The 25 Most Exciting Players to Watch in College Basketball

Avi Wolfman-ArentCorrespondent IIJanuary 31, 2013

The 25 Most Exciting Players to Watch in College Basketball

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    All the recent buzz about Ole Miss shooting guard Marshall Henderson got us thinking: Who are our 25 favorite players to watch in today's college basketball?

    Not the best. Not the most efficient. Not even the hardest to guard.

    We're talking pure entertainment value, whether from substance of play or vibrancy of character.

    Of the roughly 3,600 players eligible for this esteemed honor, these are the 25 that grabbed our attention. Add your nominees—with courtesy, if possible—in the comments below.

25. Travis Bader, Oakland University

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    Stats: 21.6 ppg, 248 three-pointers attempted

    Signature Performance: 47 points, 11 three-pointers against IUPUI. (1/24)

    Wow Factor: If you like shooting, you're a Travis Bader fan. With 47 points last Thursday against IUPUI, the Oakland University junior set a Division I season high for points in a single game. Bader has now scored 25 points or more in eight games this year.

24. Isaiah Canaan, Murray State

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    Stats: 21.1 ppg, 4.1 apg and 35.0 mpg.

    Signature Performance: 30 points on 6-of-11 three-point shooting against Old Dominion. (11/24)

    Wow Factor: Isaiah Canaan isn't big. He isn't all that quick. He won't blow you away with his handle. But he can score. And score. And score some more. The nation's eighth-leading scorer has been a pint-sized dynamo for Murray State ever since stepping on campus four years ago. Catch him while you still can.

23. Chris Obekpa, St. John's

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    Stats: 3.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 4.6 blocks per game, Tops in the nation in block percentage, 23.1 percent free-throw shooter.

    Signature Performance: 7 points, 5 rebounds, 11 blocks against Fordham. (12/8)

    Wow Factor: Obekpa, a freshman, has one of the nation's nuttiest stat lines: 115 rebounds, 91 blocks and 78 points. Not only is it fun to watch the native Nigerian control the paint, in a schadenfreude-y kind of way it's pretty fun to watch him do everything else on the basketball court. Until Obekpa develops further on the offensive end, enjoy the dichotomy.

22. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Georgia

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    Stats: 17.5 ppg, 2.4 steals per game.

    Signature Performance: 25 points on 10-of-14 shooting against USC. (12/22)

    Wow Factor: Georgia's demonstrable lack of talent is part of what makes Caldwell-Pope such a joy to watch. The sophomore shooting guard is a dead-eye marksmen with A-plus leaping ability and a NBA body. Stranded on the 8-11 Bulldogs, he gets ample opportunity to flaunt it. (Bonus points for the name, too.)

21. C.J. McCollum, Lehigh

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    Stats: 23.9 ppg, Fifth nationally in percentage of shots taken.

    Signature Performance: 36 points on opening night against Baylor. (11/9)

    Wow Factor: The silky scorer responsible for ending Duke's 2012 tournament run is sidelined with a foot injury and may not return this season. But even in absentia, McCollum deserves a spot on this list. The best small-college scorer in America doesn't play much above the rim, but his fluidity in tight spaces—along with a deft shooting touch—recalls the exploits of Davidson alum Stephen Curry. It's not often we get to see such routine mismatches in talent level, even in the college game.

20. Andre Roberson, Colorado

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    Stats: 10.8 ppg, 11.6 rpg, and fourth in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage.

    Signature Performance: 17 points, 20 rebounds in a win over Fresno State. (12/12)

    Wow Factor: Roberson, who never met a rim he couldn't rock, plays with an infectiously high energy level that complements his insane athleticism. He's a heck of a rebounder, too—if that's your bag. And if it isn't, let me reiterate:  Roberson dunks, a lot.

19. Isaiah Austin, Baylor

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    Stats: 14.8 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 36.2 percent from the three point line.

    Signature Performance: 20 points, 8 rebounds against Gonzaga. (12/28)

    Wow Factor: Outside of Kevin Durant, there isn't a player I can think of whose game even remotely resembles Austin's. He's a true seven-footer, with a guard's handle in the open court and a jump shot that suggests he could play anywhere between center and small forward at the next level. Add to it the fact that Austin has no discernible muscle mass, and you've got a truly unique collection of parts.

18. Archie Goodwin, Kentucky

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    Stats: 15.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg an second in the SEC in fouls drawn per 40 minutes.

    Signature Performance: 24 points on 12-of-14 from the line in road win over Ole Miss. (1/29)

    Wow Factor: Though his play is often erratic and his shot needs a makeover, true freshman Archie Goodwin could well be the nation's most electrifying player off the dribble. He's near impossible to keep out of the lane, and once Goodwin does get to the cup he's one of the more athletic finishers you'll ever see.

