Predicting college basketball’s 2020-21 breakout sophomores

Eli Boettger | @boettger_eli | 09/10/20


A potential return to college basketball is just two months away.

As we inch closer and closer to the 2020-21 season, we will continue previewing the game’s top players, coaches, headlines and scheduling moves.

Latest 2020 NBA Mock Draft
Things to know about college basketball bubble progress
College basketball bubble locations tracker

This time around, we’re focusing on breakout players. Every year, players elevate into productive starters or national stars. Advanced stats are helpful in identifying these players.

The table below shows examples of recent breakout sophomores, their freshman statistics, and the criteria that was used to narrow down these players.

Almost Famous: Recent breakout sophomores

Freshmen with fewer than 25 minutes per game, offensive and defensive BPM of 2.5 or greater, with sophomore stats
PLAYER & TEAMFRESHMAN STATSSOPHOMORE STATS
Oscar Tshiebwe, West Virginia11.2 ppg, 9.3 ppg, 31 starts?
Miles McBride, West Virginia9.5 ppg, 1.8 apg, 2 starts?
David Johnson, Louisville6.3 ppg, 2.8 apg, 4 starts?
Christian Braun, Kansas5.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 5 starts?
Tyson Etienne, Wichita State9.4 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 17 starts?
Kalib Boone, Oklahoma State4.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 5 starts?
Keyontae Johnson, Florida8.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 20 starts14.0 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 31 starts
Nate Hinton, Houston7.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 1 start10.6 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 31 starts
Devin Vassell, Florida State4.5 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 0 starts12.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 30 starts
Daniel Gafford, Arkansas11.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 26 starts16.9 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 32 starts
Chuma Okeke, Auburn7.5 ppg, 0.7 spg, 0 starts12.0 ppg, 1.8 spg, 38 starts
De'Andre Hunter, Virginia9.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 0 starts15.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 38 starts
Jordan Poole, Michigan6.1 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 0 starts12.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 37 starts
Jarron Cumberland, Cincinnati8.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 0 starts11.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 36 starts
Kyle Guy, Virginia7.5 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 7 starts14.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 33 starts
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga4.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 0 starts12.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 35 starts

Oscar Tshiebwe and Miles McBride, West Virginia

If you’re looking for a squad with breakout potential, West Virginia is worthy of your attention. The Mountaineers won 21 games last season, led by an underclassmen trio of Oscar Tshiebwe, Derek Culver and Miles McBride.

Bob Huggins’ group can be elite so long as its offense improves. Unsurprisingly, West Virginia was one of the nation’s best defensive teams — 3rd nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency — but ranked 308th in effective field goal percentage and 297th in turnover rate. Tshiebwe is already a beast on the glass and McBride had some big Year 1 performances.

David Johnson, Louisville

Despite losing Jordan Nwora and Steven Enoch, Louisville is chock full of potential breakout stars in ’20-21. Johnson leads the way, bringing plenty of length and athleticism to the guard position.

Consistency and health will be the key factors for Johnson’s development. His best performance to date was a 19-point, 7-assist showing in a road win over Duke in January, but Johnson only finished in double figures in four of his final 13 appearances. A shoulder injury also interrupted the early part of the season.

Christian Braun, Kansas

Christian Braun seems primed for the “He’s still in college?” label in a year or two. The 6-6 wing was named to the Big 12’s all-freshman team this past season, following in the footsteps of recent Jayhawks like Devon Dotson, Malik Newman and Josh Jackson.

Braun’s role increased as the year progressed, playing sparingly over the first months of the season and tallying at least 20 minutes in 16 of his last 19 appearances. He was the most efficient offensive contributor on the team at 1.21 points per possession while drilling 44.4 percent of his 3-point attempts. A double-digit scoring average seems like a lock given Braun’s efficiency and the departures of Dotson and Udoka Azubuike.

Tyson Etienne, Wichita State

Offseason departures could mean a breakout season for the 6-2 guard. Etienne tallied 9.4 points a night in Year 1, an average that could rise substantially with Jamarius Burton (10.3 ppg) and Erik Stevenson (11.1 ppg) transferring and Jaime Echenique (11.3 ppg) graduating.

With an expected rise in usage and a new running mate in UConn transfer Alterique Gilbert (career 24.8 assist rate), Etienne could evolve into one of the American’s top perimeter threats. Etienne pocketed 62 triples at a 38.8 percent clip last season. He was also one of the leaders of the nation’s 8th-best defense.

Kalib Boone, Oklahoma State

Headlines involving Oklahoma State basketball this offseason are mostly tied to the program’s postseason ban or star freshman Cade Cunningham. Don’t sleep on this Cowboy forward, though.

After some inconsistent stretches to start the year, Boone hit his marks late. The 6-9 forward averaged 14.1 minutes and 7.8 points per game over his final 10 games, compared to 10.5 minutes and 3.3 points over his first 21 appearances.


Eli Boettger is a college basketball writer and founder of HeatCheckCBB.com. He has previously worked for Sporting News, DAZN and USA TODAY SMG.

Boettger’s content has been featured by Bleacher Report, NBC Sports, FiveThirtyEight, Yahoo Sports, Athletic Director University, Washington Post, Illinois Law Review and Notre Dame Law Review, among other publications. Boettger is also a current USBWA member and Rockin’ 25 voter.