Rothstein | 20 breakout players for 17-18 CBB season

CBB -- Kentucky forward Wenyen Gabriel cuts down the net after Kentucky beat Arkansas in an NCAA college basketball game for the championship of the Southeastern Conference tournament Sunday, March 12, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn. Kentucky won 82-65. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
Wade Payne/AP photo

Which players are primed to break out? Check out our list below as we identify 20 breakout players heading into the 2017-18 college basketball season. In no particular order…

Wenyen Gabriel, Kentucky: There was consistent chatter all summer that Gabriel was the best player on Kentucky’s campus. If that sentiment holds true, he should be in for a major jump as a sophomore. With Hamidou Diallo, Kevin Knox, and Nick Richards all likely to start for the Wildcats, Gabriel will need to keep gunpowder in his diet to beat out 5-star freshmen P.J. Washington and Jarred Vanderbilt for the starting power forward spot. This is the only returning player with any real experience that John Calipari has back from last year’s team that lost by a possession to North Carolina in the Elite Eight.

Udoka Azubuike, Kansas: The 7-foot big man had 12 rebounds in 15 minutes in the Jayhawks’ win over Duke last November and was Kansas’ starting center before suffering a season-ending wrist injury. Azubuike is as physically imposing a presence as Bill Self has had in quite some time. He should take a seat at the table alongside the elite big men that have preceded him in the Jayhawks’ program. The native of Nigeria averaged 5.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks in just 11 games last season; expect him to double his averages in points and rebounds in 2017-18.

Jarron Cumberland, Cincinnati: A linebacker on roller skates, this 6-5 wing has more physical resemblance to a fifth-year senior than a true collegiate sophomore. After averaging 8.3 points last season as a freshman, Cumberland has a chance to lead the Bearcats in scoring next year as Mick Cronin’s program aims to reach its eighth consecutive NCAA Tournament.

Dewan Huell, Miami: Jim Larranaga hopes this group of Hurricanes can reach the level of his teams in 2013 and 2016, when they were high seeds in the NCAA Tournament. To get back to that level, Miami needs serious mileage out of Huell. A top-25 recruit out of high school, the 6-11 Huell averaged just 5.8 points and 3.1 rebounds last season as a freshman. Miami needs this guy to average close to a double-double to have a chance return to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

Payton Pritchard, Oregon: The sole returning starter from last year’s team that reached the Final Four, Pritchard will need to have a major piece of the pie next season if the Ducks are to finish in the top third of the Pac-12. Often choosing to defer as a freshman because of his older and explosive supporting cast, look for Pritchard to be significantly more offense-minded in his second season of college basketball.

Ray Spalding, Louisville: Rick Pitino has openly praised Spalding in the media during the offseason — that’s a good sign for the Cardinals. With Jaylen Johnson no longer a part of Louisville’s program after deciding to pursue professional opportunities, Pitino needs regular production out of the 6-10 Spalding at power forward. After averaging 5.9 points and 5.5 rebounds in just 19.2 minutes last season as a sophomore, penciling in this guy near a double-double seems more than fair.

Marques Bolden, Duke: A victim of the numbers crunch last season in Durham, the former 5-star recruit averaged only 1.5 points and 1.1 rebounds in 6.5 minutes as a freshman. All of those numbers will drastically increase in 2017-18. A big man with a high ceiling, the 6-11 Bolden should make a significant jump as one of Duke’s primary big men in what will likely be a much tighter rotation for Mike Krzyzewski versus a year ago.

Quentin Goodin, Xavier: Goodin was thrust into the Musketeers’ starting lineup in early February when Edmond Sumner was lost for the year with a torn ACL and he played a key role on a team that was one win away from the Final Four. The Kentucky native averaged 6.5 points and 5.4 assists during Xavier’s four NCAA Tournament games in March and he should take a more assertive step forward as a sophomore. Expect Goodin to be one of the best guards in the Big East next season.

Cyril Langevine, Rhode Island: The New Jersey native averaged 8.6 rebounds last season as a freshman in games when he logged 20 minutes or more. With Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson no longer a part of the Rams’ frontcourt, look for Langevine to be Dan Hurley’s most reliable interior piece as Rhode Island aims to reach the NCAA Tournament once again.

De’Riante Jenkins, VCU: The former top-50 recruit needs to play like an All-Atlantic 10 player in Year 1 under Mike Rhoades. Slowed by injuries a year ago as a freshman, Jenkins will have plenty of opportunities to carve out his space following the graduation of JeQuan Lewis and the departure of Samir Doughty (transfer).