17. Doug McDermott, Creighton

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    Stats: 23.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 51.6 percent from three point range and seventh nationally in true shooting percentage.

    Signature Performance: 30 points, 8 rebounds in win over Wisconsin. (11/23)

    Wow Factor: McDermott, a middling athlete with questionable NBA potential, is the type of player who shouldn't be on this list. He doesn't throw down. He isn't a reckless offensive deviant. He doesn't mean-mug the crowd or append any antics to his (many, many) makes. But he does score, and with the kind of devastating efficiency that demands appreciation. Perhaps it's a more intellectual kind of appreciation than a reverence-filled one, but it's an appreciation nonetheless.

16. Markel Brown, Oklahoma State

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    Stats: 14.8 ppg and takes 25.4 percent of available shots.

    Signature Performance: 21 points on 6-of-8 shooting against Texas Tech, including this beauty. (1/19)

    Wow Factor: The name on the YouTube clip says it all, "Markel Brown 2 Huge Dunks 2 Technical Fouls and Ejection." Brown isn't just a great dunker, he's a mean dunker. He's a ruin-your-day-shame-your-family-fearless-beyond-human-recognition kind of dunker. Exactly the kind of dunker you want to watch.

15. Nate Wolters, South Dakota State

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    Stats: 21.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 5.7 apg.

    Signature Performance: 28 points in upset road win over New Mexico. (12/22)

    Wow Factor: For pure below-the-rim offensive play, South Dakota State's Nate Wolters is as good as it gets. The 6'4" floor general turned heads last year when he led his Jackrabbits to victory over a Washington squad packed with blue-chip talent. Since then, the smooth-dribbling Steve Nash play-a-like has gained a cult following among dedicated college fans and even garnered the attention of NBA scouts.

14. Erick Green, Virginia Tech

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    Stats: 25.5 ppg, leads ACC in offensive efficiency, fouls drawn per 40 minutes and percentage of possessions used.

    Signature Performance: Scored 28 points (20 after intermission) in leading the Hokies to an overtime road win at Georgia Tech. (1/12)

    Wow Factor: Green, the nation's leading scorer, has flourished under the more attack-oriented approach of new head coach James Johnson. And although he has almost no help around him, Green has managed to balance high-volume scoring with admirable efficiency. There's nothing especially flashy about his game, but the 6'3" slasher has a nice first step and a knack for putting the ball in the hoop. And we like watching the ball go in the hoop, right?

13. Russ Smith, Louisville

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    Stats: 18.4 ppg, among the nation's top 40 in percentage of shots taken, percentage of possessions used and steal percentage.

    Signature Performance: 21 points (17 in second half), 7 rebounds, 3 steals against Kentucky. (12/29)

    Wow Factor: "Russdiculous" is a chucker on offense, a gnat on defense and a tightly coiled jumble of human joy in the typical post-game melee. Louisville's shooting guard won't take home any prizes for efficiency, but he will take shots. Lots of them. And when they go in it's very entertaining television.

12. Trey Burke, Michigan

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    Stats: 17.9 ppg, 7.1 apg and 15th nationally in offensive efficiency rating.

    Signature Performance: 18 points and 11 assists against NC State. (11/27)

    Wow Factor: The near-consensus favorite for Player of the Year won't wow you with athleticism, but Burke is the kind of heady floor general that hard-core basketball fans love. Now more than ever—with defenses imposing their will across the college landscape—it's refreshing to see a well-coordinated attack like Michigan's. And Burke, a Columbus, OH native, is the man at the helm.

11. C.J. Leslie, North Carolina State

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    Stats: 15.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg and fourth in the ACC in fouls drawn per 40 minutes.

    Signature Performance: 25 points in upset of then-number-one Duke.

    Wow Factor: Leslie can be a bit hit-or-miss, much like the rest of this Wolfpack team. But when the 6'9" forward is on, he's a rare combination of size, finishing ability and open-court skill. Witnessing Leslie run point on a fast break is one of college basketball's true joys.

10. Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State

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    Stats: 20.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg, ranks 30th nationally in percentage of shots taken and 24th in turnover rate.

    Signature Performance: 25 points in 40 minutes against Wisconsin. (1/29)

    Wow Factor: I'm not sure how to describe Thomas' game except to say that he scores. Inside. Outside. Twisting through the lane. Buckets upon buckets upon buckets. I can't think of a single elite player on a top-25 team that gets less help from his teammates than Thomas. And the fact that he has to shoulder the load in America's toughest conference is what makes Thomas so remarkable to watch.

9. Victor Oladipo, Indiana

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    Stats: 14.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, and second nationally in effective field goal percentage.

