25. Izaiah Brockington — Iowa State
Stats (as of Feb. 8): 16.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.2 SPG
The Penn State transfer has been a revelation for the Cyclones in 2021-22. Brockington is a physical player (dating back to his roots in Philadelphia). He bullies smaller players, and is smooth enough to operate as a combo guard in the open floor. The Cyclones are a borderline tournament team — and that’s solely because of Brockington. If he weren’t a member of this team, Iowa State would have virtually no shot at participating in postseason play.
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24. Wendell Moore Jr. — Duke
Stats (as of Feb. 8): 14.0 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 4.4 APG
The junior out of Charlotte has taken a massive step up this year. Moore has increased virtually every statistical category from a season ago. He’s functioning as a secondary playmaker for the Blue Devils (as evidenced by his assist totals). Additionally, Moore is letting his elite athleticism take over on both ends of the floor. He’s a far more controlled player than in the past, and his relative skill level has gotten much better. Moore’s shooting has also been transformed (.390 from three and .526 from the field).
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23. Isaiah Mobley — USC
Stats (as of Feb. 8:) 14.7 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 3.2 APG
Mobley opted to come back to school (as his brother left for the NBA Draft). It was a wise move, as the older Mobley brother is enjoying a breakout season as the go-to player for the Trojans. A burly player with good size for the position, Mobley looks (and plays) like a classic ’90’s power forward. He won’t be shy in throwing an elbow or two when creating space for himself in the post. Unlike some of those older players, Mobley does have range stretching out to beyond the three-point line. He’s shooting .394 from beyond the arc this year.
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22. Walker Kessler — Auburn
Stats (as of Feb. 8): 11.4 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 4.2 BPG
The former 5-star product had a relatively disappointing freshman campaign at North Carolina. Since transferring to Auburn, Kessler has a new lease on life. The 7-footer has been a MONSTER in protecting the rim. He’s averaging more than four blocks per contest with his combination of length, athleticism, and timing. With Jabari Smith drawing much of the attention, Kessler has been doing all of the dirty work at an elite level. If Auburn does win the title this season, Kessler will be the primary unsung hero.
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21. Jaime Jaquez — UCLA
Stats (as of Feb. 8): 13.1 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.3 APG
While Johnny Juzang gets the press as being the team’s leading scorer, Jaquez is undoubtedly the best player on the team. UCLA relies on Jaquez in a number of ways — most notably his toughness. He is emblematic of the culture swing Mick Cronin has brought to Westwood. Jaquez can score inside and from the perimeter. He’s got a high basketball I.Q., and has no qualms about defending at a high level. Jaquez is the type of glue guy you see carving out a 10+ year career in the NBA.
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20. James Akinjo — Baylor
Stats (as of Feb. 8): 12.9 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 5.5 APG
The transfer from Arizona has helped tremendously in replenishing the scoring lost from Scott Drew’s team last year. Akinjo is a slithery player — using footwork and a plethora of fakes to get to where he wants on the court. He’s comfortable shooting the three ball, though Akinjo is adept at getting into the lane before dishing it to one of the bigs. He’s the straw that stirs the proverbial drink for Baylor (who is looking to repeat as NCAA Champions).
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19. David Roddy — Colorado State
Stats (as of Feb. 8): 18.8 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 3.0 APG
Roddy is a highly unique player. Picture a player with P.J. Tucker’s build — yet can still average close to a double-double. At 6-foot-5 and 252 pounds, Roddy is an absolute load. He’s a nightmare matchup for guards — and is also a tough cover for traditional power forwards. Roddy is shooting a blistering .566 from the field and .475 from three. With respects to Colorado State, it’s a shame he doesn’t play for a bigger program. Roddy should be getting far more notoriety than he’s currently receiving. Maybe that’ll come should the Rams make the NCAA Tournament.
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18. Trayce Jackson-Davis — Indiana
Stats (as of Feb. 8): 17.8 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 2.6 BPG
Jackson-Davis is a bit of a tweener for the next level. His inability to hit threes could be a major problem down the line for his professional status. As a college player, Jackson-Davis is right at home. He’s a highly active player — averaging nearly a double-double on the season. The Indiana product is also a terror when it comes to rim protection. The Hoosiers are fighting ardently to get back into the Big Dance. If successful, Jackson-Davis will have a whole lot to do with it.
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17. JD Notae — Arkansas
Stats (as of Feb. 8): 18.7 PPG, 4.6 APG, 3.5 RPG
Few would probably realize this outside of Arkansas, but guard JD Notae is a really good player. He’s currently in the midst of a fourth-straight season in which he’s averaged at least 12.8 PPG. Noted for his quickness and athletic ability, Notae is a terror in transition. He gets to the cup at will, and is always putting pressure on opposing defenses. Arkansas will be a dangerous out in the NCAA Tournament — especially with this senior guard leading the charge.