Killian Tillie, Gonzaga: The forgotten fourth big man a year ago behind Jonathan Williams, Przemek Karnowski, and Zach Collins, Tillie is in position to become a focal point in Spokane. The 6-10 native of France averaged 4.2 points and 3.2 rebounds last season in limited minutes. Tripling those numbers next season is very much in the realm of possibility, considering how much this guy’s role will be augmented.

Donte Grantham, Clemson: Jaron Blossomgame’s exit means there’s an opening for Grantham to be the Tigers’ stretch power forward and that’s a position where he could be an absolute menace. With Elijah Thomas carving out space for this 6-8 senior to operate, don’t be surprised if the skilled Grantham becomes one of the best scorers in the ACC next season. This guy is like a volcano — he can erupt at any time.

Temple Gibbs, Notre Dame: Mike Brey raved about Gibbs’ commitment to conditioning during the July recruiting circuit and that will be a critical component for both him and the Irish next season. Notre Dame has never played that deep of a rotation under Brey’s watch. Gibbs’ ability to log major minutes alongside both Matt Farrell and Rex Pflueger within the confines of a three-guard alignment is massive. After averaging just 4.7 points last season as a freshman, expect this New Jersey native to be in double-figures as a sophomore.

Austin Wiley, Auburn: As Wiley goes, so may the Tigers. After wowing everyone in attendance in Colorado Springs for USA Basketball this past summer, this big man suffered a stress fracture which kept him from competing on the Tigers’ foreign tour. For Bruce Pearl to have Auburn in the NCAA Tournament mix, he needs Wiley to produce like an All-SEC player.

Eric Paschall, Villanova: Now a redshirt junior, Paschall should take a major step forward following the departures of both Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins. Capable of being either a skilled four or a face-up five, the 6-7 Paschall is tailor-made for Villanova’s system.

A big thing to remember: Prior to arriving on the Main Line, this guy averaged 15.9 points and 5.5 rebounds as a freshman at Fordham en route to becoming the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year in the 2014-15 season. He’ll have a chance to showcase those capabilities this season and next for the Wildcats.

Juwan Morgan, Indiana: Archie Miller loves this versatile forward, whom former Hoosier head coach Tom Crean used at four different positions the past two years. With James Blackmon, O.G. Anunoby, and Thomas Bryant no longer a part of Indiana’s program, look for Morgan to potentially be Indiana’s second-leading scorer next season behind Robert Johnson.

Cassius Winston, Michigan State: Great scorers love to play with great passers — that’s just what Winston is. A true table-setting point guard with a knack for finding the open man, Winston had 11 games last season as a freshman with eight or more assists. Look for this kid’s profile to rise as Michigan State will enter this season as a heavy favorite in the Big Ten and one of the favorites to win the 2018 national title.

D’Mitrik Trice, Wisconsin: With four starters gone from last year’s team that reached the Sweet 16, Greg Gard desperately needs new faces to emerge. Trice seems like a safe bet. The brother of former Michigan State star Travis Trice, this 6-foot guard was a key reserve for Wisconsin a year ago and will likely become a starter as a sophomore. Don’t be shocked if he becomes the Badgers’ second-best player after Ethan Happ.

De’Anthony Melton, USC: Only the true hoops junkies knew of Melton’s greatness last season, but that will change in 2017-18. Like a Swiss Army knife that thrives to multi-task, this Southern California native took pride in doing all the little things for USC, which nearly made the Sweet 16 before coming up short against Baylor. With Andy Enfield’s squad now in position to challenge Arizona for the Pac-12 regular season title, expect Melton to become much more of a national name than he was a year ago.

Ty Jerome, Virginia: How does Tony Bennett replace London Perrantes? This guy. The silky smooth Jerome had flashes of brilliance as a freshman and will get the keys to the car in Charlottesville as a sophomore. Armed with great size for a guard at 6-5, this New York native can see over opposing defenses and never lets the game get too fast for his liking. Sounds perfect for Virginia, right?

Jon Rothstein has been a college basketball insider for CBS Sports since 2010 and is the lead college basketball columnist for the FanRag Sports Network. He is also the host of the College Hoops Today Podcast via Compass Media Networks, which is available via iTunes. Rothstein is also a regular in-studio correspondent for both WFAN and CBS Sports Radio. He currently lives in Manhattan.

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