Friday, August 2, 2019 6:33 AM | CBN
By: Liam Blutman
As the summer approaches, college basketball is that much closer and it’s about time to part ways with the 2018-19 season that concluded with a Virginia championship that gave us one of the greatest redemption stories of all time. Now we move on and look ahead to a fantastic 2019-20 season, it’s my job to inform you all about some potential mid-major breakout candidates. In this article I’ll list five candidates, don’t forget to check out some of my other articles about mid-major breakout candidates.
Our first breakout candidate plays at Northern Iowa, the name AJ Green. AJ spurned multiple power five schools including Iowa State to play for his dad Kyle, an assistant coach at Northern Iowa. Green is a special talent that can terrorize the Missouri Valley Conference for years to come and he showed great flashes of that as a true freshman. Green totaled for 15.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG, and 2.3 APG, he shot 41.0% from the field and 34.8% from three. He played about 30 minutes a game, his stats will start to look even better when he gets more playing time as an older, smarter, and more talented player. AJ displays excellent ball handling skills which helps him create his own shots. He’s completely unafraid to shoot mid-range j’s in an era of basketball that is completely against the shot for several reasons. Doesn’t matter to AJ, he’s out there putting up fadeaway jumpers and knocking ‘em down just like Kobe did. We saw glimpses of Green’s greatness early last year as he scored double digits in his first 6 career games. Following the worst game of his season against Iowa, AJ bounced back with 27 points on 9/16 shooting against Grand Canyon. He drained 5 of 8 threes that game. AJ and UNI reached the MVC Championship in a game against Bradley. This was a rough, low-scoring affair, both teams defenses thrived and held the opposition to some lengthy scoring droughts. AJ was able to score 23 that day and added 5 assists. He put the nation on notice as he hit some absolutely absurd shots in this contest. Green was named to the ALL-MVC Team, ALL-MVC Tournament Team, MVC All-Freshman Team, and was named the MVC Rookie of the Year. A very decorated freshman season! AJ Green will help make Northern Iowa a prominent name in mid-major basketball once again, eventually we’ll see him in the NCAA Tournament. AJ Green is going to be very, very good.
Next man up, Jordan Lyons. You might recognize this name… Jordan Lyons tied the record for the most made threes in a game with 15! Now the 5’11” guard from Furman is ready to get buckets in his senior season. Lyons was a late riser in due part to his lack of playing time, he saw 16.4 minutes a game as a freshman and 18.1 minutes a game as a sophomore. He started just 8 games in his first 67 games at Furman. Despite the lack of minutes, Lyons scored in double-digits 23 times in his first two years. Pretty impressive to do that coming off the bench cold so many times. As a junior he finally got some good PT and did great things because of it. He scored a cool 23 to open the season. He then chipped in 15 to help Furman knock off Sister Jean and Loyola-Chicago. A team that was just coming off a Final Four dream season. Then there was the record-breaking game, 15/34 from three! 4 Assists. And just a few points, dude dropped 54 in 33 minutes of play! I don’t care who that came against, (North Greenville) he went out there and did his thing, Lyons was feeling it and just let it fly, riding off his confidence to score in bunches. So Lyons followed that up with 17 points on 50% shooting and a dominant road win at defending champion… Villanova. So, Lyons steps into the starting lineup, Furman blasts off to a 12-0 start including two road wins against two schools that were coming off Final Four seasons and one of those being the National Champion. Jordan Lyons is simply a difference maker. I’ll tell you right now, Jordan Lyons is going to average upwards of 23.1 PPG this season, hopefully he is able to help lead Furman to the NCAA Tournament and showcase his elite scoring abilities on the biggest stage possible. I reached out to Jordan and asked him some questions, I’ll let that be seen right below this paragraph.
Q - What area of your game are you looking to improve on this season?
A - I’m really looking to improve my handle & just keep getting it tighter. I’m also working on being able to create separation off the bounce & get my shot off the bounce. I’m also deeply trying to improve my playmaking ability for others with the ball in my hand, making reads to set up my teammates.
Q - Your expectations and goals for this season?
A - NCAA tournament is the most important for sure. Whatever I have to do to get this program there is what I will do. Ideally, I want to average 20+ PPG, while shooting 50% FG 40%3PT, 80% FT.
Q - As an under the radar player who is blossoming into a star at Furman, a school that unfortunately doesn’t get much national recognition until March, is it hard to constantly put up big numbers, have so many great games, and then have the national media not talk about you. Does that bother you at all?
