These are 10 players to watch during 2023 NCAA tournament originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Some of the best college basketball players will soon battle it out in the 2023 edition of March Madness.
On the men’s side, Houston and Alabama are among the squads capable of going all the way, with Kansas, UCLA and Purdue all in the mix, too.
The women’s side is led by the undefeated South Carolina Gamecocks, who went 32-0 in the season. LSU, Indiana and Utah will be among the programs hoping to leave a blemish on the Gamecocks’ dominant record.
But the top teams in the nations aren’t the only aspect of March Madness that makes the tournament riveting. Here are five players from each of the men’s and women’s tournaments to keep an eye on:
Jarace Walker, Houston Cougars
Point guard Marcus Sasser is the one who can accumulate points in droves for Houston, but freshman forward/center hybrid Jarace Walker is the one touted to be a potential lottery pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.
At 6-foot-8, 240 pounds, the 19-year-old Walker can score at multiple levels and has the lateral speed and size to adeptly defend all five positions. He’s gradually showing he can add a viable 3-point shot to his offensive arsenal, but look for him to cause havoc all over the court as the Cougars seek their first ever men’s basketball national title.
Zach Edey, Purdue
The Boilermakers’ chances of lifting the men’s national championship could boil down to how effective and efficient Zach Edey is, which could help the junior bolster his draft stock after an improved campaign.
The 7-foot-4 Toronto native is averaging 22.1 points, 13.1 rebounds and 2.3 blocks on 61.6% field goal shooting (13.8 attempts) and 72.8% from the free throw line (7.0 attempts), which could indicate a hint of 3-point potential down the line.
But if you see a towering presence anchoring the paint on both ends of the floor, that’ll be Edey.
Gradey Dick, Kansas
The Jayhawks have soared this season and have benefited from contributions across the roster, with no sole player shouldering the burden, such as the aforementioned Edey.
Redshirt senior Jalen Wilson deserves a shout as he should be a late first or second-round pick in 2023, but the nod goes to freshman wing Gradey Dick. The 6-foot-8 forward has the frame and athleticism to carve out a 3-and-D type role in the NBA as he’s also touted to be a potential lottery pick this year.
His ability to knock down shots as a set or movement shooter is a key reason why, as he’s made 40.6% of his 3s on 5.8 attempts and is an 85.2% free throw shooter despite a low-volume 2.6 attempts. After Christian Braun went to Denver in the first round of the 2022 draft, Dick has been a seamless fit in a similar role.
Keyonte George, Baylor
The Bears have a bevy of guards who play the main chunk of minutes: Adam Flagler, LJ Cryer, Dale Bonner and Langston Love, who also plays the 3.
But Keyonte George is the name here. The Big 12 Freshman of the Year is a silky on-ball creator who is difficult to predict and possesses the uncanny trait of tough shotmaking. He’s a high-volume shooter and has a 39-35-79 shooting split, which is why it’s likely the 19-year-old will only improve going forward, especially if he declares for the 2023 draft.
Along with improving his efficiency from the field, he still needs to polish his vision and playmaking as he averages more turnovers per game than assists (3.0 to 2.8), but if you’re looking for someone who wows you, George is the one.
Jordan Hawkins, UConn
The Huskies are another team getting well-rounded contributions from their squad, but Jordan Hawkins usually is the one who grabs the headlines.
Hawkins, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, has mightily improved in a larger role after a quiet freshman campaign. This season, Hawkins has solidified himself as one of the best shooters in the nation who could be a riser in the 2023 draft. He shoots 87.7% from the free throw line on 3.9 attempts and, more importantly, is at 37.8% from 3-point range on 7.7 attempts.
His shot has a high release point, making it nearly unguardable, and he’s constantly running around screens to open up for a look; he’s also not afraid to pull up out of nowhere. With his explosiveness and tantalizing potential, look out for what the Huskies could do this tournament.
Aliyah Boston, South Carolina
Switching to the women’s side, the Gamecocks’ domination is certainly a team display, but certain players’ individual brilliance has also lifted them to the 32-0 mark.
Aliyah Boston is one of them as arguably the best center in women’s college basketball. The senior has done it in March Madness before, and this season she’s entering play averaging 13.2 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in slightly fewer minutes. How she anchors the paint could see South Carolina repeat as national champions.
Zia Cooke, South Carolina
Demolishing opponents alongside Boston is guard Zia Cooke, so the Gamecocks receive two nods here for their perfection thus far.
Cooke, a 5-foot-9 senior guard, has improved after a down junior campaign and has augmented her averages to 15.0 points and 2.1 assists on a 41-36-80 shooting split. Her high-volume numbers are extremely encouraging if she can sustain it this tournament.
Angel Reese, LSU
The Tigers were inches close to rivaling the Gamecocks’ unbeaten mark, but a 22-point loss to South Carolina in February and falling to Tennessee by two points in the regular-season finale cost them.
But if they are to challenge South Carolina in this tournament, Angel Reese will need to stay on her game. It’s the junior’s first year in the Bayou after transferring from Maryland, and she’s logged assertive career-highs of 23.4 points, 15.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.4 blocks on 54% field goal shooting (15.3 attempts).
Caitlin Clark, Iowa
Next is one of women’s basketball’s purest scorers: Caitlin Clark. The Iowa Hawkeye epitomizes the program’s name — deadly accurate when shooting. But to say Clark is just a scorer is doing her injustice.
Clark, a 6-foot junior, is averaging 26.9 points, 8.1 assists, 7.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals on a whopping 47-38-83 shooting split with 19/9/8 attempts. Her production is simply mind-boggling considering she’s done this for three seasons running now, and if she can continue recording those numbers, look out for Iowa to go the distance.
Alissa Pili, Utah
The Utes are looking like a real sleeper team this tournament in spite of their sturdy 25-4 record that sealed their first-place spot in the Pac-12.
Alissa Pili, the Pac-12 Player of the Year in her first season with Utah after transferring from USC, will be the pivotal player in their potential run. The 6-foot-2 forward/center is a stretch big, averaging 20.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists on a 59-43-79 shooting split.
Pili attempts 2.3 3s per game, which could be the deciding factor against her fellow peers who either rarely or never attempt to stretch the floor.
Other players to watch: Brandon Miller (Alabama), Max Abmas (Oral Roberts), Trayce Jackson-Davis (Indiana), Maddy Siegrist (Villanova), Nika Muhl (UConn), Sammie Puisis (USF)
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