There are several mainstream candidates to become breakout players in the 2022-23 college basketball season. What about the guys flying under the radar?
It is almost that time of the year. The 2022-23 college basketball season tips off in less than a week, marking the beginning of five months of intense action across the country. As much as prognosticators try their best to project each coming season, the unpredictability of college basketball is what makes it what it is.
One of the most exciting parts of a new season is the opportunity to witness the next group of breakout stars in the sport. And while there are always “mainstream” breakout candidates — like Jaden Ivey last year, or Kris Murray this year — it is the under-the-radar upstarts who often make the biggest noise for their respective teams.
Those more unheralded candidates are the ones that propel their teams to exceed expectations.
Wisconsin and Johnny Davis were a prime example last year. Davis found his way onto some preseason breakout lists, but was not as prevalent as players like Ivey or Benn Mathurin. The Badgers were picked to finish 10th in the Big Ten before a breakout year from Davis led to a share of the conference’s regular-season title. Jake LaRavia (Wake Forest), Justin Lewis (Marquette) and Christian Koloko (Arizona) were fellow under-the-radar breakout players who pushed their teams to unexpectedly strong 2021-22 seasons.
With that in mind, who might be some of the hidden players to watch in this coming campaign? I took a dive into 20 such names who intrigue me as to how they can impact their respective programs.
NOTE: “Under the radar” labels are entirely subjective and are based on my perceived view of offseason attention. Some exclusions — such as Jordan Hawkins, Jaden Akins, Nolan Hickman and many others — were because those players are popular breakout picks nationally. Players on teams that could make noise nationally or within their conferences were prioritized, and only players who averaged fewer than 10 points per game last season were eligible.
— NCAA Basketball: Under-the-radar freshmen to watch for 2022-23
— UNC, Houston and Baylor lead Heat Check CBB’s Preseason Top 25
— Buy The Almanac: Year of the Big, an 800-page college basketball season preview
Kam Jones, Marquette Golden Eagles
After losing Darryl Morsell and Justin Lewis over the offseason, Marquette will need new offensive leaders. Enter Kam Jones. While the Big East all-freshman performer has garnered more breakout attention over the last few weeks, he is still flying a tad under the radar. Jones is a dynamic scoring threat who showed flashes of brilliance last season.
He was particularly good away from home for a freshman, notching four of his seven double-digit performances outside of the Fiserv Forum. Jones ranked second in the Big East in 3-point percentage during conference play, connecting on 44.4 percent of his 3s against league foes. Jones played the seventh-most minutes and recorded the seventh-highest usage rate on the Golden Eagles last season.
For Marquette to contend for another NCAA Tournament bid, its backcourt will need to lead the way. Tyler Kolek was a steady creator last season but needs to improve his shooting. Jones will be tasked with becoming a go-to scorer.
Payton Sandfort, Iowa Hawkeyes
Iowa has posted three consecutive KenPom top-25 finishes on the backs of Luka Garza and Keegan Murray. If anyone is going to follow in their footsteps, it will likely be Kris Murray. However, he is already a very popular pick to be a breakout star. Sophomore wing Payton Sandfort thus falls into the under-the-radar category. The 6-7 sharpshooter will play a more prominent role this season and could emerge as a secondary scorer for a top offense.
Sandfort filled a reserve role as a freshman but was a deadly per-minute scorer. He was also at his best when given consistent playing time. Sandfort averaged 11.7 points on 48.1 percent 3-point shooting in 10 appearances of 15 or more minutes. He shot 59.4 percent at the rim, 36.6 percent from deep, and 93.8 percent at the free-throw line last season. Elite efficiency and improved perimeter shooting appear to be on the horizon.
Iowa has posted five straight top-25 offenses by adjusted efficiency measures. With Sandfort’s potential as a high-efficiency scorer next to Murray, the Hawkeyes should be deadly on that end again.
Kowacie Reeves, Florida Gators
Florida missed the NCAA Tournament last season, but enters this campaign with hopes of reaching the coveted postseason event. Todd Golden is now walking the sidelines, and he did an excellent job pairing returning star Colin Castleton with a strong transfer class. Golden is an analytically-minded coach who filled a lot of holes. But is there enough shooting? That is the most-pressing question in Gainesville, and one which Kowacie Reeves can help answer.