A - Honestly it’s not hard, I just focus on doing whatever I have to do to help the program win, if you can play ball & have talent, people will notice and it will all work out for you. I just buy into the system, believe in the system, and do my part to contribute to winning, and I believe God will let everything else handle itself.
Q - Any advice for younger basketball players who are being under recruited?
A - Just Keep working. All it takes is one school to believe in you. If you put the work in, it will all pay off. Never lose belief in yourself & never stop working.
Q - Your goals for this season?
A - To lead Furman to the first NCAA Tournament berth since 1980. To break the All-Time career 3PM record in Furman History, and to set myself up to be a professional basketball player in a year.
We stay in the Southern Conference for this next player, Isaiah Miller. He’s a 6’0” guard at UNC Greensboro and he is going to take a huge step forward in his junior campaign. I first started watching Miller during the 2017-18 season, I watched as much UNCG basketball that season as possible, just a really talented team that ended up taking Gonzaga to the wire in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Miller did not start a game that season but he caught my eye every single time he stepped on the floor, he impacts the game so much. I saw this talent in the 16.3 minutes per game he played that year, he averaged 8.3 PPG, 3.1 RPG, and 1.4 SPG. Miller has such great energy and it really sparked the team when he took the court, jumping into passing lanes and taking that ball coast to coast for a very athletic dunk. Isaiah ended up seeing 27.8 minutes per game his sophomore season, that included 20 starts in 36 games. Miller averaged 15.2 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.1 APG, and 2.9 SPG! Can you imagine what he’ll do playing 35 minutes a game next year? His numbers will be nuts! Miller shot 51.3% from the field on 12.4 shots a game. While he stands at 6’0” Miller is a slashing guard that is going to attack the rim, make really tough shots, and finish at the rim with some very acrobatic layups or dunks. This next season, I’d like to see Miller draw more fouls at the rim and shoot better from the free throw line. 55.6% is unacceptable for a guard and Miller knows this, if he can shoot above 70% this season that would be tremendous for Isaiah Miller, UNCG, and Miller’s NBA draft stock. My favorite game from Miller last season would have to be his 21 point, 5 rebound, 6 steal game against Chattanooga. Miller accumulated these stats in 29 minutes of action. I am telling you right now, Isaiah Miller could very well be a late first rounder in the 2020 NBA Draft. This is a kid who possesses great quickness, athleticism, speed, vision, defense IQ, and so much more. I am a strong believer that Miller can take UNCG to the NCAA Tournament while Furman also makes it. The Southern Conference was very deserving of two or even three teams to make the tourney last year, why can’t Lyons and Miller bring their respective teams to the big dance this upcoming season? My expectations for Isaiah Miller in the 2019-20 season are as follows… Upwards of 22.1 PPG, at least 5.6 RPG, 2.9 APG or greater, match 2.9 SPG again, shoot better than 49.2% from the field, and 70% or better from the free throw line! Truthfully it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Isaiah Miller scored 26.0 PPG or more next season, he can be that elite. Keep an eye on the Isaiah Miller vs Jordan Lyons battles this season! Would love to see both of these kids make the NCAA Tourney and shock some bigger programs in the round of 64.
I also asked Isaiah Miller a few questions, here are the questions and answers below.
Q - What areas of your game are you looking to improve on this season?
A - The areas in my game I am looking to improve on are: shooting (including free throws) and having more of a tight ball handle, also want to improve on my decision making as I start to become more of a floor general.
Q - Your expectations for this season?
A - I’ll say 20 PPG and 10 APG. I want to be at least an 80% free throw shooter and a 40% 3-point shooter.
Q - Your goals for this season?
A - My goals for this year are: Become a Top 25 team, win the Conference Regular Season, win the Conference Tournament Championship, win an NCAA Tournament game, and to become SoCon Defensive Player of the Year again again.
Q - You’re set to take on a bigger role this upcoming season, that will feature many more minutes played, how can you impact the game in even more ways than what we’ve seen in your first two years?
A - I can become a more impactful player this year by being even more of a vocal leader, especially on defense.
Q - Any advice for younger basketball players who are being under recruited?
A - For any young hoopers who are being under recruited, it’s not about going to big and glamorous schools, it’s about going to the right school with coaches and players who care about you, that are going to take care of you. It’s about a school who is going to make you better every single day and challenge you.
