Top 10 Players Who Will Get It Done in March Madness
With conference tournaments starting this week, the madness that will ensue in the next month has officially begun. The question on everyone's mind: who will be King of March?
Or, to rephrase: Who will be this year's Kemba Walker?
Last year, Walker had a marvelous season for UConn as he averaged 23.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.9 steals per game, but he took his game to a level few can even dream of once the calender turned to March.
The junior hit clutch shot after clutch shot and put up 30-point performance after 30-point performance as he led the Huskies to a Big East Tournament Title and an NCAA Tournament Title.
Compiling this list isn't necessarily about finding the 10 best players in college basketball or even about finding the 10 best NBA prospects.
Its about finding players who are putting up tremendous numbers this season, but also have the experience, confidence or killer instinct to dominate March Madness, which is a completely different beast compared to the regular season.
With that in mind, here's a look at the Top 10 players ready to get it done in March Madness.
Note: Some teams had more than one candidate, but I made it a stipulation to only include one player from a team. It's unlikely multiple players from the same team will be able to dominate like Walker did.
10. Kevin Jones, West Virginia Mountaineers
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Kevin Jones makes this list because he's having a Big-East-Player-of-the-Year-type season, but he's only No. 10 for a couple of reasons.
First, the West Virginia Mountaineers currently sit on the bubble. Even if they do crack the tourney, it's unlikely this reeling team—it has lost seven of its last nine—will make it very far.
Second, I question Jones as a closer. He's not necessarily someone who can easily create his own shot if there were only 10 seconds left.
Still, the impressive senior is someone to look out for in the next month.
He isn't overly athletic and won't "wow" you with any of his "tools," but he is just one of those guys who quietly gets it done game-in and game-out. Once the final whistle blows, you'll take a gander at the box score and be shocked that he has 25 and 15.
His most important trait is consistency. He is averaging 20 points on the season, but has hit 30 just once and has never scored under 12.
He's the prototypical out-work-everyone type of player, as evidenced by his 11.0 rebounds, 1.0 blocks and 0.7 steals on the year.
Throw in the fact that he's West Virginia's unquestioned leader, and there's no doubt he'll put this team on his back come March.
9. Aaron Craft, Ohio State Buckeyes
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Aaron Craft isn't going to give the Ohio State Buckeyes 20 points per game. In fact, he has yet to hit that mark in his entire career.
He isn't going to knock down the game-winning 3-pointer over two closing defenders. He probably won't even knock down the game-winning mid-range jumper.
It's what Craft—who is essentially the Anthony Davis of perimeter defenders—does on the defensive end that makes him such an irreplaceable player for OSU.
Craft's 2.3 steals in just 30 minutes per game is certainly impressive, but his value goes so much further than that. Despite usually pressuring his man 30 feet away from the basket, Craft never gets beat off the dribble. Because he can stay in front of his assignment and has incredibly quick hands, Craft gets deflections on countless passes, and whether or not they result in steals, it makes Ohio State's defense 10 times better.
On top of that, he takes more charges than any other player I've seen this year. Craft, who is tougher and more trustworthy in big games than most players you'll find, is the guy opposing teams and fans love to hate, but Ohio State fans simply love.
The Buckeyes have much better scorers such as Jared Sullinger, William Buford and Deshaun Thomas, but if they make a deep run in March it will be fueled by Craft's inspiring, energetic and tough play.
8. Damian Lillard, Weber State Wildcats
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If there's anyone who has numbers similar to Kemba Walker's, it's Damian Lillard. And if I had to pick the most exciting player to watch, it would be Damian Lillard.
He only lands at No. 8 because his Wildcats (and don't get it wrong, this team is Lillard's) still need to win the Big Sky Tournament to earn a bid into the Big Dance. Even if they do make it, they'll likely only get a 14- or 15-seed.
But Lillard is just too talented to leave off the list.
While leading Weber State to a 23-4 record, the junior is averaging 24.7 points per game, which is second in the country.
What makes him so dangerous is his ability to score in a variety of ways.
His quickness allows him to penetrate past virtually any defender and either score at the basket or draw the foul. Once at the line, he knocks down the freebies at a rate of 89 percent, which is a large reason why he's first in the nation in free throws made per game.
