clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The 10 most important college basketball players for 2015-16

As the 2015-16 season draws near, we look at the 10 players who will have more of a say in their teams' success than any others in the country.

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

These 10 players won't necessarily be the 10 best in college basketball this season, but they'll have more of a say in how well their respective teams perform than any others.

Buddy Hield -- SR, G, Oklahoma

Hield was one of the few players in college basketball this spring who had a legitimate chance to be selected in the NBA Draft and still chose to return to school. The native of the Bahamas had a monster junior season, averaging 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game on his way to earning Big 12 Player of the Year and third team AP All-American honors. Lon Kruger's team will miss TaShawn Thomas, but Hield's return should make them a preseason top 15, if not top 10, selection.

We also can't wait for more of his postgame interviews.

Ben Simmons -- FR, F, LSU

Simmons has been open about his desire to be the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, and if LSU is going to win the national championship -- a proclamation already made by fellow five-star freshman Antonio Blakeney -- he'd better be ready to live up to that hype. Easily the most highly touted player to come to LSU since Shaquille O'Neal, Simmons was being used in advertising campaigns for season tickets before he even arrived on campus. The versatile 6'10 forward can do just about everything imaginable on a basketball court, and his complete skill set will need to be on full display if the Tigers are going to win a game in the big dance (let alone six) for the first time since 2009.

Demetrius Jackson -- JR, G, Notre Dame

Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton are both gone, but the other major player who led Notre Dame to within one shot of crashing the 2015 Final Four is headed back to South Bend for another run at a title. Demetrius Jackson became a leader on the court for the Irish last season, but with those two senior stars gone, he's spent his summer working on how to become a better team captain in all respects. The lightning quick 6'1 floor general will also enter his junior year with a major chip on his shoulder after playing likely his worst game in months when Notre Dame fell to Kentucky 68-66 in the Midwest Regional final last March.

Damion Lee -- SR, G, Louisville

The nation's fourth-highest scorer last season, Lee chose to use his final year of eligibility somewhere other than Drexel because he wanted to play in the NCAA Tournament and prove that he could still be a star at the highest level. He'll have the opportunity to do both at Louisville, which lost 80 percent of its scoring from a 2014-15 squad whose biggest issue was, well, scoring. Lee gave Cardinal fans a brief glimpse at what he's capable of by dropping 36 points in Louisville's first exhibition game against the Puerto Rican National Team on Aug. 11.

Tyler Ulis -- SO, G, Kentucky

Andrew Harrison is a Memphis Grizzly, which means the "Tyler Ulis doesn't start, but he's actually Kentucky's best point guard" talk can finally rest peacefully. Ulis himself had an opportunity to jump to the league, but made the decision to return to Lexington so that he could make another run at a national title, but do so as a leader this time. The importance of the point guard position under John Calipari has been well documented, so it's a good thing for BBN that they have one of the best in the country ready to run the show full-time.

Xavier Rathan-Mayes -- SO, G, Florida State

Leonard Hamilton is putting in some major work on the recruiting trail right now. But if he wants to get Florida State back into the dance (and as a major contender) for the first time since 2012, he's going to need his sophomore star to shoulder the bulk of the scoring load this season. A year ago, Rathan-Mayes became the first player in ACC history to score 30 or more points in three different games as a freshman. The second of those three performances was the most memorable, as Rathan-Mayes scored 30 points in the final 4:38 of an 81-77 loss to Miami. He scored 26 consecutive points for the Seminoles without missing a shot, and finished with a game-high 35.

Jalen Brunson -- FR, G, Villanova

This seems like an odd selection given that Villanova returns a senior guard in Ryan Arcidiacono who just so happened to be the co-Big East Player of the Year last season. However, Brunson -- the highest-rated recruit Jay Wright has landed since Corey Stokes in 2007 -- is that good. Villanova is associated with star guards in the same way that Georgetown is associated with dominant big men, and Wright has never been afraid to go small if he believes it gives his team the best opportunity to win. Even with the Wildcat backcourt already seeming crowded before his arrival, Brunson is too good and too fierce a competitor to not be the player who has the biggest say in whether or not 'Nova can break its recent trend of NCAA Tournament flameouts.

Isaiah Taylor -- JR, G, Texas

Few players had more disappointing seasons in 2014-15 than Taylor. First there was a wrist injury in November that forced him to sit on the sidelines for 10 non-conference games. Then there was a disappointing return in which Taylor seemed to be consistently trying to do too much. Finally there was the end of the season thud, in which Taylor was a combined 11-of-31 from the field in disappointing Big 12 Tournament and NCAA Tournament losses to Iowa State and Butler, respectively. The miserable four month stretch had Taylor ready to pack his bags and leave Austin, but then Steve Patterson hired Shaka Smart. Now, Taylor will be the front man as Smart attempts to bring his famous "Havoc" style to Texas.

Kyle Wiltjer -- SR, F, Gonzaga

It's a bit mind-blowing to think that Wiltjer, one of the trendy preseason picks for national Player of the Year, was once a classmate of Anthony Davis' on Kentucky's 2011-12 national championship team. After seriously considering a jump to the professional ranks, Wiltjer elected to extend his fascinating college career by one more season. The Zags also return the talented inside duo of Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis, but it's Wiltjer who will undoubtedly have the largest say in how successful the team can be without Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. and Byron Wesley.

Nigel Hayes -- JR, F, Wisconsin

Hayes may have been best known last season for his humorous love of stenography and stenographers during the Badgers' NCAA Tournament. That reputation overshadowed the fact that he was likely Wisconsin's second-best player (Sam Dekker wasn't himself when he was hobbled by an ankle injury during the early part of the season) for most of last year. Hayes will have to morph from solid role player and funny man into star captain quickly if Wisconsin wants to contend for another Big 10 title, let alone another national championship.