One of the great things about college basketball is that every year, new stars are born.
Those newbies are often freshmen, but it’s particularly fun to watch older guys transform before our eyes. Here are some returning players who could have big years in 2018-19 thanks to increased opportunity.
Matt Haarms, Purdue
Haarms was the perfect complement to Isaac Haas last year – an elite rim-protector capable of hanging in ball screens, while serving as a dangerous lob threat on offense.
But Haas’ bruising post game was the most crucial part of Purdue’s identity in 2017-18, and the Boilermakers will miss him. The good news: the defense should improve just because Haarms will likely be playing 30-plus minutes per night. He averaged five blocks per 40 minutes as a freshman and led Purdue regulars in defensive rating; the Boilermakers allowed four fewer points per 100 possessions with Haarms on the floor than Haas.
Of course, the offense was better with Haas, and Haarms is limited there. But he’s not a zero. Haarms is a dangerous roll threat who shot 59 percent from the floor last season, even if he doesn’t give you much outside of the paint.
All things considered, Haarms could develop into the best defensive player in the Big Ten if he improves as much as expected.
Quade Green, Kentucky
Green and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander began last season as equals. So much for that. Gilgeous-Alexander blew past everyone’s expectations and turned himself into an NBA lottery pick. But that means Green will have more opportunities as a sophomore.
He was solid as a freshman. Green averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists on 45.1 percent shooting while hitting 37.6 percent of his 3s. He lacks elite size or burst, but Green knows how to play and can hit shots from all three levels; he has a well-rounded skillset and thinks the game a step ahead of the defense.
John Calipari probably won’t fork over the entire offense to Green because Kentucky adds talented freshmen guards Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley and Tyler Herro. But a year of college experience is huge, and if Green progresses naturally, he could average about 15 points per game on high efficiency.
That’s a really good player on what’s likely to be a national title contender. Don’t sleep on Green.
Marques Bolden, Duke
Bolden hasn’t lived up to the hype he got as a recruit. He mostly sat behind Amile Jefferson as a freshman. As a sophomore, he was overshadowed by Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter.
But he finally showed some flashes last year, averaging 12 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks per 40 minutes. He figures to start alongside Duke’s star-studded cast of freshmen as a junior.
Bolden is massive and has rare touch for player his size. He struggles to move on the perimeter and his jumper is suspect, but that may be OK on this Duke team. Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish and R.J. Barrett are all superb athletes; Mike Krzyzewski may be able to plant Bolden near the hoop on defense and let him play the verticality game. Bolden profiles as a nice post-up hub on offense.
This is a make or break year for Bolden. He won’t be buried on the depth chart. Like Green, he has the chance to become an important player on a national championship contender.
Jericho Sims, Texas
Sims was overshadowed by Mo Bamba last year, but he’s a plus athlete who put up nice numbers in limited minutes. He averaged five points on 61 percent shooting as a freshman for the Longhorns.
At 6-9, 240 pounds, Sims has the strength to bang with bigs inside and the jets to chase guards on the perimeter. The latter is key. Bamba was the main reason Texas had the No. 12 defense last year, but teams had success against the Longhorns when they put him in ball screens. He’d often hang back, because Bamba is most valuable near the basket. But that meant Texas allowed too many open pull-up 3s.
The Longhorns lose rim protection with Sims as his replacement, but they’ll become more switchable. Sims is an excellent rebounder on both ends and is a versatile ball mover on offense; he ranked third on Texas in offensive rating last year, checking in only behind Bamba and Andrew Jones.
He does a lot of things well. That’s a simple recipe for success.
Derryck Thornton, USC
Like Bolden, Thornton was once a prized Duke recruit who struggled early on. He transferred to USC and played behind Jordan McLaughlin, but Thornton should have more opportunities this year.
His potential is obvious. Thornton is long, fast and has a nice-looking jumper. The problem? Decision making, and from an outsider’s perspective, confidence. A frustrating habit: Thornton is prone to gaining an advantage on a defender but immediately giving it up by hesitating or switching directions for no apparent reason. Decisiveness is key for point guards.
USC fans have to hope Thornton will see the game better as a junior, because if he does, he could thrive. At 6-2, 185 pounds, he’s bigger and faster than most college point guards. He should be able to get to the basket whenever he wants. Thornton was inconsistent, but played 26 minutes per game for a good Duke squad in 2015-16. He looks like a better shooter than the numbers suggest.
Thornton has the talent to match what McLaughlin did for the Trojans last year. Time to go do it.
Charlie Moore, Kansas
There’s a sneaky amount of pressure on Moore heading into the year. He may start alongside two returning Final Four players (Udoka Azubuike and Lagerald Vick) and two highly-regarded transfers (Dedric and K.J. Lawson). Moore was an important transfer himself, but was inefficient in his one year at California, failing to shoot 40 percent from the floor.
He also replaces Devonte’ Graham, one of the best point guards in the country last season. Moore’s counting numbers were solid at Cal – he averaged 12.2 points and 3.5 assists per game in 2016-17.
But he had a score-first mentality, and that should change on this Kansas team with so many mouths to feed. He’s capable of becoming an ace role player. Moore can beat just about anyone off of the dribble and has shown nifty vision in spurts. Perhaps he shot so often because he wasn’t playing for a very good Golden Bears team.
Kansas will be great regardless of Moore’s play, but if he improves his efficiency and gets others involved, the Jayhawks will be the team to beat.
James Bolden, West Virginia
Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles are gone, so Bolden will have a lot on his plate this season.
He was a valuable role player in his first two season for the Mountaineers. Bolden averaged 8.7 points and nailed 41.1 percent of his 3s as a sophomore while providing tough defense; he fits Bob Huggins’ system perfectly.
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But he’s really going to need to improve in the playmaking department. In Bolden’s defense, he wasn’t asked to create offense for others early in his career, as he’s never averaged more than two assists per game.
He’ll be initiating a lot more often as a junior, and we’ll see if he’s up to the task. The opportunities will be there. Bolden won’t match Carter’s defensive impact, because frankly, hardly anyone could. But he’s capable of similar success on offense. Bolden could average 15-17 points per game and it wouldn’t be shock.
Carter meant a ton to the West Virginia program, but the Mountaineers pride themselves on not being overly reliant on any individual. Bolden is the next man up.