College Basketball Players Poised for Bounce-Back Years in 2017-18
Few college basketball players disappointed as much last season as Duke's Grayson Allen, but the Blue Devils will be the undisputed favorites to win the national championship if he's able to bounce back to his sophomore-year form.
To qualify as a bounce-back candidate, a player must first meet these two conditions:
- Played at least 20 games in both 2015-16 and 2016-17. There's a fine line between bounce back and comeback. We're not looking for players attempting to rebound from a significant injury.
- Played well enough in 2014-15 that there's a quality form to which he is attempting to bounce back. There's a difference between a bounce-back player and a breakout player, and we're only interested in the ones who have already shown us at least one good year.
From there, it's a matter of determining which players were statistically worse in 2016-17 than 2015-16, but who are in a situation to put up strong numbers once again in 2017-18.
Whether recovering from a sophomore slump or a bad junior year, these are the upperclassmen most likely to make up for disappointing years by making big positive impacts in the season ahead.
Justin Bibbs, Virginia Tech
Between Ty Outlaw transferring in and Ahmed Hill returning from injury, Justin Bibbs wasn't as much of a focal point in the Hokies offense as he used to be. His scoring average dropped by 19 percent from his sophomore to junior season. But with Outlaw tearing his ACL this summer and both Seth Allen and Zach LeDay graduating, Bibbs could be headed for more touches than ever before.
Ismael Sanogo, Seton Hall
With the exception of rebounding rate, Ismael Sanogo was worse as a junior than he was as a sophomore in just about every category. He played his way out of a starting job that Michael Nzei inherited. But Sanogo should become a valuable sixth man if he can get back to impacting the game with defense and rebounding.
Deyshonee Much, Iona
It was a tumultuous year for Deyshonee Much. He bounced in and out of the starting lineup, dealt with a knee injury and temporarily left the Iona program for undisclosed personal reasons. However, he averaged better than 15 points over his final six games while shooting 46.7 percent from three-point range. If that player shows back up for the start of the 2017-18 season, he'll be one of the highest scoring players in the MAAC.
Hunter Ware, Bryant
After averaging 12.7 points and 32.6 minutes per game as a sophomore, Hunter Ware tallied 1.9 and 11.2, respectively as a junior. He shot 0-of-6 from the field in the first game of the season and immediately lost his job to freshman Adam Grant. But with leading scorer Nisre Zouzoua (20.3 PPG) transferring to Nevada, Ware should get another shot to prove his worth.
9. Nick Emery, BYU
2015-16 Stats: 16.3 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.5 APG, 38.3% 3PT, 1.5 TOPG, 115.4 O-Rating, 0.162 WS/40
2016-17 Stats: 13.1 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.4 APG, 37.1% 3PT, 2.0 TOPG, 104.8 O-Rating, 0.117 WS/40
Nick Emery's transition from one of the guys to The Guy didn't quite go according to plan.
Surrounded by Kyle Collinsworth, Chase Fischer and Zac Seljaas, Emery was a star as a freshman. (When he wasn't suspended for sucker punching opponents, anyway.) He ranked second on the team in scoring while attempting nearly 17 shots per 40 minutes.
Last year, though, he was only the third-highest scorer for the Cougars, thanks in large part to a 15.4 percent decrease in field-goal attempts per 40 minutes. Emery was clearly the most noteworthy returning player from the 2015-16 roster, but he had to share the spotlight with freshmen TJ Haws and Yoeli Childs, transfer Elijah Bryant and low-post machine Eric Mika, who returned from his LDS mission in more dominant form.
But the problem wasn't the teammates. Emery just had no consistency from one night to the next. This was Emery's chronological scoring log over BYU's final 10 games: 2, 19, 4, 26, 4, 16, 9, 21, 0, 24. No idea how one would confirm this, but that has got to be one of the most sporadic six-week stretches in basketball history.
He scored at least 20 points on eight separate occasions, including a 37-point explosion in a shocking November loss to Utah Valley. However, he never pieced together multiple such performances and was held to five points or fewer six times.
This was a far cry from what he did as a freshman, when he scored in double figures in each of the final 13 games of that season, including back-to-back 30-point performances in mid-February. In fact, he scored at least 10 points in all but four games in 2015-16. He wasn't exactly a metronome, but the line graph of his freshman-year scoring has significantly less drastic peaks and valleys than its sophomore counterpart.
Emery clearly still has the skill to score in bunches, and the assumption here is that his effort and output will return to a more consistent level as a junior.
