Busting Brackets
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Big Ten Basketball: 5 early breakout candidates to watch for 2023-24 season

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - MARCH 09: Derek Simpson #0 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights dribbles against the Michigan Wolverines during the second round of the Big Ten Tournament at United Center on March 09, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - MARCH 09: Derek Simpson #0 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights dribbles against the Michigan Wolverines during the second round of the Big Ten Tournament at United Center on March 09, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /
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Photo by David Berding/Getty Images
Photo by David Berding/Getty Images /

Pharrel Payne, F/C, Minnesota

As brutal of a season as it was in the Twin Cities this past winter, the play of freshman big man Pharrel Payne was a bright spot. The Minnesota native drew rave reviews during the preseason and did not disappoint. Even though his stat-line of 8.2 PPG and 5.2 RPG doesn’t necessarily jump out at you, it’s impressive when you consider how atrocious the Gopher offense was, along with the fact Payne primarily came off the bench to begin the year. More than just the numbers, Payne had a knack for the highlight reel plays; his rim-rocking jams and massive swats were some of the few times “The Barn” came to life in 2022-23.

What I’d like to see as a sophomore from Payne is for him to continue to refine his fundamentals and touch around the rim. Becoming a better free throw shooter should be priority one, but it would be fantastic to see Payne develop some type of mid-range game. He doesn’t need to be nailing jumpers at a high clip, but giving defenders some reason to pay attention to him when he’s not on the block would work wonders for the Minnesota offense.

Fortunately for Payne, his role seems much more defined than others on this list. Treyton Thompson, who started ahead of Payne early on this past season before he saw his role diminished, is officially on the move to Stetson. But more importantly, prized recruit Dennis Evans flipped his commitment from Minnesota to Louisville, assuring he won’t be stealing any minutes away from Payne. With a starting role essentially locked down, it’s time to see what Payne can do this winter.