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Trying to nail 25 premier players to watch for the upcoming college basketball season isn’t easy, but we have a good idea of who has already stood out and others who are ready to shine. Here are the 25 players we landed on, listed in alphabetical order.
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The casual college basketball fan was introduced to Abmas during Oral Roberts’ surprise run to the Sweet 16 in 2021. He averaged 24.5 points that season and dropped 22.8 per game in 2021-22. Abmas, averaging 20.4 points in three collegiate seasons, is a career 39.4 percent 3-point shooter, and his 301 made buckets from beyond the arc are third-most in the country over the past three years. He’ll enter this season 181 points shy of reaching the coveted 2,000-career point mark.
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It can be argued that Bacot is the most dependable player in the country. He’s started 99 of the 100 games he’s played in three seasons for North Carolina. And now, the 6-foot-11 Preseason ACC Player of the Year looks to build on a breakout junior campaign when he averaged 16.3 points and 13.1 rebounds. Bacot averaged 16.5 boards in six NCAA Tournament games while helping the Tar Heels reach the national final. For his career, Bacot has totaled 1,300 points and 1,002 rebounds.
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The Aztecs knew they had a special transfer in Bradley, and he pretty much lived up to the advance billing by averaging 16.9 points, shooting just over 40 percent from 3-point range, and setting personal bests with 5.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.0 steals per contest in 2021-22. SDSU is the preseason favorite in the Mountain West Conference, and Bradley leads that talented group that could make noise come March. For his four-year college career at California and with the Aztecs, Bradley has totaled 1,831 points and 213 3-pointers.
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It might have taken a while, but Campbell has blossomed into the dependable floor leader the Bruins expected when he first hit the hardwood in 2019. A two-time, first-team All-Pac-12 pick, Campbell is coming off a junior season during which he set career highs in scoring (11.9 ppg), field-goal percentage (44.4), 3-point field-goal percentage (41.0), and rebounds (2.5). In his last six NCAA Tournament games spanning the past two seasons, Campbell has averaged 14.7 points, shooting 55.2 percent and 4.8 assists.
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Florida is slated as a middle-of-the-pack squad in the SEC, but it has one of the league’s best in the 6-11 Castleton. Following a modest transfer campaign with the Gators in 2020-21, Castleton broke out last season when he set career highs with 16.2 points and 9.0 rebounds. He averaged nearly 18 points in his final eight games of the 2021-22 campaign. If the Gators are to surprise this season, Castleton probably needs to be even better, and the ceiling is there for that to happen.
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Davis has a good chance to repeat as American Athletic Conference Player of the Year. And he could do it at another school. Last season at SMU, Davis averaged 19.4 points, shot 37.2 percent from 3-point range and averaged 4.4 assists. Now playing for his third different school, Davis will try to build on that award-winning individual performance while immediately improving a Memphis program that won 22 games and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
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In 2020-21, the 7-1 Dickinson averaged 14.1 points and 7.4 rebounds to earn Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. Last season, he was even better at 18.6 points and 6.2 boards per contest to be named a First-Team All-Big Ten selection. So, what’s in store for Dickinson this time around? For starters, he’s the undisputed star for the Wolverines, so he’ll receive plenty of attention from their opponents. Based on his track record, Dickinson would seem up to the challenge.
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The improvement and progress Edey made from his freshman to sophomore season at Purdue were pretty impressive. Going from averaging 8.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 0.4 assists to 14.4 points, 7.7 boards, and 1.2 assists per contest. It was exactly what the Boilermakers staff had hoped from the 7-4 Canadian. Now, the Boilers need Edey to blossom as a team leader, on and off the court. Purdue will again be in the hunt for a Big Ten championship if he’s successful.
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Flagler’s progress at Baylor should be commended, and this could very well be his team to lead as a senior. A key role player during the Bears’ run to the 2021 national championship, Flagler averaged 13.8 points and 3.0 assists last season when his responsibilities expanded. Baylor brings high expectations into the season, already voted as the preseason favorite in the Big 12 and looking for a third consecutive No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed. We’ll see how Flagler can handle it all.
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Keyonte George, Guard, Baylor
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The aforementioned Flagler is the obvious choice to take on the offensive load for the Bears, but the squad’s best overall player could be this 6-4 freshman. When Baylor toured Canada this summer, George reportedly averaged 22.8 points over a five-game stretch. He was also named Big 12 Preseason Freshman of the Year, so the hype is real. We just have to see if George can handle it when the games count and the lights shine brightest.
University of Texas
The Longhorns hit the jackpot by getting Hunter through the transfer portal. He was the Big 12 Freshman of the Year a season ago at Iowa State when he averaged 11.0 points, 4.9 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and an impressive 2.0 steals while starting all 35 games. Hunter’s ability to star on the offensive end of the court and as a defender will be imperative if the Longhorns are to be taken seriously. Not only as a Big 12 contender but also as a team capable of making a deep NCAA Tournament run.
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Along the lines of Armando Bacot, it’s refreshing when college basketball stars enjoy the full college experience. Jackson-Davis has undoubtedly done so and begins his senior season with the Hoosiers as Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year. In the last two seasons, TJD has averaged 18.6 points with 8.5 rebounds. He upped his star power by averaging 23.8 points and 8.5 rebounds during Indiana’s run to the semifinals of last season’s Big Ten Tournament.
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For as good an offensive player that Jaquez (13.9 ppg), he might be an even better defender. At 6-7, long, and athletic, Jaquez can get it done on either end of the court, but the fact he’s a two-time All-Pac-12 Defensive Team selection is a big deal — and a key reason why UCLA has returned to national prominence. Tyger Campbell and Jaquez are the undisputed leaders of a Bruins squad that is expected to maintain that level of success.
