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Best players to watch during March Madness 2023

The NCAA tournament is back with March Madness 2023 delivering an exciting clash between 68 teams on the road to becoming national champions. While many are familiar with the blueblood programs, the players leading these teams are introducing themselves to a national audience.

For some of these athletes, the NCAA tournament will be the pinnacle moment in their careers and mark their final time competing at a high level on the court. Only 60 players are picked in the NBA Draft, with more and more of them playing overseas or in the G-League. So, that puts the spotlight on March Madness 2023 even more.

Related: 2023 NBA Draft order

This is also an opportunity to see some of the top 2023 NBA Draft prospects showcase their skills with general managers, scouts and fans all glued to the action. While there is no Victor Wembanyama, there are plenty of players worth getting excited about.

Here are some of the best players to watch during March Madness 2023.

Jalen Wilson, forward, Kansas Jayhawks

NCAA Basketball: Texas Tech at Kansas
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Leading one of the best teams in college basketball, forward Jalen Wilson demonstrated all year why he is a force to be reckoned with. The 6-foot-8 senior arrived at Kansas as a four-star recruit, rated by 247 Sports as the 53rd-best player in the 2019 recruiting class. After winning a national title in 2022, Wilson and the Jayhawks are now vying for a repeat.

Wilson played relatively well in the NCAA tournament last year, averaging 12 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. However, he was inefficient from the field (35.2%), shooting an alarming 18.2 percent from the perimeter. He’s capable of getting hot and there should be added motivation in his final season with the Jayhawks, especially as he looks to prove he should be more than a second-round pick. One thing to keep in mind, though, Wilson has shot just 38.2% from the floor since February 1.

Zach Edey, center, Purdue Boilermakers

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

Purdue Boilermakers center Zach Edey is the best player in college basketball right now and will be one of the tallest players in March Madness 2023. The 7-foot-4 center overwhelmed opponents during the regular season, ranking eighth in the nation in scoring and third in rebounding.

Related: Everything you need to know about March Madness 2023

  • Zach Edey stats: 21.9 PPG, 12.8 RPG, 2.3 BPG, 61.6% FG

Ranked as the 47th-best prospect in the NBA Draft by The Athletic, Edey will be vying for a national championship more than a bright NBA future. He will enter the tournament with plenty of momentum, averaging 22.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks over his last 16 games. Considering Edey has scored 30-plus points six times this season, we’d expect a monster performance during Purdue’s March Madness 2023 run.

Brandon Miller, forward, Alabama Crimson Tide

Syndication: Tuscaloosa News
Gary Cosby Jr.-The Tuscaloosa News / USA TODAY NETWORK

Alabama Crimson Tide forward Brandon Miller is the best NBA Draft prospect competing in March Madness 2023. A 247 Sports’ five-star recruit in 2020, the No. 14 player in the country, the 6-foot-8 wing has ascended into becoming one of the best players in the country.

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  • Brandon Miller stats: 19.6 PPG, 8 RPG, 1.8 APG, 45.3% FG, 40.4% 3PT

Miller is largely responsible for Alabama experiencing one of its best seasons in program history. Entering the tournament, the Crimson Tide won 16 conference games for just the third time in school history, the second under coach Nate Oats.

Miller has drawn a lot of NBA comparisons to Paul George, with his length and athleticism helping him excel as a perimeter defender. The freshman also boasts an outstanding shot from the perimeter and while his assists numbers are low, he’s an unselfish player with the ball in his hands and should help create some open looks and buckets for his teammates in the tournament.

Jarace Walker, forward, Houston Cougars

NCAA Basketball: Wichita State at Houston
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA tournament features an array of talented freshmen whose days best years are likely still ahead of them. The Houston Cougars landed Jarace Walker, a five-star recruit, with an early commitment in 2021 and the 6-foot-8 power forward has been everything the program hoped for and more in his first season at the college level.

  • Jarace Walker stats: 11.1 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1 SPG, 1 BPG, 35.8% 3PT

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One of the first things that stand out about Walker is his 7-foot-2 wingspan, allowing him to play some five in a pinch and making him a nuisance when he’s around the ball. After making the transition from IMG Academy to Houston, Walker has experienced the growing pains that happen in the process. He averaged just 7.5 PPG and 5 RPG in December, hitting just 25% from the perimeter.

Fortunately for the Cougars, Walker is playing better as of late (13 PPG, 7 RPG, 36.2% 3PT) during Houston’s 11-game wins streak. Currently No. 7 on the Athletic’s NBA Draft board, the ACC Freshman of the Year, fans will see Walker’s standout two-way ability in the tournament.

