Unheralded CBB Freshmen Set to Break out as Sophomores in 2017-18
Every year, there are dozens of unheralded players who come out of seemingly nowhere to put up big numbers as sophomores.
Hofstra's Justin Wright-Foreman scored 1.6 points per game as a freshman in 2015-16 before becoming the Colonial Athletic Association's third-leading scorer at 18.1 PPG. Wake Forest's John Collins went from 7.3 PPG to being a double-double machine who averaged 19.2 points en route to potentially becoming a first-round draft pick.
There are plenty of similar examples of breakout sophomores that few saw coming. But if you know what to look for, you can identify some of the best candidates.
Of the 10 players we had on this list last April, seven averaged at least 9.9 points per game as sophomores. The only one of the 10 who didn't increase his scoring average by at least 77 percent was Derrick Bruce, who transferred out of Oregon State shortly after that piece published.
In other words, if these players stick with their respective teams for another year, look for their numbers to balloon.
To qualify for the list, a player must meet the following criteria:
- Was a freshman in 2016-17. (Players who were freshmen in 2015-16 and missed last season due to transfer or medical redshirt were not considered.)
- Was neither a 4-star nor 5-star recruit, according to Scout.com. (It's kind of hard for a player to fit the "unheralded" description if everyone wanted him.)
- Scored at least three points per game, but no more than six. (The minimum is to keep us from guessing whether the guy is capable of scoring, and the maximum is to keep us from including those who would need to score 15 points per game to break out.)
- Plays for a nationally relevant program that might make the 2018 NCAA tournament. (Sorry, but breakout stars don't play for Boston College, Rutgers or Washington State.)
Even with that many criteria included, there were still more than enough candidates to pick and choose the ones in the best position to succeed. Our top 10 projected breakout sophomores are ranked in ascending order of their likelihood to score at least 10 points per game for a NCAA tournament team.
10. Nico Carvacho, Colorado State
2016-17 Stats: 5.4 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 1.2 APG, 111.0 O-rating
Colorado State is loaded with incoming transfers, as Kevin Little (Maine), Kevin Dorsey (Minnesota), Robbie Berwick (Florida State) and Lorenzo Jenkins (Arkansas) are all scheduled to join the rotation in November. However, all four of those players are guards, which leaves the Rams in a bit of a pickle after losing Emmanuel Omogbo as a senior and Braden Koelliker as a transfer.
What they do have is a 6'11" soon-to-be sophomore who started all but three games this past season.
Nico Carvacho rarely tried to score as a freshman, averaging just 6.8 field-goal attempts per 40 minutes. With Omogbo and leading scorer Gian Clavell out of the picture, though, that's inevitably going to change.
Carvacho could have the type of breakout season that Moses Kingsley had at Arkansas after Bobby Portis left, or that Rakeem Christmas had at Syracuse once C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant were out of the picture. At any rate, that's what Colorado State needs to hope happens. Otherwise the Rams could be headed for a long season of fruitlessly trying to accomplish anything in the paint.
9. Anfernee McLemore, Auburn
2016-17 Stats: 5.4 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 118.6 O-rating
Auburn has landed so many high-profile recruits and transfers since Bruce Pearl took over that 3-star power forward Anfernee McLemore was not on anyone's radar heading into the 2016-17 season. He hardly played for the first month of the year, but when Horace Spencer got hurt, it was McLemore's time to shine.
Over the final two months of his freshman campaign, he was consistently playing about 20 minutes per game, racking up rebounds and blocks. He didn't shoot often, but he made 68 percent of his two-point attempts when he did try to score.
Will he be able to carve out a bigger role as a sophomore, though? McLemore was only Auburn's fifth-highest-scoring freshman. The Tigers are adding two more top-40 freshmen as well as Presbyterian transfer DeSean Murray, who averaged better than 20 points per game two years ago.
If Spencer makes a full recovery from his shoulder surgery, minutes and points could be hard to come by. But if McLemore can further establish himself as a defensive asset, he could be for Auburn what Amile Jefferson was for Duke for the past several years.
8. Solomon Young, Iowa State
2016-17 Stats: 4.4 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 0.8 BPG, 113.0 O-rating
It's nice to have veteran experience on your roster until it all graduates at once.
