, he averaged 5.7 points and three rebounds.

    The sophomore forward will likely fill Matt Howard’s role playing alongside center Andrew Smith, and if he continues to develop his shooting range, you’re looking at the next Butler great.

Doron Lamb, Kentucky

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    Doron Lamb returned to Kentucky for one main reason: help bring a national title back to Big Blue Nation.

    Lamb came off the bench in 24 out of 38 games for the Wildcats, averaging 12.3 points in 28.4 minutes per game.

    It’s hard to find many weaknesses in the 6’4” shooting guard’s offensive game, as he handles the ball well enough to run the point, can create his own shot off the dribble, finishes strong around the basket and has a deadly mid-range game to match his sweet perimeter stroke.

    The Oak Hill product shot an SEC-leading 48.6 percent from beyond the arc, the third-best single-season percentage in Kentucky history, behind Cameron Mills and Travis Ford.

    Another year will give Lamb the opportunity to mature both mentally and physically, helping him take his game to a completely different level in 2011-12.

Ryne Smith, Purdue

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    Ryne Smith didn’t receive any attention from high-major schools in high school, but head coach Matt Painter and staff saw enough in his shooting abilities to take a chance on him when nobody else would.

    The 6’3” shooting guard averaged just 6.2 points per game during his junior season, but was able to connect at a 44.1 percent clip from beyond the arc.

    With E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson moving on to the NBA, Painter’s sharpshooting guard will see plenty more looks from beyond the arc.

    Every year, Smith has at least doubled his scoring output for the Boilermakers, and for his senior campaign, I see no reason why the trend won't continue.

    Look for the Ohio native to carry the momentum from his 20-point performance in Purdue's NCAA tournament loss to VCU into the 2011-12 season.

Joe Jackson, Memphis

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    Joe Jackson didn’t quite live up to his lofty expectations of dominating the Conference USA out of high school as many had predicted.

    The 6’0” point guard had a tough time making the transition to the collegiate level where instead of looking to always score first as he did in high school, his required job at Memphis was running the offense and distributing the basketball first and foremost.

    There’s no denying Jackson's prolific scoring abilities along with the freakish speed, quickness and athleticism he possesses, but for Memphis to achieve success, Jackson will have to mature as a floor general and leader.

    The Memphis native played in the FIBA World Championships for Team USA Under-19 this summer, under the tutelage of George Mason head coach Paul Hewitt.

    Jackson turned quite a few heads during the first week of training camp, immediately gaining the respect of teammates.

    In 23.7 minutes per game for team USA, Jackson averaged 11.6 points and dropped 37 dimes compared to 30 turnovers—but still struggled to create opportunities for his teammates.

    Jackson must learn when to push the ball in transition, when to set things up in the halfcourt, when to get certain teammates involved or make the extra pass and when to go get his offensively.

    If he can grow in these areas and improve his assist-to-turnover ratio, Jackson will live up to his lofty expectations and Memphis should be a title contender in 2011-12.

C.J. Leslie, North Carolina State

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    After head coach Sidney Lowe resigned and point guard Ryan Harrow transferred to Kentucky, many expected C.J. Leslie to follow suit.

    But instead of jumping ship, Leslie liked what he saw from new head coach Mark Gottfried and decided to remain with the Wolfpack.

    The 6'9" power forward will be the focal point of the North Carolina State offense following the graduation of leading scorer Tracy Smith.

    Last season, Leslie finished second on the team in scoring (11.0 points per game) and led the Pack in rebounding (7.2).

    The North Carolina native is one of the most athletic players in the country and lives above the rim, thriving off his superior length and explosiveness.

    During his freshman season, Leslie’s face-up and back-to-the-basket games were fairly solid, as he showed the ability to knock down the mid-range jumper along with a nice jump hook in the paint.

    However, Leslie shot the ball out on the perimeter one too many times instead of working for a high-percentage shot.

    The sophomore-to-be also left quite a few points on the floor, connecting at just 54.2 percent from the charity stripe.

    If he puts in the gym hours polishing his stroke this summer, Leslie will be a force to be reckoned with in the ACC next season.

