Here are seven guys who have made a leap this season.
Lagerald Vick, Kansas
Vick was a useful 3-and-D player on a Final Four team last year. Those guys usually don’t blossom into stars; Kansas’ preseason hype pegged Vick as a solid starter, but not much more.
He’s making that projection look foolish. Vick is red-hot from 3-point range, shooting 62.5 percent from distance. He went 8-for-8 against Vermont and hit seven more against Louisiana.
Vick obviously isn’t going to keep that up, and his 22.5 scoring average will dip. But he averaged 12.1 points last year. If he can land in the 16-17 range, it will be huge for a Kansas team that is otherwise inexperienced on the perimeter. There are going to be open outside shots; that’s a function of having a frontcourt as large and skilled as Udoka Azubuike and Dedric Lawson.
It didn’t look like Vick was going to come back to Kansas. The Jayhawks are fortunate he did. He’s still not a guy who can consistently create his own shot, but three games into 2018-19, he’s looking like the college Klay Thompson.
Again, he’ll regress. But he could shoot over 40 percent from 3 and provide stout defense. That’s a really valuable player in today’s style of basketball.
Jared Harper, Auburn
Unofficial stat: Harper leads the country in swag. The 5-11 guard plays much bigger than his size, challenging interior defenders with ferocity on several drives per game. He’s an outstanding finisher.
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) November 19, 2018
MORE: Maui Invitational guide
But Harper has always had the right mentality on the court. His skill level didn’t necessarily match his fire, but it seems to now. Harper shot just 36 percent from the floor last season despite averaging 13.2 points per game. This year, he’s much more efficient, averaging 17.5 points on 48 percent shooting. He’s also making 46.7 percent of his 3s.
Perhaps most impressive, though: Harper is averaging 7.5 assists per game. He’s fast and has elite vision; now that his jump shot is more accurate, he’s incredibly difficult to defend. Harper’s 25-point performance against Xavier, which boasts legitimate perimeter defenders, was an eye-opener.
Harper is proof of how much an improved jump shot can help a player. He’s a big reason to like Auburn in the SEC.
De’Andre Hunter, Virginia
Hunter just isn’t missing very much this season. He’s shooting 60.7 percent from the floor and has made 4-of-5 3s.
Small sample size, of course, but Hunter clearly worked on his stroke in the offseason. It shows. And if he can hit 3-pointers at just an average clip, he’ll be a scary player. Heck, he already is.
At 6-7, 225 pounds with long arms and crazy athleticism, Hunter is a menace defensively and is a good slasher on offense. He thinks the game well. The jumper was the downfall last season; his percentages were solid, but he was hesitant to fire from 3-point distance.
Hunter made all four of his 3-point attempts against Coppin State and is averaging 14.3 points in 20.7 minutes per game. Expect both of those numbers to rise (mostly the minutes). If this jump shot is real, Hunter is Virginia’s best player. And it’s not that close.
Grant Williams, Tennessee
Williams was the SEC Player of the Year last season. It didn’t seem like he had much room to improve. But through just a few games, it’s clear that he has.
RELATED: Andy Katz’s Power 36
Williams is playing with a command this season that’s rare among college basketball players. He knows exactly when to pick his spots to attack, and when to involve his teammates. Williams is averaging 22 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists on 64.7 percent shooting. He averaged 15.2 points in 2017-18.
The scoring increase jumps off the page, but the playmaking is what’s most impressive and perhaps most important. Tennessee’s guards are solid, but the backcourt isn’t its strong suit. That means it’s important to have forwards who can create for others, and Williams is becoming that kind of player. He (rightfully) draws plenty of double teams, and when that happens, it’s crucial he can find the teammate with the best scoring opportunity.
Williams doesn’t have a weakness in his game right now. He’s a darkhorse Naismith candidate.
D’Mitrik Trice, Wisconsin
Sure, Ethan Happ has been the biggest reason Wisconsin’s had such a promising start. But don’t sleep on Trice.
Trice showed flashes last season, but his final numbers were unimpressive. He averaged 9.4 points on 38 percent shooting and 30 percent from 3. He’s always been a good defender, but the offense needed to come along in order for the Badgers to flourish.
He looks far more comfortable on that end this year. Trice is averaging 18.3 points through three games on absurd efficiency. He’s shooting 65 percent from 3 on a whopping 6.7 attempts per game; the volume is significant. He’s hit five 3s twice this year already.
Trice is a speed demon, which helps him offensively and defensively. He’s a smart player who generally knows where to be. The shooting streak is promising, but so is his ball security. He’s averaging less than a turnover per game. The first step to having a good offense is taking care of the ball.
If this is the type of Trice we see all year, Wisconsin will be a factor in the Big Ten.
Joey Brunk, Butler
Brunk had scored a total of 47 points in his first two college seasons. He’s at 45 through three games in 2018-19.
Brunk is a ridiculous 14-of-15 from the floor this season and has gotten to the free-throw line 7.3 times per game. He’s big, athletic and has nice touch around the rim; he was a highly-touted recruit for a reason. There are several reasons why Brunk was unable to make an impact in his first two years, but he’s living up to his potential now.
There are still questions about Brunk’s defense. He struggles to defend ball screens and often rotates half a step late. But the talent is obvious, and Brunk can be an interior force for a Butler program that usually relies on perimeter players. We’ll see if he can keep up this hot start.
Kris Wilkes, UCLA
Wilkes is, and has always been smooth. But he’s added an assertive element to his game that means he could be in store for a big year.
Wilkes is still skinny, but he’s put on weight between his freshman and sophomore seasons. That will prove to be valuable. He’s averaging 17.5 points and 5.5 rebounds this season, both increases from last year.
He’s struggling from the outside right now, but the fact that he’s so willing to take 3-pointers is a good thing for UCLA. Wilkes is heaving 6.5 triples per game, which will open up the Bruins’ offense. There were two things Wilkes needed to improve on in the offseason: his body, and his mindset.
He’s checked both boxes early on. There are some remarkable individual talents in the Pac-12 (hello, Kevin Porter and Bol Bol) but Wilkes has a shot to be the conference player of the year.