The 10 Most Exciting Players in College Basketball
NCAA basketball is a multi-million dollar business, but it’s also a game, and some players excel at making that game fun to watch whenever they step on the floor.
As Tim Duncan has proven to the dismay of NBA broadcasters, not every great player gets fans on their feet, but the ones who do can make even an ordinary regular-season contest an event to be witnessed.
One star who’s already provided plenty of demonstrations of that fact is Creighton’s Doug McDermott. The two-time All-American heads into his final collegiate campaign looking to top the 41 points he scored on 15-for-18 shooting to clinch the regular-season conference crown for his Blue Jays last March.
Herein, a closer look at McDermott’s eye-popping offensive potential and nine more of the most entertaining, most watchable stars in college hoops for next season.
10. Davante Gardner, Marquette
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No player in the country wears his heart on his sleeve quite the way that Davante Gardner does. Of course, few can match the size of either his heart, or his sleeve.
Marquette’s emotional leader will need to lead the Golden Eagles in rebounding again, and in scoring, for the team to make a run at the title in the reshuffled Big East.
That means lots of opportunities to make—and celebrate—big plays, not to mention lots of chances to absorb highlight-worthy fouls (another side effect of being a 6’8”, 290-pound center).
9. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
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Much like Baylor’s Isaiah Austin, Willie Cauley-Stein makes plays that a seven-foot center has no business making. Where the trey-firing Austin makes most of his with finesse, though, the Wildcat standout mixes in a healthy dose of power at 7’0” and 244 pounds.
Cauley-Stein is a former high school wide receiver who can fly up and down the court for some impressive dunks.
He’s even better as a highlight-reel shot-blocker (2.1 rejections per game last season), especially because he can close the distance to a shooter so quickly.
8. Doug McDermott, Creighton
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Doug McDermott is boring only insofar as he’s ridiculously consistent. On the other hand, there isn’t a player in college hoops more likely to turn a game into his personal H-O-R-S-E exhibition.
McDermott, who shoots .548 from the field and .490 (!) from three-point range, swishes shots that other players wouldn’t even get up.
Any fan who wants to see a 40-point game (or more) needs to keep Creighton and its star on their radar.
7. Aaron Craft, Ohio State
Not every fan tunes in with the hope of seeing great defense, but nobody makes defense more watchable than Aaron Craft.
The tireless point guard harasses opposing ball-handlers from one end of the floor to the other, pouncing on mistakes like a Labrador bounding after a tennis ball.
Craft is building a reputation as a big-time clutch performer after a junior year highlighted by his game-winning trey against Iowa State in the NCAA tournament.
He also serves up some of the best alley-oop passes around, a skill that will provide plenty of highlights for the likes of LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson next season.
6. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
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Although he’s a small forward rather than a shooting guard, Andrew Wiggins is the spiritual successor to Jayhawks scoring leader Ben McLemore.
Not only can the freshman fire up the crowd with one-man scoring runs, but he can do it with style to spare.
Wiggins may well have an NBA dunk-contest title in his future, and he’s just as adept at burying jump shots over helpless defenders.
The long-armed youngster will also rack up his share of steals, giving him plenty of unobstructed runways to take off for fast-break slams.
5. Jahii Carson, Arizona State
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Jahii Carson is far and away Arizona State's biggest attraction. Still, there’s one small problem with watching the Sun Devils’ 5’10” dynamo: blink and you’ll miss him.
Carson is on the shortlist for the title of fastest player in college hoops, and whether he’s out on his own in transition or slicing through the defense in the half-court, he turns that speed into points (18.5 per game last year).
He’s also a top choice for sleight-of-hand passes, which are the only way many of his offensively-challenged teammates get to score.
4. Chris Walker, Florida
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Freshman PF Chris Walker’s greatest strength lies in running the floor and finishing in transition with his phenomenal quickness and leaping ability.
He’ll have a wealth of opportunities to show off that skill set at Florida, where Billy Donovan’s stifling defense creates fast breaks in bunches.
Not only is Walker—this year’s winner of the dunk contest at the McDonald’s All-America festivities—a slam artist on offense, but he’ll also have a hand in starting plenty of those fast breaks with his defense.
His long arms (at 6’9”) and agility help make him just as adept at improbable rejections as he is at crowd-pleasing jams.
3. Adreian Payne, Michigan State
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For sheer athleticism, Adreian Payne is as impressive as any player in the NCAA. The 6’10”, 240-pound center is a low-post banger who can also soar and slam like a small forward.
Payne’s ability to beat opposing big men off the dribble gives him plenty of openings for dunks or mid-range jumpers in the half-court offense.
He’s an eye-catching defender, too, using his length and mobility to swat 1.3 shots per game last season.
2. Russ Smith, Louisville
Whenever Russ Smith gets the ball in transition, opposing coaches cringe. There isn’t a better player in the country at accelerating down the floor and beating the defense for a fast-break layup.
Even when the D is ready for him, Smith turns heads with his circus finishes. At 6’1”, he’s got plenty of experience challenging bigger defenders, and somehow he always seems to get the ball to the rim, regardless of how many opponents get in his way.
1. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
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It makes very little difference what fans are looking for from Marcus Smart, because the superstar point guard delivers pretty much everything.
He’s coming off a freshman year in which he posted 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 3.0 steals (second-best in the country) in an average night’s work.
The 6’4”, 225-pound Cowboy is especially impressive when he's using his size and strength to attack the rim, often embarrassing bigger defenders in the process.
It doesn’t hurt that he led one of the most memorable regular-season upsets of 2012-13 by taking OSU into Lawrence and toppling mighty Kansas on its home floor.