Yarina: 5 B1G breakout players for 2014-15

While analysts across the nation are busy compiling their super-early 2014-15 hoops polls, I thought I’d go with a more exact-inexact exercise and share my top five 2014-15 breakout candidates. You know the names from this season, but they’re certain to be even bigger names next season.

Derrick Walton Jr., Michigan. Two names for you: Darius Morris and Trey Burke. Those are John Beilein’s previous two point guards, and both made gigantic strides as a sophomore. Walton Jr. isn’t going to win National Player of the Year, as Burke did, but he’s a do-it-all guard who will continue the recent trend and build off a strong freshman year (7.9 ppg, 3 rpg, 2.9 apg).

Mike Gesell, Iowa. Yes, Gesell suffered a dip in points and rebounds as a sophomore; and yes, he made just 4 of his final 27 shots this season. Still, Gesell compiled a silly 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and figures to assume a bigger role in the offense now that Devyn Marble is out of eligibility. The assists and opportunities are there to be had, and Gesell very well may lead the Big Ten in the department.

Kendrick Nunn, Illinois. Once John Groce decided to start Nunn and fellow highly touted freshman Malcolm Hill on Feb. 9, Nunn shot 48 percent and averaged 10.3 points and 1.7 3-pointers in the Illini’s final 12 games. Not coincidentally, Illinois went 7-5 during the stretch. The good news: Nunn’s minutes and role are only going to increase.

Denzel Valentine, Michigan State. The most accomplished name on this list, Valentine is the safest bet to become a star in 2014-15. Even if Branden Dawson and Gary Harris stay, Valentine is going to become an All-Big Ten performer. Should they both leave, this is Valentine’s team. I kind of hope it is his team, because he’s a talent who could flirt with multiple triple-doubles.

Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin. It’s hard not to love Hayes’ game. The only real concern – if you want to call it that – is the free-throw shooting (57 percent). Consider the gregarious forward’s pretty jump shot, and the free throws shouldn’t be far behind. Hayes has the body, the skills and the coach to make serious strides every season. There’s a reason people have compared him to Draymond Green.

About Brent Yarina BTN.com senior editor Brent Yarina covers football and men’s basketball for BTN.com. He writes the popular uniform feature “Clothes Call,” which also focuses on the latest cosmetic changes across Big Ten arenas and stadiums. Read all of his work here. You can subscribe to Yarina’s RSS feed and follow him on Twitter @BTNBrentYarina.

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Show Comments (15 Comments)
15 Post Your Comment
Curtis on 4/8/2014 @ 1:49pm EDT Said:

Jershon Cobb

Scott Edenloff on 4/8/2014 @ 2:02pm EDT Said:

How bout Dre Mathieu, he only scratched the surface this season with his potential…at 5’9″ is there any player more fun to watch?? I know they “only” won the NIT, which is way worse than 1 and done in the NCAA tourney(sarcasm included), but how bout a little love for an up n coming Gopher

chris on 4/8/2014 @ 2:07pm EDT Said:


Gary on 4/8/2014 @ 3:39pm EDT Said:

Peter Jok

cole whiteis on 4/8/2014 @ 4:14pm EDT Said:

Dre Mathieu needs to be on this list

Dave Dorn on 4/8/2014 @ 4:52pm EDT Said:

Bronson Koenig will be the breakout player for Wis., we already know what Nigel Hayes can do, but get Koenig on the floor, and Brust’s 3 point record could be had in 3 years imo.

Steven on 4/8/2014 @ 5:04pm EDT Said:

Kendall Stephens… If you mention Nunn, you gotta mention Stephens.

John Murphy on 4/8/2014 @ 5:51pm EDT Said:

Troy Williams

Eric on 4/8/2014 @ 6:04pm EDT Said:

Koenig was a one game wonder has no skills but shooting and might not even start

Eric on 4/8/2014 @ 6:05pm EDT Said:

Irvin from Michigan and Hayes from Wisconsin. Levert will win Big Ten POY though

negele on 4/8/2014 @ 6:34pm EDT Said:

The problem I have with Valentine is his immature ways and showboating.
The kid is talented but so damn undiscipline and that has to do with Izzo and his staff allowing it with his fake tough guy act.

Mark on 4/8/2014 @ 6:38pm EDT Said:

Troy Williams should be an outstanding player for IU. He could start showing up on draft boards for next year.

Cal on 4/9/2014 @ 1:48pm EDT Said:

Purdue’s Kendall Stephens will be on the top of this list at the end of next season. The only thing holding him back this year was his strength which he wasn’t able to improve upon last offseason due to injury.

Matthew on 4/9/2014 @ 2:18pm EDT Said:

Petteway for POY

Umi Shareef Ali on 4/11/2014 @ 7:31pm EDT Said:

DWJ , will blow up next year more aggressive on the offensive end.

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