The college basketball season has been kind of quiet and rather mundane. Star power definitely has been lacking as the elite high school hoopers continue to pursue other profitable avenues of gaining exposure and reaching the NBA besides NCAA “amateur” competition.
As we near the end of the regular season, here are some players and teams that are at the top of the food chain and will help elevate college hoops to the center of the sports world in March.
Gonzaga Bulldogs – The national title favorites are still that. Despite suffering their first conference loss to St. Mary’s over the weekend, the Zags are still ranked No.1 in the nation and are led by the dynamic duo of Drew Timme and 2021 No.1 overall recruit Chet Holmgren.
They average a combined 32 points, 15 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 blocks per game. Timme has the best footwork in the nation, and Holmgren provides elite rim protection, among other things.
The Zags have three losses on the season to the aforementioned Gaels of St. Mary’s, Alabama and Duke. In each loss they were bullied. Sort of like last year’s title game loss to Baylor. That’s the book on the Zags; be physical and disrupt their flow. That’s how you stifle the nation’s No. 1 offense.
Drew Timme scored 23 points, Chet Holmgren added 22 and top-ranked Gonzaga beat San Francisco 78-62 in a makeup game after their Jan. 6 contest was postponed by COVID-19 issues.https://t.co/xjPhSpXYdj
— AP Top 25 (@AP_Top25) January 21, 2022
Arizona Wildcats – First-year coach Tommy Lloyd inherited a talented roster led by guard Bennedict Mathurin. The Wildcats are physical and very versatile in methods of attack. Cats play as a team on both ends, but Mathurin is the straw that stirs the drink. His two-way play has NBA scouts salivating.
GO CRAZY BENN 😵💫😵💫😵💫
29 and counting. Have a day, @BennMathurin!
📺 ESPNU pic.twitter.com/4CVBhbcF9V
— Arizona Basketball (@ArizonaMBB) December 5, 2021
Kansas Jayhawks – Although this Bill Self-led group doesn’t have a ton of NBA prospects, they play well together. Led by future NBA player Ochai Agbaji, the Jayhawks have quality depth and good size. But how will Agbaji’s teammates react if he’s taken out of the game? Others will need to step up and carry the offensive burden. His nearly 21 points and 47 percent from three are hard to duplicate.
OCHAI AGBAJI = VERY GOOD AT 🏀 pic.twitter.com/nMjIIGFbmK
— Kansas Men’s Basketball (@KUHoops) January 25, 2022
Duke Blue Devils – As the Blue Devils continue to migrate through Coach K’s final season on the sidelines in Durham, the belief is they can win it all. Led by sensational freshman and possible No.1 overall pick Paolo Banchero, the Blue Devils have all the ingredients to cut the nets down in April.
This may actually be Coach K’s most complete roster since he last won it all in 2015, with Jahlil Okafor, Grayson Allen and Quinn Cook.
Banchero is a matchup nightmare at 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds, and he possesses three-level scoring similar to Carmelo Anthony when he led Syracuse to the national title as a freshman. Banchero could do the same for Duke.
Paolo Banchero is too smooth 🥶 pic.twitter.com/0VyB5X7J7b
— ESPN (@espn) November 10, 2021
Kentucky Wildcats – This is the first time in years that John Calipari has had some quality upperclassmen on his roster. And that is showing in his team’s play, led by center Oscar Tshiebwe who is averaging an unreal 15 points and 15 rebounds per game. His 30-18-5 game against Arkansas over the weekend was something they’ve never seen in Lexington.
Most rebounds in a single-game at Rupp Arena:
— Kentucky Men’s Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) January 26, 2022
Naismith Award Favorites
Oscar Tschiebwe – Kentucky (Center)
The West Virginia transfer has been a godsend for Coach Cal’s Cats. The dominant paint player has grabbed 427 total rebounds, (149 offensive and 278 defensive) and scores, making him a viable POY candidate for the (23-5) Big Blue Nation. He’s also fourth in the SEC with 46 blocks. Best big in Lexington since Karl-Anthony Towns.
Kofi Cockburn – Illinois (Center)
The 7-foot behemoth is as dominant as you’ll find in the paint in college basketball. Averaging 21 points and 11 rebounds per game, he’s the force for the Illini, who are (19-8) overall but 18-4 when Cockburn plays. He’s tied for fifth nationally in rebounds per game and he led the Big Ten in rebounds pre game and total rebounds.
Johnny Davis – Wisconsin (Forward)
On a Wisconsin team that plays under the rim, but in unison, Davis brings that freakish athleticism they lack everywhere else. But he’s a complete player on both ends, and he’s led the Badgers to a 22-5 record.
The sensational sophomore has taken a huge jump this season after averaging just seven points as a freshman. That’s nearly tripled to 20.6, to go along with 8.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.7 blocks.
Keegan Murray – Iowa (Forward)
Murray is a multi-faceted scorer who can beat you in many ways. Murray a true sophomore, is third in the nation averaging 23.5 points per game, up 16 points from last season. His versatility is something that stands out and should bode well if he decides to turn pro after this season. His play is the main reason the Hawkeyes are a tourney team that no one will wanna face.
Ochai Agbaji – Kansas (G/F)
He’s the best player in the best conference (Big 12). His Jayhawks are ranked No.4 in the country, and they led the conference (23-5 and 12-3).
Agbaji has carried this team offensively. Even if he’s not scoring his cutting and moving opens up things for his teammates. His skill set has come a long way and he’s now a potential first-round pick.
Look out for these game changers in March.
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