There’s no more valuable weapon for an NCAA basketball offense than a player who can’t be stopped by a single defender. Whether he’s too strong, too quick or too accurate from long range, an individual star becomes a game-changer when he forces multiple opponents to account for him.
Cleanthony Early didn’t put up the gaudiest scoring totals in the country last season, but the Wichita State star proved how tough he was to shut down during a Cinderella Final Four run. Even in a loss to eventual champion Louisville, the multi-threat forward lit up the mighty Cardinals defense for 24 points.
Read on for more on the Shockers’ scoring leader and the rest of the most untenable matchups in the country for this year’s college defenders.
Raw scoring punch is obviously a factor in these rankings, but so too are the athletic ability to go around (or through) opponents and the versatility to force a defender to worry about multiple shooting looks.
The CAA isn’t what it used to be, but last year’s edition featured plenty of wrecking-ball power forwards. Even in that competition, though, 6’8”, 245-pound Jerrelle Benimon stood out above the rest with his 17.1 points per game.
Benimon didn’t exactly wilt against tough competition, either, lighting up Temple for 30 points—or almost half of his team’s total in a 72-61 loss.
As skilled as he is at getting shots up against entrenched opponents, a big part of his scoring value comes from attacking an out-of-position defense after a shot has gone up.
Second-chance points are, after all, a natural extension of his 11.2 rebounds a night (third-best nationally).
In three years at Marshall, playing without much of a supporting cast, DeAndre Kane scored at least 15.1 points per game every year. Now the 6’4” PG joins the wide-open, talent-rich Iowa State offense for his senior season.
Kane has long since proven what a dangerous penetrator he is, and with the Cyclones’ shooters spreading out defenses for him, he’ll get even more chances to show off his ability to take an opponent to the rim.
He’d be higher on this list if defenders didn’t get so much good out of fouling him on the way up (he shoots a sickening .521 from the free-throw line).
Because Jabari Parker does so much for his team when he's not shooting, he can sometimes overshadow what a terrific scorer he actually is.
However, the 6’8” freshman will be the most dangerous one-on-one threat on a Duke roster that’s going to put up some massive point totals this season.
Parker is a natural small forward who’ll be playing out of position at the 4, but Duke loves to play its power forwards on the perimeter (see Kelly, Ryan).
That will give the youngster plenty of opportunity to take slower defenders off the dribble or launch jumpers over them (though he also has his share of post moves when called upon).
When Isaiah Austin wants to score in the paint, there are very few defenders who can do anything about it. The long-armed 7’1” sophomore has the reach to get his shot up against pretty much anyone, not to mention a soft shooting touch to go with it.
What makes Austin really special, though, is his ability to play away from the rim.
He’s not yet as good a three-point shooter as he thinks he is (.333 from beyond the arc), but he’s good enough to terrify lead-footed opposing centers, especially when he’s also a sensational ball-handler who can burn them off the dribble.
Even if Andrew Harrison played shooting guard, he’d be an imposing player to stop. The 6’6” freshman has three-point range and the strength to take the ball at post players when he gets in the paint.
Of course, Harrison’s actual position is point guard, where he enjoys an even bigger advantage in size and muscle over virtually every opponent.
The fact that defenses have to respect his tremendous passing ability also makes his shot that much harder to handle.
In the absence of a viable point guard, D’Angelo Harrison had to create much of the St. John’s offense by himself in 2012-13.
Even with that burden, he averaged 17.8 points per game and actually increased his field-goal accuracy by two percentage points over his freshman year.
Now a junior, the 6’3” SG finally has a big-time playmaker alongside him in freshman Rysheed Jordan. Look for Harrison not only to keep posting monster point totals but to top his career-high three-point accuracy of .362 by a healthy margin.
Smaller defenders—and when you’re 6’5”, 220 pounds, there are plenty of those—have an impossible task dealing with Jordan Adams.
The UCLA SG has so much power and leaping ability that he just has to get in the general vicinity of the paint in order to launch a runner or soar for a dunk.
Even when he doesn’t have a decisive athletic edge, Adams has enough of a jump shot to keep his opponent honest. He’s also a terrific ball-handler by 2-guard standards, letting him outmaneuver many of the guards he can’t outmuscle.
With most of last season lost to a ruptured Achilles, Tim Frazier’s last real action for Penn State came in 2011-12. That year, on a team with virtually nothing else going for it, the 6’1” point guard poured in 18.8 points per game.
Frazier has virtually no three-point stroke, yet he’s become an effective penetrator even against hulking Big Ten defenses.
That’s a credit to his elusiveness as well as his mid-range pull-up game, and both will be far more effective this year, when defenses will have more reason to worry about Frazier’s Nittany Lions teammates.
Not many shooting guards could even approach 18.7 points per game while shooting as unimpressively from three-point range (.328) as Russ Smith does.
Part of Smith’s edge is the huge number of points he gets off his 2.1 steals a night, but there’s another major factor in play here.
Even at just 6’0”, Smith excels at getting his shot up against bigger defenders, even when several of them converge on him.
His circus finishes at the end of the shot clock were a signature of Louisville’s national championship, and they’ll certainly play a major part in the Cards’ title defense this season.