Monte Morris, Deonte Burton, Naz Mitrou-Long, Matt Thomas, Darrell Bowie and Merrill Holden were all seniors, leaving Iowa State with just three players who scored at least a dozen points in 2016-17: JUCO transfer Donovan Jackson, Arkansas transfer Nick Weiler-Babb and freshman Solomon Young.
All three are headed for a drastic uptick in playing time and production, but only Young—who started at center for the final 12 games of the season—fits the description of a potential breakout sophomore.
He didn't take many shots (6.4 field-goal attempts per 40 minutes), but he was Iowa State's most accurate shooter at 64.3 percent. Young had an 18-point, 12-rebound performance in February against Kansas State and went for nine points, nine rebounds and four blocks in a Big 12 tournament win over TCU. And that was when he was the last offensive weapon in the starting lineup.
It'll be tougher to get open looks without Morris running the show, but if the Cyclones are going to avoid the dreaded "rebuilding season," they're going to need a big year from their big man.
7. Thomas Dziagwa, Oklahoma State
2016-17 Stats: 3.3 PPG, 43.4% 3PT, 134.8 O-rating
With Phil Forte and Leyton Hammonds graduating and Jawun Evans leaving for the NBA draft, Oklahoma State loses more than 400 of its three-point attempts from last season. Considering the Cowboys ranked sixth in the nation in three-point percentage last season, that's going to be a huge adjustment.
But Thomas Dziagwa is one guy who could immediately help plug that gap. He only played 176 minutes - most of it during the nonconference portion of the season—but he averaged 12.0 three-point attempt per 40 minutes and connected on 43.4 percent of those attempts.
Dziagwa's per-game scoring average is negatively skewed by a bunch of games in which he logged three minutes or fewer without taking a shot. On a per-40 minutes basis, though, he was Oklahoma State's third-best scorer at 19.8 points.
If he takes Forte's spot in the starting lineup and plays 31 minutes per game instead of just 6.8, this three-point specialist could come close to matching the types of numbers Marshall Henderson put up in his two seasons with Ole Miss. Even if he merely becomes one of the first guards off the bench and plays closer to 18 minutes per game, his scoring average should double with room to spare.
6. D'Mitrik Trice, Wisconsin
2016-17 Stats: 5.6 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 1.7 APG, 41.8% 3PT, 105.7 O-rating
Ethan Happ will likely return for another season, but Wisconsin loses the rest of its starting lineup as graduates. Even backcourt reserve Jordan Hill announced recently that he'll be transferring, leaving the Badgers with minimal perimeter options.
As a result, the go-to guy in that department will almost certainly be D'Mitrik Trice.
The combo guard struggled to find his shooting stroke in Big Ten play, but he still led the team in three-point percentage. With the exception of Happ, Trice leads all returning Badgers in points, assists and steals and will be their best chance for replacing Bronson Koenig.
He'll be under more pressure than Koenig initially was, though. Back when Koenig took the reins, his job was just to not mess up too much and stay out of the way of Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes. He eventually blossomed into a three-point assassin and a leader, but it's looking like Wisconsin will be forced to rely on Trice to make the offseason jump from sixth man to second-leading scorer.
5. Tyrik Dixon, Middle Tennessee
2016-17 Stats: 5.6 PPG, 3.3 APG, 2.9 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 39.7% 3PT, 105.8 O-rating
Three players carried Middle Tennessee to its first 30-win season in school history: Reggie Upshaw, JaCorey Williams and Giddy Potts. That trio combined to score 63 percent of the team's points, each averaging at least 14.5 per game.
But Potts is the only one who isn't graduating, which means starting point guard Tyrik Dixon is going to take on a much heavier load in his second season.
With three great scorers at his disposal, Dixon rarely had cause to call his own number—similar to the start of Monte Morris' career at Iowa State. That isn't to say Dixon is the second coming of one of the most efficient point guards of the three-point era, but their freshman-year numbers are rather similar.
If Dixon can remain an efficient three-point shooter while undergoing a significant increase in volume, he could average 15 points per game in the process of becoming one of the top players in Conference USA.
4. Tanner Krebs, Saint Mary's
2016-17 Stats: 4.3 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 36.4% 3PT, 109.9 O-rating
Saint Mary's should be a major factor in the AP Top 25 conversation for a second consecutive year. All three of its leading scorers (Jock Landale, Calvin Hermanson and Emmett Naar) will return for their senior year, giving the Gaels a chance to avenge their three losses to Gonzaga this past season.
