Growing up in the famous tobacco road area of North Carolina, I felt passionate about college basketball from an early age. I have a vested rooting interest in the success of these schools (except maybe UNC, Duke and Wake Forest… Go Pack!) Predicting progression in players’ games is especially difficult when trying to do 18 different times for schools of all different sizes and circumstances. Nonetheless, college basketball fans, North Carolinians, or both… Enjoy!
Appalachian State University
It would be obvious to avoid picking a guard based on the current Mountaineers’ depth chart. They have Graduate Transfer Tamell Pearson to come in beside Donovan Gregory who was third on the team last year in minutes per game and points per game. However, I am picking a talented playmaker who only appeared in 6 games last year for coach Dustin Kearns. There will be minutes available due to Adrian Delph and Michael Almonacy graduating. This guy has the potential to lead the team this year in assists if he gets enough tick.
My breakout player is Xavion Brown.
Last year, Campbell had a rocky season but managed to finish 5th in the Big South at 16-13 overall. With Cedric Henderson Jr and Jordan Whitfield graduating, Ricky Clemons is poised to take the available minutes and lead the team this year. Ricky, brother of former Campbell star Chris Clemons, will need a backcourt mate to help him with some of the facilitating. I’m predicting Clemons to take on more of a prominent scoring role. The Camels have always run a guard-heavy rotation in recent years under head coach Kevin McGeehan. This guy had a respectable previous year at Fairleigh Dickinson University averaging 9.8 points per game and 2 assists per game.
My breakout player is Devon Dunn.
Luka Brajkovic played great down the stretch to help push Davidson into an at-large bid as a 10 seed vs Michigan State. The Wildcats fell short by just 1 point against Sparty. They will be led once again by senior guard Foster Loyer, but he will need a forward to be the Robin to his Batman if they intend to win the A10 title this year. This player started 33 of 34 games and was splitting minutes with Brajkovic. A very efficient scorer and rebounder, this guy is poised for a breakout.
My breakout player is Sam Mennenga.
I made the rules in this post so nothing says I can’t pick a freshman. I haven’t so far because I value what the upperclassmen are bringing to the table. Based on that train of thought, the easy pick should be Jeremy Roach, the Junior guard returning to a talented group of freshmen as per usual with the Blue Devils. However, I will be picking a freshman as my breakout player for Duke. Some may think the obvious picks are Tyrese Proctor and Dariq Whitehead, but I want to highlight someone a bit more under the radar. I am fascinated to see the big man battle between the two highest-rated centers in the Class of 2021.
My breakout player is Kyle Filipowski.
East Carolina University
The Pirates went 15-15 last season and had a lot of roster turnover this off-season. If there’s one word to describe this year’s roster…it would be “inexperienced”. Only 5 players on this year’s team are upperclassmen (Juniors or Seniors). The American Athletic Conference schedule will be a tough task for the Pirates with the likes of Houston, Memphis, Temple, and Wichita State looming. A potential bright spot could be a big improvement in efficiency from a sophomore guard who played 16 minutes per game last year. With a bigger role as a lead ball handler, this guy can improve upon the flashes he showed as a playmaker despite poor efficiency.
My breakout player is RJ Felton.
The Phoenix (awesome mascot name by the way) are led by an experienced Billy Taylor in his first year at Elon. This team had a 33-52 record over the last 3 seasons so Coach Taylor has his work cut out for him. The guy I see that has a clear path to being a breakout player will have his second year at Elon to explode to help them make a run at the Colonial Athletic Conference championship. The player I am confident in will have an increase in volume with the departures of multiple guards in last year’s rotation. He is already going to have the trust of his first year coach, especially in late-game situations since he led the team in FT% last year making 85% of his 61 attempts.
My breakout player is Torrence Watson.
This is a team that will be riding the momentum of last season. They finished 3rd in the Big South before losing to a very strong Winthrop team. The roster has 9 new faces on it so someone is bound to have a big year! They are going to have to find a way to replace last year’s leading scorer in D’Maurian Williams. The guy I am projecting to have the biggest impact and be a breakout candidate can score the ball! He led Division II school Catawba College in scoring while averaging 18.4 points per game.
My breakout player is Caleb Robinson.
High Point University
In the post Tubby Smith era at High Point, head coach G.G. Smith looks to lead a very experienced squad of 8 juniors and seniors. I believe they were better than their 14-18 record (7-9 in Big South play). One major sore spot was a lack of consistent shooting efficiency. My choice for breakout player of the High Point Panthers has averaged 39% from 3-point range in his as a freshman. His efficiency from 3 likely correlated to his minutes doubling from year 1 to year 2. This team shot 29.5% from 3 point range last year and this guy can help improve that as well as improve in the win column.
My breakout player is Bryson Childress.
North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University
The Aggie’s last year was a lot more exciting than the 11-18 record showed. I got a chance to see this team play courtside in their 63-64 loss to Campbell University in Buies Creek last year. This team played 10 deep under former Head Coach Will Jones and since I still believe in their depth and talent, I project they will do the same this year under Interim Coach Phillip Shumpert. My breakout player has been there since 2018 and has improved his efficiency every single year at A&T. I believe he can complete his final year in breakout fashion.
My breakout player is Webster Filmore.