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Dereck Lively II, Center, Duke
Can Lively be the first star of the Jon Scheyer era at Duke? Well, with Jeremy Roach (8.6 ppg) as the only returning offensive presence on the roster, the 7-1 Lively should be the Blue Devils’ go-to guy out of the gate. He’s among the top-five freshman recruits in the country, and Duke has its usual stellar class of newbie talent, but Lively is the brightest star among the group. If Duke is to be in the hunt for an ACC title and extended NCAA Tournament run, Lively must be an integral part.
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Armando Bacot is North Carolina’s star, but Love isn’t far behind. Might as well throw R.J. Davis some props, too. Love certainly took a big step in becoming an impact player as a sophomore last season, when he averaged 15.9 points. More importantly, Love seemed at his best when it counted most, averaging 18.8 points during the Tar Heels’ six-game run to the national championship game. That experience has elevated Love’s stock as a team leader and national player to watch.
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Plenty of elite talent is in the Big 12, but the league’s coaches tapped Miles as the preseason player of the year entering the 2022-23 campaign. In 31 games last season, Miles was the only Big 12 player to rank in the top six in scoring (15.2) and average assists (3.8). He totaled 41 points in TCU’s two NCAA Tournament games last season and is the guy the Horned Frogs are counting on to stay even longer at the Big Dance in 2023.
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Consider this a matter of unfinished business for Sasser, who played just 12 games last season before a foot injury ended his promising junior campaign in late December. During that brief time, Sasser averaged 17.7 points and shot 43.7 percent from 3-point range for a Houston squad that overcame his loss to win 32 games. The Cougars are a top-10 team to open the season, and if Sasser stays healthy, a third consecutive Elite Eight appearance is possible.
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The Bluejays open the season ranked No. 9 in The Associated Press Top 25 . Scheierman is a significant reason why. The 6-7 junior was the Summit League Player of the Year when he averaged 16.2 points, on 50.8 percent shooting from the field and 46.9 percent from 3-point range, 7.8 rebounds, and 4.5 assists for South Dakota State last season. Add him to a squad that includes 7-1 Ryan Kalkbrenner, and Creighton could be in for something special this season.
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Shannon attended high school in Chicago and was recruited by the Illini. However, he headed to West Texas and averaged 11.0 points and 3.6 points while playing some stellar defense over three seasons at Texas Tech. He will try to help Illinois build on sharing last season’s Big Ten regular-season crown and get out of the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013. Shannon is a potential game-changer on both ends of the court and could be the league’s top defensive performer.
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Nick Smith Jr., Guard, Arkansas
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Arkansas does not have many established offensive performers returning from its back-to-back Elite Eight teams. However, it boasts one of the country’s best freshman classes. Smith is considered the No. 1 overall recruit in the land and is just the guy the Razorbacks need to continue their recent run of success. The 6-foot-5 North Little Rock High product can shoot and pass the basketball like a veteran and is expected to be the focal point of an Arkansas offense that’s also relying upon top-tier freshman Anthony Black and Jordan Walsh to make it go.
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The 6-10 Timme made some of college basketball’s biggest offseason news when he decided to return for his fourth season at Gonzaga. With 1,521 career points, Timme has a legitimate shot at reaching 2,000 — assuming he stays healthy and his production remains consistently high. In the last two seasons, Timme, thanks to his old-school game, has averaged 18.7 points on 61.9 percent shooting, plus 6.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists. More importantly, is he capable of leading the Zags to that elusive national title?
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The reigning national player of the year, Tshiebwe certainly made the most of his first season at Kentucky following a transfer from West Virginia. The 6-9 star averaged 17.4 points on 60.6 percent shooting and 15.1 rebounds. He recorded 28 double-doubles and pulled down 20 or more rebounds five times — highlighted by a 28-board performance against Western Kentucky on Dec. 22, 2021. Now, a knee issue could hinder the start of the season for Tshiebwe. The Wildcats will be a very different team if questions remain about his health.
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Arizona lost a good chunk of scoring from last season’s squad that won a surprising 33 games under first-year coach Tommy Lloyd. However, there’s enough talent for the Wildcats to earn a No. 17 ranking in the AP preseason poll. The 6-11 Tubelis is the one returning Arizona player truly capable of taking an already solid game to a higher level. In his two seasons as a Wildcat, Tubelis has averaged 13.9 points on 59.4 percent shooting and 6.6 rebounds. Also smooth in transition for a big man, if Tubelis can cut down on the turnovers (2.2 per game for his career), then he could become a star.
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Wilson hasn’t had to be “the guy” during his three seasons at Kansas. After setting career highs last season in games played (37), starts (27), and field-goal percentage (46.1), Wilson (11.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.8 apg) could see his role expand. Wilson is also the Jayhawks’ most experienced returning performer — at both ends of the court. However, he likely won’t need to do it alone with Texas Tech transfer Kevin McCullar Jr., stud freshmen Gradey Dıck, and Ernest Udeh on campus.
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Wong’s scoring average was down in 2021-22 (15.3 ppg) from a season earlier (17.1), but he shot a career-high 45.2 percent from the field and was a big reason the Hurricanes made a surprise run to the Elite Eight in 2022. During Miami’s first two NCAA Tournament victories over USC and second-ranked Auburn, Wong totaled 43 points. If the Hurricanes are to enjoy similar success this season, Wong must be at the forefront of the charge — especially regarding consistency.
Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.