But their fourth- and fifth-leading scorers (Joe Rahon and Dane Pineau) both graduate, opening the door for Tanner Krebs to become a starter and a primary contributor.
Krebs only played 12.8 minutes per game as a freshman and had the worst O-rating and win shares ratio on the roster. He finished strong, though. He scored a dozen points in each of the Gaels' two games in the NCAA tournament and shot 9-of-17 from three-point range in the month of March.
Saint Mary's is usually good for at least one breakout star. Landale was that guy this year. Emmett Naar more than doubled his scoring average the year before that. Perhaps Krebs can build on a solid March and follow in their footsteps.
3. Dejan Vasiljevic, Miami
2016-17 Stats: 6.0 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 34.9% 3PT, 110.0 O-rating
Dejan Vasiljevic was something of a one-trick pony as a freshman for the Hurricanes. He attempted 146 three-pointers while recording a combined total of 71 rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. He rarely gets to the free-throw line and he rarely commits turnovers, which means he's not looking to drive or pass. At a rate of 10.2 three-point attempts per 40 minutes, there's no questioning what he's on the floor to do.
With Miami signing the No. 3 shooting guard in this year's recruiting class (Lonnie Walker), you might think that, if anything, Vasiljevic's playing time will decrease as a sophomore. But with leading three-point shooter Davon Reed (199 attempts) graduating, Jim Larranaga might need Vasiljevic now more than ever.
However, don't expect him to average 20 points per game in what should be his second season as Miami's sixth man. Even if the 'Canes go to a four-guard rotation with Dewan Huell as the primary big man, Vasiljevic figures to remain the odd man out.
But he should play a bit more than 17.4 minutes per game in year No. 2, possibly becoming the type of indispensable sixth man that Aaron Holiday just was for UCLA. If Vasiljevic also becomes a 40 percent shooter in the process, his scoring average could double.
2. Cyril Langevine, Rhode Island
2016-17 Stats: 3.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 0.7 BPG, 102.1 O-rating
Rhode Island is going to have one of the better backcourt rotations in the country. E.C. Matthews, Jared Terrell, Jarvis Garrett and Stanford Robinson are all seniors who made significant contributions this past season. Moreover, freshman reserve point guard Jeff Dowtin scored 23 points in the NCAA tournament win over Creighton as a sign of things to come. If there wasn't already a logjam at his position, he likely would have made the top 10 on this list.
The frontcourt is another story, though. Starting power forward Kuran Iverson and starting center Hassan Martin have both run out of years of eligibility, leaving Cyril Langevine as the most impactful player taller than 6'5".
In terms of rebounding rate, steal rate and block rate, Langevine was already better as a freshman than Iverson was as a senior. The only major difference (other than playing time) is that Iverson could occasionally step outside for a triple.
Where Langevine really shines is on the offensive glass. Had he played enough minutes to qualify, his 16.6 OR% would have put him in a tie with Seton Hall's Angel Delgado and Eastern Michigan's James Thompson for fifth-highest in the nation. Once he turns that prowess into tip-ins and put-back dunks, his scoring average should skyrocket.
1. West Virginia Mountaineers
Sagaba Konate: 4.1 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.4 BPG, 103.8 O-rating
Lamont West: 5.5 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 34.3% 3PT, 119.0 O-rating
James Bolden: 3.5 PPG, 44.9% 3PT, 119.8 O-rating
At this point, we expect nothing less than Bob Huggins and Press Virginia turning little-known recruits into college basketball stars. The only question for these guys is whether that transformation occurs this summer or the following one.
Rather than sprinkling Mountaineers throughout the list, we decided to lump all three of their candidates into one slide to show that this 28-9 team has the potential to be even better next year.
West Virginia loses a couple of key three-point weapons in Tarik Phillip and Nathan Adrian, but both James Bolden (12.6 three-point attempt per 40 minutes) and Lamont West (9.3) are more than ready to fill those voids. In fact, at 24.1 points per 40 minutes, Bolden was easily WVU's most potent scorer. West was No. 3 on that list at 18.5.
Based on roster openings from departing seniors, Bolden is the one most likely to blossom into a star as a sophomore. But Sagaba Konate is going to be the best of the bunch in the long run. The big man averaged 15.1 points, 10.3 rebounds and 5.3 blocks per 40 minutes as a freshman and should be headed for a full-time job at center just as soon as he cuts down on his fouls and turnovers.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.