This article is my favorite piece to write each year. While I am a bit lacking when it comes to high school/prep to college evaluation, one thing I am typically very good at is identifying returning players primed for breakout seasons. To me, that comes from not only statistical knowledge, but more simply, watching as many games as possible.
Last season, I hit on two of my top three. #1 was Jordan Nwora and #3 was Brandon Childress. Numero ocho last season was Mamadi Diakite. Boom, you’re welcome. In the previous year, I was on players such as TJ. Gibbs, Doral Moore, and Oshae Brissett.
Now, if I am going to flaunt my successes, I also need to admit my failures. I am not 100% on these predictions. CJ Walker, formerly of Florida State, has been on my list. Curtis Haywood II has been on the list twice. M.J. Walker underwhelmed last season. Shamiel Stevenson made the list last year and promptly transferred. I am not sure it had anything to do with my list and the added pressure, but who can say for sure?
Anyways, I hope you all enjoy it as much as I enjoy writing it each year. Feel free to respond on twitter. Again, the players are numbered from 1-8 in order of my confidence in the selection. One being the most confident, eight being the least.
1. Mamadi Diakite, RS Sr. Virginia:
2018-19 Statistics: 7.4 ppg | 4.4 rpg | 1.7 bpg | 57.1% 2ptFG% | 29.4 3ptFG%
Is this a cop out? I don’t think so. If you are someone who really pays attention to college basketball this is an easy one. However, casual fans may not realize the upside that Diakite possesses if they are just looking at statistics from last season. He only averaged 7.4 points and 4.4 rebounds, far from overwhelming. Had he not made the shot against Purdue to send the game to overtime, I wonder how much luster would be surrounding him.
Diakite appears on this list because it wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibilities for him to double both of those scoring and rebounding averages from last season. I think it would be safe to assume he will receive more run this year than his 21.8 mpg last season as well, so lets bump up those 1.7 blocks per game to around 2.2-2.5, and now you are talking about an All-ACC selection.
There is no doubt Mamadi will be attempting to improve his range this year as well, as his professional aspirations are obvious. Hopefully he doesn’t fall in love with that shot a’ la Oshae Brissett. I highly doubt Coach Tony Bennett would allow that to happen though.
Per the norm, that first one is always the easiest.
2. Aamir Simms, Jr. Clemson:
2018-19 Statistics: 8.1 ppg | 4.6 rpg | 1.0 apg | 2ptFG% 55.6 | 3ptFG% 33.1
Another fairly obvious selection. Simms actually appeared on last season’s list as well. I rated him at #5 which meant my confidence in the selection was fair to midland. This year, I am all in.
While I don’t expect Clemson to be particularly good, I think they have the potential to be somewhat better than expected. Of course, it all starts with Simms, especially since Clyde Trapp may be lost for the entire season due to a bad wheel.
It’s not even that Simms was bad last season. His minutes per game increased by almost 50% and he doubled his scoring output from 4.0 to 8.1 ppg. This season, with the losses of Marcquise Reed, Shelton Mitchell, Elijah Thomas, David Skara, and now Trapp, simply put, someone has to provide the counting statistics. Look for Simms to be that guy.
3. M.J. Walker, Jr. FSU:
2018-19 Statistics: 7.5 ppg | 2.2 rpg | 1.6 apg | 2ptFG% 35.3% | 3ptFG% 32.8
Another repeat customer. Walker was #2 on last season’s list and was easily my biggest bust. His minutes increased by about 28% last season while his production experienced minimal improvement and his efficiency decreased everywhere except free throw percentage. His offensive rating (estimate of points produced over 100 possessions) decreased by over ten points last season and he had zero offensive win shares. Duke sophomore Alex O’Connell provided more offensive win shares last season.
So why is he here again? Quite simply, talent. Walker is oozing with it, and I am not prepared to exile him to bust island. He possesses both good form on his jumper as well as above average athleticism, and he is simply too good to continue being that bad. On a team that is looking for both production and leadership, Walker will likely be the #1 option on the offensive end. The same offense that produced Michael Snaer, Jason Rich, Malik Beasley and Dwayne Bacon will now be centered around M.J. to start the season. I for one am very interested to see what he does with the opportunity.
4. Jalen Carey, Soph. Syracuse:
2018-19 Statistics: 3.5 ppg | 1.6 rpg | 1.0 apg | 2ptFG% 49.0 | 3ptFG% 17.4
You have no idea how close I was to putting this kid in the #2 spot. As far as counting stats go, he is my selection to show the biggest improvement across the board.
Jalen was the 52nd ranked recruit coming out of the 2018 recruiting class. Personally, I thought that was a little low to be honest. He likes to play fast and get up and down the court, which makes him a strange fit at Syracuse, but it’s not unheard of for similar point guards to flourish in Coach Boeheim’s system.
