Underhyped CBB Players You Should Start Paying Attention to ASAP
Star players on mid-major teams generally don't enter the spotlight until March Madness, and sometimes that doesn't even happen. Upsets in conference tournaments will prevent a few standouts from ever receiving their due.
The fix is simple: Highlight them in January, well before the possibility of a season-altering loss.
Players from schools in consensus high-major conferences (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC) are not considered. Anyone else, short of Gonzaga—though Joel Ayayi deserves a mention here—is eligible for inclusion.
The emphasis is on players who are considered team leaders and have both high-level efficiency and production.
Terry Taylor, Austin Peay
Because of a 4-3 start in Ohio Valley Conference play, Austin Peay's March Madness hopes will depend on winning the conference tournament.
Thankfully, the Governors have Terry Taylor.
In 113 career games, he's racked up 19.5 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. Taylor is a three-time All-OVC guard who earned OVC Player of the Year honors in 2019-20. He's averaging 21.2 points and 10.8 rebounds so far this season, and he ranks ninth nationally with 2.2 offensive win shares, per Sports Reference.
As long as Taylor is healthy, Austin Peay is capable of pulling off a surprise in the OVC tournament.
Grayson Murphy and Nick Muszynski, Belmont
Belmont's free-flowing, efficient offense is largely a credit to Grayson Murphy and Nick Muszynski.
On the outside, Murphy helps initiate the four-out attack. In the post, Muszynski is constantly moving to create space both for himself—he leads the team in scoring at 15.4 points per game—and teammates on screens, drives, cuts and so on.
Murphy is averaging a team-high 7.5 rebounds and 4.8 assists, along with 10.2 points and 2.3 steals per game. He also shoots 35.1 percent from three, which is solid for a No. 4 perimeter option.
They've propelled Belmont to a 16-1 start, including a 10-0 mark in OVC action, and top-20 rankings in offensive rating, true shooting percentage and effective field-goal percentage.
Roman Penn, Drake
Roman Penn is an ideal primary ball-handler: reliable, composed and capable of taking over as a scorer once in a while.
Through 15 games, Penn has dished five-plus assists 10 times. He's also cracked the 20-point mark three times, guiding the Bulldogs to a perfect 15-0 record.
Most importantly, though, Penn is adept at creating open perimeter looks. Drake—which ranks in the top 10 nationally in three-point percentage—has five rotation players shooting 38.9 percent or better from beyond the arc, including Penn at 42.9.
Overall, he's averaging 13.0 points and 5.2 assists. Led by Penn and top scorer ShanQuan Hemphill, Drake has established itself as a prime upset threat in March Madness.
Cameron Krutwig, Loyola Chicago
Three seasons ago, Loyola made a brilliant run to the Final Four. Cameron Krutwig held a starting role but served as a complement to the upperclassmen-heavy rotation.
Now, he's the star.
Krutwig doesn't look like an overwhelming force, but he has a terrific understanding of angles and how to set up defenders. He's averaging a team-high 14.7 points on 62.6 percent shooting, 5.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game.
If the Ramblers get sharper on the perimeter as the season progresses, they have the potential to be a thorn in both the Missouri Valley and NCAA tournaments.
Marreon Jackson, Toledo
Toledo last appeared in the NCAA tournament during the 1979-80 season, but that streak may be ending this year.
Ryan Rollins, Spencer Littleson and Setric Millner are each averaging 12-plus points, so this isn't a one-man show. Still, the Rockets lean heavily on Marreon Jackson. He leads the team in both scoring (17.0) and assists (5.5) and is shooting 35.8 percent from deep. Additionally, he's swiping 2.1 steals per game, which ranks second in the MAC.
Jackson, a second-team All-MAC performer last season, has powered Toledo to a 14-4 record that includes an 9-1 mark in conference play.
Javonte Perkins and Jordan Goodwin, Saint Louis
Saint Louis had five games postponed after several players and coaches tested positive for COVID-19. When the Billikens hosted Dayton on Jan. 26, it was their first contest since toppling UKMC two days before Christmas.
Javonte Perkins and Jordan Goodwin are the foundation of why, despite that pause, Saint Louis remained in the Top 25.
Both players earned All-Atlantic 10 honors last season and are trending that way again. Perkins has a team-best 18.0 points per game and 50.0 three-point percentage, while Goodwin is averaging 16.2 points, 11.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.9 steals.
How exactly the NCAA tournament selection committee will handle a coronavirus-related stoppage is unclear. But if the Billikens are in, this duo could propel them to the Sweet 16.
Neemias Queta, Utah State
Neemias Queta is an absolute force.
On the offensive end, he's averaging a team-high 12.4 points per game on 59.4 percent shooting. Queta also ranks second on the team at 3.0 assists per game. Though those aren't overwhelming numbers, they speak to his impact.
However, that is the "weak" part of his game. Queta leads the nation in defensive rating, defensive win shares and defensive box plus/minus while averaging 9.4 rebounds, 3.0 blocks and 1.3 steals.
Since 1992-93, only Tim Duncan, Bo Outlaw and Dominic McGuire have comparable numbers over a full season, per Sports Reference. If you're in Duncan territory, that's downright incredible.
Nah'Shon Hyland, VCU
VCU might be the most aggravating team in the country, ranking first in block percentage and second in steal rate. Nah'Shon "Bones" Hyland is the chief instigator with 2.2 steals per game, which ranks second in the A-10.
But the Rams primarily depend on Hyland for offense, too.
The sophomore is averaging a team-high 18.6 points per game, which is 8.1 higher than VCU's No. 2 scorer. This season, he's one of only 20 players to score 28-plus three times. Hyland has connected on 37.6 percent of his threes and added 1.7 assists per game.
VCU's shortage of complementary scoring is concerning, but Hyland is the type of player who can throw a roster on his back for a few upset wins.
Chandler Vaudrin, Winthrop
Even though he's Winthrop's leading scorer, Chandler Vaudrin didn't crack the 20-point barrier until the 15th game of the season. Winthrop spreads the offensive load across a 10- or 11-man rotation.
However, the Eagles rely on Vaudrin for, well, everything else.
Along with his 12.6 points per game, he's posted team-high averages of 7.6 assists, 6.9 rebounds and 1.5 steals. Vaudrin—who's posted two triple-doubles so far this season—ranks fourth among Winthrop rotation players with a 37.5 three-point percentage. He's the maestro of a fast-paced attack that ranks 18th nationally in scoring.
Winthrop is highly dependent on Vaudrin, who's the only player logging 25-plus minutes per game or averaging two-plus assists. But with a 15-0 record, there's no arguing the results.