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2021 NCAA Tournament Players to Watch

By Liam Blutman, 03/15/21, 3:45PM CDT


It’s here. It is finally here. THE NCAA TOURNAMENT IS BACK! After last years Tournament was cancelled and all the uncertainty surrounding this season... we’ve made it. We really made it. I’ve spent so much time watching CBB this year (just like any other year) and of course it’s been at any level, whether it be the Big Ten or the Big Sky, I was tuned in so now I’m going to talk about five players to watch in the Big Dance. Get a pen and paper out, remember these names.

Jason Preston - Guard - Ohio

16.6 PPG - 7.2 APG - 6.8 RPG

53% FG - 40.8% 3pt

No cap, I haven’t watched a player more than Jason Preston in the last two seasons. This is my guy and he’s a sensational player that is receiving a little national attention as of late. I fell in love with Preston’s game at the 2019 Myrtle Beach Invitational and to be exact, it was a 12 point and 3 assist game against Baylor that first caught my eye. Remember this... Star players shine no matter where they play or how well they play. In both the good and bad games you can see the traits screaming right at you. And oh boy did this dudes passing scream right at me. I texted Rashad Phillips in December of 2019 and asked if he’d seen Preston, he hadn’t really but he was eager to check him out thanks to my recommendation. The game I told him to watch was an upcoming clash with Purdue. Again it wasn’t a great night for him on the stat sheet but RP saw those traits shine and fell in love with this future star. So, what is Jason Preston all about? The 6’4”, 187-pound PG is a Traditional Guard/Floor General that displays elite IQ and understanding of the game. He pairs that with absurd vision and deadly passing skills which makes him a surgical dimer. Preston is a crazy athlete too as you can see by his acrobatic jump passes that he took from LeBron James game! He’s got a crazy vert and is a nasty dunker even though he’s not a big in game dunker. A strong finisher at the rim, he uses an arsenal of different shots down in the paint, one of his favorites is a leaner off his right foot and he’ll bank it in often. The scouts wanted to say he couldn’t shoot and uhhhh they were wrong... Preston shot 40.6% from three this season and took a lot more 3’s than anticipated. He’s got a nice shot and showed us some major distance as he hit from NBA range and then some, multiple times in the last few weeks. The one thing I wanted to see from Jason this season was for him to be selfish. I wanted to see him get hungrier when it came to scoring, go and get your own buckets and takeover some games. It’s what he did. This kid has a killer instinct and we saw it against Illinois, we saw it in the MAC Tournament. Pay close attention to Preston when you watch him play this week, he’s always active and is like having a coach on the floor. When he makes a pass he’s not done, he’s directing his teammates like air traffic controller, he’s setting up plays on the fly all the time as he analyzes the defense and breaks down his opponent. You could call him a quarterback because it’s what he is. There’s a reason he’s always been a top ten prospect for me, whether it was the 2020 Draft or the upcoming 2021 Draft, he’s in my top ten for a reason. I’m going to keep warning them about Jason Preston, this is only the beginning, his amazing story isn’t close to being finished. 

Prediction - Jason Preston leads Ohio to the Sweet 16 and is FINALLY talked about as a first round draft pick. Preston averages 22.4 PPG and 7.5 APG after his first two games. 

