7 College Basketball Players To Watch On The March To Madness

By Emily Van Buskirk / @Emilnem & Josh Naso / @silverfox8008

There is no denying that this season of college hoops has exceeded expectations early on. From upsets to overtimes to rotating No. 1 rankings, the parity has caught fans by surprise. With so many good teams across the country, more and more players are coming out of the woodwork, making it difficult to recognize and remember all the college basketball players you should watch.

We’ve got you covered. Here are some names you can throw around to demonstrate your college hoops chops.

Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State

He may only be a freshman, but Evans is doing big things for the Cowboys. He's averaging 12.9 points, 5.1 assists and 4.4 rebounds this season, and last week in the Bedlam game against rival Oklahoma, Evans put up 42 points. Yes, 42 points.

He set a program record for most points in a game by a first-year Cowboys player. In fact, he shattered the previous record, which was 29. It was also the most points by any Oklahoma State player in a Bedlam game and was the third-highest point total by a Cowboy in school history. Oklahoma State may only be 10-8 this season and 2-4 in Big 12 play, but Evans is a bright spot on the horizon for the program if he decides to stick around.

Chimezie Metu, USC

Not a conventional choice given that the struggle in the Pac-12 is very real this year, but USC has managed to find its way leading the "Pac" behind third-year head coach Andy Enfield. The Trojans are 15-3, 4-1 in conference play and ranked No. 25 in the AP poll. The cherry on top? USC defeated crosstown rivals UCLA 89-75 last week, during which freshman forward Chimezie Metu had a breakout game.

Metu posted a career-high 21 points, 14 of which he scored in the first half. His back-to-back buckets helped USC pull away, and his quickness and persistence helped him out at the rim against UCLA big Tony Parker. Metu is the speedy, athletic jump-shooter that USC needs if it wants to make a run this year.

Denzel Valentine, Michigan State

Michigan State started the season strong but has slipped as of late, which means that Spartans senior guard Denzel Valentine has relinquished some of his Player of the Year hold to other like Buddy Hield from Oklahoma and Kris Dunn from Providence. But don’t sleep on Sparty just yet.

Valentine suffered a setback with his minor knee surgery back in December, when the six-foot-five guard was averaging 18.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 7.1 assists before the surgery. Prior to the team’s loss to Nebraska Wednesday, however, he was only averaging 15.7, 5.3 and 4.7. Despite the Spartans' 72-71 loss to the Badgers, Valentine posted 24 points, six rebounds and six assists, and now he's back to the POY numbers: 18.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg and 6.6 apg. Yes, he could have won the game with a last-second shot, but give it some time — those shots will drop. Valentine is a gamer with the experience needed to navigate the madness that is March.

Jack Gibbs, Davidson

The 6-foot, 195-pound guard has made headlines this season by posting three 40-plus-point scoring games. He can shoot the three, but more impressive is his ability to get to the rim and finish. He uses a quick first step or an incredible spin move to get past defenders and into the lane, where he possesses a knack for finishing high-degree-of-difficulty layups among the trees.

Don’t let the 40-point outbursts or the 25.7 points per game scoring average fool you, though — this kid is a complete player. He also grabs 4.5 rebounds per game and dishes out 5.3 assists, dropping some of the most beautiful dimes you will see in the process. Gibbs has incredible patience, letting things unfold before making the right move, and at times he appears to lure defenders to the places he wants them in order to open up an easy bucket for a teammate. You should be watching him play every chance you get.

Buddy Hield, Oklahoma

There is really no excuse to be unaware of Buddy Hield at this point, but the fact that he is more well-known doesn’t take away from the excitement he provides. Hield is perhaps the most finished offensive player in the country. He is shooting over 50 from the field as well as from behind the arc and makes 90 percent of his free throws en route to a 26.1 points per game scoring average. In addition to his shooting, he is also a good finisher at the rim.

At 6-4, Hield is an excellent rebounder, averaging 5.6 per game. He is also fearless. He possesses that killer instinct and wants the ball in the big spots. Oklahoma has risen to the top of the rankings, and despite this week’s loss to Iowa State, the Sooners look to be a major threat to reach the Final Four with Hield in the driver’s seat.

Ben Simmons, LSU

Another well-known name here, Simmons entered the season as the No. 1 freshman in the country. He has not disappointed. All he’s done is average 19.4 points, 12.8 rebounds, and 5.1 assists a game despite playing on a confounding LSU team that just can’t put it together.

The thing about Simmons is that the numbers don’t tell his whole story, as incredible as they are. To truly appreciate this kid’s game, you have to watch him play. At 6-10, he does the things you would expect a player at his size to do: rebound and finish around the basket. But he offers so much more. His handle and passing ability are on par with, if not better than, most guards. He can beat you a bunch of different ways, and it is a pleasure to watch him play.

Ben Bentil, Providence

The 6-9 Bentil entered his sophomore season overshadowed by his All-Conference teammate Kris Dunn, but it didn’t take long for him to show he deserves every bit as much attention. Through 19 games, he is leading the Big East in scoring at 19.2 points per game. He also grabs nearly eight rebounds per game. Bentil is an absolute monster down low and has worked to develop a fairly consistent midrange jump shot. He has astonishingly good footwork for a player his age and is a ferocious rebounder.

He is reminiscent of Ben Wallace with a more refined offensive game, and watching him play conjures images of a Wallace-Charles Barkley hybrid. It will be fun to see if he can continue to grow his game, and if he can, the Big East and the country should be on notice.

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