But the real reason why Lillard has increased his scoring average by seven points this year is his new-found shooting touch. He's attempting just over seven 3-pointers per contest and he's draining a healthy 45 percent of them.
You want variety? 31.6 percent of Lillard's points come from inside the arc, 38.9 percent come from the 3-ball and 29.2 percent come from the line. With Lillard, defenders simply have to pick their poison.
It's just too bad that poison will likely result in a 30- or 40-point game.
Oh, and by the way, Lillard is averaging a stellar 5.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists (to just 2.2 turnovers) and 1.4 steals per game.
He won't reach the championship, but don't be surprised if Lillard's unstoppable play helps Weber State pull off two monumental upsets on the first weekend.
7. Doug McDermott, Creighton Bluejays
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Doug McDermott is like that local guy at your gym who you don't take seriously, but then he scores all 11 points and boots you off the court.
He doesn't have ideal size, he lacks elite athleticism and he wears an elbow sleeve, but he will surprise you every time he plays, even if you know how good he is.
As the son of a coach, McDermott is a very smart player. If he can't rise over a player or blow past him, he'll use an array of crafty moves to find a way to the basket. On top of that, he's developing terrific range, as evidenced by his 48-percent mark from deep.
His 23.1 points per game on just 14.8 shots proves how efficient McDermott really is. He's fourth in the country in true shooting percentage and 13th in effective field goal percentage.
Throw in 8.1 rebounds per game—he's only 6'7"—and McDermott is quietly having one of the best seasons in the country.
The sophomore has the classic "old-man" game, but he and the Creighton Bluejays are going to shock some teams in March.
6. Marcus Denmon, Missouri Tigers
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I'm sure Kansas Jayhawks fans are hoping they don't have to face Marcus Denmon anymore because he has consistently torched them this season.
In the first meeting, Denmon led a ferocious comeback with a barrage of three-balls en route to 29 points on 6-for-9 shooting from deep. Last week it was Kansas that led the big comeback, but it wasn't because of Denmon, who once again was on fire. The senior drilled six more 3-pointers, this time on 10 attempts, and finished the game with 28 points.
Despite his inconsistencies—he went through a pretty ugly drought in the middle of the season—this is what Denmon can do. He takes a lot of threes (7.1 attempts per game), but he has the ability to heat up in a hurry and knock down five or six in a row.
Missouri is a veteran squad, but Denmon is still the unquestionable senior leader. He's leading the team in scoring (18.2 ppg), he rebounds well for his size (5.1 rpg) and records plenty of thefts (1.5 spg).
Because the Tigers have so many guards and because they rely so much on offense to win games, they constantly need someone to catch fire. Don't be surprised if Denmon, who has shown time and time again he has the "clutch" gene, carries this team to the Final 4 with a few 30-point outings.
5. Jae Crowder, Marquette Golden Eagles
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Jae Crowder isn't even the leading scorer on Marquette, but he contributes in so many ways. Even if a team shuts down his offense, there are other facets of the game in which he'll dominate.
With that being said, it's not like it's easy to shut him down on the offensive end. The senior is averaging 17.4 points per game while shooting 52 percent from the field and knocking down two threes per game.
At 6'6" and 235 pounds, he's almost built in that Ron Artest (back when he was good) mold. When he gets a head of steam, there's no stopping him, but he can also step back and hit the jumper.
What makes Crowder so effective is his tireless work ethic, which shows up in the other statistical categories. The senior is averaging 7.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.0 blocks and 2.4 steals on the season.
Along with Kevin Jones, Crowder is a legitimate threat to win Big East Player of the Year.
To add on to all of that, the 21-year-old was instrumental off the bench in Marquette's Sweet-16 run last season, so we know he won't disappear under the limelight.
4. Tyler Zeller, North Carolina Tar Heels
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North Carolina has plenty of candidates to make this list, but Tyler Zeller is easily the most consistent and has the most experience.
Harrison Barnes is an absolute stud in the making, he just doesn't seem to realize that. He lacks killer instict and too often settles for the fadeaway jump shot. Barnes certainly has the talent to carry this team to a championship, I'm just not ready to rely on him doing it.
