Commentary

Sophomores expected to make an impact

Updated: September 30, 2008, 3:20 PM ET
By Dick Vitale | ESPN.com

Over the last few seasons, we have seen diaper dandies dominate college basketball. They have been brilliant. Think about guys like Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Greg Oden, Derrick Rose, O.J. Mayo and Kevin Love, to name a few.

These freshmen stepped onto the college campus and made an immediate impact. They were difference-makers, players that were able to carry programs on their backs.

I want to lay on you five freshmen from last year, who were not in the class of Rose, Beasley or Mayo, but displayed potential. I believe they proved they could be valuable contributors.

This group can be special as sophomores. They should be considered as bigger factors this season.

Let's start at Michigan State. Tom Izzo's team has great expectations this season as he begins his 25th season at the school, 14th as head coach. He is counting on the super quickness of Kalin Lucas. He is a kid who reminds me of Chris Paul. I am not saying he is Paul, but he has that blinding speed, excellent defensive ability and could be a major factor.

Down at Duke, Coach K and his staff expect solid guard play from Nolan Smith. He is a kid who comes from a great background as his dad was a heck of a player, Derek Smith of Louisville. Sadly, Derek Smith lost his life way too early. Former Duke assistant and current Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins played with the elder Smith, and that helped lead to Nolan Smith's arrival at Cameron Indoor Stadium. I feel Nolan Smith will be more consistent after a year under his belt.

Kansas lost so much talent, and has seven newcomers coming on board. One returning player who showed some glimpses of potential is Cole Aldrich. Coach Bill Self will call on him to be a factor in the post area.

Jai Lucas of Florida started 35 games last season and averaged 8.5 ppg. He was the fifth-leading scorer on the Gators roster, and Billy Donovan should expect even more from Lucas this season.

 

When Jon Diebler came to Ohio State, there was plenty of hype around his arrival. He struggled at times, averaging under six points per game while shooting just over 30 percent from the field. I feel he has a world of potential and he should move past last season's struggles. Sometimes there is an adjustment period to college and the pressure surrounding it. You go from superstar in high school to a different talent level, from dominant player to another Division I performer. Diebler should bounce back.

There you have it, five sophomores who should have a greater impact this season.

Dick Vitale

College Basketball analyst
Dick Vitale, college basketball's top analyst and ambassador, joined ESPN during the 1979-80 season. His thorough knowledge of the game is brought forth in an enthusiastic, passionate style. Vitale also contributes columns to ESPN.com.