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Michigan's Stauskas among those who refined their games for 2013-14
The list of breakout players for 2013-14 got an early start.
The first name on the countdown of the biggest surprise players, at least chronologically, started Nov. 19 when Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky scored 43 points on North Dakota. Opponent aside, this was a guy who had averaged 2.5 points per game in two seasons before the start of the 2013-14 season.
Kaminsky, of course, hasn’t been the only revelation.
From role players turned stars to secondary scorers turned MVPs, from the injury-prone to the former underachievers, these 10 players have refined their games through the first half of this season to become the surprise breakout performers of the year.
Related: NCAA Tournament Projections and Bubble Watch
2013-14 Midseason Breakout Players
Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico
With Kendall Williams and Alex Kirk returning, New Mexico appeared to have an inside out duo capable of leading the Lobos through the Mountain West. Those two are having career years, but nothing close to what Bairstow is doing. The 6-9 Australian is averaging 20 points per game, though he never scored 20 points in a single game in his first three seasons. Maybe we should have seen it coming as Bairstow averaged 13.8 points per game over the last eight games of last season.
Cameron Clark, Oklahoma
What’s the best place to start with Oklahoma’s surprise squad? Buddy Hield was a bench player for most of last season, but he scored 22 points in wins over Iowa State and Texas since conference play started. Ryan Spangler was buried at Gonzaga, but he’s leading the Big 12 in rebounding at 9.5 boards per game. The nod, though, should go to Clark. After a promising first season in 2010-11, he essentially played himself deeper down the bench. He’s now Oklahoma’s leading scorer at 17.3 points per game.
Trevor Cooney, Syracuse
Jerami Grant could have received this pick, but a breakout was more or less expected from the Syracuse forward. He thrived when inserted in the lineup for an injured James Southerland and fit the profile of a Syracuse forward primed to take the next step. Cooney, who is averaging 14.1 points per game, is a bit of surprise after he competed with Michael Gbinije for the starting two-guard spot. Cooney averaged only 26.7 percent on 3-pointers last season and improved his average to 42.3 percent this season. Not bad for a guy taking more than seven 3s per game.
Related: 10 Midseason Disappointments
Maurice Creek, George Washington
Creek arrived at Indiana as part of the 2009 signing class that would help bring the Hoosiers back to national prominence — the class also included 2012-13 contributors Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls. Injuries, though, derailed Creek's contributions. Now healthy, Creek is leading a George Washington team in Atlantic 10 contention. Creek’s 14.1 points per game is his best production since his freshman season at IU.
Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
Bo Ryan has a knack for unearthing his big guys, but none has been a more stunning revelation than the seven-foot Kaminsky. He scored the most unlikely 43 points of the season against North Dakota in the fourth game of the season. Throw that outlier out of the mix, and Kaminsky is still averaging 11.6 points per game. He was barely cracking 10 minutes per game a year ago.
Lamar Patterson, Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh will learn a bit about itself in ACC play after a lackluster non-conference schedule, but Patterson has nonetheless flourished as the Panthers’ go-to player after the departure of Tray Woodall. Patterson has improved from 10 to 17.6 points per game while hitting career highs in field goal percentage (52 percent, up from 46.4) and 3-pointers (up nearly 10 points to 42.7). Patterson, a forward, has thrown in 4.6 assists to boot.
Related: Midseason All-America teams
Casey Prather, Florida
How often does a role player for three seasons become a contender for conference player of the year as a senior, especially at a place like Florida? Prather is doing that right now. With the Gators’ roster in flux for most of the season, Prather has been the glue. Prather scored a total of 276 points in his first three seasons, a total he’ll double by the end of January.
Michael Qualls, Arkansas
Qualls’ last second, put-back dunk to beat Kentucky on Tuesday could be the highlight of the year for Arkansas, but he’s had quite a season leading up to that win. A three-star recruit, Qualls averaged only 4.6 points as a freshman, but his athleticism was apparent. He’s averaging 13 points per game for a team that’s contending for an NCAA title spot.
Nik Staustaks, Michigan
An improvement was expected from a highly touted recruit who was a key contributor from the perimeter as a freshman. But Stauskas has improved in other ways beyond averaging 17.7 points per game. Staustaks is getting to the basket with more regularity and has already topped his assist total from a year ago.
Related: Midseason Coaches of the Year
Xavier Thames, San Diego State
Before the season, the Aztecs lost Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley, the top two scorers in consecutive seasons, but they may be better because of the development of former role player Thames. The senior guard is getting more opportunities, but he’s also improved his effective field goal percentage from 42.3 percent to 52.3.