This next player is a tremendous athlete from Dayton. Standing at 6’9”, 220, Obi Toppin. Obi was flirting with the NBA Draft waters, he recently stated that he’s withdrawing his name from the draft and returning to school. This benefits Obi more than he could even imagine. He would have been a 2nd round pick this year, an afterthought. But now? Now he can improve his game, dominate the competition as a sophomore, and work his way into the first round of the draft. As a freshman Obi averaged 14.4 PPG and 5.6 RPG. He added near a block per game and shot 66% from the field. He played just 26.5 minutes a game in 33 games, he started in 15 of those. Obi dons a ton of star power and we got a glimpse at his greatness his freshman season. He recorded a double-double in his first career game, 18 points and 10 rebounds, shot 8-13 and played in just 27 minutes. Against Western Michigan, Obi put up 22 points and 6 rebounds in just 24 minutes, he was 11-11 that game! Conference play is where Obi really took off, he scored in double-digits in 15 of the 18 games, that included 25 point, 12 rebound performance against St. Joe’s. There are plenty of other games to talk about but let’s move on from the numbers. Obi is a freakishly athletic guy, he’s an absurdly good dunker and has a great vertical. One thing that I need to see is Obi improve on his paint protecting, at 6’9” with his athleticism I need to see Obi average 1.4 Blocks Per Game or more. One thing that could really make Toppin a nationally prominent player would be three-point shooting. He took just 21 3’s as a freshman but made 11. If he takes more 3’s as a sophomore and hits at near a 40% clip that will do dividends for him as an NBA prospect. It would also benefit Obi to be a more aggressive rebounder. The numbers will show up as Toppin sees more playing time, he’ll score more points, accumulate more rebounds, and show off his underrated passing skills among other assets of his game. While I didn’t speak upon it much, Obi is a sneaky good passer, an area of the game that NBA scouts will seek out and fall in love with. An athletic big that can dish the rock at a high level? The NBA will LOVE that!
My goals for Obi Toppin are simple. Average 17.2 PPG or more, 7.3 RPG or more, 1.4 BPG or more, shooting 60.1% or more from the field, take Dayton to the NCAA Tournament, get drafted in the first round. The potential Obi has is insane, trust me, Obi Toppin is a blossoming star, don’t sleep on this kid.
My final candidate? A name that most college basketball diehards haven’t even heard of. A player that has recorded 0 minutes of action in college basketball. It’s Assane Diouf. He’s a 7’1” 275 pound big man that redshirted this past season. He reclassified from the 2019 recruiting class to the 2018 recruiting class. Diouf is from Dakar, Senegal and played his final year of high school basketball at DME Academy in Florida. The potential here is real, Fresno State has an absolute monster that no other team in the country is prepared to face. Diouf will be a force on the defensive end, he’s going to contest any and every shot down low, he’s going to stifle shots and block them, he’s going to snag a ton of rebounds, he’s going to be feared by many. On offense, he’ll use his size and strength to make dunks, draw fouls, and dominate the offensive glass. This is a guy who could very well average a double-double as a freshman if given the quality playing time needed. Fresno State plans to make the NCAA Tournament, Diouf could very well be the X-Factor for the Bulldogs. My expectations for Diouf are as follows… 8.4 PPG or more, 10.5 RPG or more 1.5 BPG or more. Those stats will put Diouf on the radar and put him in a great situation going into his redshirt sophomore season. As a sophomore he’d average more minutes, be able to average that double-double with 2.0+ blocks per game. Watch out for Assane Diouf in the long run, I truly think that one day he’ll leave college as a first round pick in the NBA Draft.
Assane was kind enough to answer some of my questions for him as well…
Q - What are your goals for your freshman season? (Stats, accolades, record, leadership, etc.)
A - I don’t want to talk about my individual goals because it would be selfish. I’d rather just help the team win. I just want to make sure that I’m getting better every day, and that I put forth my best to help my team win.
Q - In what areas of your game did you work on improving during your redshirt year? How did you work on perfecting your craft in these areas?
A - During my redshirt year I worked on a lot with my coaches. Specifically, my defense, my shooting, my rebounding, and strengthening my body. I attended daily practices, but also added extra, individual practices and workouts with my coaches. Constantly I’m trying to push myself to do better, to be better.
Q - How important is it for you to make the NBA and show kids from Senegal that they can live the American Dream too.
A - Having this opportunity to play basketball for an American College has meant everything for me. I know I can only continue to go up from here. Being from Senegal, it is my hope that I show the next generation of athletes that with hard work and focus they can reach their dreams too.
Remember the names, look out for them this season, and tell your friends about them now!
AJ Green - Northern Iowa
Jordan Lyons - Furman
Isaiah Miller - UNC Greensboro
Obi Toppin - Dayton
Assane Diouf - Fresno State