As college basketball's regular season winds down, it's well-established who the frontrunners are for Player of the Year in conferences around the country. Likewise, the group of players who can realistically expect to be named All-Americans has been whittled down to a handful who would be instantly recognized by most fans of the sport.
With the postseason approaching, however, there is a fresh opportunity for new stars to emerge from the shadows and make their names known on the national stage. March has a way of turning players into legends in college basketball, and it should be no different this season as we barrel toward Selection Sunday on March 12.
Take Brady Manek from last season, for example. Manek, an Oklahoma transfer, developed from a key role player for North Carolina into the face of an improbable Final Four run while averaging 18.2 points on 44.1% 3-point shooting in March and April. Back in 2021, the duo of Max Abmas and Kevin Obanor from Oral Roberts were great all season, but took their games to the national stage in stunning fashion as the Golden Eagles made a Sweet 16 run as a No. 15 seed.
Who are the top candidates around college basketball to enjoy breakout status as we come down the stretch in the 2022-23 season? Our writers made their picks for this week's Dribble Handoff.
Jalen Hood-Schifino, G, Indiana
Hood-Schifino isn't going to be an All-American. He might not even be First Team All-Big Ten. But the 6-foot-6 guard undeniably has the potential to be a breakout star in the NCAA Tournament because he plays for a team capable of advancing in the bracket and has shown the ability to take over games.
Did you see him last weekend at Purdue? Hood-Schifino took 24 shots, made 14 of them and finished with 35 points and seven rebounds in a 79-71 victory inside Mackey Arena, making him the only Division I freshman in the past 25 years to score at least 35 points on the road against a team ranked in the top five of the Associated Press Top 25 poll, according to OptaStats. It was the second time this season Hood-Schifino has gone for at least 30 against a likely NCAA Tournament participant. He's clearly capable of going big against quality competition, and it'll further cement his legacy as one of the best freshmen in recent Indiana history if he does it on the right stage against the right opponent in the NCAA Tournament. -- Gary Parrish
Jahmir Young, G, Maryland
Maryland fans won't consider Young a breakout candidate, but on the national stage of March he totally applies. The transfer from Charlotte returned home (Young is from Upper Marlboro, Maryland) and has been the energetic center of a Terrapins team that is immediately blossoming in Year 1 under coach Kevin Willard. Young is my pick due not just because of his scoring prowess -- he averages 16.2 ppg -- but his knack for the big moment. Over the past three months, Maryland fans have seen this spark-plug combo guard almost singlehandedly win games (or almost win them) with his preternatural ability to find the right spot in the right space for a shot. Be it in the Big Ten Tournament, the NCAA Tournament or both, I'm expecting Young to have some big games — and maybe even provide a buzzer-beater. -- Matt Norlander
Nick Smith Jr., G, Arkansas
Calling Nick Smith Jr. a potential breakout candidate is a bit like pointing out the sky is blue -- Smith Jr. was the No. 1 prospect in the 2022 class and is a lock to be a lottery pick -- but to a large swath of college basketball fans he may still be a relative unknown. A knee injury derailed most of his season and kept him off the court and largely out of the public's eye as the season played out. However, he has returned with a vengeance down the stretch for an Arkansas team that, if Smith is healthy, is likely going to be dramatically underseeded come March.
Coach Eric Musselman thrives when running his actions through guards, and that's been evident during Smith Jr's late-season surge with a combined 50 points vs. Georgia and Alabama in recent weeks. The Razorbacks have a ton of guard depth and NBA talent, but Smith Jr. is the clear headliner who can change their fortunes for the better. If Arkansas makes a run it'll be because Smith Jr. propels it there. -- Kyle Boone
Jarkel Joiner, G, NC State
ACC fans won't consider Joiner a breakout player since he's been getting buckets all season, but the country at large is likely unaware of how prolific a scorer the 6-foot-1 guard has been. After beginning his career at Cal State Bakersfield and then playing at Ole Miss for the past two seasons, Joiner is enjoying his best season of college basketball yet. The sixth-year senior is averaging 17 points, 3.6 assists and just 1.6 turnovers for an NC State squad projected as a No. 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament by CBS Sports Bracketology Expert Jerry Palm.
If the Wolfpack wind up playing a No. 1 seed in the second round of the Big Dance, folks will quickly learn how dangerous Joiner can be. He has surpassed 20 points on 10 occasions this season, with seven of those performances coming against league competition. He's also played some of his best basketball recently, which bodes well for NC State heading to the postseason. There are a handful of players on this Wolfpack team who can rack up points, including Terquavion Smith, D.J. Burns and Casey Morsell. Of the group, Joiner is likely the least-recognizable to a causal college basketball fan. There's a solid chance that changes over the coming weeks. -- David Cobb