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16. Max Abmas — Oral Roberts
Stats (as of Feb. 8): 23.0 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 3.9 APG
Abmas became somewhat of a cult hero during last year’s NCAA Tournament. Despite being generously listed at 6-feet tall, he delighted the crowd with big shot after big shot. It remains to be seen as to whether ORU will be back in the big dance. They most likely will have to win their conference tournament to ensure the automatic bid. With that said, we’re hoping it happens. Abmas is a star on the collegiate level — and certainly has the talent to play professionally (whether overseas or domestically).
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15. Ochai Agbaji — Kansas
Stats (as of Feb. 8): 20.3 PPG, 5.1 RPG, .514 from the field
The senior guard out of Kansas is having a ridiculously efficient season. As of early February, Agbaji is shooting .456 from three and .514 from the field. He’s a matchup nightmare for most guards based upon his strong 6-foot-5 frame. While Kansas does have some warts from a roster construction standpoint, Agbaji is certainly not one of them. He’s easily among the best players in the Big 12 this season.
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14. E.J. Liddell — Ohio State
Stats (as of Feb. 8): 19.9 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 2.6 BPG
The Buckeye faithful were thrilled when Liddell came back to school. A bit undersized for the pros, he’s a fantastic collegiate player. He can score in the paint with a myriad of post moves. Utilizing his impressive wingspan, Liddell averages nearly three blocks a contest. He’s not only got Ohio State in the race to win the Big Ten, but he’s squarely in the running to become the conference’s Player of the Year.
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13. Paolo Banchero — Duke
Stats (as of Feb. 8): 17.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 1.0 BPG
The Italian star (by way of Seattle) has been as advertised. Coming out of high school, Banchero was projected to be an impact player for Duke right away. Many scouts believed he’d be a potential top-five pick — and that belief hasn’t yet wavered as we head into the meaty section of the February schedule. Banchero is a modern big, with touch inside the paint and range outside of it. While his three-point shooting needs improvement, every other aspect of Banchero’s game is highly impressive.
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12. Zach Edey — Purdue
Stats (as of Feb. 8): 14.9 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 68.5-percent field-goal percentage
The Toronto native stands at 7-feet-4. Unsurprisingly, Edey has developed into one of the premier big men in college basketball. At first glance, you’d think Edey would be a big, slow, lumbering athlete. However, he can actually move his feet much better than given credit for. Also, he provides the Boilermakers with real rim protection. Even though he’s averaging only a block per game, his sheer size makes it supremely difficult for guards and posts to finish at the rim. As the games slow down during tournament time, Edey’s impact could be even more pronounced.
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11. Johnny Juzang — UCLA
Stats (as of Feb. 8): 17.8 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.8 APG
Juzang returned for his junior year as a way to improve his draft stock. While Juzang has gotten physically bigger in the upper body, he’s still working to become more of a facilitator (particularly off the dribble). However, no one can deny his ability to put the ball in the hoop. Juzang can manufacture points on all levels — whether from three, midrange, in the paint, or from the free throw line. He’s a big reason why UCLA should be considered a favorite to win it all in April.
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10. Jaden Ivey — Purdue
Stats (as of Feb. 8): 17.3 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 3.2 APG
Ivey is an NBA darling. Scouts salivate over his potential on the next level. You’re looking at an uber-competitive kid with true combo guard skills. He’s shooting 41-percent from three on the season, and can get to the cup whenever he wants. For Purdue, having the balance between Ivey and its powerful frontcourt is key. If Ivey was a one-man show in another program, he could average 25 a game. He’s not asked to do that at Purdue — though his game has become more well-rounded as a result.
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9. Bennedict Mathurin — Arizona
Stats (as of Feb. 8): 16.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.0 SPG
Mathurin is one of the best players you’ve probably never heard of. The Montreal native is an integral reason for Arizona’s renaissance this season. A long and slender athlete, Mathurin is often tasked with defending the best player on the other team. Offensively, he’s silky — shooting from three and also taking players off the bounce. If we were to come up with an NBA comparison for Mathurin, we’d say he mirrors a healthy/younger version of Victor Oladipo. He’s only scratching the surface on his immense upside.
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8. Drew Timme — Gonzaga
Stats (as of Feb. 7): 17.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG, .604 from the field
It’s been a bit of an adjustment for Timme this year. During Gonzaga’s run last year, he got to operate in the post by himself. With Chet Holmgren now in Spokane, Timme doesn’t have that luxury. Additionally, he’s taken this year as an opportunity to improve on skills (perimeter shooting, quickness, off the dribble game) that he’ll need on the next level. Regardless, Timme is still one of college basketball’s most reliable bigs. When it gets to crunch time, you can bet Mark Few will look at Timme for a crucial bucket.
