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Joe Boozell | | December 26, 2018

These are 7 of the best college basketball players we've seen this season

Zion Williamson headlines the hoops show at Duke

College basketball is loaded with talent in 2018-19, and several players have legitimate claims to make this list.

But these guys have been the most consistently dominant performers this season. Here are seven college basketball stars who stand above the rest.

Zion Williamson, Duke

Williamson has a player efficiency rating of 40.8, which is all sorts of bonkers. PER is a formula that boils down all of a player's contributions into one number. He's a highlight reel unto himself, throwing down thunderous slams and swatting shots way up into the stands on a nightly basis.

We expected all of that based on Williamson's reputation coming into college. But his statistical dominance has been a pleasant surprise.

Williamson is shooting 65.2 percent from the floor and making 72.4 percent of his 2s. His per-40 minute stats: 30.3 points, 14.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 3.2 steals and 2.9 blocks. Williamson's outside shooting has been suspect, but he's dominant in every other facet of the game.

You can become a star if you're decent in every category. A guy who's a B+ at everything turns out to be an awesome player when you mash it all together. But Williamson blows those standards out of the water; he might be the best defender in the country, and that's the part of his game that doesn't get talked about. Duke has the No. 3 defense in the nation and he's a big reason why. The only thing stopping him on offense is a lack of shot attempts. He's the rare player who can beat pretty much any defender with both speed and strength.

Enjoy the Zion college experience while you can.

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin

Happ doesn't shoot 3s, barely makes half his free-throws, and doesn't physically overwhelm anyone. But his best skills are on such a high level that none of that matters. Happ is averaging 19.2 points, 10.6 rebounds and five assists for 10-2 Wisconsin.

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Happ is a rare breed. He's improved immensely throughout his college career but hasn't really added any new skills, which is how most players get better. Happ has just doubled and tripled down on his strengths, and now, he's unstoppable. He's basically automatic near the rim, twisting and turning his body and playing angles as well as anyone. Nobody plays harder.

But what's most impressive about Happ's stat line is his playmaking. Some of the best point guards in the sport don't average five assists per game, but Happ is doing it as a center. The Badgers have essentially inverted their offense to feature Happ as a facilitator, and it's worked; Wisconsin is currently 19th in offensive rating, a massive jump from their No. 83 mark last year. Happ may not be able to shoot, but you have to guard him away from the rim. If you don't, it's like giving an elite quarterback all day to find an open receiver.

Happ could lead the Badgers deep into March.

Ja Morant, Murray State

Morant is a magician, and one of the most complete players in the sport. After a solid freshman season at Murray State, he's dazzled as a sophomore, averaging 23 points, seven rebounds and 9.3 assists per game. The assist mark leads the country.

Morant may only have one triple-double, but he's a threat to post one every night and has come close several times. That's not something you can usually say about college players. Morant is doing this efficiently, too, shooting 52.3 percent from the floor. He's the best passer in the game, probably by a healthy margin. But Morant is also an elite scorer and rebounder. It's wild that a 6-3 point guard is averaging seven rebounds.

Murray State is 8-2. It could make the NCAA tournament; we don't know. But if the Racers do, Morant could become the next big name to emerge from a Cinderella.

Grant Williams, Tennessee

We talked in the Williamson section about how a player who does everything at a B+ level winds up being a star when you add everything up. There are areas in which Williams is better than a B+, but that feels like an apt description of him.

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He has no weaknesses. Coming into the year it was outside shooting, but he's making a tidy 41.2 percent of his 3s (on a limited number of attempts, but opponents must honor him out there). Williams is averaging 19.6 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.7 blocks for 10-1 Tennessee. If Happ is the best passing big man in the game, Williams is right behind him.

We talk a lot about athleticism when evaluating basketball players, but strength gets underplayed these days. It shouldn't, and Williams is the case for why. At 235 pounds of muscle, Williams is able to bull-rush foes on both ends; combine strength with touch, and you'll have a great offensive player. Williams routinely powers his way to the hoop before finding a creative way to finish. He's immovable on defense.

Admiral Schofield is nearly as good as Williams, but the latter is just a bit more advanced. Regardless, the Volunteers have a frightening 1-2 duo.

Carsen Edwards, Purdue

Brian Spurlock | USA TODAY Sports Images carsen-edwards

With Isaac Haas, Vince Edwards and Dakota Mathias leaving off of last year's team, we knew Carsen Edwards would have to carry a heavy load this season. He's thrived in a higher-volume role.

Purdue, which has a disappointing 7-5 record, still has the nation's No. 6 offense. And Edwards is the team's best scorer by a mile; he's averaging 26 points on 44.2 percent shooting while making 39.8 percent of his 3s. Edwards sees extra defensive attention from opponents on a nightly basis, but that doesn't stop him. His pull-up 3 is one of the most lethal shots in the game.

The Boilermakers only have one other player averaging double figures in scoring (Ryan Cline). Purdue's record is a bit misleading; it's played one of the toughest schedules in the land thus far. The Boilermakers are likely NCAA tournament-bound, and Edwards is crucially important to everything they do.

Dedric Lawson, Kansas

Kansas is 10-1, its only loss coming on the road against Arizona State. But it's fair to say that the Jayhawks haven't gotten off to a smooth start. Udoka Azubuike is hurt, the freshman guards are inconsistent, and Kansas has struggled in games you wouldn't expect.

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But outside of LaGerald Vick's 3-point surge, Lawson's excellence is the reason why Kansas is 10-1 and ranked fifth. He's averaging 20.6 points, 11.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists on 53.2 percent shooting while playing sound defense. A combination of depth and star power was the reason to like Kansas coming into the year. The depth has waned, but Lawson has actually exceeded expectations.

He has a knack for having his biggest games against the best opponents. The Jayhawks wouldn't have come close to beating Arizona State without Lawson's 30 points and 14 rebounds. They wouldn't have beat Villanova if he didn't go for 28 and 12. Lawson posted 24 and 13 against Tennessee earlier in the year, which is Kansas' best win.

Lawson is an all-around beast.

Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga

We thought this version of Hachimura existed two years ago, but we couldn't be sure. It's remarkable to think back on Gonzaga's 2016-17 runner-up team and remember Hachimura was there, but didn't play much of a role. Now, he's a superstar.

Gonzaga's Rui Hachimura comments after buzzer-beating shot over Washington

Hachimura is Zion-lite, which is meant as a compliment. He physically overwhelms almost anyone who guards him, and his skill level has caught up to his athletic gifts. He's averaging 21.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists on 58 percent shooting. He doesn't take a lot of 3s, but Hachimura is making 44.4 percent of them. Perhaps he should jack more.

But it's easy to see why Hachimura doesn't considering he basically lives at the rim. Mark Few has an equal-opportunity offense, so it's impressive that he's able to average more than 20 points per game. It's taken a pristine level of efficiency to do it. And players who are 6-8, 230 pounds present a certain two-way value that even some of the best point guards can't compete with. Hachimura can guard multiple positions effectively and really ratchet up the defense during crunch time.

He's turned into a key cog for the Zags.


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