8. Donte Grantham, Clemson
2015-16 Stats: 10.2 PPG, 2.3 APG, 35.4% 3PT, 108.1 O-Rating, 0.110 WS/40
2016-17 Stats: 7.4 PPG, 1.5 APG, 32.5% 3PT, 103.0 O-Rating, 0.071 WS/40
Last year was supposed to be the year Clemson finally broke through and competed for an ACC title under Brad Brownell. The Tigers got Jaron Blossomgame back for a senior season, brought in three crucial transfers in Marcquise Reed, Shelton Mitchell and Elijah Thomas and expected a big year from Donte Grantham.
Unfortunately, Blossomgame forgot how to shoot three-pointers while Grantham inexplicably became the least valuable player in the eight-man rotation, resulting in another disappointing season for Clemson.
The Blossomgame factor is what everyone pointed to as the cause of Clemson's inability to win close games, but he was just as effective as the previous season with the exception of the steep decline in three-point percentage. The real reason this team struggled—aside from watching opponents shoot a nation-best 76.4 percent from the free-throw line—was Grantham's slide.
He started all but one game at small forward, but he was just kind of there, providing minimal return on his minutes. In ACC play, he shot 34.9 percent from the field and averaged more shots per game (6.1) than points (5.9). The previous year, he ranked second on the team with 10.2 points per game against conference foes.
But what other choice did the Tigers have? Thomas couldn't play more than 10 minutes without getting into foul trouble and Sidy Djitte was just a big man who did most of his damage as an offensive rebounder. Aside from Blossomgame, Grantham was still the second-most reliable player on the roster taller than 6'3".
Now that Blossomgame, Djitte, Avry Holmes, Legend Robertin and Ty Hudson are out of the picture, Grantham is likely to be the primary 4 as a senior. As a team, Clemson will probably be worse than last season, but as an individual, Grantham might actually benefit from Blossomgame's departure, as the two wing-forwards played similar games.
The addition of Valparaiso transfer David Skara could complicate matters, as he's also a stretch 4, but Grantham should at least open the season as the undisputed alpha dog in that role.
7. Jarvis Garrett, Rhode Island
2015-16 Stats: 12.5 PPG, 4.7 APG, 3.7 RPG, 41.9% 3PT, 0.127 WS/40
2016-17 Stats: 6.0 PPG, 2.9 APG, 1.7 RPG, 31.1% 3PT, 0.103 WS/40
When E.C. Matthews suffered a season-ending knee injury just 10 minutes into the 2015-16 season, Jarvis Garrett stepped up in a huge way. Compared to his freshman season, he was a drastically more efficient scorer whose assist and rebound rates each increased by at least 20 percent. All this despite playing his final 10 games in a facial mask while recovering from a fractured jaw.
But when Matthews returned, that player vanished.
Garrett averaged 7.9 points and 3.9 assists through his first 16 games before missing eight games due to an illness. When he did finally return to the court, he was nowhere near the same player who was already a sizable step down from the one we saw the previous season. He barely averaged three points over his final 11 contests and was held scoreless in both of Rhode Island's NCAA tournament games.
This guy has been through the ringer over the last two seasons. In addition to the broken face and some undisclosed illness that sidelined him for a month, Garrett also suffered a terrifying injury last November that put him in a neck brace after he was taken off the court on a stretcher. (Hard to believe he was able to start and play 33 minutes against Duke less than 24 hours later.)
If he can avoid injury and illness as a senior, though, Garrett will be an indispensable piece of this Rams' puzzle. They do have five returning guards who averaged at least 5.5 points per game last season, but this team is going to play a ton of small ball after losing both Kuran Iverson and Hassan Martin. Matthews is just 6'5", but he might be the starting 4 for Rhode Island. That means a lot of ball movement and perimeter play for Garrett, which is where he can thrive.
6. Emmett Naar, Saint Mary's
2015-16 Stats: 14.1 PPG, 6.3 APG, 3.7 RPG, 53.0% 2PT, 125.6 O-Rating, 0.208 WS/40
2016-17 Stats: 9.4 PPG, 5.6 APG, 2.4 RPG, 46.2% 2PT, 114.3 O-Rating, 0.158 WS/40
Despite Jock Landale more than doubling his scoring average from the previous season to become a legitimate candidate for National Player of the Year, Saint Mary's averaged 1.6 fewer points per game as a team.
Emmett Naar's decrease in production was the biggest contributing factor.
After leading the team in scoring as a sophomore, he settled into more of a tertiary role as a junior. His rate of field-goal attempts per 40 minutes plummeted by nearly 20 percent (10.8 to 8.7), and that decrease in volume came with a decrease in efficiency, too. His turnover rate increased and his field-goal percentage slipped.
Don't misinterpret that as some sort of complaint that Naar was terrible. He was still a solid starting point guard for a team that won 29 games. But he wasn't nearly as impressive as he was during his woefully underappreciated sophomore campaign.
