8 CBB Stars Who Can Take Over the 2023 Men's NCAA Tournament

David KenyonFeatured Columnist IVFebruary 21, 2023

8 CBB Stars Who Can Take Over the 2023 Men's NCAA Tournament

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    Trayce Jackson-Davis
    Trayce Jackson-DavisAP Photo/Darron Cummings

    Whenever a team makes a deep run in the men's NCAA tournament, it's often because the roster is collectively playing well at the perfect moment.

    On occasion, though, a standout player is largely fueling the run.

    Stephen Curry (Davidson, 2008) and Kemba Walker (UConn, 2011) were two of the most memorable one-person explosions in recent years. Even in 2022, North Carolina star Armando Bacot put together a memorable run as the first player to record six double-doubles in March Madness.

    Who might join that group in 2023? The choices are subjective but consider a player's production, minute share and likelihood of the team reaching the second weekend.

Jaylen Clark, UCLA

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    EUGENE, OREGON - FEBRUARY 11: Jaylen Clark #0 of the UCLA Bruins goes up for a dunk against Will Richardson #0 of the Oregon Ducks during the second half at Matthew Knight Arena on February 11, 2023 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images)
    Soobum Im/Getty Images

    Last season, Jaylen Clark held a backup role for a UCLA squad that exited in the Sweet 16. He managed only five points, three rebounds and two steals in 32 minutes of action across the Bruins' three NCAA tournament games.

    This year, UCLA is leaning far more heavily on Clark. The junior 2-guard is averaging a career-high 13.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game while shooting 35.8 percent from three-point range.

    Clark's activity on defense is a catalyst for UCLA, which ranks 12th in opponent turnover rate and is the nation's 10th-most efficient transition offense, per Hoop-Math.com. He's leading the Pac-12 with 2.7 steals per game.

    Whenever the Bruins' half-court offense stagnates, Clark's disruptiveness can keep his team afloat.

Zach Edey, Purdue

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    WEST LAFAYETTE, IN - FEB 19: Ohio State Buckeyes forward Justice Sueing (14) has his shot blocked by Purdue Boilermakers center Zach Edey (15) on February 19, 2023, at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Indiana. (Photo by Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The National Player of the Year front-runner unsurprisingly made the cut here.

    Purdue big man Zach Edey is averaging a team-high 22.1 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game while shooting 61.9 percent from the field. He leads the Big Ten in both points and rebounds.

    While sharing the frontcourt with Trevion Williams last season, Edey averaged only 19.0 minutes per game. That number dropped to 17.3 during Purdue's run to the Sweet 16.

    But in 2022-23, Edey is the guy for Purdue. He's logged 25-plus minutes in every conference game and has scored 30 or more points six times this season.

    Purdue revolves around Edey. The Boilermakers will advance only as far as he carries them.

Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana

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    ANN ARBOR, MI - FEBRUARY 11:  Indiana Hoosiers forward Trayce Jackson-Davis (23) looks on as he walks up the court during a Big Ten Conference regular season college basketball game between the Indiana Hoosiers and the Michigan Wolverines on February 11, 2023 at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Trayce Jackson-Davis is basically on a season-long hot streak.

    In his last five appearances, the fourth-year forward has tallied 24.4 points, 11.6 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 3.0 blocks per game. During that stretch, Indiana knocked off Purdue, Rutgers, Michigan and Illinois, falling only to Northwestern.

    The wildest part is that Jackson-Davis' recent production barely eclipses his season averages of 20.5 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 3.0 blocks per game. He is an all-around force as IU's offensive engine and a game-changing defender.

    "Having this dude in the paint and at the rim has changed everything," Indiana wing Miller Kopp said, per Dana O'Neil of The Athletic. "As wings and guards, we go into games super confident, knowing that if we get beat, we've got him. He's either going to block it or make it super difficult for a layup. It's like a safety net.''

    Indiana hasn't reached the Final Four since 2002, but TJD appears capable of leading the iconic program back there.

Brandon Miller, Alabama

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    TUSCALOOSA, AL - FEBRUARY 8: Brandon Miller #24 of the Alabama Crimson Tide flies to the basket for a second half slam-dunk against the Florida Gators at Coleman Coliseum on February 8, 2023 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Brandon Sumrall/Getty Images)
    Brandon Sumrall/Getty Images

    Editor's note: This slide was written before news that police testified Miller brought the gun used by former teammate Darius Miles in the fatal shooting of a 23-year-old woman in January.

    It's rare for a freshman to become the best player of a given NCAA tournament. Brandon Miller has the upside to make him the exception to that rule.

