2011 NCAA Tournament: 10 Players Who Can Carry Their Teams Through March Madness
Year after year, the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament proves to be one of sports' most entertaining sports spectacles.
It's a time where student athletes rise to the occasion and extend their limits. It is a place where legends are born. Individuals have continually taken March Madness by storm, captivating the nation with their passionate play and gutsy leadership.
In recent years, Davidson's Stephen Curry charmed the country during his team's epic run to the Elite Eight in the 2008 NCAA Tourney. In 2003, Syracuse freshman, Carmelo Anthony, was the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, leading the Orange to a Championship.
But, even 30+ years ago, a tall, blond-haired kid named Larry Bird roared through the 1979 NCAA Tournament. His Indiana State Sycamores reached the final, only to lose to Magic Johnson's Michigan State Spartans, in what many claim is the "most influential game in the history of college basketball."
The following ten players all have the talent to put their teams on their backs, and add yet another chapter to the March Madness' illustrious history.
10. Chandler Parsons, Florida
Key Stats: 11.5 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 3.5 APG, 33.8 MPG
For Coach Billy Donovan and his Florida Gators, Chandler Parsons is their "renaissance man." Parsons, a 6'10'' senior, does not excel at any one facet of the game, besides his hard work and relentless passion.
Parsons leads the Gators in minutes played, assists per game, and rebounds per game, the only player of his height in the country to do such a thing.
Overall, Parsons' game is well suited for the NCAA Tournament because he does not only have to score to be effective. His experience should prove to be invaluable as he will hope to lead his team towards the Regional Championship of the Southeast Region and the Final Four, as the 2-seed.
9. JaJuan Johnson, Purdue
Key Stats: 20.5 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 2.3 BPG
When Purdue forward Robbie Hummel was sidelined before the season with his 2nd torn ACL in 12 months, JaJuan Johnson was fully expected to make up for the loss and not allow Purdue to miss a step during a hopeful season.
Johnson did just that.
Purdue finished the season as the 9th ranked team in the ESPN/USA Today Poll and as the No. 3 seed in a stacked Southwest Region.
The Boilermakers have one of the toughest roads to get to the Final Four. They have potential match-ups with Notre Dame, Georgetown, and Kansas on the road to Houston. In order to navigate their way through the region, they will need to get on the back of their 6'10'' center.
With his talented skill set and long body, Purdue should have a field day when giving Johnson the ball in the post, which will hopefully turn into wins in the NCAA Tournament.
8. Derrick Williams, Arizona
Key Stats: 19.1 PPG, 8.1 RPG
Derrick Williams could possibly be the best athlete in the NCAA Tournament.
At 6'8'', 241 pounds, Williams is a prototypical power forward. He runs the floor and excels in the open court, but he also has tremendous skill and touch around the rim with his back to the basket.
In his region, the West, there are few big men that could match up with Williams, giving Arizona the upper-hand down low in all of its games.
Come March, teams have usually begun to gel and play as one, cohesive group, but Arizona's idea of a cohesive group is to run everything through Derrick Williams. He is by far the most talented player on their roster and one of the most talented players in the nation.
The only way to try and contain Williams is to try and limit his touches near the paint. If a team was to force him to hit 20 foot jump shots, Arizona may have a hard time moving on the tournament. Overall, Williams' size, strength, speed, and talent make him a potential star of the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
7. Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State
Kawhi Leonard: 15.4 PPG, 10.7 RPG
When the NCAA Men's Basketball season began in early November, San Diego State sophomore forward, Kawhi Leonard, was a player primarily known by NBA scouts and executives. Leonard, a long, athletic wing with a prototypical NBA body, possesses both the athleticism and the talent to move on to the next level.
But, before he does, there is no doubting that him and his 2nd-seeded Aztecs have a chance to do damage in the NCAA Tourney. Even if Leonard happens to have an off-night on the offensive end, he can still dominate the game with his superb defense and rebounding talents.
The best thing about Leonard's prospects as an impact player in the Tournament is his consistency. In the 33 games that Leonard has played this year, he has only recorded less than 10 points in three games, and has 22 double-doubles.
This steadiness could lead SDSU to an extensive run through the NCAA Tourney, adding to the prowess of Kawhi Leonard's two-year college career.
6. Isaiah Thomas, Washington
Key Stats: 16.8 PPG, 6 APG
At just 5'9'', Isaiah Thomas does not seem to be what college basketball legend, Dick Vitale, would consider a "PTPer" (Prime Time Performer).
In contrast, Thomas does indeed perform his best in "prime time."
Thomas and his Washington Huskies cruise into the NCAA Tournament after a win over Arizona in the Pac-10 Championship, a game that was won on Thomas' buzzer-beating fade-away as time expired. His ability to maintain his poise in crunch time should have announcer Bill Raftery screaming his patented call, "Onions!" while calling the Huskies' games.