Then there is John Henson, another future NBA lottery pick. Despite improving his offensive game immensely, Henson is still a bit raw on that side of the ball and outside of put-backs on the offensive glass he can disappear.
Kendall Marshall is another candidate, but he should be classified more as the most important player on this team rather than the one who will carry the team.
That distinction goes to Zeller, UNC's senior leader who is averaging 15.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 1.4 blocks per game.
If you need more proof that the seven-footer will be North Carolina's star in March, just take a look at last year's tournament. Zeller led the team—which has hardly changed this season—in scoring in all four games.
He scored 32, 23, 27 and 21 while providing good rebounding and defense. Zeller clearly shines under the brightest lights, so there is no reason to think he won't do it again this season.
3. Draymond Green, Michigan State Spartans
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If there's something Draymond Green doesn't do on the court, I'd love to know what it is.
The senior from Saginaw is averaging 15.6 points per game, and he scores in a multitude of different ways. He is shooting 45 percent from the field, knocks down over a three per game at a 40 percent clip and hits 71 percent of his free throws.
He rebounds (10.3 rpg), he shares the ball (3.6 apg) and plays defense (0.9 bpg and 1.5 spg). Green has always been a box-score stuffer, but he has taken it to a whole new level during his senior season as he has the Spartans surprisingly contending for a No. 1 seed.
Green even does the things that don't show in box scores like diving for loose balls and takings charges. It's not too often you see a player like Green, who is both a glue guy and someone who puts up gaudy stats.
Oh, and in case you were wondering about his experience, Green has been to two Final 4's and three NCAA Tournaments. The heart of Michigan State knows what March is all about, and he'll be ready to go.
2. Thomas Robinson, Kansas Jayhawks
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Thomas Robinson was in the shadow of the Morris twins the last two seasons, but whenever he was on the court he made things happen. Now that he's getting 31 minutes per game, he is showing the rest of the country what he is capable of.
Robinson has led the Jayhawks to a 24-5 record and vaulted himself into National Player of the Year talks.
At 6'10" and 237 pounds, Robinson is incredibly hard to move off the block. However, size isn't everything.
What makes Robinson so unstoppable is that he combines that thick, strong body with real physical play, incredible athleticism, great jumping ability and an energy that few others can match.
The junior from Washington, DC is averaging 17.8 points and 11.9 rebounds per game, and he can score in a number of different ways. If his post game, which has improved immensely throughout the season, isn't working, he'll just rely on his incredible rebounding skills for put-backs or he'll step back and hit a mid-range jumper.
Throw in over a block and a steal per game—which are just gravy considering how dominating he is on offense—and you've got a player ready to carry the Jayhawks to a Final 4 and possibly beyond.
Robinson's supporting cast outside of Tyshawn Taylor isn't anything special, and that will make a March run all the more special.
1. Anthony Davis, Kentucky Wildcats
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With all due respect to Thomas Robinson, Anthony Davis is the best and most influential player on a college basketball court this year.
For fun, lets start with his weaknesses, which reside on the offensive end.
He's averaging 14.3 points per game, he shoots at a 66-percent clip and he knocks down 72 percent of his free throws, which is much better than most big men.
The common knock on Davis is that he's incredibly raw on offense, but against Vanderbilt he pretty much put those concerns to rest. In that game, he shot 10-for-11 from the field and 8-for-9 from the free-throw line on his way to 28 points.
When Davis is knocking down the mid-range jumper, it's just unfair. Because if a big defender has to step out on him, Davis will just use his scary athleticism to drive past his man for the dunk.
So, yeah, those are his "weaknesses."
On the defensive end is where Davis is a man among boys. He's averaging 4.8 blocks per game, which is downright ridiculous. However, he alters probably 10-15 shots per contest with his length and instinctual.
His presence in the middle also allows Kentucky's perimeter defenders to play up close and not worry about what happens if they get beat on the dribble.
To see Davis average 20,10 and 5 blocks throughout the tournament for No.1 Kentucky would be amazing, but not unexpected. He's so good and so imposing that the lack of experience from the freshman shouldn't worry anyone.