There isn’t a better transition scorer in college basketball than Jahii Carson. Of course, you don’t get to 18.5 points per game without doing plenty of damage in the half court, too.
The Sun Devils’ 5’10” dynamo uses his staggering quickness to dart through even the stoutest of defenses.
He’s not as proficient at shooting over them yet (.320 from long range), but that’s an area where the redshirt sophomore is likely to improve this season.
If Travis Bader is across the midcourt line, he’s in shooting range. The nation’s top three-point gunner hit 139 treys while maintaining a ludicrous .386 accuracy.
All those triples added up to the fifth-best scoring average in the country at 22.1 points per game. On top of everything else, the senior is one of the few guards in the Horizon League as big as 6’5”, making him a threat to score inside as well as outside.
The biggest and strongest of Boise State’s flotilla of high-scoring guards, Anthony Drmic uses his 6’6” length to drive to the rim with abandon. He’s not the most dazzling ball-handler going, but his finishing ability covers for any mediocrity there.
Then, too, any defender who sags back from Drmic to stop penetration will pay for the mistake. The 39.2 percent three-point shooter gets a big chunk of his 17.7 points per game from beyond the arc.
Most of the country’s top returning post scorers are players who, like New Mexico’s Alex Kirk, dominate with sheer size rather than skill. Julius Randle, on the other hand, is the top interior scorer in the freshman class precisely because of how skilled he is.
The 6’9”, 250-pound Randle obviously has plenty of size, but it’s his combination of agility and back-to-the-basket moves that makes him so difficult to defend.
He’s also devastating in the face-up game, allowing him to pull slower defenders away from the paint and drive by them for easy points.
For his two seasons as a starter, Bryce Cotton has had the luxury of one of the nation’s most reliable point guards in Vincent Council.
Now he gets his chance to show he can play a leadership role on a Friars squad that has a lot more talent than its 19-15 record from last year would indicate.
As a junior, the 6’1” Cotton rained three-pointers to the tune of 19.7 points per game and 98 treys made. He’ll need to do more penetrating in Council’s absence, but the pull-up jumper will still be his main weapon in the bruising Big East.
A tweener forward at 6’8”, Cleanthony Early poses an automatic matchup problem for virtually any opponent.
He’s too mobile (and too good a shot) for most big men to handle, but he’s too strong and skilled down low for a small forward to guard him.
Early saw some double-teams last year in leading the Shockers with 13.9 points per game, and he’ll face plenty more with Carl Hall and Malcolm Armstead gone. Look for him to improve on his iffy three-point accuracy (.318 last year) in his senior season.
Facing the best incoming freshmen in the country in the McDonald’s All-America game, Andrew Wiggins took on all comers to the tune of a team-leading 19 points.
That game gave him plenty of chances to show off his versatility as a scorer, whether he was hoisting treys or driving to the rim for a slam.
Unlike many elite dunkers, Wiggins also knows how to pull up in the paint for a runner if that’s what the defense gives him.
At 6’7” and with the athleticism to challenge any wing player in the country, he’s a good bet to lead the Big 12 in scoring in his first (and only) college season.
At 38.1 percent three-point shooting, Tyler Haws is more than enough of a long-range threat to earn the respect of a defense. Still, the trey is more a decoy than a primary option for BYU’s scoring ace.
At 6’5”, 200 pounds, Haws can outmuscle plenty of post players in the WCC, and the 2-guard attacks the rim with correspondingly high frequency.
Not only does he pile up points inside (.483 field-goal shooting and 21.7 points per game), but he knows how to draw fouls and take advantage of them (.877 shooting from the charity stripe).
When Shabazz Napier was a sophomore in 2011-12, UConn needed a playmaker, and he averaged 5.8 assists per game. Last year, the Huskies needed a No. 1 scorer, and Napier responded with 17.1 points a night on a career-best .441 shooting.
Napier’s improving three-point shot (.398 last year) has kept opponents honest and opened up more than enough opportunities for him to beat them off the dribble with his enormous quickness.
The only thing that will limit his point production this season will be dishing out more assists to improving complementary scorers Omar Calhoun and DeAndre Daniels.
Even in the NBA, there aren’t many point guards who could handle Marcus Smart. The 6’4”, 220-pound Cowboy barrels into the lane like a running back, but he can pull up for a teardrop just as easily as he skies for a dunk.
With his combination of size, quickness and leaping ability, Smart is too much for any collegiate guard. He’d take the top spot here if his long-range game (.290 from deep) was even remotely the same kind of threat as the rest of his offensive skill set.
Many of the players on this list are NBA-caliber athletes who can blow by a defender with the slightest opening. Doug McDermott is a 6’8”, 225-pound forward with no particular quickness or ball-handling skill, and yet he’s the most dangerous scorer of the lot.
McDermott’s quick release and mind-numbing shooting accuracy (.548 from the floor, .490 from deep, .875 from the free-throw line) mean that no defense is tight enough to be safe against him.
After finishing third and second in the country in scoring the last two years (22.9 and 23.2 points per game, respectively), he’s a good bet to claim the national title in that department as a senior.