Every Top 25 College Basketball Team's Most Explosive Player in 2016-17

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistJune 17, 2016

Every Top 25 College Basketball Team's Most Explosive Player in 2016-17

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    Associated Press

    Balance and consistency are great, but there's something about that college basketball player who can erupt for a big play or a huge game that gets the juices flowing.

    Almost every team has that one guy who is capable of going off for 20-plus points if the conditions are right, and some manage to make a habit of this. Last season 100 Division I players scored 20 or more in at least 12 games, and 13 of them did it at least 20 times.

    Most of those guys have either graduated or turned pro, such as Cat Barber, Ben Bentil, Kay Felder, Buddy Hield, Stefan Moody and Kyle Wiltjer. Fear not, though, as several potent scorers remain, plus another batch of explosive stars are sure to emerge in 2016-17.

    Using Bleacher Report's most recent top 25 as a guide, we've identified that one explosive player for each of the top projected teams.

25. Creighton: Marcus Foster

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    John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Junior

    Position: Guard

    Height, weight: 6'3”, 210 lbs

    Marcus Foster had two up-and-down seasons at Kansas State, where he had a stellar freshman season but slipped across the board as a sophomore. An in-season suspension and later a dismissal ended his run with the Wildcats, but Creighton provides a fresh start after he sat out 2015-16.

    The Blue Jays are hoping the time off has enabled Foster to recognize what went wrong at K-State and focus on what worked—namely, his ability to take over a game from time to time. For example, he had a 34-point game on 13-of-16 shooting as a freshman in a win over Texas. He also scored 24 on 9-of-14 shooting to knock off Purdue at the Maui Invitational as a sophomore.

24. Dayton: Charles Cooke

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    Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Senior

    Position: Guard

    Height, weight: 6'5”, 192 lbs

    Dayton's first Atlantic 10 regular-season title in school history was no doubt a team effort, but adding Charles Cooke to the mix certainly helped. The James Madison transfer averaged 15.6 points per game while shooting 39.9 percent from long range, both of which topped the charts for the Flyers.

    Expect more of the same from Cooke, but he'll need to avoid fading down the stretch. More than 40 percent of his 56 turnovers came in Dayton's final 10 games, while in his last four contests he went 15-of-47 from the field. A 2-of-9 effort from three-point range was among the many things that sealed the Flyers' fate in a first-round NCAA tournament loss to Syracuse.

23. Connecticut: Rodney Purvis

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    Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Senior

    Position: Guard

    Height, weight: 6'4”, 205 lbs

    Rodney Purvis was Connecticut's leading scorer this past season, but that's a relative term. The Huskies had four players average between 12.3 and 12.8 points per game, with Purvis ending up scoring 10 more points than second-leading scorer Daniel Hamilton and 20 more than No. 4 scorer Sterling Gibbs.

    Both Hamilton and Gibbs are gone, as is No. 3 scorer Shonn Miller, so when it comes to production, Purvis will have a big workload next time out. VCU transfer Terry Larrier, a quality recruiting class and rising sophomore point guard Jalen Adams will also be in the mix, but Purvis figures to get first dibs on being the go-to guy.

    We saw that in flashes last season, Purvis' second with UConn after he started his career at North Carolina State. When he shot 50 percent or better, his team was 17-1, and the Huskies were 8-10 when he failed to hit that mark.

22. Clemson: Jaron Blossomgame

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    Dawson Powers-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Senior

    Position: Forward

    Height, weight: 6'7”, 214 lbs

    Because of some incoming impact transfers, Clemson was going to still be OK next season if Jaron Blossomgame had decided to remain in the NBA draft. But when he withdrew in order to play his final collegiate season, the Tigers became a dark-horse contender in the ACC.

    That's what bringing back a guy who averaged 18.7 points per game—8.5 more than any other Clemson player—while shooting 51.3 percent overall and 44.6 percent from three-point range will do for a team's prospects.

    A key for Blossomgame will be getting others involved so he can go on runs when not getting blanketed by defenders. Last year Clemson, which went 17-14 overall, was 8-8 when he scored 20 or more including 0-3 when he dropped 30-plus.

21. Butler: Kelan Martin

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Year: Junior

    Position: Forward

    Height, weight: 6'6”, 215 lbs

    Kelan Martin is coming off a breakthrough season, as he took advantage of an increase in minutes to go from scoring 7.1 points per game as a freshman to 15.7. Expect another uptick in 2016-17, with Butler losing two of its other top three scorers in Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones.