    Signature Performance: 21 points, 7 rebounds and 6 steals against Michigan State. (1/27)

    Wow Factor: Indiana may have more talented players, but do-it-all guard Victor Oladipo is easily my favorite Hoosier to watch. No player approaches his defensive assignments with more manifest zeal than the 6'5" DeMatha product, even when that requires marking players two-to-three inches taller. And the dude can leap a little, too.

8. Alex Len, Maryland

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    Stats: 12.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg and third in the ACC in offensive rebounding percentage.

    Signature Performance: 10 points, 6 rebounds, game-winning tip-in against NC State. (1/16)

    Wow Factor: Who is Alex Len? Just a 7'1" center who can face-up from the outside, blow by other bigs on the dribble and finish at the rim like a remorseless assassin. If Maryland had better guard play, the Ukrainian sensation could do even more damage. For now, we'll have to settle for the occasional glimpse (see above video) and the promise of better things to come in the NBA.

7. Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse

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    Stats: 12.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg and 8.9 apg (leads nation)

    Signature Performance: 16 points, 7 assists and game-winning steal against top-ranked Louisville. (1/19)

    Wow Factor: Mistake prone? Sure. Erratic? At times. But when he's on, Carter-Williams is the best and most creative distributor in the country. And as the video above will attest, he's not bad going to the hoop either.

6. Mason Plumlee, Duke

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    Stats: 18.1 ppg, 11.1 rpg and second in the ACC in fouls drawn per 40 minutes.

    Signature Performance: 21 points and 17 rebounds against Ohio State. (11/28)

    Wow Factor: I knew Plumlee was athletic. I knew the guy was active around the rim. But this dunk against Maryland on Saturday is what did it for me. Two-handed reverse slam off a teammate's miss? That ain't right.

5. Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA

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    Stats: 18.4 ppg, 42.6 percent from three and third in the PAC-12 in percentage of available shots taken.

    Signature Performance: 27 points in overtime upset of Missouri. (12/28)

    Wow Factor: Muhammad is the UCLA offense, which means every Bruins game is a chance to see the nation's second-ranked recruit do work. The Las Vegas-born freshman is an elite athlete capable of scoring anywhere on the floor, whether it's a put-back inside or a long-range three. There is very little this young man can't do with the ball in his hands.

    As a side bar, I should also mention that his teammate, Kyle Anderson, is a great watch, too. The 6'9" freshman combines incredible length and rebounding skill with some of the more innovative passing you'll ever see from a big man in space.

4. Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss

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    Stats: 19.3 ppg and 218 three-point attempts.

    Signature Performance: 15 points on 13 three-point attempts against Auburn...oh and this. (1/26)

    Wow Factor: JUCO-transfer Marshall Henderson is a glory-hog gunner with the social graces of a feral rottweiler. He's also the best reason to watch Ole Miss basketball in, like, forever. The man is willing to try anything on the court and say/gesture anything off of it. Even if you hate Henderson now, I guarantee you'll miss him later.

    Addendum: Henderson may generate more headlines, but the best late-game shooter in college basketball is Florida State's Michael Snaer. Snaer delivered yet another game-winner on Wednesday against Maryland.

3. Anthony Bennett, UNLV

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    Stats: 18.1 ppg, 8.6 rpg and fourth in the Mountain West in true shooting percentage.

    Signature Performance: 25 points and 13 rebounds in road win over Cal. (12/9)

    Wow Factor: Bennett takes home the Wilt Chamberlain Memorial Man-Among-Boys Award for sheer physical domination. UNLV's freshman sensation out-muscles foes on the inside and blows by them on the bounce, flashing a complete offensive game that belies his 19 years. One of the few players in the country guaranteed to illicit a "well, that's unfair" every time he steps onto the court.

2. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky

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    Stats: 10.2 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 4.7 blocks per game and among nation's top 70 in block percentage and steal percentage.

    Signature Performance: 2 points, 7 rebounds and 12 blocks in road win against Ole Miss. (1/29)

    Wow Factor: Noel is unquestionably the nation's best, and most entertaining, defensive player. Not only does the former top-ranked recruit try to block every shot he sees, he tries to send them into orbit. That is unless he's patrolling the passing lanes for a steal and run out, which he does with incredible aplomb for a man his size. And while his offense needs major work, Noel is still good for a slam or two per game. Just change the channel when its his turn at the line, ok?

1. Ben McLemore, Kansas

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    Stats: 16.1 ppg, 45.1 percent from three and 64.6 percent true shooting percentage.

    Signature Performance: 33 points, game-tying three at the end of regulation against Iowa State. (1/9)

    Wow Factor: No player has done more to improve his NBA draft stock this season than redshirt freshman Ben McLemore. With his peerless combination of shooting touch and above-the-rim play, McLemore has that rare ability to take over games against even the highest quality opponents. Watch him play a time or two and you realize those Ray Allen comparisons might not be so crazy.