Breakout sophomores (cont.)
Delvon Roe, 6-8 forward, Michigan State
Fr: 17.9 mpg, 5.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 56.5 FG%
Skinny: I almost didn't pick Roe because I thought he would be too obvious, but his start to his season has been less than stellar to say the least. He fouled out in just 12 minutes in the Spartans' close win over Gonzaga. Roe was one of the top five high school players in his class three years ago, but a devastating knee injury cost him his entire senior year. Though he contributed at times last season, he never quite looked like himself. Simply put, the Spartans cannot win a national championship without Roe healthy, aggressive and effective. I believe he'll get there, but at this point it's no sure thing.
Robert Sacre, 7-foot center, Gonzaga
Fr. (2007-08): 9.3 mpg, 2.8 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 44.4 FG%
Skinny: The big, strong Vancouver native would have been a factor for the Zags last season, but he suffered a foot injury five games into the season and had to take a medical redshirt. Now that Gonzaga has lost its two best big men, Josh Heytvelt and Austin Daye, Sacre will play an even more pivotal role. The early signs indicate he's ready for the new responsibilities. Sacre gives Gonzaga a rugged, pure post guy they haven't had since Ronny Turiaf. Case in point: In the loss at Michigan State, Sacre played just 19 minutes because of foul trouble but he still had 17 points.
Jeffery Taylor, 6-7 forward, Vanderbilt
Fr: 26.0 mpg, 12.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.7 apg, 69.1 FT%
Skinny: I selected the Swedish native not because I think his numbers will be demonstrably different from last year, but because his team will be much improved, which in turn should garner Taylor more national notice. He could do well to improve his long-range shooting (he has yet to make a three-pointer this season), but Taylor is a smooth, explosive athlete who takes pride in being a lockdown defender. Nobody in the SEC did a better job against Jodie Meeks last season than Taylor. If the spike in his free throw shooting is for real, then Taylor will be that much more valuable because he has the ability to beat smaller defenders off the dribble and finish at the rim. That slashing ability also makes him the perfect complement to center A.J. Ogilvy, who is healthy again and loves to pass out of double teams in the post.
Elliott Williams, 6-4 guard, Memphis
Fr. (Duke): 16.6 mpg, 4.2 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 0.7 apg, 25.0 3-pt FG%, 50.0 FT%
Skinny: Williams would have been a much improved player had he stayed at Duke, but he would still have been a role player. Now that he's back in his hometown, he will be the Tigers' primary offensive option and potentially the Conference USA Player of the Year. The NCAA granted Williams a waiver which allowed him to be eligible right away because he transferred to be near his mother, who is ill. His outside shooting still leaves much to be desired and he needs to cut down on his turnovers (2.7 in the first three games), but Williams really excels at attacking the basket. If his improved free throw percentage holds up, he should get a lot of points at the stripe.
Tony Woods, 6-11 center, Wake Forest
Fr: 10.9 mpg, 3.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 45.5 FT%
Skinny: Big players usually have a harder time adjusting as freshmen than guards because, unlike in high school, the bigs now have to consistently play against guys who are the same size. In addition, Woods had the added challenge last season of trying to beat out James Johnson for playing time. Now Woods is being pressed into starting duty whether he likes it or not. The results so far are promising but the Deacons have yet to face top competition. Woods still has a ways to go in the skills department (as his free throw shooting last season will attest) but he is very athletic and agile for a player his size. If he can give Wake Forest a consistent rebounding and defensive presence while staying out of foul trouble, any contribution Woods makes on offense will be gravy.
Last year's picks
Cole Aldrich, 6-11 center, Kansas
You didn't have to be Nostradamus to see this one coming. Aldrich had gotten very little playing time during the Jayhawks' NCAA championship run, but his talent, combined with the departure of four starters, was the perfect formula for a breakout sophomore season in which he averaged 14.9 points and 11.1 rebounds. His numbers are actually down a little bit this season, but that's only because he is playing on a better team.
Austin Daye, 6-10 forward, Gonzaga
I actually thought Daye had a somewhat disappointing season, but he did end up as the Zags' leading rebounder and third-leading scorer while shooting 42.9 percent from three-point range. Daye left school in the spring and was selected 15th in the NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons.
LaceDarius Dunn, 6-4 guard, Baylor
I was correct in spotting Dunn's potential but it looks like I may have been a year early. His numbers improved only modestly last season, but so far this year (albeit against weak competition) he is averaging 25.3 points on 46.3 percent three-point shooting.
Gary Johnson, 6-7 forward, Texas
Johnson made the leap forward I predicted, averaging 23.1 minutes (up from 16.7), 10.0 points (from 5.6), 5.3 rebounds (from 3.7). Ironically, his opportunity for playing time will be a bit reduced this season thanks to the Longhorns' influx of freshman talent.
Kalin Lucas, 6-foot guard, Michigan State
Can you say layup? Lucas went from being Drew Neitzel's backup to the Big Ten Player of the Year. Oh, he also led the Spartans to the Final Four.
Nolan Smith, 6-2 guard, Duke
Smith had a decent sophomore season but not quite the breakout that I imagined. That was partly because he had some injuries and partly because Coach K tried to make him a point guard. He abandoned that experiment in early February, and now as a junior Smith looks much more confident and comfortable playing off the ball.
Corey Stokes, 6-5 guard, Villanova
Stokes made solid if unspectacular improvements over his freshman year. He seems to have taken a similar step forward as a junior, averaging 11.2 points and 5.0 rebounds (up from 6.4 and 2.4 as a freshman) while improving his three-point shooting from 29.6 percent his first year to 43.5 percent through five games this season.
Jeff Teague, 6-2 guard, Wake Forest
Best pick on the board. Teague was solid as a freshman, but last year he became one of the best players in the country, averaging 18.8 points (44.1 percent from three) and 3.5 assists. He was selected by the Atlanta Hawks with the 19th pick in the NBA draft.
Chris Wright, 6-1 guard, Georgetown
Statistically, Wright made the progression I predicted. He averaged 12.5 points and 3.8 assists in 32.9 minutes (up from 5.7, 2.1 and 17.3). However, the Hoyas were one of the season's big disappointments, failing to make the NCAA tournament after a 12-3 start.
Chris Wright, 6-8 forward, Dayton
Once again, I was right on the money. Wright improved in every statistical category except field goal percentage, and he led the Flyers to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
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