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12 best players to watch during March Madness 2022

Matt Johnson
March Madness, Chet Holmgren
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Who are the top players to watch in March Madness 2022? From future NBA All-Stars to some of the best players in college football, the upcoming NCAA men’s tournament will feature the best talent on the court.

While the best player in college basketball might not win the national championship, we’ll see plenty of the game’s marquee players carry their teams far in 2022.

March Madness FAQ: Everything you need to know

When does March Madness start?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Syracuse at West Virginia
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Following NCAA Selection Sunday, March Madness started on March 15 and 16 with the First Four games to determine the final bracket. Notre Dame’s double overtime win over Rutgers headlined that set of games.

  • First Round: March 17-18
  • Second Round: March 19-20
  • Sweet Sixteen: March 24-25
  • Elite Eight: March 26-27
  • Final Four: April 2

The NCAA men’s national championship game will be played on April 4 at the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Let’s dive into the top players to watch in March Madness 2022.

Jabari Smith, forward, Auburn Tigers

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Mississippi State
Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Jabari Smith is one of the most exciting players to watch in college basketball. We’re seeing NBA trend towards shooters with size and Smith Jr. fits that description to perfection. The 6-foot-10 forward shot 42.5% from the perimeter in his freshman season, averaging 2.3 three-pointers made per game. he also scored 20-plus points in 12 games this season.

This isn’t just a scorer, Smith is more than comfortable using his length and athleticism to defend multiple positions. He’s certainly not the elite defender of the other elite NBA Draft prospect in March Madness – Chet Holmgren – but you’re far likelier to see Smith take over a game with his shooting. It’s going to be a great battle for the No.1 spot on draft boards and Smith can make a great pitch with his play in March.

For those looking to watch Smith, like Detroit Pistons fans wanting to find a great partner for Cade Cunningham, Auburn is the No. 2 seed in the Midwest region. If we’re lucky, we’ll see him face another player on this list in the Sweet 16.

Chet Holmgren, center, Gonzaga Bulldogs

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at St. Mary's
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Chet Holmgren – 247 Sports’ No. 1 recruit in 2021 – got off to a bit of a slow start with the Gonzaga Bulldogs. The 7-foot center finished with 5 rebounds, 4 fouls and 2 points in his second game. On Nov. 26 against Duke – a matchup with Paolo Banchero – the thin-framed center was outplayed by Duke’s start. Fortunately, we’re seeing an evolving version of Holmgren recently.

This is the perfect opportunity for Holmgren to prove he should be the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. While he might not be a volume scorer like Smith, Gonzaga’s 7-foot sensation is one of the best defenders in basketball. Racking up double-doubles with 3s and blocks to lead a Final Four run, that will make Holmgren the No. 1 pick.

This is a monumental moment for Holmgren, a lock to be a top-3 pick. Whether you’re a college basketball fan or love the Houston Rockets and want to see who could potentially pair with Alperen Sengun, Gonzaga is the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and it’s going to be the Chet show.

Jaden Ivey, guard, Purdue Boilermakers

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Purdue
Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana loves basketball and in the heart of the state is Purdue Boilermakers guard Jaden Ivey. The 6-foot-4 guard joined the program as a four-star recruit, rated as the 89th-best player in 247 Sports’ 2020 class rankings. Fast forward to March Madness 2022, basketball fans can get an early look at one of the next exciting NBA guards.

Credit to Ivey for taking a huge leap in his second season. After shooting just 25.8% from the perimeter as a freshman he is now at 37.1% this year. He’s also gotten to the free-throw line more, attempting nearly three free-throw attempts more per game compared to his first year on campus. As a result, he became a candidate for the Naismith College Player of the Year award.

  • Jaden Ivey stats: 17.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.8 3PM, 53.1% FG, 30.8 mpg

One thing to keep in mind, Ivey is accomplishing all this in a scheme tailored for Purdue’s bigs. Despite not being the perfect fit, the sophomore guard is making those around him better and is even turning it up as of late. With 11 20-point outings this season, we know what Ivey can do.

