College Basketball: The Most Clutch Player on Every Top 25 Team
Christian Watford's buzzer-beating three to top Kentucky and hand the Wildcats their only loss last season was the definition of clutch. Instead of going for an easier shot and the tie he squared up from behind the arc and drained the shot to win 73-72.
That was the best example of being clutch in college basketball last season, but we could see many more this upcoming season. There is at least one player who seems to have ice in his veins on every Top 25 team, making him the go-to guy at the end of the game.
Being clutch can be described in two parts.
First, do you shine in the biggest games? Second, are you the guy your team looks to when the game is on the line?
As the college basketball season draws closer and closer let's take a look at which guys are the clutchest on their respective teams.
25. Minnesota: Trevor Mbakwe
After being granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA Trevor Mbakwe is the clear leader of Minnesota basketball in just about every way possible.
The big man who averaged 14.0 points and 9.1 rebounds per game in his injury-shortened 2011-12 season is back at practice and looks like he will be back for the season.
If he can play the entire season it will be a huge boost for the Gophers.
Mbakwe is a great scorer who can lead his team to victory. He is currently the only player on the team to average more than six points per game over his career, according to StatSheet.com, and he finds ways to make a big impact when it matters most.
Mbakwe isn't just the guy that the team goes to at the end of the game; he's the guy that the team utilizes on every offensive possession.
24. Gonzaga: Kevin Pangos
It was tough to put anyone over senior leader Elias Harris in this spot, but sophomore point guard Kevin Pangos proved that he was clutch last year, and I expect to see some improvement in his sophomore campaign.
One of the reasons I give Pangos the nod over Harris is that Pangos affects the game in more ways.
He doesn't just score (although he did drop 27 in a huge victory over No. 13 Saint Mary's and 30 on BYU), he can also create for others. He's a quick guard who can penetrate, and when he does, it's tough to stop the Zags.
Pangos plays a multifaceted game, and without him Gonzaga would struggle to win big games. While I love Harris as one of the options as the end of games, I'm pegging Pangos as the most clutch on the team.
23. Creighton: Doug McDermott
Does this one even need to be explained?
Doug McDermott is one of the best players in college basketball today. He is a prolific scorer, a tough rebounder and a great leader.
What lands McDermott on this list isn't just the fact that he averaged 22.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per game last year as a sophomore,he is here because he makes his shots count and never disappears in big games.
Last season he went for 36 against Long Beach State in a game with NCAA tournament implications, went for 33 in his conference tournament championship game, earned 16 hard-fought points in a tough matchup with JaMychal Green inside against Alabama in the first round of the Big Dance and kept Creighton in the game against North Carolina with his 20 points despite the level of competition inside.
This kid is everything for the Bluejays, and that is partially because of his ability to make shots when it matters most.
22. Notre Dame: Jerian Grant
Head coach Mike Brey turns young players into experienced veterans faster than almost any other coach in the country, and Jerian Grant is no different.
After not playing in his freshman year, Grant showed off that he is calm, cool and collected at then end of games in his sophomore campaign. Stemming from his success during late-game situations in practice, Grant was able to be one of the go-to guys for the Irish when it mattered most.
Now that he will be playing a much more vital role for Notre Dame, he will be able to show off just how clutch he is throughout the season, and I can't wait to see what he does with a season of experience under his belt.
21. Cincinnati: Sean Kilpatrick
The leading scorer for Cincinnati last season, Sean Kilpatrick is a sharpshooter who will be a junior this season. He is the type of player who you want to have the ball in his hands at the end of games, and he showed why by nailing a clutch three-pointer to beat UConn last season.
Kilpatrick can score in bunches and he usually comes up big when it matters most. During last year's NCAA tournament, he went for 18 big points in an upset of No. 3 Florida State, leading the Bearcats in a game that was close throughout.
Kilpatrick is a great shooter who can sink big shots. With Dion Dixon and Yancy Gates gone, the team will rely on him more than ever this season.
20. Wisconsin: Sam Dekker
With Jordan Taylor gone, the scoring duties fall heavily on freshman Sam Dekker's shoulders.
Luckily for Wisconsin, he is a stud.
Dekker is a clutch player for sure. In the Division 5 title game he dropped 40 points in a 67-66 win, including the last 12 points for his team over the last 48.5 seconds and a game-winning three.
Dekker has said that he prides himself on being the go-to guy at the end of games and he will certainly get that opportunity in Madison.
19. Marquette: Vander Blue
I'm taking a huge leap of faith by calling Vander Blue the most clutch player for Marquette next season. Last year he rarely came up big at the end of games—but that's because he didn't have to.
With both Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom being clutch players and big-time scorers, Blue took a backseat role and was never relied upon at the end of games if it could be avoided.
This year he is going to need to improve and take on a bigger role since both Crowder and DJO are gone. He showed that he can be clutch against Seton Hall last year, but he will have to be more consistent when the game is on the line.
The Golden Eagles don't have any clear options to rely on at the end of games, but I see Blue becoming their clutchest player.
