The Most Indispensable Player for Each AP Top 25 College Basketball Team

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystFebruary 6, 2015

The Most Indispensable Player for Each AP Top 25 College Basketball Team

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    Paul Vernon/Associated Press

    Every AP Top 25 team has that one player who is even more indispensable than the rest, and it's our mission today to figure out who those players are.

    After the shock wore off from the news that VCU's Briante Weber is done for the year with a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus, we got to thinking about who the most irreplaceable player is for each Top 25 team.

    In most cases, the best player is the most indispensable player, but that isn't necessarily a rule. For example, Wichita State's Ron Baker is one of the best players in the country, but losing him wouldn't be as devastating as losing Darius Carter would be.

    Deciding on these players was far from an exact science, but this was the hypothetical thought process:

    A fan reads "(Insert team) Player Ruled Out for Remainder of Season" in a tweet with a link connected. As the fan clicks the link, takes a deep breath and waits for it to load, which player's picture is that fan most hoping and praying he or she doesn't see?

    In lieu of polling 100 fans from each of the AP Top 25 teams, we made some educated guesses. If you disagree with the selection, leave a comment to let us know who your team could least afford to lose for the rest of the year.

    Statistics on the following slides courtesy of ESPN.com, KenPom.com and Sports-Reference.com. Unless otherwise noted, they are current through the start of play on Thursday, Feb. 5.

25. Texas Longhorns: Myles Turner

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    Cooper Neill/Getty Images

    By the Numbers: 11.2 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 2.8 BPG

    It's funny how a team's most indispensable player can change over the course of the season.

    At the beginning of the year, many of us thought the player Texas could least afford to live without was Isaiah Taylor. Once the Longhorns were forced to play 10 games without Taylor due to a fractured wrist, Jonathan Holmes became the most important piece of the puzzle.

    But both of those players had very good games in the blowout losses to Kansas and Baylor, so it's kind of hard to argue that either one is the straw that stirs this drink. Maybe if Myles Turner had better games, though, things would have been a bit different.

    The freshman big man—one the world has been seemingly neglecting in favor of Jahlil Okafor and Karl-Anthony Towns—has undeniably been Texas' most valuable asset. Combine his shot-blocking and rebounding abilities with his excellent free-throw shooting, and he might be the best interior total package in the country.

    Turner might be Texas' most valuable player on both offense and defense. As long as he's blocking shots and getting fed in the post, the Longhorns have a shot against anyone.

24. Georgetown Hoyas: Joshua Smith

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    USA TODAY Sports

    By the Numbers: 11.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.9 BPG

    Quite the conclusion to a bizarre college career.

    Joshua Smith was a 2010 McDonald's All-American who anti-blossomed into a player who couldn't keep his weight low enough or his grades high enough to stay on the court. But now, he's Georgetown's most indispensable player, fulfilling expectations nearly 3,000 miles from where he was supposed to be a star years ago.

    Foul trouble is still a problem and probably always will be with Smithhe has committed at least four fouls in 14 games this seasonbut he has been so valuable in the post during his limited minutes that a few extra free throws for the other team is a small price to pay to have him on the roster.

    Smith is averaging 21.0 points and 11.8 rebounds per 40 minutes. Neither of those is a career high for him, but the number of minutes he has been able to log each game is (22.5 on average).

    He has five double-doubles this season and has anchored the paint for a team that entered play Wednesday ranked 10th in the nation in block percentage and 20th in two-point field-goal defense, according to KenPom.com.

23. SMU Mustangs: Nic Moore

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    USA TODAY Sports

    By the Numbers: 14.5 PPG, 5.4 APG, 2.3 RPG, 1.4 SPG

    There's no question SMU has been better over the past few weeks with Markus Kennedy playing well, but just try to imagine where this team would be without Nic Moore running the show.

    The craziest part is that it probably wasn't even supposed to be his job.

