2nd year players are often an enigma. There’s the dichotomy of the conventional wisdom (‘sophomore slump’) combined with data that shows the biggest jumps in player’s collegiate careers happen from the freshman to sophomore season. If freshman do anything productive then we, as fans, typically set unrealistic expectations for their sophomore seasons. Then they fail to reach those and we blame the dreaded sophomore slump. But some players do meet those elevated expectations, and some exceed them. But this team isn’t about performance versus expectations. This team is about the best sophomores in the nation.
Doug McDermott, Creighton (Sophomore of the Year)
You know a player has reached an elevated status when people tweet how many times he scored with his left hand, or how many times he used the backboard. Playing for his father, McDermott is quickly reaching cult status in Omaha. The Blue Jays are 13-2 and tied atop the loaded Missouri Valley Conference, and McDermott is averaging 25.2 points a game. At 6’7 he has an array of post moves, and when he has an advantage he doesn’t waste time like so many post players. He’s usually making his move as he catches the ball and he’s converting 65% of his 2s. The problem, for the defense, is that he’s also a 58% 3-point shooter. Want to foul him? He shoots 86% from the line. McDermott has the highest eFG% in the nation. And for good measure he averages 8.3 boards.
Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
Was there any doubt Sullinger would be on this team? He’s the best player on arguably the best team in the country. Ohio State is 15-2, but one of those losses came withSullinger out with an injury. He’s making 63% of his 2s, he draws the 2nd most fouls in the Big Ten and makes 76% of those, he’s added a bit of a 3-point game (5-13) to his repertoire, and his 36.2 defensive rebounding rate leads the nation. If you take away the six minutes he played against South Carolina, then he’s averaging 18.1 points and 10.1 rebounds a game.
Taylor Braun, North Dakota State
South Dakota State and North Dakota State are ranked 93rd and 94th in the Pomeroys. South Dakota State has their star in Nate Wolters, so North Dakota State might as well have one of their own. His name is Taylor Braun and the Bison need to figure out how to get him the ball more. For some reason a freshman who shoots 22% from deep attempts the most shots on the team (and this on a team with another All-Sophomore candidate in Marshall Bjorklund). Taylor Braun, meanwhile, has an offensive efficiency north of 120. He’s making 62% of his 2s and 52% of his 3s. Braun leads the Bison with 15.8 ppg and 6.8 rpg, and he’s one of two players in the Summit League averaging more than 15 and 6.
Will Barton, Memphis
Everyone knew Will Barton was a tremendously talented player. But it took him a couple of years to prove it. After an inconsistent freshman campaign, Barton is playing some serious hoops. He has eight double-doubles in 15 games, leads the team in points (18.9) and rebounds (8.9), makes 54% of his 2s, 39% of his 3s, and is one of the most balanced players in America. Behind Ken Pomeroy’s paywall there are highlighted numbers below each player’s stats if they rank among the nation’s leaders, and Barton’s statline is lit up like a string of Christmas lights. He draws fouls without committing them. He has decent block and steal rates. And yes, his raw turnover numbers aren’t great, but for a guy who uses 26% of his team’s possessions, they’re actually pretty good if you look at rate.
Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut
There are any number of players I tried to put in this spot. Terrell Stoglin is averaging over 21 a game. Three guys are averaging double-doubles. Kendall Marshall leads the nation in assists. There are four guys averaging more than 15 ppg with true shooting %s over 60%. There’s Harrison Barnes and Perry Jones. There’s another Lamb! Regardless, I’m going with Lamb, Jeremy. It was expected that he’d be a 1st Team All American, and I’m certainly not ruling him out. If you need a bucket, Lamb is your guy. 62% on 2s, 40% on 3s, 83% from the line. His block and steal rates are both solid, and he rarely commits fouls (I say this as he comes off a game where he fouled out in 24 minutes). He’s not going to fill up a statsheet like Doug McDermott, but that’s not the only factor going into a team like this one.