If the Gaels are going to make a run at 29 wins for a third consecutive year, they'll need Naar to return to form. Fellow starting combo guard Joe Rahon graduated, and reserve shooting guard Stefan Gonzalez transferred, leaving Randy Bennett with limited options in the backcourt. The Saint Mary's head coach did lure in Cullen Neal from Ole Miss, who should immediately become the starting shooting guard on this roster. But Naar should be handling the ball more this year than in any other.
Whether he uses that opportunity to take more shots or decides to become more of a distributor remains to be seen, but Saint Mary's could be in a lot of trouble if Naar is even less efficient as a senior.
5. Rokas Gustys, Hofstra
2015-16 Stats: 13.5 PPG, 66.0% 2PT, 119.6 O-Rating, 0.194 WS/40
2016-17 Stats: 9.2 PPG, 54.8% 2PT, 103.2 O-Rating, 0.103 WS/40
Two years ago, Rokas Gustys was a double-double phenom. At 13.5 points and 13.0 rebounds, he is one of just three players in the past six years to average at least 13 and 13 in a season. This despite a slow start. Over the final 20 games, he averaged 16.2 points and 15.6 rebounds with 18 double-doubles. And four of the six leading scorers from that team graduated, meaning Gustys was expected to become an even bigger focal point of the offense.
All signs pointed to him putting up historic numbers as a junior.
All signs were wrong.
Gustys' rebound rate increased a little bit from 17.1 per 40 minutes as a sophomore to 17.4 as a junior, but he became a liability with the ball in his hands. His field-goal percentage dropped 112 points, and he became one of the worst free-throw shooters in the history of the sport. He was already bad at 43.6 percent as a sophomore, but his 28.0 conversion rate as a junior was the worst in 15 years (minimum 100 attempts). He went from averaging 1.58 points per field-goal attempt to a beyond lackluster 1.23.
How long was he hurting, though, before finally sitting out four games late in the season because of an undisclosed lower-body injury?
Gustys averaged 7.4 points and 9.8 rebounds in the nine games before that brief absence—compared to 9.8 and 13.5, respectively, in the first 13 games of the season—so it seems safe to assume he wasn't at anything close to 100 percent health for most of the year. If he can get and stay healthy for the start of 2017-18, he should be able to get back to putting up points at the same rate as rebounds.
4. Duane Wilson, Texas A&M
2015-16 Stats: 11.6 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 2.5 APG, 34.6% 3PT, 0.089 WS/40
2016-17 Stats: 4.8 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 1.6 APG, 29.2% 3PT, 0.082 WS/40
Duane Wilson is the only transfer on our list. Considering the way he was discarded last year at Marquette, though, it's no surprise he set sail for friendlier waters.
Back in 2014-15, Wilson was the freshman who surprised a lot of people with his impressive play. By the fourth game of his career, he was a staple in the starting lineup. He would finish second on the roster in scoring at 11.9 points per game. Wilson was equally effective the following year, putting up nearly identical numbers en route to an 11.6 scoring average.
Last year, though, he was on the wrong end of a breakout freshman story.
Markus Howard was a starter from day one, leading the Golden Eagles in scoring. With Andrew Rowsey, Katin Reinhardt and Sam Hauser also all new additions impacting the market for minutes, Wilson was squeezed out. He went from averaging double digits for two seasons to only reaching double digits five times as a junior, maxing out at 13 points in a November blowout.
But now he's at Texas A&M, which was one of the most guard-deprived programs in the country last season. Wing-forward DJ Hogg and shooting guard Admon Gilder had a combined 84 assists as freshmen in 2015-16, but that number skyrocketed to 195 last year out of sheer necessity. No one else was capable of running the offense. As a result, the team's three-point percentage and turnover rates were dreadful.
Wilson will need to compete with redshirt freshman JJ Caldwell for the job of starting point guard, but battling one guy for minutes is a major improvement from last year at Marquette where eight guards were jostling for starting jobs.
3. Shep Garner, Penn State
2015-16 Stats: 14.8 PPG, 3.4 APG, 107.5 O-Rating, 0.110 WS/40
2016-17 Stats: 12.0 PPG, 2.4 APG, 100.4 O-Rating, 0.082 WS/40
Freshmen ruled the roost last season at Penn State. Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens led the team in scoring, and Mike Watkins was clearly the most valuable player on the roster. But the Nittany Lions suffered 18 losses because the veterans—starting with Shep Garner—didn't hold up their end of the bargain.
After running the show as a sophomore, Garner struggled to adjust to an off-the-ball role as a junior. His overall shooting percentages were roughly the same, but his rate of both two-point and free-throw attempts plummeted as he became little more than a spot-up three-point shooter. (And if that's all he's going to do, he needs to fare better than 35.8 percent from distance.) His assist-to-turnover ratio also dropped from 1.68 to 1.28.