    Larry Brown signed the best point guard of the 2014 freshmen class, but Emmanuel Mudiay never made it to Dallas, instead starting his post-high school career in China. Moore was a great point guard in his first season with the Mustangs, but he likely would have become more of a full-time shooting guard in the backcourt with Mudiay.

    Instead, with no Mudiayand even more so now with Keith Frazier out of the picture tooMoore has become an outstanding combo guard akin to North Carolina's Marcus Paige. He is the team's only legitimate three-point weapon and its best ball-handler and distributor by a mile.

    The Mustangs have lost a lot over the past eight months between Mudiay, Frazier and Justin Martin, but they've remained more than competitive thanks to Moore.

    Take him out of the equation, and this team doesn't even have an offense.

22. Butler Bulldogs: Roosevelt Jones

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    USA TODAY Sports

    By the Numbers: 12.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 3.8 APG

    From last year's woeful 14-17 team, Butler lost Khyle Marshall and Erik Fromm to graduation and had freshmen Elijah Brown, Rene Castro and Nolan Berry transfer out of the program.

    What the Bulldogs regained, though, was so much more important than anything they lost. Roosevelt Jones is the primary reason Butler has transformed from a team that won 45 percent of its games to a group winning 74 percent of them this year.

    Jones tore ligaments in his wrist in August 2013, prompting him to miss the entire 2013-14 season and causing the team to look hopelessly lost without its glue guy. Now that he's back, the Bulldogs are much better on both ends of the floor.

    Jones has yet to make a three-pointer in his college career, but he has been a big piece of the team currently ranked sixth in the nation in three-point field-goal defense, according to KenPom.com. He is leading the Bulldogs in assists, has been one of their best offensive rebounders and even contributes in the blocks and steals departments.

    He isn't the guy you want taking game-winning jump shots or crucial free throws, but it's everything he does elsewhere that makes it impossible for Butler to live without him.

21. Oklahoma Sooners: Ryan Spangler

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    By the Numbers: 10.3 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.2 BPG, 0.9 SPG

    We fully expect arguments for Buddy Hield in this spot, as he figures to be a strong candidate for Big 12 Player of the Year. However, this is one of those cases where "best" and "most indispensable" don't apply to the same player.

    Hield is outstanding, but the Sooners have three other very good guards in Isaiah Cousins, Jordan Woodard and Frank Booker who could pick up the slack if Hield was suddenly out of the picture. But we shudder to think where this team would be without Ryan Spangler.

    Spangler is leading the club in rebounds by a margin of more than 2.0 per game, leading the team in field-goal percentage at 59.5 and is second to TaShawn Thomas in blocked shots.

    In the more advanced metrics department, he has the most defensive win shares of any Sooner and has an O-rating (as calculated by Sports-Reference.com) that is 12.7 points better than that of any teammate who has played at least 12 minutes this season.

    Translation: He is the most valuable player on each end of the court.

    He only takes 15.0 percent of the shots when he is on the floor, but maybe that's why Oklahoma is only winning 68 percent of its games.

20. Ohio State Buckeyes: D'Angelo Russell

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    By the Numbers: 19.4 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 5.2 APG, 1.8 SPG

    This one was a no-brainer.

    Jahlil Okafor and Frank Kaminsky might be better players than D'Angelo Russell, but no player in the country is more singularly important to a ranked team than Russell.

    The shooting guard extraordinaire has scored 189 more points than any teammate, leads the Buckeyes in rebounds and trails only Shannon Scott in assists and steals.

    And he's still improving. Entering play Wednesday, Russell was averaging 21.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game in Big Ten play, which is just plain silly.

    He has essentially been for Ohio State what Trey Burke was for Michigan when he won the Wooden Award in 2013. If Russell had even half of the supporting cast Burke had, the Buckeyes would be one of the primary threats to win the national championship.

19. Baylor Bears: Rico Gathers

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    Cooper Neill/Getty Images

    By the Numbers: 10.7 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 1.0 BPG

    Rico Gathers is the ultimate vulture.