March Madness odds: Who will win it all?

The Boilermakers hold the No. 3 seed in the East bracket of March Madness and are starring down potential matchups against Texas/Virginia Tech and potentially Kentucky. This it the time for Purdue to put the team on Ivey’s shoulders, he’s ready to carry them.

Keegan Murray, forward, Iowa Hawkeyes

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Ohio State
Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

One of the high-scoring players in basketball will put on a clinic during March Madness. Keegan Murray, Iowa’s 6-foot-8 forward, is thriving in his sophomore season. The 21-year-old entered March averaging 1.7 3s per game, hitting 38.8% beyond the line. Thanks to his size and length, he’s also an effective rebounder.

  • Keegan Murray stats: 23.3 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 2 bpg, 1.3 spg, 1.3 apg, 31.1 mpg

There are some important things to keep in mind with Murray. First, he dropped 35 points in his lone neutral site game this season. It marked the fourth time he scored 30-plus points on the year. Sam Vecenie of The Athletic sees some similarities to Tobias Harris and that type of player thrives in college.

One potential dream March Madness scenario in the Midwest region would see Murray face Jabari Smith in the Elite Eight. It would be the type of head-to-head matchup that could send Murray’s draft stock rocketing up the boards.

Johnny Davis, guard, Wisconsin Badgers

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Wisconsin
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The Wisconsin native is making everyone proud. In a clash with Purdue, Johnny Davis (16 points, 8 rebounds) came through for the Badgers. While it wasn’t his best day from the field (41.6%), the 6-foot-5 guard finished perfect from the line (6-for-6) and came through in clutch moments.

Keep in mind, Wisconsin’s basketball team isn’t exactly loaded. Davis is often carrying them, looking for ways to score and snagging rebounds to turn defensive stops into points. He can play quality defense against college guards and his ability to explode at any moment (37 points vs. Purdue on Jan. 3) should be exciting for casual basketball fans tuning in for the first time this year.

Paolo Banchero, forward, Duke Blue Devils

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Pittsburgh
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Fans are going to learn a lot about Paolo Banchero in March. First, he sweats a lot and it can lead to him dealing with cramps and losing significant weight during games. Second, Banchero is still capable of becoming the best player on the court regardless of the opponent at any moment.

  • Paolo Banchero stats: 16.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 3 apg, 23.7 PER

There are levels of inconsistency with Duke’s 6-foot-10 forward. He averaged 17.8 ppg in November, 15.8 ppg in December, 18.7 ppg in January and 14 ppg in March. Of course, there are incredible stretches of brilliance. He scored 21 points against Gonzaga, despite being limited by cramps. It’s a safe bet he’ll be a top-5 pick, but Banchero needs a dominant run to be a top-3 pick.

Oscar Tshiebwe, forward, Kentucky Wildcats

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Kentucky
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The road to becoming one of the must-see players of March Madness didn’t come easy for Oscar Tshiebwe. The 6-foot-9 big grew up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, first playing soccer and then transitioning to basketball. After moving to the United States in 2015, Tshiebwe caught the eye of college scouts and enrolled as a four-star recruit at West Virginia in 2019.

A few years later, he is a finalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year. He caused havoc on that end of the court, combing for 3.3 blocks+steals per game. Where he really stands out is on the boards, leading the nation in rebounds per game (15.3). Kentucky loves to feed him near the rim and he can finish with authority. He’s likely not going to be a first-round pick, but he’ll make some new fans with his play throughout March Madness.

Ochai Agbaji, guard, Kansas Jayhawks

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Baylor
Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas Jayhawks don’t have that can’t-miss NBA Draft prospect, but Ochai Agbaji is a very intriguing player. Viewed as a potential lottery selection in the upcoming class, the 6-foot-5 guard is the biggest reason why the Jayhawks finished with one of the best records in the country.

