As valuable as it is for a college basketball player to cultivate a variety of moves, the best ones know that they need a go-to option they can count on in crunch time.
Like Tim Duncan going glass or Hakeem Olajuwon freezing defenders with a Dream Shake, these NBA stars-to-be have their own favorite ways to beat a defender or finish a possession.
Connoisseurs of the crossover dribble, for instance, will enjoy watching UConn senior Shabazz Napier this season. The quick-handed Huskies leader can break a defender's ankles as well as any guard in the country.
And with the versatility of the country's top talent, there'll be different move to entertain every fan, from the dunk fanatic to the fundamentals guy.
Here are the most used M.O.s of this year's top college basketball stars.
Among the many distinguishing features of Julius Randle’s sensational offensive game is that the high-scoring PF is a left-handed shooter. Wisely, the freshman has borrowed a move from one of the NBA’s top southpaws, Manu Ginobili.
Like the Spurs veteran, Randle loves to drive with his off hand (though in the Wildcat’s case, it’s rarely from farther out than the free-throw line).
Once he has his defender leaning right, he switches hands to power up a finish from a few feet out, a none-too-pretty move that works time and again.
More often than not, if Chane Behanan takes a shot at all, it’s because he can go straight up for a dunk. When he does try to create openings for himself, though, he goes with one of the classic moves of the undersized post scorer.
Knowing that his defender will want to go for the block, the 6’6” Cardinal likes to get his man up in the air, then step through for the bucket (and, often enough, the foul).
His agility helps him here, as he can finish off the fake with a reverse layup when he’s near the rim.
Point guard though he is, Kendall Williams was also New Mexico’s leading scorer last season. He collected a huge proportion of those points on three-pointers, with nearly half his field-goal attempts on the season coming from beyond the arc.
Williams will sometimes launch a trey off a high pick, but he much prefers receiving a pass for a quick release or to get into triple-threat position. From there, his array of ball fakes can help him get his shot off over a taller defender.
Unsurprisingly for a player who stands 6’8”, 290 lbs, Davante Gardner doesn’t really do finesse. Marquette’s punishing center routinely tests the limits of offensive foul calls as he muscles his way through—rather than around—his defender.
Gardner’s advantage in sheer bulk isn’t the only reason he excels at this kind of in-the-trenches offense. The senior star is one of the best free-throw shooters of any frontcourt player in the country (.835 last year).
With his 6’5” length and outstanding quickness, Jerian Grant gives defenders plenty of reason to respect his driving ability. He uses that respect to full advantage on the perimeter by bluffing the drive and hoisting a jumper instead.
Whether he pulls up beyond the arc or in mid-range territory, Grant has the shooting touch to make his jump shots count. He also does his fair share of damage on catch-and-shoot looks, thanks to the playmaking ability of backcourt mate Eric Atkins.
Being predictable with your low-post moves is never an ideal approach. When your move is as hard to counter as Alex Kirk’s jump hook, though, it’s hard to argue with the results.
The 7’0”, 250-lb Kirk can hold his ground against virtually any defender, then turn and use his wide body to shield the release on his shot.
As long as he gets good post position to start with, there’s not much a defender can do to affect the shot and not much chance Kirk will fail to come away with two more points.
Although Jabari Parker is a fine three-point shooter, it’s a good bet that undersized Duke will need the 6’8” freshman to move to power forward.
That being the case, Blue Devils fans are likely to see a lot more of his inside game, which is awfully good for a high-school SF.
Parker uses his long arms to full advantage by backing down his defender, then spinning away to fire up a shot. It’s also a way to turn his long-range shooting touch to good account in close-range situations.
There aren’t many seven-foot centers who handle the ball as well as Isaiah Austin. Austin especially distinguishes himself with his ability to use his off (left) hand, with which he can cover a lot of distance in one or two strides toward the paint.
Austin is an impressive dunker, but when he’s driving from outside, he rarely attacks the rim. Instead, he lets the defense collapse toward the hoop and pulls up to stroke mid-range jumpers all day.
He may not quite be Allen Iverson, but hard-nosed Shabazz Napier has much of the same quickness (not to mention combative spirit) as the longtime NBA star.
Also like AI, Napier keeps defenders on a string with a crossover move that he can turn into any number of scoring options.
He routinely starts his ball-handling show from outside the three-point line, and if a defender backs off, he’s happy to nail the trey. He can also drive to the rim or pull up for the mid-range shot with equal ease, depending on what the defense gives him.
In the half-court game, Glenn Robinson III—stuck at power forward on Michigan’s smallish roster—rarely gets to show off his dazzling athletic ability. The one exception is on defense, where he can turn a bad pass into a transition opportunity in a heartbeat.