    Baylor rarely runs plays designed to get him the ball. Rather, the Bears draw up sets to get shots for one of the other four guys with the understanding that Gathers will be right there feasting on the scraps of any missed shots.

    Baylor leads the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, largely because Gathers is second in the nation in individual offensive rebounding percentage, according to KenPom.com.

    He is incredibly grabbing 20.2 percent of possible offensive rebounds on the court, which is a higher percentage than the combined percentage of the second- and third-best Bears in that category.

    Gathers has 11 double-doubles this season and 18 games with at least 10 rebounds. For a team that has played seven games this season either decided in overtime or by fewer than five points, his ability to almost single-handedly will Baylor to win the rebounding margin has been irreplaceable.

18. VCU Rams: Treveon Graham

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    Tommy Gilligan/Getty Images

    By the Numbers: 16.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.6 APG

    This would have been a very tough decision a week ago before Briante Weber tore just about everything in his knee on a fluky and devastating injury. Now that the heart and soul of VCU's defense is out for the year, its best offensive player is more important than ever.

    Treveon Graham is leading the Rams in points and rebounds and has done an outstanding job of avoiding turnovers (1.1 per game) for someone who gets a ton of touches in the offensive half.

    What makes him so difficult to slow down is that there's nothing he can't do. Graham is shooting better than 40 percent from three-point range but is also making more than 50 percent of his shots from two-point rangeand he has attempted more than 100 shots from both inside and outside the arc.

    Completing the triple threat, he is also one of VCU's best passers. Good luck keeping him in check with one defender, and good luck double-teaming him because he will have no problem finding the resultant open man for an easy bucket.

    We'll find out in due time if his offense is enough to make up for the lack of Weber on defense, but it won't be a surprise if Graham becomes an even bigger focal point of this scoring attack for the rest of the season.

17. Maryland Terrapins: Melo Trimble

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    USA TODAY Sports

    By the Numbers: 15.2 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.5 SPG

    Melo Trimble's value to Maryland cannot adequately be summed up in per-game statistics.

    Yes, he is leading the team in points, assists and steals, but it's because he had to become that leader and was able to do so as a freshman that he's more important than any other Terrapin.

    If you'll recall, most of us weren't expecting much of anything from Maryland this season. Between transfers, injuries and their new home in the Big Ten, this was supposed to be a transitional year for the Terrapins.

    Apparently, nobody told Trimble that.

    It was his 31-point effort against Arizona State just 10 days into the season that really set the stage for what was to come. That game was the start of a streak of 18 games with at least 10 points.

    The underrated aspect of his game has been his durability. Despite drawing enough fouls to attempt 158 free throws this season, he has now played at least 30 minutes in 20 consecutive games. That's a very uncommon feat for freshmen, who are usually brought along slowly in order to pace them for the rigors of the full season.

16. Wichita State Shockers: Darius Carter

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    USA TODAY Sports

    By the Numbers: 11.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 0.7 BPG

    As was the case with Oklahoma, here's another situation where the best player (Ron Baker) isn't quite the most indispensable.

    Baker is an outstanding shooter and defender, but the Shockers would be pretty helpless without the hustle of 6'7" center Darius Carter. Per 40 minutes, Carter is averaging 22.4 points and 10.6 rebounds—both of which rank highest among the top 11 minute-getters on the team.

    What makes that really incredible is he's the only starter taller than 6'4".

    Carter is the sole interior presence opposing teams consistently need to worry about, and he still routinely scores in double figures, grabs half a dozen rebounds and plays solid defenseall against guys who typically stand a few inches taller than him.

    With a 6'3" small forward and 6'4" "power forward," Wichita State is already one of the smallest teams in the country. Take Carter out of the equation, and the Shockers would give up 50 points per game in the paint and routinely get destroyed on the glass.