Had everyone stayed that could have, we wouldn't expect much change. After all, there wasn't a single senior on this roster last season. But Penn State lost Payton Banks and Terrence Samuel as graduate transfers, which will shake things up a bit. That backcourt duo combined for 14.3 points and 2.8 assists per game with Banks attempting 6.3 three-pointers on average.
As the only returning player who shot better than 32.4 percent last season, perhaps Garner really hones his craft as a three-point specialist and jacks up close to 10 triples per game. Or maybe he becomes more involved as both a passer and a defender after ranking second on the team in both assists and steals. Either way, a good chunk of his competition for backcourt minutes and touches is now gone, creating a clear path for him to become a leader.
2. Haanif Cheatham, Marquette
2015-16 Stats: 11.8 PPG, 38.7% 3PT, 48.9% FG, 0.091 WS/40
2016-17 Stats: 8.7 PPG, 32.5% 3PT, 45.8% FG, 0.095 WS/40
As previously mentioned on Duane Wilson's slide, Marquette had an embarrassment of riches in the backcourt. Seven players averaged at least 8.7 points per game, six of which attempted at least 1.3 three-pointers per game. And that doesn't even include 6'0" Traci Carter and 6'2" Wilson, who were left in the lurch after playing significant roles on the 2015-16 team.
This was great for the team, as they led the nation in three-point percentage and ranked top 10 in adjusted offensive efficiency. For individuals like Haanif Cheatham, though, it wasn't such a sweet deal.
Cheatham started all 33 games as a freshman. He ranked third on the team in scoring and was the most reliable long-range shooter at 38.7 percent. But as a sophomore, he lost his starting job in February, ranked seventh on the team in scoring and was the second-least reliable long-range shooter at 32.5 percent.
If everyone was coming back, he'd probably still be riding the pine at the beginning of the 2017-18 season. However, the Golden Eagles lost Jajuan Johnson, Luke Fischer, Katin Reinhardt, Wilson and Carter, leaving Cheatham as a mortal lock to start at the 3 and become a featured piece of the offense once again.
Alternatively, it wouldn't be surprising to see him take on more of a Trevon Bluiett type of small-ball 4 role as a junior. With Markus Howard (54.7 percent), Sam Hauser (45.3) and Andrew Rowsey (44.7) averaging a combined 6.8 made three-pointers on 48.2 percent shooting, there's no reason to force Cheatham back out to the perimeter. But the 6'5" guard was a decent rebounder (6.0 per 40) who clearly doesn't mind a little bit of contact, as he led Marquette in free-throw attempts last season.
The moral of the story is that options are limited for Marquette, and it's going to need to find some sort of major role for Cheatham to play. Whether that's at the 3 or the 4, expect his minutes, points and rebounds per game to spike considerably.
1. Grayson Allen, Duke
2015-16 Stats: 21.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 41.7% 3PT, 50.2% 2PT, 128.5 O-Rating, 0.217 WS/40
2016-17 Stats: 14.5 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 0.8 SPG, 36.5% 3PT, 44.8% 2PT, 116.7 O-Rating, 0.166 WS/40
The clear-cut No. 1 option for this list, Grayson Allen has had a wild journey. Building on a great Final Four weekend as a freshman, Allen had a sensational sophomore season and entered his junior year as the consensus preseason National Player of the Year. But between a combination of injuries and tripping controversies, he simply wasn't the same player.
It should be noted, though, that mostly because of the emergence of Luke Kennard and Frank Jackson, Allen played 7.0 fewer minutes per game. His rebound rate remained identical to the previous year and his assist rate spiked by roughly 20 percent. And while his three-point percentage slipped considerably, his rate of made three-pointers per 40 minutes actually increased from 2.7 to 3.2.
The biggest change in his game was an unwillingness to drive to contact—which can likely be attributed to his toe and ankle injuries. He shot 163 fewer two-pointers and 93 fewer free-throw attempts. And once teams stopped respecting his diminished driving ability, he became a one-dimensional player who was much easier to stop. (Also, without a Plumlee in the paint, driving lanes and the ability to dish at the rim weren't nearly what they used to be.)
The other big change is that Allen was asked/required to become more of a point guard as it became clear Jackson wasn't wired for the job. Yes, Allen led the team in assists as a sophomore, but Derryck Thornton and Matt Jones were the ones primarily responsible for running that offense. He just put up solid assist numbers because those guys kept putting the ball in his hands. Last year, he was running the offense a lot, for better or worse.
Trevon Duval should be the primary point guard this season and, with any luck, Allen won't be battling foot injuries for the entirety of 2017-18. He'll get to move back to a role as an off-the-ball scorer.
The only realistic concern is that his scoring average could remain well below 20 with so many scoring options on the roster. But look for Allen's percentages and overall efficiency to increase drastically in his final season.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.