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25 most important players of the '20-21 college hoops season

Of all the major sports, college basketball may have been hit the hardest ... on the field of play ... by the pandemic. Not only did it slam the brakes on the 2019-2020 season, but it did so during conference championship week and wiped out the NCAA tournament. Other sports found a way to crown a champion but college hoops fans lost out on one of sports most electric events.

College basketball will need to find a way to start some momentum. The NBA Draft, which helps remind us all of the talent that exists in college basketball, was held a week before Thanksgiving and may give college hoops a bit of a push as the games begin in a few days. A lot was lost last season that we won't get back but it may cause us to embrace the upcoming season and all that we gain.

Just like any other year, there are exciting teams and outstanding players to enjoy and root for until April. Sure, the schedule is shorter and we will inevitably have to deal with the postponements and cancellations as the other sports have had to endure but hopefully we will have a season that will end with a tournament and a national champion.

And there is no shortage of players who will captivate our minds during the season. Even as we break down 25 of he most important players of the upcoming season, there are always players who come out of the woodwork to excite us (here's lookin' at you, Obi Toppin!). So let's take a look at the top players to watch for in 2020-2021.

 
1 of 25

Scottie Barnes, Florida State

Scottie Barnes, Florida State
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Last season, Florida State was heading towards a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament before the sport shut down. This year, the Seminoles welcome their highest recruit in program history. Barnes is 6'9 with long arms and can create his own shot and be a playmaker for his teammates. With lottery picks Patrick Williams and Devin Vassell gone, Barnes could come in and be the athletic wing or stretch four on offense and a lock down defender and shot blocker on defense. 

 
2 of 25

BJ Boston, Kentucky

BJ Boston, Kentucky
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Boston is the answer to the annual question, "so who is the big freshman Kentucky has this year?" Boston ... a big wing ... is a scorer. He has a high motor and an aggressive style to his game which will not only fit perfect in John Calipari's system but will be much needed on a team that lost nearly everyone from last season's squad. 

 
3 of 25

James Bouknight, UConn

James Bouknight, UConn
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Bouknight made a splash in his freshman season -- averaging 13 points a game but nearly 16 points once he became a starter. He scored at least 16 points in ten of the Huskies final eleven games of the season and was playing major minutes for coach Danny Hurley. Now that UConn is leaving the AAC for the Big East, his competition will be much tougher. If he can star against the grind of the Big East, not only will he delight NBA scouts but the Huskies will get the program back on track.

 
4 of 25

Garrison Brooks, North Carolina

Garrison Brooks, North Carolina
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One of the silver linings of a dismal 2019-2020 season for the Tar Heels was the play of Garrison Brooks. The ACC's Most Improved Player last season added a much improved perimeter shot and was a beast on the boards. His rebounding numbers may go down a bit this year with the improvement of Armando Bacot and stellar freshmen big men Day'Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler coming in. There is a lot of youth that will play a lot for Roy Williams' squad this year and will lean on Brooks to lead them back to the ACC's elite.

 
5 of 25

Jared Butler, Baylor

Jared Butler, Baylor
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Butler has a smooth, effortless shooting stroke that it almost looks like it is slow motion. He is a solid ball handler who can get to his spots or shake defenders (he's got a great step-back move). When he gets on fire ... he is scorching! He can also have some really off nights as well. If he gets more consistent, the Bears could find themselves in the Final Four. 

 
6 of 25

Kihei Clark, Virginia

Kihei Clark, Virginia
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As a freshman, Clark was a role player for the Cavaliers team that won the national championship. Last year, Clark was asked to be more of a scorer which didn't fit his game. He was an outstanding playmaker, averaging just shy of 6 assists per game (which is amazing for the low possession system Virginia runs). Tony Bennett has hit the transfer market and in recruiting to fill the Wahoos with more scoring-oriented players so that Clark can excel in his playmaking role. Virginia is capable of going back-to-canceled-tournament-back. 

 
7 of 25

Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State

Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State
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Cunningham is the top freshman prospect this year and is set up to have a big year at Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are banned from postseason play so expect Cunningham to show all the skills that could make him the top pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. He has it all: size, strength, passing ability, shooting and athleticism. He is a great scorer who also makes his teammates better. What this freshman class lacks in depth, Cunningham makes up for in his sheer star power.

 
8 of 25

Oscar da Silva, Stanford

Oscar da Silva, Stanford
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Freshman sensation Ziaire Williams will get the most publicity for the Cardinal but Oscar da Silva will be the go-to player. If Stanford is going to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014, Silva (the Cardinal's leading scorer and rebounder) will need to continue to be the steadying influence of the offense. He shot 57% last year and concentrated on his low post and mid-range touches. 

 
9 of 25

Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois

Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois
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When Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn decided to come back to Illinois, it instantly put the Illini as national championship contenders. Dosunmu broke out last season and showed a flair for the dramatic ... most notably with his game-winner against Michigan. If he can shoot better from the three point arc, he'll be devastating for Big Ten opponents. 

 
10 of 25

John Fulkerson, Tennessee

John Fulkerson, Tennessee
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Fulkerson is a great example of a role player on some great teams that blossomed into a go-to player by his senior year. Just a spot minutes guy during the Schofield-Williams-Bone era, he had a breakthrough season as a redshirt junior (137 pts, 5.9 rbs). He is an outstanding post player (shooting 61% last year) with great touch around the basket. After a down season in 2019-2020, Fulkerson and company are the favorites to win the SEC. 

 
11 of 25

Marcus Garrett, Kansas

Marcus Garrett, Kansas
Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Most people make this list because of their offensive ability but Garrett is here because of his great defense. He was the 2020 Naismith Defensive Player of the Year and someone Bill Self calls the best defensive player he's ever coached. He isn't all defense -- he averaged 4.6 assists last season. It is valuable for a title contender to have a defender who can disrupt opposing offenses as effectively as Garrett can. 