Oscar Tshiebwe, forward, Kentucky Wildcats

Syndication: The Courier-Journal
Jeff Faughender/Courier Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Kentucky Wildcats forward Oscar Tshiebwe is one of the best stories in college basketball. He moved to the United States in 2015 after growing up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, eventually catching the attention of college programs despite his limited experience in basketball. After two seasons at West Virginia, the 6-foot-9 and 260-pound big found a home in Kentucky.

  • Oscar Tshiebwe stats: 16.4 PPG, 13.1 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 1 BPG, 56.4% FG

Related: Top odds to win March Madness: Houston and Alabama lead the charge

After averaging 17.4 points and 15.2 rebounds per game last season, Tshiebwe has still played consistent basketball in his senior year. He’s combined for 74 blocks and steals in 29 games this season, leaving his mark on the defensive end. He is leading the NCAA in rebounds for the second consecutive year, the first DI player to achieve that since Kenneth Faried.

Drew Timme, forward, Gonzaga Bulldogs

NCAA Basketball: West Coast Conference Tournament Championship - Gonzaga vs Saint Marys
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Drew Timme is one of the most recognized college basketball players in over a decade. Now, the 6-foot-10 big man is heading into his final NCAA tournament run. While it’s highly unlikely Gonzaga wins March Madness 2023, one of the most beloved players in program history will aim to end things on a high note.

Related: How to watch March Madness 2023

  • Drew Timme stats: 20.9 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 3.2 APG, 62.4% FG

The 22-year-old is delivering one of the best seasons in his career. He earned his second consecutive WCC Player of the Year Award after averaging a career-high 20.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game this season, becoming even more efficient than he was a year ago. Timme is also poised to become one of the rare players in the modern era to earn three consecutive All-American honors. In what will likely be the final time basketball fans see Timme on television, it’s worth tuning in to watch the Bulldogs.

Nick Smith Jr, guard, Arkansas Razorbacks

NCAA Basketball: Georgia at Arkansas
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Arkansas Razorbacks Guard Nick Smith was the No. 1 recruit in the 2022 cycle, drawing some NBA comparisons to Jamal Murray. Smith is trying to do what only one team in Razorbacks’ history (1994) has done before, win the NCAA tournament. He will also be vying to become a top-10 pick in the upcoming 2023 NBA Draft.

  • Nick Smith Jr stats: 13.8 PPG, 39.5% FG, 45.6% eFG, 17.1 PER

There are a lot of reasons to keep a close eye on the 19-year-old guard. Most importantly, he finally looks comfortable at the NCAA level with a level of performance as of late that could spell trouble for March Madness 2023 participants. Since Feb. 21, Smith Jr. is averaging 21.8 points and 1.5 steals per game, hitting 44% from the perimeter.

The combo guard is an outstanding athlete who can score in a dozen different ways, whether it’s a pull-up jumper or slashing to the rim. Just as important for a potential tournament run, his wingspan (6-foot-8) and tenacity make him a pest on defense for guards.

Keyonte George, guard, Baylor Bears

NCAA Basketball: West Virginia at Baylor
Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

While a majority of our focus on the best players to watch in March Madness 2023 is on forwards, there are plenty of eye-catching guards for basketball fans. Keyonte George landed at Baylor as the eight-best recruit in the nation, rated by 247 Sports’ as the top shooting guard in the 2022 class. At a time when many freshman guards may struggle, George is thriving.

  • Keyonte George stats: 16 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 34.9% 3PT, 18.6 PER

George could certainly use a strong NCAA tournament performance, with some scouts uncertain if he is a lottery pick as of now. Standing at 6-foot-4, his efficiency has wavered at times this season (38.9% FG), but there might be a light at the end of the tunnel for Baylor.

George shot 42.1% from the perimeter in March, averaging 2.3 three-pointers made per contest, along with 44.4% from the floor. If he’s playing with more confidence, we could also see the player who excelled at getting to the line (7.9 free-throw attempts per game in January). With that said, shot selection and consistent effort could be two issues that show up in the tournament.

Jaime Jaquez Jr, wing, UCLA Bruins

NCAA Basketball: Arizona State at UCLA
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

If you were impressed by UCLA Bruins star Jaime Jazquez Jr. in March Madness 2022, he has taken his game to an even higher level this season. The 6-foot-7 California native earned some accolades a year ago, taking home first-team All-Pac 12 honors and making the Pac-12 All-Defensive Team for the second consecutive season. He’s now the best player in the conference.

  • Jaime Jaquez Jr stats: 17.5 PPG, 8 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 88.3 Defensive Rating

Already an excellent defender, Jaquez Jr. is now an improved shooter and rebounder. He raised his scoring average (13.9 to 17.5) and rebounding (5.7 to 8.0), earning the Pac-12 Player of the Year honor. He’s been even better since February, averaging 20.5 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game in his last 10 contests. Easily one of the best two-way wings in the tournament, Jaquez Jr. has UCLA in a fantastic position to go on another deep run.

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