18. Michigan State: Gary Harris
Gary Harris is Michigan State's top freshman in its elite recruiting class, and he is arguably the best shooting guard in the Class of 2012. Not only is Harris a good slasher but he also has range beyond the three-point line and plays tough defense.
One of the reasons I love Harris is that he has ice in his veins. He loves having the ball in his hands at the end of games, and I expect Tom Izzo to give him that opportunity in East Lansing.
The Spartans have quite a few options to close games, including Keith Appling or Branden Dawson, but Harris is their best option when the game's on the line.
17. Syracuse: Brandon Triche
After losing four of the team's best players, Syracuse's most clutch remaining player is Brandon Triche. While last season the team could rely on Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine, Dion Waiters or Fab Melo, this year they will be turning to Triche.
As he enters his senior season, Triche will need to play a bigger role for the Orange. Included in that increased role will be the need for him to come up in the clutch.
16. San Diego State: Jamaal Fanklin
I could have easily gone with either Jamaal Franklin or Chase Tapley in this spot, but I give the slight edge to Franklin after seeing his performance against UNLV last season.
As the two teams were tied at 67 with time winding down, Franklin was the one with the ball in his hands, not Tapley.
Franklin made the most of it too, hitting an off-balanced layup with 0.3 seconds left to sink No. 12 UNLV.
Franklin always seems to step up in big games, including when he scored 23 against North Carolina State in the NCAA tournament. He thrives in late-game situations, and he has proven his mental toughness over the last two years.
15. North Carolina: Marcus Paige
Last year North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall played hero for the Tar Heels multiple times at the end of the season, proving that he was clutch. This year we will see another point guard do the same in freshman Marcus Paige.
The McDonald's All-American has a knack for hitting big shots and making things happen at the end of games. Last year he played hero for his high school multiple times, including when he did so in front of Roy Williams by dropping 23 points and making a few big plays.
Paige is a beast, and when he's under pressure he always seems to deliver.
14. Ohio State: DeShaun Thomas
DeShaun Thomas proved that he was clutch in last year's NCAA tournament, coming up big for the Buckeyes and leading them to the Final Four.
After scoring 87 points in the four games leading up to the Final Four for an average of 21.8 points per game, Kansas found a way to shut him down, but there is no denying that he played a huge role for the Buckeyes.
Now that Jared Sullinger and William Buford are gone, Thomas will be playing a bigger role for Ohio State. He's not one to shy away from a big shot, and I expect to see him being the one with the ball in his hands at the end of games.
13. Duke: Rasheed Sulaimon
Last year the Blue Devils relied heavily on freshman Austin Rivers at the end of games, and this season they will do so again with freshman Rasheed Sulaimon.
Sulaimon is one of the top shooting guards in the Class of 2012 thanks to his prolific scoring. He has an attacking mindset and can beat his defenders in a lot of different ways, which makes him a good option late in games.
While he might need to adjust to the college game a bit before he truly becomes a star, he will soon emerge as Duke's top shooting guard and most clutch performer.
12. Baylor: Pierre Jackson
Pierre Jackson is the best returning player for Baylor, and in his senior season he will be looked to for leadership.
Last season, Jackson emerged as one of the top JUCO transfers in the country, averaging 13.8 points and 5.9 assists per game for a Baylor team that desperately needed a talented guard. He became arguably the most important player for the Bears, and Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury knew that when the two teams played, but Jackson still hit a game-winning layup.
Jackson is going to play an even bigger role this season, and he'll be the go-to guy for the Bears.
11. Kansas: Elijah Johnson
This year's Kansas team doesn't have a true star like Thomas Robinson or Tyshawn Taylor, and will instead rely on teamwork.
However, when the game is on the line, we will be seeing the ball go to Elijah Johnson, who stepped up during the NCAA tournament last season.
Averaging 13.3 points per game during the Big Dance, Johnson thrived at the end of games. Against Purdue he scored five points and recorded two rebounds, one steal, one assist and generated three go-ahead baskets in the final three minutes to give the team a hard-fought 63-60 victory. Then, against NC State he hit another clutch shot to give the Jayhawks a late lead and another win.
Johnson was huge for the Jayhawks at the end of last season, and that was when senior point guard Tyshawn Taylor and National Player of the Year candidate Thomas Robinson were on the team. With them gone Johnson will become the clear option in the clutch.
10. Florida: Kenny Boynton
Kenny Boynton has been a great player since he joined the Florida Gators, averaging 14.0 points as a freshman and improving in every year since.
Now he is the senior leader for the Gators, and he will be their top option when it matters most. He shot an impressive 44 percent from the field last season, including over 40 percent from behind the arc.
He's not a big guy at 6'2", but he is deadly with his jump shot, and that is all Florida needs from him with the clock winding down.
9. UNLV: Anthony Bennett
UNLV looks to be one of the top teams in the country next season, thanks to stars like Mike Moser, Katin Reinhardt, Khem Birch and Anthony Bennett. While this is still Moser's team after he carried them last year, Bennett will be the one who takes the last shot.