 
12 of 25

Luka Garza, Iowa

Luka Garza, Iowa
Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen, Iowa City Press-Citizen via Imagn Content Services, LLC

One of the biggest stories of the offseason was Garza coming back to school for a senior season at Iowa. He averaged just under 24 points and 10 rebounds last season and was even better during Big Ten season. Iowa is a legitimate national title contender and Garza a Player of the Year favorite. Not many teams can deal with his talent and size in the paint.  

 
13 of 25

Collin Gillespie, Villanova

Collin Gillespie, Villanova
Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Stop me if you've heard this before: a title contending Villanova will be led by an experienced guard who is outstanding at running a team and who can hit big shots. Gillespie led the Wildcats in scoring last season and should be even more of a factor scoring in 2021. He is a tough cookie who fits perfectly with what Jay Wright wants from his lead guard. 

 
14 of 25

Sam Hauser, Virginia

Sam Hauser, Virginia
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Hauser should be the biggest impact transfer in the nation this season. The former Marquette Eagle will fit perfectly at Virginia, where they will welcome Hauser's long range shooting (a career 44.5% shooter from three). He's also a great passer and works the glass -- three things the Cavs want from their players. Expect Hauser to have an immediate impact for Virginia. 

 
15 of 25

Matthew Hurt, Duke

Matthew Hurt, Duke
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Hurt was a highly sought after recruit but struggled at times during his freshman season. He's back and Duke is hoping for a breakout season from a guy who can score in the paint and stretch out to the three point arc. With another set of talented freshmen coming in, Hurt will be relied on for experience and ability to score anywhere. He should make a leap this year.  

 
16 of 25

Corey Kispert, Gonzaga

Corey Kispert, Gonzaga
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

With all the talent that has come through Gonzaga over the last twenty or so years, could Corey Kispert be the guy to lead the Zags to their first national championship? Kispert excels from deep (nearly 44% from three last year) and still plays that scrappy style that has taken him from role guy to star for the top-ranked team in the country. 

 
17 of 25

Makur Maker, Howard

Makur Maker, Howard
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Howard's basketball program will have more eyes on them than usual due to Makur Maker. Maker was highly recruited but committed to Howard because he wanted to elevate the basketball programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. If it works out, it could start a trend for players that want a different path in their basketball careers. The Bison were 4-29 last year so this is a major experiment worth paying attention to.   

 
18 of 25

Remy Martin, Arizona State

Remy Martin, Arizona State
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Martin is an outstanding scorer, averaging over 19 ppg last season. The preseason Pac 12 Player of the Year leads a small-ball lineup that constantly attacks defenses. If Martin can become the playmaker for others as he has developed into a scorer, then the Sun Devils could make a run at a Pac 12 title.  

 
19 of 25

Caleb Mills, Houston

Caleb Mills, Houston
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

As a freshman, Mills led the Cougars in scoring and will likely need to carry more of the offensive load with Nate Hinton leaving early. He had some big games for Houston last year (he scored 20 points nine times last season) but also put up some duds (just 4 points on 1-1-of-13 shooting in the final game of the season). Mills knocks down over 36% of his threes and will be a candidate for AAC Player of the Year.

 
20 of 25

Evan Mobley, USC

Evan Mobley, USC
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Another fabulous freshman, Mobley has a great mix of length and athleticism that makes it so tough to deal with. The seven-footer is quick offensively and defensively, can put the ball on the floor and attacks the rim with ferocity. He already has a variety or moves that keeps defenses guessing how to deal with him. 

 
21 of 25

Landers Nolley, Memphis

Landers Nolley, Memphis
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Nolley was a prized recruit for Virginia Tech last season and he didn't disappoint. He led the Hokies in scoring (15.5 ppg) and did a little of everything in Blacksburg (5.8 rbs, 2.4 ast). He transferred to Memphis where he will headline Penny Hardaway's program that lost a lot of talent to the NBA.

 
22 of 25

Fatts Russell, Rhode Island

Fatts Russell, Rhode Island
Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Rhode Island lost most of its roster from a 21-9 squad but the Rams will return Fatts Russell. Russell averaged 18.8 points and 4.6 assists last season and will likely have a bigger green light to fire away in 2020-2021. Some games, that's a great thing but he can also shoot Rhode Island out of a game. What is always consistent is his defense, as Russell made it on the Naismith All-Defensive team last season.  

 
23 of 25

Oscar Tshiebwe, West Virginia

Oscar Tshiebwe, West Virginia
Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Tshiebwe was Mr. Everything for the Mountaineers last season, leading them in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots. He is active on both ends of the floor, which was key for a team that lacked perimeter shooting and needed Tshiewbe to clean up the glass. After flirting with the NBA, he came back to West Virginia to continue to develop and hopefully lead the 'Neers to a Final Four.

 
24 of 25

Trendon Watford, LSU

Trendon Watford, LSU
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Watford was a beast in the paint for the Tigers last year and will be a problem in the SEC if he finds more consistency. Against Vanderbilt in February, he put up 26 points and 9 rebounds and had a double-double in three of his last five games of the season. If he starts to consistently knock down threes, he will be tough to deal with. Even when his offense is off, he is a fantastic defender. 

 
25 of 25

Marcus Zegarowski, Creighton

Marcus Zegarowski, Creighton
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Zegarowski has lethal range and great playmaking skills which has put Creighton in the position to be a national contender. He's so tough to deal with. You must get up on him because of his excellent deep shooting, but he has the quickness to blow by you and the ability to either finish at the rim or make the right pass to an open teammate. A Big East Player of the Year candidate.

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