Top 10 Early Breakout Players in 2019-20 Men's College Basketball Season

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistDecember 12, 2019

Top 10 Early Breakout Players in 2019-20 Men's College Basketball Season

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    Gonzaga guard Joel Ayayi
    Gonzaga guard Joel AyayiMike Tedesco/Getty Images

    While there are plenty of men's college basketball diehards who have enjoyed an upset-filled start to the 2019-20 season, the sport is just starting to edge into the nation's consciousness.

    For many fans, the hardwood takes a back seat to the gridiron. After all, college football's postseason is largely in December and spills over into January. College basketball won't dominate the news cycle until conference tournaments and March Madness.

    However, we're already about one-third of the way through the regular season. If you've been focused on football, you've missed some sensational breakout players.

    Worry not, my friends. This is where B/R gets you up to speed.

Paul Reed, DePaul

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    Justin Casterline/Getty Images

    After holding a bench role as a freshman, Paul Reed developed into a quality starter in 2018-19. This season, though, he's become an absolute nightmare on the defensive end.

    While averaging an impressive 15.5 points and 10.8 rebounds per game, the forward also piles up 3.6 blocks and 1.9 steals per game. He recorded eight blocks in a win at Minnesota, five blocks and four steals against Buffalo, and four other showings with four stuffs or four steals.

    And it's hardly even December.

    Thanks to Reed and Kansas transfer Charlie Moorewho is averaging 15.1 points, 6.9 assists and 1.9 steals per gameDePaul is off to a 9-1 start with quality wins at Iowa and versus Texas Tech.

Myreon Jones, Penn State

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    Myreon Jones appeared in 30 games for Penn State last season, but he cracked the 20-minute mark only twice and provide 10-plus points just four times.

    What a difference a year makes.

    The sophomore has played no fewer than 25 minutes in all 10 games and has seven double-digit scoring performances. Jones scored a career-high 22 points against Wake Forest, and during Penn State's upset win over No. 4 Maryland, he provided 14 points while matching his personal best of six assists.

    Throw in a 40 percent clip from three-point range, and Jones is a critical piece for the 8-2 Nittany Lions.

Filip Petrusev and Joel Ayayi, Gonzaga

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    Filip Petrusev
    Filip PetrusevAssociated Press

    Though Gonzaga lost its top four contributors from the 2018-19 Elite Eight team, Filip Petrusev and Joel Ayayi have kept the West Coast Conference power playing at a high level.

    Petrusev held a reserve role last season but has become the Zags' leading scorer (15.8 points per game) and rebounder (8.5 rebounds per game). The sophomore posted double-doubles in victories over Top 25 opponents Oregon and Washington.

    As a redshirt freshman last year, Ayayi scored just 39 points in 128 minutes. The French guard has already crushed that involvement, averaging 10.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists over 26.9 minutes per game.

    Once December ends, Petrusev and Ayayi won't receive as much attention, as Gonzaga's schedule softens in conference play.

    But you can expect the 10-1 Bulldogs will return to the spotlight in March.

Justin Bean, Utah State

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press

    Sam Merrill is once again the featured scorer for Utah State, which has surged to 10-1. The Aggies are aiming for their second straight NCAA tournament appearance, and the emergence of Justin Bean has jolted that pursuit.

    Last season, the forward managed 4.1 points per game while playing 12.1 minutes off the bench. This year, however, he's been an absolute force near the rim.

    Bean has collected seven double-doubles along with averages of 14.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per game. He's also chipping in 2.5 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.1 blocks per game.

    Merrill's scoring ability will shape Utah State's upside in March Madness, but Bean's steady production has been invaluable.

Nate Darling, Delaware

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    Nate Darling has helped Delaware match the program's best 10-game start at 9-1. And there's a decent chance the UAB transfer might set the Blue Hens' single-season scoring record too.

    The mark stands at 679 points (Davon Usher, 2013-14). Darling is averaging 21.3 per game and could play in 30 regular-season contests. If the Hens play two postseason games, his rate would lead to 682 points.

    Most impressively, though, he's shooting 44.3 percent from three-point range on 7.8 triples per game. Darling went 8-of-10 from the perimeter against UTSA.

    If the Blue Hens win the Colonial Athletic Association, they might become a popular upset pick in March Madness because of Darling.

Samir Doughty and J'Von McCormick, Auburn

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    Samir Doughty
    Samir DoughtyAssociated Press

    One of the last five remaining unbeaten teams, Auburn has a senior-heavy roster leading the way. Two of those veterans, Samir Doughty and J'Von McCormick, have progressed from valuable complementary options to key contributors.

    Doughty spent much of 2018-19 in the starting lineup and averaged 7.3 points per game for the Tigers. This year, he's the Southeastern Conference's fourth-highest scorer with 18.5 points per game.

    McCormick provided a spark during the NCAA tournament last season, but he mustered 12.2 minutes per night. Now a starter, the shifty guard has dished 6.5 assists per gamethe 18th-best mark nationallywhile scoring 8.6 points.

    Between this duo, a trio of other seniors and freshman Isaac Okoro, the Tigers have a chance to contend for the national title.

Eli Brooks, Michigan

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Eli Brooks entered the campaign with 68 career appearances, but his limited shooting range prevented a considerable role.

    I think you know what has changed.

    While the sample size is small, Brooks has buried 19 of his 39 threes (48.7 percent). During the last two seasons, he'd posted a 24-of-89 clip (27.0 percent). Brooks has multiple triples in five games, which matches his total entering the year.

    Brooks is an important reason why Michigan soared from unranked in the preseason to a Top Five team.

Yves Pons, Tennessee

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    During his freshman and sophomore years, Yves Pons' offensive contributions were mostly limited to a close-range shot and an occasional three-pointer. That's the largest change to his game.

    After scoring 94 points in 535 minutes, he's provided 101 in 267 this season. Pons is averaging 12.6 points and 5.5 rebounds in 33.4 minutes per game.

    Double-digit scoring isn't even his greatest asset.

    "There aren't many guys out there who can guard all five spots on the floor at a high level, but Yves can," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said, per Wes Rucker of 247Sports. "I think he's the best in the country when he's locked in. I really do."

    Pons has also swatted 2.4 shots per game, which ranks second in the SEC, for the 7-1 Volunteers.