Rivals.com College Basketball Staff Writer
Returning starters and incoming freshmen naturally steal most of the offseason headlines. Fans want to figure out which returning starter will be the next Evan Turner or which newcomer could develop into the next John Wall.
For the purposes of this story, we're more interested in spotting the next Ashton Gibbs.
Gibbs didn't start a game as a freshman at Pittsburgh, but he improved as much as any player in the nation last season. He averaged a team-high 15.7 points per game to help Pitt overcome the departures of star performers DeJuan Blair, Sam Young and Levance Fields to earn a ninth consecutive NCAA tournament bid.
We're trying to find players who could make a similar leap this season. In this story, we're listing 12 guards who could deliver breakthrough seasons. We'll continue this profile Thursday by breaking down 12 frontcourt players in similar situations.
Anyone who started half his team's games, averaged 10 points or played as much as 25 minutes per game wasn't eligible for this list. We also didn't want to include freshmen, transfers or anyone who sat out the 2009-10 season with an injury. This list instead focuses on guys who could enter the spotlight this year after spending much of last season on the bench.
The buzz: The Boilermakers need someone to step into the "defensive stopper" role that Chris Kramer filled so ably last season. Barlow is the most logical candidate. Barlow, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, made 11 starts as a freshman and finished the season with averages of 3.4 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 16 minutes. His biggest strength is his defensive ability. His playing time should increase quite a bit this season as Purdue attempts to replace Kramer and Keaton Grant in the backcourt.
The buzz: After starting 28 games as a sophomore, Bowie came off the bench last season and averaged 4.8 points and 15.7 minutes. He has a good chance of moving back into the starting lineup for his senior season as the Terps replace ACC player of the year Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes in the backcourt. The Terps might not return to the NCAA tournament unless Bowie or senior classmate Cliff Tucker delivers a breakthrough season.
The buzz: Dixon started eight games and averaged 7.5 points, 1.6 assists, 1.1 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 16.6 minutes as a freshman last season. He stepped up his performance in the postseason, averaging 11.5 points in the NCAA tournament. Dixon should get a chance to build on his postseason momentum as Missouri attempts to replace the departing senior guard tandem of J.T. Tiller and Zaire Taylor.
The buzz: Perhaps it's a bit unfair to include Jardine on this list since he played such a vital role in Syracuse's Big East regular-season championship, but he qualifies under our guidelines since he made only one start and averaged 22.2 minutes last season. Jardine shared point-guard duties with Brandon Triche and averaged 9.1 points and 4.4 assists. He could replace the departed Andy Rautins in the starting lineup, or perhaps he will continue to provide a spark off the bench. Whatever his role, Jardine should emerge as one of Syracuse's top weapons.
The buzz: It seems that every season, somebody on Arizona State's roster delivers a breakthrough season. Eric Boateng averaged 8.8 points and 7.2 rebounds last season after playing just 8.2 minutes per game a year earlier. Rihards Kuksiks made similar progress in 2008-09. Lockett seems a likely candidate to make that kind of jump this season. Lockett was a freshman all-conference selection last season and averaged 6.7 points and 3.4 rebounds in 19.6 minutes while starting 15 of the Sun Devils' 33 games.
The buzz: Moore averaged 7.6 points and 3.1 rebounds in 18 minutes last season and was the Atlantic 10's sixth man of the year. He scored at least 12 points in seven consecutive games during a stretch that began Jan. 30. He does a good job of rebounding and getting to the free-throw line. Moore should move into the starting lineup this season as the Owls attempt to replace leading scorer Ryan Brooks in the backcourt.
The buzz: Ricks arrived at Missouri State after a banner 2008-09 season in which he was named the national junior college player of the year after leading Johnson County (Kan.) to a Division II JUCO title. Ricks made only three starts last season, when he averaged 7.4 points and recorded a total of 96 assists - two off the team lead. He also emerged as a solid defender and led the Bears with 133 free-throw attempts. Ricks likely will take over as Missouri State's starting point guard this season. It's not a stretch to say that if he plays well, the Bears will be in the running for the Missouri Valley Conference crown.
The buzz: Although Simmons averaged only 3.0 points per game last season, he came on strong late in the year. In his last two games of the season, Simmons averaged 9.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 31.5 minutes against Arizona State and Arizona. Simmons' size (he's 6-6) and athleticism could make him an exceptional defender if he earns more playing time. His chance figures to come this season as he attempts to replace the departed Marcus Johnson in the starting lineup.
The buzz: Siva arrived on campus as the No. 39 prospect in the 2009 recruiting class, but he struggled to make an impact as a freshman. Siva played just 11.3 minutes per game and averaged 3.9 points and 1.8 assists. Siva scored a season-high 14 points in a 77-74 loss to West Virginia on Jan. 30, but that marked the last time all season he reached double figures. Siva may need to emerge as one of the Big East's most improved players for Louisville to return to the NCAA tournament. The departures of Jerry Smith, Edgar Sosa and Reginald Delk leave plenty of holes in the backcourt.
The buzz: Snaer has the most upside of any player on this list. The No. 7 prospect in the 2009 recruiting class, he didn't move into the starting lineup until the last 10 games of his freshman season, yet he still averaged 8.8 points and 2.7 rebounds in 23.6 minutes. Snaer needs to cut down on his turnovers - he averaged 2.5 per game last season - but he provides plenty of playmaking ability. Don't be surprised if he leads the Seminoles in scoring this season.
The buzz: The Badgers have plenty of questions in their backcourt as they attempt to replace 2009-10 starters Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon, who combined to average 26.9 points last season. We're guessing Wilson fills one of those spots. He played 12.2 minutes per game and averaged 3.1 points last season, but he showed flashes of potential off the bench. He scored 13 points to rally Wisconsin to a 54-48 win over Michigan, and he also delivered 10 points in a 67-49 triumph over Michigan State. Wilson will need to provide that kind of production more consistently next season.
The buzz: Wright signed with Cincinnati as the No. 82 prospect in the 2008 recruiting class, but he has struggled to establish a niche so far. He sat out the 2008-09 campaign with a leg injury and averaged 5.4 points, 2.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists while making 11 starts and playing 18.5 minutes per game last season. He must shoot better (he shot 35.6 percent last season), but his 24-point performance against Providence suggests he is capable of big things. Wright's scoring should increase this season as Cincinnati replaces Lance Stephenson and Deonta Vaughn in the backcourt.