The best thing about freshmen ... they become sophomores
Identifying the 10 sophomores who are poised to have breakout seasons
Memphis' Elliott Williams and Gonzaga 7-footer Robert Scare top this year's list
Among the money picks from last year: Cole Aldrich, Kalen Lucus, Jeff Teague
Can you see the future?
Well, I can -- sort of. I realize that predicting what is going to happen in college hoops can be a, well, sophomoric exercise, but as your Hoop Thinking seer of the future, I have once again come to let you know which second-year players are going to break out this winter.
I have performed this function for several years now, with respectable (but far from perfect) results. The idea is not to list the nation's best sophomores. You already know who they are. Rather, my intent is to figure out which of last year's under-the-radar freshmen are going to make big strides this season.
Basketball aficionados know full well that a player often undergoes the biggest improvement of his entire life between his freshman and sophomore years. My purpose here is to spot that improvement before it happens.
The reasons the frosh-to-soph leap is so dramatic are threefold. First, it often takes a full year for a player's body to adapt to college basketball. You'd be surprised how many high-major players arrive in college without having been through any kind of weight program. Second, the speed of the college game is so much faster than the high school level that it takes time for the player to catch up. Finally, even if the player is ready physically and mentally, there is often an older, established player at his position. Graduation and early entries to the NBA draft can take care of that problem, opening up an opportunity to ascend.
Because I want you to see what I see, I have scoured the nation to find 10 sophomores who I believe are ready to take that next step this season. Once again, I have also listed the 10 players I selected last season and evaluated in hindsight how I did. I have to say, in the many years that I have performed this invaluable function, last year's was my most prescient effort yet.
First, a list of players I eliminated from consideration, because they were already outstanding as freshmen or I felt they were a little too obvious for inclusion:
Al-Farouq Aminu, Wake Forest; Luke Babbitt, Nevada; Ed Davis, North Carolina; Devin Ebanks, West Virginia; Courtney Fortson, Arkansas; Yancy Gates, Cincinnati; Scotty Hopson, Tennessee; Sylven Landesburg, Virginia; Greg Monroe, Georgetown; Samardo Samuels, Louisville; Isaiah Thomas, Washington; Klay Thompson, Washington State; Mike Rosario, Rutgers; Kemba Walker, UConn; Willie Warren, Oklahoma.
Here, then, is my list of breakout sophomores. Remember to check back a year from now to see how I did.
Jason Clark, 6-2 guard, Georgetown
Fr: 18.3 mpg, 5.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 0.8 apg, 34.0 3-pt FG%
Skinny: It wasn't easy for Clark to get playing time last year behind Jessie Sapp and Dajuan Summers, but he became a valuable contributor off the bench because of his willingness to do some dirty work. Now, Clark has the opportunity to show his all-around game, and he's taken full advantage. His versatility makes him well-suited to the Princeton offense, and his playmaking ability will be an important asset on this team because I'm not sure Clark's backcourtmate, Chris Wright, will ever be totally comfortable as a point guard.
Larry Drew, 6-1 point guard, North Carolina
Fr: 9.6 mpg, 1.4 ppg, 1.9 apg, 23.1 3-pt FG%
Skinny: This is a classic case of preparation meeting opportunity. With Ty Lawson running the point last year, no backup, especially a freshman, was going to get a lot of minutes. Even when Drew was in the games, he looked shaky, but it was hard to tell whether that was because he couldn't get into a rhythm or he wasn't that good. Now it looks like it was the former. Drew has proved he can run North Carolina's offense with efficiency and effectiveness, which is not easy to do with so many newcomers running alongside him. His assist-to-turnover ratio is nearly 2-to-1, and his improved field goal percentage reflects his confidence knowing the starting job is his.
Kris Joseph, 6-7 forward, Syracuse
Fr: 13.5 mpg, 3.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 0.5 apg
Skinny: It was a tough choice here between Joseph and his teammate Scoop Jardine, but I think Joseph's step forward this season will be more pronounced. Joseph got off to a promising start as a freshman, but his minutes dwindled during the second half of the season. On this team, however, Joseph's versatility on both ends of the floor will be especially valuable. He is a terrific athlete who Jim Boeheim is prodding to be a more assertive long-range shooter. He quickness and length also make him an ideal zone defender. Barring injury, I doubt Joseph will crack the starting lineup this year, but he will give this team a fresh look when he comes off the bench.
Marcus Morris, 6-8 forward, Kansas
Fr: 18.5 mpg, 7.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.1 apg, 49.5 FG%
Skinny: It's hard to tell apart Marcus and his twin brother (and teammate), Markieff, but the main difference is that Marcus has more of an ability to take his game away from the basket. That makes him a better complement to Cole Aldrich, the nation's preeminent post player. Morris started 22 games last season and even made six three-pointers. He needs to do a better job on the boards, but after having had a year to get his body and mind adjusted to the college game, he'll be an important cog in college basketball's most powerful machine.
Sean Mosley, 6-4 guard, Maryland
Fr: 19.6 mpg, 5.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.3 apg, 37.0 FG%
Skinny: This might be one of those overreaction picks that looks bad a year from now, but Mosley seems to be picking up where he left off at the end of last season. He's actually more of a small forward than shooting guard, but midway through last season he supplanted Eric Hayes in the starting lineup and helped turn around Maryland's season. Mosley only had 9 points on 2 for 8 shooting in the Terps' loss to Cincinnati on Tuesday night, so it remains to be seen how good he will be against top competition. If he ever added the three-pointer to his arsenal (he is 2 for 5 on the season) he would be an All-ACC caliber player.
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