Reeves is returning for his sophomore season after posting 5.5 points per game on 33.3 percent 3-point shooting last year. The numbers were underwhelming but a star turn might be in the offing. In fact, it might have already started. The 6-6 guard netted 49 total points over his final three games last year, shooting 9-for-25 on 3s.
If the hot finish in extended minutes is any indication, he could become the most important perimeter shooter around Kyle Lofton and Colin Castleton.
Simas Lukosius, Butler Bulldogs
A late addition to Butler’s recruiting class last season, Simas Lukosius showed flashes as a freshman. Butler went 6-1 when he reached double-figures as a scorer (8-18 in all other games), including a 27-point outburst in a Big East Tournament win over Xavier. The Bulldogs were also 8-3 when he played 26 or more minutes (6-16 in all other games). The 6-6 Lithuanian is a highly versatile piece with the ability to play 1-through-4 positionally. He is a high-level processor who plays at his pace and can score or create at all three levels.
Inefficiencies as a scorer plagued Lukosius as a freshman; he shot only 37.7 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from 3-point range. However, off-season rumblings out of Indianapolis have raved about Lukosius’ improvements as a perimeter shooter. His 89.1 percent free-throw shooting last year also evokes optimism for a breakout shooting campaign. Lukosius was injured for Butler’s offseason trip to Italy and Greece, but summer reports were high on his potential, and he delivered in Butler’s preseason.
Lukosius netted 20 points — 17 in the second half — in Butler’s exhibition victory over Tiffin. He shot 7-for-10 from the field, including 3-for-5 from 3-point land.
Jaedon LeDee, San Diego State Aztecs
The San Diego State fanbase is conducting arguably the biggest hype train of any transfer in the country for Jaedon LeDee. However, the Aztecs’ enthusiasm has not led to many inclusions on breakout lists. LeDee began his career at Ohio State and TCU, peaking with averages of 5.8 points and 3.9 rebounds per game with the latter in 2020-21. He sat out last season, but has the potential to emerge as another star next to Matt Bradley this year.
LeDee brings legit size to the frontcourt at 6-9 and has earned rave reviews. He is a stretch-4 type with tremendous rebounding ability, and should pair with shot-blocker Nathan Mensah in SDSU’s frontcourt. The Aztecs enter this season as a Top 25 team behind Bradley, Mensah and preseason MWC Newcomer of the Year Darrion Trammell. If anyone is going to surprise people from the Aztecs, it might be LeDee.
The former top-75 recruit may have made substantial strides during his sit-out year. He has the potential to be a nightly double-double threat.
Tyson Degenhart, Boise State Broncos
With a 9.9 points per game average last season, Tyson Degenhart just makes the cut as an under-the-radar breakout player to watch. The 6-7 rising sophomore won Mountain West Rookie of the Year last season, but it felt like his season was oft-overlooked as just Boise’s fourth leading scorer. This time around, Leon Rice will not have the luxury of Abu Kigab or Emmanuel Akot to lead his offense.
Their departures open the door for Degenhart to truly explode into one of the MWC’s best players. The conference already features a number of very good players returning, but Degenhart could be a Player of the Year down the road. A breakout sophomore campaign as Boise’s leader would be another step in that potential trajectory. He is a physical stretch-4 who shot 42.5 percent from 3-point land as a freshman.
Zeke Mayo, South Dakota State Jackrabbits
South Dakota State has not lost more than three Summit League games in any of the last five seasons. Even after losing Baylor Scheierman to Creighton this offseason, hopes are high for the Jackrabbits to make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament. Head coach Eric Henderson returns four players who shot better than 40 percent on 3-pointers last season, including burgeoning star Zeke Mayo. Mayo, who averaged 9.6 points per game last season, barely qualifies for this list but could be the Jackrabbits’ next high-volume scorer.
Scheierman was the headlining star for South Dakota State last season, which allowed Mayo’s impressive freshman year to fly a bit under the radar. He shot a blistering 56-for-135 (41.5 percent) from 3-point range and 93.3 percent at the foul line, solidifying his reputation as a top-tier shooter. He also finished on over 52 percent of his 2-point attempts. Playing alongside Scheierman’s scoring and playmaking likely aided his efficiency, but Mayo has “star potential” written all over his statistical profile.
