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Rothstein: 20 breakout players for the 2016-17 college basketball season

25 March 2016: F OG Anunoby (3) of the Indiana Hoosiers during the North Carolina Tarheels game versus the Indiana Hoosiers in the Sweet Sixteen round of the Division I Men's Championship at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)
Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

Which players are primed to break out? Check out our list below as we identify 20 breakout players heading into the 2016-17 college basketball season. In no particular order…

Jacob Evans, Cincinnati: Evans was the Bearcats’ best player in an NCAA Tournament loss to Saint Joseph’s last March, tallying 26 points and nine rebounds in defeat. He should be ready to pick up right where he left off. The 6-6 wing can play multiple positions, handles the ball like a lead guard, and shot 80.4 percent from the foul line last season.

Donovan Mitchell, Louisville: Rick Pitino plans to play as fast as he’s ever played this season and that should benefit the skill sets of Mitchell. A freak athlete at 6-3, Mitchell is at his best when the game is high octane and fast paced. After averaging 7.3 points last year as a freshman, this kid should break into double-figures with ease in 16-17.

Kassoum Yakwe, St. John’s: The 6-7 forward had nine games last season with five blocks or more and is in position to blossom into the top intangible player in the Big East. The Red Storm have made headlines recently with their recruiting efforts, but make no mistake about it: Yakwe was the first substantial brick of the rebuilding process that’s currently going on in Jamaica.

Jalen Adams, UConn: Adams became a capable contributor towards the end of last season; now he’s ready to become one of the best guards in the country. A blur in the open court at 6-2, this Massachusetts native appears primed to take a seat alongside the great perimeter players that preceded him in Storrs.

Carlton Bragg, Kansas: Perry Ellis’ tenure in the Jayhawks’ front court felt like it lasted for decades, but now it’s time for Bragg to step forward. An excellent high post passer, the 6-9 sophomore is a critical piece for Kansas as Bill Self aims to win his 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season title.

Dante Buford, Oklahoma: More minutes are available in the Sooners’ front court following the loss of Ryan Spangler and Buford should be ready to step in. The redshirt sophomore is a legitimate face up threat at 6-7 and played over 12.0 minutes last season when Oklahoma advanced to the Final Four.

Phil Booth, Villanova: A 20-point performance in the national title game highlighted a sophomore season where Booth was always struggling to be at full strength. Now a junior, this 6-3 combo guard should have a big hand in the Wildcats’ to attempt to return to college basketball’s most fabled showcase. After averaging 7.0 points a year ago, Booth is primed to become more of a perimeter focal point for Villanova in 16-17.

March 11, 2016: Michigan State Spartans head coach Tom Izzo gets in the face of Michigan State Spartans guard Eron Harris (14) during the men's Big Ten Tournament basketball game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan State Spartans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)

Eron Harris, Michigan State: The hourglass is running out in Harris’ college career and it’s up to him to answer the bell. It says here he will. The 6-3 guard averaged 9.3 points last season, but was playing behind both Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes. Harris has a real chance to be as productive as any fifth-year player in America.

Isaac Haas, Purdue: Most of college basketball already knows about Haas, but he will step into a completely different role for the Boilermakers following the departure of A.J. Hammons. The 7-2 big man averaged 9.8 points and 3.7 rebounds in 14.3 minutes last season playing as a backup. Expect Haas to be a 15 and 10 guy next season.

OG Anunoby, Indiana: The 6-8 forward was a key piece to the Hoosiers’ Big Ten regular season title last season thanks to his energy in reserve. Now he’s ready to take on a bigger piece of the puzzle. With Troy Williams now in the NBA, Anunoby is set to emerge as the versatile piece in Indiana’s starting five.

Chimezie Metu, USC: An athletic freak, Metu will step into a starting role for the Trojans following Nikola Jovanovic’s unexpected departure. A capable defensive player, this 6-11 prospect will be one of the most talked big men in the country as long as he develops his offense.

D.J. Hogg, Texas A&M: The Aggies lost four starters from last year’s team that split the SEC regular season title with Kentucky and need someone to emerge; Hogg is that guy. The 6-8 forward can play multiple positions and made 46 three-point shots last year as a freshman. This is a big time prospect who should be a double-figure scorer with ease in 16-17.

January 23, 2016: Georgetown's Forward Marcus Derrickson #24 looks around UConn's Forward Daniel Hamilton #5 during an American Athletic conference NCAA D1 men's basketball match-up between the Georgetown Hoyas and the UConn Huskies at the XL Center in Hartford, CT. (Photo by David Hahn/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by David Hahn/Icon Sportswire)

Marcus Derrickson, Georgetown: There was a significant amount of chatter this past summer that Derrickson was playing as well as any player in the Hoyas’ program and that sentiment should be even more amplified once the season starts. Don’t be shocked to see John Thompson III use this kid at center as Georgetown looks to be quicker and more versatile than they were a year ago.

K.J. Lawson, Memphis: A former top-50 recruit, many people have forgotten about this kid because of his brother Dedric. That won’t last for long. K.J. Lawson only played 10 games last season due to injury and should be in line for a major jump in 16-17. This is an all-conference caliber talent.

Kerwin Roach, Texas: A freak athlete, the 6-4 Roach plays the entire game like he’s on trampoline. With Isaiah Taylor and Javan Felix no longer around to anchor the Longhorns’ back court, look for Roach to step forward as a sophomore after averaging 7.5 points as a freshman.

Franklin Howard, Syracuse: The Orange need a lead guard to emerge next season and that could be Howard. The 6-4 guard only averaged 1.6 points and made two three-point shots last year as a freshman, but Jim Boeheim quietly really likes this kid’s game. Don’t be shocked if Howard makes a major jump and is Syracuse’s starting point guard by the start of ACC play.

12 March 2016: Oregon (1) Jordan Bell celebrates the victory with the fans during the men's Pac-12 Basketball Tournament championship game between the Utah Utes and Oregon Ducks at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, NV. Oregon defeated Utah 88-57. (Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire)

Jordan Bell, Oregon: The 6-9 big man averaged a block every 9.98 minutes throughout the first two years of his college career and is more than adept at protecting the rim. After showing flashes of brilliance as a freshman and a sophomore, Bell may be ready to explode as a junior.

Elijah Macon, West Virginia: No player in the Big 12 is more set up to have a breakout season than Macon. After the unexpected departure of Devin Williams, the door is open for this burly big man to live up to the potential he arrived in Morgantown with a few years ago.

Terry Maston, Baylor: Scott Drew has done an unbelievable job developing big men during his time with the Bears and Maston is next in line. The 6-9 forward averaged 6.1 points and 2.5 rebounds in 12.1 minutes last season as a reserve and should flourish in 16-17 alongside Johnathan Motley in Baylor’s front court.

Deonte Burton, Iowa State: Burton (9.7 points, 3.9 rebounds) was a valuable reserve last season on a team that reached the Sweet 16 and now he’s in position to have a spike in his numbers moving forward. With both Georges Niang and Jameel McKay no longer on Iowa State’s roster, Burton will be the primary baseline scoring threat after averaging just 18.8 minutes a year ago.

Jon Rothstein has been a college basketball insider for CBS Sports since 2010 and is the lead college basketball columnist for the FanRag Sports Network. He is also the host of the College Hoops Today Podcast via Compass Media Networks, which is available via iTunes. Rothstein is also a regular in-studio correspondent for both WFAN and CBS Sports Radio. He currently lives in Manhattan.

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