College basketball’s most underrated players

Profile Picture: Nick Roush

January 21st, 2020

With less than two months until Selection Sunday, college basketball fans have already become well-acquainted with the game’s rising stars. Don’t focus all of your attention on the Markus Howards and Obi Toppins of the world. These five athletes are making waves across the country.

5. Mason Jones (Arkansas)

The Arkansas Razorbacks are off to a surprising 14-3 start in Eric Musselman’s first season, thanks in large part to Jones. The big 6-foot-5 guard is scoring 18.2 points per game, the third-most in the SEC, while knocking down a third of his three-point tries. When Mason and Isaiah Joe are firing on all cylinders, this Arkansas team is a hard out. If they can finish as fast as they started, that tandem can take the Hogs places in March.

4. Paul Reed (DePaul)

DePaul once again has a competitive basketball team thanks in large part to Reed. The 6-foot-9 forward from Orlando has put impressive numbers while the Blue Demons fly under the radar in the Big East.

Reed averages 15.9 points per game and leads the conference in rebounds with 11.9 a contest. Most importantly, he’s at his best when DePaul needs him the most. Reed finished with 25 points and 12 rebounds in an upset at Iowa, he had 18 points and seven assists in a victory over Texas Tech, and he posted 23 and nine in a win over top 10 Butler.
It took DePaul some time to find their feet in conference play. With the help of the Big East’s assist leader, Charlie Moore, there is a viable path for DePaul to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004.

3. Filip Petrusev (Gonzaga)

Most believed Killian Tillie would shoulder the load for Gonzaga following the departures of Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura. Instead, the 6-foot-11 Serbian forward has led the Bulldogs in scoring (16.1) and rebounding (7.7), while also contributing at least one blocked shot a game. Petrusev went from only playing 11 minutes a game to a National Player of the Year contender and that’s why the Zags will be near the top of the polls until Selection Sunday.

2. Nick Richards (Kentucky)

Kentucky was the No. 2 ranked team in America before the season because of the talent the Cats had returning on the wing. It’s just the second time in John Calipari’s tenure that he’s brought back a starting point guard. The backcourt of Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley, and Tyrese Maxey has been great, but the real difference-maker has been in the post.

Once the second-ranked high school center in America, in his first two seasons Nick Richards averaged less than five points per game and recorded just one double-double. Over the last six games he’s averaged a 16-point, 11-rebound double-double. Now with a consistent hook shot in his arsenal, he’s making over 68% of his field goals, and is on pace to set a new Kentucky single-season record. Unlike most centers, he’s not a liability at the free throw line (71.2%) and he is comfortable guarding on the perimeter. If Richards isn’t the most underrated player in the country, he’s certainly the biggest surprise of college basketball this season.

1. Luka Garza (Iowa)

Did you know the No. 8 scorer in America is a 6-foot-11 center for Iowa? Probably not, because it’s Iowa basketball. Typically, those guys are made for Purdue. This year Fran McCaffery has the big guy dominating the paint in the Big Ten.

A dark-horse Wooden Award candidate, Garza averages 22.9 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. He takes up a lot of space and has an incredibly soft touch around the rim. Garza has all of the tools of an old-school big man, with more athleticism to move around the court. If you are flipping through the channels and see Iowa in action, stop what you’re doing an enjoy Luka Garza. They don’t make too many like him anymore.

It may still be January, but it's never too early to start thinking about March Madness. Check out BetAmerica's NCAAB futures today.