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Joe Boozell | | January 19, 2016

7 of the most improved players in college hoops

  Jarrod Uthoff has led the Hawkeyes to a 14-3 record this season.

Player development is what separates good college basketball programs from great college basketball programs. Watching players who work hard to perfect their craft is one of the most rewarding things about following the sport. How fun was it to watch Frank Kaminsky, a guy who averaged 1.8 points per game as a freshman, win the Naismith Award last season?

We’ve seen several key players drastically improve their games from a year ago, and those guys deserve to be recognized. The criteria here is simple: first-year players do not apply.

Here are seven of the most improved players in college basketball in comparison to last season.

C Ben Bentil, Providence

2014-15 stats: 6.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg, .436 FG%
2015-16 stats: 19.2 ppg, 8.0 rpg, .468 FG%

Though the Friars have stumbled a bit as of late, a huge reason why they’re 15-3 and No. 16 in the AP Poll is because of Bentil. Everyone knew Kris Dunn was a Naismith Award candidate going into the season, but beyond that, virtually every Friar was a question mark.

Bentil has answered the bell in a huge way. He bulked up in the offseason and essentially plays all of his minutes at center. The Dunn/Bentil pick-and-roll is one of the hardest plays to stop in college basketball, and Ed Cooley has certainly milked that combination. Bentil’s ability to serve as an offensive hub when teams zero in on Dunn has been paramount to Providence’s success.

G Grayson Allen, Duke

  Despite Duke's recent struggles, Grayson Allen's improved playmaking has been a positive development.

2014-15 stats: 4.4 ppg, 1.0 rpg, .425 FG %, .346 3FG %
2015-16 stats: 20.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg, .492 FG %, .411 3FG %

Allen making his way onto this list is far from shocking considering what he did in last year’s NCAA tournament. Everyone knew the sophomore would be thrown into the limelight in 2015-16, and he’s responded in a huge way.

Allen is a born scorer, and he’s upped his efficiency despite a huge spike in volume this season. But what’s really been impressive is his improved playmaking. The Blue Devil guard notched just 14 assists in 322 minutes last season, and his inability to create for others was his biggest minus as a player.

This season, he already has 68 assists and averages a respectable 3.6 dimes per game. Allen has morphed into a complete offensive player, and he deserves a lot of credit for that.

F/C Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa

2014-15 stats: 12.4 ppg, 1.6 bpg, .430 FG %, .372 3FG %
2015-16 stats: 18.6 ppg, 3.1 bpg, .481 FG %, .449 3FG %

Iowa is the No. 3 team in KenPom right now, and Uthoff’s emergence as a Big Ten star is the main reason why. Uthoff had been a nice player in his first few season in Iowa City, but now, he’s a legitimate go-to guy.

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At 6-9, he allows the Hawkeyes to be extremely versatile on both ends of the floor. Want to play big? The sharpshooter from Cedar Rapids is a mismatch for most power forwards due to his quickness and lethal outside shooting. Want to play small? Just slide Uthoff to center, as he is averaging 3.1 blocks per game and is one of the most effective rim protectors in the country. If power forwards are going to have trouble chasing Uthoff around the 3-point line, most centers don’t stand a chance.

Credit Uthoff for drastically improving his game each season of his college career.

F Kelan Martin, Butler

2014-15 stats: 7.1 ppg, 2.1 rpg, .412 FG %, .247 3FG %
2015-16 stats: 14.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg, .520 FG %, .422 3FG %

Martin showed flashes of offensive brilliance last season, but he’s become a consistent nightmare for opposing coaches to deal with this year. The sophomore is averaging 14 points per game in just 23 minutes of action per night, and he’s been the common denominator in all of Butler’s most effective scoring lineups.

He’s improved light years defensively, too. He looked a bit lost as a freshman; he toggled between forward spots and struggled to guard either. Now, he’s embracing his role as a combo forward, holding his own against opposing power forwards and showing improvement in hounding perimeter players.

At this rate, he could develop into a star for the Bulldogs in the coming years.

F Brice Johnson, North Carolina

2014-15 stats: 12.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg, .566 FG %
2015-16 stats: 16.1 ppg, 9.7 rpg, .639 FG %

When a North Carolina possession ends in a shot attempt from Johnson, that’s almost always a good thing. The senior forward has emerged as a star on a Tar Heel squad already loaded with them, and his 39 points and 23 rebounds against Florida State a few weeks ago were especially noteworthy.

Going into the season, most agreed that Marcus Paige was UNC’s best player. That was hard to argue.

That still might be the case, but Johnson is making that assertion more and more of a debate as each game goes by.

G Jack Gibbs, Davidson

2014-15 stats: 16.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 4.8 apg
2015-16 stats: 25.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 5.3 apg

Gibbs was already an incredibly, efficient offensive player last season, but sometimes, an increase in volume and shot difficulty can cause a drop in efficiency. That logic hasn’t applied to Gibbs. His percentages are virtually the same as a year ago, and he’s averaging 2.2 more free-throw attempts per game this season compared to last.

MORE: Who is emerging in the race for the Naismith Award?

Gibbs is fresh off a 43-point outing on Saturday in which he got to the line 16 times. His aggressiveness in attacking the rim has been an absolute joy to watch.

F Wayne Selden, Kansas

2014-15 stats: 9.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg, .395 FG %, .365 3FG %
2015-16 stats: 14.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, .525 FG %, .494 3FG%

Selden has always been supremely talented, but that hadn’t always translated to success on the court. Until this season.

The junior Jayhawk is taking smarter shots, and he’s making them. He trails only Perry Ellis and Frank Mason for the team lead in win shares (2.6 for Selden; 2.8 for Ellis and Mason). He’s been outstanding as the third banana on Kansas, and his ability to accept that role is a true testament to his character and ability to adapt.

Last season, opponents outscored the Jayhawks by 3.4 points per 100 possessions with Selden on the floor. That’s, uh, not great for a team that finished 27-9.

2015-16 has been an entirely different story. Though Kansas’ schedule will get more difficult, lineups including Selden have outscored opponents by 27.8 points per 100 possessions. The conference splits aren’t as extreme, but are still very much in Selden’s favor.

Kudos to all of these players on massive improvements in the 2015-16 college basketball season.

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