10 CBB Stars Who Can Take Over the 2020 Men's NCAA Tournament
No stage is bigger and no lights are brighter in college basketball than March Madness. In only a handful of games, a star player can become unforgettable.
In recent years, standouts such as Steph Curry, Kemba Walker and Anthony Davis put together memorable NCAA tournament performances. They all spearheaded a run to the Elite Eight or beyond, regularly following a sensational individual game with another.
Looking ahead to the 2020 men's tournament, we're highlighting the most likely candidates for a similar surge. While the list is subjective, the choices are primarily players who are excellent scorers and/or have elite defensive skills.
It will be difficult for any player to attain legendary status. Still, these players have a captivating best-case scenario in March.
Obi Toppin, Dayton
When Dayton fell in overtime to Kansas back on Nov. 27, Obi Toppin tallied 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting, nine rebounds and three blocks. The sophomore has proved he can perform well against the nation's best competition.
Toppin has plenty of experience handling lower-ranked schools too.
He's topped the 20-point mark 13 times so far this season, including six on the road or a neutral site. Overall, Toppin is averaging 19.7 points on a scorching 62.3 percent shooting, 7.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.0 steals per game.
The No. 4-ranked Flyers have a strong six-man unit, but Toppin is the star of the show.
Vernon Carey Jr., Duke
Sophomore guard Tre Jones provides consistent offense, and the Duke Blue Devils will need him at his best to make a deep tournament run.
However, freshman big man Vernon Carey Jr. has the type of talent that could make him a March Madness star.
Carey is averaging a team-high 17.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. His performances against Cal (31 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks), NC State (27 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks) and Syracuse (26 points and 17 rebounds) are among his many impressive stat lines this season.
On both ends of the court, the 6'10", 270-pounder is a difference-maker at the rim. If the right matchups fall Duke's way, Carey might emerge as a dominant force in several games.
Luka Garza, Iowa
Perhaps the best player in college basketball, Iowa big man Luka Garza is an easy inclusion here.
After the Hawkeyes lost key starter Jordan Bohannon early in the season, Garza has thrived in a larger-than-expected role. He's averaging 23.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game while shooting 36.1 percent from three and 55.0 percent overall.
Garza has eclipsed the 20-point barrier in 22 of Iowa's 28 games, topping out at 44 against Michigan. That type of explosive scoring ability could cement him as a March Madness legend if he leads Iowa on a deep run.
Udoka Azubuike, Kansas
Kansas center Udoka Azubuike has always thrived as a close-range finisher, but he's developed into an all-around menace. This season, he's averaging 13.4 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.6 blocks.
"He still doesn't have a ton of post moves, right? ... But if he catches it in the paint, you don't really have an answer for him," Oklahoma State head coach Mike Boynton said about Azubuike, per Matt Galloway of the Topeka Capital-Journal. "But what he can do defensively now versus what he could do two years ago, for sure, is night and day."
Azubuike is a pick-and-roll nightmare (in a good way!) on both offense and defense. Beyond his ability as the roll man, he's immensely improved at containing ball-handlers off screens.
If the Jayhawks can control pick-and-rolls thanks to Azubuike, it will be an enormous challenge to topple them.
Jordan Nwora, Louisville
Louisville relies on a nine-man rotation featuring a relatively deep group of scorers. However, the Cardinals still rely heavily on Jordan Nwora's production.
When Nwora scores 17-plus points, Louisville is 18-1. When he fails to reach the mark, the Cards are 5-5. While that 17-point standard is arbitrary, it's notable that Nwora is averaging 20.1 points at home and only 14.9 otherwise.
So what if Nwora started hitting shots outside of Louisville? After all, the NCAA tournament is played entirely at neutral sites.
Banking on that to suddenly happen in March seems unwise, but the Cardinals' success clearly depends on Nwora.
Markus Howard, Marquette
This one is pretty simple.
Markus Howard leads the country with 11 games of 30-plus points and three games of 40-plus. Great offense will always beat good defense—and sometimes, even great defense isn't enough to handle an explosive scorer of his caliber.
Whether you want to trust Howard is a reasonable question, since his worst showings are often extremely inefficient. He went a combined 21-of-76 in losses to Maryland, Creighton, Wisconsin and Butler, four likely NCAA tournament teams.
Nevertheless, his offensive ability is undeniable.
Cassius Winston, Michigan State
During the 2019 NCAA tournament, Cassius Winston averaged 19.0 points, 7.8 assists and 1.5 steals to help Michigan State reach the Final Four.
In other words, he's done this before.
The 2019-20 Spartans are not as reliable as last season's squad. Their offensive efficiency has dropped from fifth to 20th nationally, per KenPom.com, because the rotation doesn't have as many scoring options.
But again, Winston has thrived in the NCAA tournament before. Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo is known for producing March miracles too.
That combination would be foolish to ignore.
Payton Pritchard, Oregon
The complete list of players averaging 20 points and five assists in 2019-20 includes Pepperdine guard Colbey Ross, Hampton guard Jermaine Marrow and Oregon guard Payton Pritchard.
And neither Pepperdine nor Hampton are expected to make the NCAA tournament.
After a decent but unspectacular three-year stretch for the Ducks, Pritchard has developed into a National Player of the Year candidate as a senior. He had shot 36.6 percent from three-point range and 42.3 overall entering 2019-20, but he's shooting 39.8 percent from deep and 46.0 percent overall this year.
Similar to Louisville, Oregon has struggled with a 7-7 record at road or neutral sites compared to 14-0 at home. But if anyone can reverse the trend, it'll be Pritchard.
Malachi Flynn, San Diego State
Although San Diego State's undefeated season is no more, the Aztecs remain a potential No. 1 seed thanks to Malachi Flynn.
The Washington State transfer is averaging 16.9 points, 5.1 assists and 1.8 steals per game in his first season with the Aztecs. More importantly, he's averaged 22 points and four assists in San Diego State's four matchups against Quadrant I foes.
Flynn's production rising as the competition level does is a promising sign for the Aztecs in March.
Myles Powell, Seton Hall
On Feb. 5, Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing ran out of answers for defending Myles Powell.
"We tried everything," he said, according to Bobby Bancroft of the Associated Press. "We tried to mix our defenses up, (had) a couple different guys on him. He had it rolling."
Powell netted 34 points in that game, which was one of his 14 with at least 23 points this season. Only four players have more, and Marquette's Markus Howard is the only other one likely headed to the NCAA tournament.
It will be difficult for Powell to sustain his scoring volume, but he has the tools to render a defensive game plan useless.