25 under-the-radar college hoops players to keep an eye on

Dancing Trousers

We know about the stars of the 2020-21 college basketball season. The all-Americans and one-and-done elite freshmen. But what about those underrated performers who don’t get the attention they deserve?

Here’s a look at 25 names to remember going forward during this unique college basketball season.


Keve Aluma, Forward, Virginia Tech

David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports

Aluma spent his first two college seasons at Wofford, where he averaged less than 7.0 points. However, the 6-foot-9 Maryland native is off to a strong start for the ranked Hokies. Through his first four contests, Aluma averaged 17.8 points and 6.8 rebounds. He scored 23 and pulled down eight rebounds during Virginia Tech’s 81-73 overtime win over then-No. 3 Villanova on Nov. 28.


Joel Ayayi, Guard, Gonzaga

Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert is a preseason all-American, big-man Drew Timme has been surrounded by hype and freshman Jalen Suggs is a blue-chip elite for the Bulldogs. Then there is Ayayi, who has been nothing but solid during his first two seasons with the Zags. Through the first three games of his junior season, now a regular starter, Ayayi averaged 13.7 points, while shooting 57.6 percent, and 7.7. rebounds.


Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Forward, Illinois

Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports

As a freshman two seasons ago, the 6-foot-9 post-presence known as “Giorgi B” was a starter averaging 12.5 points. With the addition of Kofi Cockburn last season, Bezhanishvili started 24 of the 31 games he played and thus far in 2020-21 he’s taken on the role of a key reserve. However, that does not diminish his importance to Illini’s cause of making a deep NCAA Tournament run. He scored 15 in a recent loss to No. 2 Baylor.


Alex Barcello, Guard, BYU

David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports

Things did not work out for Barcello after two seasons at Arizona. At BYU, it’s been a different story. And for the better. After getting his feet wet with the Cougars last season, Barcello is off to a strong start in this, his senior, campaign. He’s averaged 19.2 points, while shooting 61.8 percent from the field and 18-of-29 from beyond the 3-point arc, through BYU’s first six games. It will be interesting to see if Barcello can sustain any of that.


Christian Bishop, Forward, Creighton

Steven Branscombe/USA TODAY Sports

Creighton has a true star in Marcus Zegarowski, but the squad’s most versatile and valuable performer could be Bishop. Even if he does not get the attention he deserves. The 6-7 Bishop is a grinder. A high-energy guy who works hard, throws his body around the court and is willing to do whatever it takes to earn that “W.” Through Creighton’s first three games, Bishop also averaged a team-leading 15.0 points.


Jamaree Bouyea, Guard, San Francisco

David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports

The progression of the San Francisco senior has been quite impressive. His scoring average went from 2.5 as a freshman to 17.5 through the first six games of the 2020-21 season. With Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and BYU collectively filled with big-time talent, the 6-2 Bouyea tends to get lost in the West Coast Conference mix. Perhaps not after he had 19 points with six assists during the Dons’ upset win over then-No. 4 Virginia on Nov. 27.


Christian Braun, Guard, Kansas

Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

Year in, year out, the Jayhawks are always loaded with elite talent. In his second season, Braun might be the epitome of an under-the-radar player. Thanks to a 30-point effort versus St. Joseph’s last month, Braun averaged 12.8 points through Kansas’ first five contests. However, the dependable sophomore does not need to be a consistent scorer to have immense value for Bill Self’s crew.


Tyger Campbell, Guard, UCLA

Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

At 6-9 with the ability to run the floor like a gazelle, Chris Smith is UCLA’s best pro prospect. Yet, the glue of the squad seems to be the sophomore Campbell. Wild hair and all, Campbell is off to a strong start for a Bruins team that’s hoping to challenge for a Pac-12 title. Through the first four games of the season, Campbell averaged 14.8 points with an impressive 7.3 assists.


Nathan Cayo, Forward, Richmond

Jordan Prather/USA TODAY Sports

It’s been somewhat of an up-and-down career for the 6-7 Cayo, who is now a senior at Richmond. Though three games of his final collegiate season, Cayo has been pretty solid for the preseason favorites in the Atlantic 10. He’s averaged 17.3 points through the Spiders’ first three games this season. Now, it’s just a matter of him being capable of sustaining that kind of play at a high level.


Caleb Daniels, Guard, Villanova

David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports

In 2018-19, Daniels averaged 16.9 points and 5.3 rebounds during his sophomore season at Tulane. Then he transferred to Villanova, where through the first five games this season, Daniels has averaged 11.6 points and shot 55.0 percent. No doubt the talent around Daniels has improved with the Wildcats, but remember this name as Jay Wright’s team continues its quest for a Big East title — and more.


Zach Freemantle, Forward, Xavier

Katie Stratman/USA TODAY Sports

Entering this season, Paul Scruggs was Xavier’s most established returning player. The sophomore Freemantle, though, was somebody worthy keeping an eye following a decent freshman campaign. Now that 2020-21 has rolled around, the Musketeers have won their first six games and the 6-9 Freemantle has averaged 17.2 points and 8.5 points through those contests.


Aaron Henry, Forward, Michigan State

Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports

There is no doubt Henry is a quality talent, but in his case it’s also about living up to it all. The junior has been inconsistent at times throughout his Michigan State career, and though he averaged 11.6 points through the first five games this season, coach Tom Izzo benched Henry from the starting lineup in a recent win over Western Michigan. If Henry’s mental and physical game can mesh consistently, he could be something.


Taveion Hollingsworth, Guard, Western Kentucky

Steve Roberts/USA TODAY Sports

Big-man Charles Bassey might end up ultimately being the better NBA prospect down the road, but Hollingsworth is the most consistent of the two at this moment for the Hilltoppers. The senior guard has gotten better — from an offensive standpoint — every season and averaged 18.4 points while shooting 52.4 percent through Western Kentucky’s first five games of this 2020-21 campaign.


