October 1, 2007

Monday Tip: This season's breakout player

Cast Your Vote: Who will be this season's breakout player?

Not many teams have the luxury of five returning starters. Even the teams that do eventually will lose all of them, making room for new players to emerge.

These are the guys biding their time on the bench, making the most of the few minutes they get to play. They work hard in practice, and often the reason they aren't starting is because they're behind all-conference, All-American types. But that means there is much to learn in practice.

We decided to take a look at players who didn't start much – if at all – last season who have a great chance to emerge on the national stage this season. We limited our choices to players who started less than 10 percent of their team's games. Rivals.com Basketball Editor Bob McClellan and staff writer Andrew Skwara each picked a non-starter from last season who they believe will make waves in 2007-08. They intentionally avoided top recruits who played amply last season didn't get a chance to start much (such as Kansas' Sherron Collins, Kentucky's Jodie Meeks and Syracuse's Paul Harris) and established players with whom many fans already are familiar (Pittsburgh's Sam Young and Ronald Ramon, Texas A&M's Donald Sloan). Here are their choices for "breakthrough" player:

Skwara's pick: Tyrelle Blair, Boston College

Most fans haven't heard of Boston College senior Tyrelle Blair, even though he ranked in the top five in the ACC in blocked shots last season.

Blair averaged 2.1 blocks a game. What's even more impressive is that the 6-foot-11 center with long arms managed that in just 16.2 minutes per game. He did not start a game last season.

With the loss of two key forwards (including 2006-07 ACC Player of the Year Jared Dudley), the Eagles need Blair to play 25-plus minutes next season, meaning he could average somewhere around 4 blocks a game. That number would have ranked No. 3 in the nation last season.

Blair, who transferred from Loyola-Chicago, will never be much of an offensive threat (he never has averaged more than 5.9 ppg), but the shot-blocking specialist can change a game with his defensive prowess. He blocked six shots and altered several more in wins last season over Virginia Tech and Florida State.

With a chance to finally play big minutes on a big stage, look for Blair to put together several more games with six or more blocks next season as he proves to be one of the nation's top defensive players. That's quite a leap for a no-name recruit who couldn't crack the starting lineup at Boston College.

McClellan's pick: Barry Stewart, Mississippi State

Barry Stewart didn't make a single start last season for the Bulldogs, but he sure made a major impact. He was fourth on the team in scoring (9.8 ppg), first in 3-pointers made (68), third in steals, fifth in rebounding (3.2; not bad for a 6-2, 170-pound guard) and fifth in minutes per game (24.2).

With three other wing players gone (the Delk twins transferred and Dietric Slater finished his eligibility), he'll have every opportunity to start, play a lot of minutes and shine alongside Jamont Gordon. Gordon is among the best players in college basketball at getting his own shot and creating for others, and Stewart should be a major beneficiary. He proved last season that he's an outstanding outside shooter (39.1 percent from 3-point range, second on the team), but he needs to improve his mid-range game (only 40 percent overall from the floor).

The cliché is that players improve the most from their freshman to sophomore seasons. Word out of Starkville is that Stewart has sculpted his body and is carrying more muscle on the same 170-pound frame. Coach Rick Stansbury has a lot of faith that Stewart will develop into a big-time SEC player.

Before it's all said and done, Stewart could remind Mississippi State faithful of Timmy Bowers, a guard who was the heart and soul of the 2003-04 Bulldogs. That team went 26-4, and Bowers averaged 15.0 ppg, 4.8 apg and 4.0 rpg.

Cast Your Vote: Who will be this season's breakout player?

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.
Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.

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