As a power forward Bennett can play well inside. He has good post moves and enough strength to carve out space, but that's not all. The reason why I give him the ball at the end of the game is that he's also a great shooter with range beyond the three-point line.
Bennett can hit threes with apparent ease and consistency, and that's what makes him this team's go-to scorer at the end of games. While there are a ton of options for the Rebels I would be feeding it to the freshman at the end of games.
8. Missouri: Michael Dixon
Michael Dixon is one of two leaders returning from last year's Missouri team with the other being Flip Pressey. However, Dixon is the one that the Tigers can count on when it matters most.
Dixon is now a senior for Frank Haith and Missouri, and he will need to help lead this team. He impressed last season by averaging 13.5 points per game, and scoring 22 points as he tried to help the team avoid the upset against Norfolk State. While the team lost, Dixon did everything possible to avoid it.
Now he is hungry for revenge.
Dixon apparently has a picture of Kyle O'Quinn celebrating as his background photo on his phone, using the Norfolk State star who torched his team as motivation.
Dixon has all the skill and motivation to be a star, and there is no doubt in my mind that he will. He is going to be working incredibly hard to improve, and coming with that will be confidence from Haith, who will call Dixon's number at the end of games.
7. Arizona: Mark Lyons
One of Arizona's top new players, Mark Lyons is transferring to Point Guard U from Xavier, where he was known for his "gutsy, back-breaking shots."
Lyons is still an incredibly confident shooter and a solid defender. He doesn't care if he's missed 20 times or if the clock is running down, he''ll never shy away from a tough shot if he thinks he can make it. Surprisingly he made quite a few of those tough shots, shooting 42.5 percent from the field and 39.2 percent from three last season.
Lyons has a lot of experience as an elite scorer, and he is going to keep that role in Tuscon.
6. Michigan: Trey Burke
Trey Burke decided to return for his sophomore season, which is a huge boost for Michigan. Head coach John Beilein has described him as "a clutch performer with a great work ethic and a brilliant future."
While I could have easily put junior Tim Hardaway Jr. here, I'm going with the extremely talented sophomore. He showed off a smooth stroke and the ability to finish around the basket last season.
Burke is going to be an absolute star this year, and while I love Tim Hardaway Jr., I'd rather let Burke do his thing when the clock is winding down.
5. North Carolina State: Lorenzo Brown
Lorenzo Brown is coming off knee surgery during the offseason, but he should be ready for the Wolfpack when they need him.
Brown is a clutch player who has proven time and again that he can be relied on at the end of games. He made five clutch free throws and hit a jumper as well as grabbed two huge rebounds in the last 2:15 of NC State's NCAA tournament game against Georgetown, lifting the team to a huge upset of the No. 3 Hoyas.
Brown is one of many options for the Wolfpack at the end of games, alongside C.J. Leslie, Richard Howell, Scott Wood and the team's three incoming McDonald's All-Americans.
However, he stands alone as the most clutch.
4. UCLA: Shabazz Muhammad
Shabazz Muhammad is arguably the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2012, and that's thanks in part to his clutch gene.
Modeling his play after Kobe Bryant, one of the most clutch players in the history of the game, Muhammad never shies away from high-pressure shots. ESPN described his incredible poise and focus at the end of games as his "killer instinct in the clutch."
Muhammad is a freak. I consider him to be just as good as Jabari Parker or any other high school player. He could easily go pro straight out of high school, and that's thanks in part to his ability to be clutch.
3. Kentucky: Ryan Harrow
It's tough to pick out who Kentucky will be going with at the end of games with so many unproven talents playing for the team. However, I'm going with the one guy on the team who has already played a big role for an elite team—Ryan Harrow.
We know that he's a flashy guy whose potential is through the roof. We saw flashes of brilliance when he was on the court with North Carolina State, and now that he's going to be playing a big role for Kentucky he could emerge as one of the top point guards in the nation.
All the skills are there for him to be a great player at the end of games, and we've seen times when he shows great poise, which makes me think that John Calipari will turn him into a truly clutch point guard.
2. Louisville: Peyton Siva
Peyton Siva is arguably the best point guard in the country. The Louisville star is a high-flying athlete with great understanding of the game, impeccable court vision and ball-handling skills and the ability to close out games.
The kid seemingly has ice in his veins, and he wants the ball when the game is one the line. If you don't believe me watch the video on this slide.
You really can't get much more clutch than that.
1. Indiana: Christian Watford
Apparently there's room to be more clutch than Siva, and Christian Watford proved that against Kentucky.
This is just one of the many times that he's been clutch at the end of games, but it's the best representation of how he does it.
Watford actually inbounds the ball to start the play once Kentucky makes it a two point game, but he runs down the court, trailing the ball-handler, and he squares up for three. Almost anyone else in the game would have gone in for an easier basket and forced the game into overtime, but Watford wanted the win.
This play not only handed No. 1 Kentucky its only loss last season and gave Watford the ESPY for Best Play of the Year, but it also proved to the world just how clutch this kid is.