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The college football season has come to an end, bringing college basketball to the forefront. If you haven’t tuned in yet, you’ve missed an absolutely wild season to-date. Good teams have been upset left and right, leaving the media and fans totally lost when trying to figure out which teams could really advance to the Final Four in Atlanta.

On a more local level, we’ve seen enough games now to believe that some of the hot starts we’ve seen from players are not an aberration, but a real sign of growth. In a college basketball landscape that points tons of attention at the one-and-done freshmen, the development of upperclassmen can be forgotten.

These five players have improved so much this year, it would be impossible not to recognize their newfound success.

5. Daniel Oturu, Minnesota

The Big Ten is an absolute slaughterhouse this season, with every single team offering a tough test in conference play. KenPom is currently projecting 11 of the conferences 14 teams to finish between 11-9 and 9-11 in conference. The battles for conference tournament seeds and bubble superiority will be ruthless. That’s due in part to the emergence of players like Oturu. His elevation from a productive freshman who put up 11 points, 7 rebounds, and a block each game to a game-wrecking big man as a sophomore has changed Minnesota’s outlook.

Oturu is currently posting 20 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game. His 29-point, 18-rebound effort on the road at Purdue proved that the Gophers won’t just be tough to beat at home at the Barn. They’ll mean business all over the conference, thanks in part to Oturu.

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4. Luka Garza, Iowa

Elsewhere in the Big Ten, Iowa is also built around a dominant big man. Garza was a good player in previous seasons, averaging double-figure scoring in both of his seasons in Iowa City. This year, he has started the season on fire. Garza uses his size to overpower opposing big men and has a soft enough touch to finish all kinds of looks in the paint. He’s averaging 22.0 points and 10.8 rebounds per game and is drawing 7.2 fouls per 40 minutes in Big Ten play, the most in the conference.

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3. Malachi Flynn, San Diego State

The nation’s most notable breakout team deserves a mention, with Flynn playing the role of breakout player for the undefeated Aztecs. He was a good player at Washington State before transferring, adding 15.8 points per game for the Cougars two years ago. After sitting out the requisite year for transferring, Flynn has returned as a better, more complete player. He’s more aggressive attacking the paint, while also refining his shot. Flynn increased his 3-point percentage from 34 percent as a sophomore to 42 percent this year despite the line being moved back in that time.

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2. Jared Butler, Baylor

In a development that no one saw coming, Baylor has grown into one of the best teams in all of college basketball. Butler’s development as a sophomore is a huge reason for the Bears success. He’s increased from 10 points per game as a freshman to over 16 per contest this year, raising every one of his shooting percentages year-over-year. Butler’s development as an offensive playmaker has given the Bears a real go-to option — something they lacked last season as a middling NCAA Tournament team.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

1. Obi Toppin, Dayton

No player has had a more eye-popping breakout season than Toppin. I’m not even sure how it would be possible to outdo his rise in his sophomore season. Last season, he was a contributor to a mediocre Dayton team that reached the NIT, pitching in 14 points per game, mostly coming off the bench. This season, Dayton is a bonafide top-10 team, and Toppin is a legitimate National Player of the Year candidate.

The 6-foot-9 power forward plays an inside-out game and has been dominant with the ball in the paint. He shoots the 12th-best 2-point percentage in the nation and the best in the Atlantic 10, at over 82 percent in conference play.

This article first appeared on Larry Brown Sports and was syndicated with permission.


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Can you name every NCAA tournament Most Outstanding Player from the last 40 years?
1977 - Marquette
Butch Lee
1978 - Kentucky
Jack Givens
1979 - Michigan State
Magic Johnson
1980 - Louisville
Darrell Griffith
1981 - Indiana
Isiah Thomas
1982 - UNC
James Worthy
1983 - Houston
Akeem Olajuwon
1984 - Georgetown
Patrick Ewing
1985 - Villanova
Ed Pinckney
1986 - Louisville
Pervis Ellison
1987 - Indiana
Keith Smart
1988 - Kansas
Danny Manning
1989 - Michigan
Glen Rice
1990 - UNLV
Anderson Hunt
1991 - Duke
Christian Laettner
1992 - Duke
Bobby Hurley
1993 - UNC
Donald Williams
1994 - Arkansas
Corliss Williamson
1995 - UCLA
Ed O'Bannon
1996 - Kentucky
Tony Delk
1997 - Arizona
Miles Simon
1998 - Kentucky
Jeff Sheppard
1999 - UConn
Richard Hamilton
2000 - Michigan St.
Mateen Cleaves
2001 - Duke
Shane Battier
2002 - Maryland
Juan Dixon
2003 - Syracuse
Carmelo Anthony
2004 - UConn
Emeka Okafor
2005 - UNC
Sean May
2006 - Florida
Joakim Noah
2007 - Florida
Corey Brewer
2008 - Kansas
Mario Chalmers
2009 - UNC
Wayne Ellington
2010 - Duke
Kyle Singler
2011 - UConn
Kemba Walker
2012 - Kentucky
Anthony Davis
2013 - Louisville
Luke Hancock
2014 - UConn
Shabazz Napier
2015 - Duke
Tyus Jones
2016 - Villanova
Ryan Arcidiacono
2017 - North Carolina
Joel Berry II
2018 - Villanova
Donte DiVincenzo
2019 - Virginia
Kyle Guy

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