While Carey’s numbers were a bit of a let down last season, I am not sure that he was ever fully healthy during his freshman campaign. He dealt with a bad ankle in the preseason and was nicked up over the course of the regular season. In all, he missed 9 games during 2018-19.
This year, he should get the keys from Boeheim. Gone are Tyus Battle, Frank Howard and Oshae Brissett and Carey should be the one to run the show. I am not sure the team success will be there for the Orange this season, but I know that Jalen Carey is going to have to be very good for them to even sniff the bubble.
5. Rechon “Leaky” Black, Soph. UNC:
2018-19 Statistics: 2.5 ppg | 2.1 rpg | 1.2 apg | 2ptFG% 48.6 | 3ptFG% 41.7
“Leaky” is another player I would love to put higher on the list, but injury history and UNC’s depth are a concern for me. At 6’7 he can potentially play four positions, though the four spot may be a stretch. His ability to play the passing lanes, rebound and handle the ball all make him a weapon in UNC’s patented transition offense. Of course, he also protects the ball really well (1 TO per 15.8 minutes played), making him equally effective in the half-court offense.
The sample size from last season is incredibly small, but he was the only player in the ACC to appear in 20 games and shoot better than 48% from two, 40% from deep and 85% from the stripe. His per 40 numbers of 9.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 2.4 steals are quite impressive. If Black receives 20-25 minutes per game this year, he could very well be the definition of a Swiss army knife type player.
6. Dane Goodwin, Soph. Notre Dame:
2018-19 Statistics: 6.5 ppg | 3.2 rpg | 1.1 apg | 2ptFG% 39.7 | 3ptFG% 34.3
Goodwin is a player that I am higher on than most. That is a product of simply watching Notre Dame basketball as much as any other team in the league. In his final four games last season, he logged double digit points in three of them. He shot 45.5% from two and 30% from deep while averaging 10.3 points and 5.5 rebounds in 35 mpg. As is typical with freshman, he averaged 7.3 points per game at home, and only 3.5 in true road games.
I expect Goodwin to come off the bench to begin the season, playing behind Prentiss Hubb and Temple Gibbs. However, if Hubb struggles, as he did much of last season, coach Brey shouldn’t, and probably won’t hesitate to slide Goodwin in next to Gibbs in the back court.
7. Nate Laszewski, Soph. Notre Dame:
2018-19 Statistics: 6.9 ppg | 3.9 rpg | 2ptFG% 50.8 | 3ptFG% 33.8
Last year’s Notre Dame recruit with the biggest buzz was Laszewski. At 6’10 and possessing a pure stroke, he was the obvious choice to make an immediate impact for Coach Mike Brey’s Fighting Irish.
Laz wasn’t bad last year, but he certainly wasn’t great. Consistency was the biggest issue. He had seven games where he drilled three or more triples (6 vs Pitt in the season finale), but he also had 15 games of 4 points or less,
This year, Nate again projects to be one of the three primary front court players for Notre Dame. Along with Juwan Durham and incumbent John Mooney, the Irish tout one of the most talented front three in the ACC. While Laz can certainly hold his own as a stretch four on offense, it is the defensive end that has me concerned. His defensive rating of 107.1 was seventh worst among ACC freshmen that played 600 or more minutes. If he is to defend the four spot this year, match-ups against players such as Matthew Hurt, Jordan Nwora, Jordan Usher or Aamir Simms could prove to be difficult.
Expect that percentage from deep to jump by about 6-8% and his points to hit double digits. His defense will determine how much run he receives and may be the only thing holding him back.
8. Devin Vassell, Soph. FSU:
2018-19 Statistics: 4.5 ppg | 1.5 rpg | 0.6 apg | 2ptFG% 45.6 | 3ptFG% 41.9
Vassell, a shooting guard out of Suwanee GA, is an example of Seminole’s Assistant Coach Charlton Young owning the state of Georgia whenever he deems it necessary. Vassell wasn’t a huge prospect coming out of Peachtree Ridge, ranked just #200 in the country, but FSU did something correctly on the evaluation.
Devin is a popular pick among college basketball personalities to break-out this season, and I am no different. He will never set any assist records, but he can shoot it and he can get to the rim and show off some athleticism. He was one of only eight players in the ACC to play more than 350 minutes and have an offensive rating above 119 and a defensive rating under 96. The only other freshman in the ACC to meet that criteria? Yeah, Zion Williamson.
I would expect Vassell to start the season in the starting five alongside Trent Forrest and M.J. Walker, though it wouldn’t be shocking to see him be a super sub for the ‘Noles either.