Top 25 NCAA Tournament Players to Watch


Now that Selection Sunday is behind us, it’s time to endlessly analyze the bracket, matchups and individual players. I have watched a ridiculous amount of games this year and essentially use KenPom player pages as bedtime stories for my kids. It’s because of the constant ingesting of hoops data that we felt it would be a good idea to talk about 25 players to watch in the 2024 tournament.


This isn’t a ranking article, so don’t be upset by the order in which I talk about these players. This is simply going to be a look at 25 who are worth keeping an eye on. These will be individuals capable of putting on a show on the big stage, carrying their team to a title or potential pros in the future. Without further ado, here are 25 players in the 2024 tournament to watch.

Dalton Knecht, Tennessee

This one is probably obvious to anyone who watched a Vols game this year. Knecht is an absolute “bucket” as the kids say and is truly unguardable in every sense of the word. I thought he should have been a priority addition for North Carolina when he hit the portal from Northern Colorado, as he fit their system perfectly. Rick Barnes and the Vols scooped him up, though, and he has been nothing short of incredible. It’s even more impressive when you consider he spent time at the JUCO level and the Big Sky Conference. He has scored 30+ points seven times this year and eclipsed 20+ in 15 different games. The Vols are appointment television in the tournament because of Knecht.

Shahada Wells, McNeese State

Affectionately known as “Hada”, Wells’ story is similar to Knecht’s in that he played JUCO ball back in 2017 before landing at UT Arlington for a year and spending two seasons at TCU. The Cowboys program is well positioned to make some noise in the tournament with former LSU coach Will Wade at the helm and a myriad of players with P5 exposure on the roster. Wells went from averaging less than 6 PPG at TCU to 18 PPG with McNeese and is making over 40% of his triples while also leading the nation with 3.1 SPG. He was rewarded with both the Southland POY and Newcomer of the Year trophies in recognition of his stellar season. This is one of the best two-way guards in all of college basketball and is capable of leading the Cowboys on a Cinderella run the same way Markquis Nowell did with Kansas State a year ago.

Tucker DeVries, Drake

DeVries added to his trophy case by winning the MVC POY award and is the first to go back-to-back since Dougy McDermott in 2012-13 while he was a member of Creighton. To truly drive home just how special this kid is, we only need to look at a triple-overtime win over Illinois-Chicago that took place back on Feb. 28. Drake was down nine with just 10 minutes left when Tucker went into takeover mode. In one of the most sensational individual performances of the year, he scored 18 of his 39 points over the last 24 minutes and showed why many consider him a future pro. He went on to score 39 points, grab 13 rebounds, dole out 7 assists and swipe 4 steals, all of which were career highs. He’s a true three-level scorer who is going to give the WSU Cougars fits in their Round 1 matchup.

RJ Davis, North Carolina

The Tar Heels are a veteran-laden squad and led by one of the best pure scorers in the country in RJ Davis. Nobody benefited more from the departure of Caleb Love than Davis. The reigning ACC POY averaged 21.4 PPG (11th in D1) while shooting over 40% from distance and 87% at the charity stripe. A potential Elite 8 matchup between the Heels and the Arizona Wildcats is tantalizing, which leads us to our next player…..

Caleb Love, Arizona

The storylines will write themselves if North Carolina and Arizona end up playing for a berth to the Final Four. Caleb Love took a lot of heat for the Heels’ struggles last season, but a lot of that negativity was put on him unfairly. One thing is for sure, he is one of the most polarizing players in the country. Love can score 35 points in one game and then shoot less than 20% the next. The Wildcats will obviously need the best version of Love in order to make a run in the tourney, and you can be sure the Pac-12 POY is chomping at the bit for a shot at his former team. 

Mark Sears, Alabama

Sears starred at Ohio University for two years but was mostly a secondary piece for Bama last year when they were the No. 1 overall seed. However, he has returned to the alpha version of himself this season with Brandon Miller and Jahvon Quinerly gone. Coach Nate Oats has a system in place that yields a ton of offensive production, but Sears sits at the top of the pyramid averaging over 21 PPG, 4 RPG and 4 APG while shooting a red-hot 43% from beyond the arc on around 5 attempts per game. Sears could legitimately drop 40 in their first round matchup against Charleston with both teams in the top 60 in tempo and three-point attempts.

Johni Broome, Auburn

If you have followed me for any length of time, then you won’t be surprised about Johni Broome’s inclusion on this list. When it comes to collegiate big men, the conversation usually ends up focused on Purdue’s Zach Edey with most often overlooking the versatile Broome. Auburn’s offense runs through the first team All-SEC big man, which resulted in a very productive 16.2 PPG and 8.4 RPG. He is an elite rim protector as well with a top-25 block rate and an average of 2.3 BPG. Additionally, he knocked down 35% of his 77 three-point attempts and ended up second on the KenPom POY rankings. This will be his third appearance in the NCAA tournament, twice with Auburn and once during his freshman season at Morehead State.