In addition to his scoring, Mayo is an underrated playmaker. He is the Jackrabbits’ top returner in terms of assists, and should take more of a creating role this season. With plenty of shooting threats around him, and the addition of Matthew Mors in the frontcourt, both Mayo’s scoring and distributing numbers could skyrocket.
Jaylon Tyson, Texas Tech Red Raiders
Defense was the name of the game for head coach Mark Adams at Texas Tech last season. The Raiders ranked tops in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, which carried them to a No. 3 seed at the NCAA Tournament. After losing all but one of their double-digit scorers from last year this offseason, though, Adams needed to replenish his stock of bucket-getters. De’Vion Harmon and Kerwin Walton arrive as more veteran, proven scoring guards, but perhaps the most exciting transfer addition to Lubbock is Jaylon Tyson.
Tyson originally committed to Chris Beard at Tech out of high school but followed the coach when he went to Texas. After playing sparingly for the Longhorns over the first semester last season, he transferred back to the Red Raiders. He is a former top-100 recruit who has garnered hype throughout this offseason as a potential breakout piece on the perimeter. He can score at all three levels and brings significant size (6-6) to the wing.
Texas Tech should remain elite defensively; that has been a program staple. If Tyson can emerge as a double-digit scoring threat next to Harmon, the Red Raiders will be very dangerous.
Steven Crowl, Wisconsin Badgers
Johnny Davis and Brad Davison are gone, leaving a huge scoring void in Madison. Head coach Greg Gard does return three starters, though, including a pair of preseason all-conference selections in Chucky Hepburn and Tyler Wahl. With both receiving offseason accolades, the under-the-radar label falls on big man Steven Crowl. The 7-footer played sparingly as a freshman but leaped into a full-time starting role this past season.
Crowl recorded 8.8 points and 4.4 rebounds per game during his second season. Having hit 26 3-pointers last season on reasonable efficiency, he is a reliable floor-spacer from the center spot. Considering the number of more interior-focused bigs in the Big Ten, Crowl’s ability to pull defenses away from the rim is valuable. He also held his own defensively in arguably the best big-man conference in the country.
Wisconsin lost its two leading scorers from last season, but the program deserves the benefit of the doubt. Gard has been successful in Madison and all three returning starters were major contributors to a very good team last season, even if in secondary roles.
KJ Simpson, Colorado Buffaloes
Colorado narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament last season with a 21-12 (12-8 Pac-12) record that landed the team in the NIT. The Buffaloes then proceeded to lose a trio of double-digit scorers. Head coach Tad Boyle recouped some of those losses with transfers Ethan Wright and Jalen Gabbidon, who thrived in the Ivy League, but he also has a stud sophomore ready to take the next step. KJ Simpson averaged 7.4 points and 2.7 assists per game as a freshman in Boulder last season, and has a bright future ahead.
Simpson was rated as a top 100 recruit out of high school and largely lived up to that billing in his first season. However, he was not without his flaws. The 6-2 guard shot only 25.4 percent from 3-point range and his 1.2 assist-to-turnover ratio left much to be desired. As they say, though, “the best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores.”
Simpson showed flashes during his first season and has clear areas to tidy up. Improving his shooting and ball-security could lead to a major sophomore campaign.
Jadan Coleman, Tulane Green Wave
Tulane is a very sneaky team to watch heading into this season. The Green Wave return one of the most potent backcourts in the country with Jalen Cook and Jaylen Forbes, who combined to average 34.5 points per game last season. Additionally, a breakout season from Jadan Coleman could turn that duo into a trio. Coleman averaged 6.3 points per game last season while shooting a blistering 42.0 percent from beyond the arc.
Coleman does a great job fitting into Tulane’s offensive system, curling around big man Kevin Cross to get free for perimeter looks. He has tremendous range and is a versatile shooter; he can run off screens, pull up or operate in standstill catch-and-shoot. Whether as a starter or key reserve, he will be a needed bucket-getter for a team hoping to contend for an NCAA Tournament bid.
Coleman averaged 11.4 points across eight games of 22 or more minutes.
