10 players to watch in college hoops in 2021-22

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Another college hoops season begins Tuesday evening with the annual Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden.

Between returning collegiate stars and another wave of talented freshmen, there are plenty of names worth keeping tabs on.

Here are 10 players to watch throughout the 2021-22 campaign.

Drew Timme, F, Gonzaga

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Drew Timme is the most significant holdover from last season's powerhouse Gonzaga squad. The 6-foot-10 forward thrived as a full-time starter, averaging 19 points, seven boards, and 2.3 assists across 32 appearances in 2020-21. He also registered the NCAA's third-highest field-goal percentage (65.5%) and earned the Karl Malone Award as the top power forward in college basketball.

The Bulldogs will once again count on Timme to shoulder the offensive load. Adding freshman phenom Chet Holmgren will open up space for him to operate in the post. Timme was virtually unstoppable at the rim a year ago, converting 76.5% of his attempts, per Hoop-Math.com.

Paolo Banchero, F, Duke

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Paolo Banchero has a strong case to be college basketball's best NBA prospect. The 6-foot-9 forward from Seattle is the perfect blend of explosiveness, skill, and versatility.

Banchero will get plenty of opportunities in the spotlight as Duke's best player during Coach K's final season at the helm. It wouldn't be surprising to see him average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, something only six freshmen have done in the 21st century. Considering four of those players became top-two draft picks, expect immediate superstardom from Duke's new phenom.

Chet Holmgren, C, Gonzaga

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It's easy to see why some people have described Holmgren as a unicorn. The 7-foot-1 big man has a combination of skills that few players at his height possess. He's an intimidating rim-protector, capable ball-handler, and a perimeter threat.

Holmgren is built for the modern NBA and provided a glimpse of his potential at the FIBA U19 World Cup this past summer, averaging 11.9 points, 6.1 boards, 3.3 assists, and 2.7 blocks en route to earning tournament MVP honors. A Holmgren-Timme frontcourt tandem is arguably the nation's best and gives Gonzaga another shot at its first national championship.

Johnny Juzang, G, UCLA

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Johnny Juzang's shotmaking and clutch play made him a household name during UCLA's Final Four run last season. The California native averaged 22.5 points on 50.9% shooting over six appearances in the Big Dance. His 137 total points were the second-most by a Bruins player in a single NCAA Tournament.

Juzang declared for the NBA draft in the offseason but later withdrew his name. UCLA is a bonafide contender with the 6-foot-6 wing back leading its offensive attack.

Jaden Ivey, G, Purdue

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Jaden Ivey started his first game for Purdue midway through his freshman year in 2020-21. He impressed in an expanded role after some early struggles, averaging 14.8 points, 3.9 boards, 2.4 assists, 1.3 blocks, and 1.1 steals over 12 appearances in the Boilermakers' first five.

The 19-year-old carried that momentum into the international stage last summer. Ivey emerged as Team USA's lead guard at the FIBA U19 World Cup and earned All-Tournament honors over the likes of consensus top-10 recruits Patrick Baldwin and Kennedy Chandler.

Ivey's time around a stacked American roster should give him the confidence to lead a talented Purdue squad deep into March.

Kofi Cockburn, C, Illinois

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Kofi Cockburn puts the "big" in big man. The bruising 7-foot, 285-pound center dominated his way to the AP All-American second team last season and helped lead Illinois to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Cockburn will have to become the sole centerpiece for the Fighting Illini in 2021-22 now that he's without his partner in crime Ayo Dosunmu.

Despite his uncanny ability to finish around the rim and rebound the ball, Cockburn will need to improve his 55% free-throw mark and putrid 1:10 assist-to-turnover ratio to truly take the next step.

Marcus Carr, G, Texas

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After a phenomenal statistical season at Minnesota last year, Marcus Carr enters the national spotlight playing for an NCAA championship contender at Texas.

Carr finished sixth nationally in shot attempts last season, but he'll become more of a facilitator this campaign for a Longhorns squad with a plethora of proven scorers. The Canadian playmaker's speed and ball skills could put him in contention to lead Division I in assists per game. Expect Carr to be the one making the big play when the game reaches its final moments.

Max Abmas, G, Oral Roberts

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Max Abmas was a relatively unknown player to college basketball fans until he exploded on the scene by leading 15-seeded Oral Roberts to a magical Sweet 16 run. Now, all eyes are on last season's leading scorer for an encore performance.

It might be tough for the Golden Eagles to replicate the previous year's success without stretch-big Kevin Obanor in the fold, but Abmas' gaudy stats are still within reach. Even if fans aren't watching Oral Roberts all season, they'll certainly be checking nightly box scores for Abmas' name.

Emoni Bates, F, Memphis

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Emoni Bates has been in the spotlight long before committing to Memphis. The freshman forward was labeled an NBA prodigy and featured on Sports Illustrated's cover when he was only 15. Scouts even compared Bates' game to LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

The 17-year-old can handle the rock, score at all three levels, and has shown playmaking promise. Only time will tell if Bates lives up to the hype, but there isn't a more intriguing player to follow this season.

Kenneth Lofton Jr., F, Louisiana Tech

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Louisiana Tech's Kenneth Lofton is a can't-miss player after leading the United States in scoring at this summer's FIBA U19 World Cup. At 6-foot-7, 275 pounds, he has unique measurables that make him a joy to watch.

He'll also be the leading scorer on a strong Bulldogs team with NCAA Tournament aspirations. Lofton could see his stardom rise as high as Abmas among mid-major icons.

10 players to watch in college hoops in 2021-22
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