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7. Collin Gillespie — Villanova
Stats (as of Feb. 7): 17.2 PPG, 3.0 APG, 3.3 RPG, .430 from three-point range
Villanova has played the most challenging schedule in the country to date. Aside from their tough competition in the Big East (Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, Connecticut, Xavier), the Wildcats competed in non-conference tilts against heavyweights in UCLA, Baylor, Tennessee, and Purdue.
This sort of schedule would bury most teams. However, the leadership of senior Collin Gillespie has Villanova battle-tested — and ready for the big dance. A supremely smart player, Gillespie torches teams with his ability to read the floor. He’s also a knockdown shooter — and someone you can’t leave open even for a split-second.
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6. Kofi Cockburn — Illinois
Stats (as of Feb. 7): 21.8 PPG, 11.4 RPG, .603 from the field
The old school center out of Illinois (by way of Jamaica) is yet again putting up big-time stats for the Fighting Illini. With some injuries to the backcourt, Illinois has been relying on Cockburn more than ever. Case-in point the Feb. 2 tilt versus Wisconsin. Cockburn dropped 37 points on 16-of-19 from the field in the 13-point victory. He continues to be a problem for virtually any big man tasked with trying to slow him down. If Illinois makes a run and wins the Big Ten, Cockburn will be right there in the thick of things for Player of the Year honors.
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5. Chet Holmgren — Gonzaga
Stats (as of Feb. 7): 14.7 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 3.4 BPG
A walking unicorn, Chet Holmgren’s impact on Gonzaga’s basketball team has been as advertised. This year’s team is less reliant upon jump shooting and pace — and more impactful down low. The combination of Holmgren and Drew Timme gives Gonzaga a unique one-two punch. Timme is the bruiser with a plethora of crafty moves around the hoop. Holmgren can finish at the rim, shoot threes, and protect the rim with authority. He likely won’t be the ultimate Player of the Year award winner — but he’s a lock to go as a top-three pick in this year’s NBA Draft.
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4. Keegan Murray — Iowa
Stats (as of Feb. 7): 22.4 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 2.0 BPG
There’s a world in which Keegan Murray could be the next Jayson Tatum. There’s also one in which he becomes DeAndre Hunter. Either way, you’re looking at a very efficient college basketball player on both ends of the floor. When Luka Garza left college, no one expected Iowa to be relevant the year after. Well, Murray is making a ton of people forget about the lumbering center. He can score on all levels — and relishes the opportunity to defend wings at a high level. Without a doubt, Murray’s skill-set is perfect for the NBA.
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3. Jabari Smith — Auburn
Stats (as of Feb. 7): 15.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.3 SPG
Without a doubt, Smith possesses some of the best upside in this upcoming draft. Perhaps the greatest Auburn freshman sensation since Charles Barkley, Smith has been highly impressive throughout this first half of the season. The versatility is what strikes us most. We’ve got a 6-foot-10 plus-athlete who can play above the rim in the paint, and also shoot from three (.404 from three-point land on the year).
Defensively, Smith is averaging over a block and steal per contest. As he continues to physically mature and get stronger, his game will go to another level. He’s only scratching the surface on his sky-high potential. Think Evan Mobley with a better stroke from three.
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2. Johnny Davis — Wisconsin
Stats (as of Feb. 7): 20.6 PPG 8.3 RPG, 1.3 SPG
The sophomore out of Milwaukee has exploded onto the scene as one of college basketball’s most highly-rated NBA prospects. The 6-foot-5 guard averaged only 7.0 PPG a season ago before truly emerging this year in a lead role for the Badgers. Davis’ shooting numbers aren’t great (.419 from field, .337 from three) — though that’s primarily because he’s asked to be the lead playmaker/scorer for the Badgers.
In the uber-competitive Big Ten conference, Davis appears to be the favorite for Player of the Year honors. The rebounding numbers cannot be ignored, and Davis has the I.Q. to become an even more efficient passer of the basketball with more experience.
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1. Oscar Tshiebwe — Kentucky
Stats (as of Feb. 7): 15.8 PPG, 15.2 RPG, 1.9 SPG, 1.4 BPG
Talk about making an impact. The transfer from West Virginia has completely changed the way Kentucky normally operates. Tshiebwe is the most dominant big man in all of basketball. There are more skilled players, and there are some possessing more ideal size from an NBA standpoint. With that said, Tshiebwe is built like Karl Malone with the defensive prowess of Ben Wallace and the energy/athleticism of Bam Adebayo.
He routinely carves space out for himself with his muscular frame. His leaping ability is spectacular — particularly when jumping in rapid succession on tip-ins/dunks when crashing the offensive boards. More than anything Tshiebwe gives UK the toughness needed to make a run to the Final Four (and perhaps beyond).
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