Cameron Clark, Oklahoma

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    Cam Clark is currently flying a bit under the radar due to the Sooners' lack of success last season, but with the help of new head coach Lon Kruger, I have a feeling that’s all about to change.

    The highly rated prospect quietly put together a solid freshman season for Oklahoma in 2010-11, averaging 9.2 points and 4.5 rebounds.

    Standing 6’6”, Clark is a strong, athletic wing that excels by slashing to the basket with his quick first step and also thrives in transition with his above-the-rim finishes.

    Clark showed off a deadly mid-range game for the Sooners last season, shooting 47.2 percent from the floor.

    Clark’s strong handles allow him to create these high-percentage looks off the dribble, and his range extends out beyond the arc, as he connected on 37.3 percent of his three-point attempts.

    Kruger must be happy to have the total package in Clark, who should make his name well known in the Big 12 next season.

Alec Brown, Wisconsin Green-Bay

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    Back in May 2010, head coach Brian Wardle was able to land a diamond in the rough just three weeks into the job with his very first commit, Alec Brown.

    Brown shot up from around 6’4” to 6’10” between his sophomore and junior years in high school, and wasn't heavily recruited despite dominating the opposition throughout his senior season.

    Several scouting services wrote that Brown would be too physically weak to be able to make an immediate impact at the collegiate level.

    After watching the 6'10" center play at the Kohl Center last season, I was completely stunned at how good he was.

    Brown was very thin, but very coordinated. He showed great hands, a soft shooting touch with extended range and a couple solid back-to-the-basket moves—proving to be a perfect fit for Green Bay’s ball-screening offense. Brown finished the game against Wisconsin with 18 points, eight rebounds and connected on eight of his 11 attempts from the field.

    As a freshman, the seven-footer averaged 10.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game. He broke the program’s single-season block record with 65.

    This summer, Brown was the lone mid-major big man invited to the prestigious Stoudemire Camp, where he was able to measure up with the likes of Jared Sullinger and Anthony Davis.

    As he works to put on weight and get stronger this summer, look for Brown to take the next step in his development in becoming a great rebounder, dominant shot-blocker and prolific scorer in the Horizon League next season.

Dante Taylor, Pittsburgh

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    The former McDonald’s All-American made slow and steady strides from his freshman campaign, averaging 5.1 points and 4.5 rebounds in just 15.1 minutes per game last season.

    Taylor is a physical rebounding presence who shows quickness and athleticism around the basket.

    The 6'9" forward's strength is his offensive rebounding prowess (2.1 per game), proving to be Pitt's most effective rebounder on the offensive glass per 40 minutes.

    Taylor possesses the offensive skill set to become a big-time post player in the Big East, but is still quite raw in talent.

    With the graduation of big man Gary McGhee, Taylor will see his minutes increase and role expand, which should help him take that next step in his development.

    With two seasons under his belt, Taylor will play a vital role in anchoring Pitt's front line in 2011-12.

Meyers Leonard, Illinois

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    With four seniors graduated and Jereme Richmond prematurely leaving, the Illini will rely on younger players such as returning sophomores D.J. Richardson, Crandall Head and Brandon Paul in 2011-12.

    Possibly the most important returning sophomore will be center Meyers Leonard, who appeared in all but one game last season, backing up former starting center Mike Tisdale.

    Leonard is surprisingly very athletic for his size and has the ability to be a high-energy player for head coach Bruce Weber.

    The seven-footer handles the ball well, passes at a high level, can knock down the elbow jumper and is a solid rebounder and scorer in transition.

    Leonard played in the Under-19 FIBA World Championships this summer in Latvia for Team USA, where he gained maturity and valuable experience.

    After struggling early on in the tournament, Leonard was the best big man on the floor for the United States over the final three games, displaying many of his aforementioned tools.

    Leonard played his best game in their loss to Russia, where he posted 13 points, five rebounds and two blocks.

    If Leonard plays with high energy during the upcoming season as he did this summer, the Illini could find themselves in the Big Ten hunt.

Elijah Johnson, Kansas

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    Following the graduation of guards Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar and the early departure of Josh Selby to the NBA, Johnson figures to play a much bigger role for the Jayhawks after backing up Tyshawn Taylor at the point over the last two seasons.