Isa Silva, Stanford Cardinal
A former top-75 recruit out of high school, Isa Silva posted an underwhelming freshman campaign. He came off the bench throughout (one start) and only managed to average 3.5 points and 1.2 assists per game. Heading into his sophomore campaign, though, a breakout might be on the horizon. Stanford returns a strong core duo of Harrison Ingram and Spencer Jones, who combined to average 22.5 points per game on a .500 team last year.
Silva already shot the 3 well for Stanford last season, connecting on 19-of-38 (50.0 percent) perimeter jumpers. The priority this year will be developing into more of a creator for Ingram and Jones. As his playmaking improves, his playing time should increase, and he could emerge as a double-digit scoring threat. The Cardinal have NCAA Tournament aspirations this season, and a breakout season from Silva would go a long way.
Silva backed up Michael O’Connell last season but has a very high ceiling. He could take over the starting spot if he takes the leap that some are anticipating. Either way, Stanford should have a solid duo at lead guard.
Louis Lesmond, Harvard Crimson
Injuries ravaged Harvard last season. Chris Ledlum, Idan Tretout, Evan Nelson and several others also missed major time as the Crimson slipped to just their second .500 or worse record since 2010. With so many players sidelined, freshman Louis Lesmond slid into an immediate role. The 6-6 guard struggled with inefficiency but posted 7.9 points in 25.4 minutes per game. Now entering Year 2, Lesmond has more experience and healthier teammates.
Head coach Tommy Amaker told me for The Almanac that Lesmond looked “as good as anyone on our roster.” Chris Ledlum and Luka Sakota will be Harvard’s leaders as proven veteran scorers this year, but Lesmond will be a crucial piece on the perimeter. He has the potential to be a big-time shooter. The top of the Ivy League projects as highly competitive, and a few breakout sophomores will have their roles to play in that.
Saint Thomas, Loyola Chicago Ramblers
Fresh off five straight winning seasons in the MVC, Loyola Chicago heads to the Atlantic 10 beginning in 2022-23. The Ramblers return some considerable pieces, including Marquise Kennedy and Braden Norris, as well as adding Philip Alston and Bryce Golden via the transfer portal. Key contenders to start around those players might be rising freshman Jalen Quinn and sophomore Saint Thomas. The latter averaged 6.3 minutes per game across 27 appearances last season.
Thomas, who is listed at 6-7 and 215 pounds, brings the type of frame that can help offset the departure of Aher Uguak. He is a smooth perimeter shooter who attacks closeouts well. As his role expands this season, more traits should emerge. Thomas can play the 3 or the 4 with his size, plus features secondary ball-handling skills. Loyola has ranked in the top 25 nationally in effective field goal percentage for six consecutive seasons; Thomas’ ability to create for himself and others will contribute to another highly-efficient offense.
Thomas showed flashes in his limited minutes as a freshman; in two games with 18 or more minutes played, he combined for 22 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, and four steals.
Ed Croswell, Providence Friars
Ed Croswell is a bit of an unconventional inclusion as a potential breakout player. The 6-8 forward is entering his fifth collegiate season, with two years each at La Salle and Providence under his belt. With Nate Watson now out of the picture, Croswell will likely take over as Providence’s starting center. An uptick in playing time would thus await Croswell, who was a per-minute monster last year. He averaged 14.3 points and 12.7 rebounds on a per-40 minute basis, finishing on 65.2 percent of 2-point attempts.
Providence will feature several new faces this season with a big transfer class, and Jared Bynum and Croswell will have to lead the way as program vets. Croswell can set an example with his interior defense (4.8 percent block rate last season), and he is an efficient play-finisher at the rim offensively. He won’t be a “star” but could take a necessary leap inside for the Friars with more minutes. A repeat as Big East champs is unlikely in Friartown, but another NCAA Tournament bid is very possible.
Aaron Scott, North Texas Mean Green
North Texas fell just shy of reaching the NCAA Tournament last season, but that shortcoming might put the “mean” into Mean Green this season. Head coach Grant McCasland still returns the main core of his roster from last season, plus added a few impact transfers. The Mean Green project as one of the best defensive teams in the country, and sophomore Aaron Scott is a big reason for that.
Scott might reprise a bench role this season but he is a Swiss Army knife defensively, possessing the ability to cover positions 1-through-5 with his 6-7 frame.
