Posted: Wednesday December 14, 2011 11:54AM ; Updated: Wednesday December 14, 2011 12:52PM
Seth Davis

Eight breakout juniors, Indiana crowd control and more mailbag

Story Highlights

Ryan Kelly, Jeff Withey and Erik Murphy among small pool of breakout juniors

While fun and exciting, fans storming the court could have tragic consequences

Indiana, Xavier, Baylor are all undefeated; should those teams be in my top 10?

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Kansas' Jeff Withey has taken advantage of increased playing time this season.
Kansas' Jeff Withey has taken advantage of increased playing time this season.
Rich Kane/Icon SMI

Last week, I performed my annual exercise revealing 10 breakout sophomores to watch this season. The biggest challenge is always whittling the list down to just 10. As I point out each year, players typically make the biggest jump of their basketball lives between their freshman and sophomore years of college. So there are lots of candidates to choose from.

It occurred to me that maybe I shouldn't stop at sophomores. After all, no player is a finished product at the age of 19 or 20. Why not put together a list of breakout juniors as well? There should be still plenty to choose from, right?

Actually, no. When it came to the juniors, my challenge wasn't paring down the list so much as filling it out. Still, because I am so dedicated to my Hoop Thinkers, I managed to comprise with a list of eight breakout juniors. Is eight enough? I'll let you decide. Check 'em out and then dive with me into this week's mailbag.

Ryan Kelly, 6-foot-11 forward, Duke

Soph: 20.1 mins, 6.6 pts, 3.7 rebs, 31.9% 3-pt FG

Jr: 26.3 mins, 12.6 pts, 4.6 rebs, 40.0% 3-pt Fg

Kelly probably would have made my sophomore list last year if Kyle Singler had gone pro. As you can see, his minutes have not increased all that much, but his scoring average has nearly doubled, and he has really improved his three-point shooting. That is mostly a result of increased confidence. Kelly has the ability to be Duke's best and most important player if he maintains that confidence.

Jeff Withey, 7-foot center, Kansas

Soph: 6.2 mins, 2.3 pts, 1.8 rebs, 51.5% ft

Jr: 22.4 mins, 7.8 pts, 6.3 rebs, 87.0% ft

Withey transferred from Arizona during mid-semester of his freshman year. Then he patiently waited two more seasons while the Morris twins did their thing. So far this season, Withey has taken advantage of his chance to shine, becoming an able complement alongside Thomas Robinson in the post. Withey was, however, an offensive no-show against Ohio State last Saturday, when he took just two shots and had two points. If he continues to be that passive, he could see his playing time cut by juco transfer Kevin Young.

Erik Murphy, 6-10 forward, Florida

Soph: 10.8 mins, 4.3 pts, 2.3 rebs, 40.0% 3fg

Jr: 18.3 mins, 8.3 pts, 3.5 rebs, 52.6% 3fg

Murphy's numbers don't jump out at you, but that's partly because he missed three games with a knee injury. Murphy has a slight build, but he is highly-skilled for his size, much like Chandler Parsons was. The question is whether the Gators -- specifically guards Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker -- are smart enough to run their offense through Murphy and fellow big man Patric Young instead of launching threes at every opportunity.

Jared Berggren, 6-10 forward, Wisconsin

Soph: 6.9 mins, 2.4 pts, 1.1 rebs, 49.1% fg

Jr: 26.5 mins, 11.8 pts, 4.7 rebs, 52.7% fg

Nobody can match Bo Ryan when it comes to recruiting and developing players perfectly suited for his system. Berggren spent his first season in Madison as a redshirt so he could get stronger. His redshirt freshman year was hampered by a shoulder injury that required surgery in the offseason. Last season, he rode the pine while Keaton Nankivil and Jon Leuer ate up all the frontcourt minutes. When his chance came this fall, Berggren was ready. He'll need to continue to develop into a second option who will take some heat off struggling point guard Jordan Taylor.

Hollis Thompson, 6-8 forward, Georgetown

Soph: 23.3 mins, 8.6 pts, 4.4 rebs, 45.7% 3-pt FG

Jr: 28.4 mins, 14.7 pts, 5.6 rebs, 52.6% 3-pt FG

Thompson provided one of the signature moments of the young season when he buried a three-pointer with 1.8 seconds remaining to give the Hoyas a true road win over then-No. 12 Alabama. With his size, versatility and long-range touch, Thompson is the ideal player for Georgetown's Princeton-style offense. His ability to replace the output that was provided last year by Austin Freeman is a major reason why the Hoyas are one of the biggest surprise teams in the country.

Tyler Griffey, 6-8 forward, Illinois

Soph: 6.5 mins, 1.6 pts, 1.2 rebs, 33.3% fg, 66.7% ft

Jr: 23.1 mins, 7.5 pts, 4.8 rebs, 46.9% fg, 72.7% ft

If it was frustrating for Illini fans the last two years to watch big men Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale play underachieving, pillow-soft basketball, imagine how it felt for Griffey. He's the one who had to sit on the bench. Now that Davis and Tisdale are gone, Griffey has brought his versatility and blue-collar hustling attitude to the court where it belongs. Griffey's numbers made a healthy leap from last season, but you have to watch the Illini play to really appreciate the many ways in which he contributes. He may not be as gifted as some other big men, but at least he gets the most out of what he has.

Derrick Nix, 6-9 center, Michigan State

Soph: 8.2 mins, 2.7 pts, 2.0 rebs, 0.3 assts

Jr: 18.0 mins, 6.7 pts, 4.1 rebs, 1.2 assts

Nix's improvement from his sophomore to junior season should give UCLA fans hope that maybe their own sophomore center, Josh Smith, will be able to make the same jump. Like Smith, Nix has battled weight problems since coming to East Lansing, but he is now in the best shape of his life and able to make solid contributions. Nix already has had more assists and steals than he had all of last season, and though his 50.0 percent foul shooting is putrid, it is still a grand improvement on his 27.1 percent clip as a freshman.

Ray Turner, 6-9 forward, Texas A&M

Soph: 13.4 mins, 4.0 pts, 3.2 rebs, 46.2% fg

Jr: 24.0 mins, 13.0 pts, 6.3 rebs, 63.8% fg

It's hard to tell how much Turner's increase in playing time is attributed to the fact that junior forward Khris Middleton, the Aggies' best player, is just returning from an injury that cost him seven games. Still, I like Turner's game and would be surprised to see him relegated to bit-player status. He is scrappy and efficient around the rim, and he gives the Aggies another steady, experienced pair of hands.

Now on to the Mailbag ...
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