    "If (it) wasn’t for Ben Bentil at Providence, Martin would have easily (taken) home the Big East’s Most Improved Player of the Year award," Dan Stack of Today's U wrote.

    Martin scored 20 or more points 10 times last season, highlighted by a 35-point performance in a February win over Georgetown.

20. Saint Mary's: Emmett Naar

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Junior

    Position: Guard

    Height, weight: 6'1”, 195 lbs

    Because Saint Mary's missed out on the NCAA tournament and then bowed out of the NIT before the high-profile semifinals, much of the country isn't aware of Emmett Naar and his ability to score at will. And if he wasn't putting the ball in the basket, he was getting it to another Gael to do so.

    Naar averaged 14.1 points and 6.3 assists per game last season, assisting on 31.1 percent of baskets by teammates when he was on the court. In addition to his own scoring, there were very few points that he wasn't involved with other than foul shots.

19. Louisville: Donovan Mitchell

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    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Sophomore

    Position: Guard

    Height, weight: 6'3”, 210 lbs

    Damion Lee and Trey Lewis graduated, while Chinanu Onuaku left for the NBA. With that trio goes 48.8 percent of Louisville's scoring, not to mention plenty of experience.

    Donovan Mitchell can't do much about the experience factor, since he's only logged 591 minutes at the college level. But in that time he was as explosive as any player the Cardinals put on the court, and he's primed for a much larger role in 2016-17.

    In 19.1 minutes per game he averaged 7.4 points while shooting 44.2 percent. When not putting up ill-advised three-pointers (he was 18-of-72), he was slashing to the basket and scoring in transition. That includes one of the best dunks of last season, which followed wins in dunk contests coming out of high school.

18. California: Jabari Bird

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    James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Senior

    Position: Senior

    Height, weight: 6'6”, 198 lbs

    California scored a major win when likely first-round draft pick Ivan Rabb opted to return for his sophomore year. He provides the interior production and defensive presence the Golden Bears need to avoid a fallback season, though others must replace a lot of departed scoring.

    Jaylen Brown, Jordan Mathews and Tyrone Wallace combined for 50.4 percent of Cal's points and had a collective 16 games of 20 or more points.

    Jabari Bird had four such outings, with each coming after he returned to the starting lineup in mid-January. He turned into the sixth man for a stretch, but it didn't fit his style, and after scoring 13 points in a four-game span, he erupted for 17 when he started the next time out.

    Bird will be Cal's main producer on the perimeter, and if he can hit 40.9 percent of his threes again, that will work out fine for the Bears.

17. Rhode Island: E.C. Matthews

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    Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

    Year: Junior

    Position: Guard

    Height, weight: 6'5”, 190 lbs

    Rhode Island's hope of ending a 17-year NCAA tournament drought went crashing to the floor during its season opener in November, when E.C. Matthews injured his knee 10 minutes into the game. That knocked him out for the season, and the Rams went 17-15.

    Missing that season will provide Matthews with plenty of fuel to blow up in 2016-17. If health allows, he should return to the form that saw him score 15.6 points per game in his first two seasons.

    Matthews led Rhode Island in scoring as a sophomore and was second as a freshman, scoring 20 or more 19 times.

16. Baylor: Johnathan Motley

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    Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Junior

    Position: Forward

    Height, weight: 6'9”, 230 lbs

    Johnathan Motley came off the bench for nearly all of last season yet still managed to average 11.1 points per game in just less than 21 minutes of action. Extrapolate that to a full 40-minute average, and his 21.2 points was tops on Baylor in 2015-16.

    A spark off the bench has been a staple of the Bears the last two seasons, as Taurean Prince was their leading scorer as a reserve in 2014-15. He moved into the starting lineup last year, which shifted Motley to sixth man, yet that served him well because he could come in and play with reckless abandon.

    He could also do it as a starter, racking up three of his seven 20-point games when he began the game on the court. His career high of 27 points, which he achieved twice last year against Iowa State, came once off the bench and once from the starting lineup.

15. Xavier: Trevon Bluiett

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    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Junior

    Position: Forward

    Height, weight: 6'6”, 215 lbs

    Few teams took greater advantage of the new offensive rules in 2015-16 than Xavier, which increased its scoring from the year before by almost 10 percent but with the same efficiency. This was due both to a balanced attack in which six players averaged at least nine points per game but also because the Musketeers had one guy who could light it up when needed.