Scott held the following rankings among all CUSA players in league play last season: 10th in offensive rating, first in offensive rebound rate, 24th in defensive rebound rate, and ninth in block rate. Now entering his second season, a breakthrough could be on the horizon. He is a defensive menace with terrific rebounding ability. If offensive consistency develops, particularly at the foul line (61.0 percent last year), he could be a very dynamic piece for one of the best mid-majors nationwide.
Matt Allocco, Princeton Tigers
Princeton returns Tosan Evbuomwan as the Ivy League Player of the Year, but the team also lost three crucial starters over the offseason. The Tigers’ quest to repeat as the Ivy’s regular-season champions starts with Evbuomwan and Ryan Langborg but will otherwise hinge on several unproven pieces. As head coach Mitch Henderson noted to me for The Almanac, though, “I played a short bench this past year, so people haven’t seen some of the other guys in our program.” The Tigers feature several potential breakout players this year, headlined by guard Matt Allocco.
Allocco, 6-4, is listed as a junior coming into this season, but it will just be his second year of collegiate basketball after the Ivy League sat out the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19. Allocco appeared in 30 games for Princeton last season as a “sophomore” and showed significant ability as a shooter. He averaged 4.1 points per game while splashing 19-of-42 (45.2 percent) from beyond the arc.
Considering Evbuomwan’s prodigious skill as a frontcourt playmaker, featuring as many shooters around him as possible is critical. Allocco also dished 45 assists to 20 turnovers last season; he and sophomore Blake Peters will be tasked with helping offset the loss of Jaelin Llewellyn.
AJ Clayton, Ohio Bobcats
If you’re familiar with my opinions on Jason Preston and Mark Sears, it should come as no surprise to see an Ohio player on this list. Head coach Jeff Boals once again needs a breakout star after his previous leader left for a bigger stage. The Bobcats lost Sears, as well as Ben Vander Plas and Jason Carter, this offseason, opening the door for new faces to star. A pair of AJs, Clayton and Brown, should be on people’s radars this season.
While Brown is an incoming freshman, Clayton is a returning sophomore who averaged 3.3 points and 2.0 rebounds per game last year. He brings a 6-7 frame to the floor and will help offset losing Vander Plas as a stretch forward; Clayton shot 38.2 percent from deep last season. Ohio needs a breakout star to emerge to maintain its presence amidst the MAC contenders — Clayton might be the best choice to do so if he takes a sophomore jump.
John Poulakidas, Yale Bulldogs
John Poulakidas was not a significant piece of Yale’s NCAA Tournament team a year ago. He only averaged 1.9 points in 5.1 minutes across 20 appearances. Heading into his sophomore year, though, there is a clear path to minutes for a team needing more offense. The Bulldogs lost Azar Swain and Jalen Gabbidon, two guards who accounted for over 30 points per game, over the offseason. Yale’s sophomore duo of Poulakidas and Bez Mbeng will be tasked with significant roles.
Poulakidas may have been “out of sight, out of mind” last year in the Ivy League, but he won’t be this time around. Head coach James Jones praised Poulakidas’ contributions in practice last season, and he now has the path to consistent playing time. He is a steady-shooting lefty with good size at 6-5. With Yale losing its top two 3-point threats (by volume) this offseason, Poulakidas’ sharpshooting will be welcomed in the rotation.
Yale should remain an elite defensive unit with Isaiah Kelly as the anchor. If Poulakidas and Matthue Cotton can emerge as consistent bucket-getters on the wing, the Bulldogs will remain a contender at the league’s top.
Walyn Napper, Longwood Lancers
Walyn Napper is a journeyman who has not quite burst onto the Division I scene yet. The 6-1 guard began his career at the JUCO level before transferring to Southern Miss. He averaged 7.8 points and 4.1 assists per game for the Golden Eagles last season, and now heads to Longwood. The Lancers are seeking a second-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, and Napper will likely take over lead guard duties following Justin Hill’s departure.
Napper is a pure point guard who does a tremendous job in the pick-and-roll. With Longwood returning double-digit scorers DeShaun Wade and Isaiah Wilkins to lead the way this season, Napper will have a pair of stars to pass to. While not much of a perimeter shooter, he could be one of the better distributors in mid-major basketball. He also averaged 18.8 points on 41.2 percent 3-point shooting over his final six games last year.
Anonymous Big South coaches voted Napper the most-likely breakout player in the league for The Almanac.