Isaiah is the little guy, the guy that America loves to root for. And this support is not going to come solely based on appearance, but also Thomas' passion and talent will prove to be invaluable when the NCAA Tournament gets underway.
5. Jordan Hamilton, Texas
Key Stats: 32.1 MPG, 18.6 PPG
At 6'7'', sophomore Jordan Hamilton seems more like an NBA wing rather than a dynamic scorer in college. He excels in both the full court and half court offense, giving Texas multiple ways to use him.
Hamilton's versatility makes him a match-up problem for many opponents.
For example, when Texas beat Illinois in November, Hamilton had 25 points while doing most of his damage down low. But, when Texas beat North Carolina, he had 24 points but hit four three-pointers.
Unlike a couple of the nation's most prolific scorers, Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette, Jordan Hamilton has the versatility to dominate a game in the paint and on the perimeter, making him a threat to any team that Texas may face on their way to a potential Final Four.
4. Kalin Lucas, Michigan State
Key Stats: 17.2 PPG, 33.3 MPG
At this point in the season, a team as experienced as Michigan State, and also as well coached as the Spartans, should not be facing the inconsistency issues that they presently have.
The Spartans had a disappointing season after being highly touted as the preseason's 2nd ranked team, but throughout this winter, Lucas' leadership has been unable to steady his team.
And so, as all great leaders must do, Lucas took matters into his own hands.
After back-to-back losses by 20 points at Iowa and by 26 at Wisconsin, dropping them a game below .500 in Big Ten play, Lucas took charge and led the Spartans in their next game to an 18 point win at home over Penn State. A game where Lucas led Sparty with 24 points and played in all 40 minutes of the game. The Spartans then won four of their next six games to finish with a .500 record in conference play.
After being injured during MSU's run to the Final Four just a season ago, Lucas will be hungrier than ever to lead his team back to postseason success in his "last hurrah" as a student-athlete.
3. Jacob Pullen, Kansas State
Key Stats: 19.5 PPG, 3.1 TO
Jacob Pullen made his mark in last year's NCAA Tournament with a much better Kansas State team that reached the Elite Eight just a season ago. This season though, K-State has only Pullen to rely on, and the lack of balance really showed during the 'Cats start to Big 12 conference play.
But, Pullen and his "fear-the-beard" campaign finished the season strong with wins over Kansas and Texas.
Pullen, a talented six-foot tall Senior point guard, is the epitome of leadership. He has the killer instinct needed to take big shots for his team, and also the talent and composure to make them.
Overall, Pullen's experience will be his greatest strength as he tries to lead his 5th seeded Kansas State Wildcats back to the Elite Eight, and on to the Final Four.
2. Kemba Walker, Connecticut
Key Stats: 37.5 MPG, 23.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.3 APG, 1.9 SPG
After UConn won five games in five days to win the Big East Conference Tournament, many questioned whether the Huskies will be able to recover fast enough to make a run in the NCAA Tournament.
In response to those who think this will be true, did they not see Kemba Walker play at all in that tournament?
Walker played virtually every minute of that tournament for Jim Calhoun's Huskies, and without any drop-off as the event wore on. Walker's signature play was hitting the buzzer-beater over Pittsburgh to reach the semi-finals.
Not only does his scoring win the Huskies games, his passing and court vision do as well. In the championship against Louisville, Walker had a beautiful dish to Jeremy Lamb with 33 seconds left to give UConn the lead for good.
Throughout the season, teams have schemed against Walker, and nothing has seemed to work. And in a situation with the game on the line, there is no one that is better with the basketball than Kemba Walker.
Josh Rosenblat is a high School student from Chicago looking to find a way to break into sports journalism. He often writes about the NBA (primarily the Chicago Bulls), as well as the MLB, College Basketball, and the NFL. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @JMRosenblat. Feel free to send him comments.
1. Jimmer Fredette, Brigham Young
Key Stats: 28.5 PPG, 4.2 APG, 40.4 3P%, 35.3 MPG
His name has already been turned into a verb, and he already has that "underdog's swagger."
Oh, and also, Jimmer Fredette is averaging 28.5 points per game for his BYU Cougars who hold the No. 3 seed in the Southeast Region. Fredette put up 52 points on the New Mexico Lobos in the Mountain West Conference tournament.
As one of the most prolific scorers in NCAA history, Jimmer Fredette could single handedly carry his team through the tournament. By shooting almost 40 percent of BYU's shots while he is on the floor, the highest percentage of any player in the country, Fredette should have no problem being his team's catalyst during March.
Fredette has even been endorsed by Kevin Durant on twitter when he tweeted, "Jimmer Fredette is the best scorer in the world!!"
But, the real question is: Is the nation prepared to be Jimmered?