15. West Virginia Mountaineers: Jonathan Holton

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    Ray Thompson/Associated Press

    By the Numbers: 9.0 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 1.1 BPG, 1.0 APG

    This was the most difficult decision to make because West Virginia is less a collection of key players and more a ravenous pack of role players.

    Juwan Staten is usually regarded as this team's best player, but he has been considerably worse than he was last season. His playing time, shooting percentages, rebounding and assist rates have all decreased. Basically the only thing that has increased is his turnover rate, and that's not a good thing.

    Instead, we're going with Jonathan Holton as the player the Mountaineers couldn't afford to part with because he does more than a little bit of everything. Holton leads the team in blocked shots, ranks second in rebounds and steals, ranks third in points and makes 60.7 percent of his two-point attempts.

    He only plays 21.3 minutes per game, so it's difficult to compare his per-game numbers to other great players this season. But there is one intriguing comparison:

    Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: 25.2 MPG, 8.7 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 1.6 BPG, 0.8 APG, 58.9 2P%

    Pretty similar, yes? But when is the last time you even heard Holton's name mentioned in the national media, let alone in the same breath as Cauley-Stein's in the Player of the Year race?

14. Northern Iowa Panthers: Seth Tuttle

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    USA TODAY Sports

    By the Numbers: 15.7 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 3.1 APG

    Seth Tuttle is right up there with Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell at the top of the list of indispensable players.

    He is Northern Iowa's most valuable offensive weapon, and it's not even close. According to Sports-Reference.com, Tuttle has been worth 3.2 offensive win shares to the Panthers, while no other player has more than 1.3. That means he has been 2.5 times as valuable on offense as any teammate.

    Of course, when you look at his ranks on the team, that makes sense. He's first in points by a margin of 152, first in assists, first in rebounds, and he's even first in blocked shots. That makes Tuttle the team's most valuable defender too.

    Because of his 29-point game against Wichita State last weekend, Tuttle is currently in sixth place in the KenPom.com Player of the Year standings.

    Tuttle had five points in the double-overtime loss to VCU and fouled out in the loss to Evansvilletwo of his least valuable performances of the season. Had he been his typical dominant self in those games, this would be our second consecutive February debating the case for a No. 1 seed of an undefeated team from the Missouri Valley conference.

13. Utah Utes: Delon Wright

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    Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

    By the Numbers: 14.4 PPG, 5.6 APG, 4.4 RPG, 2.2 SPG, 0.8 BPG

    For a brief moment, we considered putting Jakob Poeltl here. His presence in the post in the form of shot blocking and rebounding has been the biggest difference between this year and last year for Utah.

    But if you take away Poeltl, maybe Utah devolves back into a team that plays competitively before suffering a loss by single digits. Take away Delon Wright, and Utah falls to pieces.

    Like so many others we have encountered to this point, Wright is simply a stat-sheet stuffer. He leads the Utes in points, assists and steals and is second to Poeltl in blocks and rebounds.

    His per-game and per-40 minutes numbers are deceiving, though, because Utah plays at a slow pace. If we instead look at numbers on a per-100 possessions basis, here's an eye-opening comparison:

    Wright per 100 possessions: 28.1 points, 10.9 assists, 8.6 rebounds, 4.4 steals, 1.6 blocks

    Jerian Grant per 100 possessions: 29.8 points, 11.0 assists, 5.2 rebounds, 3.0 steals, 1.1 blocks

    Grant has Wright covered by about one bucket per 100 possessions, but are those 1.7 points really worth the disparity in rebounds, steals and blocks?

    It's astounding that Wright doesn't get more national attention.

12. North Carolina Tar Heels: Marcus Paige

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    USA TODAY Sports

    By the Numbers: 14.2 PPG, 4.2 APG, 2.7 RPG, 1.4 SPG

    North Carolina has some excellent interior players in Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks who might be individually more valuable than Marcus Paige has been, but can you even picture this roster without No. 5?

    Paige hasn't been as great as we expectedthough he's certainly getting there after a pretty slow month to start the seasonbut there's no debating he is the most important and most irreplaceable piece of North Carolina's puzzle.