Terrence Shannon, Illinois

It’s somewhat of a cliche to say, but guards in March are important and separate the pretenders from the contenders. The Illini have the third-highest offensive efficiency per KenPom, but it’s safe to say that Terry Shannon is responsible for a large portion of that success. He led Illinois to a Big 10 Tournament championship after scoring over 100 points in three games, which resulted in MOP honors. A possible second-round matchup looms between “Scary Terry” and Tucker DeVries, which gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. 

Zach Edey, Purdue

Say what you will about Zach Edey, but the big man remains one of the most dominant big men in the galaxy. Edey has once again added to his very full trophy case with a 2023-24 campaign that ended with him averaging 24.4 PPG and 11.7 RPG. The Boilermakers famously lost to Fairleigh Dickinson last year, but it had nothing to do with Edey’s individual performance (21 points/15 rebounds) and everything to do with the fact the team’s guard play was atrocious. Fletcher Loyer and Braden Smith are another year older, and they added pesky defender Lance Jones from Southern Illinois, which makes Purdue a much better squad this year. This really drives home the point that guard play is everything in the tourney, but it would be negligent if we didn’t recognize that Edey’s individual contributions are spectacular. 

Tyler Kolek, Marquette

Kolek has missed the last six games for Marquette due to an oblique injury, but coach Shaka Smart has been adamant about the fact he will play in the tourney. This makes sense, as this team’s ability to advance will be completely reliant on Kolek’s availability. Unfortunately, the Golden Eagles roster is extremely banged up, which means they’ll need their star PG even more than usual. He has a silky-smooth game and plays a fearless style, which helped him average 15 PPG/4.7 RPG/7.6 APG/1.6 SPG. He also shot 40% from distance, making him one of the more difficult perimeter options to defend.

AJ Storr, Wisconsin

While everyone in the world will be picking James Madison to upset Wisconsin in the first round, I’m firmly in the camp that believes the Badgers advance. AJ Storr gives them something they were missing last year, which is an elite scorer who can take over a game at any time. He averaged 22.5 PPG across four games in the Big 10 tournament and made 38% of his 26 attempts from three-point land. That barely scratches the surface of what I believe Storr is capable of, and he can definitely carry this Badgers squad to a deep tourney run. 

Cam Spencer, UConn

There are several UConn players who are deserving of being on this list, but Cam Spencer is perhaps one of the most important. The Huskies have an elite core with Donovan Clingan, Tristen Newton, Alex Karaban and Stephon Castle, but it’s Spencer who should be considered the X-factor. The Rutgers transfer averaged 14.5 PPG and shot a scorching 44% from long-range, which is top 40 in the nation. If UConn is going to repeat as national champions, it will need Spencer to knock down a big shot or two. He is a world-class trash talker as well, which just adds to his mystique, and he could be this generation’s version of Marshall Henderson. Get your popcorn ready whenever he steps on the floor.

Tyon Grant-Foster, Grand Canyon

Grant-Foster’s story is fascinating, as he started his career at Indian Hills Community College where he was considered one of the top overall players at the JUCO level. He ended up transferring to Kansas, which shows you just how talented this kid is. But unfortunately, things didn’t work out, as he only played parts of 21 games. Life took him to DePaul after transferring once again where he was expected to be a big-time factor. However, he collapsed in the locker room during his first game and ended up needing two heart surgeries. He was told he would never play basketball ever again, but fast forward to 2024 where he is now the WAC POY for Grand Canyon. He is easy to root for, and the Lopes could absolutely win a few games because of him. He averaged nearly 20 PPG but will face his toughest test yet in a first-round matchup with St. Mary’s.

Jaelen House, New Mexico

The Lobos are fresh off of a Mountain West tournament title in which House was given the MVP after a legendary three-game run. House scored 29, 19 and 28 points during the conference tourney and has enhanced his play to another level at exactly the right time. The Arizona State transfer had big shoes to fill with his dad Eddie playing for the Sun Devils, but he has carved out his own path and made a name for himself. The 11-seed Lobos are a prime upset candidate against the 6-seeded Clemson Tigers, and you can be sure Jaelen House will deliver a memorable performance, win or lose.

Jamal Shead, Houston

It’s easy to be down on Houston right now after they suffered a humiliating blowout loss in the Big 12 title game to Iowa State, but I would pump the brakes on picking against them just yet. They’re dealing with a myriad of injuries, but as long as they have Jamal Shead, they’re one of the teams to beat in this year’s tournament. The Big 12 POY is the proverbial straw that stirs the drink for Houston and one of the more complete players in the tournament. He has one of the highest assist rates in the country at 39.6% but may be tasked with shouldering a larger portion of the scoring load with all of their injuries, something he is perfectly capable of doing.

