Winning tournament games is typically determined by tremendous perimeter play. Recently we have seen miracle workers such as Derrick Rose of Memphis, Villanova's Scottie Reynolds, as well as Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith of Duke, pilot their respective teams to the Final Four.
Having outstanding perimeter play is indispensable in the tournament and perhaps the ideal Final Four formula. When plays break down and situations get alarming, those are the players who can create their own shots, make intelligent decisions off the dribble and, in some circumstances, just flat take over.
In this year's field, there will be some shining stars who fit the bill. Jimmer Fredette and Kemba Walker are two prime examples.
This chaotic season has taught me two things. First, expect the unexpected. Second, this class of post players and forwards has reigned supreme, overshadowing the guards. It's the year of the big man. The versatile and physical skyscrapers will be the story of this year's Big Dance.
Are these forwards capable of taking over games and creating their own tournament legacy?
My answer is yes, and these next 10 individuals are the reason.
The Tar Heels seven-footer is one of the most improved players in the country, raising his points average from 9 to 14.5 and nearly doubling his rebounds per game from last season. His confidence is also notably improved, as last year you would normally see a timid Zeller down the stretch. He has scored in double figures in each of his last seven games.
Zeller is sneaky strong and has an interesting mix of finesse and physicality in his game. He may not have the frame of your typical forward, but his basketball IQ is what made him one of the top recruits in the country just three years ago.
I know what you are thinking: what about superstar frosh Harrison Barnes? Well if you ask any Carolina fan, Zeller has been more consistent throughout the course of the season. Barnes may be the better all-around player, but Zeller is the crust of the pie. He holds this team together.
Thompson and Hamilton. They'd make a great attorney tandem the way their names just flow, but on the court it's a different kind of business for the Texas two step.
Thompson averages 12.8 points and 7.2 rebounds.
Many would argue that he is the main compliment to Jordan Hamilton (18 points, 7.5 rebounds), but I feel Thompson is just as big a key to Texas' success. In the Longhorns four losses, Thompson has struggled, averaging a tad under nine points per game. The story has been much different in the Longhorns wins , as Thompson is scoring nearly 14 a game.
There's no place like home, and if the freshman heats up in the tournament, Texas will be the third consecutive team, joining Michigan State and Butler, to play the Final Four in their home state.
Michigan St. has found itself in unfamiliar territory. The Spartans have been no better than adequate this season, sitting at 15-11 (7-7 in the Big Ten), and squarely on the bubble. But the one bright spot for Coach Izzo's team has been Draymond Green, who has simply been the best player in Lansing this year.
Green already has the best nickname in college hoops, The Dancing Bear, but his game isn't bad either. He leads Sparty in boards per game with eight, is second in scoring behind Kalin Lucas, and is also dishing out four dimes a game this year. On top of that, the bear in the big green house is picking up a block per game and nearly two steals.
Draymond is as complete a player as you will find in college basketball. If the supporting cast can find their roles and State gets in the tournament, with the experience and coaching they present, I guarantee not one higher seed will want to see them.
We find ourselves at the best conference in the country at No. 7, the Big East. Although this year it could appropriately be named the "Little East" because it's the little guys who are doing the hauling for the upper tier teams in the conference. The top seven teams in the conference are led by guards:
Pitt: Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker
Notre Dame: Ben Hansbrough
Georgetown: Austin Freeman
Louisville: Preston Knowles and Peyton Siva
St. Johns: Dwight Hardy
Villanova: Corey Stokes and Cory Fisher
Uconn: Kemba Walker
....And then there's the 'Cuse. Their main source of scoring is through the paint, with Rick Jackson and the versatile Kris Joseph. Jackson is the guy who needs to be healthy and on top of his game if the 'Cuse want to make a run. He was injured in last year's Big East Tournament, and never regained form. But this year he has been unstoppable at times, posting 17 double-doubles so far. The 6'9", 250 lb forward is also the captain and vocal leader of the Orange, being that he is the only senior on the team.
Kawhi Leonard is unique. When trying to draw comparisons to a current NBA or college player, I drew a blank. Leonard has terrific length and is a hybrid forward in that he could beat you up down low or go outside and drain one in your eye.