  • Ochai Agbaji stats: 20.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 42.2% 3PT, 48.7% FG

There are other great reasons why basketball fans without a team to root for might want to see Agbaji take Kentucky far. The Kansas City native is a senior who stuck around with the Jayhawks for all four seasons, steadily earning minutes and improving his game. A future 3-and-D player at the next level, you can bet on Agbaji dropping 20-plus points with some fantastic shots.

Kofi Cockburn, center, Illinois Fighting Illini

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Illinois
Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

For those looking for a lesser-known player who could make a big impact in March Madness, we submit Kofi Cockburn. The 7-foot center from Jamaica moved to New York as a teenager, later finding a home as the overpowering center for the Fighting Illini.

A consensus second-team All-American in 2021, Cockburn is a wrecking ball in the paint. Opponents can’t match his size and power, leading to him shooting 60.1% from the field during the regular season. He is everything for Illinois, averaging 23 points and 11.4 rebounds in wins compared to 15.2 points and 5 rebounds in losses.

AJ Griffin, forward, Duke Blue Devils

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Pittsburgh
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Rounding out our list of players to watch is AJ Griffin, arguably Duke’s best player as of late. The 6-foot-6 freshman is averaging just 10.4 points across 30 games. However, he started slowly while recovering from a knee injury. From Jan. 4-Feb. 27, Griffin averaged 2.5 three-pointers made per game, hitting 50.6% of his shots from outside the perimeter.

A five-star recruit just a year ago, athleticism is the most exciting element of Griffin’s game. He’s not asked to be the primary scorer on a loaded Duke team, but his ability to sit behind the line and fire the spot-up shot complements Holmgren’s passing perfectly. We wouldn’t be surprised to see Griffin drop a 20-burger early in the NCAA tournament.

E.J. Liddell, forward, Ohio State Buckeyes

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament- Ohio State vs Penn State
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Experienced players are always fun to watch during March Madness. Ohio State forward E.J. Liddell made the huge leap as a sophomore, improving his scoring by nearly 10 points per game. Not satisfied with that, he returned for the 2021-’22 season and is one of the best players in college basketball.

  • E.J. Liddell stats: 19.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.6 bpg, 1.5 3PM, 49.2% FG

He is everything for Ohio State. Liddell leads the Buckeyes in scoring and rebounds, while ranking second in assists to maintain a well-rounded game. He scored a season-high 34 points on Jan. 9 against Northwestern and eclipsed 20-plus points on 13 occasions. He seems to be heating up, averaging a double-double (21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds) in four March games. We’ll see if that carries into the tournament.

Bennedict Mathurin, forward, Arizona Wildcats

NCAA Basketball: PAC-12 Conference Tournament - Stanford vs Arizona
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

If you want to watch an exciting brand of basketball, it’s the Arizona Wildcats. In Tommy Lloyd’s first season as a head coach, he’s got the Wildcats rolling. The thrilling version of college basketball culminated in a 29-3 record through March 11 and the player making the most significant impact is Bennedict Mathurin.

A projected lottery pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, Mathurin could elevate his stock even higher with more dominance in March Madness. He averaged 17.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game this season, displaying, flashing a nice ability to shoot from the perimeter (2.2 3PM per game). The sophomore really deserves credit for the strides he made this season, diversifying his offensive game and ability to attack the defense. This is the time of year when stars take over and a coach turns the keys over to his best player, that’s Mathurin.

NBA Draft prospects competing in March Madness

  • Walker Kessler, C, Auburn Tigers
  • TyTy Washington, guard, Kentucky Wildcats
  • Kendall Brown, forward, Baylor Bears
  • Mark Williams, center, Duke Blue Devils
  • Mark Williams, C, Duke
  • Kennedy Chandler, guard, Tennessee
  • Malki Branham, wing, Ohio State