The men's basketball season is already more than two weeks old, and after an offseason in which only one consensus First or Second Team All-American returned to school (Iowa's Luka Garza), a bevy of talented sophomores are filling in the gaps as the sport's next set of stars. Some of the them might even be stars already.
I identified sophomores who play for March Madness contenders and who have made significant leaps since their freshman seasons, as determined through traditional stats, advanced stats and/or their role.
Drew Timme, Gonzaga
Through Dec. 8, Timme is No. 5 on kenpom.com's national player of the year standings. In the offseason, many predicted a leap for Timme — and potentially a big one — and he has delivered. The biggest difference for the 6-10 center is a matter of playing time and shots.
His advanced statistics are generally pretty similar to last season — 63.6 percent 2-point shooting this year compared to 62.3 percent being the most obvious one — but he's now playing 32 minutes per game and taking 16 shots, compared to 6.3 field-goal attempts in 20.5 minutes per game last season. That's what's allowed him to average a team-high 23.3 points per game this season, up from 9.8 per game as a freshman.
Timme actually had the second-highest usage rate on Gonzaga last season (21.8 percent, meaning just more over one out of every five possessions ended in a made shot from Timme, a turnover or a missed shot rebounded by the defense), but now he's using a team-high 27.8 percent of the Bulldogs' possessions.
Sure, his efficiency has dipped some (an offensive rating of 113.2 compared to 121.5 last season), which is to be expected as his role grew, but he's the leading scorer on the No. 1 team in the country after starting just four games last season.
Adam Flagler and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, Baylor
The primary reason that Baylor was ranked No. 2 in the preseason was because the Bears returned four starters from last year's team that finished 26-4 and won 23 games in a row. But in addition to the return of Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell and Mark Vital, plus a few other reserves, Baylor added two now-eligible transfers in Adam Flagler (Presbyterian) and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (UNLV).
Well, through Dec. 8, Flagler ranked ninth nationally in offensive rating at 168.1, which means that every time Flagler has ended a possession with a shot or turnover, he's averaging nearly 1.7 points per possession. That's really good!
Flagler averages 15.7 points per game, which is tied for second on the team, after he averaged 15.9 points per game as a freshman at Presbyterian. To maintain his scoring production while playing for the No. 2 team in the land is impressive and Flagler has been able to do so because his efficiency has skyrocketed. Through three games, he's shooting 45 percent from three (38 percent as a freshman) and 72.7 percent inside the arc (compared to 51.6 percent), while his assist rate has climbed from 8.1 percent as a freshman to 19.4 percent this season.
Flagler's teammate, Tchatchoua, went from being an average offensive threat (103.4 offensive rating as a freshman) to a player with an offensive rating of 125.0 through three games. That ranks 241st nationally through Dec. 8.
Tchatchoua has also been a monster on the glass, grabbing 28.8 percent of available defensive rebounds and 19.8 percent of available offensive rebounds, which rank 56th and ninth nationally. After averaging a limited 3.4 points and 3.5 rebounds per game as a freshman, he's up to 9.0 points and 8.3 rebounds this season, while playing only 6 more minutes per game.
College basketball rankings: North Carolina, Texas jump in Andy Katz's Power 36 for Dec. 7
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Justin Moore, Villanova
Similar to Gonzaga's Drew Timme, Villanova's Jeremiah Robinson-Earl had been penciled in for a sophomore leap. He was a productive freshman for Jay Wright's squad, averaging 10.5 points and 9.4 rebounds per game as an every-game starter, but he's up to 16.2 points and nine boards per game this season.
While his 3-point stroke has gotten worse (2-for-12 so far), his overall efficiency has increased as his 2-point percentage has climbed from 49.7 percent as a freshman to 62.3 percent through five games. He's done that while being the Wildcats' No. 1 option on offense, too. Plus, Robinson-Earl's turnover rate has dropped from 20.2 percent last season to 16.2 percent this year, while his block rate has improved from 1.7 percent to 2.8 percent.
If he can find his 3-point touch, then Robinson-Earl's scoring average could climb closer to 20 points per game, while also seeing improvements in his overall efficiency.
Robinson-Earl's teammate and classmate Justin Moore may not receive the same attention as Robinson-Earl and point guard Collin Gillespie, but he's an important complementary piece for the Wildcats who has made subtle improvements as a sophomore. His scoring average has climbed from 11.3 points per game to 14.2 points per game, while his offensive rating has improved from a below-average 99.8 rating to 114.2 — in large part because his 2-point shooting has gone from 44.1 percent to 57.1 percent this season.
Kai Jones and Brock Cunningham, Texas
Texas ranks 13th nationally in minutes continuity, per kenpom.com, and sophomores Kai Jones and Brock Cunningham contribute to that ranking. Jones is third on the team in scoring at 10 points per game through five games, while Cunningham is the fifth-leading rebounder, despite coming off the bench in all five games.
Jones has gone from a freshman who averaged 3.6 points and 3.2 rebounds per game last season to a sophomore who's averaging 10.0 points and 5.0 rebounds. For Cunningham, the improvement has been 1.4 points and 1.8 rebounds to 3.4 points and 4.4 rebounds.
After posting an offensive rating of exactly 100.0 as a freshman (which is more or less average), Jones's offensive rating is 147.3 through five games, which ranks 47th nationally through Dec. 8. He has made an unsustainable 15-of-16 2-point attempts, plus 72.7 percent of his free-throw attempts.
Meanwhile, Cunningham's offensive rating has climbed roughly 30 points from 88.3 as a freshman to 118.3 this season, which ranks among the top 400 nationally.
Miles McBride, West Virginia
West Virginia's impressive frontcourt duo of Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver is largely what made the Mountaineers go last season. But sophomore guard Miles McBride, the team's second-leading scorer at 15.2 points per game, is a significant reason for their success this year.
His scoring average is up from 9.5 points per game as a freshman, as are his assists, from 1.8 per game to 4.4.
Not only have his per-game numbers increased, but so has his efficiency. His offensive rating is up to 117.5 through five games after it was 105.4 last season. He has already made seven 3-pointers at a 41.2-percent clip after making just 24 at a 30-percent rate last season.
Tyler Wahl, Wisconsin
Wahl's breakout game came against Green Bay, when he had 11 points, 15 rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks, which set or tied a career-high in every statistical category except steals. For the season, he's averaging 7.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 1.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game — an improvement from 2.6 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.0 assist, 0.6 steals and 0.2 blocks per game as a freshman.
Whal is only playing five more minutes per game this season compared to his freshman campaign (20.5 minutes versus 15.4), but he's taking nearly five shots per game and shooting 66.7 percent from inside the arc, which is why his offensive rating is 116.6.
His 8.5-percent block rate ranks 77th nationally through Dec. 8, after it was just 1.1 percent last season. That means he's blocking roughly one out of every 12 2-point shots when he's on the floor this season.
CJ Fredrick, Iowa
Fredrick had the 50th-best offensive rating in the country (122.2) as a freshman, which is incredibly impressive for a player of any class, and through four games this season, he ranks 17th with an offensive rating of 154.8, through Dec. 9. He has made 10-of-17 threes (58.8 percent), 4-of-7 2-point attempts and 6-of-7 free-throw attempts, so he has rarely missed from anywhere on the floor.
Meanwhile, he has also improved upon his turnover percentage (16.3 percent last season to 12.1 percent), while only committing 1.1 fouls per 40 minutes. Fredrick is third on the team in scoring at 11 points per game.