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College basketball's 25 most intriguing players for the 2012-13 season

Pat Forde
Yahoo Sports
NCAA Basketball: Division I Championship-Indiana vs Kentucky
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Mar 23, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Indiana Hoosiers forward Cody Zeller (40) dunks the ball against the Kentucky Wildcats in the second half during the semifinals of the south region of the 2012 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE

The 2012-13 college basketball season should be intriguing. How intriguing? Let me count the ways this week. First up, the 25 most intriguing players:

1. Cody Zeller, Indiana center: The third and final Zeller to man the middle for a high-major program has a chance to lead the Hoosiers back to where they once belonged. Namely, the Final Four (haven't been since 2002) or maybe even the national title (haven't won one since 1987). 

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Nerlens Noel

Nerlens Noel

2. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky center: It's a big burden, being labeled The Next Anthony Davis. The nation's No. 1 recruit in the class of 2012 doesn't have Davis' all-around polish or skill, but he can block shots like a beast and will be key to the Wildcats' title defense.

3. Peyton Siva, Louisville point guard: Charismatic little man is the team's bellwether. When he struggles (like much of last season), the Cardinals are fairly ordinary. When he's playing well (like last March), the Cardinals are almost impossible to beat. If Siva is locked in for the entirety of his senior year, it will end in Atlanta in April.

4. Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA guard: The intrigue here is whether the most talented freshman in America will ever suit up as a Bruin. The NCAA investigation into his pre-college amateur status is ongoing, with UCLA fans waiting and wondering when he can be added to the program's hoped-for comeback season.

5. C.J. Leslie, North Carolina State forward: He's the hub of the Wolfpack's high-post offense and the guy who will be most responsible for bringing to fruition the program's decades-long quest to supplant North Carolina and Duke as king of Tobacco Road.

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6. Doug McDermott, Creighton forward: Might be the nation's most skilled player, a 23-point scorer and coach's son who has a chance for a Jimmer Season – carrying a mid-major into the top 10 and into the national title discussion.

7. Ben McLemore, Kansas guard: Academically ineligible last season, McLemore should immediately step into a starring role as the Jayhawks try to replicate last year's overachieving run to a Big 12 title and the national championship game. 

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Trevor Mbakwe

Trevor Mbakwe

8. Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota forward: No player has generated more headlines leading into the season. First, Mbakwe was spared jail time for a probation violation, when he could have been sent to jail for 30 months. Then, he vowed via Twitter to repay his scholarship if the Gophers don't make the NCAA tournament this season. Never a dull moment with this guy.

9. DeShaun Thomas, Ohio State forward: With Jared Sullinger gone to the NBA, it's now Thomas' turn to be the Buckeyes' centerpiece. Thomas matured significantly last season, but still has some room to grow in terms of shot selection and leadership. Can he handle being the face of a top-five team?

10. James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina forward: After deferring as a freshman to a team loaded with upper-class talent, it's now McAdoo's time to become the next Tar Heels star. Given how much the team lost to the NBA, he'll need to be as good as everyone believes he is.

[Related: Indiana headlines what should be nation's strongest conference]

11. Phil Pressey, Missouri point guard: Absolutely fearless little man leads a bunch of transfers into a new league and was immediately voted the SEC preseason Player of the Year. Can he and the new Tigers mesh quickly enough to approximate last year's dreamy 30-win season? Minus the round-of-64 NCAA tournament upset loss this time around? 

12. Isaiah Canaan, Murray State guard: Confident, clutch leader of America's 2012 Cinderella tested the draft waters but returned for his senior season. The Racers lost enough that they aren't likely to start this year 23-0, but Canaan's play should keep them on the national radar. 

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C.J. McCollum

C.J. McCollum

13. C.J. McCollum, Lehigh guard: One of the charms of college basketball is that, occasionally, you can find a national star in a place like Bethlehem, Pa., playing in a conference like the Patriot League. The guy who shot down Duke in the NCAAs last year is back, bringing his 22 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.6 steals with him.

14. Mitch McGary, Michigan center: Could he be the Wolverines' version of Cody Zeller? Highly touted recruit will team with guards Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Glenn Robinson III on what could be Michigan's best team in nearly 20 years.

15. Mark Lyons, Arizona guard: Lyons is a major talent but became a major headache at Xavier, where he was basically invited to transfer after clashing with coach Chris Mack. Lyons graduated and is eligible to play immediately for the Wildcats, who will plug him into what should be a top 10 lineup.

16. Tony Mitchell, North Texas forward: What is a potential top-five NBA draft pick doing in Denton, Texas, playing for the Mean Green? After being denied eligibility at Missouri, Mitchell wound up at UNT and became a double-double machine. He's back for a sophomore season that could make him a national breakout player. 

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Anthony Bennett

Anthony Bennett

17. Anthony Bennett, UNLV forward: Powerful Canadian import was a recruiting coup for the Rebels. Plugging him in along with returnees Mike Moser and Anthony Marshall has Vegas fans dreaming of the Tarkanian glory days all over again – preferably without the NCAA investigations.

18. Steven Adams, Pittsburgh center: There is huge buzz surrounding the huge (7-0, 250) Adams. The freshman from New Zealand is considered vital to the Panthers' return to prominence after plummeting out of the NCAA tourney and off-radar last season.

19. Michael Snaer, Florida State guard: Mr. Big Shot led the Seminoles to a great season, capped off by winning the ACC tournament in an upset of North Carolina. But his 4-for-18 shooting in the NCAA tourney, which featured a second-round loss to Cincinnati, left Snaer some unfinished business in his senior year.

[Related: Patience pays off for Cincinnati's Sean Kilpatrick]

20. Mason Plumlee, Duke center: He's the middle member of the Plumlee brothers, and the most talented. If the Blue Devils are going to maintain their ACC primacy in what has the makings of a transition year, Plumlee will have to play at a higher level than he has his first three seasons.

21. Rotnei Clarke, Butler guard: Possibly America's best pure shooter, Clark arrives via transfer from Arkansas and could give the Bulldogs the firepower they lacked last year in missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006. If Butler is indeed back, Clark will have a large say in it. 

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Michael Carter-Williams

Michael Carter-Williams

22. Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse guard: One of the hallmarks of Jim Boeheim's success has been player development as their careers progress, and nobody's development will be more important to the Orange this season. Carter-Williams was a prep All-American who made almost no impact last year, averaging 2.7 points in 10 minutes per game. Those numbers will need to increase dramatically this year for the 'Cuse to again be a national contender.

23. Gary Harris, Michigan State guard: Freshman was a major recruiting score, and Tom Izzo will not hesitate to plug him into a key role for this year's Spartans. Without Draymond Green, this Michigan State team is solid everywhere but spectacular nowhere. Can Harris add a dash of the spectacular?

24. Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State guard: No player in America made a greater freshman-to-sophomore leap last year than Franklin, who went from 2.9 points and 1.9 rebounds to 17.4 points and 7.9 rebounds as the Aztecs remained powerful. This year, the defending Mountain West Conference Player of the Year could lead SDSU to its best season.

25. Eric Katenda, Notre Dame forward: Shortly before enrolling as a freshman in 2011, a freak playground injury cost him the vision in his left eye. But Katenda persevered and will be in uniform for a Fighting Irish team that begins the season in the top 25 and has big aspirations.

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