    Paige has made at least two three-point field goals in 13 straight games, scoring 10 or more points in 12 of 13. He also had at least three assists in 12 of those games and recorded multiple steals seven times. He has made more three-pointers this season (58) than the rest of the Tar Heels combined (51).

    Nate Britt has been solid in limited action, but there's a reason Paige has been consistently playing 34 or more minutes per game despite plantar fasciitis and a sprained ankle. The Tar Heels simply need that much from him for a legitimate shot at consistent success.

11. Iowa State Cyclones: Georges Niang

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    Associated Press

    By the Numbers: 15.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 3.5 APG

    After sleepwalking through the month of December and still waking up early in conference play, Georges Niang has been a stud over the past three games for Iowa State, averaging 22.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists.

    He isn't the same type of point forward that Royce White was for the Cyclones a few seasons ago, but he has been an outstanding "interior point guard" for this team, frequently flashing to the free-throw line for an entry pass before finding an open teammate on the low block for a bucket.

    If you're an opposing head coach, how in the world do you stop that from happening?

    It's the perfect way to attack a zone defense. Either he's left all alone for a 15-foot jumper that he'll make at least 70 percent of the time, or the anchor of the zone steps out to contest him, leaving a gaping hole somewhere along the baseline.

    But Niang is even tougher to guard in man-to-man defense because he can drive and shoot like a guard or post up and finish like a big. There's a reason many people pegged him as the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year, and he's been showcasing that skill of late for Iowa State.

10. Notre Dame Fighting Irish: Pat Connaughton

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    Joe Raymond/Associated Press

    By the Numbers: 13.5 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 1.6 APG, 0.8 BPG, 0.8 SPG

    It was a difficult decision between Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton, but Connaughton possesses such a unique skill set that he would be even more impossible to replace than the possible national Player of the Year.

    Connaughton currently ranks 52nd in the nation in made three-pointers per game (2.67) and 55th in rebounds per game (8.2). He's the only player in the country in the top 100 of both categories, and it makes him one of the nation's most difficult players to prepare to face.

    Grant is an incredible talent, but Connaughton's ability to spread out the defense is what makes it possible for Grant to have so much space in the pick-and-roll offense time and again.

    He's too quick for conventional power forwards and too strong on the glass to be matched up with a guard. The best way to stop him is with a zone, but good luck going zone against one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country.

    Replace Connaughton with a guy like Bonzie Colson, and Notre Dame doesn't have nearly the same efficient offense.

9. Louisville Cardinals: Montrezl Harrell

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    By the Numbers: 15.4 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1.1 BPG, 0.9 SPG

    Louisville only has four reliable scorers: three perimeter players in Terry Rozier, Chris Jones and Wayne Blackshear, and one interior player in Montrezl Harrell. Thus, it's the same argument used for Darius Carter as the most indispensable player for Wichita State.

    Rozier is one of the best shooting guards in the country, but the Cardinals could still run the same general playsalbeit much less efficientlywith guys like Quentin Snider, Anton Gill and Shaqquan Aaron in his place. Take away Harrell, though, and everything changes for the worse.

    With all due respect to big men Chinanu Onuaku, Mangok Mathiang, Anas Mahmoud and Matz Stockman, they simply don't possess anything close to Harrell's arsenal of skills. They're better shot-blockers than Harrell, but that doesn't even begin to make up for the drop-off in offensive production.

    Without Harrell, Louisville's entire offense would run through its guards. And that's not a promising proposition for a team shooting 30.7 percent from three-point range.

8. Kansas Jayhawks: Frank Mason III

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    Ed Zurga/Getty Images

    By the Numbers: 12.7 PPG, 4.1 APG, 3.9 RPG, 1.3 SPG

    Before the season began, Kansas' starting point guard was one of the most intriguing and indefinite position battles to watch. Now, the starting point guard is the player this team could least afford to lose.