    Head coach Bill Self isn’t bringing in as strong of a recruiting class as he has in the past, leaving the door wide open for former talented role players like Johnson, Thomas Robinson, Travis Releford and Jeff Withey, who have waited patiently for their chance to be key contributors in Lawrence.

    In limited action last season, the 6’4” Las Vegas native posted 3.4 points and 1.8 assists while shooting 40 percent from long range, attempting 1.5 three-pointers per game.

    Kansas fans received a glimpse of Johnson’s capabilities as a starter, dropping 15 points and connecting on all four three-point attempts in late February against Oklahoma State filling in for the suspended Taylor.

    Given the roster overhaul, Johnson is just too good to not be on the floor next season.

    It’s possible Self will slide Johnson into the starting lineup at shooting guard, forming a pretty strong backcourt tandem for the Jayhawks next season.

Scootie Randall, Temple

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    If Scootie Randall hadn’t suffered a broken bone in his foot against Richmond in mid-February, it could have been a completely different postseason for the Owls, who suffered a heartbreaking second-round defeat to San Diego State in the NCAA tournament last season.

    After sitting much of his first two seasons, the 6’6” swingman became a fixture in the Temple starting lineup as a junior in 2010-11.

    Randall earned playing time through tough defense, rebounding, not turning the ball over and his offensive versatility.

    The born-and-bred Philly star emerged as a much-needed scoring option behind Ramone Moore, Lavoy Allen and Juan Fernandez.

    As the season progressed to conference play, Randall made a habit of taking over games offensively.

    From January 22 to the game in which he suffered his foot injury on February 17, Randall was on the verge of breaking into stardom, averaging 17.3 points over eight Atlantic 10 conference games.  

    On the season, he averaged 10.7 points and 4.7 rebounds on 49.5 percent shooting. He also showed off his perimeter stroke, connecting at a 36.9 percent clip from beyond the arc.

    There’s no reason to think Randall won’t get back to playing at the same level he was at during that stretch of conference play last season.

    With Lavoy Allen moving on the NBA, Randall will be more heavily relied upon in 2011-12.

Mike Bruesewitz, Wisconsin

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    Every time it seems the Badgers are in for a rebuilding season, former role players from the previous year will make the transition into key contributors.

    Head coach Bo Ryan is the best at developing players over the course of four years, the key reason for Wisconsin’s consistent, long-term success.

    One of those role players from last season expected to make that transition is 6’6” small forward Mike Bruesewitz.

    The St. Paul, Minn. native was the glue guy for Ryan last season, averaging 4.6 points and 3.1 rebounds in 19.9 minutes per contest.

    Bruesewitz does a little bit of everything on the court for Wisconsin and uses his high basketball IQ and hustle to make up for his shortcomings.

    He plays physical, tough basketball and can guard the 2-4 positions on the floor.

    Bruesewitz has the ability to be a key contributor on offense, as he can pass, shoot and finish through contact.

    The more he improves his ball-handling, the easier he’ll be able to create his own shots.  

    Along with Gasser, Bruesewitz should provide the Badgers a consistent scoring option behind Jordan Taylor.

Jake Odum, Indiana State

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    When it’s all said and done, Jake Odum figures to be the most successful player at Indiana State since Larry Bird.

    In high school, the hometown Terre Haute native was just a blip on the recruiting radar despite posting some pretty impressive numbers for Terre Haute South.

    Back in those days, Odum barely stood over 6'0" before growing three to four inches since his arrival to campus.  

    As a redshirt freshman, Odum led the Sycamores to the NCAA tournament with its first 20-win season since 2001.

    Fellow Terre Haute native and Iowa transfer Jake Kelly suffered through an injury-riddled season, but fortunately for the program, Odum stepped up to help carry the load.

    Thriving on his playmaking ability, Odum averaged 9.3 points, 3.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists last season.

    Although he may seem to be a little flashy at times, Odum is a magician with the basketball and plays with a lot of confidence, fire and swagger.

    Standing 6’4”, Odum’s growth spurt has given him the length to do more things at both ends of the floor, notably on the defensive end (1.8 steals per game).

