In the new era of college basketball, the game has been defined by the one-and-done’s because they are usually the guys that become high draft picks based on potential. The forgotten stars are the guys that stay for more than one year and improve every season. While the one-and-done’s certainly flash, it is the more experienced players that usually come out on top. Just look at Villanova’s last two national championships for reference. Here’s the list of 10 returning players who can make a lot of noise in the NCAA this year, and potentially lead their team to a national title.
10. Anfernee McLemore, F, Auburn
An ankle injury late in the season derailed Auburn’s hope of making any type of fruition out of their NCAA tournament dreams. In just under 20 minutes a game, McLemore was putting up seven points, five rebounds, and 2.7 blocks off the bench. He was a game changer for the Tigers and a huge part of their success throughout the regular season. Those 2.7 blocks a game were good enough to lead the SEC even with a season-ending injury. McLemore also took it upon himself to develop a reliable three-point stroke that he saw go in on 18 attempts on 46 tries. Pretty good for a guy that went one for one his freshman season. When McLemore returns healthy, and with increased minutes, he is going to be a top 10 players in the country and certainly one of the best forwards at the college game.
9. Jeff Dowtin, G, Rhode Island
The rising junior will be returning to a Rhode Island Rams team that will be losing four of their five starters from a season ago, along with coach Dan Hurley. To say there is an opportunity for Dowtin to be a star would be putting it lightly. After averaging 10 points a game for the Rams last year, it is clear that Dowtin is a scorer but what truly makes him an elite guard and one of the nations best is his passing vision. He is going to be the first, second, and third option for the Rams next year, and it is effortless to imagine him averaging a double-double next year. He is a guard of the forgotten true-point guard mold, and it will be fascinating to watch him in a primary role.
8. Clayton Custer, G, Loyola-Chicago
The anchor behind the Cinderella story of the 2018 NCAA tournament, Custer will look to build off his dazzling performances and lead the Ramblers to a national title. With a game-winner over Tennesee in the Sweet 16 and a game-tying shot against Miami with a minute to play, it is safe to say he possesses the clutch gene. However, he didn’t just make noise in the post-season as he put together a marvelous regular season that did not get the attention it deserved. Averaging 13 points, four assists, and a ridiculous 46 percent from three-point range made him one of the most lethal offensive players in the country. Custer is going to come back with a vengeance, and the Ramblers will be a force to be reckoned with.
7. Oshae Brissett, F, Syracuse
In a freshman campaign that saw Brisset putting up just about 15 points a night, along with nine boards, his return for a sophomore season with the combination of Tyus Battle could bring the Orange back to the promised land. At a strong 6’8, Brissett was a star in that famous Boeheim 2-3 zone where he racked up 29 blocks and 43 steals. Offensively, he likes to use his large frame and athletic ability to attack the basket and get to the line. If he can find some consistency on his outside stroke and improve upon his 33 percent mark a season ago, he will be a top player in the country with a chance to lead Syracuse back to a top 10 rankings in the country.
6. Killian Tillie, F, Gonzaga
Tillie shocked the Bulldog fan base when he announced that he would be returning for his junior campaign. Tillie is a stat-sheet-stuffer-supreme as Dick Vitale likes to put it with averages of 13 points a game, six rebounds, two assists, one block, and one steal. If that’s not incredible enough, do not forget about his 48 percent clip from three-point range on 94 attempts. Tillie can do anything on a basketball court, and his return along with fellow highly touted NBA prospect Rui Hachimura should have the Bulldogs in good shape to be a national contender all season long.
5. Grant Williams, F, Tennesse
The 2017-2018 SEC player of the year is back for more after a heartbreaking ending a year ago to Loyola-Chicago. At 6’7 weighing 240lbs, Williams is a nightmare to handle around the basket. He crashes the glass and refuses to be denied when making his way to the cup. 15 points a night, with six rebounds, and 1.5 have him poised to reclaim the SEC player of the year with the hopes of taking Tennesse one step further. After dropping at least 20 points eight times last year against the likes of Villanova, Auburn, Purdue, and Florida, Williams might even find himself as a national player of the year candidate. His return along with Admiral Schofield should keep Tennesse relevant as a national contender, and they seem poised for a final four run; they have improved every season while these guys have been there.
4. Mike Daum, F, South Dakota State
Mike Daum will return to his legendary career with the Jackrabbits and look to improve on his 24 points a game and 10 rebounds. Daum is an efficient volume scorer, a rare trait, in the mold of Kevin Love and he will improve. With a 50 point game already to his name, the “Dauminator” will look to bring his scoring average up to 30 this year along with another NCAA tournament bid for South Dakota State. As mentioned before, the efficient volume scorer was able to shoot 43 percent from deep. If he can improve on that and keep the Jackrabbits as relevant as they can be, he’ll certainly be a Wooden Award candidate.
3. Rui Hachimura, F, Gonzaga
The second Bulldog to find his way on this list, Hachimura is a rare talent and may have passed on a lock at the lottery for a shot at being a top-five pick in a weaker draft. But to get there, he’s going to need to dominate in his junior campaign the way he did during his sophomore year where he put up 12 points and five rebounds in just 20 minutes a game. If he can improve on his three-point stroke (5-26), he will be a can’t miss prospect for NBA scouts, but also a dominant college player as well. Gonzaga has a lot of hype to live it up to this year, but if Hachimura and Tillie can keep progressing, skies the limit for this team.
2. Deandre Hunter, G/F, Virginia
After winning the ACC’s sixth man of the year award, Hunter, as well as the rest of the Cavaliers, will be out to avenge their first-round exit a season ago when they became the first 1-seed to ever lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament. A relief for Hunter is that a broken wrist in the ACC tournament actually held him out of the game, so he technically wasn’t a part of the wrong side of history. Virginia was putting up historic defensive numbers, and it started with all 6’7 of Hunter and his elite length at the guard spot. Hunter also put up nine points a game and four rebounds to go along with his 38 percent clip from deep. He’s a do it all guy and will see more minutes in his sophomore campaign, and is poised to be a top-five player in the nation leading Virginia back to greatness on their revenge tour, the 2018-2019 season. Teams should be wary of the Cavaliers.
1. Cassius Winston, G, Michigan State
In his sophomore season on a loaded Spartans team, Winston was able to display his talents and proved to be one of the best point guards in the country. His numbers were gaudy with 13 points a game, seven assists, and the ridiculous averages of 50 percent from three and 90 percent from the charity stripe. As sensational as those numbers were, look for them to improve with star players Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. off to the NBA. In an increased role, look for the best point guard in the country to average over 15 points a game and somewhere around 10 assists on another dominant Spartans team.