    Since late November, Frank Mason III has been remarkable for the Jayhawks while the rest of the team ebbs and flows its way into midseason form, and it came out of nowhere.

    If we had conducted a poll in October asking fans to pick the player for Kansas most likely to be working on a streak of 19 consecutive games of scoring at least 10 points per game, Mason probably would have been the eighth or ninth most popular choice. Yet, he's done exactly that while compiling a 2.0 assist-to-turnover ratio.

    Devonte Graham could probably fill in without too much of a drop in production, but you could make a similar argument at every position on this deep roster.

7. Villanova Wildcats: Daniel Ochefu

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    Laurence Kesterson/Associated Press

    By the Numbers: 9.5 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.3 BPG, 0.8 SPG

    Two years ago, no one could have guessed Daniel Ochefu would blossom into what he is today.

    He was an average shot-blocker, a below-average rebounder and a terrible shooter. At the end of his freshman season, he went 16 straight games without scoring more than six points. Despite averaging 16.6 minutes per game during that stretch, he only once grabbed more than five rebounds in a game and only once blocked more than one shot.

    But he has improved by leaps and bounds in each of those categories to become quite possibly the most valuable player in the Big East.

    It was because he was completely neutralized by Georgetown's defense that the Wildcats lost by 20 points to the Hoyas, and it was because of his absurd 19-point, 24-rebound effort against Seton Hall that Villanova was "able" to lose in overtime rather than getting destroyed in regulation.

    On a team that doesn't have any consistent big-time scorersDarrun Hilliard can occasionally get hot, but he has twice as many games with 10 or fewer points as he has contests with more than 20 pointsit's the play of Ochefu more than anyone else that dictates how likely the Wildcats are to win any given matchup.

6. Arizona Wildcats: T.J. McConnell

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    USA TODAY Sports

    By the Numbers: 9.0 PPG, 5.8 APG, 3.9 RPG, 2.2 SPG

    Proof that you don't need to be a great shooter in order to be a star, T.J. McConnell ranks fourth on Arizona's roster in points per game and shoots 29.3 percent from three-point range. But he leads the team in minutes played and is undoubtedly the most important player on the Wildcats.

    That's because he's their heart and soul on both ends of the court.

    According to KenPom.com, McConnell ranks 15th in the nation in assist rate and 25th in steal rate, joining Providence's Kris Dunn and Dartmouth's Malik Gill as the only players ranked in the top 30 of both categoriesand Gill just barely plays enough minutes to qualify for those lists.

    McConnell's prowess on both offense and defense are what really enable Arizona to rank in the top 20 in both adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency. Kentucky, Virginia and Villanova are the only other teams in that club.

    The Wildcats probably have enough talent elsewhere to routinely win games without McConnell, but their ceiling for this season would likely drop from national championship to Sweet 16. There isn't another player on the roster that irreplaceable.

5. Wisconsin Badgers: Frank Kaminsky

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    USA TODAY Sports

    By the Numbers: 17.8 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.7 BPG, 0.9 SPG

    One could probably make a pretty compelling argument here for Bronson Koenig, with Traevon Jackson already out for a few more weeks with an ankle injury, but, come on.

    There's not a college player in the country quite like 7-footer Frank Kaminsky, and it's tough to remember one from the past decade similar to him. Maybe if the 6'9" Robbie Hummel had been a little taller or if Adreian Payne had been able to combine his best shooting, rebounding and shot-blocking seasons into one.

    Frankly, the best comparison for Kaminsky might be the big man he replaced a few years ago, as Jon Leuer really stepped up his game as a senior during the 2010-11 season. But even that's hardly a perfect match because Kaminsky is a more accurate shooter and slightly better defender than Leuer was.

    In short, he's one of a kind, and he has saved his best for last. Kaminsky is averaging 20.4 points per game since Christmas and has scored at least 13 points in all but two games this season.

    Maybe the Badgers could survive with Duje Dukan or Vitto Brown playing in Kaminsky's place, but they certainly wouldn't be thriving like they are right now.