Max Abmas - Guard - Oral Roberts 

24.4 PPG - 3.7 APG - 3.2 RPG

48.6% FG - 43.8% 3pt

Bucket getter. Max Abmas gets buckets. The leading scorer in the country averaged 24.4 PPG on 48.6% FG and shot 43.8% from deep. He’s another guy I wrote about a few months ago as Rashad and I have been keeping up with him all season! Seeing him lead Oral Roberts to the big dance was no surprise.  I saw this guy torch Oklahoma State for 36 and 9 dimes in December and he was easily the best player in Stillwater that day... not Cade. Max is a crazy good player. First off... if you like Steph Curry, you have to like Max Abmas. That’s the law I created a few months ago as Abmas channels his inner Curry by shooting from way downtown fairly often. He was so lethal that Oral Roberts started tweeting #MidCourtMax and I’d see that tweet multiple times a night. While Max didn’t show the Curry range off in the Summit League Tourney, you can be certain that he’ll showcase it this upcoming week. Abmas is a 4-Level scorer as he scores from everywhere whether it’s inside, outside, at the free-throw line or mid-range. He’s a 90% FT shooter by the way. At 6’1”, 165 you’d claim he’s undersized and wouldn’t think he could score down low, that’s just flat out wrong. Abmas is super quick and displays elite burst, he can get to the rack in a hurry and finishes strong. Also, watch this kid work off the dribble, watch closely. He’s so dang fast that nobody can keep up with him, he’ll pull from deep or cut to the rack, good luck guessing what he’ll do because you’ll probably be wrong either way. He’ll hit you with a mean crossover and then just utilize a violent step-back as he drains a triple in your face. Max Abmas is an effortless yet explosive scorer that gets hotter than dry heat when he gets going. The Max Abmas takeover is here and you better tune in for the show. This is one of the best shows in the sport, you don’t want to miss it. It’s your last chance.

Prediction - Max Abmas and Oral Roberts will compete with Ohio State and make things difficult for the Buckeyes. I see Abmas dropping 33+ in this game and hitting at least two bombs from deep. He’ll make plenty of new fans as he continues to grow into a star sharpshooter. 

Osun Osunniyi - Center - St Bonaventure

10.3 PPG - 9.3 RPG - 2.4 APG

55.2% FG - 2.8 BPG

In my opinion Osun Osunniyi is one of the top X-Factors in the NCAA Tournament. He’s in the top three for sure. This 6’10”, 220-pound beast is a menacing presence down low. Osun has asserted himself as a household name in Mid-Major hoops but hasn’t really gotten the recognition he deserves and even I’m at fault here. He’s played three seasons here and he’s made the A-10 All-Defense team all three years. In his junior season he was finally rewarded with the A-10 Defensive Player of the Year award. He blocked 2.8 shots a game this season and forces opposing offenses to rethink twice... no three times, whether they want to attack the paint or not. If you watched the A-10 Championship you saw just how intimidated the Rams were of Osun. They wanted no part of him after they saw him block 7 shots against Saint Louis in the semis and got a few early ones against the Rams in the finals. He makes life difficult for opposing offenses and his daunting presence allows an already great Bonnies defense to do more and not focus on what’s happening in the paint because they know it’s Osunniyi’s property and he’ll protect it with his life. Osun boasts a 7’8” wingspan! His reach is crazy, he can block shots from locations you’d never expect. On top of his reach he’s an intelligent shot blocker, patient yet vicious. He’s not overly aggressive and his timing is simply superb. On the offensive end he’s very capable of scoring. He plays on a team that displays an efficient offense and has multiple good scorers so he’s not heavily relied on and isn’t seeing the offense run through him. His spectacular reach makes him a lob threat and he’s a pretty good athlete for someone his size. He’s actually shown off an improved jumper this season, it’s really fundamentally sound and his free throw is smooth as well. So he’s got upside on the offensive end but the core of his game derives on the defensive side and his scary good defensive skills. Osun Osunniyi is an elite paint protector with raw skills and puts opposing offenses in a padded cell. Osunniyi is undoubtedly a NBA player and people will realize this soon enough, some highlights in the Big Dance will help his cause! 

Prediction - Osun Osunniyi will shine vs LSU as he collects 12+ points, 10+ boards, and 4+ blocks. If St Bonnie’s wins that game, he’ll also lead them to a win over Michigan in the Round of 32. Osunniyi will be a household name going into his 4th season and he’ll garner some NBA Draft love this offseason.