    The redshirt sophomore point guard can also take over a game on the offensive end, as he posted three games of at least 20 points during Valley play and 15 double-figure scoring games overall.

    Odum’s ability to create mid-range opportunities off the dribble account for his impressive 47.7 shooting percentage from the floor.

    If Odum adds more muscle to his frame and polishes up his perimeter jumper this summer, the hometown kid should compete with Kyle Weems and Doug McDermott for Conference Player of the Year in helping lead the Sycamores back to the Dance.

Gorgui Dieng, Louisville

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    One of the biggest keys to Louisville's success in 2011-12 is the development of sophomore center Gorgui Dieng.

    Dieng played limited minutes last season, averaging 5.7 points on 61.8 percent shooting, 4.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocked shots.

    Unlike most African players, Dieng is well advanced at this stage in the game offensively.

    The 6'10" native of Senegal has a couple of impressive back-to-the-basket moves and can also score facing up to the basket from mid-range.

    Defensively, Dieng is a great shot-blocker, thriving off his superior length and athleticism.

    According to the Pitino press conference from a couple weeks back, Dieng has added significant muscle this summer and hopes to gain at least 10 more pounds before the start of the season.

    Pitino said he would not be surprised if Dieng led the country in blocked shots this year.

    With Terrence Jennings moving on and Rakeem Buckles still rehabbing back from injury, Dieng appears to be the man ready to anchor Louisville's front line.

Vander Joaquim, Hawaii

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    Considering he moved to California from Angola in 2007 despite not knowing any English whatsoever, it's pretty amazing how quickly Vander Joaquim has progressed on and off the court.

    Joaquim originally signed with Nebraska in 2009 when current Hawaii head coach Walter Roese was an assistant there. However, he failed to meet academic qualifications and decided to go the JUCO route.

    After spending one season playing at College of Eastern Utah, Joaquim emerged as the starting center in his first year at Hawaii.

    Last season as a sophomore, the long-armed, 6'10" center averaged 9.5 points on 51.8 percent shooting, 8.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocked shots.

    From December 29 on, he averaged just over 12 points per game and recorded seven double-doubles for the Rainbows.

    Joaquim displayed an advanced offensive skill set, showing the ability to score with his back to the basket and good shooting range for a big man. His versatility allows him to play either spot in high-low sets for Hawaii.

    The Angolian big man is on pace to become one of the most well-rounded centers in the WAC.

    With continued work in the weight room and added conditioning this summer, Joaquim should become more of a well-known name in college basketball next season.

Okaro White, Florida State

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    Okaro White played his best basketball down the stretch for the Seminoles, starting the final 13 games of the season and helping the Noles reach the Sweet Sixteen as a true freshman.

    White filled in admirably for the injured Chris Singleton, becoming a defensive standout for one of the nation's top defensive teams.

    The 6'8" power forward thrives defensively off his length, explosive leaping ability, quick hands and feet. He can guard both forward positions and blocks shots on or away from the ball.

    Offensively, White was the third-most efficient scorer for the Noles, averaging 6.6 points and 3.1 rebounds on 44.4 percent shooting from the field.

    The Clearwater native is a skilled ball-handler who creates for himself off the dribble, and was able to draw 5.1 fouls per 40 minutes last season. He led Florida State in free-throw shooting as a freshman at a team leading 82.8 percent clip.

    White showed soft touch around the basket including a jump hook over his left shoulder and seems to have perfected the drop step.

    His perimeter game still needs work, as he shot just 26.5 percent from beyond the arc in 2010-11.

    Developing a stronger perimeter game this summer will help elevate White's game to a whole new level next season.

Keith Appling, Michigan State

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    Four-year starter Kalin Lucas leaves behind some big shoes to fill at point guard for Michigan State.

    Based on how events have unfolded this offseason, it appears combo guard Keith Appling is the front-runner to be Lucas' successor.

    Appling, who started 16 games for Michigan State in Big Ten play as a true freshman, averaged 6.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists and shot 41.1 percent from beyond the arc.

    The 6'1" former McDonald's All-American out of Detroit played for Team USA in the Under-19 World Championships this summer, backing up Joe Jackson at the point.

