The top 15 players to watch this college basketball season, ranked

David Butler II/ReutersMarkus Howard is already a proven scorer and primed to return to the All-America first team in his senior year at Marquette.
  • At long last, college basketball returns Tuesday.
  • We’ve picked some of the top players to watch in the NCAA this year so that you know who to look for before the 2019-2020 season tips off.
  • Seasoned floor generals like Cassius Winston and Markus Howard headline this season’s returners, while up-and-coming stars with James Wiseman and Isaiah Stewart hope to prove they have the talent to bring their programs back to their former glory.
  • Check out the top 15 players to watch this college basketball season below:
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

15. Ayo Dosunmu — Illinois Fighting Illini

Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY SportsAyo Dosunmu.

Position: Point guard

Year: Sophomore

Stats: 13.8 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 3.3 APG

A 6-foot-5 point guard whose breakout freshman season garnered calls to flee for the NBA, Ayo Dosunmu chose instead to stick with the Illinois Fighting Illini for another season and help lead the team back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2013. Expect him to be the Illini’s go-to and one of the shining stars in the Big 10 this season.

14. Nico Mannion — Arizona Wildcats

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY SportsNico Mannion.

Position: Point guard

Year: Freshman

Stats: 30.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 6.2 APG (Pinnacle High School)

Bright red hair isn’t the only thing distinctive about Arizona freshman Nico Mannion. The top-touted recruit is a prolific scorer and expert floor general, as evidenced by 30.4 points and 6.2 assists per game during his senior season at Pinnacle High School. Mannion heads to Tuscon looking to right the ship and lead the No. 21 Wildcats back to the NCAA Tournament.

13. Mamadi Diakite — Virginia Cavaliers

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY SportsMamadi Diakite.

Position: Forward

Year: Senior

Stats: 7.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.7 BPG

After completing the ultimate redemption story by winning the National Championship just one year removed from the worst loss in NCAA history, the Virginia Cavaliers need a new leading man. Mamadi Diakite – a 6-foot-9 forward with a penchant for protecting the rim – may be that guy. He seemed to have his most impressive outings towards the tail end of the Cavaliers’ season, and it seems likely he’ll be ready to carry that momentum into a larger role this season.

12. Tre Jones — Duke Blue Devils

AP Photo/Ben McKeownTre Jones.

Position: Point guard

Year: Sophomore

Stats: 9.4 PPG, 5.3 APG, 3.8 RPG

With yet another young core filling out his roster, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski will look to sophomore and team captain Tre Jones to lead the Blue Devils. The younger brother of Duke one-and-done point guard Tyus Jones, Tre returned to Durham despite rumblings that he would join classmates Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, and Cam Reddish in the 2019 NBA Draft. During his freshman season, Jones ranked third in the NCAA with a 3.62 assist-to-turnover ratio and checked into the top 50 with 5.3 assists per game. He’ll need to find a more consistent shooting stroke and take on more of a scoring role this season, but Jones – who is one of the best defenders in the nation – should make a splash in the ACC and beyond this year.

11. Killian Tillie — Gonzaga Bulldogs

Kyle Terada/ReutersKillian Tillie.

Position: Forward

Year: Senior

Stats: 6.2 PPG, 1.5 APG, 3.9 RPG

A 6.2 point, 1.5 assist, and 3.9 rebound per game stat line isn’t typically indicative of an All-America-calibre season, but Gonzaga’s Killian Tillie is likely one of the very few exceptions. The Frenchman was instrumental in leading the Bulldogs to three Sweet 16 appearances, two Elite Eights, and a national title game appearance, but missed 22 games last season thanks to ankle and foot injuries. When he returned the court, the then-junior forward struggled to find a way to comfortably settle into a rotation that relied heavily on consensus All-American Rui Hachimura. Still, his 50% shooting from the field and 43.8% shooting from 3-point range are encouraging, as is the fact that all of his numbers were considerably better when he was healthy the year prior. Look for Tillie to be the go-to guy on this year’s top-10 Gonzaga squad.

10. Udoka Azubuike — Kansas Jayhawks

Denny Medley-USA TODAY SportsUdoka Azubuike.

Position: Centre

Year: Senior

Stats: 13.4 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.6 BPG

After injuries kept the Jayhawks’ big man sidelined for all but nine of Kansas’ games last season, Udoka Azubuike returns for his senior year primed to control the paint all season long. In his few outings during the 2018-19 season, Azubuike averaged 13.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game and managed to become the Jayhawks’ third-leading blocker with 1.6 per contest. But perhaps more impressively, “Doke” led all Division I players with 77.0% shooting from the field his sophomore season, clocking in at second best for a season in NCAA history. The 7-footer joins yet another stacked roster for his senior season but should be the commanding force down low for Bill Self’s squad.

9. Devon Dotson — Kansas Jayhawks

William Purnell-USA TODAY SportsDevon Dotson.

Position: Point guard

Year: Sophomore

Stats: 12.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.5 APG

Voted to the All-Big 12 third team and the Big 12 All-Freshman team during his first year in Lawrence, Devon Dotson is prepared to be the floor general for one of the most stacked teams in college basketball. If Kansas’ off-court issues don’t become too much of a distraction, the No. 3 Jayhawks could return to their former glory and win the Big 12 regular-season title after breaking their streak of 14 consecutive years atop the conference last season. And if Dotson can keep his turnovers under control and stay efficient throughout, he’ll make his case as one of the top players in the nation.