    That was Trevon Bluiett, Xavier's leading scorer at 15.1 points per game (4.1 more than anyone else) and the producer of six of the team's 14 games with 20 or more points.

    Bluiett upped his scoring from 11 points per game as a freshman thanks to an improved three-point stroke that saw him make 39.8 percent of his long balls. Xavier went 28-6 last season, and its record when Bluiett sank at least three three-pointers was 13-3.

14. Indiana: James Blackmon Jr.

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Junior

    Position: Guard

    Height, weight: 6'3”, 184 lbs

    Last season started off promising for James Blackmon Jr., who averaged 15.8 points per game and shot 46.3 percent from three-point range in Indiana's first 13 games. Those were the only ones he'd get to play, though, after he tore his ACL in December.

    Blackmon was on pace for a big year, and though the Hoosiers weren't lacking for weapons, they still felt his absence. Now he heads into 2016-17 as likely the go-to offensive player, at least on the perimeter, but he'll need to be more consistent and not rely on volume.

    His 15.8 points per game came on 11.7 shots, and in Indiana's three losses while he was available, he was a combined 11-of-32 for 32 points. In the other 10 games, he was 62-of-120 and averaged 17.4 points.

13. Purdue: Vince Edwards

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    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    Year: Junior

    Position: Forward

    Height, weight: 6'8”, 225 lbs

    Big man Caleb Swanigan had the potential to be a dominant force in the paint, one who could break rims by putting all of his 250 or so pounds behind every dunk. Instead, he struggled on the offensive end during his freshman year, and Purdue had to look to others for offensive efficiency last season.

    Vince Edwards routinely took on that role of the go-to scorer, managing to be the Boilermakers' top three-point shooter (40.7 percent) and best foul shooter (82 percent). He also ranked second in scoring (11.3), third in rebounding (5.4) and first in assists (2.9), a product of Purdue's inability to settle on a point guard.

    Most of Edwards' biggest games last season came on the road or in neutral-site games, including all three of his 20-point efforts.

12. Gonzaga: Nigel Williams-Goss

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    Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Junior

    Position: Guard

    Height, weight: 6'3”, 185 lbs

    Nigel Williams-Goss was Washington's leading scorer and assist man as a sophomore in 2014-15, but that was on a team that went 16-15 and finished 11th in the Pac-12. Unhappy with the direction that program was headed, Williams-Goss felt it was better to sit out a year and go somewhere else "for the stability aspect," per Percy Allen of the Seattle Times.

    Gonzaga won the sweepstakes, knowing it would have an instant-offense player in 2016-17 when Kyle Wiltjer and likely Domantas Sabonis would be gone. That duo combined to average 38 points per game and poured in 20 or more on 32 occasions.

    Williams-Goss won't replace all of that production, but he can score as much as the Bulldogs will need. He had seven 20-point games in 2014-15, including 28 against Utah in the regular-season finale, and only 20 percent of his shots that season were three-pointers.

11. Michigan State: Miles Bridges

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Freshman

    Position: Forward

    Height, weight: 6'8”, 230 lbs

    Denzel Valentine was by far Michigan State's most explosive player in 2015-16, though sharpshooter Bryn Forbes could go off when he found his rhythm from the perimeter. If one or both of them struggled, though, the Spartans had trouble finding offense.

    So imagine what MSU might look like this season had it not known that electric prospect Miles Bridges was coming in. An in-state product who signed with the program in November, he'd have likely played for the Spartans as a high school senior because they "didn't have anyone who possessed the dynamic and game-changing ability" of Bridges, per ESPN.com's Jeff Borzello.

    Bridges has the potential to be an all-around contributor similar to what LSU had last season in Ben Simmons, though with more willingness to take over a game offensively and shoot from everywhere.

10. Wisconsin: Nigel Hayes

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    Year: Senior

    Position: Forward

    Height, weight: 6'7”, 245 lbs

    Wisconsin was among the bottom 20 percent nationally in scoring last season at 67.8 points per game, which made it difficult to identify someone capable of blowing up. Nigel Hayes was the closest thing the Badgers had to a big-time scorer, though he did so with some inefficient numbers.

