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.|