With so much turnover on college basketball rosters, each new season provides opportunities for players to step into larger roles.
Predicting which ones will actually seize that opportunity can be a bit more challenging, but there are a couple things I like to look for when pegging breakout players.
How To Peg Breakout Players
First, I am a big proponent of using advanced metrics to identify potential diamonds in the rough.
More specifically in this case, I use the concept of “skill curves,” which identifies potential breakout players as those who have a high overall efficiency rating (ORtg) but a relatively low usage rate.
Second, I always find it useful to look back at young players who finished strong the previous season.
Adjusting to the level of competition at the college level takes some time, but guys who are able to push through the wall and peak down the stretch tend to carry that momentum into the following campaign.
6 Breakout Players for 2012
With those principles as backdrop, here are six breakout players from the Big Ten.
Josh Gasser, G, Wisconsin
After spending the first two years of his career in the shadow of Jordan Taylor, Gasser will be handed the keys to the Wisconsin offense this season.
The 6-3 sophomore posted an impressive 118.1 ORtg last season, thanks in large part to his 45.2 percent shooting from long range and a high free throw rate. However, his usage rate was a paltry 12.9, a number that should increase substantially this season.
Gasser won’t be the scorer that Taylor was, but he can do a little bit of everything for the Badgers as evidenced by his triple-double as a freshman, and the fact that he was named to the All Big-Ten Defensive Team last season.
Look for his scoring to climb into double figures to go with roughly four rebounds and four assists per game.
Andre Hollins, G, Minnesota
A quick look at the overall numbers Hollins posted as a freshman (8.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.8 apg) doesn’t really tell the whole story.
Like most freshmen, the 6-1 guard went through some growing pains (including a hip injury that hampered him throughout the year), but he played his best basketball down the stretch.
Hollins averaged 16.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 2.9 assists over the final nine games of the season, which helped propel the Gophers to the NIT Championship Game. He scored at least 12 points in eight of those contests, including four 20-point efforts.
Hollins needs to cut back on the turnovers, but expect a strong sophomore season for the point guard expected to propel the Gophers back into the Big Dance.
Terone Johnson, G, Purdue
Matt Painter’s squad will be playing a number of first-year players this season, but Johnson should provide some veteran leadership and stability as a junior.
Like Hollins, he played well late in the season, particularly following the dismissal of Kelsey Barlow. Johnson posted 13.4 points, 4.0 boards, and 2.8 assists per game over the final 11 games of the year, scoring in double figures in 10 of those contests.
He has reportedly spent a lot of time working on his shooting this offseason, particularly from the free throw line where he made less than 44 percent last year and from three-point range where he converted just 31 percent of his attempts.
The Boilers need Johnson to step up with Robbie Hummel and Lewis Jackson gone, and I think he’ll respond well to that challenge.
Adreian Payne, F, Michigan State
Despite rooming with Draymond Green last season, no one is expecting Payne to fill “Day-Day’s” shoes. Still, Payne should see a sharp increase in his playing time, which I expect him to parlay into strong scoring and rebounding numbers to go with his already impressive shot-blocking prowess.
Last year he averaged 7.0 points and 4.2 rebounds in just under 18 minutes per game. Payne also posted strong ORtg (111.4) to go with solid offensive and defensive rebounding percentages while shooting nearly 57 percent from the field. There’s no reason to expect those percentages to drop off following a strong offseason by the junior big man.
Payne’s athleticism also gives him versatility as a defender, and his 6.9 block percentage last season was among the best in the league.
I like his chances to average around 12 points and eight rebounds with expanded playing time.
Sam Thompson, F, Ohio State
Thompson played sparingly as a freshman, but he is expected to take on a much larger role this season. He has raw athletic ability to spare and like many of the players listed here, he’s earned rave reviews about his work in the offseason.
Based on a recent practice report from the Columbus Dispatch’s Bob Baptist, it seems as though Thompson has distanced himself from fellow soph LaQuinton Ross and is playing with a lot of confidence.
In limited duty, Thompson shot 60 percent from two-point range last season and has the skill set to be an effective slasher while defenses key on Deshaun Thomas.
Throw in a talented point guard like Aaron Craft who can set him up in positions to score, and Thompson has a number of factors working in his favor.
Aaron White, F, Iowa
I projected the Hawkeyes to make the NCAA Tournament this season, and the play of White is a big reason why.
He earned Big Ten All-Freshman team honors by averaging 11.1 points and 5.7 rebounds in fewer than 24 minutes per game, posting a high ORtg (111.6) in the process.
Despite his somewhat slight frame, White was solid on both the offensive and defensive glass, and he also managed to draw more than five fouls per 40 minutes.
Interestingly enough, his two highest scoring games came in Iowa’s NIT tilts, where he tallied a total of 47 points and 19 boards against Dayton and Oregon.
White’s game fits well with Coach Fran McCaffery’s uptempo style, and there’s no reason he can’t make his way onto one of the All-Conference teams this year.
Next week I’ll break down the Big Ten and make some preseason award predictions.
Follow me on Twitter (@andybottoms) for more thoughts on college hoops.