Reed Sheppard, Kentucky

I’m much lower on Kentucky than most, and their defense is truly putrid this year. However, they play a fast-paced style that is exciting to watch, and one of the key cogs to this machine is legacy player Reed Sheppard. Reed’s father Jeff was a critical piece for the Wildcats in the mid-1990s, but the freshman hasn’t wilted under the pressure of playing in his dad’s shadow. This is one of the few bench players on this list, but that hardly matters since he plays starter minutes anyway. He will have the opportunity to cement his status as the best frosh in the country if Kentucky is able to make a run in the tournament. Reed is statistically the top three-point shooter in the country, making a ridiculous 53%, but he is far from a one-trick pony. He also had the 12th-highest assist rate in the SEC and a top-10 steals rate.

Great Osobor, Utah State

A card carrying member for the All-Name team, the junior forward from England leads Utah State in points (18 PPG) and rebounds (9.2 RPG). He also deservedly won the Mountain West POY award. The MWC was shafted a bit with the way their teams were seeded, and Utah State got a fairly tough path with a first-round matchup against TCU and a possible second-round bout with Purdue. However, this just gives Osobor the chance to become a more known commodity to casual tournament watchers. The focal point of the Aggies offense is fun to watch.

N’Faly Dante, Oregon

I really like Lamont Paris and the job he has done with South Carolina but have to be honest with myself about how tough this game with Oregon really could be. Ducks center N’Faly Dante is a matchup problem for most with his 6-foot-11 frame. He has elite rebounding and block rates while averaging 16.2 PPG/8.8 RPG. He is just about automatic when he gets the ball on the block and has made 70% of his field goals on the season.

Tamin Lipsey, Iowa State

Lipsey was incredible during the non-con portion of their schedule, but it was also against fairly soft competition which waters down his numbers a bit. He went through some struggles in the latter half of the season but is still one of the scarier players to deal with in this tournament. Lipsey may not have flashy numbers like many of the players on this list, but he does contribute consistently with averages of 12.3 PPG/4.7 RPG/4.9 APG/2.8 SPG.

PJ Hall, Clemson

Hall leads the Tigers in scoring at 18.8 PPG, and I suspect the team will lean heavily on their star in what amounts to a tough matchup against New Mexico. He is a skilled post player with an ability to knock down timely three-pointers, which makes him a tough cover for anyone.

Cody Williams, Colorado

Williams suffered a late-season injury that derailed his solid freshman campaign, but he worked his way back in the Pac-12 Tournament. He will likely get back into the starting lineup for the play-in game as he gets closer to being 100% again. The younger brother of OKC Thunder forward Jalen Williams is a player NBA scouts love due to his ability to defend multiple positions and score in a variety of ways. He didn’t necessarily have the gaudiest of stats, but his overall pro upside is stratospheric.

Ja’Kobe Walter, Baylor

RayJ Dennis will be important to Baylor’s tournament success as a steady veteran who doesn’t get rattled. However, the Bears will need a massive coming out party by freshman Ja’Kobe Walter for any real chance at making a Final Four run. He scored over 14 PPG this season and is capable off the dribble and as a catch-and-shoot guy. 

DaRon Holmes, Dayton

Holmes dominated the Atlantic 10 this year and was completely unstoppable at times. His stat line of 20.4 PPG/8.4 RPG/2.6 APG/2.1 BPG proves that. He flirted with the NBA last year before deciding to return for one last run with Dayton, and that decision was obviously correct as he was named Co-Player of the Year and DPOY in the conference. Today’s basketball requires big men to be able to make threes, even if that means occasionally. Holmes made less than 10 triples last year but ended up knocking down 30 this season on 78 attempts for a rock-solid 38%. Folks are down on Dayton after they dropped out of the A-10 tourney early, but it’s a mistake to overlook the talented big man. Holmes has one of the best fouls drawn rates in the country and will likely have Nevada’s entire frontcourt on the bench early because of it.

Wade Taylor, Texas A&M

Excuse the pun, but Taylor is quite literally tailor-made for this tournament as a fearless guard with major scoring ability. The Aggies star has always been a high-usage player, but he is dependable as ever this season. He has scored 30+ points in seven games this year which includes twice in the SEC tournament. His skills will be put to the test in a possible second-round date with Houston.

Isaiah Stevens, Colorado State

Colorado State will play Virginia in a play-in game, which puts a huge focus on these teams since the entire country will be watching. Isaiah Stevens embodies Colorado State basketball and has been in this program for the last five years. He is the all-time leader in points, assists and steals for the Rams. He is so hard to defend because of his ability to score in a variety of ways, and his strong shooting splits simply befuddle opposing defenses since they simply can’t force him into a weakness. Virginia has a reputation for elite defense, but the Cavaliers have limped into the tournament, and Stevens will know exactly how to pick them apart.

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