    Alabama's star forward is averaging 18.7 points while hitting 42.9 percent of his 7.1 threes per game. Miller flashed his tantalizing upside with a 36-point outburst in an early-season loss to Gonzaga, and he notched 30-plus in January victories over LSU and Vanderbilt.

    He's also done a tremendous job valuing the ball in Bama's fast-paced offense. Miller has committed only 1.2 turnovers per game since the beginning of SEC action in late December.

    Led by Miller, the Crimson Tide are seeking their first Final Four appearance in program history.

Markquis Nowell, Kansas State

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    MANHATTAN, KS - FEBRUARY 18:  Markquis Nowell #1 of the Kansas State Wildcats drives to the basket against Tamin Lipsey #3 of the Iowa State Cyclones during a game in the second half at Bramlage Coliseum on February 18, 2023 in Manhattan, Kansas.  (Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)
    Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

    One of the country's most intriguing playmakers is Markquis Nowell, a fifth-year guard at Kansas State.

    Although his season-long averages of 16.9 points, 7.5 assists and 2.3 steals per game might not jump off the screen, Nowell's best performances are noteworthy. He's had three games with 29-plus points and nine-plus assists, and he nabbed seven steals in an overtime win against West Virginia on New Year's Eve.

    Nowell is a volatile shooter, but he's fully capable of hitting four-plus threes on a given night. For the season, he has connected on 35.0 percent of his 6.6 three-point attempts per game.

    As long as K-State's defense props up what can be an inefficient offense, Nowell has the ability to control a game.

Marcus Sasser, Houston

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    HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 08: Houston Cougars guard Marcus Sasser (0) celebrates hitting a long three pointer during the basketball game between the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes and Houston Cougars at the Fertitta Center on February 8, 2023 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Every season invariably has a couple of cruel twists. In 2021-22, a toe injury ended Marcus Sasser's year in December, which caused him to miss out on Houston's trip to the Elite Eight.

    But he's back, healthy and as effective as ever.

    Sasser has put together a strong campaign with per-game averages of 16.7 points, 3.2 assists and 1.7 steals. The fourth-year guard, who's shooting 37.4 percent on 7.0 three-point attempts per game, is Houston's go-to option on offense and a true lockdown on-ball defender.

    "It just helps the team for the other guys to see our leader compete like he competes on both ends of the court," Houston assistant coach Quannas White said of Sasser, per PaperCity's Chris Baldwin.

    Sasser's two-way impact has vaulted Houston to the brink of securing an AAC title and a No. 1 seed in March.

Drew Timme, Gonzaga

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    SPOKANE, WASHINGTON - FEBRUARY 02: Drew Timme #2 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs controls the ball against Jaden Bediako #12 of the Santa Clara Broncos in the first half at McCarthey Athletic Center on February 02, 2023 in Spokane, Washington. (Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images)
    William Mancebo/Getty Images

    Drew Timme averaged 20.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game during the 2021 men's NCAA tournament, helping guide Gonzaga to the national final. The Zags might need a repeat performance out of him to successfully navigate March Madness this year.

    Gonzaga is a quality team, but it hasn't matched its same level of recent years, including that 2021 national finalist squad. Meanwhile, Timme is averaging a career-best 21.3 points on 61.5 percent shooting with 7.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.

    Timme's best games this season have happened against weak competition. Still, he netted 22-plus points against Alabama, Saint Mary's, Michigan State, Kentucky, Purdue and Washington and dished four-plus assists in four of those contests.

    Timme can be an absolute nightmare to contain, which gives him the potential to take over the Big Dance.

Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky

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    STARKVILLE, MS - FEBRUARY 15: Kentucky Wildcats forward Oscar Tshiebwe (34) goes to the rim during the game between the Mississippi State Bulldogs and the Kentucky Wildcats on February 15, 2023 at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville, MS. (Photo by Chris McDill/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Chris McDill/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    With an 18-9 record overall and a 4-7 record against Quadrant 1 opponents, Kentucky looks more like a bubble team than a threat to make it to the second weekend of March Madness.

    Oscar Tshiebwe could single-handedly change that if the Wildcats do make it to the Big Dance, though.

    Tshiebwe is a commanding presence who's averaging 15.8 points and 13.0 rebounds per game this season. He erupted for a season-high 37 points and 24 rebounds in a mid-January victory over Georgia.

    Kentucky did stunningly lose to Saint Peter's in the round of 64 of last year's NCAA tournament. But in that overtime loss, Tshiebwe put up 30 points, 16 rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks.

    Tshiebwe can't do everything by himself, but he sure can handle a lot.