SEC Basketball: The 5 breakout stars of the 2019-20 season
The SEC doesn’t have any truly elite teams this year, though Kentucky is making a late run to try to land at least a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
However, there are a number of players who have gone from afterthoughts on their team to bonafide stars. Watching players develop and take the next steps with their games is one of the best parts of college basketball, and the SEC has provided plenty of that thus far.
So, who would make up a team of the biggest breakout stars of the year? Here are the 5 guys who have made the biggest leaps so far in the 2019-20 season:
Guard: Jermaine Couisnard, South Carolina
2018-19 stats: Redshirt
2019-20 stats: 12.1 points, 2.8 assists, 2.7 rebounds, 25.2 minutes per game
Couisnard got his first start against Kentucky on Jan. 15, and to say the redshirt freshman made the most of it would be a dramatic understatement. He burst onto the scene in that game, scoring 26 points and draining this game-winning three:
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) January 16, 2020
Since that moment, he has started every game for the Gamecocks and continues to play well. He’s scored at least 12 points in South Carolina’s last 6 games and has taken over as the team’s offensive leader at the point guard position.
The good news for Frank Martin and the Gamecocks is that he’ll likely only get better as he gets more playing time. He could provide some more game-winning shots in the SEC Tournament and potentially get the Gamecocks into the NCAA Tournament.
Guard: Xavier Pinson, Mizzou
2018-19 stats: 6.6 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 18.4 minutes per game
2019-20 stats: 10.3 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 22.9 minutes per game
Until recently, Pinson has been coming off the bench for the Tigers. But, in Mizzou’s last handful of games, he’s been incredible. He has scored at least 24 points in the Tigers’ 3 wins over Arkansas, Auburn and Ole Miss the past 2 weeks.
He can light it up from beyond the arc or, if a defender closes out too strong, he can blow by him on the way to the basket. Just look at these highlights from the Ole Miss game on Tuesday:
Watch: #Mizzou guard Xavier Pinson caught fire and scored 24 points in the second half against Ole Miss 🔥
— Andrew Kauffman (@AndrewABC17) February 19, 2020
He still has some room for improvement, too, which is a scary thought for future Mizzou opponents. Pinson and Dru Smith are going to form a nice backcourt combo next year.
Guard: Robert Woodard II, Mississippi State
2018-19 stats: 5.5 points. 4.1 rebounds, 17.5 minutes per game
2019-20 stats: 11.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.0 blocks, 33.5 minutes per game
Woodard was an important piece off the bench for Ben Howland’s team last year. But, this season, he has taken his game to another level. Now, he has even been mentioned as a first-round NBA Draft pick in some mock drafts.
He’s one of the SEC’s most versatile players, as he can grab rebounds, score points and throw down monster dunks:
Nick Weatherspoon ➡ Robert Woodard 💪💥 pic.twitter.com/a84Wtpsr80
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) February 1, 2020
He’s also shooting 46.6% from beyond the arc this season, adding yet another layer to his offensive game. He and Reggie Perry have the Bulldogs in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament berth, so we’ll see if they can continue to make some noise down the stretch.
Forward: John Fulkerson, Tennessee
2018-19 stats: 3.1 points, 2.6 rebounds, 12.0 minutes per game
2019-20 stats: 13.0 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.2 steals, 29.6 minutes per game
The reason for Fulkerson’s breakout 2019-20 campaign is pretty obvious — he’s finally getting playing time. That’s through no fault of his own or coach Rick Barnes, either. He was simply sitting behind Grant Williams and Kyle Alexander last season.
Now he’s the guy in Knoxville and he’s been making the most of it. He’s shooting 63% from the floor and 75.4% from the free-throw line, and he knows his range. He has only attempted one three all year (a miss).
He’s the kind of guy coach Rick Barnes wants in his system, and if the Vols make a run in the SEC Tournament, it’ll be in large part thanks to Fulkerson’s play.
Forward: Nick Richards, Kentucky
2018-19 stats: 4.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 12.1 minutes per game
2019-20 stats: 14.5 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 30.2 minutes per game
No one has made a bigger jump this season than Richards. He has gone from Kentucky afterthought to potential SEC Player of the Year in his junior season.
Yes, it took him longer than most Kentucky players for it to click, but now that he is living up to his potential, he’s the best player on the best team in the SEC currently. He affects games so many different ways and can carry the Wildcats when they need him to.
If the Wildcats win the SEC Tournament and make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, it will be because of Richards. How far can he lead the team? We’ll find out over the next month and a half.
Honorable mentions: Maik Kotsar, South Carolina; Santiago Vescovi, Tennessee; Saben Lee, Vanderbilt