While recovering from lymphoma and chemotherapy treatments, I have had lots of time to watch college basketball from my couch. I have been impressed with a number of players who have shown big-time improvement -- so many have developed into vital players capable of challenging for Wooden Award and All-America honors later in the year.
I have put together 10 players to watch who have seen their stats improve, and their roles dramatically increased:
Keegan Murray, Iowa Hawkeyes (sophomore, 6-foot-8, 225 pounds)
Last season: 7.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 50.6 FG%
This season: 24.5 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 59.2 FG%
Iowa lost a lot of talent from last season, including Luka Garza (Wooden Award winner), Joe Wieskamp (NBA draft pick), CJ Fredrick (transferred to Kentucky, but is out for the season injured) and Jack Nunge (transferred to Xavier). Murray has stepped up, shooting better from distance and developing into a star. He will challenge for the national scoring title. The son of former Hawkeye Kenyon Murray (1993-96) has scored 25 points or more seven times already this season.
Bennedict Mathurin, Arizona Wildcats (sophomore, 6-6, 210)
Last season: 10.8 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 47.1 FG%
This season: 18.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 50.6 FG%
Under coach Tommy Lloyd, the Wildcats have been one of the biggest surprises in America. A key reason is Mathurin, who has shown confidence in his shooting ability -- he wants the ball in his hands to take the big shot. Mathurin scored 30 points vs. Illinois, 29 vs. Oregon State, 28 vs. Tennessee and 27 vs. Washington, shooting at least 50% in each of those contests.
Johnny Davis, Wisconsin Badgers (sophomore, 6-5, 194)
Last season: 7.0 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.1 APG
This season: 22.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 2.5 APG
It helps that Davis is playing 10 more minutes per game than he did in 2020-21. He has developed into a star, shining in big games. He scored 37 points while grabbing 14 rebounds in an upset at Purdue on Monday. Davis also dominated against a ranked Houston squad, putting up 30 points, and scored 25 points vs. rival Marquette.
Tari Eason, LSU Tigers (sophomore, 6-8, 216)
Last season: 7.3 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 46.2 FG%
This season: 15.6 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 52.8 FG%
LSU lost a lot of talent (Cam Thomas, Javonte Smart, Trendon Watford), and Eason has stepped up. He has scored 20 or more points four times after doing it just once last season.
Wendell Moore Jr., Duke Blue Devils (junior, 6-5, 213)
Last season: 9.7 PPG, 41.7 FG%, 4.8 RPG
This season: 16.3 PPG, 55.6 FG%, 5.4 RPG
Moore has improved his shooting range and been more of a leader, working well alongside a young, talented class of diaper dandies. He posted double-digits in each of the Blue Devils' first 12 outings, including 20-plus points four times.
Justin Lewis, Marquette Golden Eagles (2nd-year freshman, 6-7, 245)
Last season: 7.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG
This season: 15.7 PPG, 8.2 RPG
Lewis became a hero last season with his buzzer-beating tip-in against rival Wisconsin, but battled injuries down the stretch that damaged his team's chances in a strong Big East. This season, a healthier Lewis' scoring has doubled. Lewis has scored 17 or more points seven times, including a 23-point, 11-rebound showing in a blowout of Providence on Tuesday night.
Alondes Williams, Wake Forest Demon Deacons (senior, 6-5, 210)
Last season: 6.7 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 48.1 FG% at Oklahoma
This season: 20.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 54.7 FG%
Williams has had several strong games -- including a 20-point showing in an impressive rout of Florida State on Tuesday. The Sooners transfer also scored 36 points vs. VMI, 34 vs. Charlotte and 32 against Western Carolina. His shooting, scoring and rebounding have all improved dramatically since he moved to the ACC.
Andre Kelly, California Golden Bears (senior, 6-9, 255)
Last season: 10.3 PPG, 6.4 RPG
This season: 14.6 PPG, 8.6 RPG
The Golden Bears won nine games all of last season. They have already matched that win total this season under Mark Fox, and Kelly has been an important part of the puzzle. He's played his best basketball against some of Cal's best opponents, including Seton Hall (23 points), Oregon State (20 points) and Santa Clara (18 points) and also scored 29 in Cal's controversial double-overtime win over Southern Utah.
Darius McGhee, Liberty Flames (senior, 5-9, weight unlisted)
Last season: 15.5 PPG, 2.1 APG
This season: 21.5 PPG, 3.1 APG
McGhee was a solid player last season but has increased his scoring dramatically for a team looking to get back to the NCAA tournament. In the Rainbow Classic, he posted 41 points vs. Stanford and 29 against BYU.
Antonio Reeves, Illinois State Redbirds (junior, 6-6, 185)
Last season: 12.4 PPG, 3.3 RPG
This season: 21.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG
Reeves has gone for 20-plus points nine times, including 23 in a competitive loss at Wisconsin on Dec. 29. He's been reliable shooting the 3, averaging more than three per game and shooting 43.9% from beyond the arc.
The 17th annual Dick Vitale Gala, benefiting the V Foundation, will be held May 6 at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota, Florida. For more information visit dickvitaleonline.com.