North Carolina Central University
Head Coach LeVelle Moton is getting back a solid group of guys that struggled last year for the Eagles (16-15). The bright spot for Central is that in Moton’s tenure they have been exceptional at home posting a 128-28 home record in his 13 year career at NCCU (this stat is completely there to support my faith in Coach Moton). My breakout player’s minutes have fluctuated throughout his years with the Eagles. He averaged 28.9 minutes per game as a junior and 19.9 as a senior. With an improvement in efficiency this year (46/26/58 splits last year), my choice can have a great season.
My breakout player is Nicolas Fennell.
North Carolina State University
Selfishly as a lifelong fan of the Wolfpack, I wanted to just pick Terquavion Smith and move on. However, taking a deeper dive into this roster, I found a great choice for a breakout candidate for Kevin Keatts’ squad. This player helped lead his team to 2nd in the Big South last year with a 23-9 record and won Big South Conference Player of the Year. This guy shoots extremely efficiently from the field, even leading the Big South in Field Goal Percentage his junior season last year.
My breakout player is DJ Burns.
Queens University of Charlotte
First of all, congratulations to Queens for officially becoming a Division 1 program beginning this year. They will be joining the ASUN Conference and the only current member from the state of North Carolina. They are coming in with a 30-4 record from last year and are ready to win. My choice for breakout player had a very efficient season last year and played in all 34 games. With the tenure now and being one of the leaders as an upperclassman, he will be a key scorer and rebounder for the Royals. With more minutes coming his way, I could see a significant increase in scoring for my breakout player.
My breakout player is BJ McLaurin.
University of North Carolina at Asheville
The Bulldogs of the Big South severely lacked depth last season. They were led by Tennessee transfer Drew Pember. This year Pember will have a teammate who is transferring in from a favorable situation at Murray State last year. My breakout player was a solid rebounder and defender and appeared in all 34 games for the Racers. He will be fighting for a spot to play beside or behind Pember and if given the opportunity can thrive due to his experience.
My breakout player is Nick McMullen.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
You would think with such a talented roster that this would be a difficult decision to make.
You would be correct.
I asked around amongst folks I trust when it comes to UNC basketball and I was leaning toward this guy and received some positive feedback about him. I am excluding Caleb Love, RJ Davis, Leaky Black, Pete Nance, and Armando Bacot from this selection because they are all proven players. My player was trusted with more minutes in the Tar Heels NCAA Tournament run last year and showed flashes of great potential to be a vital spark plug for the second unit for Coach Davis.
My breakout player is Puff Johnson.
University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Led by one of the most underrated coaches in all of college basketball in Ron Sanchez, the 49ers are poised to make a run at the Conference USA title. They will have a great opportunity to showcase their talent to a larger audience when they participate in the Myrtle Beach Invitational in November. My decision for Charlotte’s breakout was one of the easiest in this piece.
This guy was the 2021-22 C-USA All-Freshman Team and 2021-22 C-USA Freshman of the Year while starting 30 of 31 games. I am excited to see this player take the next leap being the primary big man on his team last year averaging 7.6 points per game, 4.2 rebounds per game, and 3.5 assists per game.
My breakout player is Aly Khalifa.
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
The Spartans were a defensive nightmare for opposing teams last year allowing only 65 points per game. Head Coach Mike Jones has a great resume coming from Radford and is ready to take down the Southern Conference. This will be a tall task with Furham returning 2 top scorers, not to mention that they were a buzzer-beater away from beating Chattanooga and making the NCAA Tournament. This year’s team for UNCG has experience of its own with 10 upperclassmen (juniors and above). My breakout player is definitely a risk because he will have to earn his playing time this year but as a 44% 3-point shooter, he should be able to work his way into the rotation and excel.
My breakout player is Jalen White.
University of North Carolina at Wilmington
The Seahawks were a 4-point loss to Delaware in the Colonial Championship game from making the NCAA Tournament. I expect this team to be right back in the driver’s seat as the favorite to win their conference this year. My breakout player is a transfer but will have no problem getting his playing time. In his 28 games played for the College of Charleston last year, he shot 47.5 percent from the floor, 42.1 percent behind the arc, and 96.2 percent at the free throw line. His role as a very efficient shooter can propel him into a bigger role and have a greater impact under Head Coach Takayo Siddle.
My breakout player is Nick Farrar.
Wake Forest University
The Demon Deacons are losing two huge contributors from last year in 1st round pick Jake LaRavia and Alondes Williams. Who will fill that void? Hopefully, my selection for their breakout player! My breakout player is a veteran guard who came by way of Cleveland State and most recently Florida. In his 4 years in college, he averaged 12.7 points per game and 4.1 assists per game and had multiple big games in tournament play as well. With the holes in this roster after some big losses, my breakout player can come in and contribute in a big way immediately for Head Coach Steve Forbes.
My breakout player is Tyree Appleby.
Western Carolina University
After an 11-21 record last year, the Catamounts look to get back on track after finishing last in a tough Southern Conference that saw 4 teams win 10 or more conference games last year. My breakout player was a standout for Catawba College in his two years there. He comes in as an experienced scorer averaging 14 points per game and leading his team at Catawba in rebounding with 7.9 per game. He will be fighting for playing time with other deserving forwards on this WCU team but with rebounding ability, I believe he can break out.
My breakout player is Bernard Pelote.