8. Isaiah Stewart — Washington Huskies

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY SportsIsaiah Stewart.

Position: Centre

Year: Junior

Stats: 15.2 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 2.4 BPG

A 6-foot-9 centre who knows how to control the block, Isaiah Stewart will be the Washington Huskies’ primary big man right out of high school. Though classmate and ESPN’s No. 7 player in the class of 2019 Jaden McDaniels figures to play a significant role in Washington’s bid to return to the Sweet 16 for the first time in a decade, Stewart is polished enough to be a legitimate All-America team contender. He will undoubtedly pace the young Huskies from down low.

7. Kerry Blackshear Jr. — Florida Gators

Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY SportsKerry Blackshear Jr.

Position: Forward

Year: Graduate transfer

Stats: 14.9 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.4 APG

Kerry Blackshear Jr. was a force in his three seasons with the Virginia Tech Hokies, but now he’ll be the guy for the Florida Gators as the most highly-coveted graduate transfer in the country. A second-team All-ACC player last year, expect Blackshear to dominate the conference and help No. 6 Florida take down SEC heavyweight Kentucky during the regular season.

6. Cole Anthony — North Carolina Tar Heels

Brian Spurlock/ReutersCole Anthony.

Position: Point guard

Year: Freshman

Stats: 18.0 PPG, 9.5 APG, 9.8 RPG (Oak Hill Academy)

Cole Anthony has been a top-ranked player in the class of 2019 for a long time, but his near-triple double on the Prep Circuit this past season was enough to get the college basketball world buzzing about his All-America team potential. The 6-foot-3 point guard is primed to lead a young, top-10 North Carolina Tarheel squad through a challenging ACC schedule, packing the stat sheet along the way.

5. Jordan Nwora — Lousiville Cardinals

Melina Myers-USA TODAY SportsJordan Nwora.

Position: Forward

Year: Junior

Stats: 17.0 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.3 APG

Not since before the Rick Pitino situation came to a head have the Louisville Cardinals had as much hype as they do heading into the 2019-20 season, and Jordan Nwora is undoubtedly their shining star. The 6-foot-7 forward was named the ACC’s most improved player and, despite blossoming into the sixth-leading scorer in the conference during his sophomore season, chose to return this year to lead a Louisville squad ranked fifth in the AP Top 25 Poll.

4. Myles Powell — Seton Hall Pirates

John David Mercer-USA TODAY SportsMyles Powell.

Position: Shooting guard

Year: Senior

Stats: 23.1 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.2 APG

Seton Hall senior Myles Powell is one of the best scorers in the nation, and with almost every major player from last year’s Pirates squad returning to the team, No. 12 Seton Hall primed to make a bid for the Big East championship and best their first-round NCAA tournament exit from last season. Powell averaged a whopping 23.1 points per game on 44.7% shooting from the floor last year, and this season, expect to see the 6-foot-2 guard with the ball in his hands far more than ever before.

3. James Wiseman — Memphis Tigers

Brian Spurlock/ReutersJames Wiseman.

Position: Centre

Year: Freshman

Stats: 25.8 PPG, 14.8 RPG, 5.5 BPG (Whitehaven High)

James Wiseman is the 2018-19 Gatorade player of the year and touted as the top recruit in this year’s incoming freshman class and is widely expected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft come June. He headlines an extremely impressive incoming class for second-year Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway, but as with any young team, growing pains will more than likely nag the Tigers. Various publications billed Wiseman a preseason All-America first-teamer, but we’ll have to see how he fares at the college level before fully buying in.

2. Cassius Winston — Michigan State Spartans

AP Photo/Al GoldisCassius Winston.

Position: Point guard

Year: Senior

Stats: 18.8 PPG, 7.5 APG, 3.0 RPG

If you’re looking for the best floor general in the NCAA, look no further than Michigan State’s Cassius Winston. The 6-foot-1 point guard chose to stay in East Lansing for his senior season despite earning a spot on last year’s All-America first team and becoming a lock for the NBA draft. His 7.5 assists per game made him the third most prolific distributor in the NCAA last season while his 18.8 points per game paced the Spartans and helped lead the team to head coach Tom Izzo’s eighth career final four. Winston is the overwhelming favourite for player of the year, and with Michigan State sitting pretty atop the AP Top 25 Poll rankings, it seems like a pretty safe bet to me.

1. Markus Howard — Marquette Golden Eagles

David Butler II/ReutersMarkus Howard.

Position: Point guard

Year: Senior

Stats: 25.0 PPG, 3.9 APG, 4.0 RPG

Though Markus Howard is a consensus pick for the preseason All-America first team, most have Michigan State’s Cassius Winston as a lock to win player of the year. No disrespect to Winston, who may be the most complete and polished player in the college game this season, but my gut tells me Howard will be this year’s “it” man, like Zion Williamson last year and Trae Young the year prior. The 5-foot-11 point guard has unmatched scoring potential, lighting up for three games with more than 45 points last season. And after choosing to reutrn for his senior year, Howard has the potential to improve upon an already impressive 25 points per game on 42% shooting from the floor and 40.3% shooting from beyond the arc.

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