Johni Broome - Center - Morehead State

13.9 PPG - 9.0 RPG

57.6% FG - 1.8 BPG

This kid right here has a super bright future. As a freshman he put Morehead State on his back and is taking them to the NCAA Tournament. Johni was named the MVP of the OVC Tournament as he averaged 19.3 PPG and 12 RPG, swatted over a shot a game and was 58.5% from the floor. Broome is a lethal weapon in the paint as a post scoring threat, aggressive rebounder, and tough defender. He collected 13 double-doubles this season which was good for 10th in the country, his motor is insane. Broome was also top 10 in the country for Defensive Win Shares at 2, just meaning he was one of the most valuable defenders in the country! As a scorer he does all his damage in the paint and uses plenty of post moves to get buckets. Johni is super tough, watch how hard he works. His effort is relentless and his passion for the game is noticeable on every possession. His timing as a rebounder is prolific, he doesn’t jump early, he doesn’t need to push off. Like he’s just a dang good rebounder with an amazing feel for this trait. He collected 3 Offensive boards per game this season, as a freshman! Johni Broome is going to eat glass these next few seasons and work his way into being a NBA draft pick, mark my words. I love watching Broome play and I’m excited to see more of him, especially on the biggest stage this week! Keep an eye on this guy, I’m telling you he’s going to be a force and will be a coveted prospect. I reached out to Johni about what fans should expect from him and here’s his answer, “You are going to see a lot of celebrations and emotion! I’m someone who has a patient game, who lets the game come to me and am efficient on both the offensive and defensive ends!” Be on the lookout for Johni Broome!

Prediction - Johni Broome records a 15+ point, 13+ rebound double-double against WVU. Broome electrifies Morehead State with his relentless work on both ends of the floor and makes a name for himself going into year two. 

Neemias Queta - Center - Utah State

15.1 PPG - 10.0 RPG - 2.5 APG

55.7% FG - 3.2 BPG

So, I hope y’all aren’t tired of big man talk! I’ll start by saying how happy and relieved I was to see Utah State in the field, so respect to the committee for doing a fantastic job this year. I came away really impressed by the work they did. Anyway... if you follow me on Twitter you know that Neemias Queta is one of my guys and he’s a flat out beast. Here’s to hoping this much deserved national recognition gets him the NBA Draft love he deserves! Currently he is a top 20 guy for me as he’s a surprisingly athletic big at 7’0”, 250-pounds, he runs the floor like a gazelle with such fluid movement. It’s all the more impressive to me considering he has a history of leg injuries, but still the developments in his games while at Utah State have been jaw-dropping. In the MWC Tournament we saw Neemias run the floor and record a chase down block on multiple occasions, if you pay close attention just look at the massive strides he takes and how much ground he covers in such a short amount of time. And then remember that this is a 7 foot monster... Queta is a freak bro. His shot blocking is silly as he’s currently the best shot blocker in the sport. Queta displays excellent timing, well-timed jumps, and good anticipation. You can see him take a slight hop before planting off that hop and springing into the air for a big block, again pay close attention to this guy when he blocks a shot. I see an elite paint protecter, NBA guy just based off of that. On the offensive end he shows a lot of promise, where he’s developed a jumper and is hitting fade-aways from the post. As someone who watched the true freshman version of Neemias in 2018-19, my jaw would have dropped if you told me that this man would be hitting Dirk fade-aways! As I’ve spoken on already, he’s got such fluid movement. He is navigating the baseline with ease and doing fake spins in the post, finishing it off with a monster slam. Neemias is really turning into a stud and y’all need to check out the show. He’s a really underrated passer, when he gets the ball in the post he’s not just looking to force a shot, he’s analyzing his options and looking for an open man if need be. Now here’s some quick fun stats about Queta... he recorded 90 blocks and 71 assists this season, he was the only player in the country to record 65+ blocks and assists. He recorded a double-double in 8 straight games which tied him with Kawhi Leonard for the second most in MWC history, Andrew Bogut is first with 9. Back in his freshman season I warned y’all and said to BUY STOCK NOW. I hope you did, if not just take this second chance and do it now, before it’s too late. Neemias Queta to the moon.

Prediction - Neemias Queta powers Utah State to a win over Texas Tech. Queta will have a 20+ point, 8+ rebound, 4+ block game and send a Mac McClung shot flying. By the games end people will finally realize that Neemias Queta is a first round pick in the 2021 draft.

I hope you enjoyed these write-ups and predictions, there are so many other fun players to watch that I’ll be covering all month so please consider following me at @Blutman27 on Twitter! If not that’s ok, don’t worry about it!

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