The offseason is slowly creeping closer to the end. The excitement is building. Hopes are high. The buzz is palpable.
The beginning of each season offers an opportunity for players to steal the hearts of college basketball fanatics by taking their games to a new level — whether it’s through a bigger role due to roster transformation, a change of scenery, or just reaping the benefits of a good offseason workout regimen.
Here are some candidates that we think could be breakout players this year:
Killian Tillie - Gonzaga
Tillie seems like an obvious choice to be the next great Gonzaga big man. The departure of Zach Collins and our Large Adult Son Przemek Karnowski leaves an open spot that should be Tillie’s for the taking. Tillie had a strong performance at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup, averaging 12.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. He could find himself as the focal point of Gonzaga’s reload.
Xeyrius Williams - Dayton
Times have changed in Dayton. Archie Miller is gone, and the quartet of Scoochie Smith, Kyle Davis, Charles Cooke and Kendall Pollard have all graduated. Williams started to come on towards the end of last season by starting the team’s final eight games and scoring in double figures in four of them. New coach Anthony Grant needs Williams to make another leap if he hopes to continue Dayton’s four-year streak of NCAA Tournament appearances.
Trey Burch-Manning - South Dakota
Burch-Manning isn’t a guy who is going to wow anybody with gaudy scoring numbers. What he does do, however, is provide a front court presence that is versatile enough to rebound and defend while still making the most of his scoring opportunities. With the departures of Tyler Flack and Trey Dickerson — who were two of South Dakota’s top three scorers last year — Trey Burch-Manning will be counted on to expand his offensive role while still being a force on the glass.
Tahjai Teague - Ball State
Teague isn’t quite the player that his older siblings Jeff and Marquis were in college, but he still had a strong freshman campaign after spending a redshirt season nursing a foot injury. In limited minutes, Teague still managed to make his impact for the Cardinals, especially on the glass and on defense. When you extrapolate his stats to a per-40 minute basis, it results in averages of 15.4 points, 12.1 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 1.8 blocks. Simply put, if Teague can find more minutes, his impact will only grow.
Ron Patterson - IUPUI
The Jaguars will make the transition to the Horizon League without last season’s top three scorers. Patterson, who thrived as the team’s sixth-man last year, will have every opportunity to showcase the talent that once made him a coveted high-major recruit. In conference play last year, Patterson shot 45 percent from distance on just under five attempts per game. Coming in at just under 10 points per game last year, Patterson should be able to make the adjustment to carrying a heavier scoring load for the Jags this year.
Damiyne Durham - Cal State Bakersfield
It’s no secret that Durham has one purpose on the basketball court: get buckets. With the graduation of Jaylin Airington and Dedrick Basile (and their combined 20 shots per game), somebody will need to pick up the slack in the backcourt. Enter Durham. He was the team’s second-leading scorer, despite playing just over 20 minutes per game. Barring any unforeseen changes to his playing style, Durham is going to get his fair share of buckets this season.
Jermaine Bishop - Saint Louis
Bishop will look to build off of what was a decent start to his college basketball career, which was cut short last season due to an ankle injury. Bishop has already shown flashes of being a capable scorer with four 20-plus-point outings in his career, including a 27-point game last season against BYU. The Billikens ranked 348th in points per game last year. Travis Ford will need Bishop’s scoring ability to improve on what was a disappointing season in 2016-17.
Jon Axel Gudmundsson - Davidson
Basketball player or lead guitarist for a rock band? Gudmundsson and his glorious name had a pretty strong freshman campaign last year for the Wildcats. Averaging 8.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game is a promising start for the Iceland native, especially when you consider that he was sharing a backcourt with Jack Gibbs. Now that Gibbs is gone, Gudmundsson’s role will expand. He might not get to the level of Gibbs this year, but he can provide a nice 1-2 punch with Peyton Aldridge.