    Appling was able to run the offense smoothly and limit turnovers, proving himself capable of leading the Spartans at the point next season.

    In the fifth-place game against Australia, Appling led the United States to victory by scoring six crucial points in the final minutes.

    Back in early May, head coach Tom Izzo landed Valparaiso transfer combo guard Brandon Wood, who is immediately eligible to play for the Spartans in 2011-12 after earning his degree from Valpo and enrolling in a graduate program at Michigan State.

    Regardless of whether Wood or Appling start at the point, Izzo will have the luxury of two capable ball-handlers pushing the ball up the floor or running halfcourt sets.

Aziz N'Diaye, Washington

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    Like Gorgui Dieng of Louisville, Aziz N'Diaye will be Washington's key to success in 2011-12.

    Unlike Dieng, N'Diaye's offense is still well behind his defense. But with all the weapons out on the wing and in the backcourt for Washington, N'Diaye's role will again be defense and rebounding.

    Last season, the seven-footer led the Huskies in rebounding per 40 minutes. In 17.4 minutes per game, N'Diaye averaged 4.6 points on 57.9 percent shooting, 5.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocked shots.

    N'Diaye runs the floor pretty well for his size and was able to keep up in transition, proving to be a nice fit in Washington's uptempo style of play.

    The native of Senegal showed flashes of offensive potential with his back to the basket, but for the most part, he scored mainly on offensive putbacks or dunks. Under the tutelage of Romar, N'Diaye's offense will likely begin catching up with his defense sooner than later.

    With Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Justin Holiday exhausting their eligibility, N'Diaye could see upwards of 30 minutes of action per game next season as the anchor of Washington's thin frontcourt. If you project his scoring and rebounding production for that amount of time, the sophomore center would average nearly a double-double.

Juvonte Reddic, VCU

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    The Rams graduated starters Jamie Skeen, Joey Rodriguez, Ed Nixon and Brandon Rozzell from last season's Final Four team, leading many to believe they're in for a rebuilding season in 2011-12.

    While that may be true, don't go counting out head coach Shaka Smart and his returning crew, just yet.

    Former reserves Darius Theus, Rob Brandenburg, Troy Daniels and D.J. Haley are expected to take the next step in their development in becoming key contributors for the Rams next season.

    But there's one player with enough raw talent to completely break onto the scene in the Colonial— 6'9" power forward Juvonte Reddic.

    As a true freshman receiving limited minutes (11.2 per game), Reddic averaged 3.5 points and 1.9 rebounds. He appeared in 36 of 40 games, starting 12 during conference play.

    In just 10 minutes against Purdue in the NCAA tournament, the reserve forward dropped 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field.

    Reddic displayed a nice-looking perimeter jumper inside the arc, something he'll be doing more of in VCU's run-and-gun offense receiving double or triple the minutes he did last season. 

    Defensively, he has a few things to work on, but can defend both post positions and is mobile enough to match up out on the wing if need be.

    Reddic's game could evolve similarly to Jamie Skeen's next season, who previously served as Reddic's mentor. There aren't too many big men in the Colonial that can even measure up to his athleticism.

    In terms of upside, the sophomore forward could potentially be better than Skeen when it's all said and done.

Eric Atkins, Notre Dame

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    Back in April at the Final Four, head coach Mike Brey said that Eric Atkins is more than ready to take over the point guard responsibilities left behind by Ben Hansbrough.

    As a true freshman in just over 25 minutes per game, Atkins averaged 5.8 points and 3.2 assists for the Irish.

    The 6'2" Maryland native will see an expanded role in the offense considering the losses of starters Carleton Scott, Tyrone Nash and Hansbrough from last season.

    Atkins is a well-rounded, true point guard who uses his quickness and ball-handling skills to penetrate defenses. He'll still have Tim Abromaitis, Scott Martin and redshirt freshman Jerian Grant to kick out to on the wings.

    But most importantly, Atkins is a mentally tough kid who possesses quality leadership traits, which should help make the transition to full-time starter run smoother.

    Atkins is working hard this summer in the weight room to prepare for the grinding season in the Big East, where he'll oppose bigger, more physical guards.