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These juniors are ready to take college basketball by storm

Providence Kris Dunn and Notre Dame's Demetrius Jackson lead a strong crop of juniors.

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

NBC Sports' Scott Phillips joined me to talk about the top juniors in the country. Previously:

More words below:

PG Kris Dunn - Providence

There was a time when Kris Dunn's star-crossed first two years at Providence made it seem like he'd never get this far. After being named a McDonald's All-American out of the class of 2012, Dunn tore the labrum in his right shoulder just before the start of his freshman year. The next season, he had to take a medical redshift after injuring his shoulder again diving for a loose ball in an exhibition game.

Dunn returned with a vengeance last season. His raw numbers were incredible -- 15.6 points, 7.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game. His advanced stats were just as impressive: he was No. 5 in the country in steal rate and lapped the rest of America by finishing No. 1 in assist rate. To put Dunn's 50 percent assist rate in perspective, the difference between Dunn and No. 5 Cameron Payne (a lottery pick by the Oklahoma City Thunder) was the same as the difference between Payne and the player who finished No. 94 overall (Central Arkansas' Michael Martin).

Beyond that, Dunn became college basketball very own Vine star by leveraging his 6'9 wingspan and ultra quick hands into some of the best highlight reel plays of last season:

Dunn definitely would have been a first-round draft pick and might have gone in the lottery had he decided to declare for the NBA draft, but he chose to return to school. It was a curious decision if only because the team around him at Providence won't be as talented last year's No. 6 seed that lost in the Round of 64. LaDontae Henton, one of the top senior scorers in the country, has graduated, Paschal Chukwu transferred to Syracuse, Tyler Harris transferred to Auburn and big man Carson Desrosiers also graduated.

What's left is for Dunn? The challenge of trying to be the best player in the country on a team that might have to overachieve just to make the NCAA Tournament. But at this point, you shouldn't count Kris Dunn out.

PG Demetrius Jackson - Notre Dame

Last year was the most successful season of Notre Dame basketball since the late 70s, when Bill Lambier and Orlando Woolridge led the Irish to the national title game and an Elite Eight. So yeah, it had been a while. Notre Dame had a chance to advance to the Final Four against a 37-0 Kentucky team on its final possession, but Jerian Grant's shot fell short. Now Grant and sidekick Pat Connaughton are off to the NBA, leaving Jackson to run the show.

Notre Dame ranked No. 2 in offensive efficiency in the country last season thanks to a four- or five-out system that allowed its dynamic guards a clear path to make plays in the paint. That shouldn't change much even with attrition to the roster. It sets up beautifully for Jackson, a lead guard with a strong frame, blazing speed and a dependable three-point stroke.

It was only a few years ago when Trey Burke's pro stock soared in part because of Michigan's pristine spacing. Jackson could benefit from a similar system at Notre Dame this year. With room to operate, Jackson has no problem using his explosiveness to make plays at the rim.

Toss in back-to-back seasons of three-point shooting above 40 percent and it's easy to see why Jackson is one of the country's best returning point guards. It's going to be awfully difficult to live up to the standard Notre Dame set last season without Grant and Connaughton, but there's enough talent here for a tournament run and the trump card that is Jackson set to give the Irish a fighting chance in any game.

F Nigel Hayes - Wisconsin

Off the court, we'll give Hayes the preseason nod as the most entertaining player in America. He did it all last season: dropped words like antidisestablishmentarianism in press conferences, professed his appreciation for an NCAA stenographer and emitted a heavenly glow from Kobe's locker.

You could say our love for him is ... cattywampus. Or something.

nigel hayes

On the court, Hayes is about as dependable and no-nonsense as it gets. He's drawn Draymond Green comparisons for his ability to swing between either forward spot, defend bigger players thanks to his 7'2 wingspan and hit an open jump shot. Hayes didn't even attempt a three as a freshman, but hit 39.6 percent of the 101 three-pointers he took as a sophomore.

How will Hayes adjust to being the focal point of the offense instead of the third option behind Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker? Will Bo Ryan uses him at the three or the four? Which unsuspecting reporter will have to transcribe him saying deinstitutionalization? There are questions for both Hayes and the Badgers to answer this year, but based on past results, it should be a delightful experience.

PG Monte Morris - Iowa State


Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

The simple fact that Monte Morris chose to play for Iowa State out of high school instead of transferring into Ames from another program makes him something of a rarity for the Cyclones. Even more uncommon is the pristine care with which Morris handles the ball: after setting a freshman record for assist to turnover ratio, he followed it up last season leading the country in that category once again.

In 70 college games, Morris has 310 assists to just 66 turnovers. Things will be different in Ames this year with Fred Hoiberg off to the NBA to coach the Bulls, but Steve Prohm comes in from Murray State with a similarly quick-hitting offense that should put an experienced and talented Iowa State team in position to succeed once again.

With Georges Niang back for his senior year on the wing, Jameel McKay entrenched in the front court for a full season and several accomplished shooters ready to keep the spirit of Hoiberg's offense alive, Iowa State will be a worthy top 10 team in the preseason polls even after last year's unthinkable loss to UAB in the Round of 64.

Tying it all together is Morris' steady hand. Morris led the Big 12 in offensive rating and offensive win shares last year, and his three-point stroke stayed around 40 percent even as his workload increased. The Big 12 Tournament, which Iowa State won for the second straight year, was Morris' finest hour: he hit a buzzer-beater in a 24-point effort against Texas, and didn't turn the ball once during three games in Kansas City.

Five other names to watch mentioned in the podcast:

  • C Damian Jones - Vanderbilt
  • F DeAndre Bembry - St. Joseph's
  • F Malcolm Hill - Illinois
  • F Troy Williams - Indiana
  • C Kennedy Meeks - North Carolina