Jay Huff, Forward, Virginia

Amber Searls/USA TODAY Sports

If Sam Hauser didn’t surface at Virginia from Marquette this season, Huff might be the Cavaliers’ go-to offensive option. Still, the 7-foot-1 Huff is likely to enjoy the best season of his four at Virginia. At least if his early start (12.3 points per game, 6.8 rebounds per game through four games) is any indication. Huff has the potential to be the best big man in the ACC. We’ll see if that happens.


Carlik Jones, Guard, Louisville

Sam Upshaw Jr./Louisville Courier-Journal/USA TODAY Sports

Jones was one of the nation’s top scorers when he averaged 20.0 points for Radford last season. Following his transfer to Louisville, Jones could be on the verge of gaining more attention. Through the Cardinals’ first four games, Jones has averaged 17.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists. He’s quickly taken over a leadership role the Cardinals needed with star Jordan Nwora off to the NBA.


Sandro Mamukelashvili, Forward, Seton Hall

Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports

Simply known as “Mamu.” The 6-11 senior, who decided to put off the NBA for one more collegiate season, could very well be one of the Big East’s best players this season. Overshadowed last season by Pirates star Myles Powell, Mamukelashvili has already proved to be Seton Hall’s go-to guy in 2020-21. Through five games, he’s averaged 21.0 points, pulled down 7.6 rebounds and recorded 2.8 assists.


Miles McBride, Guard, West Virginia

Ben Queen/USA TODAY Sports

Running the show for the Mountaineers requires strong leadership, and McBride continues to grow into that role. After serving as a reserve last season as a freshman, McBride is now starting, and averaged 15.2 points with 4.4 assists and 3.0 rebounds through the first five games of 2020-21. It will be interesting to see how McBride continues to progress and what his standing within the Big 12 will be going forward. 


Matt Mitchell, Forward, San Diego State

Orlando Ramirez/USA TODAY Sports

Mitchell tested the NBA Draft waters after the Aztecs’ stellar 2019-20 season was cut short by the coronavirus pandemic. He came back, however, and SDSU is better for it. Mitchell might not be a household name outside the Mountain West Conference, but he’s averaging 12.3 points and continues to do yeoman’s work for a squad that won its first four games this season.


Javonte Perkins, Guard-Forward, Saint Louis

Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports

Saint Louis expects to contend for an Atlantic 10 title this season, and Perkins should help lead the way. Though Perkins averaged 15.0 points as a freshman, and 23.0 while the Billikens have opened 3-0 this season, there is still a large share of national college basketball fans who don’t know anything about him. That should change if Saint Louis can build on its strong start.


Courtney Ramey, Guard, Texas

Scott Wachter/USA TODAY Sports

Much like at UCLA, Texas is a team that depends on more than one person to contribute on the offensive end each night. Matt Coleman might draw a little more attention for the Longhorns, but Ramey has enjoyed a solid career thus far at Texas. After he averaged 10.9 points last season as a sophomore, Ramey, who has used basketball as a mode  of comfort his entire life, scored 15.4 per game through the first five contests of 2020-21.


Fatts Russell, Guard, Rhode Island

David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports

To folks in the Atlantic 10, Russell is well known. To the rest of the country, or the casual college hoops fan, Russell might not be. That’s too bad. Russell, who averaged career highs with 18.8 points and 4.6 assists last season as a junior, opted to return for what he called his “Last Dance.” So far, so good. The energetic Russel averaged 17.6 points through the Rams’ first five games.


Mark Smith, Guard, Missouri

Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY Sports

Missouri opened the season with three straight wins and Smith is a big reason for that early success. A highly-touted prospect when he began his college career at Illinois in 2017-18, Smith received new life with at Mizzou. It has not been an easy road, but Smith appears to be establishing himself as the Tigers’ best player while averaging 17.3 points and shooting 58.6 percent, including 9-of-17 from beyond the 3-point arc, through those first three contests.


D'Mitrik Trice, Guard, Wisconsin

Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports

The Badgers have traditionally prided themselves on taking a collective, team approach when it comes to their overall success. That said, Wisconsin has showcased plenty of unheralded performers throughout the years. Trice, in his fifth season, is part of that group. He helps keep the Badgers’ motor running, and through the first four games of the 2020-21 season, Trice averaged 11.8 points, 3.8 points and 3.8 assists.


Mark Vital, Guard-Forward, Baylor

Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports

Like others on this list, some get lost amid a massively talented roster. That’s the case with the versatile Vital, who can be easily overshadowed by more prominent teammates Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Adam Flagler. Vital, who has a fan in ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, started a majority of the games he’s played in three-plus seasons at Baylor. Though he’s averaged just under 7.0 points and over 6.0 boards for his career, coach Scott Drew is usually quick praise Vital’s existence. 


M.J. Walker, Guard, Florida State

Melina Myers/USA TODAY Sports

Truth be told, Walker is on plenty of radars within the ACC. But, when it comes to the national scene, the senior has not received his due. That could change this season. Walker, who had 17 points in the Seminoles’ season-opening win over North Florida, is an exciting player who is capable of doing many things well. Last season’s 10.6 scoring average was the last time he posted double figures for a campaign.

Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.

Next Post

Here Are Billboard's Top Artists of the 2010s, Ahead of the Final Reveal

For the overall Top Artists recap of the 2010s, the acts at Nos. 6-10 are ranked below, with the top five set to be revealed during the 2021 Billboard Music Awards. Let’s dig into the all-genre Top Artists of the 2010s from Nos. 6-10, as well as the decade’s top […]

You May Like