When you disect his game, there's really nothing that Kawhi is great at. But he does everything well—drive, dish, handle the ball in the open court, contribute defensively and bring more energy than a Richard Simmons workout tape. Leonard is just one of those guys who have "it". And that is one of the biggest compliments that can be given.
And, oh by the way, his San Diego State team is 27-1, and in the hunt for a No. 1 seed come March.
Jones is one of three potential one-and-done freshmen that make my list. Talent wise, you can understand why Jones would make the jump to the NBA. He may be the strongest player in college basketball. He's also versatile in that he can handle the ball like a guard. When it comes to leaping, he may be able to jump over two cars (apologies to Blake Griffin).
Many are quick to compare Jones to Lamar Odom because of the lefty release, ugly form, the ability to create for his teammates and score on the perimeter with size. I think Jones can be even better than that.
Imagine if John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins had stayed for another year? Paired with Jones, that Kentucky team could have been one of the best we've ever seen.
But for now, Jones has a chance, in his one and only, to make a statement.
Now we've reached the meat and potatoes. I'm expecting a bit of backlash from Purdue fans, because Johnson could easily be the most polished post player in the country.
JaJuan averages 20 points per game, 8.6 rebounds, and has a swagger comparable to Juwanna Mann's. But JaJuan is the man, and I would make the argument that he is the most efficient player in the country.
Johnson also averages 2.3 blocks per game, shoots 50 percent from the field, and above 80 percent from the charity stripe. The man is underrated and would be considered in player of the year talks if he wasn't the second best big man in his own conference.
Before Purdue's huge conference win against Ohio State (also known as the E'Twaun Moore show), Johnson had scored 20 points in each of his last 10 games. The senior is en fuego and ready for primetime.
E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson will be very dangerous this March. Here come the Men in Black.
How can I split these two apart? They haven't been since birth!
I don't know what's tougher, stopping them or telling them apart. Nonetheless these two together have accounted for 40 percent of the Jayhawks' offense this year, averaging a combined 30 points and 15.4 rebounds per game.
They came out this recent Saturday and avenged their loss to Kansas State with a 42 point, 24 rebound effort in a 26 point win versus Colorado. Yikes.
The only thing sometimes in question when it comes to these two is their focus and how it seems to drift at certain times. Marcus and Markieff admittedly get frustrated when things are not going their way, which witnesses saw last season in Kansas' shocking loss to Northern Iowa in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Fortunately for these two, things usually go their way. They are the two largest (and I mean large) reasons why Kansas is the overwhelming favorite in various eyes to cut down the nets.
If the word "who" just came out of your mouth, you should be unreservedly ashamed.
Jimmy Dykes said it best when Arizona beat Washington on a Williams' last-second rejection, saying if Arizona was featured on ESPN as much as some of the other teams, Williams would be right there in the National Player of the Year race. If you are still skeptical, just take a look at some of Derrick's numbers this season: 19.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, 63 percent from the field, 68 percent on three-pointers. Arizona is 23-4, 12-2 in the Pac-10.
Case closed. Sure the Pac-10 has not been as relevant of late, but Williams is single-handedly making it relevant again. He's a high-energy forward who bothers shots for a living using his length and wingspan, and sometimes makes it look easy offensively.
The sophomore has quietly been one of the best players in the country this year, and he is etching his name right up there with some of the elite in Arizona's storied history.
Williams and the Wildcats may be coming to a Final Four near you.
In the words of Tina Turner, he's simply the best ...
The big dude is big time. Sullinger may be the best pure center to come through college basketball in the recent decade.
Any Monsters Inc. fans out there? If so, you understand the reference to Sully, the big blue monster in the movie. Well this Sully is more intimidating and menacing then the aforementioned, just a little less hairy.
Jared does have a 6'9", 280 lb frame, but what gets lost is his uncanny ability to seemingly know where the ball is going to be at all times. Sullinger seems to always be in the right position for an offensive rebound or to catch the ball in the low block. That speaks to his preparation, his vision and his overall basketball wherewithal. If you are worried about foul trouble for the skyscraper come tournament time, stop it. Sullinger has only fouled out of one game all season.
Ohio State has all of the pieces to contend for a title: two solid perimeter scorers and defenders in Buford and Lighty, a steady-handed point guard in Craft, some depth off the bench in Dallas Lauderdale and, of course, the centerpiece, Jared Sullinger...who is better then all the rest.