The long-armed Robinson excels at jumping into passing lanes to create turnovers (not to mention giving himself a clear lane to the rim). Once he gets a step on the opposition, a highlight-reel dunk won’t be far behind.
At 6’5”, freshman, Andrew Harrison, has the height advantage on almost any point guard in college (and even more so in high school). When Harrison calls his own number, he favors a move that gets the most out of all that length.
With his long legs, he can cover a big chunk of the lane with one spin dribble, turning a jump shot opportunity into a look at the rim.
Once the defense is off balance, he finds an opening to flip a shot up to the rim, which he can do equally well with either hand.
James Michael McAdoo looks the part of a power forward at 6’9”, 230 lbs, but power isn’t the strongest element of his game.
Even when he gets position and starts backing down his defender, his favorite way to finish the possession is to turn and face as he launches his shot.
McAdoo’s high release point makes his shot a nightmare to contest, especially with the space his long frame can create as he turns.
He’s more natural as a jump shooter than a low-post grinder anyway, and his soft touch turns most of his face-up looks into Tar Heel points.
No offensive move would be as appropriate a signature for Aaron Craft as a symbol of his incomparable defense. The senior point guard’s quick hands and quicker feet make him the toughest defender in the country, and forcing turnovers is his specialty.
However, much of Craft’s best work never finds its way to the box score, which is why his ability to induce offensive fouls deserves special recognition.
Without ever touching the ball, Craft can change a game by ruining a possession for the other team, to say nothing of how much it helps him get inside an opposing guard’s head.
Impressive a dunker as he is, C.J. Fair doesn’t have to rock the rim to get his points. The 6’8” forward is a fine jump shooter with three-point range, not to mention being the Orange’s best low-post option.
Slender as he is, Fair understandably opts for a finesse approach with his go-to move. His lefty hook keeps shot-blockers at bay, but doesn’t take so long to launch that a help defender can strip him from behind.
Most of Adreian Payne’s points come on two kinds of shots: quick catch-and-shoot jumpers or acrobatic dunks.
However, when Payne gets to post up—an opportunity he’ll have much more often with Derrick Nix gone—he’s perfectly capable of creating his own scoring chances.
Payne rarely goes left in the post, and it doesn’t much matter if defenders know it. Once he gets his back into the defense, he’ll spin to his right hand and force contact—and, with remarkable frequency, get the shot to fall.
The “roll” part of Jahii Carson’s favorite plan of attack is pretty much irrelevant. Carson scores about twice as many points as any other returning Sun Devil, so he doesn’t have much in the way of options when he wants to pass the ball.
Off the pick, though, Carson has his best opportunity to show off his blinding speed, slicing into the lane before the defense can recover.
Even at 5’10”, he has no trouble getting his layups to the rim thanks to astonishing quickness that can freeze almost any defender.
It’s pretty much a tossup whether Andrew Wiggins gets more good out of his spin dribble or his Eurostep when he attacks the paint. It doesn’t make much difference which move he picks, because the result is going to be two points either way.
Wiggins’ leaping ability lets him dunk over the huge majority of defenders, but the freshman also knows when to go with misdirection rather than taking it straight at his opponent.
By combining his well-developed crossover (remarkable for a 6’7” SF) with his step-through moves, he can keep defenders from getting any kind of angle to contest his shots.
Over the last two seasons, there hasn’t been a more consistently unstoppable scorer in college basketball than Doug McDermott.
Defenders are draped all over him as soon as he touches the ball, so Creighton counters by running those defenders off before McDermott even makes the catch.
Because of his light-speed release, McDermott can get his jumpers away—from beyond the arc or inside it—before the D can recover. His 6’8” height doesn’t hurt matters, either.
Point guard Marcus Smart is the nation’s most versatile player, and that multifaceted approach extends to his scoring repertoire as well. One of the most effective of his many off-the-dribble moves is to step back into a fadeaway jumper.
Smart’s size and strength force defenders to play him for the drive, putting them right where he wants them so he can pull the ball out for a mid-range shot.
The same athleticism that helps him finish when he does attack the rim also lets him create even more separation when he jumps back into the fadeaway.
Opponents can be forgiven for thinking that nothing they can do will affect Russ Smith’s shot. The 6’1” Cardinal certainly gives that impression when he attacks multiple defenders with the shot clock running down.
Smith was the solution to a sometimes-stagnant Louisville offense last year, finding shots when no one else could. His ability to get the ball to the rim against bigger opposition was an invaluable part of the Cards’ national title run.