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Ten must-watch players for the 2018-19 college basketball season

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Scott Gleeson USA TODAY
Published 8:54 AM EST Nov 6, 2018

The college basketball season tips off Tuesday will teams starting the chase to be part of the NCAA tournament and the Final Four in Minneapolis. USA TODAY Sports examines key players poised to lead their schools to success.

Purdue guard Carsen Edwards (3) shoots while defended by Cal State Fullerton guard Kyle Allman during the 2018 NCAA tournament.
Raj Mehta, USA TODAY Sports

G Carsen Edwards, Purdue. The do-everything guard will make the Boilermakers a Big Ten contender once again, although he’ll have more weight on his shoulders with four starters gone from last year’s Sweet 16 squad. He averaged 18.5 points a game as a sophomore and figures to be just as explosive in his junior season as perhaps the best scorer in all of college basketball.

G Romeo Langford, Indiana. The crown jewel of coach Archie Miller’s budding tenure piloting the Hoosiers, Lanford is more than just an in-state star. The 6-6 electric scorer could give Indiana the moxie to contend for a Big Ten title alongside Purdue, Michigan State and Michigan. Plenty of one-and-done-caliber freshmen enter the NCAA ranks as super athletic but aren’t necessarily great shooters. Not Langford, who will be a marksmen right off the bat. He’ll be the key piece in the Hoosiers’ turnaround season.

LOADED AND HUNGRY: Kentucky opens title-seeking trek with elite group

YOUTH SERVED: Historic recruiting class aiming to carry Duke to another title

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G/F R.J. Barrett, Duke. The smooth 6-7 lefty is projected as the No. 1 pick in 2019’s NBA draft for a reason and he’ll be the alpha dog on a Duke team that also hauled in the two other top-rated freshmen. What’s most impressive about Barrett outside of his versatility on both ends is his ability to make others better — by facilitating or injecting energy. More than anything, Barrett will have international playing experience as an obvious strength. The Canadian led his national team to the 2017 U-19 World Cup over the United States thanks to a 38-point, 13-rebound performance. In other words, there won’t be much of an adjustment period for the teenager to excel at the NCAA level.

F Dedric Lawson, Kansas. The 6-9 transfer from Memphis immediately gives Bill Self size and tenaciousness in the paint that was missing all of last season. He nearly averaged a triple double with 19.2 points and 9.9 rebounds a game in 2016-17, and will be a key cog in the Jayhawks’ quest to win a 15th consecutive Big 12 regular-season title — and perhaps KU’s first national title since ’08.

G Tyus Battle, Syracuse. The 6-6 guard averaged 19.2 points a game for a depleted Orange roster that overachieved all the way to the Sweet 16 last March. Everyone’s back from that squad and coach Jim Boeheim has reinforcements, which should make Battle’s job easier and allow him to flourish as the team’s go-to presence.

Syracuse guard Tyus Battle dribbles against Duke their game in the Midwest regional of the 2018 NCAA tournament.
Steven Branscombe, USA TODAY Sports

G De’Andre Hunter, Virginia. An injured Hunter watched on the sidelines as his teammates were on the wrong side of history last March, as UVa was shocked by No. 16 seed Maryland-Baltimore County. The freshman sixth man’s omission was telling for how important he was on last year’s 31-win roster, and he’ll step into an even larger role as a sophomore. His athleticism, knack for scoring and defensive versatility are traits that will elevate him to being coach Tony Bennett’s most valuable asset in 2018-19.

F Caleb Martin, Nevada. The 6-7 forward showed off his takeover abilities in last year’s NCAA tournament run, and with the Wolf Pack stepping further into the national spotlight this season (courtesy of even more talent coming in), Martin (18.9 ppg in ’17-18) will be the main piece to elevating this mid-major into a force to be reckoned with come March.

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F Reid Travis, Kentucky. John Calipari’s recruiting classes normally draw the headlines, and this year’s stellar cast of freshmen is no different. But the most important player on a national title contender is this Stanford graduate transfer who averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds a game last season. Travis not only gives the Wildcats another weapon at 6-8, but he also brings a veteran flavor to mesh well with a talented group that will have to gel together leading up to March Madness.

G/F Nassir Little, North Carolina. The 6-7 freshman forward won’t be a knockdown shooter right away, but he’ll ignite this UNC squad from the get-go with his overall abilities, namely a jump-out-of-the-gym athleticism. He was the MVP of the McDonald’s All-American game, and should have no shortage of highlight-reel tomahawk dunks in 2018-19.

F Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga. Perhaps no returning NCAA player from last season has more potential, as the 6-8 Japanese product showed flashes of brilliance on last year’s ‘Zags roster. His performance in the NCAA tournament’s second round — 25 points, five rebounds and four blocks in a Sweet 16-clinching win over Ohio State — was a snapshot of how he can spark the Bulldogs this season. 2017-18 was somewhat of an adjustment season for Hachimura before he really started to blossom. Expect 2018-19 to be a breakout, All-America-caliber campaign.

Published 8:54 AM EST Nov 6, 2018
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