    Hayes averaged a team- and career-high 15.7 points per game, but that came on 36.8 percent shooting. Each season has seen him move farther from the basket in an effort to develop the jump shot he'll need to make it at the next level, which has also reduced his opportunities to drive and use his strength to get to the rim.

    Bleacher Report's Kerry Miller has suggested the key for Hayes in 2016-17 is to “let the game come to him” rather than force the issue, which would likely mean playing to his strengths, where he'd have a better chance to score big.

9. UCLA: Bryce Alford

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    Leon Bennett/Getty Images

    Year: Senior

    Position: Guard

    Height, weight: 6'3”, 185 lbs

    Love him or hate him—there are more of the latter, even among UCLA fans—but there's no denying Bryce Alford can score in bunches. Unfortunately, he can also put up a dud just as often, which was why the son of coach Steve Alford was so infuriating for Bruins supporters to watch sometimes.

    It was also that way for opposing fans when he erupted for 58 points in two games against Washington or when he hit five three-pointers against Arizona including the game-winner in the final seconds. Yet because he took so many shots—he averaged 12.75 per game and had 10 games of 15 or more attempts—he'd keep firing even if they weren't falling.

    With UCLA adding adept ball-handler Lonzo Ball to play point guard this season, Alford's final year can see him focus on taking better shots since someone else is running the offense. He's much better off the ball, where he can spot up and launch instead of having to create space to shoot. As a result, he might have more of an opportunity to put up big numbers this season.

8. Virginia: Austin Nichols

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    Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Junior

    Position: Forward

    Height, weight: 6'9”, 230 lbs

    Virginia has pushed into the college basketball elite with its mix of suffocating defense and efficient offense. There was not much flash or explosiveness to it, although Justin Anderson in 2014-15 and Malcolm Brogdon the past two years were capable of going off from time to time.

    The one thing those Cavaliers teams lacked, from an offensive standpoint, was a player who could both abuse and protect the rim. That could be Austin Nichols, assuming the year off hasn't impacted his abilities.

    Nichols spent two seasons at Memphis, where he averaged 11 points and 5.1 rebounds on 53.7 percent shooting. As a sophomore he notched 3.4 blocks per game, third-best in the country. He had seven swats along with 16 points and eight rebounds in a win over then-defending national champion Connecticut.

    Isaiah Wilkins and Anthony Gill each had a four-block game for Virginia last year, but the Cavs managed only 3.21 blocks per game.

7. Arizona: Allonzo Trier

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    Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Sophomore

    Position: Guard

    Height, weight: 6'5”, 199 lbs

    If Terrance Ferguson ends up playing for Arizona this fall, he has the potential to be a major weapon with his ability to hit three-pointers in bunches. He set a record with seven in the Nike Hoop Summit in April, shortly before committing to the Wildcats.

    According to Jerry Meyer of 247Sports, Ferguson is reportedly considering playing overseas instead of going to college and has yet to enroll, so for the time being Allonzo Trier remains Arizona's offensive force for 2015-16. It's the role he held for much of his freshman year, both before and after missing time with a broken hand.

    Trier's best attribute is his willingness to go to the rim and take contact. He attempted eight or more foul shots in seven games, scoring 22 points in a November win on just five field-goal attempts because of his work at the line.

6. Kentucky: Malik Monk

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    Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images

    Year: Freshman

    Position: Guard

    Height, weight: 6'3 ½”, 187 lbs

    The most common comparison that comes up when trying to describe Malik Monk, Kentucky's next highly rated combo guard prospect, is Derrick Rose. His ability to handle the ball and score it in a variety of ways will make him a fixture in the Wildcats offense this season, which is likely to be his only one at the college level.

    "Explosive, great scorer who’s also a guy who can make his teammates better," Kentucky special assistant Joel Justus told Ben Roberts of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

    Monk is stepping into the role held this past season by Jamal Murray, whose 20 points per game were the most by any player since John Calipari took over Kentucky in 2009-10. And like Murray, Monk can get his points from outside or in, off a pass or off the dribble.

    With Monk and fellow freshman guard De'Aaron Fox, the Wildcats will boast one of the most exciting backcourts in the country.

5. North Carolina: Justin Jackson

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    Lance King/Getty Images

    Year: Junior

    Position: Forward

    Height, weight: 6'8”, 193 lbs

    With senior leaders Brice Johnson inside and Marcus Paige on the perimeter, North Carolina had the veterans needed to make a deep NCAA tournament run last season. They're gone now, which leaves Justin Jackson to fill the void and show he can be a go-to player instead of just a piece of the puzzle.

