Bracket season is officially here as the NCAA Tournament kicks off Thursday with a 16-game slate.
Picking upsets or the program you expect to win it all can be difficult, so why not just select a bunch of players you want to watch and take their teams to advance deep?
This year is full of top talent worth checking out over the next couple weeks, and even if you haven't watched a college basketball game this season, there's a strong chance you already know the first name on this list.
Magic, Larry, Michael, Kobe, LeBron ... Zion. It didn't take long for the Duke phenom to become the latest superstar recognizable by just his first name. The high-flying freshman has been everything we expected and more in his one season at the collegiate level, blowing out buildings with nightly highlight reels. Any concerns over his knee sprain were laid to rest with his beastly performance in the ACC Tournament, as the 6-foot-7, 285-pounder averaged 27 points and 10 rebounds in Duke's run to the title.
Zion is the consensus No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, but Ja Morant is doing his best to take over as the second-best prospect. The Murray State guard may not play in a major conference, but he's made a name for himself with absurd stats and Russell Westbrook-like athleticism. You want scoring? Morant is eighth in the nation at 24.6 points per contest. Need a setup man? The sophomore leads the entire country with 10 assists per game, two more than the next best player. In case you needed another reason to watch Morant in the opening round, he'll be going toe to toe with Markus Howard and high-scoring Marquette.
Admiral might be a rank usually reserved for the navy, but the way Schofield walks the skies for Tennessee, a position with the Air Force is probably more appropriate. The Volunteers star turns in as many highlights as anybody not named Zion, including this outrageous dunk in the SEC Tournament. Not just a rim-rocker, Schofield averages 16 points per game and connects on a very healthy 41 percent of his 3-pointers. With Tennessee poised to make a deep run in the tournament as the No. 2 seed, expect to see a lot of Schofield on your screen in the next couple weeks.
As much fun as it is to root for the hero, we need a good villain to truly make things interesting. Enter Michigan's Ignas Brazdeikis, who will gladly play the part for the Wolverines. The Canadian freshman has quickly become one of college basketball's most polarizing players while leading Michigan in scoring. Given head coach John Beilein's success in March, expect Brazdeikis to be around for the duration of the event. That will give him plenty of time to thrill, and annoy, all those watching at home.
Here we have an explosive guard who boasts two 45-point games and one incredible 53-point outing this season. If that's something you might be interested in then check out Howard and Marquette in the opening round against Murray State. Howard is the sixth-highest scorer in the country at 25 points per contest and leads a Golden Eagles team that loves to get out on the break and run. His opening-round matchup against Morant is arguably the best of the bunch.
If you like guys who get buckets in bunches, Myles Powell might just become your favorite player at this tournament. The Seton Hall junior is fresh off an exhilarating performance at the Big East tourney, including a record-setting 29 points in the first half against Georgetown. Powell is 13th in the country in scoring this season and has 25 or more points in five of his last seven games.
It's a safe bet that Tacko Fall will be the first thing you notice when watching UCF play. It's impossible to miss the Senegalese center as he stands at a whopping 7-foot-6 and is a shot-blocking machine for the AAC program. As one would expect, he's also a dominant rebounder, ripping down seven per game despite playing an average of just 24 minutes.
While CJ Massinburg may not resonate on the national level, Arizona fans are certainly familiar with the Buffalo guard after he torched the school in last year's NCAA Tournament for five 3-pointers in the opening round. The 6-foot-3 sharpshooter led the Bulls to a ridiculous 31-3 record this year while averaging 18.3 points per contest. Don't be shocked if Buffalo once again makes noise in this year's tournament, introducing more people to Massinburg in the process.
Coby White's massive afro is enough to draw eyes on the court, but it's his standout play that keeps them locked on the North Carolina star. Roy Williams traditionally doesn't lean heavily on first-year players, but he handed the offense over to the electric point guard and the Tar Heels have flourished. White is averaging 16.3 points and over four assists per game for the nation's third-highest scoring team.
The juggernaut that is Gonzaga rolls on with another No. 1 seed and Hachimura leads the way for the Bulldogs at 20.1 points per contest. The 6-foot-8 Japan native has a dominant inside-outside game that even stretches to the 3-point line. After making just 19 percent of his triples last season, Hachimura has connected on over 46 percent this year. With Gonzaga pacing the country in scoring, expect a few big performances from the junior star to vault him up NBA draft boards.