4. Duke Blue Devils: Jahlil Okafor

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    USA TODAY Sports

    By the Numbers: 18.1 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.5 BPG, 0.8 SPG

    On a Duke roster with only six active players averaging at least nine minutes per game, everyone is indispensable. The Blue Devils are one concussion, strained muscle or sprained ankle away from slipping out of title contention.

    If that injury were to befall Jahlil Okafor, though, they can not only forget about a national championship, but start seriously worrying about getting knocked out of the tournament in their first game for the third time in four years.

    Okafor is leading the team in points, rebounds and blocks, all by wide margins. He has scored at least 10 points in every game this season. But it's not just that he's the best big man in the country; it's that he's the only viable big man Duke has.

    Marshall Plumlee is fun to watch for a couple of minutes per game, but Duke would collapse like a sandcastle if he and Amile Jefferson were the only interior players at Mike Krzyzewski's disposal.

3. Virginia Cavaliers: Justin Anderson

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    By the Numbers: 13.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.1 APG

    Even before we knew what he was capable of doing, Justin Anderson was always going to be the linchpin of this year's Virginia team.

    After losing Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell from the 2013-14 roster, Tony Bennett had little choice but to take the sixth man from that team and put him into the 2014-15 starting lineup. Fortunately, Anderson learned how to shoot over the summer and blossomed into one of the most valuable players in the country.

    He shot 29.8 percent from three-point range over his first two seasons, but he's shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc this year. As noted Thursday by Sports Illustrated's Luke Winn, "Anderson is a lethal corner three-point shooterand especially so from the right side, where he's made 61.5 percent of his treys from below the free-throw line extended."

    He isn't exactly a one-trick pony either, as he's shooting 49.5 percent inside the arc and 80.6 percent from the free-throw line. Anderson is also a crucial part of Virginia's pack-line defense, doing an excellent job of defending without fouling; only once in 21 games has he committed more than two personal fouls.

    His best game of the season might have been his most recent one, as Anderson had 16 points, seven assists, three rebounds, two steals and two blocks on the road against North Carolina.

2. Gonzaga Bulldogs: Kevin Pangos

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    William Mancebo/Getty Images

    By the Numbers: 12.2 PPG, 4.7 APG, 2.7 RPG, 1.3 SPG

    Gonzaga has one of the best three-man frontcourts in the country but only one point guard properly equipped to get them all involved. Kevin Pangos has cut back on his scoring this year, but his O-rating is through the roof because he does such a great job of leading this team without making mistakes.

    In 10 conference games, he has 45 assists and just 11 turnovers. The man has as many steals in WCC play as he does turnovers. And though he doesn't shoot nearly as often as he did last season, he's still shooting 52.7 percent from three-point range against conference foes.

    But like Melo Trimble at Maryland, those per-game statistics don't adequately sum up just how important he is to this Gonzaga team. He isn't the most athletically gifted player on the roster, but there's just something about his veteran leadership and poise that brings out the best in everyone around him. 

1. Kentucky Wildcats: Karl-Anthony Towns

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    By the Numbers: 8.5 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.3 BPG, 1.0 APG

    Tyler Ulis could replace Andrew Harrison. Devin Booker could replace Aaron Harrison. Dakari Johnson could replace Willie Cauley-Stein. And Kentucky has already proved over the past two games that it can still excel without Trey Lyles.

    That leaves Karl-Anthony Towns as the most indispensable player. Even without those backups at the other positions, though, it's not hard to argue that Towns has been the most valuable Wildcat.

    According to Sports-Reference.com, he leads the team in win shares per 40 minutes, block percentage and rebound percentage, and he ranks second to Devin Booker in points per 40 minutes.

    This team may produce as many as six first-round draft picks, but Towns is the one battling Jahlil Okafor for the No. 1 overall spot and the one the Wildcats could least afford to lose for an extended period of time.

    Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.

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