    In his sophomore year, Jackson averaged 12.2 points per game, a slight uptick from the 10.7 of 2014-15, though there were more instances of him breaking free for a big performance. He showed this early with three consecutive 20-point games in November, when UNC didn't have Paige available because of injury. Then, after going 1-of-7 in a loss at Notre Dame, he put up 20 on 9-of-11 shooting three days later at Boston College.

    Part of Jackson's evolution is a greater willingness to take the ball to the rim. He needs to continue to get stronger and put on more weight, but Jackson dunked more in 2015-16 than he settled for mid-range jumpers.

4. Oregon: Dillon Brooks

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Year: Junior

    Position: Forward

    Height, weight: 6'7”, 215 lbs

    Dillon Brooks doesn't demonstrate his explosiveness through highlight-reel plays, though he's had plenty of those in his two college seasons. Instead, it comes from his ability to affect nearly every part of the game through his diverse skill set.

    According to Bleacher Report's Kerry Miller, Brooks was one of eight non-seniors in Division I in 2015-16 to average at least 16 points, five rebounds and three assists. Four of those players left for the NBA draft, while Brooks chose to play another season in college in order to develop his game.

    Brooks can light up the scoreboard too. He had 13 of the Ducks' 30 games with at least 20 points last year, with two of those coming during the NCAA tournament run to the Elite Eight.

3. Villanova: Josh Hart

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Year: Senior

    Position: Guard

    Height, weight: 6'5”, 205 lbs

    The best player on last year's top team—winning the national championship ends any such debate in this area—could have rode the coattails of that title into the NBA. Instead Josh Hart, after going through the draft evaluation process, opted to come back to school and be a part of Villanova's title defense.

    That means the Wildcats get back their spark plug and thus have a strong chance to be the first defending champ to advance beyond the Sweet 16 since Florida went back-to-back in 2006 and 2007.

    Hart averaged 15.5 points per game last season, using his strong rebounding instincts (he averaged 6.8 per game with eight double-doubles) to score off putbacks but also start transition possessions. He had six 20-point games in 2015-16, including 23 points on 10-of-12 shooting in the Final Four win over Oklahoma.

2. Kansas: Josh Jackson

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    Brian D. Kersey/Getty Images

    Year: Freshman

    Position: Guard

    Height, weight: 6'7”, 202 lbs

    With its two-point guard system, Kansas has the ability to thrive in both the half court and in transition. The ball movement produced by Devonte' Graham and Frank Mason ensures that the team takes the best shot in most possessions when the Jayhawks aren't able to get out and run.

    When they do this season, expect newcomer Josh Jackson to finish on the break.

    "He’s the best player in transition that I’ve ever scouted," Eric Bossi, a national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, told Jesse Newell of the Kansas City Star. "He’s not one of those guys that’s got his head down and is just trying to barrel his way to the rim. He’s just got a great feel for open-court basketball."

    Expect plenty of dunks and drives from Jackson, the No. 1 prospect from the 2016 recruiting class, who picked Kansas over Arizona and Michigan State back in April.

1. Duke: Grayson Allen

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    Lance King/Getty Images

    Year: Junior

    Position: Guard

    Height, weight: 6'4”, 185 lbs

    Duke is welcoming in the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, led by a quartet of 5-star prospects who will all be integral pieces to the 2016-17 team. Each will bring something important to the equation for the Blue Devils, but Grayson Allen fills the energy and explosiveness quota by himself.

    A little-used reserve during his freshman season until becoming an unexpected star during the Final Four, Allen would play like a whirling dervish during those limited appearances in 2014-15. He became a starter as a sophomore yet didn't pull back on the intensity, regularly throwing himself onto the floor and crashing to the ground after drives and dunks while seeming to shed a gallon of sweat every trip down the court.

    Allen translated that unending energy supply into a breakout year, ranking 15th nationally at 21.6 points per game. It also may have contributed to the reputation he's developed thanks to tripping opposing players a few times.

    Duke won't need Allen to score so much this season thanks to the influx of weapons, but it will also not ask him to dial back the tenaciousness.

    All statistics courtesy of Sports-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information from 247Sports, unless otherwise noted.

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.


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